Why "exporting democracy" bothers me

1)  Democracy’s a decent system, I’ll agree.  But democracy occurs in context.  It works well in America for a number of reasons, including an old and successful Constitution, historical precedent, our collective value system as it has evolved historically, our socio-economic condition as a nation, etc, etc.  Oh, and let’s not forget that we’re technically a republic.  Democracy works well in other areas, too, but it isn’t the only system.  I don’t think it should be the only system.  When you become obsessed with one or two options, in any area, things start to get bad.  Diversity has something to show for itself.  And I think that in some areas, given geopolitical reality, value systems, etc, democracy isn’t the best choice.  What are we doing when we “export” democracy?  We’re colonizing.  A lot of people have talked about the Imperial United States, and they all have a good fucking point.  I read an article in 2001 or 2002 in Der Spiegel  called “Das zweite Rom” (or was it “der?”  irrelevant, anyway).  The Second Rome, yeah, very good point.  Really, what business do we, as an overextended, declining state, have to try to shove democracy at every little country (and some big ones) that we can find?  What right do we have to use our military to conduct “diplomacy?”  Here, have a democracy, folks, we’ll just physically ravage your country and starve your people first.  No biggie.  America’s going to get what’s coming to it, sooner or later.

2) Beyond my problems with insisting on democracy for the world, uh, newsflash.  This thing we’re exporting?  It ain’t democracy.  If we truly wanted to bring democracy to the world (through non-violent means) I might be okay with it.  If we were to genuinely ask “hey, who would you Iraqis like to run our country?” I wouldn’t be so up in arms.  If we were to get behind self-determination, and lend diplomatic aid in some way, or if the UN were to send in unbiased teams of people to monitor elections and make sure they were conducted fairly, I’d be cool.  But these people wouldn’t be electing someone George W. Bush is happy with.  So what does he export?  “Democracy.”  Dudes with guns saying hey, sure, you can have an election… wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  This is why we need to step back from the situation.  Because we’re too greedy, and too tempted by a chance to extend our sphere of influence.  What if we actually had left the political situation in, say, Africa, up to Africans?  (And with that example I mean a broad “we,” which includes Europeans).  I have some hope that they would have come up with a creative solution that worked for their continent.  Borders that made sense, for example.  Politics based on value systems as they actually exist in the country.  Hey, there’s a novel idea!

Oh, America.  When do I get to abandon you?


About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on July 3, 2008, in human rights, law & politics, privilege and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I think your rant is unfortunate. You simply do not understand what democracy really is. I’m assuming your American; I apologize if I am wrong. Democracy is exactly what is allowing you to speak your opinion without the fear of being arrested and thrown into prison, so why are you down playing it? What other system would you rather live in? Would you rather live in Iran? Do you think they would allow you to speak your mind? You are proud you are lesbian, yet they would stone you to death in Iran. Do you support communism? That seemed to work well, considering the millions of lives that were lost in the 20th century.

    You act like nations have a choice, but your thought is ill-formed because if you are unfortunate enough to live in a country that is ran by a an oppressive dictator, you do not even have a choice what type of government you want because the people have no voice.

    Do you think the people in Africa have a voice? Do you think the people in Darfur who are being slaughtered by the millions are choosing this type of life?

    Some Americans care for others, especially those oppressed. I believe all people have the right to be free. I hope you consider what life would be like for you living in Iran, China or Iraq before Saddam was removed. I think you might appreciate what democracy really offers once you lose it.

    Kind regards,

  2. alesbianandascholar


    Thank you for stopping by!

    You are correct; I am an American. My intent was not to say that democracy, on the whole, is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think democracy is an excellent system. What I don’t think is that it necessarily is one that works in every country, at every time. I also think that some Westerners have a tendency to assume that our form of democracy is the only one out there. This is something I’m trying to move away from in my own personal and professional life.

    Certainly there are forms of government that have worked very badly in various places and times. I am fully aware that as a lesbian, I would not be safe were I to be “out” in many countries, especially those in which Shari’a law is in place. However, I’m not entirely sure what gives America or the American government the right to pass judgment on other forms of government. If the people of a nation want democracy, then I support them, and I think other countries should as well (as long as other countries are truly supporting the choice of that nation’s people, whatever it might be).

    Communism hasn’t worked well in practice, that’s true. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it never could work, as communism has gone hand-in-hand with totalitarianism up until this point in history and wouldn’t necessarily have to. I believe that socialism can work, on its own or in conjunction with democracy.

    And finally, as for Africa, my thoughts are that a lot of the modern problems, including Darfur, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, etc., are at least in part the fault of colonialism in the past. I think that in many African nations the African people, with the exception of a few elites, do not have a voice, but I think that has a lot to do with how Europeans carved up the country and set boundaries.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think for the most part that America’s system works well, for us. Though I do suspect that our foreign policy will be the cause of our decline, I am still proud of our Constitution and how well our system has worked for us. I just don’t think that the fact that a system works well in one country means that it will work well throughout the world, for the rest of time.

  3. The only thing that truly bugs me, upon considering it long and hard over several years, is the idea that many people (not -just- Americans, but Americans tend to have the loudest voice in this arena) seem to think democracy is the ONLY good way to run a government.

    This is absolutely not me saying we should leave all countries alone and let a dictatorship where the citizens have no voice just live and die silently without any hope. Not at all. I actually support helping out countries that need it, government not an exception. But it bothers me when people tend to assume that just because this “new government” doesn’t precisely mirror their own version of democracy, it’s “bad”.

    THAT, is something I’ve seen far too often. It truly needs to be a balance between a government system and the culture the government is ruling. Every culture is different, so even with the same government recipe, every outcome will be different. And we – meaning anybody doing the helping – need to accept that a little more than we do right now.

  4. alesbianandascholar

    Lis – that’s what I see most lacking as well, the understanding that a balance between culture and government system is necessary for lasting governance. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to understand just how different other cultures’ worldview is – it’s hard to imagine someone who pictures things fundamentally different from the way you do, and it seems a fairly obvious disaster to then try to impose a system of government on those people, no matter how well-intentioned. I have obvious preferences towards democracy and socialism, but neither of those things work for everyone. Maybe someday I can convince someone semi-important of that, or maybe someone can, at least.

  5. This astonishes me. Does America export democracy? Has America ever exported or supported international democracy? Did the CIA not in fact put Saddam Hessein in power in Iraq as their puppet? Did the USA not in fact conduct coups and warfare against the democratically elected leaders of her Latin America neighbours? Does the US even have a democratically elected leader of its own? Was George W Bush even elected by the US people???

    George Orwell was right. Brainwashing works.

  6. alesbianandascholar

    Zanjabila – That was exactly my point in the second paragraph. I think that America claims to export democracy, while what it’s really exporting is regimes that support America. I strongly agree with you on the two-faced nature of Amercian policy in the Middle East and Latin America, and you certainly have a point about the 2000 election.

  7. I realise you can see through the lies concerning Iraq — forgive me for overstating my point somewhat! Your point about Western-style democracy not being universally exportable is a valid one, not voiced often enough.

    But what I have noticed is how our governments, via their media PR, dictate the debate. The very thought of the US, of all nations, exporting democracy is so patently ridiculous that we shouldn’t even have to explain why it bothers us.

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