Re: "Pro democracy" movement

Fri, 21 Jun 1996 23:24:23 -0400

I appreciate Grover Furr's effort to distinguish between different
meanings of democracy and his suggestion (heard here before) that we try
and hash out what "democracy" means. Re. his different "meanings" I would
refine this a little more to distinguish between "democracy" as it is used
in propagandistic ways (to manipulate public opinion --by any number of
political actors from right to left, and certainly most American public
officials in memory) and "democracy" which is a concept with different
meanings, taken different ways, in different contexts, albeit in good
faith. The latter are, I think, what we're talking about. [Therefore,
let's drop the citations of "democracy" by totalitarian regimes and by the
U.S. government with reference to something "defended" in Vietnam --where
the meaning is stretched so far as to be meaningless).

Julie says, > "The democratic vision of the 1960s movements, I think, has
deep roots in American history." and I agree with her. In fact, I'd argue
it has roots in ancient Athens.

Let's start with the basic meaning of the word: "the people rule" ("demos"
"kratos") from the Greek.

Obviously the meaning of "the people" has changed over time and is
different in different contexts. In the modern context --influenced
perhaps by liberalism-- the "people" are everyone of mature age (not
counting felons, etc.). [This, by the way, is the result I would argue of
"democratic struggles" by the disenfranchised (women, African Americans),
not the natural democratic quality of either Lockeian liberalism or the
U.S. Constitution; the connector was the liberalism shifted the
justification for legitimate authority to "natural rights" which were, in
effect, universal --thus liberalism provided, I think, the language of
justification for democratic struggles like abolition, women's suffrage,
civil rights, equal rights, etc.] In this way, the definition of democracy
has expanded to be more inclusive. Thus the norm of "equality" which
underlay all the equal rights movements of the 60s (civil rights, gay
rights, women's liberation, chicano rights, brown power, black power,
American Indian Movement, etc.) is one fundamentally democratic piece of
60s movements.

But the other part of the definition "rule" has also undergone change and
this "side" of 60s movements might be seen as a kind of rebellion against
modernity (bureaucracy --whether economic (corporations), government (the
Great Society), or academic (the multiversity)-- urban sprawl &
development, impersonality, the uniformity implicit in the
achievement-based rat-race, etc... In THIS context, "rule" means things
like direct participation, meaningful politics, meaningful learning,
personal empowerment, community, (including many things echoed in the
counterculture), etc. Where these are suppressed, there isn't democracy.
THIS aspect of the 60s --indisputably there in my view-- does not square
with & is a fundamental challenge to the liberal meaning of democracy we
all grew up with --i.e., representative democracy, secret ballots,
competitive parties, etc.-- because in this 60s democratic view these are
insufficient (as, I think, 60s movements' experiences demonstrated); they
not only are unable to "get at" these traits of modernity, they are
themselves part of the problem and need to be addressed.

Such, I think, is the core of the "democratic vision" of 60s movements.
There are overlaps between the two --the "equality" side and the "quality"
or "personal empowerment" or "community" side (thus what's distinctive
about civil rights is that while most of its political targets were
violations of democracy in the conventionally accepted liberal sense, its
tactics stretched into areas that themselves contained a qualitative
critique of the impersonal American culture (being community-based in the
case of the church-communities or community-creating in the case of SNCC).
Ditto, feminism (which I think obviously goes well beyond the conventional
liberal meaning of equality).

And, although I know Eide doesn't see it this way, I see alot of traces of
capitalism in both "targets" of 60s movements: the inherent inequality and
the impersonal/bureaucratized,community-destructive, achievement-based

I hope others will take a stab, too.

Ted Morgan