Dilemmas of Democracy and Political Parties in Sectarian Societies: The Case of the PSP in Lebanon

By Baaklini, Abdo I. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview
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Dilemmas of Democracy and Political Parties in Sectarian Societies: The Case of the PSP in Lebanon


Baaklini, Abdo I., The Middle East Journal


Dilemmas of Democracy and Political Parties in Sectarian Societies: The Case of the PSP in Lebanon, by Nazih Richani, New York: St. Martin Press, 1998. viii + 152 pages. Notes to p. 172. Bibl. to p. 180. Index to p. 183. $49.95.

Reviewed by Abdo 1. Baaklini

Nazih Richani's book deals with a very important topic in contemporary world affairs: the democratic challenges facing divided societies. The work represents a serious attempt to place in context the process of democratization in Lebanon and the role played in that process by the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and its founder, Kamal Jumblatt, as well as his son and successor, Walid Jumblatt.

Based on his research findings, Richani points out that the literature on the Middle East, and specifically on Lebanon, ignores the role of organized, secular, modern political parties and their contribution to liberal democratic transformations. Asserting that the PSP is an example of a secular modern political party, the author discusses the evolution of the party, including the dilemmas faced and the choices made, by its leaders. Despite a half-century of political activity, the PSP (established in 1949) has failed to transform Lebanon into a liberal democratic polity. More importantly for Richani, this party, which avowed secular socialist principles, paradoxically ended up representing the narrow sectarian interests of the Druze of Lebanon, not even the whole Druze community (i.e., that which, historically, had allegiance to the feudal House of Jumblatt).

In an attempt to explain this paradox, Richani adopts an amended version of a rational choice model wherein rationality and structural factors are both considered pertinent to the analysis of decision making and political behavior. In addition, Richani analyzes historical contingencies; institutional arrangements (rules of the game that structure power); social and political structures; and the leaders` social backgrounds, ideologies, perceptions, and objectives (p. 13). This approach avoids the trap of cultural determinism favored by many political Scientists, as well as the rigidity of the structural !approach to explaining political phenomena.

In developing his thesis, Richani, arrives at some interesting conclusions, such as the relationship between political parties and structures of power on the one hand, and the rules of the game on the other; and the importance of equalizing opportunities among different groups in society during the process of transition to democracy.

Richani's argument is based on a number of value assumptions about democratization, political parties and the Lebanese political system that are far from uncontroversial.

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