Democracy is too important to leave just to politicians

Athens Parthenon

In this article, we share the transcripts of a recent video recording with the former President of the European Council and speaker of the upcoming John Main Seminar, Herman Van Rompuy. The Seminar –  The Challenge TO Democracy: The Challenge OF Democracy – will be held online and in person from Bonnevaux, France from 14 to 20 November. You can watch the full video at the bottom of the article. 

“The topic I chose for this year’s John Main Seminar is the crisis of our democracies. I want to look for deeper reasons for this. In my opinion, the problem with our democracies is a translation of the crisis of our society itself. I wonder to what extent we are still a society, a group of people that live and work together.

What unites or connects people in a time of great individualization? You don’t have a society just because you live on the same territory or speak the same language or because you have the same enemy or because you consider your own culture or religion superior to that of migrants.

How do we bring back more fraternity, more solidarity, and more love among us? More shared values and values of sharing? Only then can a democracy work. 

Democracy needs dialogue, compromise, conversation, respect, a sense of citizenship, a sense of community, and a sense of general well-being.
Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy

A crisis of democracy, a crisis of values


So the crisis of democracy refers to a crisis of values: positive values will help to transform fear into hope and this fear arises because many are too focused on themselves. Isolated individuals distrust other people and distrust creates fear of the other, quickly turning the other into an enemy. A number of individuals become even more lonely and more isolated: a vicious circle. So turning fear into hope is the same as turning ego-centeredness into other-centeredness. You don’t hope alone. Only people who are full of hope, take initiative, get involved and take action to improve or transform the world. So the central question is…

how do we bring more fraternity into society?

In the first place, we need to give people more security, more protection against all kinds of threats, threats as unstable jobs, climate disasters, terrorism, large income disparities, loss of purchasing power, corruption, mass irregular migration, war, etc… Since the banking crisis of 2008, one crisis has followed another. It does not stop. 

More protection against threats and more empowerment of people, means less anxiety. It is fear that makes us fall back on ourselves. It makes society a stump of individuals that cannot work. We need more linkages, something in common: minds and hearts also need to be spiritually at peace and meditation can help here. 

A transforming silence

It is paradoxical that the seemingly solitary practice of repeating a mantra and silence transforms people. The ego diminishes and they become more open to others. They become stronger as persons. 

They are being empowered spiritually, a seemingly inactive practice is new energy to actively engage with others.
Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy

The mantra pushes away fears and can make way for hope. Of course, meditation is not the only way to greater solidarity, but the contemplative path helps. As I said, democracy needs that sense of belonging to community. A revival of democracy cannot be achieved without this sense of community.

New forms of dialogue, of participation, at every level of government, can also help to revive democracy from within and from the bottom up. Extremists and populists take advantage of people’s fears to strangle democracy in a hidden way. They claim to be the voice of the people but their ultimate goal is to silence the people. They will not succeed.

But we must remain vigilant. Nothing is definitively born in history, not even democracy. Look at what happened in the United States on the 6th of January 2021: it may happen again. If there is a crisis of positive values, democracy remains in danger. What is bad is not only that lived his life but that too many citizens believe those lies. Often they do so because they feel not enough protected and involved. They are desperate and have lost faith not only in politics and democracy but also in others and in themselves.

We have to prove them wrong.

Dear friends, I try to convince you of this. There is nevertheless a way forward. There is hope and that will be my story in the John Main seminar in November.”

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