Parity of esteem

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"Parity of esteem" is a phrase used in political philosophy to explain a theory to overcome inter-communal conflict. Promoters of the theory argue that "parity of esteem" "offers a language for negotiation of a post-conflict equilibrium." This negotiation begins with the communities recognising the stalemate of their position. Rather than continue trying to out-do each other, the communities should attempt to negotiate a peaceful coexistence in a shared physical space despite their cultural differences.

"Parity of esteem" can be described as a post-Enlightenment theory as it differs drastically from classical liberal or Marxist rationalism and is contrary to 20th century ideas of "self-determination" or the 19th century idea of the nation-state. Many of these anticipated a "withering away of nationalism" once minorities were brought within the nation-state. These concepts are today the most dominant within contemporary political theory. As Ernest Gellner writes, "the idea that political boundaries must be congruent with ethnic ones, that rulers must not be ethnically distinguishable from the ruled now has a salience and authority which it has never possessed in the previous history of mankind." Where Enlightenment theories addressed issues of inter-communinal conflict, it did so either by promoting "non-sectarianism" against "tribalism" (liberalism) or emphasising "class politics" against "bourgeois nationalism" (Marxism). Neither of these approaches recognised the traditions of belligerents in inter-communal conflicts. "Parity of esteem" on the other hand can accepts various nationalist traditions within one state.

Interest in "parity of esteem" approaches emerged during the mid-1980s and accelerated following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Yugoslav wars of the early-90s. It was recognised that while there were 184 independent states, there were more than 600 living language groups and more than 5,000 ethnic groups. Simply put, without enough geo-political space, slogans such as the Serb nationalist claim for "All Serbs in One State" were simply unworkable. Since the end of the 1990s, "Parity of esteem" is a core concept to the Northern Ireland peace process.


Northern Ireland peace process