The New Observer Uncategorized Exporting liberal democracy

Exporting liberal democracy

The US embassy in Russia has issued a statement on Friday on Alexei Navalny’s funeral procession, calling the late opposition leader a “shining example of what Russia could and should be.” [Guardian]

The US Embassy appears to be confused about which country they are responsible for. Most people might think it was the US.

Even if the question was asked “Do you support Navalny’s activities” the response rate in Russia was 9%. [1] Only some of this 9% would have actually voted for Navalny. (That is; a lot of people partly supported Navalny because they liked his exposés of alleged corruption for example, or because they felt just by doing what he was doing he was building a civil society – but they didn’t necessarily see him as their political choice).

The US is supposed to believe in “democracy”. Odd that they have decided that Russia should be in a form which less than 9% of Russians think it should be. This is a major theme of John Mearsheimer’s book, The Great Delusion, Liberal Dreams and International Realities, which we have reviewed on this site. Liberals are so intoxicated by their own system and so convinced of its superiority that they try to export it all over the globe; by force. One practical reason for this, apart from hubris, is an (incorrect according to Mearsheimer) belief that democracies don’t go to war with other democracies; so, if every country was a democracy there would be world peace. But, this is wrong; democracies do fight wars with other democracies, because nationalism is a more powerful force than liberalism, and, at any event, the attempt to impose liberal democracy is going to led to national resistance.

Navalny’s political programme was not especially radical. He wanted a free-market capitalist Russia, as now. The main changes he wanted to implement were: more privatisation of state assets, an anti-corruption commission, independence of the judiciary, decentralisation, and a reduction in immigration from Central Asia. All this was of course extremely pleasing to the US. (The last point probably appealed to them not because it was based on racism – at least Navalny had a history of racism – but because it would reduce Russia’s influence in Central Asia creating more opportunities for the US). Essentially a Navalny Russia would be a more European Russia, closer to a liberal democracy than an “illiberal democracy”. The catch is the majority of Russians prefer an illiberal democracy. For example:

The same polls show that the great majority of Russians do not believe that they live in a democratic country, and they are not much bothered by this. “If everything is going well,” they see no need for an opposition. [2]

This is the point Mearsheimer makes in his book mentioned above. Forcing liberal democracy on other countries is a recipe for disaster.

In his book The Lost Peace – How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War author Richard Sakwa [3] discusses how the post-war settlement which set up the United Nations contained different strands. He distinguishes on the one hand a respect for “sovereign internationalism” and on the other, a vision of a world governed by “human rights” and ‘democracy’. One of the problems in the world at the moment is that the West has taken their vision of the world order and substituted this for the actual world order represented by the UN. Their vision is not entirely other than the original settlement vision of a world order; there is some cross-over. But they have denuded from the original settlement the principle of sovereign internationalism, by which states get to make their own choices, and (to coin a phrase of Lavrov’s) to choose their own path to development. We see this in a clear form in the way that the US Embassy in Russia has no restraint at all in telling Russia how Russia should be. It isn’t even some particularly noble vision; just a rather tawdry vision of free market-capitalism and a good business climate. (The absurd Ursula von der Leyen called Navalny a “freedom fighter” – confusing a sort of business activist with Che Guevara).

And still the US doesn’t see the problem. They just go on and on telling other people and countries how to behave. I can imagine the feeling in the Kremlin – and amongst Russian MPs – when they hear yet another lecture from the US on how they should be.


  1. Western supported Levada Centre: (Foreign Agent in Russia).
  2. Kenez, Peter. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy (p. 299). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Sakwa, Richard. The Lost Peace: How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.