Jean-Jacques David, The Tennis Court Oath

LinkedIn by allowing readers to comment can encourage the poster to re-examine a position and respond with a better answer.  Here follows an example about CSOs and their clients.

Opposition International recently posted in the International Relations Professional Discussions Group an NDI document on the role of opposition parties in which we gave our usual position that we will talk with any party as long as it abides by democratic principles. Giles Raymond DeMourot, the careful moderator challenged that claim, “depends on opposition to what.”

A standard response followed.

“Opposition International was formed by volunteers from different parties. We are older and have been on both sides. To be in Opposition is to be the change to come. As to policy specifics, we take an approach, not unlike Zorba the Greek at 65. We are not amoral; we judge a party by its adherence to the basic rules of democracy. That dividing line puts several parties beyond even our broad comfort zone. At the same time, there are religious and environmental parties we assist.”

As did Giles:

“Yes, but I can’t go along. Decades ago some had formed the network of those who said No! But you can’ have within the same organization those, say, who opposed Hitler and those who opposed the Weimar republic. Or in France where I currently and temporarily live, an organization that would group the far-right opposition (the followers of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and the Socialists, both part of “the Opposition.”

Giles’ insight pointed to a challenge faced by many cause civil society organizations; “is the coalition too broad to be morally coherent?” 

With the help of Jean W., our communications advisor, OI tries again. It is not likely to be the last word. The exercise, nonetheless, prompted us to re-examine our goals.

February 8, 2023

Dear Giles,

Bon point! Bien raisonné, surtout si vous prenez la France en exemple. Mais les partis politiques des pays riches et développés tels la France n’ont pas et n’auront jamais besoin de l’aide d’une organisation comme la nôtre. (Logical, mostly as France is your example. However, in rich and developed countries like France, political parties do not need help from an organization like ours.) 

Is it incongruous for an organization to work with deeply and morally opposed political parties? Yes, one must concede.

Is it a useful proposition to offer to assist opposition parties in countries with constitutional institutions still in transition to resilient democratic practice? Yes. Absolutely, yes. In many countries, opposition parties have limited access to resources, know-how and incentives; they face only barriers, restraints and constraints.

Opposition International expects our partners will self-select. We state up front that we work with political parties which abide by democratic principles. An invitation in itself does not mean acceptance. Parties seeking irregular means to power would likely not engage us. If they don’t, then the question of accommodation is moot. If they do, we live up to our commitments even at the cost of “being out of the loop.”

You can’t say you believe in democracy and not acknowledge the moral risks. Democracy is not a graduate seminar on good governance. It is a messy and often ambiguous means to bring genuine change. We encourage many of the disruptive risks entailed by fair elections that can lead to new political, economic and social policies. A legitimate opposition creates, by its very potential, a culture of accountability and competition that existing leaders – and powers — will sense, acknowledge and, upon reflection, respect. The authenticity of voice, creative solutions, and strong leadership are not a monopoly of parties, in — or out – of office. Competition creates value by ushering out and ushering in ideas, policies, and leaders. The unthinkable becomes thought. The unsayable said. The undoable attempted.

The problem you perceive, as presented, needs to be considered. Our mission statement — perhaps a unique one in the democracy field – does as much and more.


Owen and Jean