Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 16 Summary

The Battlefield after the Battle

“… all the ground
With shiver’d armour strown, and on a heap
Chariot and charioteer lay overturn’d …”

History, one could say, is nothing but a vast battlefield, after the battle is over, a mountain of corpses made up of men, women and children from around the world and across time who were slaughtered to satisfy the warrior in his quest for blood and glory. If this is the case, then it behooves us to get to know these warriors personally. For it is by understanding their role in history that we might come to see that the violence is avoidable and that it is an obstacle to the formation of governments designed to serve the common good.

Writers of history thrive on the moments of “glory.” Their enthusiasm for their subject matter can easily blind us to the fact that the killing is senseless and that the misery it engenders is gratuitous. Alexander, known as “The Great,” Genghis Kahn and Napoleon are just a few of the “heroes” whose stories fill the history books.

If one studies the battlefield and digs beneath the rubble one often finds that what is lost is not just human life but a democratic way of living. For example, Kievan Rus was a medieval state dominated by the city of Kiev and to a lesser degree, Novgorod, to the north. It was inhabited by Slavs, a peaceful people who were neither militarily organized nor well armed. The Golden Age of Kiev in the eleventh century saw the acceptance of Christianity and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code, the Russkaya Pravda, whose tone and concerns foreshadow the Magna Carta issued in England, almost two hundred years later in 1215.

Kievan society lacked the class institutions that were typical of West European feudalism. Autocratic, aristocratic, and democratic institutions existed side by side. The democratic element was represented by the veche, or town assembly, which all freemen could attend. The Mongol invasions of 1237-1240 obliterated this burgeoning democracy and drove the civilization north to Moscow where tyranny thrived. Violence was injected into Russian society in heavy doses by the Mongol horde. A burgeoning social structure was crushed. Russia never recovered.