Protecting Democracy from the Outside
Wednesday, November 18 @ 4:00 p.m.
Taylor Professor of Politics
Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture
Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs
University of Virginia
Three decades after its supposed permanent global triumph, democracy is in trouble nearly everywhere. In the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, constitutional self-government is on the back foot, as polarization destroys societal trust and anti-liberal populist movements and leaders gain power. Autocracy is becoming even more entrenched in the two giants, China and Russia. Some other countries proclaim the desire to be more like them. Once seen as an inevitability, democracy now appears a fragile achievement. In world politics, there is an evolutionary dynamic which the international environment selects for some types of state. Since World War II, the United States and other mature democracies have deliberately tried to preserve democracy at home by shaping the international environment through a liberal-internationalist foreign policy. In the language of evolutionary theory, they have engaged in niche construction, altering their environment to “select for” constitutional self-government, and “select out” authoritarianism. They enjoyed great success, but in recent decades, the niche has actually come to undermine democracy, favoring autocracy. Liberalism itself has been transformed from its earlier classical forms to a cosmopolitan version that seeks to erase all barriers to economic and social interaction in the name of individual fulfillment. Such cosmopolitan liberalism has provoked a cultural and economic backlash that acts to jeopardize constitutional democracy itself. China and Russia meanwhile are constructing their own niches, reshaping the international order to select for autocracy. Defending democracy from the outside will require a reformed liberal internationalism that will de-polarize electorates, restore solidarity among democracies, and be less inclusive of authoritarian regimes. As the most powerful constitutional democracy, the United States retains the most important role in this reformation.
John M. Owen is Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, at the University of Virginia. Owen is author of Confronting Political Islam (Princeton, 2015), The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton, 2010), and Liberal Peace, Liberal War (Cornell, 1997), and co-editor of Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia, 2011). He has published scholarly papers in the European Journal of International Relations, European Journal of International Security, Global Policy, International Organization, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, International Politics, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Perspectives on Politics, and several edited volumes. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Hedgehog Review, The Hill, The Washington Post, National Interest, The New York Times,and USA Today. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies; he serves on its editorial board and that of International Security. Owen has held fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, the Free University of Berlin, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Research Center. He is a recipient of a Humboldt Research Prize (2015). He holds an AB from Duke, an MPA from Princeton, and a PhD from Harvard. In Fall 2020, he is a Visiting Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of British Columbia.
Respondent: Tyler Chamberlain’s research interests sit at the intersection of philosophy and political science. He is particularly interested in early modern political thought, conservatism, and the Classical Realist tradition in International Relations. Tyler’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Canadian Political Science Review and The Canadian Journal of Political Science.”
Karl Mannheim 1942: “With the coming of the Renaissance and Liberalism, Christianity failed to remain the basic ferment and integrating force in social life… The spiritualization and regulation of human affairs, public and private, has gradually been left to the competing institutions in society… This secularization produced a stimulating variety of human experience… But the fact that the competing value systems cancelled each other out led to the neutralization of values in general. This is one of the reasons why liberal society at its present stage is handicapped in resisting the spiritual and political challenge coming from the totalitarian states… A liberal and competitive economy and its society can function quite well with neutralized values as long as there is no threat from within or without which makes a basic consensus imperative… [in which case] liberal education for intelligent partisanship… must gradually be replaced by a new education for responsible criticism, wherein consciousness of the whole is at least as important as awareness of your own interests… Such a new morality can only be achieved if the deepest sources of human regeneration assist the rebirth of society”.
Tolstoy predicts the current epidemic of fake news: “The more men are freed from privation; the more telegraphs, telephones, books, papers, and journals there are; the more means there will be of diffusing inconsistent lies and hypocrisies, and the more disunited and consequently miserable will men become” (The Kingdom of God is Within You – 1893).