child holds her father's hand at a polling station in Kabul

Democracy is taking a bashing. On almost every continent, attempts to extend the right of people to choose their own government is running into deep trouble. In Iraq, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries, democracy is being overwhelmed by despotism and despair.

A commonly heard response is that Western democracy is not for everyone, that what works in our society does not automatically work elsewhere. Another is to suggest that we should not try to spread democracy to the rest of the world; it is none of our business.

Both views are mean and short-sighted. If the United States abandons democracy in the rest of the world, not only is the rest of the world sunk but tyranny will soon be heading our way as voting laws here become more restrictive.

It was 25 years ago, prompted by the collapse of Soviet communism, that Francis Fukuyama, now a Stanford professor, argued that the world had reached “the end of history” and that liberal democracy and free market capitalism was its final phase. It was now only a matter of time, he said, before the rest of the world caught up with the U.S. and Western Europe and ran their affairs along democratic lines.

At first he appeared to be right. Under the final Communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the Eastern European vassal states it had oppressed since World War Two liberated themselves. For the first time, countries like Poland and Ukraine voted freely. The onward rush toward democracy soon spread, culminating in a great wave of democratization in the Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East.