9.6 Overcoming a Refusal to Negotiate

There are ways of overcoming refusal to negotiate by using existing moral, legal, and political power against intransigence.

Governance can only respond to people’s needs if everybody is prepared to negotiate.  Both the government and the governed need to have some flexibility – yet there are people who refuse to compromise.  The inevitability of disagreement was highlighted at the beginning of this book (2.2).  Isaiah Berlin explained what he called ‘value pluralism’, as described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“According to Berlin’s pluralism, genuine values are many. ..When two or more values clash, it is not because one or another has been misunderstood; nor can it be said, a priori, that any one value is always more important than another. Liberty can conflict with equality or with public order; mercy with justice; love with impartiality and fairness;  ..Conflicts of values are ‘an intrinsic, irremovable element in human life’;  ..‘These collisions of values are of the essence of what they are and what we are’”.

This diversity of human nature should be something to celebrate, but it leads to practical problems when people try to impose their views on others.  The following sections explore ways of overcoming refusal to negotiate in three different areas of contestation:

●  Religious absolutism has led to numerous wars over the centuries (9.6.1). The problem is not people’s differences, but the way in which they can lead to open conflict.  People cannot be persuaded to change their views, so the effort must be to persuade most people that it is futile and dangerous to try to forcibly convert others.

●  Political dissidents can try to impose their views on a society (9.6.2). Violence must be forcibly suppressed, using the law, but ultimately they must be persuaded that political negotiation is the best way of obtaining the results they seek.

●  Authoritarian intransigence has led to numerous violent uprisings and collapses of law and order (9.6.3). People become frustrated when a government refuses to negotiate on what they see as reasonable demands.  Violent clampdowns by the government have repeatedly been shown to be counterproductive, so negotiation is the only way of resolving differences.  Arbitration can help in some circumstances, and some individuals may be able to access support on the basis of human rights law.

Intransigence is not always one-sided in these scenarios.  Although one side might accuse the other of refusing to negotiate, situations are often more complicated than that.  The common factor is that those involved need to treat each other with respect.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/96.htm.