History of debate – question, listen, explore
From its very beginnings, debate has been inextricably intertwined with the concept of open society. In ancient Athens, citizens gathered in forums to discuss and debate the most pressing issues of the day before casting their votes. Such debates were an integral part of the new form of government Athens was to bequeath to the world: democracy.
Unlike totalitarian and other undemocratic regimes, where a limited set of ideas are imposed as absolute truths, democratic societies depend upon the free and open exchange of ideas. Indeed, it may be said that true democracy cannot exist without debate. For democracy to function, the values that debate encourages - reason, tolerance, the careful weighing of evidence, etc. - must be cherished and nurtured. But even within societies that restrict open discussion, debate can teach young people that no one person or government possesses the ultimate truth.
Today, from London to Kyrgyzstan, from The Netherlands and Belgium to South East Europe and the Middle East & North Africa, IDEA debates are gaining ground as forums for promoting democratic values. Just as Socrates spurred his listeners to examine their assumptions 2,500 years ago, IDEA is today encouraging students around the world to question, listen to each other and to explore even the most volatile subjects openly and in the spirit of tolerance and cooperation.