At the Byron Bay Writers Festival, in conversation with Griffith Review Editor Julianne Schultz, Professor John Keane talks us through the rise and fall of democracies and empires, from a primarily historical perspective.
From the very first Platonic democracy of Ancient Greece, Keane argues, through the ages of the civil rights movement, apartheid, the women’s vote, through to the world’s first black president, the institution of Democracy has aided civilisation in avoiding hubris. It has also helped to humble power and, as Churchill liked to say, democracy is still “the best weapon we have against stupidity”.
Keane argues that democracy is not only practiced in the parliament but, since 1945, has become increasingly involved at the grass roots, whereby the citizen is more inclined to have her say via diverse power-scrutinising, problem-solving groups, such as online monitoring agencies.
Keane sees further public scrutiny of activities such as the arms trade, asylum-seeking, and demands for more transparency in the banking and credit sector as very probable and positive trends for the future. In this way, the citizen is working in tandem with parties, politicians and major media players, in keeping this big, friendly giant called “Democracy” on its toes.
The flipside of all this monitoring, he argues, is that politicians are more fearful of their public.
John Keane is an Australian-born British political theorist. Educated at the Universities of Adelaide, Toronto and Cambridge, Keane is currently Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney. He still spends some of his time as visiting professor at there. In 1989, Keane founded the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster. In recent years, Keane has held the Karl Deutsch Professorship in Berlin and served as Gavron Fellow of the think-tank, Institute for Public Policy Research.
Among his many books are “The Media and Democracy”, which has been translated into more than twenty-five languages; plus “Democracy and Civil Society”, “Reflections on Violence” “Civil Society: Old Images, New Visions” and the prize-winning biography “Tom Paine: A Political Life”. Among his most recent works are “Global Civil Society?”, “Violence and Democracy”, (with Wolfgang Merkel and others) “The Future of Representative Democracy” and “The Life and Death of Democracy. “
Julianne Schultz is the founding editor of Griffith REVIEW and a professor in the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University. Throughout Professor Schultz’s distinguished career she has made valuable contributions to the Australian media, literary and political landscape through authoring or editing more than 20 books and as a creative writer whose work includes the librettos for the award winning operas “Black River” and “Going into Shadows”. She was also co-chair of the Creative Australia stream at last year’s 2020 Summit and is a Professor in the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University.
First Published on ABC’s BIG IDEAS