Norman Mailer on war and democracy

A blog by Peter Kaminski (

Norman Mailer gave a superb speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on February 20th, 2003. I caught the last third of it replayed on the radio last night, and found a written version today.

With many a perfectly turned phrase, Mailer summarizes well the psyche and politics that brought us to the brink of war.

He argues that democracy is a special thing: “Real democracy comes out of many subtle individual human battles that are fought over decades and finally over centuries, battles that succeed in building traditions. The only defenses of democracy, finally, are the traditions of democracy. When you start ignoring those values, you are playing with a noble and delicate structure. There’s nothing more beautiful than democracy. But you can’t play with it. You can’t assume we’re going to go over to show them what a great system we have. This is monstrous arrogance.”

“Because democracy is noble, it is always endangered. Nobility, indeed, is always in danger. Democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.”

He concludes that it may be time to decide to defend democracy, as well: “Democracy, I would repeat, is the noblest form of government we have yet evolved, and we may as well begin to ask ourselves whether we are ready to suffer, even perish for it, rather than readying ourselves to live in the lower existence of a monumental banana republic with a government always eager to cater to mega-corporations as they do their best to appropriate our thwarted dreams with their elephantiastical conceits.”

Only In America“, by Norman Mailer

Audio stream of Norman Mailer’s speech, worth the listen

Comment (1)

  1. Carl Gillespie wrote::H.G.Wells, novelist and historian of note in his “History of the World” looks at Bagdad in 1081, nearly a thousand years ago and the same factions are at work. Today’s problems there are not a repeat of history but a continuation of the local history. What makes us think that a thousand years hence the same forces won’t be at work there? Democracy in that part of the world is a blip on the historical screen.Monday, May 29, 2006 at 07:04 #

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