The use of Reason and reasonable argumentation, the reclaiming of the idea of Progress and the struggle against dogma. In this post-modern world, reinventing Enlightenment is of the utmost importance.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Democracy & Enlightenment


By the end of the 19th Century Nietzsche proclaimed: “there are no truths, merely interpretations”. He also asserted: “everything is fair and unfair and in both cases justifiable.” In two single strokes Nietzsche thought he had managed to throw Enlightenment values into the trash bin of history. Fortunately, not everybody believed in what he was saying and many realised that although his “proclamations” had some value they were still fallacies.

In the first case, if the sentence is to be true, i.e. “there are no truths” then the sentence would contradict itself because there would be the “truth” of non-existing truths. It follows that the sentence is false, there are “truths”. Of course how we interpret them is a different matter altogether. In the second case, Nietzsche is also in the wrong: nothing can be one thing and its opposite at the same time; there cannot be a “night-day” any more than there can be a “living-death”, unless we are talking about fiction novels like “1984” or horror movies like “Zombies”.

However, Nietzsche’s proclamations brought relativism into the search for truth and they made us aware that, sometimes, “arguments” can be used to justify the unjustifiable. Relativism is a useful tool if used with moderation. By accepting that there are different ways by which the world can be perceived and different interpretations to where “truth” actually lies, not only we think critically but in addition with tolerance. The problem about relativism is when it becomes the absolute value, i.e. “there are no truths”. True enough that there are no absolute “truths”. Concepts, because they are a product of the human mind, change in time and from human to human.



Take the concept of Democracy as an example: in Ancient Greece it meant something quite different from what it means today. For one thing women and slaves were excluded from democratic process. For another, the scale on which Democracy was set into practise (small city state) meant that most of citizens had their say; by active participation they influenced the entire democratic process.

Today, Democracy is different in many ways, but I shall stick to these two aspects. In most western democratic states women can vote and slavery has long been abolished, curiously, as a result of the putting to practice Enlightenment values. In modern Democracy citizens no longer have a direct participation in the “making” of Democracy; how could that happen if now we have democracies with millions of citizens instead of the handful there were in the city states of Ancient Greece?

In modern democracies, citizens, by voting, delegate power to a small number of people for a given period of time. What this illustrates is that the concept of Democracy changes in time. And what is more it changes in space: European democracies are quite different from US Democracy; Democracy in Portugal is somewhat different to Spanish Democracy and so on. Should we infer then, since we cannot accurately define Democracy, it does not exist? Not even the most stubborn of post modernist thinkers, such as Derrida or Foucault, would dare to claim it; it would be a completely absurd utterance.

Democracy is self-evident and the fact that we cannot present a complete, absolute definition makes no difference. In a Democratic State there is no official religion, people can go where they please, talk to whom they please about what they please or not; it is only asked of them they do it under the rule of Law. Therefore, they cannot preach hate, they cannot preach violence. Or should not, at least.

But Democracy is not static. We, the people, must work to improve Democray. The totalitarian temptation is strong in all of us, and we must fight it off, sometimes on a daily basis.

Ever since the Renaissance, throughout the Enlightenment and to date, we can trail a path of progress in western societies. This progress was acheived and consolidated because a body of values emerged in the Enlightenmet. Those values were absent in other parts of the World, namely the islamic world. And because of that our society is more open, tolerant - "better" - than islamic-based societies.

However, the issue at stake here is a return to elemental values, a turn from post-modern relativism. There are “truths” that are better than others: The values of Enlightenment are better. Freedom, Democracy, Equality, Fraternity, Tolerance - must prevail. These are not merely empty words, they are values, and they are better than other values.

In the given example of Democracy, the issue, instead of being “we cannot say what it is” or “it doesn’t work well” or “I do not care because they will do as they please” must be: “How do we make it better?”

14 Comments:

Blogger Ana A. said...

Infelizmente, David, a Democracia é mal interpretada por alguns como "faço o que quero e não me chateies".
E toda a gente sabe que "a minha liberdade acaba onde começa a do outro".
A base da Democracia deve ser o respeito pela pessoa humana, em todas as suas vertentes: sociais, psíquicas e físicas.

3:04 PM

 
Blogger Vega said...

Muito bem! :)
Bom, não sendo eu tão dotada na arte de filosofar como o Daviduskas, a ver se me faço entender...
"Everything is fair and unfair" parece-me válido dentro de certos limites; "in both cases justifiable" decorre da primeira como seu corolário. É por isso que sou apologista de que não devemos julgar os outros sem ouvir primeiro. Cada um de nós tem o seu universo próprio, uma amálgama de experiências pessoais que condicionam, irrevogavelmente, a interpretação que cada um faz dos mesmos factos. Quantas e quantas vezes já me aconteceu olhar para as mesmas coisas de maneira diferente à medida que o tempo passa! Com o acumular das vivências pessoais, há a tendência para nos tornarmos menos fundamentalistas, mais tolerantes, mais abertos. Até que, por fim, seremos capazes de compreender e aceitar a legitimidade de muitas situações que condenámos antigamente. No fundo, "tiramos as palas dos olhos" e vamos alargando horizontes. Percebemos que algumas verdades não são tão absolutas como pareciam... afinal, há muitas vivências atrás, quando ainda mal sabíamos ler, fazíamos sempre a mesma leitura dos acontecimentos. A mais fácil, a mais directa, a mais... ortodoxa. Era a nossa interpretação dos factos, a única a que tínhamos acesso, e que por assim ser julgávamos absoluta.
Friso a parte em que, acima, me referi à validade da afirmação de Nietzsche "dentro de certos limites". Para ressalvar a óbvia excepção de situações como a violência e outras afins, que não consigo inserir nesta linha de pensamento.
Em relação à falácia da afirmação... bom, isso é outra coisa e está bem visto, mas eu percebi o sentido na mesma. ;)
Adaptando ao exemplo da democracia... É de facto um sistema imperfeito que tem de existir à falta de melhor. A ditadura da maioria, sim, mas se fosse da minoria seria ainda mais injusto. Enquanto não há alternativa, é a maneira de "make it better". Para que se torne menos imperfeita, só nos resta pensar na forma de "make it better" progessivamente.

7:09 PM

 
Anonymous Student said...

Welcome back, daviduskas. Excellent post, my friend. i agree when you say relativism is good to a certain extent, but we cannot forget that the basis of any society has to be over absolute, firm concepts. If we relativise everything, then we will never achieve true knowledge, because everything will be true. Anyway, in my view, Nietzsche was a frustrated guy and I don't really care about what he says. PS: I need to talk to you.

7:21 PM

 
Blogger Arrebenta said...

Estava a ver que tinhas morrido... :-\

10:10 PM

 
Blogger sonia r. said...

Bom diaaaaaa Daviduskas.
Beijo de bom dia.

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