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David Ingram's Rights, Democracy, and Fulfillment arises from a meditation on the United States' recent invasion of Iraq. Ingram names this event "a compromised war" and proceeds through 244 pages to demonstrate how such compromises are made necessary in the modern "compromised world."
Ingram sees the invasion of Iraq as stemming from what Samuel Huntington (1996) calls a "clash of civilizations," as Muslim fundamentalism replaces Communism as the new global specter threatening democratic ideals. The challenge to democracy, however, is not simply interpreted as a problem of the "backward" ideals of a Muslim world that needs to be ushered, by more "enlightened" civilizations (the West), into the modern democratic world. The Muslim world is one of a plethora of identity groups vying for special privilege in a world where they feel their culture threatened by a global democratic assimilation.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of Communist Russia, the world expected to witness the advent of a liberal, democratic "free world," a global brotherhood of the human world, where the values of freedom, justice, and the dignity of individuals would reign supreme and guarantee justice to all. Troubling human differences, it was reckoned, would fade in the light of a new egalitarian harmony. However, in place of this utopian dream, the post-World War II era has witnessed a nightmare of mad individualisms. The human world has fragmented into a contentious mass of struggling subgroups, each vying with the others for self-determination, economic and political rights, or unique agendas of justice (the righting of historical injustices or the realization of long-awaited glorious destinies).
Identity politics is the reigning order of the post-war era; conflicts including "ethnic cleansing" purges, genocide, and civil wars rage across the planet. The rise of Muslim fundamentalism is interpreted by many Westerners as a demand by one more extremist faction of the human world struggling to postpone their assimilation into the (inevitable) global reality of a free, democratic world.
For Ingram, however, the Western fear of a fragmented human world that resists and thwarts democratic forces of justice, freedom, and egalitarian harmony rests on a mistaken problematic. Legitimate government and the rule of law, argues Ingram, require that democratic processes be fair to all, and that egalitarian values be embedded in social realities—social realities that are by necessity characterized by human differences. Democratic values as equality of opportunity do not require that laws and policies advance the interests of subgroups equally or identically; they simply promise to spread the risks and benefits of citizenship fairly and evenly across the society. All legitimate voices must be granted equal voice in deliberative processes and decision-making practices.
Following Jürgen Habermas, Ingram believes enlightenment to issue from open democratic dialogue among free and equal persons. But Ingram sees that dialogue embedded in social realities that are necessarily characterized by human differences. By guaranteeing basic democratic values (free speech, free association, and civic education), liberal institutions may simultaneously preserve and protect the existence of a vibrant political culture where all citizens, whatever their particular affiliations, have equal access to that arena of enlightenment. Does this necessitate that the individualist demands of unique subgroups fall by the wayside of egalitarianism? Ingram explains that attention to the special rights of subgroups is entirely appropriate where the exemption of those groups from some citizen duties would serve to compensate for differences in social standing that negatively effect the group's equal access to the opportunities of the system.
David Ingram's Rights, Democracy, and Fulfillment itself offers a "compromise" in a "compromised world." It seeks to close the divide between the demands for individual rights embedded in "identity politics" and the suffocating image of a human world that obliterates individual differences. Simultaneously, Ingram closes the ideological gap between the reigning Realpolitik aggressions of the modern world and the guiding democratic principles and ideals of egalitarianism, freedom, and global justice, in an attempt to derive a practical politics that aspires to the higher values of liberal values. Ingram's "compromise draws a synthesis between the historically opposed traditions of utopian critical theory (the eudaimonic "humanism" of the early Karl Marx) and pragmatic critical theory (that critiques the societal injustices of capitalist systems—their betrayal of democratic ideals and their failure to ensure citizen rights equally). What results is a union between eudaimonism (utopian ideals founded in reflection on "the good") and deontologism (a duties-based political pragmatics).
Ingram's book composes an insightful meditation on the paradoxes of global realities, where peoples around the globe continue to be slaughtered under the rubric of lofty ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights. I highly recommend this work for professional scholars and university students interested in tackling the complex issues of global justice. However, I am disappointed that this fine critical theorist approach to the failed ideals of capitalist democracy builds from the opening premise that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with its "Shock and Awe" slaughter of thousands of innocent citizens, is simply another "principled compromise in a compromised world."
Rather, the rhetoric of "clashes of civilizations" and conflicting "identity politics" may offer a convenient smokescreen to mask the stark fact of the continuing capitalist plunder of the world. Perhaps invasions of helpless third world countries are less "principled compromises" between utopian ideals and the conflicted political agendas of subgroups than new chapters in old imperialist projects that are a longstanding Western tradition. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is simply the latest adventure in centuries of global bloodletting of brown-skinned citizens of third world countries incapable of protecting themselves against either the modern techno-arsenals of capitalist giants or the penetration of their corporate plunderers.
© 2005 Wendy Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., Philosophy Department, Adelphi University, New York, author of The Sacred Monstrous: A Reflection on Violence in Human Communities (Lexington Books, 2003).