Rowan Williams: The gap between 'democracy' and reality in Iraq

From the David Nicholls Memorial Lecture given by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford
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But the tormenting problems over the shaping of an Iraqi constitution have brought to light very clearly some of the central tensions in understanding democracy. What if the popular will is overwhelmingly in favour of a form of government that does not correspond to our ordinary liberal assumptions? And what is to be done to secure the rights and liberties of minorities in a context of significant religious or ethnic diversity, where a majority vote may be the accurate representation not of arguments won but of a demographic advantage?

Most of us in the West would probably want to argue that democracy needs to be more than the guarantee that majorities have their way. This means that we have to introduce into our discussion the idea of "lawful" democracy, democratic institutions that earn credibility not just by corresponding to "popular will" but by placing themselves under law.

As we have seen in Iraq in recent months, the setting-up of representative institutions alone fails to solve anything so long as there is no confidence that a system exists to secure the social environment and to act as a disinterested broker between communities.

The tragedy of Iraq in the past two years should serve to make us more attentive, please God, to the gap between slogans about democratisation and the hard work needed to secure a reliable material environment for civil society to mature, and thus for a fully lawful state apparatus to be shaped.