THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Florence, Italy) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 21, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE THIRD WAY CONFERENCE SESSION TWO: EQUALITY AND OPPORTUNITY Palazzo Vecchio Florence, Italy
2:45 P.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first let me -- excuse me. I would like to compliment Professor Meny on his paper, which was presented to this conference, and on his remarks.
I think I should begin by noting that he quoted that wonderful section from Machiavelli, where he says something to the effect that there is nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things. The next part of the quote is also very important, where Machiavelli goes on to say, that is so because the people who will gain from the change are uncertain of their benefit; but the people who will lose are absolutely sure of the consequences and will go to any lengths to avoid them. So that calls for a little humility here in our enterprise.
But let me say the points that Yves Meny made were the following: democracy is an unfinished business, still to be perfected -- I agree with that; democracies will be different, depending on the circumstances they face and their cultural and historical difference -- I agree with that; we need transnational civil society institutions to bring mutuality and interdependence and responsibility to the fore -- I certainly agree with that; and we will have to have through all these differences a reaffirmation of fundamental rights -- and I agree with that.
Let me say what I think we know about all this. First of all, I think it is not an accident that we have the flourishing of a new economy that is based on knowledge and individual entrepreneurialism and creativity at the very time when, for the first time in history, more than half the world's people live under governments of their own choosing. I think there is a connection between the primacy of the citizen and the equality of individuals, and the way this economy works so well in successful democracies.
Secondly, I think the fact that we now have democracies makes it even more important that we be committed to universal education -- and not just technical education, but the kind of education that makes for good citizenship: the liberal arts, education in logic and reasoning and judgment, understanding different cultures, and making reasoned arguments. If you're going to have democracies make good decisions in difficult times -- not just when everything is going well -- the importance of universal education, and not narrowly defined education, is greater than at any time in all of human history.
Thirdly, I very much agree with the point which was made about the need for transnational institutions. I say all the time in the United States that we are very fortunate that at this moment in history we have a lot of prosperity, and we have a lot of influence. But we should make no mistake -- nothing lasts forever. We should be humble, we should be responsible and we should recognize that we live in an increasingly interdependent world, where it is important that we both assume and receive obligations and cooperation.
The last point I would like to make is that when we talk about the perfection of democracy and when we talk about the different cultures, one of the things that I think we have to reaffirm is that, in the world in which we live, democracy is far more than majority rule; it is also majority rule within given restraints of power which recognize minority rights and individual rights -- whether they are religious rights, whether they are the rights of women as well as men or given ethnic groups or homosexuals or any other discrete group in society.
It seems to me that if you look at all the troubles in the world we're having over racial and ethnic and religious and travel turmoil, the most effective democracies that will do best with the modern economy are those that not only have majority rule but very clear, unambiguous and passionate commitments to the protection of the rights and the interests of minorities.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 2:50 P.M. (L)