The Moral Burden of Memory: The Role of National Narratives in Democracy Building


  • Armen T. Marsoobian



This essay is a meditation on memory and democracy. I will argue that democracy as a way of life is conditioned upon how well a community remembers its past. The concept of democracy as a way of life, as distinct from a particular form of governance, has its origins in the political philosophy of John Dewey. I will approach this issue in a somewhat roundabout manner. In the first part, I will examine a series of Dewey’s writings from the early 1920s that resulted from his visit of the newly established Republic of Turkey. I contend that the se­rious shortcomings in Dewey’s analysis of Turkish state nation-building highlight deficiencies in his otherwise laudable and nuanced democratic theory. In the second part, I provide a more sustained analysis of the role of collective memory within a community, especially one that aspires to a democratic way of life. I will then conclude with a few reflections upon issues arising from Turkish collective memory as it relates to the Armenian Genocide.


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Blustein, Jeffrey. The Moral Demands of Memory, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Dewey, John. The Middle Works of John Dewey, 1899-1924, Vol. 10: 1916-1917. Ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980. Print. (Hereafter cited: MW10)
Lamprou, Alexander. Nation-Building in Modern Turkey: The 'People's Houses', the State and the Citizen, London: I. B. Tauris, 2015.
Obama, Barack. “Remarks by President Obama to the Turkish Parliament, April 6, 2009.” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (Accessed 25 December 2015.)




How to Cite

Marsoobian, A. T. (2015). The Moral Burden of Memory: The Role of National Narratives in Democracy Building. WISDOM, 5(2), 25–34.