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The Primacy Of Freedom

It is certainly a conundrum of America’s laudable foreign policy objective of democracy promotion that electorates sometimes freely vote for parties whose goals are distinctly inimical to US foreign policy objectives. ~Gerard Baker

You could call it a conundrum.  Or you could call it an entirely predictable outcome of empowering populations that despise U.S. foreign policy, which is not so much of a conundrum, since virtually everyone already knew the attitude of the populations in question.  Conundrum makes the outcome sound somehow mysterious, inexplicable and bizarre, as if it were the last thing anyone might have expected. 

Baker continues:

And yet, for all its perils, President George Bush is surely right to insist on the primacy of freedom.

Well, this seems to be a decidedly strange way to run U.S. foreign policy (the primacy of the just American interest would seem to be appropriate), but even supposing that Mr. Bush insisted on the “primacy of freedom” and did the necessary legwork to make sure that his rhetorical insistence was matched with proper support, an insistence on the “primacy of freedom” has next to nothing to do with the promotion of democracy.  As Near Eastern, Latin American and other elections are reminding us all the time, democratic elections in most countries are a sure-fire way to ensure that there is much less freedom in the country, since majorities in these countries are far more interested in using their political power to gain benefits and subsidies than they are in gaining any real sort of freedom.  This may have something to do with the fact that most people, when faced with the choice of either doing the hard work needed to possess and retain freedom or not doing it, will opt for the easier path.  This rather makes nonsense out of Mr. Bush’s refrains that all people want freedom, since they might very well want it and could still want many other things far more. 

If Mr. Bush were insisting on the “primacy of freedom,” he would be actively discouraging elections and encouraging the development of civil society and liberal education.  Instead, there is virtually none of the latter and constant chatter about the former.  Besides, all those purple-thumbed Iraqis make for better television than the drudgework of changing political culture over the long haul (not that I think that the U.S. government should be involved in any of this).

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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