Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE SEVEN HESITATIONS OF DEMOCRACY

DRAWN TO THE EPICENTER. The following reflections do not come from an aspiring politician. They are not the two-bit comments of a journalistic wag. They are the observations of an American-born Methodist missionary who labored in India as a contemporary of Mahatma Ghandi. E. Stanley Jones is, to me, the model of authentic Christianity. The deeper his faith, the more reflective and engaged he was in applying its principles to the pressing issues of his time. His deep piety did not lead him away from difficult issues and hurting people; it drew him ever closer to the epicenter of world challenges. Written from India in 1944, this ever-so-brief excerpt from The Christ of the American Road, has a pointed ring of truth and challenge 63 years later. I have not adapted his writing to inclusive language; it was already inclusive in spirit and power.

AN EXPLOSIVE WORD. “When the word ‘all’ was written into the Declaration of Independence, little did the authors know how it would live to disturb and awaken the soul of this people. The word ‘all’ was inevitable, for there would not have been democracy if it had been left out; but, once in, it has become the most explosive and revolutionary word in our national history. It will not let us rest until we say the words ‘all men’ with complete abandon and with no reservations. The history of our struggling with that word ‘all’ is the history of the progress of America, and our future depends upon what we do with it.” Jones enumerates the seven hesitations of democracy in a historical sequence.

1. TERRITORIES. “The hesitation as to whether we should take in the territories beyond the original colonies on the basis of equality or make them subordinate.” Jones notes that this breakthrough from intellectual and cultural snobbery to give complete equality to territories “may prove the norm for a world pattern. The world will fight it—as we did—but in the end we shall have to come to it, for it is right. And whatever is right is stable and whatever is wrong is unstable. The world is in a state of instability because of the refusal of this simple principle.”

2. WOMEN. “The second hesitation about applying the word ‘all’ was in regard to one half the population within the union—namely, to women.” Jones comments on the rightness of this breakthrough: “The future belongs to cooperation; the competitive principle has run its course. If the future belongs to cooperation and women represent the cooperative spirit, then women are to be, in literal fact, the psychic center of power in that future.”

3. CHILDREN. “The third great hesitation in the application of ‘all’ is in regard to the most important group in our democracy—namely, the children.” Noting the brunt children have taken in the greed and blunderings of men in labor and in war (“he is called on to fight three years sooner than he is allowed to vote”), Jones asserted that “since children must bear the heavy end of things in a crisis, they must be allowed to help shape things for the ordinary days ahead. Democracy will not last unless the child inwardly accepts it because it is reasonable and right, and more important still, because he is a functioning part of it. He must vitally be a part of it; it must function where he is concerned. This we have not done—not really. We have applied the word ‘all’ to children grudgingly and with hesitation.”

4. LABOR. “The fourth hesitation about the application of the word ‘all’ is in regard to another group in our midst—labor.” Noting the reluctance with which American corporations have conceded to collective bargaining, Jones believed that America is tragically bent in a “property over the person” paradigm. In the struggle between the rights of property and the rights of people, Jones said “we have very grudgingly extended equality to those who labor.”

5. PEOPLE OF COLOR. “The fifth great hesitation has been to extend equality to those of another color.” Jones advocated the “equality of opportunity” for people of color and denounced white America for its hypocrisy and resistance at making the Pledge of Allegiance apply: “with liberty and justice for all.” He noted: “America’s power and influence in the world will be determined by her ability to set her own house in order, and thus to act up to her democracy.

6. ASIAN PEOPLES. “The sixth great hesitation in applying the word ‘all’ is in regard to those of Asiatic origin in our midst.” Writing during World War II, a time in which in the name of patriotism and loyalty Asians were being derided in America and abroad, Jones wrote boldly: “We have a right to limit immigration, but we have no right to humiliate others once they are in our midst. Such attitudes and practices deny our own democracy and sow the seeds of war. This discrimination was one of the causes that led to the war with Japan.” Jones decried the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and spoke often to large groups interned in the camps.

7. DEVELOPING REGIONS AND NATIONS. “The seventh hesitation is in regard to applying the word ‘all’ to all peoples beyond our own borders.” Jones called for a complete renunciation of all trappings and vestiges of “imperialism” in order for peace and democracy to have a chance to emerge in developing regions of the world. “It is not enough to point to the benefits conferred by imperialism on subjected peoples—roads, schools, hospitals, and a kind of peace. All these benefits are canceled out in the minds of subject peoples by the fact of domination. They want freedom—everybody does. It is inherent.”

BE THE SERVANT OF ALL. Jones summarized his observations: “Let America be anchored to her words ‘all men,’ and let her world mission be the implementing of those words in world affairs. Let her become ‘the servant of all.’ Then, according to her Master, by that very service she will become the greatest of all. If you are the servant of some—white people, people of a certain class or race—then you do not become great, except a great snob. The future of the world is in the hands of those who will best serve the world.”

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