Many of you will be familiar with this face – Dr Madeleine Albright. She was the 64th Secretary of State in the Clinton Government and, at that time, the highest ranking woman in American politics. She has a reputation for no nonsense speaking – and her achievements in Government are regarded as very significant. Her political memoirs are insightful and readable. She is an Anglican and reflects theologically about her life and faith.
A leading University like Chicago can attract high powered national leaders. I joined over two thousand staff and students in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel to hear her give the Masaryk lecture on Democracy. I was a little bemused at the lack of enthusiasm with which the students sang the American National Anthem – the proceedings started with a procession of the Flag – we all stood to attention as it was quick marched in!
The lecture was a stunning survey of some of the questions and challenges that surround our understanding of tha nature and practice of democracy. In a tightly argued text she combined history, cultural theory, philosophy and her own reading of world events to argue that none of us should ever take freedom forgranted.
She especially critised the Goverments of China, Iran, Russia and Sudan for their disregard of human rights.’These are nations that destroy liberty’ was her bold claim. Democracy is essential to guarantee peace and prosperity – and America was celebrated as a nation that was passionate for liberty. The lecture also analysed some of the language around terroism. Her hopeful plea was that reason would defeat those who wanted to destroy freedom.
There were two particular things that I shall take away and ponder:
- the foundation of democracy is that every individual counts no matter what.
- our future is shaped not by what we remember but by what we forget.
Human rights should never be taken for granted. The battle for freedom and ideas is never over. That is why public institutions like Universities are an impotant part of our intellectual life. I believe that rehetoric has the power to change and tranform individuals and communities.
There are some profound theological challenges to all this. Can any religious organisation be exempt from human rights legislation? How far are the structures and attitudes of the Church of England democratic? How does the Church choose to exercise its power?
Enough. Now for a walk and some fresh air.