Terrorism and the resurgent threat of war between major global powers, coupled with ineffective, unresponsive governance across the globe, have shaken faith in civil society. To provide for the security and general welfare of billions, many see a need for strong leadership to seize control and impose order onto a chaotic world. From Jihadist terrorists who call for theocratic dictatorships to authoritarians who seek to export their brand of governance, there is an effort to frame democracy and freedom as futile pursuits that undermine the security and stability of the world.
Looking at the bloodshed and devastation that has emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring Revolutions, for example, it seems democracy and freedom are more impediments to the proper management of the world’s resources and population than a means of ensuring stability. The Syrian Civil War and the Syrian Refugee Crisis in particular push many to believe freedom is just a luxury commodity lacking any real value that much of the world cannot afford. Clearly, people can use their freedom to do nothing or harm others, but the value of freedom is not an absolute. The value of freedom is determined by what free people choose to do with their freedom.
Sadly, misplaced faith in America and a history of wrongs by US leadership has helped undermined the value of democracy and freedom in the eyes of US detractors. Although the US was often presented as a role model for other nations to copy and heralded as a symbol of democratic ideals, the simple truth is that the US government never lived up to its own ideals. Consequently, the hypocrisy and wrongdoings of many US leaders have helped discredit the ideals America has long pursued. To restore faith in democracy, the US and the rest of the International Community must aspire to the democratic ideals that helped America become the most powerful, wealthiest nation on the planet.
The United States emerged in the wake of World War I and World War II as a hegemonic superpower that sought to export democratic ideals to the rest of the world. Since the Cold War, the International Community has been a democratizing community of democratizing nations and Peoples. As governments no longer needed to choose between the US and the USSR, nations of all sizes have been able to assert their sovereignty. Unfortunately, the resovereignization process has allowed authoritarian-minded leaders in ill-democratic and non-democratic countries to equate their oppressive rule to that of democratic leaders, thus undermining the reasons why democracy should be embraced.
To understand the value of democracy, people must first recognize that democracy is not about freedom. Democracy is about establishing limits. By placing limits on the authority of government on the national, provincial, and local levels, the citizens of a nation enjoy protections from the harms of oppressive, self-serving governments. By placing limits on small and large businesses, workers, consumers, and communities are protected from business decisions that cause great harm. By placing limits on individual behavior, citizens can be protected from crimes and crippling bigotry.
The limitations imposed by democratic governments help ensure all citizens enjoy the same protections. In doing so, individuals are given a large degree of freedom to act without undermining the freedoms of others. In contrast, dictatorships ensure absolute freedom for those strong enough to impose their rule; whereas, democracy harnesses the strength of the community. Where anarchy is the natural state of the human animal that provides absolute freedom to the point there is no government to protect the interests of anyone and might-makes-right becomes the law of the land, democracy balances the interests of citizens, so all can enjoy freedom and dictatorship cannot seize control.
Looking again at the fallout of the Arab Spring Revolutions, blame may appear to rest in the hands of those who called for change, but the fault is that of the unresponsive, self-serving leaders who chose to defend their power with violent crackdowns as they always have. It just so happened that they lacked the strength to suppress the majority and defend against violent extremists. It was, therefore, they who failed to prevent extremists from taking advantage of growing power struggles and voids. In recognizing the responsibility of authoritarian leadership, the reality that dictators pursued their own interests shows why this form of abusive governance creates situations that the People cannot tolerate.
That said, authoritarian regimes with competent, strong leadership with the right policies can repair the follies of weak governance. Over time, however, the tendency of leaders to preserve their own power and engineer their countries to be overly dependent on their leadership leads to the neglect of their People’s interests. In turn, government becomes nothing but a source of problems. As the role of modern government is to balance the interests of a nation’s People in order to foster solutions to social issues and provide for the needs of the nation, proper democracies help empower leaders who will serve their Peoples, thereby limiting the influence of self-serving, abusive leaders.
On the international level, nations are pushing back against the undue influence of far more powerful nations. Unfortunately, the further empowerment of strong governments with authoritarian natures like those of Russia and China are threatening the interests of weaker nations. Although the US struggles with the loss of security that came from control, the US is steadily adapting to a world where allies that do not feel compelled to serve US interests. Where the US stumbles due to the bad habits it has learned as a superpower, an International Community where all nations enjoy the same degree of sovereignty is a product of the ideals all nations and Peoples need to embrace to ensure their interests.
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