Wednesday, August 08, 2007

reflections on democracy

. . . . "Recent reflection on democracy have yielded two valuable insights …. Modern pluralistic regimes have typically come into being not because of some preexisting wide consensus on "basic values," bur rather because various groups that had been at each others' throats for a prolonged period had to recognize their mutual inability to achieve dominance. Tolerance and acceptance of pluralism resulted eventually from a standoff between bitterly hostile opposing groups.

This historical point of departure of democracy does not bode particularly well for the stability of these regimes. The point is immediately obvious, but it becomes even more so when it is brought into contact with the theoretical claim that a democratic regime achieves legitimacy to the extent that its decisions result from full and open deliberation among its principal groups, bodies, and representatives. Deliberation is here conceived, as an opinion-forming process: the participants should not have fully or definitively formed opinions at the outset; they are expected to engage in meaningful discussion, which means that they should be ready to modify initially held opinions in the light of arguments of other participants and also as a result of new information which becomes available in the course of the debate. …

If this is what it takes for the democratic process to become self-sustaining and to acquire long-run stability and legitimacy, then the gulf that separates such a state from democratic-pluralistic regimes as they emerge historically from strife and civil war is uncomfortably and perilously wide. A people that only yesterday was engaged in fratricidal struggles is not likely to settle down overnight to those constructive give-and-take deliberations. Far more likely , there will initially be agreement to disagree, but without any attempt at melding the opposing points of view—that is indeed the nature of religious tolerance. Or, if there is discussion, it will be a typical "dialogue of the deaf"—a dialogue that will in fact long function as a prolongation of, and a substitute for, civil war. Even in the most "advanced" democracies, many debates are, to paraphrase Clausewitz, a "continuation of civil war with other means." Such debates, with each part on the lookout for arguments that kill, are only too familiar from democratic politics as usual.

There remains then a long and difficult road to be traveled from the traditional internecine, intransigent discourse to a more "democracy-friendly" kind of dialogue. …"

How aptly does this describe the situation inthe UK today? Even though outright warfare has been absent from ths land for hundreds of years we are still in the post-civil warfare state of pluralism. Due to the enormous burden of tradition and conservatism amongst our culture it has proved impossible to cast off many of the more absurdly unjust and antiquated customs such as the monarchy and absence of a constitution. This perpetuates and deepens the class divide and leaves one wondering why simple democratic reforms which are- even now- being stalled in the unelected house of lords, have taken so long to appear.

More here.

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