What does democracy mean? (no, really, what does it mean?)

Posted on Posted in Felsefe

The world works in mysterious ways. Now I must find out the answers whether they exist or not!!! #direngeziparki #dayangeziparki


Juggling philosophy and politics has never been easy for me. Demanding precision from a discourse so I really understand what’s going on has always escaped the political ones. Over the years, one of my favorite argumentative tactics (or a conversation killer) has been to ask for a definition of “democracy.”

Go ahead, ask yourself now and demand precision. Do a google search here on “what does democracy mean?” if you want to cheat. After all if we are willing to die and kill for “it” we must truly know what “it” is. No?

I know now that this has been a real problem for such a long time that George Orwell wrote about it in 1946.  I am not alone in thinking that we have no clue and this is more insidious than most. Kind of like your own mother hypnotizing you to think serial killing is good.

Excerpt (read the whole thing here) from Horizon, April 1946; Modern British Writing ed. Denys Val Baker, 1947 by George (yes, him) Orwell. Emphasize added:

“Meaningless words.. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding features of Mr X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”


So seriously. I do not know what you mean by democracy. Is it liberalism? Market forces? Republic? Ruling 50.001%? Protecting 49.999%? I am confused about my own definition, and not for the lack of trying. So I cannot die or kill for it.

“Freedom” is even worse especially in countries that are not yet “democratic.” But I don’t have an Orwell essay on that. I have to write it myself – some other day…


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