I encourage you to read the excerpt from John Mearsheimer’s latest book, “The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities” at The National Interest. Here’s a snippet:
Liberal hegemony is an ambitious strategy in which a state aims to turn as many countries as possible into liberal democracies like itself while also promoting an open international economy and building international institutions. In essence, the liberal state seeks to spread its own values far and wide. My goal in this book is to describe what happens when a powerful state pursues this strategy at the expense of balance-of-power politics.
Many in the West, especially among foreign policy elites, consider liberal hegemony a wise policy that states should axiomatically adopt. Spreading liberal democracy around the world is said to make eminently good sense from both a moral and a strategic perspective. For starters, it is thought to be an excellent way to protect human rights, which are sometimes seriously violated by authoritarian states. And because the policy holds that liberal democracies do not want to go to war with each other, it ultimately provides a formula for transcending realism and fostering international peace. Finally, proponents claim it helps protect liberalism at home by eliminating authoritarian states that otherwise might aid the illiberal forces that are constantly present inside the liberal state.
That’s Wilsonianism in summary. The upshot of the piece is that the U. S. is not a liberal power; it just plays one on TV.
I think the reality is that the U. S. is in turns liberal, promoting democracy and liberal values, and self-interested, promoting its own interests. We are at our best when the two coincide and at our worst when solely promoting our domestic political interests.
The most basic problem with Wilsonianism is that there is a genuine difference of opinion among countries about fundamental values and there is really no such thing as universally accepted values. When, as is the case, that the U. S. is an outlier in areas like freedom of speech and religion, conflating our values with universal values is problematic. Even the United Kingdom from whom we learned about fundamental freedoms isn’t as absolutist as we with respect to freedom of the press.
I am not a Wilsonian; in the past I’ve said I don’t have a Wilsonian bone in my body. Heck, I think that promoting individual liberty within our borders is enough of a challenge for us.