Dictating Democracy

By Barrow, Robin | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Dictating Democracy


Barrow, Robin, Journal of Thought


The paradox of dictating democracy, of enforcing freedom, of extorting emancipation.

--Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (2004)

Introduction

I should confess at the outset that this is an unusual kind of paper in that it is not concerned to locate its argument in any particular intellectual tradition and takes certain fairly commonplace assumptions for granted. For instance, at the beginning of the first section I refer to four current political presumptions without providing chapter and verse to establish that they are current; in section four I refer to the fact that there are practical restraints on frank-speaking, but support the claim with only the barest of references; in section five I refer to the long history of interference in the government of others by the United States of America, citing some examples but without providing any detail, and, throughout, I rely on my own authority for what I have to say about Athenian democracy. The reasons for this are that, in my view, all these various claims are fairly uncontentious and that, more importantly, they serve here as premises (sometimes, indeed, mere background) to an argument, and my focus is on the argument set forth.

The crux of that argument is that the value of democracy does not lie in its institutions or its form so much as in other values that the institutions are supposed to serve, in particular equal representation of everybody's interests and freedom, which are themselves partly to be valued for the substantive good that they may contribute to. If this is broadly convincing, it follows that the mere creation of democratic structures is of no necessary importance. If this is broadly convincing, it also follows that education is important in at least two distinct respects: first, current understanding of the nature and value of democracy is confused and in part erroneous and we need to develop a better understanding of it in our schools; secondly, democracy is not likely to flourish in new soil, unless we also educate people in relation to the values that democracy subserves, and gradually initiate them into some experience of democratic ways (although, on this last point, I resist the conclusion that the argument commits us to an entirely democratically organized schooling).

Democracy

Currently, political rhetoric and practice, throughout the western world, but particularly and most obviously in the United States, are based upon four seemingly unexceptionable propositions: (i) "democracy is an intrinsically good thing," (ii) "we (the speaker) have the truest democracy," (iii) "it is morally legitimate to impose democracy on others," and (iv) "we can effectively do so." What the connection between these various claims is supposed to be is not always entirely clear. Is the reasoning that since democracy is inherently good we are entitled to impose it on others, or is it perhaps that it is because we are the truest democracy that we have some right to dictate to others? Is it that we will succeed, because we are truly democratic, or that success is assured because of the intrinsic goodness in democracy? But in the end the questions of the precise nature and the coherence of the reasoning that links these propositions hardly matters, since each of the four claims is in itself extremely dubious.

Quite why the United States (or anywhere else) should assume that it represents the apotheosis of democracy is unclear. In order to establish any claim to be the quintessential X (e.g., democratic state), two conditions need to be met: there has to be a clear and unequivocal definition of X, and there has to be some evidence to support the contention that one meets the defining characteristics of X. In the case of the United States' claim to being the pre-eminent democracy there is an abundance of argument to suggest that it is not, at least in respect of the sort of criteria for democracy most commonly advanced. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dictating Democracy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.