Why do citizens in pluralist democracies disagree collectively about the very values they agree on individually? This provocative book highlights the inescapable conflicts of rights and values at the heart of democratic politics.
Based on interviews with thousands of citizens and political decision makers, the book focuses on modern Canadian politics, investigating why a country so fortunate in its history and circumstances is on the brink of dissolution. Taking advantage of new techniques of computer-assisted interviewing, the authors explore the politics of a wide array of issues, from freedom of expression to public funding of religious schools to government wiretapping to antihate legislation, analyzing not only why citizens take the positions they do but also how easily they can be talked out of them. In the process, the authors challenge a number of commonly held assumptions about democratic politics. They show, for example, that political elites do not constitute a special bulwark protecting civil liberties; that arguments over political rights are as deeply driven by commitment to the master values of democratic politics as by failure to understand them; and that consensus on the rights of groups is inherently more fragile than on the rights of individuals.