“America as the savior of the world”
These words of President Woodrow Wilson were spoken to an audience in Portland, Oregon, 1919, referencing the USA’s role in the establishment of the League of Nations after the end of World War One, “the war to end wars.”
Declaration of War
The Treaty of Versailles, 28 June 1919
After four years of warfare, the conflict ended in Versailles in 1919. It was “peace” for one side, but a “diktat” for the other side. The treaty contained the germ of the causes of a second world war 20 years later.
The negotiations had been difficult. A peace conference had met in Paris since 18 January to prepare the treaty. The Allies alone took part in the debates. But they were not in agreement. France wanted to remove the German danger definitively and bring Germany to its knees. Great Britain, in contrast, wanted to let Germany keep its rank. The United States looked forward to a world pacified with the Society of Nations. Italy wanted the territories promised to it in 1915. The treaty was finally submitted to Germany on 7 May. All Germany’s counter-proposals were rejected and it refused to sign the treaty. On 17 June, the Allies gave it 5 days to decide. Germany finally accepted this “diktat.”
Germany lost 68,000 km² of its territory, including Alsace and Lorraine annexed in 1870, and 8 million inhabitants. Part of eastern Prussia was dismantled to the benefit of Poland which gained access to the sea via the “Danzig corridor”. Germany had to pay 20 billion gold marks in reparation to France. It lost most of its mineral resources and agricultural production. Its colonies were confiscated and its military power was annihilated. Humiliated, Germany aspired for revenge. A new war, which the Allies thought they were avoiding, was soon to be prepared. (Source)
Now, slightly more than 100 years later, the USA is still trying make, or at least encourage, the world to be “democratic,” while not explicitly advocating that it be “safe for democracy,” as President Wilson enunciated.
The US Department of State has the job of encouraging the spread of democracy. Immediately below are excerpts from the official sites of the department, all accessible at http://www.state.gov/.
Department Mission Statement
“Shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.” –From the FY 2013 Agency Financial Report, released December 2013
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor leads the U.S. efforts to promote democracy, protect human rights and international religious freedom, and advance labor rights globally. With these goals in mind, the United States seeks to: Promote democracy as a means to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the entire world;
- Assist newly formed democracies in implementing democratic principles;
- Assist democracy advocates around the world to establish vibrant democracies in their own countries; and
- Identify and denounce regimes that deny their citizens the right to choose their leaders in elections that are free, fair, and transparent.
- To elevate the role of civil society in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.
- To support emerging democracies as they work to complete successful transitions.
- To engage multilateral organizations that advance democracy and civil society.
- To promote the independence of civil society globally.
— (End excerpts from the US Department of State web pages) —
I infer that the USA initiated the formation of the international “Community of Democracies” to further the mission and goals of the US State Department. Here is about this organization:
Community of Democracies: Mission
The Mission Statement of the Community of Democracies is built upon the democratic values agreed in the Warsaw Declaration (of 2000). The Community seeks to support democratic transition and consolidation worldwide and help bridge the gap between principles of democracy and universal human rights and their practice by assisting societies in the development and strengthening of democratic institutions and values, identifying, alerting and responding to threats to democracy so as to assist states to remain on the path to democracy, supporting and defending civil society in all countries, advancing broad-based participation in democratic governance, and giving a voice to those working peacefully for democracy in all countries. (Source).
Here are France’s objections, reported by the Associated Press, June 28, 2000:
WARSAW, Poland – Upsetting the celebratory mood at a global democracy conference, France excluded itself from a newly formed “community of democracies” Tuesday after skewering other Western powers for evangelizing.
France stunned the other 107 participants by refusing to join them in endorsing a declaration setting universal standards by which mature and developing countries alike can measure their progress – an effort to consolidate the dramatic gains democracy made in the 20th century.
The dispute was largely philosophical and centered on French criticism that the conference was a prod to get non-democratic nations to adopt democracy – a policy French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on Monday said usually backfires. He cited ineffective sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq.
“The bottom line is that in Western countries the thinking is that democracy is like religion and that all you have to do is convert people,” Vedrine told reporters in Warsaw on Monday…
France said it didn’t back the document because it amounts “to a diplomatic pledge for the democratic states to act as a group.” In particular, France objected to general agreement at the conference to convene a caucus of democratic states, possibly at the next meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in the fall.
Such a caucus creates a new bloc, in effect replicating the Cold War divisions by excluding nations who have not yet achieved democracy, said the French ambassador to Poland, Benoit d’Aboville… (Source–has disappeared from the Internet)
Questions for myself and the reader
- Can the USA successfully export democracy?
- Should it?
- What is democracy?
- Is the USA a democracy?
Democracy is the new religion and America is the saviour of the world. The fight for democracy is reminiscent of the medieval crusades, and the documents quoted are modern holy scriptures. Christianity was going to save the world, unclear from what. It was imposed by might on cultures, peoples, regions and countries without discernment, and with devastating effects. Today we can see the results of both crusades, in the Middle East and North Africa, for example The concept of democracy, and freedom, has become debased to such an extent that it is now a hollow word reserved for after-dinner speeches by glib salesmen (sorry, statesmen). Democracy and freedom are excuses for the exercise of power to achieve egoistic aims. Jesus Christ! Great stuff, Ron. Look forward to the next post. Cheers Eric Gandy The Pavellas Perspective skrev 2014-05-06 12:17: > WordPress.com > Ron Pavellas posted: “The words in the heading for this article are > those of President Woodrow Wilson, given to an audience in Portland, > Oregon, 1919, referencing the USA’s role in the establishment of the > League of Nations after the end of World War One, “the war to end war.”” >
Wow, Eric.. Thanks very much for capturing exactly what I intended, but with more relevant background and example. Now I’ve got to live up to this in my next two articles. As Frederic (no ‘k’ at the end, fella’) Buchanan Pape inevitably says in his (real paper, in the post) letters to me, “Mordakum.”
The neocon spreading of democracy through military might and enforcement is simply a continuation of White Man’s Burden and Manifest Destiny. It’s an old imperial impulse that has arisen in numerous forms over the millennia. The Crusades are a good example.
Why do some think that American imperialism will do better where so many before have failed or, worse, succeeded in their authoritarian ambitions? The ideological rationalizations and realpolitik cynicism is endless.
Why can’t we just have done what GeoWash said we must do in his Farewell address? The Hawks seems always to be in charge.
Which part of Washington’s Farewell address are you referring to? It’s been a while since I read it. What stands out in my memory is his harsh criticism of political parties as factionalism and as a threat.
I do sort of agree with the general conclusion Washington came to about political parties. But what agreement I have it is for different reasons. He was hoping for a ruling aristocracy that was natural, disinterested, and enlightened. It was Plato’s utopian ideal of philosopher kings filtered through the Enlightenment ideal of meritocracy.
Obviously, our present party system has failed. Or rather it has succeeded as intended toward bad ends. But that isn’t to necessarily blame party systems in general, as other countries seem to have fairly well functioning versions of the same.
I’m remembering “no entangling alliances.” Did he say ‘friend to all, adversary to none?’ Long time since I read it also. There will always be an aristocracy, although it will include a ‘tinsel aristocracy’ as Jefferson said (Hollywood, celebrities of all types) as he and Adams discussed in their letters which I have summarized in my blog.
“Can the USA successfully export democracy?”
No. Nations and peoples must make their own political decisions. I’m curous what you would consider “success” in such an endeavor.
No, definitely not. The best foreign policy is non-interventionist. Thomas Jefferson said it well: “We must, therefore, … hold them, [our British brethren] as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
“What is democracy?”
Mob rule. The dictatorship of the majority.
Is the USA a democracy?”
Not yet. But we have been sliding in that general direction since 1890 or so. I would identify William Jennings Bryan as the first “Democrat” who truly and sincerely wished to transform the United States from a republic into a democracy. Nowadays even a lot of the “Republicans” don’t do much to resist the trend toward mob rule.
Thanks for your response, David. I agree on points 1 and 2. I am not yet settled on points 3 and 4. Point three may depend on the culture of the given nation/democracy, and on the financial and political power of the central government. (IMO the power of the USA’s central government is vastly too much; in general, there is too much money available, lawfully and corruptly, for the elected politicians to behave properly). I have lived in Sweden for 19 years. I don’t have the same feeling about the central government here. They are lazy at worst, and not significantly corrupt. On point 4, I am ignorant. I really don’t know what a democracy is, nor do I feel there is a broad consensus on the definition. I think it embodies feelings more than rational exposition.
Your last point is the real rub. We might agree on some basic aspect. Democracy is more than how it gets dismissively treated in a superficial understanding of our shared humanity. Yet, for the reason it can’t be simplified to rational exposition, democracy is endlessly debated. When looking at successful social democracies, one is forced to conclude that the key factor seems to be more cultural than political, per se.
Speaking of a republic, though, in some sense is even more problematic. All that it fundamentally means, in the original sense, is a political system that is not a monarchy. Yes, the United States is a republic, but so were the Stalinist Soviets, the Nazi Germans, and Maoist Chinese. Being a republic is not all that great of an achievement. Lacking a monarchy doesn’t necessarily speak to the issue of authoritarianism vs freedom.
Thomas Jefferson later in life admitted in a letter that he thought that the American republic, in terms of governance, had already failed. He argued that it only lived on in the spirit of the people. The failure, as he explained, was that he and his fellow founders did not understand what was a republic — they had mistakenly assumed it merely meant not being a monarchy, but in reality it meant or should mean so much more.
Of course, Jefferson was an Anti-Federalist and strong democrat. He specifically stated he supported majoritarianism. It was the (pseudo-)Federalists like Hamilton who, in being opposed to democracy, envisioned America as a new empire sans monarchy, i.e., a republic. Freedom for all and self-governance was not part of this political agenda. That original conflict is a fracture in the foundation of our country.
In sum, ‘democracy’ is an idea, once and briefly executed in the Age of Pericles, which has been subsequently amorphously (or dis-morphously) executed, subject to influences which never prevailed in Ancient Greece–where the citizens were fewer and could all gather in one forum.
Democracy is more than an idea. But it touches on such a deep, if undeniable, level of human experience that we struggle with it. It’s related to sensing what freedom means.
Yes, “Freedom” is what it implies to those who cherish it.