Professor Susan Hyde Gives a Lecture on Democracy Promotion

On March 25, Yale political scientist and ISPS Faculty Fellow, Susan Hyde, gave a lecture on, “Does Democracy Promotion Promote Democracy?” The lecture was part of the In the Company of Scholars series.

Professor Hyde began her talk with the observation that people often equate democracy promotion with “what we did in Iraq.” Democracy promotion, she explained, “was part of the rhetoric used to justify the 2003 invasion after the weapons of mass destruction failed to materialize.”

The Iraq case, she said, “was not representative of democracy promotion.” The broader concepts and principles of democracy promotion that most counties in the world have signed on to (“some of them insincerely”) can include military force, but more commonly include rhetorical support of democracy as a legitimate form of government; international benefits, such as foreign aid; and outside actors attempting to encourage democracy, along with human rights, abroad.

Hyde said the history of democracy promotion is hard to pinpoint, but that the current era “begins at the end of WWII and the post-war reconstruction of Japan and Germany.” What is not well known, she pointed out, “is that most countries in the world actually engage in democracy promotion beyond their borders. It is not just a US project.”

Hyde posed the question: “Why do foreign actors bother to get involved in the domestic affairs of sovereign states?” and went on to explain some of the advantages of promoting democracy: it is in their national interests, because such states are less likely to go to war and respect human rights; and it supports the universal norm that most people in the world would rather live under democracy, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 21).

Quoting Yale’s political theorist, Robert Dahl, regarding the virtues of democracy over other regime types, “Democracy helps prevent rule by cruel and vicious autocrats.” 

Hyde listed the few examples of successful countries that aren’t democratic, namely Bhutan, Singapore, China, but added that “rarely in human history do we see people amassing on the street and risking their lives to demand authoritarian rule. What we mostly see is the opposite.”

Professor Hyde studies international influences on domestic politics, particularly in the developing world. As an expert on international election observation, election fraud, and democracy promotion, Hyde has served as an international election observer with organizations in Afghanistan, Albania, Indonesia, Liberia, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Venezuela. Her book published in 2013, “The Pseudo-Democrat’s Dilemma: Why Election Observation Became an International Norm,” won the International Studies Association’s 2012 Chadwick Alger Prize.

The lecture was live streamed and is available on Yale’s YouTube channel.

Area of study 
International Affairs