The four propositions I have outlined do not translate easily into the language of international law; the democracy-building industry may indeed show up the limitations of the discipline. But they point to major challenges.
In the West, we have a tendency to believe that democracy and justice are inherently virtuous concepts; that they have a fixed content and that they will inevitably be accepted. If only people truly understood what democracy meant, they would welcome it with open arms. Democracy-builders tend to assume that intervention in post-conflict societies can act as a decisive break between a problematic traditional order and the clean and shiny new world of modern democracy. No evidence supports this assumption however; indeed the best cases of democracy-building have achieved only ambivalent success.
Democracy-building appears on the agenda when a ‘fragile’, ‘failing’, ‘failed’, ‘rogue’, ‘weak’ or ‘post-conflict’ state – or indeed a whole ‘arc of instability’ – is on the horizon. These terms echo the language of the League of Nations’ Covenant – those peoples who are unable to cope with ‘the strenuous conditions of the modern world.’ They not only justify intervention but demarcate outsiders and ‘others’, who are quite distinct from ‘our’ successful, strong democracies. But it is clear that these terms are political; for example the idea of a ‘post- conflict’ state is inaccurate. This suggests a neat transition from a state of conflict to peace; it also implies that these are discrete and separate types of societies – we would not, for example, usually understand Australia in such terms. Post-conflict societies carry the sense of being unruly, teetering on the edge of chaos; of a tentative redemption by the international community; and they are measured in contrast to the mature, secure, democracies of the West. In this sense, the term ‘post-conflict’ obscures the identity of the actors involved and represents them either as the nurturers – the agents of change – or the nurtured. These categories obscure the way that we, the democracy-builders, can be complicit in the dysfunctions that make ‘building democracy’ necessary.62
In the end, the project of democracy-building tells us more about the democracy-builders than the country to which democracy is being brought; it allows us to construct the ‘other’ as chaotic and ourselves as ordered, benevolent and magnanimous. We can thus deflect scrutiny of the failures of democracy and justice in our own societies.