So many Americans assume — because our civil catechism tells us so — that liberal democracy is the natural state of humankind.
Many Americans make a lot of bad assumptions about the reliably good effects of democratization, but as far as I know even the most ideological democratists are not under the impression that our political arrangements are the “natural state of mankind.” For example, some democratists expect that authoritarian states such as Iran and China would behave quite differently on the international stage if their current regimes were replaced by more democratic ones. They have no reason to believe this, but it often forms the core of their argument for promoting democracy inside these countries (i.e., they believe there is a strategic value in democracy promotion in addition to any other reasons for doing it). Many democratists also indulge the notion that democratization tends to have pacifying and stabilizing effects. This involves trotting out a lot of overblown claims about the “democratic peace” that doesn’t have much of anything to do with the existence of democratic governments.
Many democratists do assume that liberal democracy forms a large part of what George W. Bush referred to as the “single surviving model of human progress.” Where they go wrong is in their teleological reading of history and their triumphalist belief that something very much like our political system will eventually take hold everywhere given enough time. Related to this is the presumption that such a political system must be what every nation wants for itself. Democratists don’t assume that this is the way that all people “naturally” govern themselves, but they expect that this is the way that all people eventually will govern themselves and that it is ultimately the form of government that all people everywhere desire.
Another democratist error is the belief that democratization by itself is desirable for the nation in question and for the U.S. regardless of a nation’s prior political culture and institutions. Almost all democratists will insist that they include civil liberties, minority rights, institutional checks and balances, and the rule of law in their definition of “democracy.” At the same time, they are also likely to treat the establishment of elected majoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments as proof of the success of U.S.-led democracy promotion simply because these U.S.-backed governments have been voted into power. When an illiberal democratic government takes power and it is perceived to be anti-American, democratists will often deny that it has any democratic elements at all.