Monday, August 09, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Intellectual freedom is essential to human society -- freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such a trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economy, and culture." -- Andrei Sakharov

Even so insightful a thinker as Sakharov has a tendency to use the terms democratic and democracy rather loosely. What many people want to invoke with the term is a whole constellation of attitudes and a certain modicum of tolerance that might more accurately be called a civil society, or a society governed by the rule of law -- the kinds of conditions and attitudes that make it possible for a democracy to survive rather than the kinds of attitudes democracy in practice tends to generate. Democracy is simply a way of choosing rulers and perhaps controlling them -- perhaps. A free and decent society is so much more than that, and I'm not sure "democracy" is a good shorthand term for what most people seem to want when they invoke the term.

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