Toward a Democratic New Order

Toward a Democratic New Order

Toward a Democratic New Order

Toward a Democratic New Order

Excerpt

Long ago Socrates discovered that the simplest concepts are frequently the most difficult to define, largely because most people do not feel the need for definition. It was assumed in Athens, as it has been assumed ever since, that there are some ideals so obvious that they cannot be challenged, and do not need to be examined. This was particularly true in relation to those words that were on everyone's lips. Justice was talked about by the man in the street, who never stopped to ask what justice was. Meaning was taken for granted, and it was a part of Socrates' service to mankind to make it clear--at the cost of much unpopularity--that it could not be taken for granted. The unexamined life is not worth living, and the unexamined word is not worth using.

Democracy in the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth was in danger of falling into the category of unexamined words. The danger has passed; we know now that the meaning of democracy can no longer be taken for granted. The challenge of dire events has made that impossible, and such phrases as "democracy on trial," "the crisis of democracy," and "the survival of democracy" express a new and profound concern that is in marked contrast to the easy assumptions of an earlier period.

It may be said that at the end of the nineteenth century democracy was the accepted political ideal of the Western world. In many of the Western nations it had clearly not triumphed in actual practice, but this could be explained in terms of a time lag. Nation-states that did not have democratic constitutions were nevertheless on their way to democracy. They were politically backward, but in time changes would certainly come, and no one doubted that the changes would be in a democratic direction. A movement toward democratic government was progress; a movement away from it was reaction. In the realm of ideas, so it was assumed, democracy had triumphed. In time practice would catch up with ideas!

The last and best known frontal attack upon this general assumption in the nineteenth century was made by Sir Henry Maine in his book Popular Government, first published in 1885. The arguments of that book aimed at establishing three points: (1) "Popular Government has proved itself to be extremely fragile." (2) "It is, of all kinds of government, by far the most difficult." (3) "The perpetual change which . . . it appears to demand is not in har-

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