The Possible Downside to Promoting Democracy

Stephen Walt, who teaches at Harvard, is one of the world’s best-known IR scholars. He also writes a weekly column at Foreign Policy. His latest column is about promoting democracy in places like Iraq and Syria. His column is here (you may have to register to the website). The critical part is below:

“The distinction between democracy and liberalism should be kept firmly in mind whenever powerful liberal democracies think about intervening in troubled societies such as Syria or Ukraine. Once the fighting is over, it is much simpler and quicker for outsiders to set up democratic institutions than to instill liberal values. That is to say, it is comparatively easy to dispatch election monitors and other forms of democracy assistance to help a new political system get off the ground. But it is much harder to convince a population to prize individual rights over collective identities and local traditions — and to impart in these same citizens a sense of toleration for those who are different and for ideas that might seem dangerous or distasteful. But in the absence of these values, democracy alone will not prevent further abuses and may even facilitate them.”

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