Five years after the attacks of September 11, G. John Ikenberry argues that America’s problems maneuvering abroad aren’t just the product of President George W. Bush’s bungling, but of a deeper “security trap”—and offers a way to
escape it. Joseph Nye, Jr.—the father of “soft power”—revisits his theory and argues that what’s needed is not solely hard or soft power, but “smart power.”
Joining Ikenberry and Nye in the critical debate about a progressive foreign policy in the post-9/11 age are two articles in our new, regular “Responses” section: Peter Beinart answering Michael Lind’s review of his book The Good Fight, and Anatol Lieven critiquing Michael Signer’s (and other progressive thinkers’) idealist vision of America’s role in the world. Zeroing in on two critical regions of the world, Nazneen Barma and Ely Ratner lay out the ideological challenge that China presents the West, and Dennis Ross assesses the Middle East post- Ariel Sharon and in light of this summer’s conflicts.
On the domestic front, Karen Kornbluh puts forward a new approach to social insurance that responds to the contemporary realities of the American family and work life, and Joel Kotkin charts a path for reinvigorating American
cities as the engines of middle-class mobility. William Galston makes the case for the centrality of freedom in progressive thought; James Galbraith looks at how democracy takes root; and Theda Skocpol explores whether a program like the G.I. Bill—which did so much to invigorate and broaden American democracy—can ever happen again.
What could be more anachronistic—in the media culture and political climate of 2006—than the founding of a quarterly journal of ideas? It’s almost as if we were to announce the return of poodle skirts and pet rocks. But we believe that, to regenerate the strength of the progressive movement, big ideas are vitally important. And Democracy represents our bet—and the bet of our supporters—that they will matter.
We launch this endeavor at a time when American politics has grown profoundly unserious. As they have amassed more power for themselves than at any point in nearly a century, conservatives have grown tired in their thinking just as it has become clear that their ideas have failed. But instead of stepping into the breach with a coherent response, many progressives have adopted a compulsive fixation on electoral posturing and crafting the message of the day. Progressives too often have come to eschew bold ambition, preferring to take shelter in the safe harbor of “realism” and “competence.”
The times demand more. We are undergoing a profound transformation in our economy, the nature of global realities and national security threats, and the character of American democracy and society. This transformation has rendered obsolete the comfortable assumptions of the 1930s, the 1960s, the 1980s—and even the 1990s. As progressives have during previous times of similar flux, we must craft a response that moves beyond the mere criticism of the right wing or a rigid adherence to the past. We need a twenty-first-century progressivism that builds on our proud history, is true to our central values, and is relevant to our times.
Democracy will serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred. We see our role as upsetting accepted assumptions and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted by (and expected from) progressives. We believe that many of the old cleavages that divided progressives in the last century have been rendered irrelevant. If you agree, we hope you’ll comment on the pieces you read here, offer new ideas and arguments, and enter the debate. Now is the time to fashion a new progressivism for the twenty-first century, and we welcome all who are willing to join in this conversation.