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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Justice and Democracy
Edited by Ron Bontekoe and Marietta Stepaniants

(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997)
477pp. Index. Pb.: $28.00; ISBN 0-8248-1926-8.

This impressive collection of cross-cultural analyses of either democracy or justice, or crucial topics within either or both, is the edited version of papers submitted for the seventh of a series of "East-West Philosophers Conferences" sponsored by the University of Hawai'i's prestigious East-West Center. A roster of international academic stars, including Yu Ying-Shih, Ernesto Laclau, Javad Iqbal and Ted Honderich, representing an unusually broad difference of opinion and paradigm to converge in one room, not only came to Honolulu, but produced works of philosophy with profound implications for readers interested in conflict resolution, as well as ethnic conflict. The book is primarily designed for courses or readers concerned with democratic theory and jurisprudence, readers with a policy or empirical bent will be presented with a host of potential hypotheses about topics like: what is democracy or justice? How far and what parts of Western conceptions travel to other civilizations? What are the conditions for democratic stability? What really is the nature of or perceptions of the Buddhist, Ghandian, Confucian, Islamic versions of Western democracy and justice, and what are the local counterparts? As edited volumes go, this one does better than most in integrating the articles along a logical scheme, which could make for a useful course reader treating philosophical themes of justice and democracy.

The authors present arguments and examples of misunderstandings about the nature of justice and democracy, which produce conflicts because of the apparently universal desire for some version of democracy and justice. While most authors agree that democracy and justice are too varied and culturally bound to be inherently universal, many of the most interesting contributions show some aspects which appear to be universal. Richard Rorty warns that Western democracy and justice is culturally and historically bound; yet, some of the practices protecting individual and minority rights, as well as eschewing group hatreds voluntarily, should be marketed as potentially useful to other societies to emulate in their own way. Cass Sunstein identifies several versions of democracy in practice, alternatively emphasizing constitutionalism, deliberation, and interest aggregation. However, what he argues is universal among successful democracies is conflict resolution among inevitably heterogeneous populations along multitudinous dimensions is 'incompletely theorized agreements' on results. This avoids potentially contentious disputes producing ungovernability over ideology or motives, focusing instead on specific policies that everyone agrees are feasible and thus desireable. However, even his insightful solution may be culturally bound because more polarized societies seem inclined to resolved philosophical issues before practical ones, and thus make democracy impossibly stalled by disputes over fundamentals. The trick would be to induce mediators to focus on 'yeasable' propositions that ignore ultimate incompatible implications or rationalizations. James Buchanan suggests that technology has some universalizing effects, just as do markets, though there is no inevitability about a common technological democracy. The most eloquent exception came from the Erickh Solovyov of Moscow whose neo-Kantian argument concludes that all societies have the imperative, both because it is just and because of universal experience, that violent human rights violations must be limited as the highest universal priority. He critiques relativist critiques as attempts to maximize particularistic interests at the expense of the universal need to protect what Roman law called ius cogents and what modern international law calls non-derogable human rights. Fred Dallmayr finds conflicts over "whose justice and whose rationality" producing inevitable conflicts. His solution, which the more absolutists would find vague in its flexibility, is for each society to achieve autonomy without closing itself from what might potentially be empowering to inferior groups and communities in their own societies.

With differences within and among post-modern, cultural and comparative approaches, this provocative collection will leave many readers with the realistic frustration that the search for democracy and justice is a moving target. But that is nothing new. Every attempt to make societies more democratic or just will confront and motivate the establishments of each society to retrench on the footing that there is not democratic basis for the change. The hope engendered for those with different perspectives, be they focused on gender, culture or process, is that open communication will allow each society to adapt in its own ways to outsiders' experiences. This book shows the way of the world to the West, as well as explaining the West to the rest.

Henry F. Carey, Georgia State University - Atlanta

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