Juan J. Molina

Juan J. Molina
Juan J. Molina

lunes, 11 de enero de 2010


The Western model of representative democracy these days appears to be imposing itself on the rest of the world. In many countries it has served as a liberatory mechanism against a totalitarian order; in others, however, it has led to the destruction of collective ways of life in more traditional communities. This has been the case in many regions of Africa. Kwasi Wiredu, in a suggestive article, proposes an alternative. African tradition before colonization developed, in a number of peoples, varieties of democracy different from the Western ideal. In place of the imposition of the majority, dialogue amongst everyone, which would lead to a consensus, assured that, in the final agreement, no one was excluded. Instead of the battle between parties or the predominance of a single one, there was rational dialogue between all members of society.
These forms of consensual democracy are analogous to similar practices in many indigenous peoples of America, which reminisce an era preceding the European conquest. In many indigenous communities, the ideal of consensus persists – a consensus upon which is arrived by the participation of the whole people in assemblies. These assemblies also designate certain members of the community to assume leading ranks, based on age and wisdom. The rulers are subject to the will of the members of the community, as asserts the popular motto: they should "serve obeyingly." These procedures intend to preserve community relations; therefore, they frequently clash with the regime of political parties that divide the community itself.
An ethnolinguist, Carlos Lenkersdorf, describes as follows the assembly practice of a Tojolabal community (a people of Mayan descent) in Mexico: »During the assembly everyone takes the stand and discusses; at the end of the discussion, an old man interprets and sums up the decision at which has been arrived. He announces: 'We have thought and now decide that…' That is to say – writes Lenkersdorf – being that the old man is wise and of good judgment, he intuits our reasoning and announces it. A consensus has been reached that is expressed by the word 'we.' This type of meeting demonstrates intersubjectivity in action. The community lives on, thanks to the participation of each and of all the people.«
This traditional spirit reanimates a movement in favor of the rights of the indigenous peoples of various Latin American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia. By means of defending their autonomy, they aim to preserve and renew the kinds of communal life that are threatened by modern individualistic society.
It is worth comparing democracy's return to African sources with the revival of similar indigenous traditions in America. Don't these similarities indicate an endeavor of universal scope – as Wiredu himself doesn't merely insinuate – that goes far beyond the borders of a people?

Luis Villoro
On Consensual Democracy
Concerning Kwasi Wiredu's Ideas

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