Our November 12, 2018, topic was Truth and Democracy.
We opened our discussion by having group members discuss their ideas about what is essential to democracy:
The most essential truth in a democratic society is that everyone is considered an equally valid human being and all have “inalienable rights.” Moving toward greater equality and respect for everyone is democracy’s most basic principle; where “the people” are the ultimate authority rather than any person or party. But people — and their representatives — always will have different views about how best to move toward the realization of this principle. Thus we need an ongoing respectful discussion toward a common understanding of how it is to be achieved.
Authoritarian governments perpetuate the myths that some people are superior to others to maintain their authority. They promote views that serve their narrow purposes, especially about the infallibility of their leaders and their decisions. Many modern countries that claim to be democratic have moved away from a commitment to equality, even though their constitutions guarantee democracy. Some nations that have had revolutions — and once moved toward democracy — now have lost much of their democratic impulse and are dominated by one political, economic or ethnic group at the expense of others, resulting in a diminishment of equal rights.
A commitment to the essential truth of democracy — that all human beings are of equal value — is needed to determine the form that the government takes. One element is that people are free to question the views expressed by their leaders. Revolutions often result when autocratic governments suppress free expression.
The principle of equality is difficult to achieve in practice. No nation is totally democratic — there is no perfect “government by the people” — but as nations progress toward greater democracy they move closer to making equality a lived reality. The United States, according to Abraham Lincoln, was founded on “the proposition that all men are created equal,” but initially only extended equal rights to white men, then eventually to men of color, then women, which took 130 years.
Equal opportunity is essential so that all have a chance to develop their skills and talents. In our day many still lack opportunities for education, find it difficult to vote, and do not receive equal justice based on race or background. We have come a long way but still have far to go toward realizing the democratic vision.
Beginning in January, 2019, we will explore how the ideals of democracy look when they guide our governments and lives in many essential areas. The topics of future discussions and newsletters will include immigration, international relations, economics, globalism, human rights, nationalism, racism, trade, economics, free speech, freedom of the press, criminal justice reform, social benefits, the safety net, effective leadership, the environment, the justice system, and others relevant topics. We will clarify specific actions needed to maintain democracy in these areas in light of its diminishment around the world — and its threats within the US — as we approach the 2020 presidential elections.
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The book The Future of Democracy can be ordered wherever books are sold.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.