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Tracking Orwellian Change: "Democracy"
Democracy may die in darkness, but its new connotations also squirm under the light
In honor of the recent infuriating Grayzone episode, and at suggestion of Racket readers like Jim Geschke (of “Quoth the Maven”), a term whose journey is not from left to right, but meaningful to meaningless:
Whatever we are and Russia is not. Stops at nothing to defend itself, boldly casting norms aside to preserve norms. Contact Aurum Speakers Bureau to hear Anne Applebaum speak on its behalf. Synonymous with the “rules-based international order,” even though the “international order” views attachment to democratic sovereignty as nationalism. Is already “on the ballot,” and a t-shirt, for 2024. Paradoxically those who cast ballots for “democracy” are more inclined to wonder lately if there is too much of it here. Incidentally whether or not there is too much democracy at home may be discussed, but whether there is too little in places like Ukraine may not. The modern term democracy promotion, which even the Brookings Institute says may “rely on cooperation with undemocratic governments” and has connotations of regime change, is a near-perfect antonym of the term it replaced, now in disrepute: self-determination.
Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America admired our tendency to treat one another as equals, but worried people here might eventually become so self-satisfied that they’d allow themselves to be taken over by “a network of petty, complicated rules.” Said rules would be administered by a bureaucratic sector whose only issue with democracy is that everyone feels equally entitled to participate. The Americans de Tocqueville met believed in the literal etymology derived from Greek, demos + kratein, “the people” and “rule” — as Carl Sandburg put it, “The People, Yes.” A new model, described by academics Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels as “more persuasive to political scientists,” envisions democracy as leadership selection, in which the uninformed electorate abandons unrealistic dreams of actual governance and merely appraises those qualified to rule.
Socrates whined about all this in his “Parable of the Ship,” when he told Adeimantus it made no sense to hand a vessel to sailors, “every one… of opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation.” Every idiot an expert! This vision of democracy was naturally commandeered by the New Yorker after Trump:
Democracy pitched self-rule and flipping off kings when Nazism, Communism, and Islamic fundamentalism were geopolitical opponents. Now the primary threat to democratic rule is another recently-bastardized term: populism. This has necessitated another full Orwellian inversion. The people rule is re-cast as The people sit, and while leaders like the positive marketing connotations of democracy, they increasingly can do without the messy specifics of constitutional governance — and hope we’ll learn to do the same.
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