The imperialist actions carried out by democracies have long been a subject of debate. The actions of a true democracy will ideally represent the will of the people; however, acts of imperial expansion, conquest and interference have often been carried out without public support. The public expenditures required to implement imperialist policy may call the validity of a democracy into question if the actions do not have public support.
Athenian Democracy and Imperialism
The democratic ideals evident in ancient Athens contrast with the imperialist actions and empire building that the government and military excelled at. The Athenian political body did not stand entirely unified in its support of imperialist action but most of the citizen populace supported the related endeavors. The fact that most of the eligible voting populace supported imperialist conquests allowed for limited tension between the democratic and imperialist ideals. Athenian democracy centered around the equality of citizens under the law, a communal identity and freedom of speech, which meant that imperialist action mostly did not contradict the principles of Athenian democracy.
Democracy and Imperialism in the Cold War
The Cold War saw the United States become involved in new overseas territories and prompted debate as to whether its actions represented efforts to spread democracy or to improve its global power base. Russian officials charged that the foreign policy of the United States stood in stark contrast with the will of the people and the country's stated democratic ideals. The Soviet Department for Agitation and Propaganda sought to bring these issues to the foreground and foment objections from the American populace.
British Imperialism and Irish Democracy
British involvement and control of Ireland highlights the complexities of the relationship between democracy and imperialism. The British democratic government's support for maintaining Ireland as a territory stood in contrast with the Irish Nationalist movement that came to have widespread support in Ireland. British governance of Ireland operated under claims of democratic support; however, universal suffrage did not exist, and British oversight and policy meant that those in power actively made voting unappealing for many of those who would have had the right to participate.
Debating Democracy and Imperialism in the Middle East
American involvement in the Middle East has prompted historians and cultural theorists to debate the relationship between democracy and imperialism and the country's motivations for encouraging new governments in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA confirmed its covert role in the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government. The secretive nature of the CIA's involvement means that the issue never reached the mechanisms for public input. The CIA's confirmation of its involvement has raised concerns about the American democracy's willingness to respect the democratic will of other sovereign bodies.
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