“There is a growing movement for social democracy in the U.S. Bernie Sanders for instance referenced Denmark (a social democracy) as the state the U.S. should be aspiring to,” Jeffrey Green tells the Tehran Times.
“At the same time, though, even support for social democracy is not as strong as it could be: sometimes socialism and social democracy are conflated and, in general, Americans suffer from being too uninterested in / uninformed about the practices of other countries,” adds Green, author of The Shadow of Unfairness: A Plebeian Theory of Liberal Democracy.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of threatening American democracy. Some political commentators say that the political system in the U.S. is heading towards autocracy combined with plutocracy. Where is the U.S. heading when we talk about democracy?
A: While there are many problems currently threatening the U.S. and its democracy, one of the most serious, from a strictly democratic perspective, is a slew of recent laws (at the state level) that make it harder for citizens to vote. Bills pending in 28 states would limit judicial independence to enforce voting rights. And numerous laws in many states over the last decade have threatened voting rights by restricting early and absentee voting, requiring ID cards from voters, reducing the number of polling stations, and taking voters’ names off of voting rolls. These laws are coming from the Republicans. The hope is that these new regulations (the ongoing attempted ones and the ones that already have occurred) will not be enough to undermine citizens’ sense of living in a country where all citizens have a right to vote and votes are counted fairly. But the risks on this front have grown substantially over the last decade.
Q: Which kind of democracy is more effective for the U.S.? We have experience of liberal democracy and also social democracy. Why is socialism considered a pejorative term while we have successful cases of social democracy?
A: Socialism has long been opposed by large segments of the American population because of its historic association with totalitarianism, its violation of entrenched individualistic and capitalistic values, and the lack of clarity of what it would entail in practice. But social democracy is not the same thing as socialism. The social democracies of Northern Europe (e.g., the Scandinavian countries, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc.) are hardly anti-capitalistic, but they manage to provide much more robust welfare for the least advantaged members of society (in the form of health insurance, free education, vacation, options for parents of young children to work less if they choose, less income inequality, unemployment insurance, etc.) than is the case in the U.S. There is a growing movement for social democracy in the U.S. Bernie Sanders, for instance referenced Denmark (a social democracy) as the state the U.S. should be aspiring to. At the same time, though, even support for social democracy is not as strong as it could be: sometimes socialism and social democracy are conflated and, in general, Americans suffer from being too uninterested in / uninformed about the practices of other countries. Beyond this, of course, there are libertarian and unabashedly capitalistic perspectives that are strong in U.S. political culture. But there is support for social democracy among the left…and also, among a smaller group, for socialism.
Q: What is your comment on Trump’s performance? Do you think that he improved democracy in America or undermined it?
A: I think Trump more undermined than improved American democracy. His suggestion that elections were rigged against him even though they almost certainly were not—and relatedly, his refusal to accept the results of the election when he lost in 2020—did damage to the integrity of the American democratic system, incited unnecessary unrest, and fed into forces of irrationality.
Q: How can democracy help a country like America to have a fairer and reasonable foreign policy? As a country that claims a long history of democracy, its foreign policy is full of futile wars.
A: With regard to the relationship between democracy and a more fair and reasonable foreign policy, I’d make two comments: (i) America should not be seen as the standard-bearer for democracy. Well-known and well-respected rankings of the countries of the world by how democratic they are now frequently placed the United States outside of the top 20. So, if the U.S. is not engaging in a more fair and reasonable foreign policy, this ought not be interpreted as a cause to be suspicious of democracy as such; and (ii) although there is debate about it, the so-called “democratic peace theory,” which says that democracies are much less likely to engage in armed conflict with each other, has hardly been disproven.
With regard to the specific issue of how the U.S. might change its foreign policy, that is a big question. I don’t have a clear answer. I’d say that the “futile wars” you reference, specifically the second Iraq War, have been disastrous from an economic, military, strategic, and geopolitical perspective. Simply avoiding such wars in the future would be an improvement. At the same time, I do not think the U.S. is to blame for all of the world’s problems and, even if many of America’s recent armed conflicts have been poorly conceived or executed, the enemies against which America has fought in recent years have, with few exceptions, hardly occupied a position of moral superiority.
Q: Given Trump’s opposition to globalization, do you think globalization can help democracy spread globally? Then, can we claim or impose just one model for democracy, or we can have various democracies?
I think Trump was insufficiently powerful to arrest forces of globalization. And beyond the broader question of globalization, I think that the idea of democracy has not been refuted either. I don’t think we are close to having a single democracy (or model of democracy) for the whole world, but it is more imaginable that various forms of democracies will continue to be adopted by more and more countries throughout the world since it is hard to see where else legitimacy can come from besides democracy (at least in contexts that no longer recognize Nature, Tradition, History, or God as workable sources of political authority). Would this scenario involve different nation-states, each with its own democracy (but a democracy that is of the same form), or would it involve each nation-state having not just its own democracy but its own definition of what democracy means (as in, e.g., the difference between the so-called Chinese model of democracy and Western-style liberal democracies practiced in the West and elsewhere)? This is a big question, but it seems the latter scenario is what we are likely to witness in the near term.