Issue #24, Spring 2012

Democracy No!

Progressive support for democracy promotion and military intervention ignores our dismal history. A response to Rosa Brooks and Tom Perriello.

I have always thought George Santayana’s celebrated phrase that those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it to be one of the dumbest things ever said by a smart person. It assumes the past repeats itself, which hardly seems likely, and that the past can be understood by posterity as offering simple moral lessons—history as a kind of McGuffey’s Reader writ large—when in fact history is almost never morally binary, but rather bears out Walter Benjamin’s saturnine claim that every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism.

Still, reading both Rosa Brooks’s and Tom Perriello’s contributions to Democracy’s “America and the World” symposium [Issue #23], I found Santayana’s sentence coming unbidden to mind. For rarely have two pieces illustrated what might with only slight exaggeration be called the will to forget the past, and, as in so many of America’s foreign-policy follies, both the triumph of hope over (even recent) experience and the belief that this time America’s good intentions in fostering a global democratic order should matter far more than the actual history of U.S. actions from at least Woodrow Wilson’s day to George W. Bush’s.

To put the matter even more pointedly, after all the harm the United States has done in the Arab Middle East over the course of the past decade—not least, the comparatively unremarked fact that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein seems to have led not to democracy but to a world-historical tragedy that will be remembered long after Saddam and Bush have become footnotes: the end of Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest loci of the faith—the only sensible thing to conclude is that in fact Washington is very bad at promoting democracy, and that, desirable as democracy doubtless is, its gift is not and therefore must not be asserted by influential policy intellectuals to be within America’s grace and favor. And so, though I have no doubts about either Brooks’s or Perriello’s moral seriousness, nor that the world they would like to see would be a far better one than that which we inhabit today, when I read two former members of the U.S. government calling not for an end to democracy promotion and humanitarian military interventions by the United States, but for better forms of both, I really do want to ask them: “Have you no shame?”

Because with regard to the American empire, there is much to be ashamed about. Obviously, progressive policy intellectuals like Brooks and Perriello (and their opposite numbers at places like the Truman National Security Project, The New Republic, and other like-minded venues, and in the work of writers like Anne-Marie Slaughter, to name the best rather than the worst of them) know perfectly well that America has committed many crimes in its history—as all empires before us have done, and presumably, after us, will do as well. Brooks in her piece dwells at some length on the historical flaws and faults of American democracy. But for some reason this knowledge doesn’t seem to chasten her and her intellectual cohort in the way that it should. After mentioning the genocide of the Native American peoples, slavery, etc., etc., and frankly acknowledging that America as premier global democracy promoter must, indeed, sound more than a little grotesque to any Latin American with the slightest familiarity with her region’s history, they return to their default position, which is that America’s mistakes of the past should not be allowed to impede America’s fundamental commitment to the liberal internationalist project, which is, at its core, about the instauration of democracy everywhere in the world where it has any chance of gaining a foothold.

How is one to account for this? How, pace Santayana, do the lessons of the past seem to weigh so little? An as-yet-unshaken allegiance to a certain liberal, enlightened version of American exceptionalism—one, to its credit, leached of its triumphalism, its xenophobia, and its bellicosity—is surely part of the explanation. American democracy may not be perfect (far from it); but democracy at least does allow a people to set things right if they’ve gone off the rails, as the history of the United States is supposed to demonstrate. Doubtless, what might be called America’s Great Gatsby complex—that is, the belief that our past mistakes should not limit our future possibilities—is another. As Fitzgerald put it, there are no second acts in American lives. And because we somehow are supposed to believe this self-serving, consoling rubbish, we have our moral guilt and our interventionism too.

This allows progressive internationalists to feel entitled to note, but not be impeded by, the inconvenient truth that virtually all major U.S. interventions—from Woodrow Wilson’s adventures in Mexico to the occupations in the Caribbean in the 1920s and 1930s; to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh and Jacobo Arbenz in the 1950s; to Vietnam, and the dirty wars in Central America of the 1980s; and finally to the sanguinary folly of Iraq—were undertaken in the name of some form of democracy promotion or humanitarian or human-rights intervention. But this time it will be different, they insist! At least if done with—to use words both Brooks and Perriello emphasize—care, humility, and realism about what can and what cannot actually be achieved.

Curiously, the first part of both Brooks’s and Perriello’s pieces make a powerful case for such a disengagement. Brooks’s refusal to idealize democracy in the way cruder advocates of democracy promotion—Samantha Power springs instantly to mind—have so often done, her reminder of the blood that has been shed in the name of democracy, her acute sensitivities not just to the crimes and failings of the American past but to those that still mar the landscape of the American present as well, and her recognition of just how little, from a practical point of view, we actually know about which kinds of democracy promotion efforts work and which do not, could be read as a damning indictment of the whole project. But then Brooks makes a precipitous U-turn and asserts that democracy promotion should remain “a vital part” of American foreign policy, not because democracy “is perfect or because we are perfect, but because democracy remains the only political system yet devised that builds in a capacity for self-correction.” Elsewhere, Brooks calls democracy “the human fail-safe.”

Here we find ourselves lost deep in the dark forests of Fukuyamaland. Because once democracy becomes the default position of what nineteenth-century humanitarians called “the cause of humanity,” the political conversation is over, and the debate is demoted from whether—which should remain the real subject of the argument—to how. In this, Brooks is in the mainstream of the line of argument that liberals began to craft during the Bush years as an alternative to that Administration’s neoconservative Wilsonianism that sought a way not to throw out the global-democratic mission baby with the war-loving and American triumphalist bathwater. A particularly vulgar iteration of this view can be found in The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did) that the journalist James Traub published a few years ago. For Traub, it was simply a given that American security depended on the progress of freedom abroad. And because democracy had “become a near universal aspiration,” we in the United States “cannot choose” to be agnostic about it.

Brooks is smarter and subtler than that, at least, and keeps her categorical imperatives on something of a tight leash. But she still falls into the imperial trap of believing that it remains the prerogative of the United States to continue to put its heavy thumb on the global political scales to try to tip them toward democracy. To ask a question that is utterly absent from the mainstream debate in America (except, alas, for the egregious Ron Paul), what business is it of the United States to use its enormous power and, at times, its enormous military power to promote any political system on the rest of the world? Of course, advocates of democracy promotion will argue that we are not imposing anything, that people everywhere want democracy. But that is what advocates of empire have always said, and that history, which Brooks and Perriello seem so eager to dismiss, should give us pause.

There is something totalitarian in all this. For once one declares that democracy, for all its faults, is the highest form of contemporary political civilization, one is talking religion, not politics—and not just religion but monotheism at that. And the peril here is that, in such a narrative, anyone who does not jump on the democracy bandwagon is the secular equivalent of a heretic or a pirate—hostis humani generis, as the old description of pirates went: enemies of the human race. And with such enemies there can be no negotiation. They must go, or we must overthrow them—in the name of humanity, of course, and, per Perriello, according to the new humane codes of war making that we have now mastered. Improved operational capacities, Perriello instructs us, present “progressives with an opportunity—one that is too often seen as a curse—to expand the use of force to advance key values.” This claim is indistinguishable from Tony Blair’s 1999 declaration in his speech at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations that in the twenty-first century, the West would fight wars in the name of its values as well as its interests. Like Blair, Perriello is explicit on wanting more interventions, which in less Orwellian language means more wars. And Perriello trumpets the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi as the vindication of this worldview, even though it is anything but clear that regime change in Libya—let’s at least call things by their right names—will lead to a more democratic future in anything but formal terms. However, given the extent to which Brooks’s and Perriello’s arguments are now the conventional wisdom in Washington, our actions on “the shores of Tripoli” (the Marine Corps hymn; the most vulgar of Marxists couldn’t make this stuff up!) are only the overture to many more such expeditions “in the name of humanity.”

Let the buyer beware. If the debate about America continuing to promote democracy abroad is a practical one, then the practical reality is that actually, as Brooks herself concedes, following democracy theorist Thomas Carothers, we don’t really know what we are doing and rarely take into account with sufficient seriousness the unintended consequences of our actions. The Arab Spring, heralded by Brooks as the legitimation for the Obama Administration’s cautious moves away from realism and back toward more involvement in global democratization, should serve as a cautionary tale here. For it is by no means clear that the overthrow of Mubarak (or, indeed, the fall of Ben Ali, Saleh, and Gadhafi, and the possible overthrow of Assad in Syria) will lead to more decent societies in the Arab Middle East, nor that these democracies (for they are indeed that; Brooks is right there) controlled by Islamist parties will be more “self-correcting” than their predecessors.

If the debate is about American interests, then Brooks, Perriello, and those who share their view need to demonstrate why a democratic world order is necessary to the security of the United States. For despite the fact that this is so regularly claimed, it is anything but obvious. At the very least, there needs to be more consideration than democracy promotion advocates and partisans of humanitarian intervention have been willing to give of the costs as well as the benefits of the American project of fostering, to the extent it can do so prudently, a systematic, universal, global change of all political systems that are not yet democratic. That would require a commitment that is actually far more radical than regime changes in a few countries like Iraq or Afghanistan. Only the belief that in fact democracy is what the world wants already, and thus, morally speaking, we are pushing on an open door, could justify such a swollen ambition.

We have been down this road before, and its name is empire. If they follow Brooks and Perriello, American policy-makers will most likely declare our actions to be taken in the name of human rights, rather than what the French empire called France’s “civilizing mission,” or what Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden.” But at the risk of sounding like Gertrude Stein, an empire is an empire is an empire. At this point in history, surely it is time to consider instead whether the moral thing for us to do would be to stand down rather than double down.


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Issue #24, Spring 2012
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I see that Rieff has been reading his Carl Schmitt. Good for him.

Mar 16, 2012, 12:54 AM

I note that Rieff passes over the 1940s in silence. Anyone who knows the history of Germany, Italy and Japan will understand why, and realise what a fool he is.
The rest of the article is the usual orgy of narcissistic self-righteousness from a writer who knows that absolutely nobody with any influence over events takes him seriously, and resents it. Why give such a boring adolescent whiner yet another platform in which to repeat himself and embarrass the rest of us?

Mar 16, 2012, 1:44 AM
Sparkles Few:

The past is the last thing on the minds of a people who are prosecuting a war in favor of which there exists not a shred of evidence.

Mar 16, 2012, 7:07 AM
Post Past:

@spinozist, fair point that the 1940s are ignored.

America's history of post-intervention nation-building in Germany and Japan (and also later in South Korea) stand virtually alone as examples of when US intervention can be something other than a complete disaster for its recipients.

This raises the interesting question of whether Marshall plan-sized long-term commitments are what separates genuine pro-democracy interventions from blood-soaked imperial idiocy.

It also raises the question of whether America has either the means or the motivation to make similar levels of investment in, for example, Iraq or Afghanistan.

If the answer is "no", then the 1940s were indeed a strange and positive anomaly in what has otherwise been an uninterrupted history of imperial hubris.

Mar 16, 2012, 9:10 AM

How can this argument be so absent from our political discourse? This reality that one view for the world is the only view has enormous implications for democracy in America and cultural diversity around the world.

Mar 16, 2012, 10:27 AM
tyco bass:

There's ideology, about which this piece is a valuable corrective, and then there are those who profit from intervention or war no matter what the ideology.

Mar 16, 2012, 10:32 AM
Tom @ RolltopManifesto:

"why a democratic word order is necessary to the security of the United States. For despite the fact that this is so regularly claimed, it is anything but obvious."

An interesting point. But we are creatures of habit. The past century saw our society threatened by non-democracies bent on exporting, often through force of arms, their own ideology. The natural repsonse was to export our own. If an isolationist agenda is the alternative, then I think I'm still for exporting democracy (keep in mind that some of our most severe critics on the world stage are anything but democratic in their intentions). HOW we go about it is the question, and I agree, we're sort of inept in that regard. Policy makers, for the most part, want prestige, and those who seek high office are increasingly not the students of the past, or the present for that matter, that they ought to be. I've always felt Santayana's observation to be true and very wise, but perhaps I missed your point? I am but a simple man.

On your use of the term empire: oh, alright. I assume you refer to the enforcement of our system rather than the encouragement of it. Our empire hardly resembles those of not too long ago and your use of it suggests a liberal American self-loathing that is tiresome, uncompeling, and unproductive.

The west is the best. Cheers.

Mar 16, 2012, 11:23 AM

This seems like a strange critique to me. The point that democracy-promotion has generally failed doesn't benefit from confusing it with the issue of mis-use of an ideology of democracy promotion as cover for other policy ends. It diverts attention from questioning the ability of any country to promote democracy in another and leads into an unresolvable debate concerning the indirect effects of some ideology which is presumed to underly both genuine and fake attempts to install democracies. In short: there is more to democracy promotion than intervention. Every intervention shouldn't be hauled into a critique of democracy promotion. And this is really not the best issue upon which to found a rant about American Empire. If this is imperialism, then it's pretty good imperialism.

That said... the evidence supporting intervention as ameans to promote democracy is scanty, and often fails to look at the long term or to look beyond "formal democratization" -- i.e. contentment with electoral processes however corrupted. Those star cases that are invariably cited (Germany, Japan: the post-WWII group) shared distinctive features that are not shared by the interventions that followed, like high levels of economic development. So Rieff is right to decry the narcissistic self-regard and moral bigmouthing that pushes us again and again to attempt interventions that have little hope of success. Clearly other strategies deserve our attention more than those that have failed miserably at every turn. But this should not deter us from seeking a better model of democracy promotion: one that works in situations that are not ideal.

It is unfortunate that it is so difficult to do this. There are too many people who simply cannot accept what a better policy requires: the identification of situations/countries where democracy simply does not fit, and the acceptance of alternate pathes and stages which do not provide the immediate rewards of installing an electoral process.

Mar 16, 2012, 11:44 AM
Luke Lea:

Here is what we are up against:

Mar 16, 2012, 11:49 AM

This article makes some very good points. The problem is not that democracy is bad or even ineffective, but that 1) it cannot be successfully imposed 2) there are too many factors at play for anyone less than omniscient to evaluate both before and during the operations and 3) as a finite nation state with finite resources, the US simply CANNOT succeed imposing it's will on the world regardless of motivation.

True there are times when non democratic powers have become a big problem, but there is no way before hand to know which ones will be threats -- and the nation will destructively make far to many enemies and waste far too much resources trying to stamp out every potential fire.

It's a hopeless dream that we as a nation simply cannot affort.

Mar 16, 2012, 12:25 PM

By way of illustration of "what might with only slight exaggeration be called the will to forget the past", especially concerning U.S. involvement in Latin America:

In her July/August 2008 Foreign Affairs op-ed Condoleezza Rice shockingly wrote...

"We first need to recognize that democratic development is always possible but never fast or easy. This is because democracy is really the complex interplay of democratic practices and culture. In the experience of countless nations, ours especially, we see that culture is not destiny. Nations of every culture, race, religion, and level of development have embraced democracy and adapted it to their own circumstances and traditions. No cultural factor has yet been a stumbling block--not German or Japanese "militarism," not "Asian values," not African "tribalism," not Latin America's alleged fondness for caudillos, not the once-purported preference of eastern Europeans for despotism."

An implicit confirmation of cultural stereotypes meant to illustrate how the American force for democracy will always prevail over local resistance in the end. As if all those caudillos came to power as a natural result of Latin American political culture, and without any outside interference.

Mar 16, 2012, 12:39 PM

Re Spinozist's comment: it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that Germany and Japan were large, completely militarized, proudly racist, frankly expansionist powers that had attacked us, and our recent enemies have not been, could it?

I hope you find the war you seek.

Mar 16, 2012, 5:10 PM

As an Australian, I share more with the author than his critics. Promotion of democracy is one thing, the reality of US exploitation, political "engineering" (Mossadegh), atrocities (were 53 or 35 proven true in Vietnam?) is another. Why was democracy not promoted in Kuwait? Saudi Arabia? Why finance Israel's nuclear weapons and sanction Iran?

Mar 16, 2012, 8:01 PM
Andrew Maxwell:

Why we can't impose democracy on tribal societies:

There are essentially three stages of political development:
1. Tribal. The default position. Every human society is either at this stage, or once was at this stage.

2. Monarchial. When one tribal overlord conquers his neighbors and unifies a larger geographical area, a nation may be formed. It may take centuries before a national identity takes root.

3. Plural. If a monarchy is very lucky and persistent, it may eventually devolve power to a parliament, and move toward democracy.

This is how all societies evolve, on every continent, all throughout history. You cannot skip the monarchial stage, and go from tribal to plural. It is not possible. Monarchy is necessary, to congeal a nation. Monarchy, especially in the early stages of a nationhood, is necessarily forceful and brutal, because centrifugal forces are bound to hurl the place apart. Keeping a nation together is not pretty, especially to those of us privileged enough to enjoy living in places at the advanced, plural stage of development. But we, especially Americans, forget the many centuries of often brutal congealment that happened in England before it gave birth to our nation. American history did not begin in 1776. It began back in the 6th century or so, when England was first unified.

The plural stage is not inevitable. Some nations may stay in the monarchial stage for a long, long time.

Japan, Germany, and Italy were well on the road to pluralism when we imposed our political will on them post WWII. Their national identity was very well established, their people literate, industrious, and nationalistic. We just nudged them a bit to the next level. It was a good thing we did, but they were ripe candidates.

Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria, are very young nations. They will need to congeal a lot longer before they can be considered stable. A monarch is necessary in these places. Sometimes brutality is necessary to keep such places from falling apart. It's just plainly the way it works. Assad, Ghadafi, and Saddam, for all their brutality, are/were doing what monarchs of young nations absolutely must do: suppress the forces that are determined to fling their nations apart.

It is debatable whether Afghanistan can be considered a nation at all. It has never hung together well. It may never.

So, forget about pluralism in these places. They are not ready.

I believe America is well-intentioned, but just not very smart sometimes. Not very aware of the many centuries of struggle that led to where we are now. And not very respectful of other places that are in much earlier stages of that struggle. It is like a sixty year old man getting impatient with a toddler for not being more mature.

Mar 17, 2012, 1:36 AM

Opening the gate of "democracy" in undeveloped countries provides an entry way for economic exploitation and political corruption. Our US democracy is totally corrupted by money politics. What other country, in its right mind, would want that for itself?

Mar 17, 2012, 12:55 PM

Without the "unshaken allegiance to a certain liberal, enlightened version of American exceptionalism" many people might begin to suspect that not only can we not reform the world, but that we might have trouble bringing enlightenment to the benighted masses in places like Texas, small town Pennsylvania, or South Boston. The thought that political philosophies like those espoused by Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich might persist for generations is more than some folks can stomach. Having failed to rout the barbarians at home, the missionaries seeks zealously for proof of progress somewhere, anywhere.

Mar 17, 2012, 5:55 PM
Michael Neumann:

The author fails to distinguish between (a) intervention in the name of democracy, which is nonsense for his reasons and others, (b) intervention in the name of *basic* human rights, which is not. Rights inflation has obscured the distinction. You shouldn't intervene in the name of, say equal access to education. That doesn't mean you shouldn't intervene to stop mass torture and extermination.

Mar 17, 2012, 6:13 PM
Vaska :

"Only the belief that in fact democracy is what the world wants already, and thus, morally speaking, we are pushing on an open door, could justify such a swollen ambition."

Rieff might want to take a look at the recent 12-country poll done in the Arab world and available on the Al-Jazeera website. The results indicate that the majority of people in that part of the world do want and support a transition to democracy.

Mar 18, 2012, 2:00 PM
Richard Preisman:

It remains a serious problem that the best ideals expressed in religion and philosophy become covers for human ferocity and barbarism. Unless this topic becomes clearly explicated, every call for action into the problems of other cultures will be susceptable to tragic outcomes.

Mar 18, 2012, 2:17 PM

Curious that there is no mention of the Philippine-American war and the American annexation of the Philippines.

Mar 19, 2012, 5:19 AM
In Tempore:

Imperialism is how the West responds to the failure of democracy back home. It's merely a costly distraction.

Mar 20, 2012, 6:21 PM

This sounds like a left-wing screed. Don't confuse nation building with punishing criminals. South Korea and Viet Nam were nation building. Iraq and Afghanistan were punishing criminals. If we all had freedom, we wouldn't need check and balances, individual rights and all that goes with it. By the way, isolationism died with the first atomic bomb. Ask Ron Paul how he will buy off religious fanatics with nuclear weapons.

Mar 25, 2012, 9:54 PM
eddie s:

Another under the table or underhanded way of pushing the Socialist agenda..I am so tired of these decieving, what other word can I say,,Liars, who fein all this gooblygook about Demoncracy which is B.S. for they know true Demoncracy is for the people and by the people, not rich elitest Millionaire Socialist Liberal Demnoncrats who daily pass laws that restricts peoples Rights and strips them of their free speech in any piece of Legislation they pass..An then call themselves "Of and For the People"..Liars..

It is time for honesty to rear it's ugly head for a change...Starting at the top and especially in Academia.

Mar 26, 2012, 2:29 PM
eddie s:

Another under the table or underhanded way of pushing the Socialist agenda..I am so tired of these decieving, what other word can I say,,Liars, who fein all this gooblygook about Demoncracy which is B.S. for they know true Demoncracy is for the people and by the people, not rich elitest Millionaire Socialist Liberal Demnoncrats who daily pass laws that restricts peoples Rights and strips them of their free speech in any piece of Legislation they pass..An then call themselves "Of and For the People"..Liars..

It is time for honesty to rear it's ugly head for a change...Starting at the top and especially in Academia.

Mar 26, 2012, 2:31 PM

@spinoza, among the many features of our "democratizaton" of germany and japan that might give you pause is the total physical destruction of those coutries leading up to their re-births as the grateful recipients of our political wisdom. So if democracy promotion means killing a few hundred thousand or even million along the way, you're all for it, right? (The rest of your critique is crude ad hominem snearing, no need to answer it.)

@michael neumann, i think your point about rights inflation is a good one. What about basic human rights inflation, though? The critical undefined in your argment seems to lie hidden in the word "mass". Were the alleged incubator babies of Kuwait a mass killing? Saddam's "rape rooms" a case of mass torture? Was Ghaddafi's "almost maybe coulda" mass slaughter in Bengazi something to intervene against? And who gets to frame the narrative leading up to the "really" humanitarian interventions, where you and i both know that the military-industrial-media complex is also a machinery of lies, fine tuned for cranking out intervention after intervention?

May 21, 2012, 3:21 AM
Joe Instantcalloutdotcom:

Thanks for a great article.

How can this same pattern of self deceiving lies about war be taking place yet again for the nth time in the past 2000 years going back to pax romana?


a. human beings live in 'political' chaos all the time yet most pretend otherwise .


b. Sociopaths take advantage of both factors in a. to lead the mass of lemmings on yet another bout of mass murder to enrich and aggrandize the sociopath.

a. and b. sum up the entire political history of human kind, and will continue to do so until the violent chimpanzee pack gene is turned off, in other words, forever.

ps-Question: Do you think the Romans,French or English were any less true believing self deceivers and sociopath followers than today's American progressives and conservatives?

Answer: No. Nor will be the Chinese.

May 21, 2012, 4:27 AM

To Mr Maxwell: your use of the categorical is deficient. Not "all" societies have evolved this way. A few, admittedly, have evolved bypassing your three steps. There is evidence that Southern India in the bronze age was an anarchy. Certain cities in the Middle East had no government. Somalia was on it way to a kritarchy that the Western and AU powers could not allow. Indian tribes in North America formed alliances without a king. The Irish high kings were without command and control power. There are numerous examples of going beyond tribal to something besides a centralized monarchy then a parliamentary democracy.

May 21, 2012, 10:07 AM

It goes much further than Wilson and his lies about not getting involved in Europe.

You can go back to the Spanish American "war" and see how the American Empire took over the Phillipines and butchered, and water boarded, the locals.

The very ones who had earlier been fighting to free themselves from Spain now had the Americans to generously stab them in the back, and colonize the place.

All the while the folks back home were being lied to about how it was the American duty to bring it's values and Christianity to this place that'd already known Catholicism for three hundred years!

The hypocritical myopia is astounding. And it's no different today.

May 21, 2012, 12:29 PM

Good to see spinozist channeling the spinmeister himself on the 1940s - oh, i forgot, this is 1938.

May 21, 2012, 12:53 PM

Colonialism and imperialism under the guise of spreading civilization and democracy is an old story.

A proverb sprang up in South Africa after another British takeover in 1819: "omasiza imbulala", meaning "they who come to help come to kill".

May 21, 2012, 1:35 PM

war monger and war criminal blair must be caught and thena fter fair trial msut be tortured to death , if england refuses to hand him over then england msut be bombed into stone age and that evil nation culled for ever destroyed.

May 21, 2012, 5:31 PM
Michael Hamrin:

Not a very useful commentary. Superficial and pompous. Santyana's point was that those who do not LEARN from history are condemned to repeat it. Aggressive empires must always destroy hope and endeavor to to destroy the history of those whom the conquer, though the mechanics of empire sometimes varies. Democracy through the ballot box is ridiculous, because the choices are not valid and money supports propaganda. One man, one vote is a very bad formula anyway. Domestically we are very oppressive towards those at the bottom of the economic ladder, but those who are being squashed will never be heard.

May 26, 2012, 9:17 AM

Your first paragraph (alone) was reprinted by the Wilson Quarterly, and after reading it I felt compelled to respond in Santayana's defense. As the parent of a 16-year-old, I regularly have to face the question of why studying history is important. Of what practical use is history, given that "the past is past and it's a new world now"? Isn't history just a hobby for Civil War reenactors and the like? Santayana's argument is the best response I can give.

Jul 19, 2012, 8:24 AM
Riley Little:

David Rieff's Article Democracy NO! brings up an extreme view that has not until recently come to the forefront of American thought on foreign policy and understanding. Rieff contests ideals of American exceptionalism by looking at the undertakings of the American Empire in history and juxtaposing them with the current policy and trending movement of American foreign policy. This creates a brilliant contrast where Rieff identifies the previously "Gung-ho" mentalities of Wilsonian policy as well as the incarnation of said policy that was more recently enacted in the United States invasion of Iraq. He goes on to further trace the new progressive movement by responding to Rosa Brooks and Tom Perriello "Have you no shame?"

The question is posed at the new conception of foreign policy that Rieff calls, "a certain liberal, enlightened version of American exceptionalism". The new exceptionalism diverges from the previous version in the manner by which democracy is spread to the world, yet stays immovable (to Rieff's utter bewildernment) in the narrow and conception that democracy is the most correct form of societal government and as being such that it is of the utmost importance for America to spread it to the remainder of the world through international interactions. Rieff does a great job of creating a scope that views current trends of American foreign policy as narrow, primitive, and seemingly untested when it comes to spreading democracy in "new ways". His alternative however is one of stagnation and selfishness.

Rieff contends that it is in America's best interest and "the moral thing" to do would be to "stand down rather than double down". In a world that is become interconnected everyday, that is becoming a truly global civilization, this doesn't seem like a valid option. The idea of isolation and non-intervention seemed like a good idea and was fully supported by American's at another point in recent history as well, during the early stages of World War II. To quote Rieff, "We have been down this road before...", the outcome is clear. Human society is evolving in a way that now connects people to people and nation to nation in complex and constant contact. Standing down in such a world would be selfish and short-sighted.

Sep 11, 2012, 6:13 PM

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