Democracies corrode quite fast; they corrode linguistically, or rhetorically if you like— that’s the Orwellian point about language. They corrode because most people don’t care about them. Notice that the European Union, whose first parliamentary elections were held in 1979 and had an average turnout of over 62 percent, is now looking at turnout of less than 30 percent, even though the European Parliament matters more now and has more power. The difficulty of sustaining voluntary interest in the business of choosing the people who will rule over you is well attested. And the reason why we need intellectuals, as well as all the good journalists we can find, is to fill the space that grows between the two parts of democracy: the governed and the governors.
Tony’s final point on the role of intellectuals and journalists is particularly worth thinking over. The intellectual and journalistic class are fluid; they’re not castes. The people in these classes come and go. But both classes seem to have forgotten that as much as they serve as role as critics and investigators and skeptics they have an even greater role to serve as boosters for public spirit, for the empowerment of regular people to achieve a good life for themselves, and for the public square to be a space worth entering in the first place.
It’s Memorial Day; a day we commemorate those who’ve served and died to protect the nation. We can honor them and live up to their sacrifice if we figure out how to strength the nation in the public square, from the largest to the smallest towns.
What does a better public square look like in your community? Practically speaking.