A prominent feature of American political consciousness is a desire to propagate democracy throughout the world. In our enthusiasm to share what we enjoy, Jacques Barzun sees that little attention is paid to exactly what we are trying to distribute. Through a brief historical survey of democracy, he shows that our popular conception of the term does not correspond with any particular definition. U.S. democracy has no central text and is distinctly different, in theory and in practice, from the democracy of other states, both historical and contemporary. Democracy is an abstract ideal that is a function of time. Its present incarnation in the United States emphasizes freedom and equality through the means and language of specific personal rights. Barzun sees an internal tension in this formulation, one that ultimately threatens both freedom and equality if exported to the rest of the world.
This paper was presented as Carnegie Council's sixth annual Morgenthau Memorial Lecture on Ethics and Foreign Policy, on September 17, 1986.To read the full text, please click here.