Dr. Cornel West is the foremost black intellectual in america. He follows in the footsteps of people like Martin Luther King Jr, W.E.B. Dubois, Frederick Douglas, and countless other influential black minds. He has held tenure positions at the three most prestigious academic institutions in the country: Harvard, Princeton and Yale. What is important about his works is that he seeks not only to speak to African-Americans, but also to all individuals from very different walks of life. His book Democracy Matters is a very important effort to counter the conservative onslaught that we been experiencing in this early decade of the 21st century.
Chapter 1: Democracy Matters are Frightening in our time
According to West ( I happen to agree with him) the state of American Democracy is in peril. He suggests there are three major causes for this.
1: Free-Market fundamentalism
The idea that the powerful member of business shape and control American policies. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that is the basic breakdown. For example: A debate about funding schools could shift to funding prisons or from healthcare to plastic surgery. The idea is that profit margins are the most important thing in the world and people don't matter as much. One of the saddest references he makes is that of the Black Community's own shift towards greed. Thus pointing out the shift from "I have a dream," to "Bling, Bling!"
2: Aggressive Militarism
Aggressive Militarism is something that can be traced back to the Revolutionary war to be truthful, although Dr. West's focuses are more modern. I must point out that our current situation progresses from the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest destiny. It was enhance and extended by both Roosevelts,Wilson, Truman and other contemporary Presidents. The new notion of unilateral intervention and pre-emptive strike underscore this idea in modern democracy. The worst part being that the individuals that tout this as the best thing for democracy here and abroad, are the same individuals who want curtail the democratic freedoms that we ourselves enjoy. It is a long range strategy born out of the American Mythology: Cowboys and the American Frontier. ( When you think of Cowboys what states do you think of and what person comes to mind). Here at home it brews into a Police-State notion; The idea that freedoms can be sacrificed for the destruction of all crime. ( has anyone seen Judge Dredd or Demolition Man) .
3: Escalating Authoritarianism
PATRIOT ACT!!!!! This one ties into paranoia of not being safe or not having control. This is very dependent on the other two dogmas effecting democracy. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, mention that in the balance of liberty and security, if the publics pays no attention then the security side will win. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that people can go out and do whatever they want in the name of freedom, but is it does mean that people need to pay attention and make sure the oligarchs and plutocrats don't go to far in trying to satisfying their greed and paranoia. To make matters worse the media is so tied into the capitalist market, that it no longer exposes all sides of important issues.
This leads to a very important question in this book: "Do we now live in a post-democratic age in which the very "democratic" rhetoric of an imperial america hides the waning of a democratic america?" 9/11 was an important turning point for our society or at least it was a point of opportunity. The american people has a chance to question why things were going the way they were and why the terrorist hated us? Instead we used it as an excuse to execute the imperialistic designs of the Hawks and xenophobes. It is very evident that after the cold war fell there were many "warriors"( when I say warriors I mean those who were fighting the battles of the cold war and not the valiant who fight for just causes) who needed a fight. Our country turned inward, attacking fellow citizens as trying to push america off the deep end. Many people bought in and Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush and many other conservatives and neo-conservatives were elected.
This country comes from a long history of hypocrisy and denying the truth. Look at the annihilation of the American Indian, the enslavement of the African race, the mistreatment of workers, the denials of right to women, and etc. Such a list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. We must accept these as part of our history and a reason to try to make things right. As Dr. West says the fight for democracy has always been the fight against the cruel and oppressive empire.
Dr. West ends this chapter by talking about hope and justice that stem from the three main religious traditions of the world ( judaism, Christianity and Islam). such a Tragihope extend to the traditions of Jazz and blues and many of the worlds great writers. I think West fails to mention that there is a similar tradition from country music, although I don't think it's a deliberate bias.
It is important to understand from this chapter that we cannot allow the three dogmas attacking democracy to prevail. As citizen we must follow in the tradition of socratic thought and we must be participants in our democracy. Of course there are things and Ideas that I have left out, but I suggest that you read the book to see the rest.