How democracies compete with autocracies to bias international order in their favor—and why democracies are losing
It is well known, and much discussed, that liberal democracy is in trouble worldwide. Much of this discussion focuses on conditions within individual countries: their inequalities of wealth, political polarization, media environments, and dominant ideologies. In this book, John M. Owen IV sees the failures of democracy as failures of “ecosystem engineering.”
Like beavers, nesting ants, or (most intensely of all) humans, nations actively reshape their environments to make them more favorable for their own species—this, for Owen, is the true meaning of Woodrow Wilson’s phrase “to make the world safe for democracy.” However, liberalism has evolved in ways that are no longer conducive to its own survival; meanwhile, autocratic governments in Russia and China are actively reshaping the international environment to favor autocracy.
Owen argues that the way to ensure democracy’s survival in the United States is to reimagine liberalism—to view it as less about disruption and perpetual openness and more about commitment, community, and country. Liberalism must reject the “great delusion” that it can defeat autocracies everywhere and convert them into liberal democracies, yet also counter moves by China and Russia to make the world safe for autocracy.
John M. Owen IV is Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, at the University of Virginia. He lives in Charlottesville, VA.
“John Owen, one of the world’s leading liberal international relations theorists, has written a fascinating book, which argues that American democracy’s wellbeing requires a world heavily populated by other democracies.”—John J. Mearsheimer, coauthor of How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policy
“Liberal democracy is under threat almost everywhere. John M. Owen does not flinch from telling us how we arrived at where we are nor from providing bold ideas about how we can plot a way out of the crisis we find ourselves in. A tour de force.”—Michael Cox, author of Agonies of Empire: American Power from Clinton to Biden
“Few scholars have written more incisively about ideas in international relations than John M. Owen. In this important book, he explains their role in great power competition and outlines principles for reinforcing American democracy at home and sustaining the liberal order abroad.”—Eric S. Edelman, former Undersecretary for Defense for Policy
“The Ecology of Nations is both learned and lucid. Owen provides a framework that synthesizes complex debates about democracy, liberalism, and the international order and clears a path for new thinking both at home and abroad.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University