On President Barack Obama’s recent and final overseas trip as U.S. president, he gave a ringing endorsement of democracy in its birthplace, Athens, Greece.
Mr. Obama noted that twenty-five centuries ago, in the rocky hills around Athens, a new idea emerged: “Demokratia. Kratos – the power, the right to rule – comes from demos – the people. The notion that we are citizens – not servants, but stewards of our society…The belief in equality before the law – not just for a few, but for the many; not just for the majority, but also the minority.”
Mr. Obama observed that throughout human history “there have been those who argue that people cannot handle democracy, that…they need to be told what to do.” But, he said, “The fundamental desire to have control of our lives and our future…these yearnings are universal. They burn in every human heart.”
President Obama pointed out that the United States supports democratic governance, not just because it comports with the values the U.S. holds dear, but also because history has demonstrated that democracies “tend to be more just, and more stable, and more successful:”
“In contrast to regimes that rule by coercion, democracies are rooted in the consent of the governed – citizens know that there’s a path for peaceful change, including the moral force of nonviolence. And that brings a stability that so often can facilitate economic growth.”
President Obama also noted that democracies are less likely to fight wars among themselves, and because of their inclusiveness and strength, are more welcoming to refugees and people in need; in addition, that inclusiveness and strength enable democracies to stand up to those who seek to change people’s way of life through violence, while at the same time hindering those in power from betraying fundamental democratic values.
President Obama acknowledged that in a globalized world, where people from a variety of backgrounds try to live together, the practice of democracy can be difficult. But, he emphasized, it is democracy that allows us to bend the arc of history, in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, to justice.
“In this great, imperfect, but necessary system of self-government, power and progress will always come from the demos – from “We, the people,” said Mr. Obama, and “as long as we are true to that system of self-government…our futures will be bright.”