Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Slow Death of Democracy

Tony Judt passed away on August 6, 2010. His death has left a giant void in the world of public intellectuals. Consider the 2006 article that he wrote for London Review of Books, Bush's Useful Idiots. Whether one agreed or not with Professor Judt, one had to agree that his view were important for democracy and press freedom. Judt was one of those voices that disturbed people's pieties and made them uncomfortable.

Tony Judt was not only a historian, but a public intellectual. He raised questions that made people think, that is, if they were willing to think. Thinking independent people have always been the minority, and even more so today where the cultural elites decide what right thinking ought to be. Simply stated,too many people have decided that thinking is not for them, and have allowed the public experts to inform them. And if you are on the wrong side of the fence, woe is you.

Consider the case when Judt's planned speech at a public venue was cancelled, ostensibly because Judt had the temerity to criticize Isreal (see Another Judt Apperance Abrubtly Canceled (New York Sun). I find this reprehensible and disturbing. Note that I am Jewish, and that one of my parents went through the Holocaust. But, equally important, no state is beyond reproach. Except in the minds of some.

Now, this precedent is a danger to democracy and  patently against the spirit and intent of freedom of speech. Israel is like any other nation, inasmuch as its actions are mixed, doing both good and evil. We need public intellectuals like Tony Judt, because he's the proverbial canary in the mine shaft. We may not agree wholeheartedly with such views, but they are necessary in a viable democracy Without such courageous and independent thinkers, we have little chance of progressing forward. And, eventually democracy fades away.

As one famous journalist, Finley Peter Dunne, said: "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." How far we are today from that sentiment. More's the pity.

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