Hobsbawm on “exporting democracy”

I generally like Hobsbawm, but there has always been a contradiction in his
works between his enthusiasm for the ultra-democratic movements of the
English Civil War (Diggers, Levellers, etc.) and his allegiance to the
British Marxist soft-on-Russia crowd. This piece reflects that ambivalence,
and CAN be interpreted as a defense of the nasty dictatorships the US has
used as an excuse to go to war (Saddam, Milosevic, etc.). Better to point
out that Bush's purported championing of "democracy"--as he erodes voting
rights, suspends habeas corpus, unleashes sweeping police powers--is an
Orwellian abuse of the English language. (But then those British Marxist
types never did like Orwell.)

Published on Saturday, January 22, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
The Dangers of Exporting Democracy

Bush’s Crusade is Based on a Dangerous Illusion and Will Fail

by Eric Hobsbawm

President Bush’s uncompromising second inaugural address does not so
much as mention the words Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror, he
and his supporters continue to engage in a planned reordering of the
world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are but one part of a
supposedly universal effort to create world order by "spreading
democracy". This idea is not merely quixotic – it is dangerous. The
rhetoric implies that democracy is applicable in a standardized
(western) form, that it can succeed everywhere, that it can remedy
today’s transnational dilemmas, and that it can bring peace, rather
than sow disorder. It cannot.

is rightly popular. In 1647, the English Levellers broadcast the
powerful idea that "all government is in the free consent of the
people". They meant votes for all. Of course, universal suffrage does
not guarantee any particular political result, and elections cannot
even ensure their own perpetuation – witness the Weimar Republic.
Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to
hegemonic or imperial powers. (If the Iraq war had depended on the
freely expressed consent of "the world community", it would not have
happened). But these uncertainties do not diminish its justified

factors besides democracy’s popularity explain the dangerous belief
that its propagation by armies might actually be feasible.
Globalization suggests that human affairs are evolving toward a
universal pattern. If gas stations, iPods, and computer geeks are the
same worldwide, why not political institutions? This view underrates
the world’s complexity. The relapse into bloodshed and anarchy that has
occurred so visibly in much of the world has also made the idea of
spreading a new order more attractive. The Balkans seemed to show that
areas of turmoil required the intervention, military if need be, of
strong and stable states. In the absence of effective international
governance, some humanitarians are still ready to support a world order
imposed by US power. But one should always be suspicious when military
powers claim to be doing weaker states favors by occupying them.

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