How to revive your belief in democracy | Eric Liu

I bring you greetings from the 52nd-freest nation on earth. As an American, it irritates me
that my nation keeps sinking in the annual rankings
published by Freedom House. I’m the son of immigrants. My parents were born in China
during war and revolution, went to Taiwan and then came
to the United States, which means all my life, I’ve been acutely aware just how fragile
an inheritance freedom truly is. That’s why I spend my time teaching,
preaching and practicing democracy. I have no illusions. All around the world now, people are doubting
whether democracy can deliver. Autocrats and demagogues seem emboldened, even cocky. The free world feels leaderless. And yet, I remain hopeful. I don’t mean optimistic. Optimism is for spectators. Hope implies agency. It says I have a hand in the outcome. Democratic hope requires faith not in a strongman or a charismatic savior but in each other, and it forces us to ask:
How can we become worthy of such faith? I believe we are at a moment
of moral awakening, the kind that comes
when old certainties collapse. At the heart of that awakening
is what I call “civic religion.” And today, I want to talk about
what civic religion is, how we practice it, and why it matters now more than ever. Let me start with the what. I define civic religion as a system
of shared beliefs and collective practices by which the members
of a self-governing community choose to live like citizens. Now, when I say “citizen” here,
I’m not referring to papers or passports. I’m talking about a deeper,
broader, ethical conception of being a contributor to community,
a member of the body. To speak of civic religion as religion
is not poetic license. That’s because democracy is one of the most faith-fueled
human activities there is. Democracy works only when enough of us
believe democracy works. It is at once a gamble and a miracle. Its legitimacy comes not from
the outer frame of constitutional rules, but from the inner workings
of civic spirit. Civic religion, like any religion, contains a sacred creed,
sacred deeds and sacred rituals. My creed includes words like
“equal protection of the laws” and “we the people.” My roll call of hallowed deeds
includes abolition, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the Allied landing at Normandy, the fall of the Berlin Wall. And I have a new civic ritual
that I’ll tell you about in a moment. Wherever on earth you’re from, you can find or make
your own set of creed, deed and ritual. The practice of civic religion
is not about worship of the state or obedience to a ruling party. It is about commitment to one another and our common ideals. And the sacredness of civic religion
is not about divinity or the supernatural. It is about a group of unlike people speaking into being our alikeness, our groupness. Perhaps now you’re getting
a little worried that I’m trying to sell you on a cult. Relax, I’m not. I don’t need to sell you. As a human, you are always
in the market for a cult, for some variety of religious experience. We are wired to seek
cosmological explanations, to sacralize beliefs
that unite us in transcendent purpose. Humans make religion
because humans make groups. The only choice we have is whether
to activate that groupness for good. If you are a devout person, you know this. If you are not, if you no longer go to prayer services or never did, then perhaps you’ll say
that yoga is your religion, or Premier League football, or knitting, or coding or TED Talks. But whether you believe in a God
or in the absence of gods, civic religion does not require you
to renounce your beliefs. It requires you only
to show up as a citizen. And that brings me to my second topic: how we can practice
civic religion productively. Let me tell you now
about that new civic ritual. It’s called “Civic Saturday,” and it follows the arc
of a faith gathering. We sing together, we turn to the strangers next to us
to discuss a common question, we hear poetry and scripture, there’s a sermon that ties those texts to the ethical choices
and controversies of our time, but the song and scripture and the sermon are not from church
or synagogue or mosque. They are civic, drawn from our shared civic ideals and a shared history of claiming
and contesting those ideals. Afterwards, we form up in circles
to organize rallies, register voters, join new clubs, make new friends. My colleagues and I
started organizing Civic Saturdays in Seattle in 2016. Since then, they have spread
across the continent. Sometimes hundreds attend,
sometimes dozens. They happen in libraries
and community centers and coworking spaces, under festive tents
and inside great halls. There’s nothing high-tech
about this social technology. It speaks to a basic human yearning
for face-to-face fellowship. It draws young and old, left and right, poor and rich, churched and unchurched, of all races. When you come to a Civic Saturday
and are invited to discuss a question like “Who are you responsible for?” or “What are you willing to risk
or to give up for your community?” When that happens, something moves. You are moved. You start telling your story. We start actually seeing one another. You realize that homelessness,
gun violence, gentrification, terrible traffic, mistrust
of newcomers, fake news — these things
aren’t someone else’s problem, they are the aggregation
of your own habits and omissions. Society becomes how you behave. We are never asked to reflect
on the content of our citizenship. Most of us are never invited
to do more or to be more, and most of us have no idea
how much we crave that invitation. We’ve since created a civic seminary to start training people from all over
to lead Civic Saturday gatherings on their own, in their own towns. In the community of Athens, Tennessee, a feisty leader named Whitney Kimball Coe leads hers in an art and framing shop with a youth choir
and lots of little flags. A young activist named Berto Aguayo led his Civic Saturday on a street corner in the Back of the Yards
neighborhood of Chicago. Berto was once involved with gangs. Now, he’s keeping the peace and organizing political campaigns. In Honolulu, Rafael Bergstrom, a former pro baseball player
turned photographer and conservationist, leads his under the banner
“Civics IS Sexy.” It is. (Laughter) Sometimes I’m asked,
even by our seminarians: “Isn’t it dangerous
to use religious language? Won’t that just make our politics
even more dogmatic and self-righteous?” But this view assumes that all religion
is fanatical fundamentalism. It is not. Religion is also moral discernment, an embrace of doubt, a commitment to detach from self
and serve others, a challenge to repair the world. In this sense, politics could stand
to be a little more like religion, not less. Thus, my final topic today: why civic religion matters now. I want to offer two reasons. One is to counter the culture
of hyperindividualism. Every message we get
from every screen and surface of the modern marketplace is that each of us is on our own, a free agent, free to manage our own brands, free to live under bridges, free to have side hustles, free to die alone without insurance. Market liberalism tells us
we are masters beholden to none, but then it enslaves us in the awful isolation
of consumerism and status anxiety. (Audience) Yeah! Millions of us are on to the con now. We are realizing now that a free-for-all is not the same
as freedom for all. (Applause) What truly makes us free
is being bound to others in mutual aid and obligation, having to work things out the best we can
in our neighborhoods and towns, as if our fates were entwined — because they are — as if we could not secede
from one another, because, in the end, we cannot. Binding ourselves this way
actually liberates us. It reveals that we are equal in dignity. It reminds us that rights
come with responsibilities. It reminds us, in fact, that rights properly understood
are responsibilities. The second reason
why civic religion matters now is that it offers the healthiest
possible story of us and them. We talk about identity politics today
as if it were something new, but it’s not. All politics is identity politics, a never-ending struggle
to define who truly belongs. Instead of noxious myths of blood and soil
that mark some as forever outsiders, civic religion offers everyone
a path to belonging based only a universal creed
of contribution, participation, inclusion. In civic religion, the “us”
is those who wish to serve, volunteer, vote, listen, learn,
empathize, argue better, circulate power rather than hoard it. The “them” is those who don’t. It is possible to judge the them harshly, but it isn’t necessary, for at any time, one of them
can become one of us, simply by choosing to live like a citizen. So let’s welcome them in. Whitney and Berto and Rafael
are gifted welcomers. Each has a distinctive, locally rooted way to make faith in democracy
relatable to others. Their slang might be Appalachian
or South Side or Hawaiian. Their message is the same: civic love, civic spirit,
civic responsibility. Now you might think
that all this civic religion stuff is just for overzealous
second-generation Americans like me. But actually, it is for anyone, anywhere, who wants to kindle the bonds of trust, affection and joint action needed to govern ourselves in freedom. Now maybe Civic Saturdays aren’t for you. That’s OK. Find your own ways to foster
civic habits of the heart. Many forms of beloved
civic community are thriving now, in this age of awakening. Groups like Community Organizing Japan, which uses creative performative
rituals of storytelling to promote equality for women. In Iceland, civil confirmations, where young people are led by an elder to learn the history
and civic traditions of their society, culminating in a rite-of-passage ceremony akin to church confirmation. Ben Franklin Circles in the United States, where friends meet monthly to discuss and reflect upon the virtues
that Franklin codified in his autobiography, like justice and gratitude
and forgiveness. I know civic religion is not enough to remedy the radical
inequities of our age. We need power for that. But power without character
is a cure worse than the disease. I know civic religion alone
can’t fix corrupt institutions, but institutional reforms
without new norms will not last. Culture is upstream of law. Spirit is upstream of policy. The soul is upstream of the state. We cannot unpollute our politics
if we clean only downstream. We must get to the source. The source is our values, and on the topic of values,
my advice is simple: have some. (Laughter) (Applause) Make sure those values are prosocial. Put them into practice, and do so in the company of others, with a structure of creed,
deed and joyful ritual that’ll keep all of you coming back. Those of us who believe in democracy
and believe it is still possible, we have the burden of proving it. But remember, it is no burden at all to be in a community
where you are seen as fully human, where you have a say
in the things that affect you, where you don’t need
to be connected to be respected. That is called a blessing, and it is available to all who believe. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. The cost of education is half your life. That's our primary flaw.
    Education should be free for roles we need. Need a doctor in this rural community? Pay a kids school and have him do a 4 year term there or something.

  2. I don’t even want to hear platitudes anymore. It’s never going to be enough. We the people… Blah blah blah blah, what they have done to the people is unacceptable. They discredit those with credibility, and credit the unscrupulous and profane. This guy is so scared, because he realizes the ship is moving fast and has no rudder. Full speed ahead! Full speed ahead!! It’s going to be awesome.

  3. Religion is a way to herd the populace without democratic mandate. If a particular activist cause is the right thing to work towards, you can justify it rationally. Using the shortcut of people's superstitions, emotions and social conditioning is manipulative. It's open to abuse and has been used in the past to lead to great harm.

    Only a benevolent world dictator could ensure that religion was used only for good. Religion will always be in conflict with democracy by its nature.

  4. If the govt wants our info then I want transparency in who's paying who and what taxes you pay. Otherwise theres no trust

  5. America is not a democracy, America is a Republic. Democracies always fail. As mentioned in a previous comment, "Socrates hit the dislike button".

  6. If Trump continues to get away with his tyrannical bullshit and wins reelection then the Republic is Dead. If Democrats win back Congress and the White House then we will still suffer Tyrannical Rule. The difference will be the disarmament of the populace. Both major political parties are tyrannical. The Republic is Dead.

  7. Having a little trouble creating order in the universe? If people were more civilized math would be less irrational.

  8. Just the thoughts and program I have been looking for. We all need to work together to become more aware and work towards beneficial changes to get Democracy back and all that it entails.Thank you Eric Liu !!

  9. One of this country’s problems is that we’ve hitched our democratic wagon to a document that is 229 years old and we make no effort to assure it evolves with us. What’s that called again, when you constantly do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Ah yes, insanity. For god sakes, there would be riots if we were told we couldn’t upgrade our phones yearly… ??‍♀️

  10. one man one vote is farce. if you look at the past 200 years a lot of tragedies were committed because a lot of politically uneducated ans naive people were attracted by populist and radical ideas.

  11. Why would people want to go BACK TO SLEEP? Democracy is where the majority gets to initiate force ( law, and the guns of government ) on the minority. Democracy is NOT noble. It is a savage paradigm from caveman days. It is time for us to evolve towards a voluntary society based on consent of the individual.

  12. A bit too preachy for my liking:
    1) Isn't his "Civic Religion" just morality? We just need to internationally agree what morality is because there are certain people who's morals are warped, mainly by religion
    2) What we have isn't Democracy, I like to call it elected autocracy, a very outdated democratic approximation. We need to go back to the definition of democracy and reinvent it with modern technology. You'll find it doesn't look anything like what we have now.

  13. DEMOCRACY means two things – ENSLAVEMENT & NEW WORLD ORDER!?!
    That's the reason why the Forefathers made USA a REPUBLIC from the beginning?! That is why, in the Pledge of Allegiance, they put in – "And to the REPUBLIC",✊?

  14. "I have no illusions", I'm just like, you know, going against knowledge because postmodernism rules!

  15. the us is not a democracy it never was! we are a republic, A democracy is a mob rule were any one can be burned at the stake. Democracy is anarchy! not freedom!

  16. Good point about 'civic religion'. It explains why democracy always sounds a bit like unicorn to me…. Too good to be true.

  17. The brainless civilization that sinks the world but at the same time sends satellite to Mars.

    Crazy civilization melting polar ice.

    Civilization invented and discovered nuclear weapons that could destroy mankind not only once but also thousands of times.

    The civilization of sin, rebellion and pleasure!


    My name is Eight Billion,

    I contain an angel and a devil struggling inside,

    The face I dress varies to survive,

    Always hungry for power, never enough to content,

    I look for “inner peace” whilst consumed by grudge,

    For sons, for daughters, for the self, please be advised, there long existed the new code, aside,

    Let’s consider having an appointment with the best stylist for a change,

    Experience, how exceptionally would you look better reflecting the best,

    Thus, if you manage to change yourself, repenting for good,

    The place called Earth might turn into Heaven, I assure,

    It is me, it is you, it is us will power to CHANGE.
    Please choose diffrent languages options.

  18. A nice idea, but a fruitless grasp at the lack of power of the people in our heavily flawed democracy.

  19. this presentation is so wrong. going forward with what he proposed will create MORE problems that can be solved.
    SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE. get informed, get educated, understand why it's necessary (history repeating ?)
    there is no "civic religion". it's two distinct entities. ->yes, "spirit" does exist outside of religion; but "civics" needs to be pragmatic, concrete & objective. religion tends to be the opposite. there's also dogma, that benefits no one (long term)

    in America, freedom of religion has become akin to mental illness. You don't want charia law (…) but insist on religious fundementalist value being written into law .

    The paradigm has become too great. The empire is in decline. this proposed confusion is just going to accelerate the demise.

    ALL religion is a spiritual crutch. it can help you stand-up when you cannot alone(but most humans have stood for centuries without it), give you a sense of community(generally at the expense of civil society) & calms elders to the inevitability of death.(when spirit permanently escapes earthly law ?)

    APOSTASY in civics is probably the better choice. because of dumb discourse like this, it will obviously become the only choice.

  20. Democracy never works. That is why the U.S. is a constitutional republic. A constitutional republic works. The U.S. is breaking under "mob rule". Just more bad advertising.

  21. I can’t believe all the people in the comments section who are totally against democratic rule
    or choice.
    They are either critical that people are capable of making informed choices or believe a small
    Minority is more capable of making such choices.
    Yet if this were true the world would be a utopia under monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship or some
    Other minority ruling tradition.

  22. Lots of people in the comment section are confused about republic and democracy. The US is a republic in which the elected leadership is chosen through the process of democracy. Meaning that the citizens exercise their political power through the democratic process of voting. The US specifically is a republic which uses the process of representative democracy. Meaning, citizens vote for representatives (electoral college) which will then vote to elect the president. In the US, do the citizens vote? Yes (barely), then it's a democracy. The US is a republic with a federal states government structure and uses democracy as it's political electoral process (in theory).

  23. Democracy, two foxes and a chicken deciding what to eat . The United States is a republic, well it's supposed to be anyways

  24. Asian guy talks Democracy lmao. I guess North Korean has the best model after all it is the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea'. Wheres a white person when you need one.

  25. He is addressing the core issue. An interested, concerned electorate when most of us are more interested and concerned with our career, our family, our community or our private interests. What we could use is a simplified, even profound, democracy, designed around human realities, which cannot be corrupted, except by mass corruption.
    To get there. Apply the KISS principle.

    If we can build up to the following we will have created an unbreakable democracy. The pinned post and its primary comments (II – VII) for the gist of the idea. (10 minutes reading)

  26. There is no freedom 😉 there is only an illusion of the such ha ha– read Plato and his The Allegory of the Cave   🙂

  27. “Belief”. There it is. The key word. Congrats, you replaced church with church of the government. Quickly now, go vote harder while they all pay themselves first. Yes, including Bernie

  28. I don't like this topic, what is democracy? America has strong democracy? China doesn't have? absolutely not!

  29. 大量充斥情感化的泛泛而谈但缺少具体实施细节的演讲仅对煽动听众有利,听完后感觉他在想屁吃

  30. Democracy should not be a "CIVIC RELIGION". It should be a "CIVIC LOGIC". We don't practice democracy because there's some creed. We do it because it is the best, or the least bad, system one can find so far.

  31. u hv a Chinese face and blood line, but u lost ur culture. pity. it makes u lost one day because ur cannot find ur root. the most important thing!

  32. For starter, STOP all regime change policies and END all wars. Second, start investing in education, science, environment, health and human qualities. If America and the West could do all that, then democracy would not be a delusion.

  33. Where part of the world actually have democracy? The “democracy” we used to believe only applies to white elites and never actually meant for poor and working class ppl especially for ppl of colors. We can’t really revive something that we has NEVER had.

  34. It seems like he spent most of the time out of the subject.
    BtW democracy is faulty and an illusion for fools. Just saying.

  35. LMAO! "revive your belief in democracy" sound's very similar to: "revive your belief in Santa Claus", or "revive your belief in God", or "revive your belief in justice", "revive your belief in human rights", "revive your belief in freedom", "revive your belief in politicians" (that was a good one!) or "revive your belief in human rationality", how about "revive your belief in what they say is the reason to invade other countries"? that's like "revive your belief in Peter Pan", or "revive your belief in the vote", how about revive your belief in the fucking system? So they can keep sleeping our conscience! Haaaaahahahahahaha, this post was soooo fucking funny!!!! The title is so funny that I didn't even watched the video!

  36. Reading the comments section is sure to confirm how frustrated our democracy is right now. Trust is at an all time low because humility and character continue to be lacking upstream of our government. "Power without character is a cure worse than the disease." In a democracy such as ours, we get the leaders we deserve. DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA by Alexis de Tocqueville might be the best resource for understanding the valuable contribution that the American form of Democracy (yes, as a Republic, we are not a pure Democracy) has made to the world thus far. It is indeed worth fighting for. But will we prove to develop the character to fight for it? Let us hope so.

    Mr. Liu, I can't stomach your idea of Civic Saturdays. Definitely not for me. But it may placate the many who are determined to rid their experience with the traditional world religions. You are right about civic morality flowing upstream of government. In our pluralistic society, religion (a shared sense of community values and morals at the civic level) has informed and always will inform our free democracy.

    Quote from the David Foster Wallace THIS IS WATER speech, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

  37. By using the word religion you have alienated a lot of people and destroyed your own case. Words have meaning, unfortunately you haven't learned that.

  38. This country has a very good leader. Your desire for a democracy, is slanted.
    It's not about civic Religion. Your close though.
    This country needs to get back to its roots, based in Christ. Beliefs in Hod is the only thing which will restore this country to sanity.

  39. The video actually reduced my faith in democracy. "Civic religion" just reminds me how actual religion is destroying democracy worldwide

  40. This guy is amazing, I am appalled at the plummeting of secular democratic values in my country but this gives me hope. Hats off to him!

  41. You know what's wrong with society? Not enough tribalism. – said communist/fascist would-be-dictator ever and this guy

  42. Democracy is still here because checks & balances are keeping trump from doing absurd things (travel ban, military ban, etc)

  43. Have some values is good advice. But I would add, have some good values. Building communities with healthy common good values is always going to be the path forward.

  44. True Democracy, as it was explained to me in school, is not possible with humans I hear and see today. they are too stupid, too arrogant, too obsessive, too…well, individual. nevermind that the concept could only properly work in small areas. where everyone indeed can have a say in things. beyond that we'd need councils, with representatives…and that way, as we've seen, lies madness.

  45. The humans have learned to take money from one person (someones labor) and give it to themselves through voting.

  46. Democracy is just Monotheism derivative. Capitalists prefer Democracy because politicians and media are more easy to control in a democracy.

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