Robert Talisse at IAI:
Democracy can be frustrating; our hard-won right to participate in the task of collective self-government often results in disappointment and exasperation. What’s more, in the wake of a political defeat, democracy’s sole consolation is ‘continue working’; if you lose at the polls, you mustn’t resign or withdraw, but instead turn to the next election and begin anew. Citizenship takes persistence. And in both emotional and practical terms, that’s asking a lot.
Yet democracy is demanding in another way as well. It requires a certain ethos, a moral stance towards our fellow citizen. We must acknowledge that they are entitled to an equal political say even if they hold views that we regard as unconscionable. What’s more, if our opponent prevails at the polls, we must hold that it is right for democracy to enact the policies they favor.
The democratic ethos hence appears tragically fraught. How can we stand both for what’s right and acquiesce in an arrangement that gives ‘error’ an equal say? Is it even possible to maintain so conflicted a posture?
An additional difficulty lurks. When it comes to high stakes decisions, we tend to regard our political opponent as being not merely on the wrong side of the issues, but on the unjust side. And once we start seeing our rival as not merely wrongheaded, but opposed to justice itself, then it may follow that we grow contemptuous of our opposition, to regard them as irredeemably failed, benighted, even depraved.