The Tension between Democracy and Liberalism


Stephen R. Grand: Shadi, in your book, you talked a lot about the tension between democracy and liberalism; and maybe that’s a good place to start this
conversation. Why don’t you say a bit of your take on that. Shadi Hamid: Yeah, sure, well in the book, I wanted to kinda problematize the notion that good things go together. That coming from an American standpoint in our own history you had the
foundations have constitutional liberalism and then you had democracy
afterwards in a sense of universal suffrage, equal equal political rights for all
citizens, so we had a particular sequencing. So when we as Americans talk about
democracy we’re thinking about liberalism and democracy together, but
that isn’t necessarily what happens in other regions or what
will happen in the Middle East. So I wanted to kinda raise the issue of what are the tensions here and one of the arguments I make in the book is that democratization is actually likely to push Islamist
movements further to the right, towards greater ill liberalism. So you could actually have a situation
where as you have more democracy, at least in certain issues, in certain areas, you might have less what so-called
liberal values or when we’re talking about, especially in the
social, in the social realm, and the role of religion in public
life. Stephen R. Grand: I think you’re absolutely right to point out that there exists liberal attitudes in
many parts of the Arab World. I don’t think it’s surprising, given the history. I mean it is not surprising to
find the countries that have long lived under authoritarian
conditions when those conditions are removed, citizens who have lived in very closed, very repressed, repressive societies tend to have fairly illiberal views. And, I think it’s important that people recognize that that’s not necessarily a
product democracy, it’s a product of what came before, that
these regimes tried to divide people, they spun a certain
national narrative that had, often, very toxic elements and we’re now living through the
consequences of some of the divisions that were sowed under the prior regimes. I think an interesting question though is; what do you do about it? As you, I think rightly point out, people aren’t gonna wait for constitutional liberalism to take hold. They want elections now. arm And, so what do you do about it? My own sense is that it’s very rare you find an enlightened despot who’s going to educate people
and make them more liberal it’s very unlikely your gonna find an enlightened despot who’s going to take the time and have the interest to install liberal institutions and then walk away. So I think we both, sort of, face this conundrum of fairly liberal
societies elections’ are not the sole answer, but what do you do about it? Shadi Hamid: And I think you bring up a bit a good point that this isn’t something that’s that’s brand
new or distinctive to the Middle East;
although, I do think it’s more pronounced in the Middle East, but if we look at a
lot of other cases you do see these tensions, I mean even in our own context we struggle with these issues to a
lesser extent, but you know for example when it comes to
the role of religion in public life, where you have christian conservatives,
who are trying to reflect their preferences in public policy. If we look at the state level, you have
situations where legislatures are trying to restrict
abortion rights or if we’re talking about discrimination
against against gays in the US. So, I mean there are there, there are examples of this; or even in France where you have, you know, a democratically elected
parliament passing laws that prevent women from
wearing the face veil thats also illiberal in a kind of different
way, but it does restrict personal freedoms. So we have this situation in a variety
of contexts and I think also most recently in India where you have the election of a prime
minister who is not just illiberal, but some would say has been complicit in genocidal acts
against the Muslim minority; so that’s a whole different level, but he was democratically elected and you know I’m a big believer that as
small D democrats we have to respect those outcomes even if we fundamentally disagree with
them.

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