Media Center



December 11, 2001 - Washington, DC

When asked a couple of years ago what was the most important thing that had happened in the twentieth century –a century that had two wars, an informatic revolution, man conquered space, we lived the rise and fall of communism- Amartya Sen, in his own words, he had no difficulty in choosing the upheavel of democracy as the preeminent development of the period.

I wanted to bring Sen’s words into account because the horrific acts of September 11 were more than a challenge to the United States, it’s policy in the Middle East, globalization, Wall Street or capitalism. The terrorist acts were a challenge to the principles and values of democracy and were a way to remember the unresolved problems of the last century.

Which are this values and principles of democracy that make some fanatics hijack some planes, destroy buildings and kill 3,500 innocent human beings?

Democracy is more than fair, transparent and frequent elections. It is a system –Churchill said it was the worst political system with the exception of all the rest- based in human responsibility, in which human dignity is constructed by the liberty of action, by the freedom to think and act by our own concept of what is good and what is bad. Of course democracy means competing political parties, and it is freedom of speech and freedom of press. But the core value that supports them all is the responsibility of the individual to live and dictate the course of his own life.

Responsibility is to the individual what tolerance is to society. In an aggregate, a tolerant society is a society in which different individuals can live their lives by their own decisions and assume their responsibilities. With a least common denominator which Voltaire described as the rule of engagement, in which the only exclusion is intolerance itself.

And that is why democracy is so precious to these values: only a system that do not permit those that are in power to use power to impose a philosophical and ethical principle over the others can really permit responsibility to flourish.

And what the terrorist wanted to say with the infamous acts of September 11 was that, in spite of the rise of democracy, the fundamental process of the whole 20th century like Sen said, it will still be the contest that will shape the early 21th Century: the conflict between democracy and open societies, against authoritative and closed societies, with whatever name you choose: theocratic, authoritative, populist or communist states.

So when you ask yourself what all this is about, keep this in mind: this is not a problem of the United States, it’s a problem of all of our countries. Because after all, the premises that build democracy were not constructed solely by the Founding Fathers, but by the Greeks, and the Revolutionaries of the 1800, and the revolutionaries that gave liberties also to our nations: Bolívar, San Martin, Martí.

This is not to say that democracy is perfect or the “end of history”. Democracy has exposed the many injuries our societies still have. Injuries of poverty, underdevelopment and social injustice. And like Nobel Prize Joseph Stiglitz once said, sunshine is a strong antiseptic, and our societies are hurting, blaming sometimes democracy, and the social duty that you have, all you that work on social areas with our poorest countries, it is trying to heal those wounds that limit hope and human progress.

Thank you very much