Jon Webb's Blog

Monday, March 14, 2005

Athens and America

Like America, Athens used democracy as a tool of its foreign policy, during the Age of Athens (around 450 B.C.-404 B.C). It appealed to the serf sin neighboring city-states to revolt against their mostly monarchical governments. The idea, which worked for a while, was that the resulting governments would be more friendly to Athens. At the same time, the Athenians felt themselves to be fulfilling a historic and spiritual role in spreading democracy. History was on their side.
The parallel to America is striking. Like Athens, we believe that spreading democracy will create governments friendly to us, and that will be integrated into our economic system. We are doing on a global scale what Athens did in Greece.
The outcome for Athens was not so favorable, however. While it is impossible to untangle the various reasons, the fact is that Athens was overthrown by their neighbor Sparta in 404 B.C. Athens might have done better had it not worked quite so hard to promulgate its political system and tried to build alliances with its neighbors and their existing governments instead. Or not. It's impossible to say at this point.
However, had Athens not undertaken this effort at promulgating their political system, they might not be known as the model of democracy. Future governments, including ours, might not have been inspired by them.
Will we end up as Athens did? It is unlikely that a Sparta will arise to overthrow us in the same way--but it is quite possible that by adopting such an aggressive role in the world that we will find ourselves without allies when we need them. After all, America's economic dominance of the world will likely come to an end sometime in this century, once the Chinese economy is significantly larger than ours. At that point, we may wish we'd been more cooperative with our allies and less agressive about pushing our ideas. Turnabout is fair play.


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