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The Summit for Democracy Charade

The tendency to conflate liberalism with democracy was well on display last week during the first "Summit for Democracy."

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual discussion as part of the Summit for Democracy, from the U.S. Department of State. (Wikimedia Commons)

The global liberal elites’ tendency to conflate liberalism with democracy was well on display last week during the first “Summit for Democracy.”

The virtual event, hosted by President Joe Biden’s White House, saw about 100 countries participate, and featured speeches and panels from politicians, diplomats, activists, and journalists. The purpose of the summit, which Biden promised to host on the campaign trail, was ostensibly to strategize with other nations on how to revitalize trust in democracy and its capacity to create human flourishing. However, the summit predictably devolved into moralizing speeches that misconstrued liberalism for democracy. Proper democracies, these liberal internationalists would have you believe, are only those that permit or approve of the most liberal excesses. Those who oppose such excesses, like force-feeding children gender or sexual ideology, are instantly castigated as authoritarian regimes.

Biden opened up the summit with his own remarks, delivered alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Anti-democratic autocrats, Biden said, “seek to advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world and justify the repressive policies and practices as a more efficient way to address today’s challenges…by increasing the dissatisfaction of people all around the world with democratic governments that they feel are failing to deliver for their needs.”

Combating autocratic efforts to undermine global confidence in the ability for democratic governments to adequately respond to modern problems, Biden said, is “the defining challenge of our time.”

The president also announced a number of government initiatives that seek to bolster liberalism around the world. Biden committed $224 million next year to ensure “transparent governance” around the world by directing funds to fight corruption, protect press freedoms, ensure free and fair elections, and support democratic reformers in hostile nations. The Biden administration also seems to want to export its National Strategy on Gender Equality and Equity to other nations, as it aims to use various other aid mechanisms to strengthen women and the LGBTQ+ community across the globe.

To the untrained ear, Biden’s remarks were relatively inoffensive. Like many of his speeches as of late, Biden stumbled through the words that appeared on the teleprompter, but seemingly managed to deliver them with the sincerity that has made him a mainstay in Washington for the last half-century. That left it to Kamala Harris, his impolitic vice president, to not only say the quiet part out loud, but yell it from the mountain tops during her summit speech.

Some of Harris’s lines were copied, nearly verbatim, from the president’s address earlier that morning, but others doubled down on the insistence that a properly constructed democracy is one that “protects the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of people of color, the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+ rights, and women’s rights.” It forwards “reproductive rights,” which Harris added, “are at grave risk here in the United States.”

Democracy, as Biden, Harris, and other speakers would have you believe, is more than just popular participation in a polity’s political process. It’s the continual expansion and exportation of abortion on demand, critical race theory, and loosely-defined racial equity; it is pervasive wokeness in private and public life. To these elites, democracy is both an intrinsic good, and also good only insofar as it achieves their radically autonomous ends. Democracy is a unique cultural process, while simultaneously “know[ing] no borders” and “speak[ing] every language,” as Harris said in her remarks.

Our global leaders’ fundamental misunderstanding of democracy was well on display even before they participated in the summit, illustrated by their decision to invite certain countries and disinvite others.

Russia and China, both predictably and perhaps reasonably, were left off the list. But so was Hungary, the oft discussed conservative nation currently headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party. Orbán’s Hungary has received increasing amounts of praise from social conservative intellectuals on the right, such as Patrick Deneen, The American Conservative‘s Rod Dreher, and Tucker Carlson, which in turn has ratcheted up the western media’s efforts to smear Orbán and his government as authoritarian. 

Of course, Hungary’s national interests do not square perfectly with that of the United States. The small land-locked country of about 10 million has grown closer to both China and Russia, which somewhat concerns some of Hungary’s strongest defenders in the United States. TAC Senior Editor Dreher told this reporter that the “U.S. is not wrong to be concerned about” Hungary’s warming relations with Russia and China, but it was a predictable consequence of the respective establishments in Washington and Brussels alienating Hungary from the community of Western nations. 

However, it was not because Orbán’s Hungary has deepened its relationship with the summit’s two main antagonists that it was not extended an invitation. If that was the case, then Germany, who recently struck a massive investment deal with China and wants to see NordStream 2 pipeline completed, wouldn’t have received an invitation either. Nor would Peru, South Africa, Italy, or any other country that has joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative

The Biden administration chose not to invite Hungary because of its disdain for the Fidesz Party’s efforts to enact what Orbán has called “illiberal democracy.” During the 2020 election cycle, Biden went so far as to call Orbán a “totalitarian” and a “thug”; however, “Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government was democratically elected, and is facing a very tough re-election campaign in the spring,” Dreher said. “Do real authoritarians allow themselves to face voter referendums?”

Again, the list of summit attendees is quite telling. Freedom House’s Global Freedom Score gave Hungary a score of 69 out of 100, granting it the designation of “partly free.” But also in attendance at the summit was a delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Freedom House says is “not free” based on its score of just 20 out of 100. As was Columbia, Mexico, Kosovo, Nigeria, Zambia, the Philippines, and many other countries who scored lower than Hungary on Freedom House’s rankings.

“Hungary is a normal country like any other, but it is governed by a man of the Right who is willing to use the power that voters gave him to advance conservative policy goals,” Dreher said. “If a democratically elected government rejects the full panoply of LGBT rights, or rejects the crude racialism of the progressive Left, or spurns any part of the establishment’s woke ideology, the regime’s propagandists trash them as non-democratic.”

In the end, the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy showed that global elites will unabashedly continue their efforts to make democracy a Trojan Horse for liberalism. But Hungary may still provide the political right in America and elsewhere with the hope that this project will still prove the charade it has always been.

about the author

Bradley Devlin is a Staff Reporter for The American Conservative. Previously, he was an Analysis Reporter for the Daily Caller, and has been published in the Daily Wire and the Daily Signal, among other publications that don't include the word "Daily." He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Economy. You can follow Bradley on Twitter @bradleydevlin.

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