We had another meeting of the faculty between MUDEC and the Universite du Luxembourg this afternoon. We are attempting to devise an ongoing relationship that can serve both institutions. As I expressed in one of my previous posts, they are very interested in the concept of democracy and how it is manifest in modern times. After much discussion and struggling with how to approach this, a faculty member for Universite du Luxembourg (Martin Uhrmacher) and I were asked to draft something to get our respective students started. I took the first crack at it and expect Martin to come back with some revisions. The text that I suggested follows:
Most European and U.S. colleges and universities have included the goal of fostering civic interest in their students from their very founding days. This has taken many different forms including courses, lectures, student organizations, service and others. These opportunities have usually only implicitly encouraged student participation in democratic and leadership endeavors. The growing complexity of our global community and the failure of leadership in various settings (business, politics, education, social change) is producing a resurgence in the explicit attention given to civic engagement and leadership in many modern colleges and universities. If higher education is to be effective in sustaining democratic learning, students must be involved in shaping how democracy is to be approached and they must be involved in helping to define the form of democracy that will serve the purposes of those around the globe.
One of the challenges in educating students about democracy is "whose democracy?" How is it defined across a variety of circumstances and in the unique historic and national contexts in which it can be found? In order to understand what the options are, we return to three ancient views of democracy - Socratic, Stoic, and Epicurean. These three views are more straightforward than many of the complex systems we see today. In order to understand the original and core ideas of democracy, you are encouraged to consider how you believe democracy could be protected based on one or a combination of these perspectives. Brief definitions for each are:
1) Socratic democracy advocated that all responsible citizens should be involved in governing. While not all citizens were truly free to engage in these democratic deliberations in ancient times, all those who were eligible were expected to give of their time and effort to be informed, to discuss with others, and to exercise their civic responsibility. Democracy was dependent on civil service to friends, family, and community.
2) Stoic democracy advocated that citizenship was demonstrated through virtue and acts of brotherhood. In many ways, the Stoic perspective is very practical rather than philosophical. What mattered most was character, behavior, and how one treated his/her neighbor. Democracy was manifest through the bond of brotherhood or sisterhood expressed in community policies and practices.
3) Epicurean democracy advocated that governing was most effective when it assured that all citizens were free from pain and that they could pursue pleasure at will. In some ways, an Epicurean philosophy could be perceived to be hedonistic, except that Epicurean democracy sought for all to be able to pursue pleasure, not just oneself. Democracy in this way of thinking should create a better and more enjoyable quality of life for all.
You are being asked to consider these three core views of democracy and to write your own version of democracy in the modern day. In a short statement (no longer than those above), state what you believe the fundamental purpose and intent of democracy should be today.
The idea of democracy is one that is very important to EU citizens. They look at the U.S.A., the primary advocate for democracy in the world, and wonder if our ways of governing are as effective as we claim. The renewed sense of being players in the world community may result in young and old alike taking a more careful look at democracy and tackling the issues to make it more effective.