So You Want to Continue a Stealth Argument and Be a Neoconservative Apologist?

30 Oct

The great thing about Robert Kagan is that not only can he hold fast to his own dwindling island of foreign policy respectability (Q: How long can the Kristol/Kagan doctrine last? A: Islamofacism¹!), but can also continue a sloppily argued secret war² with Fareed Zakaria at the same time. (Points to Matt Zeitlin for catching this first and nailing Kagan, but minus a few for accepting Kagan’s reductive summary of Zakaria’s position)

A quick recap: Kagan’s review of The Future of Freedom for The New Republic was an intellectual hit piece which tried to reduce the book’s thesis to “Hooray for liberal autocrats/I ♥ aristocracy” (NB: I’d link to the articles, but TNR’s online archives are inaccessible while the magazine is revamping it’s website. You’ll have to read it through LexisNexis).

Kagan’s central error is the same one made by Thomas Carothers (in a piece Kagan cites in his WaPo article to bolster his argument), reading Zakaria’s argument (and related critiques of representative government) as a case for “democratic sequentialism” (i.e. rule of law and free markets are the necessary conditions for a sustainable democracy). Zakaria’s book (which does lean heavily, perhaps too much at times, on the role of markets and wealth in creation of lasting democratic reform) is more cautionary tale than a form of Rostow’s stages of development for democratic theorists; there is no ideal democratic citizen who will resist corruption and inherently lead toward more liberal policies.  Liberalism is made up of freedoms encouraged and held fast by constitutional protections, civic institutions, free-markets, and cultural norms.  What combination of factors are needed to foster and maintain a democratic regime, political scientists can’t say.  But policy makers would do well to realize that instant democracy can often run counter to the development goals they’d like to see achieved.

¹ When you think about it, this makes as much sense as other contexts in which you see this term used.

² Stealthy and infringing Marvel Comics copyright. Booyah!


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