Hope to the World for All Future Time: America and the World After the Cold War

David Tucker

June 16, 2014

On his way to Washington for his inauguration, pondering what he must say and do to preserve the Union, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia and spoke at Independence Hall.  Eighty-five years before, in the same hall, the colonies had declared their independence from Great Britain and established their new nation on the principle that all men were created equal.  Devotion to this principle, Lincoln said, “not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land,” established the nation.  But the principle that all men are created equal did more than this.  It gave “liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.  It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.  This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”

Lincoln expressed here an idea as old as the Republic itself: that the Declaration of Independence had a significance beyond our borders.  In the first instance, of course, the principle of human equality grounded our freedom: human equality meant that no man could claim the right to rule another man, without that man’s consent; neither, therefore, could Great Britain claim to rule us without our consent.  But the principle of human equality meant something more.  Declaring us free on the basis of a universal principle, the Declaration held out the promise, as Lincoln said, “that all should have an equal chance.”  It meant that political office and economic advancement, in America and elsewhere, should come not for worshipping at the correct church, or having the proper skin color, or bearing the finest name but for doing the best, for working the hardest.  This was the universal principle of justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

The author of the Declaration was well aware of its universal significance.  If, as his document argued, human equality was the basis of political life, then men were fellow citizens not because they shared the same religion, skin color, or ancestors but because they recognized and accepted their equality as human beings, their common humanity.  In principle, then, all men could be fellow citizens.  Recognizing this, Jefferson, in a characteristic moment of idealism, came up with a scheme for putting principle into practice.  He proposed to John Adams, serving as our Ambassador in London, that Great Britain and the United States grant each other’s citizens rights of citizenship.  He hoped eventually to extend this reciprocal relationship from country to country until, indeed, all men would be fellow-citizens.  No one has ever put Jefferson’s idea into practice but it, like our present concern for human rights, typifies our enduring regard for the fate of liberty around the world.

This does not mean that our foreign policy has neglected our interests in order to promote democracy elsewhere or that we have always thought it wise to involve ourselves in the fate of other peoples and nations.  On the contrary, we have often wanted to isolate ourselves from the world, to attend above all to our own democratic way of life.  Jefferson hoped for a world where all men would be our fellow-citizens but he was quite aware that some would not want this honor and that others would not be capable of it.  He saw that Napoleon, for example, wanted to conquer an empire, not be a citizen in a democratic republic; and that the serfs in Russia were so downtrodden that they were incapable of such citizenship.  Accepting this reality, he came to favor building an empire of liberty by expanding westward, turning his back on the corrupt old world.

For his part, Lincoln recognized that the United States had a special regard for other democratic governments.  “While the United States are thus a friend to all other nations,” he wrote, “they do not seek to conceal the fact that they cherish especial sentiments of friendship for, and sympathies with, those who, like themselves, have founded their institutions on the principle of the equal rights of men.”[1]  Yet, he devoted himself to defending democracy here rather than promoting it abroad, fearing that if slavery were not defeated it would destroy the United States as the hope of men around the world.

In the twentieth century, we have both involved ourselves in the world and turned our back on it.  When we did involve ourselves, however, we did so for the sake of spreading democracy.  Woodrow Wilson led us into World War I, for example, to make the world safe for democracy.  Confronted with the failure of our hopes and the horrors of that war, we withdrew into an isolationism that we did not lose until Pearl Harbor.  Following World War II, we did not have the luxury of turning our back on the world.  In the Soviet Union, we faced an aggressive, implacable foe, whose principles called for it to wage war against us with whatever means it could.  We responded to this threat by involving ourselves in the world in an unprecedented manner.  While we remained devoted to democracy, the strength of our enemy meant that we often had to compromise and support governments that opposed the Soviet Union even though they were not democratic.

Now all this has changed.  The Soviet Union has collapsed.  In the absence of the threat it posed, we are free as we have not been for a generation to decide what our role in the world should be and how we should play it.  It is as if for forty years we struggled against a great storm, repairing leaks as they sprung open about us, and now suddenly find the skies clear and ourselves free to think of something besides staving off the flood.  To pass from metaphor to reality, we must decide whether we will stay involved in the world, to what degree, and for what purpose.


The fundamental question, of course, is whether to remain involved or to withdraw.  This question expresses itself in a host of others.  Should we maintain the alliance system that helped us defeat the Soviet Union?  Do we need to keep troops overseas?  Should we cut the defense budget drastically and devote the savings to domestic problems?  If we decide to stay involved, should we place our abiding concern with democracy at the fore?  With the demise of the Soviet Union, we are now free to give the promotion of democracy abroad a higher rank among our foreign policy objectives than it had during the Cold War.  Should we do so?  Should we actively work to establish as many democracies around the world as possible, or let people sort out their own fates, whether democratic or not?

Debate over these questions has been going on since the Iron Curtain fell and shows no sign of ending soon.  One side is most vocally represented by Patrick Buchanan, a declared candidate for the Presidency, who argues that, with the cold war over, it is time for America, and its troops, to come home, to disengage, to let the world solve its own problems, so we can attend to ours.[2]  Reflecting on our foreign successes and domestic failures, uncivil cities, economic decay, and the rise of ethnic hatred, Buchanan asks “what doth it profit a nation if it gain the whole world, and lose its own soul?”  Buchanan’s remedy is “a foreign policy rooted in U.S. national interests.”  This will save us, he thinks, from crusades to make the world safe for democracy or to establish a New World Order.  Such a foreign policy will put America first and, he contends, properly limit our foreign involvements.

Buchanan has recently remarked that no one has presented a “compelling alternative” to the view he advocates.  This remark is merely a polemical dismissal of his opponents, as Buchanan no doubt knows, because a number of people have ably taken up the other side of the argument.[3]  Among these, Joshua Muravchik has done it most fully, presenting in great detail the case for a foreign policy based on exporting democracy.  We can take him as representative of those opposed to Buchanan’s views.


A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Muravchik sides with those who contend that we should remain involved in the world, arguing that in the past, for example in the years following World War I, retreat did not allow us to escape problems but only compelled us to face them later when they were worse and we were less prepared.  But he does not argue that we must remain involved in the world by keeping a military as large as the one we had in the past or with other methods we employed during the Cold War.  Rather, he argues that we should stay involved by promoting democracy.  This should be the central purpose of our foreign policy.

Muravchik makes two claims for a foreign policy of promoting democracy.  Put simply, he contends that promoting democracy is good in itself and good for us.  He appeals, that is, to the ancient faith of Jefferson and Lincoln: our abiding concern with human liberty and equality.  He insists, however, that making this concern central to our foreign policy is not naive idealism.  On the contrary, he argues that promoting democracy, by which he means majority rule, will make us safer, and is thus in our interest.  In this connection, he maintains, for example, that the collapse of the Soviet threat, the gravest external threat our republic had ever faced, resulted from the undeniable superiority of the democratic way of life.  Our victory in the Cold War was not a victory of arms or diplomacy but of an idea.  Democracy proved itself superior to communism.  the contest with democracy exhausted communism, leaving it a decaying husk that finally collapsed into a pile of dust.  “The lesson in all of this,” Muravchik concludes, “is that advancing the democratic cause can be America’s most effective foreign policy in terms not merely of good deeds but of self-interest as well” (p. 6).

Muravchik’s argument is quite appealing.  He encourages us to act on our traditional concern for the fate of liberty around the world but does so not on the basis of altruism alone.  Since we can defend ourselves by spreading the democratic faith, doing so is both good in itself and good for us.  We can put our interests first, as Buchanan insists we must, and still help others.  With the end of the Cold War, we will undoubtedly cut defense spending, bring troops and weapons home, and reduce our commitments overseas.  We can do all this more safely, Muravchik implies, and in accordance with morality, if we make spreading democracy the central objective of our foreign policy.  In effect, he is claiming to reconcile the two most important and sometimes opposed elements of our foreign policy, concern for our interests and devotion to democracy.


Muravchik understands that arguing for a foreign policy in which moral concerns or idealism are so prominent will arouse opposition.  Buchanan, for example, wants a foreign policy rooted in interests, not morality.  To counter opposition from people like Buchanan, Muravchik opens his book with a long discussion of the claim made by Buchanan and others that foreign policy should be a question of interest and not of morality.  Muravchik makes many different arguments against this view but in the end he admits, as any reasonable man would, that a self-defeating idealism, an idealism that so forgets itself that it allows itself to be annihilated, would be nonsense (p. 35-36).  What good would a foreign or defense policy be that allowed the United States to be destroyed?  Muravchik’s claim for morality in foreign affairs amounts, then, to the idea that we should act according to our principles whenever it is safe to do so.  Safety, then, even for Muravchik, must remain the first consideration.

When we examine it, Muravchik’s apparent reconciliation of interest and principle is indistinguishable from the gruff, old-fashioned realism of Buchanan.  Both agree we must first attend to our interests.  This does not mean that, in the current example, safety is superior to democracy but only that our ability to nourish our democratic life requires that we first have enough to eat.  Even a saint must figure out how to feed himself if he is to carry on doing good.  Because he accepts this line of argument, at least implicitly, Muravchik must defend his claim that we should export democracy by showing that to do so will not make our democracy at home less secure.  But we should note that if he accomplishes this task, he will also make exporting democracy compatible with Buchanan’s realism.  Buchanan says that we must put our interests first.  If exporting democracy makes us safer, then it will serve our interests, and Buchanan should support it.  In fact, we will discover that Buchanan and Muravchik have much in common.


As noted above, Muravchik contends that exporting democracy will actually make us more secure by making the world safer for us.  It will be safer, he argues, because a more democratic world will be friendlier to us and more peaceful.  Given the importance of this argument, it is odd that Muravchik does not present it in more detail.  As he does present it, it is not conclusive.  Consider first his arguments that a democratic world will be friendlier to us.

Muravchik admits that not all democratic governments have liked us but considers these governments nuisances rather than threats or even real problems.  Certainly, as Muravchik says, we would live more comfortably in a world in which Charles De Gaulle rather than Hitler or Stalin was our worst enemy.  But given the comparison, this is faint praise for the friendliness of democracies.  Moreover, while we may have nothing to fear militarily from other democracies, military power is not the only way that nations pursue their interests.  Democratic nations have even been known to spy on one another.

More generally, Muravchik seems almost inclined to think that democracies do not have interests and that they do not pursue them.  In fact, there is no evidence that the similar politics of democratic countries make all their interests similar.  We have bitter trade disputes with our European allies and Japan, for example, in which each side tenaciously pursues what it thinks is its interest.  Pursuit of incompatible interests may not lead to war but it is not a basis for true or lasting friendship.


But if a democratic world would not necessarily be friendlier, would the absence of war in such a world not make us safer?  This is the second line of argument Muravchik takes up to convince us that exporting democracy should be the objective of our foreign policy.  He argues that war will be much less likely in a democratic world and that we should therefore do all we can to bring such a world about.  To make this argument, Muravchik points out, as others have, that there have been no wars between democratic countries for over 100 years.  This is an impressive statistic, but we must consider what this 100 or more years was like.  First of all, for much of it, there were very few democratic countries and they were not near one another.  Distance more than democracy may thus explain peace between these states.[4]  In the past 60 years or so, when there have been more democratic states, they have faced, first in Nazi Germany and then in the Soviet Union, a good reason not to fight among themselves but to unite against the greater threat.

Muravchik does not rest with the evidence from history, however.  In addition, he gives two reasons why democracies tend to be peaceful.  First, democracies are ruled by the majority and most people are reluctant to go to war.  Second, the very political process of majority rule, which requires discussion and compromise, makes democracies more willing to discuss and compromise when dealing with other countries.  If all nations were democratic, therefore, discussion and compromise would tend to replace war.

This argument may contain an element of truth, but some caution is necessary.  The United States was a democracy in the nineteenth century but fought many wars, in at least two of which (the Mexican and Spanish wars) it was the aggressor.  Great Britain, increasingly democratic in the nineteenth century, also fought many wars for the sake of its empire.  There is no necessary connection, then, between democracy and peacefulness.  If today certain democracies are more pacific than they were in the past, must they be so in the future?  If there is no necessary connection between democracy and peace, is it not possible that war between democratic nations could occur in the future?  If democracy is majority rule, as Muravchik states, is it impossible to conceive that a majority might decide to go to war against a smaller neighbor with which it has a border dispute or which mistreats its co-religionists or ethnic brothers?  For that matter, majority rule in some Islamic countries might bring to power militant fundamentalists.  Would this make the world more peaceful or safer for us?


Muravchik’s contention that promoting democracy abroad is in our interest because it will make the world safer for us may not be as sound as he thinks.  Yet in some instances, promoting democracy may contribute to our safety.  In this case, should we not try to do it?  We can easily imagine Buchanan interrupting here.  Before deciding to export democracy, he might say, consider whether such a goal is practical.  Is it really possible to export democracy?  Is it a task that can be accomplished?  If not, we should not undertake it.

Muravchik argues that it is possible to export democracy by pointing to cases where we have done it.  According to him, we have done it through example, military occupation, covert action, crisis diplomacy, foreign aid, and the dissemination of information.  Certainly, America’s example has inspired and continues to inspire people throughout the world.  But we offer this example whether we try to export or encourage democracy or not.  Thus it is not a good argument for Muravchik’s case.  On the contrary it might encourage us to ignore the rest of the world in order to make our own democracy as good an example as possible.  If we take the other cases he offers, where we actively involved ourselves in the effort to establish democratic governments, the picture is less encouraging.  In almost every case, we succeeded after World War II in exporting democracy where democracy had previously existed: western Europe.

Consider the historical examples of crisis diplomacy that Muravchik discusses: the Philippines (1989), Haiti (1986-87), the Dominican Republic (1963-64), Nicaragua (1978-79), Iran (the fall of the Shah), Panama (1989), and China (1989).  None of these countries had a democratic tradition.  In none, except the Philippines, did diplomatic intervention work, although in some of the cases other efforts did later contribute to establishing democracy.  Muravchik concludes rightly that these examples show the limits of diplomacy for spreading democracy.  They and the limited success of the other means of exporting democracy that he discusses may also show something else: the limits of democracy.


            We can get a sense of these limits if we consider the last method for exporting democracy that Muravchik discusses, foreign aid.  He poses the question directly.  “Can aid stimulate development, and does development conduce to democratization?”  No one, including Muravchik, argues that there is a simple link between foreign aid and economic growth or between economic growth and democratization.  No one contends that if a country gets aid it will get richer and that if it gets richer, it must, for that reason alone, become more capable of democratic government.  Muravchik’s claims for the connection between aid and development and development and democracy are modest, therefore.  He maintains only that aid can stimulate development in some cases and in some limited ways conduces to democracy by “sustaining fledgling democratic governments…and by directly underwriting elections, courts, and other institutions of democracy”(p. 188).

Muravchik is probably right to make only modest claims for the benefits of foreign aid.  Yet the connections between economic growth and the capacity for democratic government deserve fuller consideration.  Examining them sheds light on the success we are likely to have exporting democracy around the world.


Economic growth can contribute to the capacity for democracy in several ways.  As economies grow, for example, they demand an educated work force.  People who are better educated are more apt to understand their rights and how to protect them.  This, combined with the wealthier and more urban population that develops as economies grow, can give people greater independence and self-confidence.  Such a population is more likely to support democracy than one, for example, that is uneducated and dependent on a class of large landowners for its livelihood.

In these ways economic growth supports democracy but, at a more fundamental level, economic growth and democracy support one another because they share a common spirit.  Economies grow best when individuals are free to take the initiative and are held accountable by the market for their decisions and actions.  Precisely such people seem most fit for democratic government.  They do not need or like to be told what to do, believing that they are competent to decide what is best and to get on with it.  It is not necessary that every citizen have these traits in the same degree for a country to be democratic, of course.  But democratic government is more likely to succeed if these traits are widespread and widely respected, even by those who do not fully possess them.

Such people and such respect for initiative are not present everywhere and always.  In Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example, faith in human initiative was not widespread.  Most people relied instead on superstition and magic to improve their lives.  Europeans escaped their reliance on magic not because they developed technological replacements for it or increased their per capita GNP but because they came to have “faith in the potentialities of human initiative.”  They came to believe that they did not need magic because they had at their disposal their own minds and hands.  Both the decline of magic and subsequent political and economic development followed from this change in attitude.  It produced the practical, enterprising optimism that we in the United States came to identify with Benjamin Franklin and to respect.  Those historical events we call the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution seem to have caused this change, at least in part, “but the ultimate origins of this faith in unaided human capacity remain mysterious.”[5]

What is the significance of these changes in European attitudes?  Consider the following comparison.  The per capita GNP of some African countries is equivalent to that of England, let us say, in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.  The difference in human attitudes between modern Europe and Africa is at least as great as this economic difference.  For example, the novelist Richard Wright reported that among Africans he saw during a visit to Ghana in the 1950s “the state as well as the universe are symbolically conceived of in a way that is but a sweeping projection of [the African’s] concept of and feeling for the family.”  What Wright describes here and in other passages is a personalized or animistic world not essentially different from that in which the inhabitants of sixteenth century England lived.  These Englishmen believed in magic and prosecuted and burned witches, practices like those that still exist in Africa.[6]

This difference between contemporary Europeans and Africans is not necessarily definitive, of course.  After all, Europeans were once tribal and we are all still at least a bit superstitious.  For example, like our primitive ancestors we “also put our trust in activities designed to ‘work’ (for example, in diplomatic conferences designed to avoid war), when all the evidence, if we wished to consider it, suggests that they do not.”[7]  Yet we escaped our tribal past, developed economically, and became democratic.  We remain so today despite our residual reliance on superstition.  Why cannot the Africans?

Perhaps they can.  Yet, recall our own escape from magic outlined above.  The Reformation and the Scientific Revolution did not occur in Africa.  Can such phenomena be exported?  While the change in attitude associated with these phenomena need not be exclusively European, there is no reason to suppose that this change must occur everywhere or in the same degree that it has occurred in Europe.  In his report of his time in Ghana, for example, Wright noted with puzzlement and some exasperation a lack of personal initiative on the part of Ghanaians.[8]

These differences between Europeans and Africans are just part of the differences in attitude and disposition among the peoples of the world.  Take another example.  Japanese manufacturers, a powerful force for economic development, invest their money in places where they find “workers who can make ‘zero defects’ their guiding principle.”  The Japanese reportedly find such disciplined workers in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia but not in India and the Philippines.  Similar differences apparently also exist between occidental and Japanese workers.[9]  Even though the connections between human attitudes and aptitude for economic growth and democracy cannot be spelled out unambiguously, it is at least possible that differences in such attitudes are relevant for economic success and democratic government.


Although Muravchik does not discuss religion, we should consider it briefly, for religious attitudes have an important bearing on the possibilities for democracy around the world.[10]  When democracy first took hold, for example, it did so in Protestant countries.  Scholars have explained this by pointing out that Protestantism emphasized the individual conscience, tended to follow the less hierarchical and authoritarian patterns of the early church, and, in a secularized form, was at least compatible with, if it did not encourage, modern forms of economic activity that themselves supported democracy.  For these reasons, then, Protestantism was congenial to democracy in a way that Catholicism was not.  Democracy has since taken root in Catholic countries, of course, but Catholicism itself has, in a sense, become increasingly more like Protestantism.

If we look beyond Christianity, we can see other evidence that bears on the question of the relationship of religion to democracy.  In East Asia, where Confucianism is a dominant force, democracy is struggling to establish itself, so far with limited success.  Scholars point out that Confucianism “emphasized the group over the individual, authority over liberty, and responsibilities over rights.”[11]  These are not attitudes we think of as compatible with democracy.  As another example, consider Islam.  Among predominantly Moslem countries, only Turkey has maintained a democratic government, and that has been interrupted by periodic military takeovers.

Like the attitudes discussed earlier, these religious differences are not necessarily definitive for a discussion of how much success democracy is likely to have.  There are exceptions to each case.  Japan sums up many of them.  It had little democratic tradition, was not Christian, let alone Protestant, and was at least influenced by Confucianism, yet we managed to impose a form of democracy on it during a military occupation.  Religious and cultural authoritarianism can be mitigated or in some cases may not inhibit democracy, even though it does in others.  In addition, once it begins and grows in strength, nothing is more likely to promote religious and cultural change than economic development.


Religious and other obstacles to democracy, while greater than Muravchik indicates, are not necessarily immovable.  They do not alone render futile the effort to export democracy.  Yet, as we have seen, the human and religious variables involved in economic and political change are so great that we cannot hope to know always how to act upon them in order to promote democracy.  As noted, Muravchik himself admits as much when discussing the relationship of economic development to democracy.  “The relationship between economic and political development is…indeterminate,” he concludes (p. 188).  Consequently, making the export of democracy the center of our foreign policy would be the equivalent of making playing a lottery the center of a corporation’s financial planning.  If we knew that the benefits of exporting democracy (a safer world) would be ours if democracy spread, then we might want to take this risk.  But since we cannot be sure of this, why bother?  Indeed, since we know so little of the how and why of political change, a policy focused on promoting democracy might induce change we would find undesirable.  There is reason to believe that when traditional societies break down, democracy must rise from the ashes.


Muravchik accepts, at least implicitly, that protecting and promoting our interests must be the central objective of our foreign policy.  In this he agrees with Buchanan, who explicitly avows this principle.  His argument for a foreign policy of exporting democracy must rest, then, on proof that it would advance our interests.  As we have seen, it is difficult to find conclusive proof of this or of the proposition that we could actually succeed in exporting democracy.  But this does not mean that there is no alternative to the isolationism of Buchanan; or that we must give up our concern with the fate of democracy in the world.

Although, Buchanan is on unassailable ground when he argues that our interests should be at the center of our foreign policy, he has too narrow a view of that ground, too narrow a view of what affects our interest.  He sometimes speaks as if we have no interests beyond the Gulf of Mexico, apparently forgetting that one of our fifty states sits in the middle of the Pacific.  Events beyond the territorial waters of the continental United States do indeed affect our interests.

Consider a few examples.  The Revolution in Iran has led to increased terrorist attacks on Americans.  Should we no longer concern ourselves with Iran?  To take a less dramatic, but in the long run more important, instance, global free trade will benefit us enormously.  Should we not remain involved in the international organizations that help promote it?  Or what about the enormous debts of developing countries?  Since many American banks are owed large sums of money by these countries, our domestic financial system is involved in this debt problem.  Should we ignore it?

To fight terrorism, encourage free trade, and manage the debt burden of developing countries we need allies.  We will not have them, if we do not give something to the alliance.  Must we give as much as we gave during the Cold War?  Must we maintain as large a military force, in as many places around the world?  Not at all.  But we cannot avoid “entangling alliances” unless we are prepared to suffer a drastic decline in the quality of our lives.  Would accepting such a situation put America’s interests first?  As for our traditional concern with democracy around the world, in some cases it may be both possible and in accordance with our interests to act on it.  In such cases, there should be no objection to doing so.

For all his huffing and puffing, then, Buchanan’s isolationism turns out to be not very different from Muravchik’s internationalism.  Buchanan’s and Muravchik’s arguments converge because, more moderately stated, they each express part of the truth.  Contrary to Muravchik, exporting democracy should not be made the focus of our foreign policy because the possible benefits of such a policy and the difficulties of carrying it out do not justify it.  Yet, we have rightly felt a sympathy with democratic aspirations and should assist them where possible.  Contrary to Buchanan, we cannot simply come home.  Putting America’s interests first will leave us with substantial overseas commitments.  In this more moderate light, Muravchik’s argument becomes a useful reminder of our concern with democracy, while Buchanan’s recalls us to the importance of our interests.  As always, we are left with the difficult task of properly balancing our principles and our interests.


            In addition to reminding us of our interests, Buchanan’s argument has another virtue.  It raises an important issue, generally ignored as we try to make sense of the changed world in which we now live.  “What,” he asks “doth it profit a nation if it gain the whole world, and lose its own soul?”  By posing his question, Buchanan implies that the great victory we have won over the Soviet Union will be hollow, if we lose what we were fighting to protect.  This is true, of course, but in speaking of losing, Buchanan seems to have in mind loss of economic vitality.  His question would have been both more penetrating and poignant if he had raised it to the level of Lincoln’s concern for our democracy.  But can we truly be said to be in danger of losing our democracy?

Evidence that we are come, ironically, form both Muravchik and Buchanan.  Recall that the former somewhat optimistically claims that it was neither diplomacy nor force of arms that defeated the Soviet Union, but the idea of democracy.  It is this idea that he praises and argues we should export.  Yet his discussion displays a fatal misconception of democracy.  He contends that the idea “that adult human beings ought not to be governed without their consent” is the foundation of democracy but goes on to say that this idea is merely a preference, a value “no more true than the contrary proposition that people ought to be ruled by the vanguard party or by the corporate state or by the religious authorities” (p. 35).

Muravchik claims that consent is fundamental but argues that no reasons can be given for this or, presumably, other moral claims.  At bottom, such claims are merely preferences.  Muravchik may think this a good argument for democracy.  If every claim is a matter of preference, then there are no limits to our claims.  We should prefer, then, the form of government that allows greatest freedom to choose: democracy.  But this is not an argument for democracy.  On the contrary, it is an argument for tyranny.  If there is indeed no limit to what we can choose, then we may rightly choose to take another’s property or life, simply because we prefer to.  Fear of retribution might inhibit an individual but this would be a question of self-interest only, not right.  What would inhibit a majority?  If one were large enough why would it fear retribution?  Counseled by Muravchik’s praise of majority rule, what would it not dare to do?  This may sound outrageous, even to Muravchik, but this is what he is arguing for by claiming, as he does, that governments headed by vicious tyrants, who have indeed killed and stolen as they wanted, are morally equivalent to democracy (p. 35).

Muravchik’s argument for democracy turns into a defense of tyranny because his passion for democracy makes him value freedom too highly.  Thomas Jefferson, another ardent defender of democracy, freedom, and majority rule, in his first Inaugural Address called on his countrymen to “bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in a cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable.”  Democracy, majority rule, to be rightful must always be limited by a principle of reason.  In the United States, that principle has always been equality.  The Declaration of Independence argues that men are free not because they prefer freedom but because they are equal by nature and in God’s sight.  No man, therefore, has the right to rule another man without that man’s consent.  Armed with this principle, Lincoln fought slavery and those advocates of majority rule who felt the vote of a majority could justify slavery.  On this principle of equality, Lincoln based his defense of human dignity, saving our democracy from the most common and dangerous fault of its practitioners, and preserving it as an example to the world, as he hoped, for all future time.

Muravchik’s book celebrates the victory of American democracy over its gravest external threat but inadvertently makes clear the more grave internal danger that we face.  For Muravchik is not alone in forgetting equality, the principle that sustains our national life.  In a now famous question, Buchanan asked “if we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them up in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate?”[12]  Every nation, including the United States, has the right to decide who can become one of its citizens.  This is not the issue.  What is at issue is the principle that Buchanan appeals to.  He does not talk about individual Zulus or Englishmen but about groups.  In doing so, he violates the most fundamental principle of American nationhood.  The United States was founded on the principle that men are equal by nature and in God’s sight.  For that reason, we must aspire to judge men as God judges them, not on the basis of their membership in some group or class but on the basis of what they are as individuals.  Because he does not understand this meaning of equality, Buchanan does not understand the United States.

The great irony in this failure of understanding is that it joins Buchanan with all those supporters of affirmative action who are leading us to accept with increasing readiness talk of group rights, of rights based on skin color, or sex, and to neglect those rights we hold as individuals because of our common humanity.  By joining in principle with these people, Buchanan is encouraging neglect of the principle of justice on which this country was founded, the principle that people, precisely because they are equal, should be rewarded not because of their race, family, or religion, but for their achievements as individuals.  He joins those, then, who are in the process of destroying the United States more effectively than any foreign enemy could.  For as Lincoln noted at Independence Hall, it is devotion to the principle of human equality that gives our nation life.  No matter how secure our frontiers, no matter how positive our trade balance, no matter how up to date our infrastructure, when we surrender that principle, we will cease to exist.

After the Cold War, we must indeed attend to problems at home.  As we fought and slowly won that long war against the gravest external threat to our democracy, we gradually allowed its life giving principle to decay.  To defeat the Soviet Union but succumb to false ideas of democracy would indeed amount to winning the world but losing our soul.



David Tucker is on the policy planning staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.  Before joining the Department of Defense, he served as a Foreign Service Officer in Africa and Europe.  Prior to his government service, Dr. Tucker was the Director of the Claremont Institute’s International Seminar in American Studies.  He also taught at the University of Chicago, where he was a William Rainey Harper Fellow.  Mr. Tucker has published a number of articles and essays on American history and foreign policy, and on the war in Vietnam.  The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense or any other U.S. Government agency.

[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to Federico Barredo,” March 4, 1862, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler  (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), v. 5, pp. 142-143.

[2] Patrick Buchanan, “American First—and Second, and Third,” The National Interest, 19 (Spring 1990), pp.77-82;  “Now the Red is Dead, Come Home, America,” The Washington Post,  September 8, 1991, pp. C1, C4; “The Hardest Part Can Be Letting Go,” The Washington Times, October 28, 1991, pp. E1, E4.  Quotations in the text are from these articles.  For an example of someone arguing a similar position, see Doug Bandow, “Keep the Troops and the Money at Home,” Orbis, 35 (Fall 1991),  pp. 549-561.  Bandow’s notes serve as a convenient guide to much of the recent writing on the theme of isolationism.  Consider also, David S. Broder, “American Isolationism, Shame of the GOP,” Washington Post, December 8, 1991, p. C7 and Steven Kelman, “American Isolationism, Shame of the Democrats,” Washington Post, December 8, 1991, p. C7.

[3] For example, Joshua Muravchik, Exporting Democracy, Fulfilling America’s Destiny (Washington, D.C., 1991) (page references in parenthesis in the text are to this edition); Carl Gershman, “Freedom Remains the Touchstone,” The National Interest, 19 (Spring 1990), pp. 83-86; James Robbins, “Towards a Muscular Libertarianism,” Orbis, 35 (Fall 1991), pp. 533-548; Brad Roberts, “Human Rights and International Security,” The Washington Quarterly, 13 (Spring 1990), pp. 65-75; and Lawrence Eagleburger, Deputy Secretary of State, “Engagement Vs. Withdrawal: U.S. Foreign Policy After the Cold War,” Dispatch, 2 (October 7, 1991), pp. 737-740.

[4] Samuel P. Huntington, “No Exit: The Errors of Endism,” The National Interest, 17 (Fall, 1989) p. 7.

[5] Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, (New York, 1971), p. 663; pp. 656-663.

[6] Richard Wright, Black Power, A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos, (New York, 1954), pp. 334; 201-202, 215-216, 274.  “Witchcraft Emerges as Political Power Weapon,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Africa, May 16, 1990, pp. 38-40.

[7] Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 667.

[8] Wright, Black Power, pp. 145-146.

[9] The Economist, July 21, 1990, pp. 58-59.

[10] These comments on religion and democracy are based on Samuel P. Huntington, “Religion and the Third Wave,” The National Interest, 24 (Summer 1991), pp. 29-42.

[11] Ibid. p. 36.

[12] For quotations and commentary, see Gary Wills, “The Golden ‘Blade’,” The New York Review of Books, v. 39 (February 13, 1992), pp. 22-26; and George Will, “Buchanan Takes Aim,” Washington Post, December 11, 1991, p. A25.