Urging people to think like Socrates and engage in critical thinking, best-selling author, public intellectual and professor Cornel West, public intellectual and professor, in an animated and humorous tone, delivered his lecture “Democracy Matters” last night in the Special Events Center.
The lecture was sponsored by the University Lecture Series and the Black Emphasis Month Committee.
“I’m thrilled. He’s bright and charming and brings the issues of the day to our campus,” said President Judy Genshaft, who said she has always enjoyed hearing him speak. “He’s a very important higher education figure of today,” she said.
Provost Renu Khator calls West the most provocative modern author and expressed her delight in having him as a guest. “(West’s) being here today to speak about ‘Democracy Matters’ will help us take another look at democracy,” said Khator, explaining that his best-selling book Race Matters helped change the discourse on race in the country.
West’s lecture paralleled the theme of his latest best-selling book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism.
“I plan to say things that upset and unravel you; that’s what I came to Tampa for,” said West, who is known for his provocative and controversial philosophies.
“‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ said Socrates,” West declared in prophetic manner. “Any discussion about democracy should begin on a Socratic note.”
During his speech, West asserted that a true democracy is one in which ordinary people think for themselves. “No democracy can survive without a significant slice of humans mustering up the courage to think critically,” West said.
Over the course of his lecture, West asserted that before America can develop into a truly democratic nation, there must be a critical examination of the “mortalities” and “realities” of the past. “American culture thrives on denying the serious and substantial,” said West, explaining that there has not been a complete critical examination or recognition given to the atrocities that took place on American soil. “Terrorism is nothing new to America,” he said, making reference to the enslavement of African-Americans, Jim Crow laws, lynching and displacement of Native Americans, describing them all as forms of terrorism. With this in mind, West argued that Americans must critically explore these aspects of American history in order to support a true democracy, in which all — the good, the bad and the ugly — is examined.
After briefly commenting on education, religion and American foreign policy, West asserted that Americans are becoming more market-driven and that corporations are shaping the context in which politicians operate, subsequently making it difficult for ordinary people to gain material prosperity. “I’m not trying to trash America; I’m lovingly, Socratically telling the truth. Democracy is about awakening ordinary people.”