Bob Rae speaks to CDDRL on Exporting Democracy

On January 18, the Honorable Bob Rae, Liberal Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and the foreign affairs critic for the Liberal Party of Canada was the featured speaker at a special CDDRL seminar. Rae addressed the Stanford community on the topic of his latest book Exporting Democracy, published in November 2010 by McClelland & Stewart. CDDRL Deputy Director, Kathryn Stoner, welcomed Rae to Stanford and Ben Rowswell, Visiting Scholar and Canadian "diplomat in residence," introduced the distinguished Rae stressing the timeliness of this topic.

This occasion marked the debut of Rae's book to a US audience and drew a sizable crowd interested in learning more about the MP's views on the role of Western powers in statebuilding and democracy promotion efforts abroad. Based on his personal experience engaging in diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and across the Middle East, Rae was confronted with the limits of power and democratic ideals in foreign lands.

 His discussion focused on the theoretical and practical analysis of the role of democracy in statebuilding that is the foundation of his argument in Exporting Democracy. Drawing  on the writing of 18th century philosophers, Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, Rae examined the tensions between natural law and justice versus customs and tradition that continue to dominate the debate in modern day statecraft.

 Rae's experience observing democracy promotion abroad allowed him to recognize the importance of upholding democratic values, while also respecting the idea that democracy cannot be viewed as the "gold standard" for all. "From a Western perspective the debate suffers from the notion that the idea of democracy has emerged as perfectly natural and an automatic assumption of our daily lives. In reality it has generally been accompanied by periods of great conflict and can take hundreds of years to bear fruit as evidenced by the American and Canadian experience."

Rae emphasized that the best way Western countries can promote democracy is by helping other countries develop their own solutions to their own problems. 

Rae's sensitivity to the consequences of Western interventions, his belief in the principles of human rights, and his testimony to the importance of humility and pragmatism in our efforts of statebuilding abroad, offered the Stanford community a new perspective on the effectiveness of the global democracy movement.