I recently pulled my beloved copy of A Jacques Barzun Reader from the shelf and cracked it open to a random page. This is always a reliable recipe for enjoyable reading, and this was no exception. I landed on the essay linked here, which happens to have been published in 1986 as the Sixth Annual Morgenthau Memorial Lecture on Ethics and Foreign Policy.
While it was written in the age of the Cold War, not long after Donald Rumsfeld shook hands with Saddam Hussein, it fits presciently into the present context of American troubles in post-Saddam Iraq.
Cultural historian Jacques Barzun argues that democracy is not an ideology that can be exported but a historical development and mode of life peculiar to the political context in which it developed. Extrapolating from this, we can say that attempts to base a foreign policy on the idea of exporting democracy—as sought by both the Reagan and Clinton administrations -- will forever be doomed to failure.
A Silver Star, at least, for this essay.
For the book as a whole, see the post linked above, in which the critical praise pours forth as water in a flood:
staggering, legendary, outstanding, inventive, insightful, impressive, a feast, engaging, intelligent, challenging, satisfying, elegant.
You might also want to check out The Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building, recommended here in February.