Conference

Part I. Mass Democracy on Trial -

13 November 2005
09.45 – 21.30
Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam

What Is a Good Society?

Democracy. In our world, no word is more synonymous with the idea of a ‘good society’. ‘The government of the people, by the people, for the people’, was Abraham Lincoln’s legendary definition of a society in which all people are free and equal. It is a society from which tyranny and barbarism have been banished, and where reason and justice hold sway. Democracy as the realisation of the highest ideal of civilisation. Yet the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset complained that in fact, mass democracy is not the ultimate form of democracy: quite to the contrary, it inevitably results in the very opposite, in despotism, in the degeneration of values, and ultimately, in totalitarianism. In The Revolt of the Masses, he links the rise of mass democracy to the emergence of new movements such as fascism and bolshevism. Intellectuals such as Johan Huizinga, Paul Valéry, Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, and Nicola Chiaromonte also expressed their doubts and concerns about the significance of mass democracy and its impact on our highest values, on culture, knowledge and the future of democracy in European society.

Are the questions and analyses of these twentieth-century thinkers at all relevant to twenty-first century Europe? Or is ‘mass democracy’ mostly a phrase used by an intellectual elite which is reluctant to recognise that in a free society, every person has a right to his or her own lifestyle – that they can determine what matters to them and what does not according to their own personal religion, tradition, and ideology? What kind of society do we live in, and what are the consequences of today’s predominant powers, values, and ideas? What is the basis of democracy, and how can it continue to be a civilising force?

Speakers

Mario-Vargas-Llosa

Peru, 1936

Mario Vargas Llosa

winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

United States, 1959 - 2011

Ronald Asmus

diplomat and political analyst
BAUMAN051113

Poland, 1925 - 2017

Zygmunt Bauman

sociologist

United Kingdom, 1940

Robin Blackburn

socialist historian

The Netherlands, 1933

Frits Bolkestein

liberal politician
NEXUS090611

The Netherlands, 1954

René Boomkens

cultural scholar and policy maker

The Netherlands, 1937

Laurens Jan Brinkhorst

progressive liberal politician

France, 1948

Pascal Bruckner

philosopher, writer and critic of Western culture

United Kingdom, 1956 - 2015

David Cesarani

historian and expert on the Holocaust
dalrymple2

United Kingdom, 1949

Theodore Dalrymple

psychiatrist and cultural critic

United States, 1941 - 2013

Jean Bethke Elshtain

Catholic political philosopher

France, 1951

Luc Ferry

philosopher, former French Minister of Education

France, 1940

Gabriel Josipovici

British writer and academic

The Netherlands, 1939

Ruud Lubbers

statesman, former prime minister

Belgium, 1943

Chantal Mouffe

political theorist

United States, 1939

Ferdinand Mount

conservative writer and columnist

Canada, 1947

John Ralston Saul

writer and President of PEN International

United States, 1959

John Seabrook

journalist

The Netherlands, 1946

Anna Tilroe

art critic

United States, 1952

Richard Wolin

historian of ideas

United States, 1944

William Wheatley

TV producer