Quarterly Essay 87: Uncivil Wars - How Contempt is Corroding Democracy

Waleed Aly,Scott Stephens

Quarterly Essay 87: Uncivil Wars - How Contempt is Corroding Democracy
Black Inc.
5 September 2022

Quarterly Essay 87: Uncivil Wars - How Contempt is Corroding Democracy

Waleed Aly,Scott Stephens

Is our democracy corroding? In this original, eloquent essay, Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens explore the ethics and politics of public debate - and the threat it now faces.

In a healthy society we need the capacity to disagree. Yet Aly and Stephens note a growing tendency to disdain and dismiss opponents, to treat them with contempt. This toxic partisanship has been imported from the United States, where it has been a temptation for both left and right. Aly and Stephens discuss some telling examples, analyse the role of the media, and look back to heroes of democracy who found a better way forward.

Arguing that democracy cannot survive contempt, they draw on philosophy, literature and history to make an urgent case about the present.

‘So what do we owe those with whom we might profoundly, even radically, disagree? In our time, the answer increasingly seems to be: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We’ve come to regard our opponents as not much more than obstructions in the road, impediments standing between us and our desired end. We have grown disinclined to consider what it might mean to go on together meaningfully as partners within a shared democratic project. To put it bluntly, we see no future with our political opponents because we feel we have nothing to learn from them.‘ -Waleed Aly & Scott Stephens, Uncivil Wars

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