April 14, 2016


Democracy and Its Exclusions: Political Identity and the Challenge of Secularism (Charles Taylor, 4/05/16, ABC : Religion and Ethics)

Modern democracy as we know it - unlike ancient democracy - is universalist. We believe that citizen rights should apply to the whole population, without exclusion on grounds of gender, property, origin and race.

But, in a paradoxical way, democracy can also generate exclusion, and regularly does. This means that our really existing democracies have to be continually vigilant, and ready to combat this thrust towards exclusion whenever it arises.

How does this tendency towards exclusion come about? It comes from another feature of democracies, both ancient and modern.

As free societies, democracies require some strong sense among the citizenry of being bonded together, of sharing a strong common allegiance. They need this in order to motivate citizens to do their duty - such as paying taxes, serving in the armed forces, coming to each other's aid and so on - without a strong coercive force from above, which would be incompatible with a free society.

Without such basic solidarity, there is no mutual trust when we deliberate - so, when we discuss the common good, are we all talking about the whole, or only some part? And there is insufficient mutual help in times of trouble.

But this common allegiance needs a definition, a sense of what we are committed to, and in modern democracies this usually has two aspects. One facet is constituted by political/moral principle - typically human rights, equality, non-discrimination, democratic forms of rule.

But there is inevitably another facet, because we are not only espousing these principles in general, but are committed to our particular historical project of realizing them: so our "patriotism" is directed towards the American Republic, or the French Republic, or the United Kingdom and so on. These historic projects are specific to each democracy, and are coloured by certain crucial founding events - such as the American or French Revolutions - but also frequently by other features of our history, language, ethnicity and the like.

Let's call this two-faceted definition of our pole of allegiance our political identity.

How, then, can democracies generate exclusion? Paradoxically and tragically, through the force of their political identities. These can turn toxic when they are used to read certain people out of the identity, and therefore brand them as not really properly citizens, or not worthy of citizenship. Democratic sentiment begins to work against democracy.

This should, indeed, be the one test potential immigrants are subjected to; their commitment to the Anglospheric political identity and rejection of all others, not least the French. By definition, anyone not supportive of the tenets of the Founding should not be a citizen.

Posted by at April 14, 2016 5:27 AM