Why the World Needs a Remaking of Athenian Democracy

January 18, 2015

The contemporary French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy noted last year that humanity is at a momentous era when we have disputes between the democrats and non-democrats and between enlightenment and autocratism and that this battle concerns the world at large even if the societies that are affected directly are at the forefront.

A recent analysis by The Washington Examiner challenged the moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out and ultimately to bring it down.

Several years ago, a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded documentary noted that the ideas of early Greek explorers still light our world.

Granted that there are grains of truth in the statements of the contemporary French philosopher of the world and that the ideas of the early Greek explorers still light the world, perhaps, the world should ask at this momentous time if the light that has carried civility in the world this far is being challenged at this time and if so in which direction human civilization may be headed.

There has been a long running debate about the genesis of the egalitarian ideas of the early Greek explorers that still light our world. There has been and will be enough time for this debate to continue for history books.

What must be more pressing now appears to be a lack or absence of due process of law in too many places around the world. A lack of due process of law in any corner of the world in the twenty first century should ring an alarm bell to the civil society everywhere in the world.

Perhaps, the first question that the civil society everywhere in the world should ask is how the battle between enlightenment and autocracy, as observed by our contemporary French philosopher, came to be in the twenty first century. Perhaps, the civil society might have taken the irreversibility of enlightenment fore-granted.

A closer observation of the challenges that enlightenment has been facing since the making of Athenian democracy nearly 2,500 years ago suggests that enlightenment has never had a smooth ride although it has always overcome these challenges.

The stories of the Dark Age in Europe, its medieval anarchy, and the quest for its Renaissance probably suggest the challenges that enlightenment has been facing over the millennia. As the Renaissance Professor Stephen Greenblatt of Harvard University and author of “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” indicates, the Renaissance quest in its early days was arduous even though it eventually found its way in America through its inclusion in the U.S. constitution by one of its founders, Thomas Jefferson.

For all the challenges it has been overcoming over the years, however, enlightenment doesn’t seem to have fully answered the global quest for democracy, which is a necessity, not a luxury. The lack of this necessity in far too many places around the world in the twenty first century is readily apparent.

What is even more interesting is what came to the public in the recent discourse between the U.S. Senate Intelligence report and the American intelligence agency. In its comment on the Senate Intelligence report, the American intelligence agency indicated that a recently formed movement in the Middle East and North Africa has found a safe haven to recruit members and supporters to its rank. Perhaps, the most critical question to ask in this public discourse is how in the twenty first century such a movement was formed quickly and got a safe haven outside the reach of arguably the most capable intelligence agency in the world.

This critical question should probably lead to a better understanding of the organic foundation of democracy. Perhaps, the sophisticated algorithms and metadata, which operatives of intelligence agencies tell the public through the crowded mass media as the tools that they use to defend democracy, may not be robust for the human environment for which democracy was invented in the first place. Granted that the observations of the contemporary French philosopher of the world and the NSF funded documentary are out for the world to hear, a better understanding of the making of Athenian democracy is likely to be helpful for its remaking. The remaking of Athenian democracy needs the Winston Churchills of the world of the twenty first century that could read from the pages of Winston Churchill of the twentieth century who left us the wisdom that all nations and peoples behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives. It may well be that the making of Athenian democracy in itself may have come as a necessity to behave wisely, which renders its remaking a continuity irrespective of where and when egaliterian ideals were born first.










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