Thursday, February 02, 2006


There are two basic lines of argument in favour of democracy.

Some people argue that democracy is essentially good and just, even when it sometimes produces inconvenient results. The purpose of democracy is what it is.

Some people argue that even when democracy produces inconvenient results, the overall effects of democracy are better than any of the likely alternatives. The purpose of democracy is what it does.

The recent Palestinian elections have triggered a lot of discussion on democracy - both ethical and political. Of course, nobody of any importance is willing to say that the election of Hamas changes their view of democracy. But at the same time, there is some reluctance among some of the key players to change their view of Hamas in response to the election. Is there not some dissonance here?

If things in the Middle East are to change for the better, perhaps some period of diplomatic awkwardness is inevitable. But there are worse things to bear than diplomatic awkwardness, and the people of this region have perhaps had more than their share of these burdens.

And what about Iraq? Given the relative sizes of the different communities in Iraq, it is hard to be very surprised by the results of the elections there. All elections have winners and losers, but the effects of democracy in Iraq are extremely significant for external players, including America and Iran, as well as for the Iraqis themselves.

The purpose of democracy is what it does. We do not yet know what these particular democratic episodes will bring. But perhaps they bring the possibility, the faint hope of change. Can we ask for anything more?

Discussion: BBC News (Jan 29th), BBC Moral Maze (Feb 1st), Duck of Minerva, 'Aqoul, Dilbert.

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