The Critical Spirit
The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

The spirit of criticism and free inquiry is an integral part of western civilisation and democratic values. It has made a great contribution to the rise of western civilisation. It is the difference between democracy and dictatorship. It has been responsible for social, political and economic development. The critical spirit has spawned many an invention in science and technology. It has been the basic thread running through the rise and achievements of western civilisation.

However, a recent trend, based on a deep seated antagonism, is to increasingly turn the critical spirit on the values and institutions of the western democratic order. These values and institutions are subjected to popular as well as academic critical analyses (as distinct from evaluations) which expose, accurately or with exaggerations and distortions, the manner in which they function and operate. They are tested against ideal or near absolute standards or values. By comparison, socialist and communist institutions and systems are analysed by reference to sub-human considerations. Another technique is to compare the practice of the operation of the western democratic order (often with exaggerations) with the theory of socialism.

The academic analyses are conducted at various levels empirical (often with selective data collection or predetermined hypotheses) or theoretical and abstract. The main weaknesses in these approaches are the missing dimensions — the benefits are not examined and criticism does not move towards evaluation. The realities of human nature and the differences between human beings, the inevitability of man made and natural accidents and disasters and the harshness of, and the problems arising from, the environment are not considered. No comparative study is made with other systems.

The "critical spirit" in education, media and politics has been directed towards criticism and not evaluation. A further dimension is that the education system and the public affairs media close themselves (with varying degrees of aggressiveness and intolerance) to those contrary viewpoints and perspectives which relate to freedom and the achievements of the western democratic order. The standpoint which prevails is that of increasing denigration of freedom, private enterprise and private activity and of related values and institutions. The prevailing belief is that government regulation can solve problems and that there must be more of it. The critical spirit is running in a narrow channel and is self destructive. It is not open to other views and philosophies — including those which were responsible for the rise of western civilisation. Freedom and tradition are consciously and unconsciously suppressed and censored in politics, the media and academia.

The values and institutions of the western democratic order constitute a pretty rotten system if particular facets or problems are analysed, without a sense of perspective. It is a pretty rotten system until the alternatives are considered. It is necessary to proceed beyond criticism to evaluation. This is what most critics of the system fail to do. They fail to look at the negative and positive factors, to proceed therefrom to a fair evaluation and only then examine whether there is a case for reform.