Democratic Cultures


After acknowledging that some conservatives support the revolutions in the Middle East, Beinart emphasizes that "the people with the biggest megaphones on the American rightpeople like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrichare not preaching democratic idealism":

If one listens to Glenn Beck talk about Muslims today and reads James Burnham, William F. Buckley, Jeane Kirkpatrick, or Irving Kristol’s essays on Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans during the Cold War, one theme becomes strikingly clear: In their marrow, conservatives believe that culture matters, and many suspect that the only culture capable of sustaining liberal democracy is the Western kind. The conservatives who don’t believe that are an intriguing, and in some ways admirable, bunch, but they were, and are, the exception that proves the rule. 

Larison counters:

[C]ulture matters a great deal, and that is something that is so fundamentally true that it shouldn’t be a serious disagreement regardless of political views. I think it’s fair to say that highly Westernized nations are capable of sustaining liberal democracy regardless of their earlier cultures. It isn’t necessarily the case that nations have to jettison their attachments to their earlier, traditional cultures to sustain liberal democracy, but significant Westernization has typically preceded the successful establishment of liberal democratic government. It is also not certain that significant Westernization is sufficient to make a nation capable of sustaining liberal democracy. In addition to habits and attitudes, institutions are vitally important, and those can be the most difficult to build in a way that is suitable to the existing constitution of a country. It isn’t an insult to other nations to emphasize how difficult finding the appropriate political structures for a given country can be, and it doesn’t follow that it is America’s responsibility to promote the creation of those structures in other countries even if they will be sustainable and enduring.

(Photo: A Libyan protestor with a Libyan flag painted on her forehead, participates in a protest rally against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in front of the Libyan embassy in Kuala Lumpur on February 23, 2011. By Saeed Khan/Getty Images)