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Monday, March 29, 2004

I love Richard Rorty (II)

The reason I posted some classic Rorty in full throat in the previous entry is that I wanted to post this equally characteristic jeremiad published this week in the London Review of Books without seeming to be singling him out in a gloomy moment. It's not that I disagree with him at this moment as that I find him overly eeyorish. Eeyore was nothing if not pragmatic (in the Dewey, Peirce, James sense), however.

The progress humanity made in the 19th and 20th centuries was largely due to the increased role of public opinion in determining government policies. But the lack of public concern about government secrecy has, in the last sixty years, created a new political culture in each of the democracies. In the US and in many of the EU countries, an elite has come to believe that it cannot carry out its mission of providing national security if its preparations are carried out in public. The events of 11 September greatly strengthened this conviction. Further attacks are likely to persuade those elites that they must destroy democracy in order to save it.

In a worst-case scenario, historians will someday have to explain why the golden age of Western democracy, like the age of the Antonines, lasted only about two hundred years. The saddest pages in their books are likely to be those in which they describe how the citizens of the democracies, by their craven acquiescence in governmental secrecy, helped bring the disaster on themselves.
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