Democracy at Home

SOUNDS antiquated, but the spread of democracy is the post-cold-war's hope and need. So far, however, the democracy many thought would fill the gap left by communism has not come. Nor is it clear, as American statesman and sage George Kennan now writes, how healthy a civic and democratic consciousness is here at home.

Greed, technological excess, racial strife, and impersonal power challenge a democratic future, Mr. Kennan argues.

Of course, there has been progress. Much of the popular intellectual and political energy of the past two decades in America has been directed at a discovery and acceptance of the many cultures and the diversity of the country. This passion was a righteous and needed response to what might be called the cultural hegemony of the WASP in America. Past mistakes, racism, and injustice that had been ignored were and are being brought to the surface. Whereas President Kennedy chose crusty New Englander Robert Frost to seal his inaugural oath with a poem, Bill Clinton chose a black female poet from Arkansas, Maya Angelou, to do so. Thirty years ago, that would have been inconceivable.

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The rise of multicultural America, an America with more justice and liberty for all, has been swift in the post-war era. Given ethnic animosities and ancient hatreds that practically defined world history for thousands of years, this is remarkable. Yet most of us have taken it for granted.

We can do so no longer. President Clinton's election signals a new generation of Americans coming to power at a time when the world is dangerously undefined. The celebration of ethnic diversity in America, while often troubled, is not being duplicated overseas. Rather, the world is witnessing a rise of ethnic hate and manipulation that is more powerful - and influential - than many in the liberal West realize. Such hate and manipulation must be stopped abroad and not be allowed to rise at home.

The argument used in the former Yugoslavia for rape, torture, and genocide - often with success - is that the West does not understand ethnic history. That may be true, but it is not an excuse. The antidote for such political insanity is the rule of law in democracy.

"It's democracy, stupid," must become a Clinton adage. The next generation must define itself anew in democratic terms - not just talk about doing so. The rule of law, the allowance of grace, the virtue of tolerance, and the defining of people as equal requires work and patience. It does not come easily. It must be taught in schools and promoted by parents.

The secret is not just in why Americans are many, but in why they are one.

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