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America’s Democratization Projects Abroad

By 11.14.06

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This essay is the second in a ten-part series being published in successive issues of The American Spectator under the general title, "The Pursuit of Liberty: Can the Ideals That Made America Great Provide a Model for the World?"

Also in The American Spectator's Pursuit of Liberty series: James Q. Wilson's "American Exceptionalism," Norman Podhoretz's "A Masterpiece of American Oratory," Lawrence E. Harrison's "The Cultural Prerequisites of Freedom and Prosperity," and Roger Scruton's "The Nation-State and Democracy," with more to come.

The successes versus the failures.

FOR ALMOST A CENTURY, the United States has been engaged in a succession of democratization projects abroad. President Woodrow Wilson in particular was an enthusiast in promoting democracy, first in the Caribbean basin and Central America ("I will teach the South Americans to elect good men") and then in Europe and beyond (the U.S. entry into World War I was supposed "to make the world safe for democracy").

Even earlier, during the 19th century, the United States had given rhetorical encouragement to democratic movements abroad, but it was not in a position to give them substantive support until it became a great power, a status that it achieved with its victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Republican administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were quick to employ America's new power to promote regime change in the Caribbean basin, but their objective was merely to establish new governments that would make their countries safe for American security and business interests, i.e., regimes that certainly were liberal, but were not really democratic. With the Democratic administration of Woodrow Wilson, however, the United States embarked upon the promotion of democracy abroad in the full sense and in a big way. In the course of the 20th century, there ensued a great parade of U.S. democratization projects that marched around the world.

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About the Author

James Kurth is the Claude Smith Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, the editor of Orbis, and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.