From Democracy to Anarchy in One Generation

Parliamentarians protest by walking out of House of Commons

Professor Joe Goldblatt

After 47 years of teaching in college classrooms all over the world I should not have been surprised when a group of undergraduate students recently told me that they did not need nor want the police at their rallies because they believed that they could provide adequate security for their own events. They actually told me that “People in uniform make us nevrous.”

As they described the type of organisations of which they are members none of them had elected leaders. Rather, they are loose knit groups run by an unelected committee that may or not represent the majority views of their followers.

As I listened to their genuine pain over the war in the middle east I thought of my own days of protest in the 1970’s when I joined tens of thousands of college students in protesting what we described as the unjust and illegal Vietnam war. We also did not have any elected leaders and the protesters, including myself, were concerned that the police and campus security were our opponents rather than our allies. Perhaps, that is why I quietly wept when I listened to the genuine pain of the twenty – first century protesting students.

However, I wonder and am deeply concerned about why well educated young people fear our institutions such as police and campus security? Worse, they seem to distrust and fear one another. How did this become so widespread and severe in the course of one generation?

One theory espoused by my generation is that we have moved from the age of we to the age of me. In the 1970’s we had a common enemy which was the US government and their policies. I recall also joining thousands in Texas to march together to protest the treatment of the mistreatment of migrant farm workers as we shouted “Boycot Lettuce!”

Today, we seem to be so deeply divided against one another that often times I feel that there is not even the slightest hope for polite civil discourse due to the anger raging from within. I also wonder how we turn down the heat of anger and begin to encourage a civil and courteous dialogue between opposing groups and individuals?

I suppose one answer may be, as it has always been, we do this one person at a time. If we may find just of two people who are willing to leave their anger, distrust, and disagreement at the door as they enter the room there may be a small window through which fresher, cleaner air of respect may enter.

As a member of another generation that also passionately fought for what we believed was a more just world, I am going to encourage my younger friends to just for a brief shining moment, suspend their passions to allow time to listen and learn from the views of others and perhaps, through hard work, to find actual points of agreement that will alow them to work together for the common good.

The distrust of politicians, police, journalists, and others with some measure of power is unlikely to subside anytime soon. This challenge does not give us permission to give up and allow democracy to fail and anarchy to succeed. Rather, it should be a warning siren reminding us that we must work even harder to bring those who are passionate about their views into the same room and seek to find through dialogue and collaboration closer connections that will perhaps reweave the fragile global society that appears to be unravelling all around us.

As I told the students whose views I occassionally but not always found repugnant and misguided, I still respected and would always vigorously defend their right to hold those opinions and to campaign for what they believe is a better world. I also asked them to similarly defend my right to hold my own views. The slight nod of their heads gave me slight hope that the window of respect might be reopening ever so slightly and this is where we might begin to reset our discourse in the direction of democracy over anarchy. I certainly hope so.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. His views are his own. For more information about his views visit

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