About 140 thinkers and activists for democracy gather today at Frontiers of Democracy. If you’re not among us, you can watch the live-streams of the plenary sessions. The #DemFront hashtag is also being used already for substantive conversations.
In past years, the title of the conference has invoked the idea of expanding the frontiers of democracy, whether geographically (by supporting people who are trying to make their countries into democracies) or by realizing democratic ideals more fully in countries like the US.
Some may feel that the objective of expanding democracy’s frontiers remains exactly appropriate and timely in 2017, just as it was last year. I salute that view. But others may feel that our primary cause this year is to defend the frontiers of democracy, to stand guard against the many people and movements that seek to undermine it, to say that they must stop here, with people like us. ¡No Pasarán!
That’s just one dimension of disagreement. Participants may disagree about the central and defining values and highest ideals of democracy–for example, should it be more deliberative, or more competitive and full of contention? They may disagree about institutions, such as representative bodies and political parties. They may disagree about how deep a transformation we must seek in order to make societies into better democracies.
These and other disagreements are, of course, desirable. In fact, the greatest danger in a gathering like this is homogeneity of views or politeness about differences, and so I am going to encourage disagreement; and if agreement comes too quickly, I hope people will broaden the conversation by introducing alternative views.