Over the years, Jefferson became less optimistic about the wisdom of the people, but in the last letter of his long life, he summed up his life's vision: "All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man." He hoped America's experiment with democracy would be "the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition has persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."
In 1992, it was still possible to believe Jefferson's prediction could one day come true. Many among us thought that the "blessings of freedom and democracy" might ultimately reach all areas of the globe.
But 16 years later, can we still believe this? I think most of us have moved at least slightly toward Hamilton's darker view of human nature. Can we still believe, for example, that Jeffersonian democracy will one day arrive and then survive throughout Africa and the Middle East? The painful failures of the Iraq war have sowed substantial doubts: "Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well," wrote Danielle Pletka in The New York Times recently. "I was wrong. There is no freedom gene...."
History suggests that culture, not genetics, determines fitness for democracy. And history suggests we can pinpoint what kind of culture is required – a culture of the Enlightenment.
We in the West take the Enlightenment for granted. But it took centuries of brave, stubborn people, beginning in the 16th century, to push back against the ignorance and superstition in which all mankind had lived, to bring forth in isolated centers of learning a world based on reason and logic.