Responsibility and Reform

2004-11-01

I'm going to re-quote Vaclav Havel:

If the hope of the world lies in human consciousness, then it is obvious that intellectuals cannot avoid forever assuming their share of responsibility for the world and hiding their distaste for politics beneath an alleged need for independence.

It is easy to have independence in your program and then leave others to carry out that program. If everyone thought that way, soon no one would be independent.

I think that Americans should understand this way of thinking. Wasn't it the best minds of your country, people you could call intellectuals, who wrote your famous Declaration of Independence, your Bill of Rights, and your Constitution, and who -- above all -- took upon themselves the practical responsibility for putting them into practice?

I was reminded of Havel's words after having dinner with Mitch Kapor (and of course the charming Lisa Dusseault) a few weeks back, right after the San Francisco Chronicle published his essay on the state of the American body politic (see also the AlterNet interview and Mitch's political weblog). Mitch seems to be a good example (another is Doc Searls) of what I would call a moderate libertarian: he talks about the importance of self-government and inalienable rights but doesn't offer revolutionary prescriptions or a radical critique of our current system of government, even though he knows that much is rotten in the state of America. Yet if weblogs are to the current revolutionary age what pamphlets were to the first American revolution, can we expect a radical shake-up of American politics in, say, 2008? LP founder David Nolan argues that American political history runs in cycles (1776, 1860, 1932, ????), and that we're due for a sea change soon (he originally thought 2004, but 2008 or 2012 seems more likely if a new era starts every 78 years or so; perhaps the time period is even correlated with generational shifts, in which case today's longer life spans might result in longer political eras, so don't pin your hopes on 2012). Mitch's blog is called "Of, By, and For" (as in Lincoln's "government of, by, and for the people" not today's "government of, by, and for the Beltway"). It remains to be seen whether all these polemical geeks and intellectuals active in the blogosophere can translate their criticisms and enthusiasms into actionable reform "of, by, and for the people", but Mitch is hopeful that the Dean campaign was only the crude model for something much more lasting and significant. One thing is for sure: we know that such a movement is going to have to bubble up from below, because it's certainly not going to emerge from the so-called leadership of our longtime two-party duopoly. So those who would take responsibility for reforming American politics and society (rather than merely standing aloof from the admittedly distasteful fray) had better get busy soon.


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