Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 15 Summary

Democracy As Myth

“… with high words, that bore
Semblance of worth, not substance …”

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that democracy took on mythic proportions. Largely this was for purposes of propaganda. In an age where bare-fisted imperialism was no longer socially acceptable, a rational was needed to justify the conquest. Democracy was the ideal choice. It had great rhetorical power. And it was universally accepted as a desired outcome. Populations from around the world embraced the word and longed for its liberating benefits.

It was at this time that academics assumed an important role in defining the meaning of democracy and that the phrase “liberal democracy” took on its modern meaning. “Liberal democracy” offers itself as an ideology, while implying that it is a form of government, which it isn’t. As a consequence, those who would choose to install a genuinely democratic form of government are confused as to the true meaning of the word democracy. In the name of “liberal democracy” they are denied the option of self-government.

Matters are further complicated when the word “republic” is introduced into the conversation. The meaning of this word is vague. It has been applied to governments of dramatically different nature and is most often used as a palliative. The hope is that people will be content to live in a “republic” and not be too literal in demanding a democracy.