Monday, September 24, 2007

The Limitations of Democracy

Recently there has been an uproar at Stanford regarding Donald Rumsfeld's appointment at the Hoover Institute, which is located on Stanford's campus. The Hoover Institute is a well known conservative think-tank that has housed such crazy right-wing scholars as Dinesh D'Souza, so Rumsfeld's presence isn't exactly shocking.

Numerous Stanford professors, including the famous "Prison Experiment" psychologist Phil Zimbardo, have started and signed petitions of protest, requesting that Rumsfeld (who serves on Hoover's board of advisors) stay far away from Stanford and the Hoover Tower. I agree that Rumsfeld's war crimes are unforgivable, and I do feel he doesn't belong among the ranks of other Stanford "fellows" intellect wise. But when forwarded the circulating petition and asked to sign it, I thought twice and decided against it. Why would a democrat like myself do so?

This question of what are our limitations of democracy has been plaguing me for quite some time. I believe in free speech, whether it be litigious, lascivious, or, believe it or not, downright sexist. That doesn't mean I agree with it. In fact, I denounce it in my dissertation. But what does democracy really mean if we don't permit freedom of speech?

If we ban Rumsfeld from our campus, we may miss out on an opportunity to educate him, to sway him to our side of the debate. Okay, so perhaps that is SO optimistic and naive. But if we force him off campus, we are limiting an individual's civil liberties. We are banning him from a certain space, criminalizing him for trespassing on the basis that we are "academics" and take the high road. In limiting his ability to freely move about our campus, we are doing the same thing this administration has been pushing for: tighter borders and the delineation of citizenry based on national borders. Most liberal academics believe in the idea of a global citizenship - that democracy, in fact, really means that EVERYONE should be able to move about the world equally.

Obviously this isn't going to happen anytime soon. And it certainly won't happen in my lifetime if we police our own citizenship. So let Rumsfeld come to campus. Protest his presence by standing outside of Hoover Tower, but let him go about the campus as he pleases. This is a democratic society, right?

1 comment:

Phoenix said...

optimism is never naive. optimism is believing the best in people, and there should be more people like you in politics; then maybe we wouldn't be so polarized.