Democracy’s competitive advantage – the ability to renew itself


Democracy’s ability to renew itself, to “put aside the habit of taking itself for granted,” gives confidence in democracy’s ultimate victory, said Thomas Mann, whose essay on “The Coming Victory of Democracy” is featured by New York Times columnist David Brooks, in the first of a series on the canon of liberal democracy:

Democracy, Mann continues, is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman, on each person’s moral striving for freedom, justice and truth. It would be a great error to think of and teach democracy as a procedural or political system, or as the principle of majority rule….

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

For Mann, renewal means reform, Brooks notes:

He calls for economic and political reform that, quoting a French deputy, “will create a true hierarchy of values, put money in the service of production, production in the service of humanity, and humanity itself in the service of an ideal which gives meaning to life.” RTWT

Mann would have no doubt embraced The Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal (right), which states that: “Liberal Democracy is under threat, and all who cherish it must come to its defense.”

Citing the threat from the expanding power of authoritarian and increasingly repressive countries like Russia and China that are “filling vacuums left by the fading power, influence, and self-confidence of the long-established democracies,” the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman recently proposed three core objectives for a new international youth movement for democratic renewal:

  • The first is to build grassroots pressure for democracy through citizen movements like Y’en a Marre in Senegal, one of whose founders is with us today – my good friend Thiat, who helped mobilize 700,000 young people in 2012 to oust a corrupt and ineffective president who wanted to perpetuate his power.  Similar movements exist in other African countries, including Le Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso, Togo Debout, and Struggle for Change (or LUCHA) in the Congo.  Such movements need to become an international force.
  • The second objective is to carry on after the protests, because building democracy takes a long time.  That’s why Y’en a Marre is active today throughout the schools in Senegal.  Their goal is to change a culture, not just to remove a failed leader.  That takes education, which is why I think a new youth movement for democratic renewal should mount a global campaign for civic education – a campaign that will help young people understand what democracy is and why it is so important.
  • That leads to the third objective, which is to orient and train young people to prepare themselves to become future leaders of governmental and social institutions.  If they’re going to change the system, they will have to move from protest to politics.  Protest movements are not enough.  What’s needed is a movement for a new society.


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