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Monday, November 13, 2006

Thomas Merton on Democracy 

"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 Bystanderby Thomas Merton,
New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1968 edition, p. 100-101

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Submitted by: Jon Berry
Project Editor, The University of Alabama Press

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