The Democratic Renaissance and its Meaning: Conclusion
From Cairo and Athens to Dublin, A New Political/Intellectual Enlightenment Defined
“Only when something is completely gone can you understand its importance.”
Those of us who are not lucky enough to live in Switzerland or the United States of America cannot go back to the old Enlightenment to recreate the possibilities and events of those years. Our world is so different in structure and form; the institutions that form the foundation of our nations are hollow; there are no real grass-root connections that stretch through all of society; the individual is not welcome within those walls. Worse, our institutions are dominated by an elite whose groups and organization are rife with corruption and ideology, and nothing is more important than being a member. With membership comes privilege, but that membership is soaked in vice. This environment, coupled with a level of technology and a history so different from days past, has caused noble notions like democracy, individualism, experience and experiment to today become anathema to each other, the deliberate intention of an elite with no interest in allowing the meaning and purpose of these ideals to be fulfilled.
No, going back is not an option. The path behind those Western states that have shrugged off the old Enlightenment—picking piecemeal through its carcass, scavenging for only those words or structures and phrases that would be just enough to quench the need for freedom and sooth the restless soul of the individual, all with the goal of making each one of us docile and content but offering in the end only a quasi-free state of existence with boundless opportunities to spend ones profit upon all the worldly goods produced—has been revealed. We have now learned the truth of this path, thanks to the Great Economic Collapse and the ensuing example of stability from those nations that enshrined the Enlightenment in their foundation. Money and ideology are no substitute for a society founded upon the values and principles of the old Enlightenment: freedom in all its forms, a world of unlimited individual experience, a life of unharnessed experiment in the quest for greater human understanding. It is, however, an avenue that cannot be traversed by simply going in reverse, though the status quo is intolerable. All that is left for us is to go forward. Together.
But, as evident by today’s circumstances and events, even those states that have afforded themselves a lifestyle and society based upon the ideas of the old Enlightenment have outstripped and outgrown the answers provided in years gone past.
Everywhere in the West, the powerful elite spends its time manipulating our societies to conform with its own ideology, protecting the needs of special interest groups or their friends, all the while ignoring the pressing needs of the majority. The individual in today’s Western world is confronted with a situation where his or her very existence is threatened: there is inadequate access to working capital to begin a business, buy a home or finish school. Financial products do not offer a reasonable return, stock and bond markets are dominated by hedge funds, and financial institutions have been given the ability to manipulate markets with a touch of a button, making them unsafe for the simple retail investor. The price of food, fuel, electricity and heating oil is skewed or unaffordable; homes are worth less than their mortgages, leading to foreclosure; uneven and ineffectual educational opportunities are structured around ideology, political favouritism, wealth and academic special interests; employment opportunities are thwarted and lost in a system still entrenched in the lingering structures of guilds, unions and class. Oh, there are a plethora of problems that require not only state-specific solutions, but real leadership, and a philosophy and understanding that goes beyond borders.
What do the elite offer to fix these problems?
Another blind road on a quest for creating the perfect world instead of fostering the freedom of the old Enlightenment and allowing for failure. From failure comes strength and a deeper understanding of self. No, we are treated instead to an intrusive political class that cannot get enough of regulating the daily lives of the individual. A government needs to be responsive, interested in “real democracy,” allowing the will of the people to determine a course of their own choosing, and in the end to build a stronger society, one capable of creating a vibrant today and prosperous tomorrow. But the elite respond by spending their time passing laws aimed not at the importance of free speech, but why one should be protected from speech; criminalizing what is legal, not for a want of what is just, but for what is harmful. Days are spent campaigning with omnipotent proclamations; speeches and town halls aimed not at bettering our world and the plight of the powerless, but at further controlling the life of the individual.
From their lead, our morals have become lost in economic globalization and worldly political connections. The current system is off-balance, right and wrong now equal in monetary value, not to mention the academic skulduggery of our time. Just look at the enigma that the words liberal and equality have become. All this and more shows those of us looking for change that the past offers only half measures, partial solutions and ideological dead ends to today’s problems.
The only way forward for we the people of the past, is to realize we are now the people of today.
No matter your country, no matter your station in life, we all are being presented with an unbelievable opportunity to now make things better in the world. To succeed in this endeavour, everyone needs to embrace this new questioning, the emerging New Enlightenment. There is nothing more urgent or pressing in today’s world for the individual than participating in the debate of how to make freedom, democracy, individuality and economic prosperity work for all.
The time has come for us, the common men and women of the West, to go forward with our experiences and offer our own solutions, coupled with the lessons learned from the past, the old Enlightenment as our guide and mentor, and tackling tomorrow with new attitudes and new avenues of intellectual insight. Today’s events are centred on the very issues that affect people the most, and we are the ones with the ability to solve them. Are our political institutions dysfunctional? Throw out the elite and elect new people. Is the quality of our lives and neighbourhoods deteriorating? Make the streets safe again by joining a local community group. Are we unable to a find a good paying job or unlucky enough to be out of work? Network online. We don’t need the elite, we need leaders, and they are all around if we look for them.
Unlike the leaderless, rudderless and solution-less protest movement “Occupy Wall Street” that has sprung up in a scattering of cities across North America, new leaders have emerged from the streets and emerging political parties in Europe and the United States. These are real people, who are not artificially charismatic, shaped and cultivated through an artificial political process or built through media engineering with focus-group appeal, but are rather a group of leaders, believable in their genuine interest in the well-being of others, trustworthy in their ability to represent the values of freedom and democratic rights without fear that they too will become corrupt and their actions self-serving. The passion of the Indignant, whether in Spain, Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom or any other state where this awakening has occurred, fills others with ideas and a desire for “real democracy,” fostering a feeling that there truly are new answers to old questions, and new questions with new possibilities.
Along with them, a whole new form of organizing, communication and political structure is emerging. The Internet is filled with postings and websites that talk about this New Enlightenment. Forget the Guardian and the Telegraph; read the Irish Times and New York Times with a critical eye; the opinions of Der Spiegel or Le Devoir must be taken with a grain of salt. Don’t waste your time listening to the establishment try and defend itself and its outdated reasons for influence.
In this information environment of the elite, question the legitimacy of everything from who rightfully should run the state in today’s advanced technological world, to how much power the individual should have over his or her own life, to where the line between private and public law should be drawn, to the role and use of today’s technological innovations in the democratic process. These and other like-minded questions have no play ... in their world, everything revolves around the word money. It is time to rise above this word to other words that have far greater meaning, depth and importance.
It wasn’t money that put people in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; money was only the catalyst. The real reason was an individual awakening, the crossing of a spiritual and intellectual Rubicon of sorts. There are many more possibilities and ways of living worth fighting for than maintaining a status quo enforced by an out-of-touch and uncaring elite. It is this truth that we in the West must be conscious of if we are to change our societies for the better.
Facebook pages, blogs and websites devoted to this new intellectual awakening are where your time should be spent. Google words like direct democracy, Indignant, Tea Party, NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts). These organizations offer the individual the opportunity to be involved in serious discussions about the future and how to make it better. If you are not near these groups search for words like citizens’ forums, citizen assemblies, political forums online, referendum, petition. Learn how to get started in the debate; bring people together; start the conversation. All these search results are a whole new world of writing and thinking that set not only the tone of today but the agenda for tomorrow.
With the help of the Internet, other fields of study are opening up, with accessibility and peer review for all. Research papers are now published and read online. Publishing websites exist that allow each voice to be heard. What is most inspiring is that many who write within this New Enlightenment are well educated. But they are not the elite, the professional politician, the economist, the wealthy 1%, the professional political/climate activist, the European technocrat, the North American bureaucrat or the tenured academic, all in their own way holding onto what is left of the old regime, old ideas and old ways of thinking. This New Enlightenment is a golden opportunity for the sharing of exciting research and opinions, looking into the relationships and ideas coming out of the street protests, from the workshops and political conferences across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America.
From this writer’s perspective, it is just the beginning. Even philosophy has become a word people are willing to look at again with interest, once banished to the hinterlands by an academic elite who spurned the idealism—the individual questioning—associated with the interpretation and the seemingly natural foundation of chaotic arguments and disjointed truths when compared to the tautology of ideology or science. Perhaps if we are lucky, in this New Enlightenment another group of thinkers will announce themselves like those who found the strength to open up new paths of insight and understanding in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Is there another Jean-Jacques Rousseau out there who can bring forth something as powerful as the Social Contract? Will another John Locke step forward with a work as important as the Two Treaties of Government? Will we in our time be afforded the opportunity to learn from a work as important as Leviathan? How appropriate that would be in our time of rebellion and revolution. And what would Denis Diderot say about Wikipedia if he were around today? Is there someone out there today who can take this encyclopaedia and improve upon it even further?
With the help of the Internet, today’s spirit of change and a few brave men and women willing to bring forth new paths of insight and action, this New Enlightenment is an open door to an undiscovered country; a future where freedom, democracy, the individual and prosperity still exist; where people have control over the events in their lives and not merely their own household budgets.
And the Democratic Renaissance is just the vehicle to take us there.
J. R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.
All essays available for free at the following website:
Reprinted here with permission.
Copyright 2011 J.R.Werbics
Coming next year: Part III
The Democratic Renaissance, a Path for Moral Men and Women to Succeed
A New Enlightenment: Bridging the Gap Between Two Epochs
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