By : Kevin Gorey
Political Science 252
November 23, 2009
“It is evident that a great democratic revolution is upon us, but all do not look at it in the same light.”
~ Alexis de Toqueville (Democracy in America, 1835)
Democracy means many things to many different people. Its connotations are almost universally positive and almost every government in the world today tries to legitimate itself with some form of democracy. Democracy comes from the Greek words ‘kratos’ and ‘demos’ meaning rule of the people. Therefore, the more a government operates according to the voice of the people the more democratic the government must be. This concept of democracy gets misconstrued in political rhetoric and ascribed to principles that are at the very least irrelevant to democracy and potentially anti-democratic.
In order to better understand what democracy is, we must first understand what democracy is not and how democracy is used rhetorically in United States political culture. As Robinson argued, the definition of democracy has constantly been redefined depending on its use, especially in regard to its usefulness in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. foreign policy typically uses a definition of democracy that is more aptly termed a ‘polyarchy’. The definition of a polyarchy is supported by 20th century philosopher Joseph Schumpeter who claimed that all democracy means is that the people are able to either elect or reject their ruler. This is the most basic right of democracy but with only presidential elections democracy becomes essentially the rule by an elite group. This definition of democracy, although it provides a voice for the people, often only provides enough power for the people to choose who is going to oppress them for the next term of office.
Moreover, the question of whether a country possesses neo-liberal policies is irrelevant to the question of democratic solidarity. The correlation of democracy with free-market capitalism is faulty. Democracy came about in the West as a result of the opening up of business as a path to political influence. Capitalism and free-trade, however, are unnecessary prerequisites; they were only the means to the end. What matters in a democracy are not the rights of corporations to free trade but the rights of citizens to expression. Leo-liberalist notions are supported by Freedom House which operates under the influence of Washington and the NED’s foreign policy interests. (Freedom House) This paper will analyze the assessment of democracy by Freedom House, and other organizations associated with U.S. foreign policy making, in four countries: Mexico, Cuba, Brazil and Venezuela. Focusing on the case of Venezuela, it will argue that not only are Freedom House’s assessments biased in favor of the more economically liberal, in some cases democracy exists to a much greater extent in countries that are commonly considered to be undemocratic in the U.S. and vice versa. (Robinson) The U.S. foreign policy of “democracy promotion” is akin more to the promotion of capitalism. There are several sources that consistently release articles and data concerning the state of “democracy”. These sources are funded by Washington and the National Endowment for Democracy. All of the sources that receive funding from the NED for example are biased towards the correlation between democracy and capitalism. Three sources in particular: Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Foreign Affairs, are of special concern. Freedom House receives the majority of its funding from the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and the State Department. (Freedom House) Human Rights Watch is also extremely connected with the U.S. foreign policy elite and receives funding, at least indirectly, from the Western governments.