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Deep Democracy


After Cornel West announced his quest to run for president as the Green Party nominee, he mentioned in several interviews the idea of “deep democracy.” I decided to revisit his book Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism (2004), in which he explains the components of the concept. I also reread my summary in Composition and Cornel West: Notes on a Deep Democracy (2008).


As I wrote: West proposes the use of three particular discursive strategies. The first, Socratic commitment, is a relentless examination of received wisdom coupled with a willingness to adopt the role of a parrhesiastes, a frank or fearless speaker in confrontation with irresponsible power. The second, prophetic witness, entails an abiding concern with justice and the plight of the less privileged. A prime imperative is to reduce social suffering. The third, tragicomic hope, is an indomitable, keep-on-pushing sensibility reflective of the African American freedom struggle, blues, and jazz. The hope, for West, is that these strategies lead to a formation of a democracy that is deep enough to accomplish several expansive aims, namely, “shore up international law and multilateral institutions that preclude imperial arrangements and colonial invasions,” “promote wealth-sharing and wealth-producing activities among rich and poor nations abroad,” and, generally, “facilitate the principled transfer of wealth from well-to-do to working and poor people by massive investments in health care, education, and employment, and the preservation of our environment.”


In other words, the goal for West was to make power accountable with the practical resources at our disposal. These are the same ideological impulses that fuel his present candidacy. You will hear from West these notions expressed in more detail, that is, criticisms of the two-party system and U.S. foreign policy. You will hear economic and proposals. His policy proposals won’t yet be detailed or practical enough for some. Others, such as pundit Joan Walsh, will seize major media space to argue that West should not be running for president at all. Let the debates unfold while we keep in mind and celebrate West’s basic orientation as articulated over the past twenty years.


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