Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

If democracy can offer them to us, why should we not say yes to democracy?

The twentieth century would bring a firestorm of change upon the face of the earth. The belief in the general benevolence of humanity would be challenged by the Great Wars. The United States, which had generally kept to itself to the Americas in the nineteenth century, was now drawn into the global scene. The luxury it had of remaining an isolationist state no longer remained. From its new global situation there emerged a new challenge: did the United States have anything to offer which could help produce world peace? Its longevity as a political state, while put under trial during the Civil War, allowed theorists to re-examine the objections once placed upon democracies: were they really doomed to decay? If not, was there something new which could be used to explain why earlier theorists were wrong? The answer to this question was found in the development of the sciences: did they not give the means to unite a people in a way which even the ancients could not have imagined? Did they not provide marvels which helped the nation sustain itself? Were they not, after all, the products of humanity?
Democratic principles, merged with the new scientific advances, allowed for the sustainability of the United States. While things were not perfect, did not the United States at least maintain a general level of peace and prosperity for itself? Could it not export what it has learned to other nations, creating more nations like itself throughout the world? Would they not be, like the United States, peace loving lands of liberty and freedom? Since the old monarchies of Europe ended in failure, was it not time to transform the world by the humanitarian ideals of the Enlightenment merged with modern technology?
To prove that this was possible, Japan was made into a test case. Its society was reconstructed to follow American ideals. When we saw it re-emerge in the world scene, we saw within it a fundamental change, and it became a great peace-loving ally of the West. This fact provided sufficient evidence to those who placed their hopes in democracies that political imposition based upon democratic principles was possible. With much work and effort on the parts of all, a state could be made that would make any political theorist proud.
Side by side with a new American dominance in the world scene, there emerged a challenger, another idealistic political theory which rivaled the United States in its claims: communism. Obviously those states which followed communist principles, be it the Soviet Union or China, were seen as the rivals for American hegemony in the world scene. The so-called “Cold War” was a war of political ideologies, one which, surprisingly enough, was played out with a relatively few number of military conflicts. Both sides played up the propaganda for their own ideologies; to do this, both sides understood that any criticism which could be offered to their general belief system had to be silenced. While the utopian vision of communism was ridiculed, in order to properly challenge it, Western democracies had to produce their own utopian vision. What was once seen as a relative good became an ultimate good. Slowly but surely, the new ideology turned democratic interpretations of freedom, liberty and equality into the foundations for a new, state-sponsored civil religion.
To state that we have created a civil religion does not mean this religion has to contain any belief in God. As Emile Durkheim points out, “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices related to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.. […] In showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from the idea of a Church, it conveys the notion that religion must be an eminently collective thing” Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. trans. Karen Field (New York: Free Press, 1995), 44. A religion does not need a belief in gods, nor does a civil religion require one to be solely united to it without any other religious adherences. It only guarantees that within that civil religion, its adherents agree upon certain sacred principles, principles which unite them together and are held to be so special, that they provide the order needed to keep that group together. For the American civil religion, these principles seem to be the same principles of the French Revolution: Freedom, Liberty and Equality. They have become, as it were, the collective Totems which keep the civil religion together, and the United States, in its belief in these principles, believes it must spread its method of obtaining them throughout the world to provide for world peace.
“It is the responsibility of those who enjoy the blessings of Liberty to help those who are struggling to establish free societies.” So we are told by the White House. The sacred rite of election guarantees these freedoms. “In the last few months, we've witnessed successful elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories; peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Beirut, and steps toward democratic reform in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The trend is clear: Freedom is on the march. Freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul, and spreading freedom's blessings is the calling of our time. And when freedom and democracy take root in the Middle East, America and the world will be safer and more peaceful” (George W. Bush, Speech, March 29, 2005). We are told that we are living at a special time, an eschatological time, because democracy is being spread throughout the world. Is it possible that the day will come that we will have peace on earth and good will to men?
But wait. Should not this new religious fervor cause Christian believers to pause? Is it permissible for a Christian to be a member of this new civil religion? Christians, after all, believe in freedom, liberty and equality. If democracy can offer them to us, why should we not say yes to democracy? Why is it that many, myself included, find the answer ultimately has to be no? Posted by Henry Karlson at 12:06 PM Trackback Links to this post Labels: , , ,

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