Yascha Mounk’s Misguided War Against Revival



From the point of view of those who have held power long enough, multi-ethnic democracy must indeed appear as a great experiment, imposed on Western nations only at the end of the 20th century as the unintended consequence of immigration and economic growth. , a challenge faced by societies that were, until recently, relatively homogeneous. This is how Mounk presents the problem. (It is also, we have to admit, the framework favored by the radical right.) But this is not entirely true. Since the 18th century, marginalized groups have struggled for full citizenship in modern democracies, and therefore for the ability to lead meaningful lives free from violence and discrimination. From religion to sexuality to race, it is Mounk’s question that has guided the tumultuous modern history of democracy: is it possible to build equitable democracies in heterogeneous societies? The experiment has been going on for centuries.

Diversity is a good thing, Mounk solemnly assures us, and we must be wary of xenophobic populists. (Ethnic cleansing, he clarifies, is “a future to fear, not to desire.”) But we shouldn’t have any illusions either: humans are hard-wired to form groups and tend to misbehave. treat strangers. For most of human history, diversity has been “a stumbling block rather than a strength” as well as a force that “significantly increases the danger of violent conflict”. Diverse democracy therefore goes entirely against the grain of how humans work, how we use power, and how history has unfolded. Heterogeneous societies “fall apart,” Mounk argues, producing hopelessly anarchic states, distorted by domination or so fragmented by the devolution of power to minorities that there is no center to hold.

So history and human nature conspire to make diverse democracy a tough sell. But we are also making two political mistakes, Mounk argues, that will make all of this next to impossible to achieve. First, American political discourse has shed its liberal individualistic brilliance in favor of group-based identitarianism – what it describes as an “overwhelming focus” on ethnicity and “irreconcilable conflict between white and people of color”. Debating everything in terms of “attributive identities” like race or religion, Mounk warns, elevates “the kinds of groups that have torn apart diverse societies in many parts of the world.” At the same time, the way we talk about multiculturalism and equality has become far too negative. It’s depressing, advises Mounk, when politicians and elites focus relentlessly on what’s wrong with minorities or imply that no meaningful progress has been made. The great experience blames the two political extremes for these errors, but it is clear who is being lectured. Listening to the “self-proclaimed advocates” of multi-ethnic democracy, he explains, chastising the left, “it can be hard to remember why anyone should hope for it to succeed in the first place.”

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