I did say in my earlier post that I would be writing about Jürgen Habermas, himself writing about Democracy, just one or two generations after Thomas Mann. Well I will, or at least I still have the intention to do so, but it took me but a little research online to realize that I was stepping into subject matter already thought about and written about by thousands of others, for the most part hugely better equipped than I for doing so.
Imagine seeing raw gold for the first time and setting off with a pick and shovel to find more for yourself while paying little or no attention to the thousands who had preceded you in the hunt. Well that’s what I realized I was doing in respect to the gold, although in this case it wasn’t gold but democracy.
Isn ‘t this why most of us most of the time avoid looking for gold. We don’t know enough where to begin, to just enter the field, and we turn around and leave the field, this one, and in fact most fields, to those with the knowledge and requisite skills, and the reputation, all of which have escaped us, at least about gold, during our life times.
Yet gold comes in pieces, and there are always new pieces to be found. Well knowledge, in this case, knowledge of democracy, comes also in pieces and there are beautiful pieces to be found, even by those of us who know little or nothing to begin with.
I am ignorant about most things. If there is a truth that I could say about my own life it is that I have learned absolutely nothing well enough to, say, pass it on to someone else. Is that what it means to know something, to be able to pass it on to someone else? I’d say yes to that.
But I do enjoy talking (blowing off) about all sorts of things, exclaiming in my blogs my joy at having seized this or that lovely idea or story, not at all my own, not my own creation, but borrowed (rather than stolen) from someone else.
My borrowings from the great books, for example, are legion. As a result do I know the great books? Do I place myself at the same level of understanding with their authors? Of course not. Think Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, from all of whom I have grabbed, without asking, for myself bits and pieces. My greatest regret in this life, is that I have never taken more than that, bits and pieces, and not because I didn’t want to. Rather I took what I could.
So as of late I’ve been been picking up from the writings of others bits and pieces about democracy, as in my earlier blog when I cited de Tocqueville, Mann, and Habermas. Here now I might list a few more bits that I’ve jotted down in my journal since beginning all this online searching for democracy with Google. They will be in no particular order other than being put down as I locate them in my notes.
- (Btw, does anyone of you have a reliable method of recording your notes of your ideas as they come to you from wherever you may be? I don’t, and that’s why it’s so hard to find them when I want them as now.
- I have an iPhone that I carry about with me among other things to record my steps —averaging at the moment about 6500 daily, not enough I’m told. And on my iPhone I have some thousands of digital copies of books and articles that I’ve at least skimmed if not read, and can easily place them on my homescreen from wherever I might be, in the dentist’s chair, the doctor’s office (I’m almost 85 now and these places are becoming more familiar to me) or just waiting, for a green light, or for my wife who is shopping for clothes at Marshalls or for food at Publix, or for the grandkids to be done with their lap swimming, music lesson, or gymnastics meet, and all the rest…
- But the bits and pieces I was going to list, here are a few while putting off my promised presentation of Habermas on democracy. The first from Robert Dahl, whom I’ve learned is, or was throughout my lifetime, the reigning expert on the meaning of democracy. Why hadn’t I known him, known of him. Another hole in my liberal education. Why hadn’t I read some of his best known woks, had them on my iPhone?
- I read that Ronald Terchek’s Theories of Democracy build on Robert Dahl’s observation that there is no single theory of democracy; only theories. That certainly goes along with my own understanding. And there being many theories enables everyone to have his own including Donald Trump. For beyond a general commitment to majority rule democracy comes with endless sets of differences of opinion creating endless debates concerning the proper function and scope of power, concerning equality, freedom, voting rights, justice, fairness, brotherhood and the like, and the unlike.
- Mann quickly grew disillusioned with the direction of American democracy after WWII. In 1951, his name was included on a list published by the House un-American Activities Committee, which regularly harassed his more radical children, Klaus and Erika. They’d also been under FBI surveillance for years. Mann and his family left for good in 1952, ending their days in neutral Switzerland.
- (As early as 1938 “The Coming Victory of Democracy” was considered by one FBI agent “extremely Communist.”) When Mann was later invited by the New York Times to comment on the rise of McCarthyism and the “realities and danger in the current trend of American foreign policy toward restriction of entry,” he responded, “No thank you.” What would he say today if asked to comment on our president?
- Then for Habermas democracy was that magic word that brought together otherwise disparate voices within his own postwar generation seeking a clean break from the Nazism of Hitler.
- But Habermas didn’t go so far as the globalists. He rejected the idea of a world state or even a federal European Union. Instead, he proposed a three-tiered framework for global governance, with existing national governments to be complemented by new modes of what he describes as binding supranational (that is, global or worldwide) and transnational (regional or continental) decision-making.
While it seems unlikely that Habermas will win his battle to extend democracy beyond the nation state anytime soon, he has defined a path of intellectual and political engagement that others with similar commitments will—we can only hope—carry forward.
- Here’s a final bit or piece that has little to do with what I’ve been talking about, the meaning of democracy, (and eventually the reason why with all its apparent failures democracy is still the most admired form of government.)
- From David Benatar who believes that life is so bad, so painful, that human beings should stop having children for reasons of compassion. “While good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.” In Benatar’s view, as set forth in his 2006 book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence,” reproducing is intrinsically cruel and irresponsible—not just because a horrible fate can befall anyone, but because life itself is “permeated by badness.” In part for this reason, he thinks that the world would be a better place if sentient life disappeared altogether.
- What might one of our true democrats, a Dahl or a Habermas, have to say about that? What do you, what do I have to say?