The Enemies of the Open Society

Effel towerThe aggressors were motivated by medieval texts that were never softened by the Enlightenment. Their theocratic canon was abandoned long ago by more innovative societies.

Communication thrives with tolerance and withers with tyranny.  What we say to others finds its natural buoyancy in the acceptance we obtain in a bustling marketplace of competing ideas. This is forever variable and mostly protected by states comfortable with diversity. And it’s reflected in citizenry who understand that forbearance requires soft rather than rigid measures for judging others. Pluralism is thus built into democratic culture. There is acceptance or at least tolerance for strange and varied forms of expression. In turn, the culture is rewarded for leaving pathways of imagination and innovation open. These are how societies renew themselves.

In a culture of tolerance singular and rigid modes of thinking can and do exist within specific individuals.  But the state itself acts more of a buffer than a bludgeon. Its formal systems assume the virtues of free movement and open expression.

This is why it pains us to see the City of Light stained by the violence of jihadists armed with bombs and weapons. An attack on the nation that gave the United States important first principles celebrating personal freedom ought to be seen as an attack on us. The aggressors were motivated by mediaeval texts that were never softened by the humanizing forces of the Enlightenment. The worst excesses of their theocratic canon were abandoned long ago by more innovative societies who learned to cherish the mutually supportive processes of democratic rule and peaceful public discussion. The fossilized remains of this dead ideology has more rules than values, more stipulations for conduct than tolerance for differences. In Paris they used it so see “perversity” rather than beauty. Instead of the vibrancy of a culture alive with a range of different voices, they saw only strangers whose differences they abhor. And so they sought to break the covenant of acceptance that comes easily to open societies. They gunned down diners in a neighborhood café and an audience celebrating the end of the week at a concert.  Success for them might be in the fear they hope to create among thousands attending a soccer match, or anyone else out to exercise the freedoms that all of us in vital cultures take for granted.  But disgust for their pathetic ideology is probably the better response.