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Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Part I

In 1975, the Trilateral Commission published its report on the governability of democratic societies called “The Crisis of Democracy.” This report examined the state of Western democracies – Europe, the United States and Japan – and their biggest threats. If a poll had been taken in 1975, asking respondents what they believed were the biggest threats to Western democracies, most would have rightfully said Communism and/or nuclear annihilation. However, according to the Trilateral Commission’s report, it was neither Communism nor atomic bombs that loomed as the agent to dismantle hundreds of years of participatory government; it was too much access to free education.

The authors of the report, Michel J. Crozier, Joji Watanuki and Samuel J. Huntington,[1] later published a book by the same name, which expanded on the ideas of democracy’s so called crisis. The following, taken from the introduction, gives a clue to how hostile some intellectuals in the Western World have viewed democratic government:

In the age of widespread secondary school and university education, the pervasiveness of the mass media, and the displacement of manual labor by clerical and professional employees, this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and the communist party (Crisis of Democracy, page 7).

What?! Did I read the misgivings of three Western intellectuals regarding access to education, and how this access poses as much of a threat to democracy as a cabal of wealthy bankers, Hitler and Joseph Stalin?

Huntington went on further to say in the conclusion of part three of the book: “The vulnerability of democratic government in the United States thus comes not primarily from external threats, though such threats are real, nor from internal subversion from the left or the right, although both possibilities could exist, but rather from a highly educated, mobilized, and participatory society” (emphasis mine – Crisis of Democracy, page 115 ).

In addition to the obvious theme of the book that too much access to education is the leading threat to democracy, the underlying suggestion is that it is necessary to curtail access to education and personal freedoms in order to preserve the ability of democratic institutions to govern society.

The 1960s witnessed the expansion of special interest groups – Civil Rights, feminists, anti-war, and environmentalists – who felt like their rights were being infringed upon. Consequently, they demonstrated a willingness to risk life and limb to challenge the social institutions that blocked their full participation in a democratic society. Blacks and females experienced an enormous surge in social, political and economic gains, while the anti-Vietnam movement forced the hand of Richard Nixon and resulted in a U.S. retreat, disguised as a cease-fire in Vietnam. And the environmentalists forced the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

When one thinks of the protest movements of the 1960s, of course the marches against racial injustice in the South stands at the top of the pyramid. The marchers’ non-violent demands for equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, faced the threat of police brutality, water hoses, fire-bombs, incarcerations and lynchings. However, to the dismay of many segregationists, they were undeterred and demonstrated a willingness to endure as much punishment as the segregationists were willing to dish out. And who living during this period of protest can forget the anti-Vietnam protest at Kent State University in May 1970 when the National Guard shot and killed four students and wounded 9 others; one of whom suffered permanent paralysis?

Collectively, these movements believed deeply in the obligation of the Federal Government to protect the rights of all individuals, and that a democratic society imposed restraints on large corporations from acting solely out of self interest. In other words, the Federal Government couldn’t wink at the oppression of blacks in Mississippi or the glass ceiling that had been erected against female advancement in the workplace, and a corporation couldn’t poison a local river with waste from a manufacturing facility in order to save money and increase profits.

But when I examine the social landscape today, I wonder what has happened to the collective will of the people to demand fair treatment and transparency from ‘Corporate America’ and the Federal Government.

…to be continued

[1] Michael J. Crozier wrote concerning the crisis in Western Europe; Joji Watanuki wrote concerning the crisis in Japan and Samuel J. Huntington wrote of the crisis in the United States.

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