Democracy in America Revisited, First of a Series


Setting the Context

On Saturday, April 12, I participated in a special one-day seminar in San Francisco under the auspices of the Aspen Institute’s Socrates Society. This Socrates Society Salon, the ‘Future of American Democracy’, was led by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel. In addition to teaching “Justice, A Journey in Moral Reasoning”, one of the most popular courses at Harvard, Sandel is a highly respected contemporary political philosopher and author with an expertise on ethics.

The Internet has catalyzed the globalization of the information revolution and set in motion an irreversible march toward interconnectedness and interdependency on this planet. But interdependency, in and of itself, means nothing. What are we doing to cope with “Being Always On”, and how is this transformation of human relations transforming American democratic society?

In America, hyper-connectivity has sharpened mass awareness of the increasing social and economic inequalities that cleave the great divide between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’. These inequities of our system raise questions of civic duty and economic empowerment that are central to the current American presidential debate. We are seeing significant increases in political participation by the young and by ethnic minorities who are traditionally uninterested in and disenfranchised from the election process. This empowerment promises to make the election of 2008 an inflection point in the evolutionary history of American democracy, although the postscript to this story has yet to be written and could take many different forms depending on who feels left out of the outcome.

I’ve titled this blog post and the related series of posts that follow ‘Democracy in America Revisited’. These brief comments capture the elements that were most important to me from the group discussion and from Professor Sandel’s comments in this outstanding seminar.

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