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Democracy is a bit like love: messy, chaotic and pretty damn great
Two recent dialogues (debates?) on the the tensions between liberalism and democracy, Islam, and U.S. foreign policy.
For lack of a better way to put it, democracy is one of those things (rare or quite common, depending on your perspective) that happens to be both a problem and a solution. Or: it’s a solution to a particular set of problems, but in coming to be, it creates a whole other set of problems. I’d argue that these new “problems” are much preferable to the old ones, but obviously not everyone agrees with me, nor should they.
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As I’ve written elsewhere, most of our divides are actually pretty deep and there’s no way to fashion a consensus on them through dialogue or debate. In fact, agreement or resolution should very expressly not be the purpose of dialogue or debate. If it happens on its own as a byproduct of a process, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. In this sense, dialogue is a little bit like love or happiness: in searching for it, one might actually find it drifting further out of reach.
Democracy is a bit like love and happiness, too: messy, chaotic, occasionally depressing, and often relying on its opposite to define itself. But also pretty damn great.
Anyway, I wanted to share two recent dialogues that focus on different aspects of the intersection of religion, democracy, and liberalism—the themes that define this Substack.
The first is a debate with my friend, founder of , in which we do a deep dive on the question of whether liberalism and democracy can (or should?) be disentangled. When does majoritarianism morph into tyranny of the majority, and are some such tyrannies better than others? If you prefer to read and skim, a full transcript is available here.
Meanwhile, in the appropriately-titled podcast, we also talk about democracy’s problems but end up delving into quite a bit of detail on Islam, Islamism, and the failures of the Arab Spring, including what the United States could have done differently. While my book does have a strong theoretical component—it’s hard to talk about democracy without knowing what it means—much of it is focused on the practical implications of democracy, or the lack thereof, in the particular context of the Middle East. For some time, I’ve very much been of the belief that to understand the problems of democracy in the United States, Americans would gain a lot by paying attention to what went wrong—and, very briefly, what went right—in what remains the world’s most undemocratic region.
Anyway, hope you enjoy. And if you do get a chance to read or listen to either of the conversations, let me know your reactions, thoughts, or objections and I’ll be happy to respond in the comments below.
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