Published Humanitas, Volume XVI, No. 1, 2003
Some years ago I began to notice that, during question periods following public speeches, otherwise rational human beings who were clearly arguing for opposing points of view were increasingly inclined to cite “democracy” in defence of their positions. This was disturbing because it was obvious that this venerable word was only being introduced to shut off debate prematurely. The clear intention was to make it impossible for opponents to reject a claim without also rejecting democracy—a grievous heresy nowadays.
So there it was. Before my very eyes “democracy” was becoming a word of ill-repute—a term picked up and used vigorously for the advantages of the moment, then dropped without further consideration. I soon began to wonder how this cheapening of the word might be linked to the cheapening of the underlying concept, and how this in turn might be connected to another question—namely, why do we Westerners, who have historically celebrated a self-reliant individualism within our local communities and just as defiantly deplored state collectivism, now celebrate both of these things in a new and paradoxical form of democracy that someone has aptly described as “libertarian socialism”? This is a very recent conception of democracy, barely a half century old, under which individuals have come to believe that they have all the rights and states have all the duties.