Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 2 Summary

False Friends

“…By falsities and lies the greatest part Of mankind they corrupted….”

Unfortunately, many of those who write about democracy, political philosophers, academics and the like have little genuine enthusiasm for their subject matter. They cringe at the thought that the citizenry might take itself up by its own bootstraps. I am referring to these writers and thinkers who appear to align themselves with the democratic cause while simultaneously undermining its foundation as “false friends.”

Eighteenth century philosophers in France and England, writers like Rousseau, Montesquieu and Locke were often cited by those involved in writing the United States Constitution. None of them are true friends of democracy. In theory they would seem to be. In practice they are not.

James Madison has been hailed by many as the father of the American constitution. Certainly he will offer support for democracy. Unfortunately, not.  He explicitly rejects the possibility of “reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights.” It is he who uttered the oft quoted dictum, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

Alexis De Tocqueville visited America when he was twenty-seven years old. His insights into the American mentality are as valid today as the day he penned them. De Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of the American experiment. Most of his criticisms were directed at the consequences of social equality, not political equality. His remedy was to introduce an aristocratic element into the American equation. 

John Stuart Mill was an ardent advocate of civic democracy, not political democracy. He argued eloquently on behalf of the individual’s right to self-expression. He also expressed the belief that the best government is one in which sovereignty is exercised by the community as a whole. However, in this representative government, the representatives are not to advocate for the wishes of those inferior to them, i.e. those who elected them. They are to speak for themselves, the only ones fit to govern, the intellectually elite.

Writing in the twentieth century, Joseph Schumpter believed like Mill, that the electorate was not clever enough to govern. He saw democracy as a competition among leaders for ascendancy. Once the leader was chosen it was the responsibility of the voter to retreat into the shadows and let the politician do his job.