American Decline

Why Political Sectarianism Is a Growing Threat to American Democracy

I’ve been using the Shia/Sunni analogy for around 15 years. It’s interesting that it is now making its way into mainstream discourse. What I find most regrettable is that most anarchists and libertarians, who should be standing apart from this stuff, seem to not only buy into but are often hyper partisans of all of this.

New York Times

The country is increasingly split into camps that don’t just disagree on policy and politics — they see the other as alien, immoral, a threat. Such political sectarianism is now on the march.

American democracy faces many challenges: New limits on voting rights. The corrosive effect of misinformation. The rise of domestic terrorism. Foreign interference in elections. Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power. And making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy.

It’s an outlook that makes compromise impossible and encourages elected officials to violate norms in pursuit of an agenda or an electoral victory. It turns debates over changing voting laws into existential showdowns. And it undermines the willingness of the loser to accept defeat — an essential requirement of a democracy.

This threat to democracy has a name: sectarianism. It’s not a term usually used in discussions about American politics. It’s better known in the context of religious sectarianism — like the hostility between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. Yet a growing number of eminent political scientists contend that political sectarianism is on the rise in America.


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