Democracies are obsessed with “democracy.”
That makes some sense. Basing politics on the consent of the governed, limiting government power, respecting the rights of citizens — all of these are important human achievements, ones from which even nominal democracies often fall short and toward which they must continually strive. Indeed, some countries that have long thought of themselves as fully consolidated democracies — including the United States — have begun to undergo a process of backsliding away from democratic norms and expectations.
All of this is important and troubling. Yet the way it gets expressed in terms of our relations with the rest of the world is often misguided.
Take Joe Biden’s ongoing “Summit for Democracy,” which is taking place against a backdrop of rising tension with Russia over Ukraine, and China over Taiwan. The idea behind the summit is clear: Democracy is under threat from authoritarianism around the world. Democratic governments, therefore, need to work together to defend themselves and their common interests against hostile anti-democratic regimes that aspire to remake international order in their own image.