Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained
The True Meaning of Democracy
Some time ago, I read a book by Kenneth Dolbeare entitled, Political Change in the United States: A Framework of Analysis.1 At the end of the book, Dolbeare suggests to the reader that he design a new form of government. This new government, a government that has never existed before would suit the whims and fancies of the reader. There were no constraints, no guides to work with. This was a most unusual thought, at once both intimidating and empowering. How could on possibly presume to create a new government, if only in one’s imagination? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a wonderfully liberating experience to engage in such an exercise? New possibilities would open up. One would see the current government through different eyes. The future would seem brighter, seen in the light of this new government.
Well, I took Dolberare at his word. I did exactly as he suggested. I borrowed from Aristotle his use of the word, “virtue” and proceeded to create a new form of government. For Aristotle, “virtue” meant the excellence of a thing. The virtue of a knife is its sharpness. The virtue of a work horse is the ability to pull heavy loads. Suppose I wanted to create a democracy, what would be its virtue? As I understood the word then, and still do, the virtue of democracy as a form of government is its inclusion of the maximum number of citizens in the deliberative and legislative process.
This then became my goal, to design a government that had this virtue. It would be a government that included hundreds of thousands maybe even millions of citizens, not as passive observers, but as actual governors. There would be no other considerations. I would not worry if my new government were feasible or even desirable. I would not include any other constraints. I would simply proceed with my new government, heedless and free of any second guessing.
For the past twenty years or so, I have been living with this imaginary government in my head. It has cast a warm glow of anticipation and optimism as I lived out the harsh realities of how government has indeed been behaving, in current reality. Though I took no steps to realize this new government I had created, it nonetheless existed for me as an alternate reality to the government that did exist. 2 I offer “PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED: The True Meaning of Democracy” to the reader in the hope that he will join me in my journey to the land of imaginary government, where new possibilities exist as realities.
June 15, 2011