Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Universalism versus Tribalism

Perhaps the struggle we face isn't democracy versus dictatorship so much as universalism versus tribalism.

Today a friend of mine mentioned that in Northern Ireland there is or used to be political parties that were not openly Protestant or Catholic, but everyone knew that each of these parties have a Protestant or Catholic leaning. He seemed to be implying that if the Protestant party won, they would oppress the Catholics and if the Catholics won, they would oppress the Protestants.

Whether what my friend described was true for Northern Ireland or not, it does seem to illustrate the difference between "bare democracy" and "liberal democracy." Bare democracy is where voters get to decide who gets oppressed and who gets to do the oppressing. Liberal democracy gives all of its citizens basic human rights.

In January, when the Iraqis voted in large numbers despite the threat of terrorist attacks, the only news story that concerned me was a translated statement by an Iraqi Kurd who said, "I voted for the Kurds." Let's hope that the Iraqi Shia, Sunnis and Kurds can move towards liberal democracy and move away from tribalism. I think successful democracy has to be universalist in its orientation, not tribalist, though both kinds are often found even in advanced democracies.