Should Extremist Parties Be Banned?

The Greek government’s crackdown on the country’s far-right Golden Dawn party has revived a vexing question that seemed to have disappeared with the Cold War’s end. Is there a place within liberal democracies for apparently anti-democratic parties?

PRINCETON – The Greek government’s crackdown on the country’s far-right Golden Dawn party has revived a vexing question that seemed to have disappeared with the Cold War’s end: Is there a place within liberal democracies for apparently anti-democratic parties?

To be sure, liberal democracies have felt threatened since communism collapsed in 1989 – but mostly by foreign terrorists, who tend not to form political parties and sit in these countries’ parliaments. So, should extremist parties that seek to compete within the democratic framework be outlawed, or would such a restriction on freedom of speech and association itself undermine this framework?

Above all, it is crucial that such decisions be entrusted to non-partisan institutions such as constitutional courts, not other political parties, whose leaders will always be tempted to ban their competitors. Unfortunately, the moves against Golden Dawn are mostly identified with the government’s interests, rather than being perceived as the result of careful, independent judgment.

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