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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006



posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, December 12, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Pretty loaded word, right? I immediately think of these things when I hear it: 1. racism. 2. lack of civil rights. 3. violence. In other words - a specific historical context, the brutal Afrikaans regime of South Africa.

But the term has more general meaning than that. According to various dictionary definitions, apartheid can also mean "A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups", or "The policy or practice of political, legal, economic, or social discrimination, as against the members of a minority group."

What I find intriguing here is that defined in this general sense, apartheid might well not be the result of an intentional policy. It may equally arise from economic conditions, or by other forms of disputes (including land, water, mineral rights, etc).

In that sense apartheid becomes an important term because it fundamentally describes an illiberal condition, one that can and must be remedied via liberal institutions.

However, it is also a loaded word. Calling a given condition "apartheid" immediately invites the comparison to Souuth Africa.

So the question is, does the word apartheid have any valid use or meaning anymore? Can it be used in any sober analysis without immediately derailing the discussion?

I could well write a similar post about fascism, it seems. It's a pity because these words have descriptive power. Perhaps we simply need new words, free of their baggage, to describe the general concepts they embody.

I found myself thinking about this after reading Kevin Drum's post about how Jimmy Carter's seemingly reasonable use of the word apartheid to describe the status of Palestinians in the West Bank is drawing predictable fire.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.