Sunday, September 26, 2004
I have continued to think over what I wrote two days ago. Part of me worried that I was too dimissive, that I was calling Bush supporters stupid. I want to make sure that people don't extract that idea from the first post. I do not think they are stupid- I think that they are being manipulated by their leaders and let down by their institutions. I do not blame the citizens, except in that I blame all of us.
If American Democracy is in a state of decay, then we are all responsible. The ability to be a critically thinking, active participant in public affairs does not come naturally. It is a learned skill. I do think that all people everywhere have the capacity for self-governance. The question is whether the objective ( cultural & socioeconomic) circumstances permit it, and whether the republican institutions work effectively to cultivate it. The first criteria continues to hold in the United States, although the decline of the middle class and increasing social balkanization is worrying. It is on the second criteria that we have manifestly failed.
Our educational institutions must return to their original purpose: to instill in students the skills and disposition to be self-governing, both in the individual and the collective sense. Our leaders must stop playing to our worst qualities, something I think the Republican party is far more guilty of in this era than the Democrats. And we must rebuild or replace those institutions which used to bring people into the public space and taught then how to be there. The bureaucracy, political parties, the media, interest groups: all in the past supported and channelled civic virtue, but all are now either too weak to do the job (the first two) or are actively demobilizing people (the latter two).
These are of course overwhelming big-picture solutions to gigantic, systemic problems. What can we do to make a difference now? Unfortunately, we must accept the constraints under which we live. At the moment, people are moved more by symbol than substance. We must accept this and learn to express ourselves in ways that are persausive and comprehensible. But I believe we must also appeal to the better angels of their nature. We must try to wake them up, to give their minds no rest, to prick their conscience and their reason. John Kerry, and Democrats, and every citizen must give our sleepy or distracted fellow citizens no rest. We must arouse them to their real obligations and true interests. I believe it is possible, and I believe it must start now.
Okay, enough overwrought language for one day. Tomorrow I'll talk about how I think Kerry can do all this, in the process winning the election and beginning the process of re-knitting the republic. And I'll talk about how I think the vast majority of people are in fact eager for such a message.
Have a nice Sunday.