It is no exaggeration to say that democratic society is founded on a kind of faith: on the conviction that each citizen is capable of, and assumes, complete political responsibility. Each one not only broadly understands the problems of government but is willing and ready to take part in their solution. In a word, democracy assumes that the citizen knows what is going on, understands the difficulties of the situation, and has worked out for himself an answer that will help him to contribute, intelligently and constructively, to the common work (or liturgy) of running his society.
For this to be true, there must be a considerable amount of solid educational preparation. A real training of the mind. A genuine formation in those intellectual and spiritual disciplines without which freedom is impossible.
There must be a completely free exchange of ideas. Minority opinions, even opinions which may appear to be dangerous, must be given a hearing, clearly understood and seriously evaluated on their own merits, not merely suppressed. Religious beliefs and disciplines must be respected. The rights of the individual conscience must be protected against every kind of open or occult encroachment.
Democracy cannot exist when men prefer ideas and opinions that are fabricated for them. The actions and statements of the citizen must not be mere automatic reactions-mere mechanical salutes, gesticulations signifying passive conformity with the dictates of those in power.
To be truthful, we will have to admit that one cannot expect this to be realized in all the citizens of a democracy. But if it is not realized in a significant proportion of them, democracy ceases to be an objective fact and becomes nothing but an emotionally loaded word.
What is the situation in the United States today?Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton,
New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1968 edition, p. 100-101
We may at times become impatient with those who make trouble, who raise uncomfortably loud voices, rock boats, gather in the streets and post inflammatory things on the www. Individually they may be courageous spokespeople for the truth, or they may be potty, corrupt, or dangerous. But we need them. All of we quiet, God-fearing folks need, really need, those troublesome men and women who handcuff themselves to trees, block the traffic with their placards, and the internet forums with their polemic. We even need the ones who can't spell, or who are hazardously wrong.
Why? Because we need people who will take the personal risks we often dare not take to challenge an establishment that will, often for what it sincerely believes are the best of reasons, attempt to bring us to live quietly and unquestioningly by "ideas and opinions that are fabricated for [us]."
We must pray that there will always be those who are willing to risk everything to challenge the spin doctors, the fabricators of opinion, and who will stand up and rudely question those who would suffocate questions. More than that, we must pray for them. We must pray for the ones who are right, and clear eyed, and true, the Martin Luther Kings and Desmond Tutus of this world, but we must pray too for the opposers of bypasses, the protesters against housing developments, and those who write endless letters to their local papers demanding more and better housing for the lower-paid. We must pray for the sprayers of graffiti, and the printers of inflammatory leaflets, and for those who make community television.
Don't let's waste the blood of those who died to give us freedom from tyranny. Let's pray that God will give us the courage to join without violence, if the time should come, the ragged ranks of the protesters in the Name of our Lord. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:22)