Democracy seems to be in retreat, Madeleine K. Albright told an engaged crowd of students and others Thursday at Westminster College.
But the former U.S. Secretary of State urged her audience to help democracy succeed, particularly on a global scale.
“We should do everything possible to help new and struggling democracies earn public trust by providing basic services, fighting corruption, investing in their citizens and building infrastructure that enables prosperity,” Albright said during this year’s John Findley Green Foundation lecture.
The lecture was the final event of the Hancock Symposium, held in a nearly full Champ Auditorium at the college in Fulton. The symposium promotes an understanding of economic and social problems on an international level. Previous lecturers have included Harry Truman and Bernie Sanders.
Albright explained her connection to Missouri at the beginning of her talk. A graduate of Wellesley College, she said she worked at The Rolla Daily News while her husband was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.
“I have a deep affection for the state of Missouri, in part because it’s where I got my first job and because it gave us the gift of Harry Truman,” she said.
Later, Albright reflected on the early years of her term as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the post. She was appointed in 1997 and served until 2001 in the aftermath of the Cold War, where the U.S. remained as the world’s leading super power.
She was the last secretary of State of the 20th century and the first of the 21st century.
“At the dawn of the 21st century, our overriding goal was to bring nations closer together, around some of the ideas Churchill had talked about in his speech,” she said, referring to “The Iron Curtain” speech he made in Fulton in 1946.
She remembered welcoming the prime ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to Missouri, where the documents admitting them to NATO were signed on the table Harry Truman used to authorize the Marshall Plan.
Albright was born in Prague and immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1948.
She frequently mentioned the importance of bringing nations together and reminding Americans that they belong to a world community.
“Most Americans understand that what happens in the world affects almost every aspect of our lives,” she said. “They also understand that there’s hardly a major challenge in the world today that does not require like-minded countries to work together for the benefit of all.”
Albright reassured those with doubts about the direction of our government that freedom cannot be discarded.
“The goal of most is to make democracy work better, not to abandon the framework of freedom,” Albright said.
Whenever the country has been threatened by those who wish us harm, our identification with freedom has provided an advantage, she said.
“We need to once again seize this advantage. But to do that, we need leaders who see our democratic values not as a burden we must bear, but an essential identity we must proclaim,” Albright said.
She appealed to students to recognize that they are more globally oriented than their predecessors. But they could choose one of two paths forward.
“In a decade or two from now, you could be known as neo-isolationists who allowed tyranny and lawlessness to rise again. Or as those who solidified the global triumph of democratic principles,” she said.
Today’s students could be the generation that allowed technology to drive a wedge between nations, or visionaries who harvest technology to unite people and expand freedom, Albright told the crowd.
“The isolationists were wrong in the 1930s, and they’re wrong now.”