The 11th September 2001 is a black day for the USA, but also for all supporters of Democracy in the world. This is not because USA is a perfect democracy. It is because the use of violence in anything other than an attempt to prevent the opponents of Democratic rule from achieving their objectives, is an attack on Democracy and its institutions.The fact that the actors of the event were Muslim does not imply that the real conflict is a conflict between religions. The real conflict is a conflict between an Open and a Closed Society.
I believe that there is no better response to this tragedy than to strengthen the institutions in our Democracies, and galvanize our resolve not to succumb to the use of blind violence as a means of resolving issues.
In this spirit and frame of mind, I found no better way to commemorate the horrible event, than to share with you some fragments of “sophia” or wisdom, from the work of Karl Popper, as expressed in his work “The Open Sociaty and its Enemies”.
The Golden Period of Athens coincides with Pericles. This is not an accident. Pericles is the supreme democratic leader in the city of Athens. In his two volume work, Popper begins with a review of Plato and his political philosophy, and continues in the second volume with Hegel and Marx.
In the first volume, Popper documents his view of Pericles as the supreme leader of democratic Athens, whereas Plato emerges as a conservative, supporting the oligarchy and the undermining of democratic rule.
Here is how Popper is quoting Pericles’ famous funeral oration as reported by Thucydides:
“Our political system does not compete with with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar.
… The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and we do not nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way. … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right….
Our city is thrown open to the world; we never expel a foreigner…. We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet, we are always ready to face any danger…. We love beauty without indulging in fancies, and although we try to improve our intellect. this does not weaken our will…. To admit one’s poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it. An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business…. We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. [Emphasis in Popper.] We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to acting wisely….”
The excerpt that follows is from Chapter 19 of the second volume, where Popper defines the basic rules that characterize democracy.
“….(the rules of democracy)… may be summarised as…
1. Democracy cannot be fully characterised as the rule of the majority…In a democracy, the power of the rulers must be limited; and the criterion of a democracy is this: In a democracy, the rulers – that is to say the government – can be dismissed by the ruled without bloodshed.
2. We need only distinguish between two forms of government, viz. such as posess institutions of this kind, and all others; i.e. democracies and tyrannies.
3. A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.
4. In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to the violent overthrow of the democracy.
5. A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be antidemocratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers.
6. If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance.
7. Democracy provides an invaluable battle-ground for any reasonable reform, since it permits reform without violence. “