Ikeda on Democracy

By Daisaku Ikeda

Remarks drawn from his message "The University of the Twenty-first Century--Cradle of World Citizens" commemorating the First Commencement Ceremony of Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California, May 22, 2005


The fourth point I wish to stress is that education and learning are, more than anything else, the motive force propelling the development of democracy. John Dewey and other American philosophers have offered us some of the most profound insights into this reality.
As Dewey repeatedly emphasized: "A democracy is more than a form of government." For Dewey, universal suffrage, majority rule, and other forms of political organization are best understood as means for the realization of genuine democracy. He went so far as to state: "It is a form of idolatry to erect means into the end which they serve."
The great poet Walt Whitman declared: "Democracy too is law, and of the strictest, amplest kind." And: "Law is the unshakable order of the universe forever."
Democracy is a way of life whose purpose is to enable people to achieve spiritual autonomy, live in mutual respect and enjoy happiness. It can also be understood as an expression of human wisdom deployed toward the goal of harmonious coexistence. It is in this sense that it can be understood as a universal principle.
But here we must bear in mind Dewey's stern warning. People tend to think of democracy as something that is fixed and complete, which can simply be passed from the hands of one generation to the next. But this is not the case: "Every generation has to accomplish democracy over again for itself."
The continuous effort to accomplish democracy was identified by Dewey as "the greatest experiment of humanity."  The work of pursuing and carrying out this noble experiment is the daily task of education. This is because a genuinely democratic society cannot be realized by authority or force applied from without. The proper path involves drawing forth and unleashing the capacities inherent in people, which are then directed with autonomy and spontaneity toward the construction of a democratic society. Dewey's insight was that education holds the key to making this possible.
I wish therefore to deeply affirm once more that the primal mission of the university is to temper and forge democratic ideals, rooting them in society as a form of service to all of humankind.

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