Does exporting democracy fan the flames of hatred around the world?

Summary:  Here’s an interesting review of an important book about an unpleasant side-effect of the West’s most powerful exports:  democracy and free-market economies.  The theme song for globalization should be “The World Turned Upside Down“.


Review of World on Fire: How Exporting Free-Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability by Amy Chua (Prof Law, Yale) (2006)

Review by Andrew Lubin in the Marine Corps Gazette, July 2006; published with their generous permission.


Thomas Friedman is correct — globalization impacts everyone, Capt Timothy K. Joyce’s excellent review of Friedman’s The World Is Flat (MCG, Dec 2005) accurately and concisely portrays globalization’s “big picture” effects on global politics, economics, and conflicts. Joyce is correct in suggesting that Marine leaders read Friedman’s latest bestseller in order to familiarize themselves with the still-evolving concept of globalization. But globalization has an ugly underside that Marines also need to explore and understand, and Amy Chua’s book, World on Fire, is equally well worth reading by these same Marine leaders.

In economics, as in warfare, one fights both the near battle and the far battle. It will be the ability of” victorious Marines to recognize that the near battle consists as much of economic, social, ethnic, and religious variables as that of troop strengths and weapons cache locations. This is the battle that Marine human exploitation teams and civil affairs groups are fighting against disenfranchised minorities in Ramadi, Fallujah, Kabul, and Pakistan’s northwest frontier, as well as the slums of Indonesia and the mosques of Saudi Arabia. Big picture economics are of no comfort to an illiterate and unemployed day laborer working just 3 kilometers north of Camp Rhino whose baby has died of cold or malnutrition. The reality is that this same grieving and angry father may now be ready to detonate an improvised explosive device under your HMMWV {Humvee}.

Ms. Chua has a personal and tragic perspective that precipitated her book on globalization and ethnic hatred. Her aunt was murdered by her own chauffeur. He broke into her home, cut her throat, and robbed the house. This was not just a simple murder. Ms. Chua’s family consists of Chinese expatriates living in the Philippines, and the motive for the brutal killing was not really robbery but rather “revenge.” The Chinese Filipino minority (1 percent of the population) controls sonic 60 percent of the economy, and the local Filipino population lives in poverty-ignored or exploited by the Chinese merchant class. The killer was simply “getting his fair share” from his Chinese employer-exploiter.

The thesis for Ms. Chua’s book is simple, Globalization and trade work for the elites, but for no one else. She uses a myriad of examples of ethnic and religious strife to prove her case, from Chinese minority market domination in Indonesia and the Philippines, to Spaniards (whites) versus Indians in Bolivia, to Jews versus Arabs in the Middle East. Her overall point is that when a country has a pattern of ethnic or tribal discrimination, coupled with usually raging corruption, it is impossible for the local population to better themselves economically and govern their own society.

While both Friedman and Chua chronicle the global explosion of American culture that exposes poverty-stricken populations to television programs extolling American-style wealth and society, with the normal human reaction of “why not me? 1 deserve to live like them,” Friedman believes that countries will successfully “glocalize” their way to blend their societies and cultures into the world market at a speed that suits them. Ms. Cluia holds the far darker view that the only way these oppressed groups can “get theirs” is by riot and revolution.

The author deserves credit for initiating an interesting debate on the values of liberalizing closed economies. While her examples of the depressing effects of unencumbered capitalism are accurate, it is worth noting that the Middle East is exploding with young people who need jobs. Syria, for example, created only some 40,000 jobs instead of the 300,000 new jobs required. If not through a growing economy, just where do these young graduates go, and how do they live?

None of this should be news to any Marine who has served in Africa, the Middle East, or even Latin America. From the grinding poverty in the barrios of Bolivia or the radical mosques in Pakistan, there is a growing violence aimed at Western institutions and facilities by these disaffected young people, and it is how successfully they are brought into the global tent that will determine the future.

World an Fire is a well-written book. Its strengths are the topics Ms. Chua has raised, while its weakness is that she seems to let her family’s personal tragedy cloud her objectivity. Bul in view of current political and economic trends, and looking at the locales where Marines are being deployed, this book is well worth reading on your next flight overseas.

About the author of the book

Any Chua is Professor of law at Yale, where she specializes in the study of international business transactions, law and development, ethnic conflict, and globalization. As of January 2011, she is most noted for her parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

About the author of the review

Andrew Lubin is an author in his own right having recently published Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq (2004). He lives in Monisville, PA.

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3 thoughts on “Does exporting democracy fan the flames of hatred around the world?”

  1. I have a theory, the root of the word “currency” is “current”. These words seem to be derived from water. To be “current” on your obligations, requires a steady flow of currency.

    Friedman is correct that the world is becoming flat, however in a flat world there can be no current.

    Globalism (in its current form) is the equivalent of your upstream neighbor damming the river and hoarding the water.

  2. Is what we’re exporting “democracy”?

    It seems to me that we’re exporting corporatist plutocracy, or oligarchy. It’s replacing dictatorship by an individual with dictatorship by a committee of rich people and corporate interests. No wonder most of the “beneficiaries” of the US’ attention aren’t particularly impressed.

    1. We are exporting democracy by example, although our government prefers to support tyrants (eg, Egypt’s previous regime, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia, and dozens more).

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