Democracy is championed as a universal good by the West, but we over-estimate its power to guarantee personal and political freedom, argues Roger Scruton.
For some time, the leading Western nations have acted upon the assumption that democracy is the solution to political conflict, and that the ultimate goal of foreign policy must be to encourage the emergence of democracy in countries which have not yet enjoyed its benefits. And they continue to adhere to this assumption, even when considering events in the Middle East today. We can easily sympathise with it. For democracies do not, in general, go to war with each other, and do not, in general, experience civil war within their borders. Where the people can choose their government, there is a safety valve that prevents conflicts from over-heating. Unpopular governments are rejected without violence.
The championship of democracy has therefore become a settled feature of Western foreign policy. In retrospect, the Cold War has been seen as a conflict between democracy and totalitarianism, in which democracy finally triumphed. And with democracy came the liberation of the people of the former communist states. Where there had been tyranny and oppression, there was now freedom and human rights. And if we study the words of Western politicians, we will constantly find that the three ideas – democracy, freedom and human rights – are spoken of in one breath, and assumed in all circumstances to coincide. That, for many of our political leaders, is the lesson to be drawn from the Cold War and the final collapse of the Soviet empire.
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