"For what is the faith of democracy in the role of consultation,
of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in the formation of
public opinion, which is the long run self-corrective, except
faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the common
man to respond with commonsense to the free play of facts
and ideas which are secured by effective guarantees
of free inquiry, free assembly, and free communication? I
am willing to leave to upholders of totalitarian states of
the right and the left the view that faith in the capacities
of intelligence is utopian." ~ John Dewey
A group of monks sit in protest after being halted by riot police and military officials as they headed towards the Shwedagon pagoda.Photograph: STR/Reuters. Riot police block a monk's path to the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters.
I do not consider myself a religious man, having had any illusions regarding divinity and holiness beaten out of me in the course of a half-dozen years in Catholic schools. My support for the opposition among Burmese monks and others stems not from faith in God, but from faith in democracy. I admire the courage the monks are displaying and identify with their commitment to democratic reform. Is that enough to restore something of my faith in religious conviction? I tend to agree with Richard Rorty's assessment of the role of religious leadership in politics. Here is Rorty in an interview:
"Whether the possibility of rearing new Martin Luther Kings is worth
the risk of rearing new Jerry Falwells is a matter of risk management.
To my mind the advantage of getting rid of the Falwells is worth the
risk of getting rid of the Kings. But I have no knock-down argument
to bring to bear. I suspect that the continued existence of the churches
is, by and large, more of a danger than a help to the rise of a
global democratic society."
The prevalence of religious intolerance and fanaticism throughout the contemporary world seems, to me, to represent a standing hindrance to the operation of democratic practices and institutions since the latter truly require a commitment to fallibilism, the idea that even our most deeply held and cherished commitments will turn out to be false or mistaken. It may turn out that my own faith in democracy is mistaken. To the best of my knowledge, no religious faith embraces such a basic commitment to un-certainty.
Labels: Burma, democracy, Dewey, Pragmatism