For many, the end of the Cold War meant the world would no longer be divided into blocs. The events that attracted punditry and grabbed headlines through the 1990s seemed to translate this hope into a firm expectation. Globalization was all about connecting the world and pointed toward a gathering convergence in income and lifestyles. The acceleration of trade and foreign investment enhanced the status and size of the global corporate-management class that constitutes the world's true multinational community. The end of ideology implied a comparable worldwide convergence in policies and politics. The specter of global warming put us all in a single lifeboat and gave us a shared mission. And the World Wide Web was just what it sounds like. Rwanda and the Yugoslav wars struck discordant notes. But not even Samuel Huntington could rain on this parade. When he warned in 1993 that the world might yet be racked by conflicts between cultures, he was met with the vigorous counter-claim that there was scant proof for his thesis. In this celebration of flat-earthedness, one could almost-no, seriously-think of the United Nations as relevant again.
The past six years have taken a toll. September 11th famously called Americans back from their summer holiday from history, and both that day and many events since have re-sensitized us to facts and factors that sharply distinguish peoples and countries from one another. This does not necessitate ethnocentrism or the glorification of civilizational strife. And it does not deny that globalization has ground on, gradually raising hundreds of millions of people into the world's middle class and opening dozens of Starbucks in China. But Americans, even young progressives I know, are today the furthest thing from one-worlders. Sad events have made us painfully aware that the globe harbors mammoth contrasts that are real, salient, and durable. Westerners on the Left and the Right may be debating how much to worry about this, which contrasts matter most, even whose fault it is, and what to do about it all. But no one denies the fundamental realities.
If extremist violence were the only important issue informing this shift in thinking, the sharpest contrast might be between the Muslim world and everybody else. If stark poverty were all that mattered, sub-Saharan Africa would remain the tragic standout it has been for decades. But what is crucial is that several issues have simultaneously stood out in high relief since 2001. As a result, one distinction today trumps all others: the one lying between the countries that make up "the West"-the rich, free, stable countries of the North Atlantic, South Pacific, and East Asia-and everybody else. The main by-product has been a revival of the identity of "Westerner."
The appearance of Mohammed Atta in the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 11 caused us to learn what madrassas are, how Islamists treat women, and what Saudi textbooks have been telling schoolchildren for years. The Bush Administration's response-adopting the "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world"-has reintroduced us to resilient tyrannies and to people who use ballots to vote extremists into office. Dealing with Afghanistan has given us first-hand knowledge of governments that cannot govern, whether there, in Liberia, Somalia, or elsewhere, and whether in the extreme form of "failed states" or in the administrative inadequacy that is much more pervasive. The sectarian violence that Coalition troops face in Iraq has revealed just how many people are willing to translate ancient disagreements into contemporary murder. Westerners, whether conservative or progressive, never feel less Kumbaya than when they watch an Egyptian imam calmly parsing for his television audience when it is and is not permissible to blow up schoolchildren. And all this engagement in developing countries has only refreshed our memory of endemic poverty.
Moreover, these stark contrasts from the Western way of life seem durable. Non-Western societies are no more static than they are homogeneous. But William Easterly speaks for many when he suggests that developing-world poverty is more than just one big push away from eradication. Many dire economies are not growing at all, and even ones growing at blistering paces, like China's, will not catch up with first-world levels of per capita income for decades. Iraq doesn't suggest that creating a world of stable democracies is going to be any easier. And there is something wrong with Islamist radicals that so far only the U.S. Marines know how to fix.
These disparities are not intractable but they are going to endure for some time. So virtually everyone living in a stable market democracy is well aware that his simultaneous freedom from political violence, poverty, and workaday misrule puts him in a club that is exclusive and likely to stay that way for a while yet.
Onto this stage have stepped a series of thinkers proposing what amount to agendas for the West. Liberals like John Ikenberry urge the West to build trust and security across our differences by recommitting to international rules and institutions. Neoconservatives like William Kristol famously advocate humanitarian intervention and democratization instead. Jeffrey Sachs tells us that having the duty, the West has the power to end world poverty. Mark Steyn suggests we have more babies.
Michael Mandelbaum and Brian Anderson also have agendas for Westerners. Each conceives of the West as a happy joining-at-the-hip of liberal democracy and market economies. Each wants this enterprise to be as safe, robust, and welldefended as possible, so to navigate and even prosper in a divided world. But they differ radically in what they think the challenges are and how to think about the road ahead.
Anderson, the editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal magazine, has written books varying from the weighty (an analysis of Raymond Aron's thoughts) to the playful (South Park Conservatives). In Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents, Anderson takes on diverse critics of the West's distinctive post-1945 formula of democratic capitalism. These critics are almost all other writers, making this essentially a work of intellectual history and intellectual jousting. The roster is wide-ranging, including John Rawls, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marcel Gauchet, and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, authors of the 2001 leftwing bestseller, Empire. Anderson draws his intellectual portraits deftly; his discussion of Hardt and Negri is especially telling and pungent. The focus on sins of intellectual omission and commission suggests that the portraitist operates with very specific assumption: that a political system like that of today's Western countries ultimately rests on the beliefs in people's heads.
In this view, stability requires that citizens find the regime legitimate, accept election results, respect court decisions, and act in myriad other ways to renew it. If enough people wake up one morning, radicalized and rejectionist, then even the oldest regime can suddenly seem built on sand. The sudden precariousness and collapse, even evaporation, of a number of regimes-including entire classes of regime, like many hereditary monarchies-supports this assumption. But there is much less evidence about what causes ideas about regimes to change. Anderson effectively chronicles how often Western intellectuals have rejected core values of democratic capitalism. But what influence, exactly, do they have when they do so? It is not obvious that Hardt and Negri, for example, have had any measurable effect on our political life. But his book does not contain the social science to tell us how that matters.
Michael Mandelbaum, in contrast, drowns us in social science. He recapitulates familiar (and important) observations and interpretations: Modern liberty began in England. Aristocratic elites were fearful of enfranchisement because masses might vote to expropriate. After a long and torturous path, democracy became the defining feature of the West. Secure there, it then was adopted beyond the West's traditional boundaries and is now found in what would have been by the analytic standards of two generations ago, some very unexpected places. It is in the interest of Westerners, and indeed of virtually everyone, that democracy continue to spread and consolidate itself, not only because it provides a better quality of life but also because democracies are less likely to make war or launch terrorists against each other. For these reasons, Mandelbaum favors the policy known generically as "democracy promotion." This wide-ranging discussion serves as a primer on the history, current status, and prospects of democracy in the modern world.
Mandelbaum's analysis relies on a central question: what causes democracies to endure? At one point, he suggests that democracy can usefully be understood as "a consumer product-something people willingly choose." Authoritarian rule is also presumably a possible choice, and some of the most interesting portions of this study concern factors which can influence this consumer choice between competing regime types. These include the very product-like reputation that a regime might gain as a result of its performance in other countries.
But this analogy has its limits. Most obviously, regimes may not be a function of choice. People may form preferences for one regime or the other, but these preferences are not always what determine which regime ends up in place. Consider a parallel. A Socialist party leader in Spain's interwar democracy commented at one point that he was against class warfare; he just wished that the bourgeoisie would disappear. That may sound like a witticism, but Francisco Largo Caballero was simple enough to have meant it earnestly. All things being equal, he did not prefer confrontation and violence to peaceful negotiation. But all things were not equal; Spain's upper classes were very powerful and refused to surrender. So, Largo Caballero eventually favored struggle and even violent revolution. His choice seems an apt analogue for those made by millions of Spaniards at the time: the overwhelming majority seems to have reached for their guns with great reluctance and a sense of tragedy. In the abstract, almost none of them preferred civil war or authoritarian rule. But in the very specific circumstances in which they found themselves in 1936, millions opted for violence anyway. And the very specific Francoist regime that followed may not have been anyone's choice, exactly, other than Franco's.
Perhaps polarization and eventual political violence are more usefully understood to have been the result of Spain's social structure than of individual "choices." Alternatively, if we want to say that choices caused what followed, then we have to acknowledge that social structures substantially informed those choices. Either way, social structures mattered a great deal. And if they did, then it may be just as accurate and a lot more efficient to analyze democracy's prospects in terms of factors which make it more likely that people will prefer it. Mandelbaum does this when he refers to the indispensability of a "social infrastructure of democracy."
At one point or another, Mandelbaum suggests that dozens of factors contribute to the requisite social infrastructure. Among the factors that he treats as helping decide which regime takes root are: the preexisting political culture; the level of trust and willingness to compromise; changes in the culture including as affected by the international demonstration effect of other countries; fashionable ideologies; geopolitics and the domestic power structures they can create; industrialization; British colonialism; the degree and kind of nationalism present; the level of income; the degree of diversification of the economy; and citizens' appreciation of human rights and civil liberties. Also, "the role of individuals" like Nehru matters. And elsewhere: "two world wars determined which countries would be democracies." And: "The school for democracy was the free-market economy."
One has to sympathize with a list like this, because it is not easy to think of a factor that some piece of political science research has not suggested affects democracy's prospects. And it is plausible that each of these factors does matter. So it is no surprise that Mandelbaum is not discomfited analytically when democracy emerges and survives even when virtually all of the relevant causal factors he touches on are absent, as they were in Eastern and East-Central Europe when Communism collapsed.
One major shortcoming looms. It is striking that a book published on this topic in 2007 does not have a sizable section on Iraq. Mandelbaum devotes very modest space to that case, including less than a handful of pages in the closing section. That section seems to blame Bush administration policies (such as the failure to establish security immediately after the invasion) for reducing democracy's prospects there. But Mandelbaum then says that Iraq lacks the requisites for democracy anyway, which presumably means that Washington's specific decisions inside Iraq were basically irrelevant to this particular outcome. The Iraqi case is difficult to analyze from up-close, much the less from a distance. But this is an important gap not only because Iraq is inherently important today but also because its experience is a lens through which many Westerners, and many Arabs, are likely to view democratization for some time to come. What lessons, exactly, should we take away?
Whatever the future holds, both Anderson and Mandelbaum begin from the admirable position that a healthy West must itself start with a robust understanding of itself. Their books are steps in that direction.