Democracy rests on a presupposition that is not often made explicit. Popular consent implies that everyone’s view and interest, without restriction, is worth taking into account in the running of a society – which is why the principle on which democracy rests is the same principle that affirms the rights of minorities and the need to continue testing the strength of popular consent. Any search for a permanent resolution of social issues that is declared to be beyond argument or challenge is a move away from the fundamental principle.
In other words, two salient aspects of a consistent democracy are that we go on arguing, and that our freedom to do so is protected. The law defends us from coercion and forcible silencing. Without these, we have naked populism, a reversion to the situation where the powerful (in numbers, wealth or status) determine what is “right”. Genuine politics gives way to suppressed or threatened violence.
In genuine politics – if there is no overwhelming consensus, and if the people who disagree with us are not going to oblige us by simply going away, and if coercion is not an option because of our legal settlement – we are committed to argument and negotiation. And this entails a readiness to suspend belief in the unqualified rightness of our own interests and to try to imagine a state of affairs emerging that could be manageable both for us and for those who do not share our ideas or priorities.
So to find ourselves – as we now regularly do – in a situation where opposing groups each regard the other’s agenda as the worst outcome imaginable is a dire situation for democracy. Not because it is not nice to be so rude to each other, but because it indicates a disturbing loss of any sense that there might be common goals that we can only discover through a process of argument and scrutiny; a loss of any willingness to think around the corners of the definitions we started with.
Really important essay by Rowan Williams, taking us beyond the symptoms of our #Brexit crisis to some of the spiritual root causes: “The sense of a shared human project needs a lot more resource from the worlds of imagination, sympathy [and] faith“ https://t.co/BbGBKd5Otz
— Angus Ritchie (@AngusCTC) March 22, 2019