Matthew J. Lister has posted a new paper at SSRN:
"There is No Human Right to Democracy: But May We Promote It Anyway?"
(Forthcoming in "Stanford Journal of International Law")
The idea of “promoting democracy” is one that goes in and out of favor. With the advent of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the idea of promoting democracy abroad has come up for discussion once again. Yet, an important recent line of thinking about human rights, starting with John Rawls’s book The Law of Peoples, has held that there is not human right to democracy, and that nondemocratic states that respect human rights should be “beyond reproach” in the realm of international relations. This is, for obvious reasons, a controversial view, especially given the powerful and important arguments purporting to show that democracies do significantly better than nondemocracies in promoting internal peace and equality, and in engaging in peaceful international cooperation. Both proponents and opponents of the Rawlsian view of human rights have argued that the view implies that democracies may not “promote democracy” in nondemocratic societies. But, given that all parties to this dispute agree that democracy is necessary for justice, and given the important instrumental goods provided by democracy, the Rawlsian view has seemed deeply implausible to many.
In this paper I blunt this challenge to the Rawlsian view by showing how, even if there is no human right to democracy, we may still rightfully promote democracy in a number of ways and cases. Showing this requires investigating what it might mean to “promote democracy,” and looking more carefully at when various methods of democracy promotion are appropriate than has been done by most political theorists working on human rights. When we look carefully, we can see that acceptable forms and instance of democracy promotion are compatible with the Rawlsian view of human rights, and that this view is therefore not vulnerable to the “instrumentalist” challenge. We also see how, if political philosophy is to be useful, it must be willing to be less abstract and to look closely at actual cases.
The paper was presented at a symposium on "The Right to Democracy in the Context of the Arab Spring" at Stanford University, January 27, 2012.
Matthew J. Lister is Lecturer in Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Eric Patterson (Georgetown) - "Obama and Sustainable Democracy Promotion" (pdf)
(from "International Studies Perspectives" vol. 13, issue 1, February 2012)