Challenges for Building a Democratic Society: The Collapse of Truth, Civility, and Community in Divided Times.

Keith Parsons, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, College of Human Sciences and Humanities /University of Houston-Clear Lake

Democracy is fragile. Its only real safeguard is the willingness of citizens to uphold certain values and to demand that their governments do so. Among the values necessary for democracy are truthfulness, civility, and community. Truthfulness is more than personal honesty. It is not only a commitment to tell the truth, but also not to tolerate lies wherever they are told. All tyrannies are erected on a foundation of lies, and democracy is possible only when truth is more important than partisanship or factionalism. Democracy also rests upon civility, the willingness to engage with opponents rationally and without rancor. When contempt becomes the default attitude towards opponents, and the other side is viewed as a mortal threat that must be stamped out, then the give-and-take of democracy is impossible, and only strife can result. Finally, democracy is impossible without community, a genuine inclusiveness that encompasses all members of society. The forces opposing community such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious prejudice, homophobia, and all other irrational biases and hatreds undermine democracy by empowering demagogues whose aim is to harm perceived enemies rather than to pursue mutual benefits.