Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 23 Summary

The Democratic Process

“… This must be our task
In heaven, this our delight …”

Before democracy can sprout roots, it needs to germinate. People who share a common interest meet in small groups. That common interest is democracy, its meaning, its purpose, its possibilities. There is an unstructured exchange of ideas. There is no particular expected outcome. These discussions are exploratory and expressive. The group is tolerant of different personalities and accepting of different ideas. Respect for person and thought breeds trust and mutual growth.

We connect to each other as part of a group as a consequence of our commonly held beliefs and visions. Yet we do not fully know these beliefs and visions until we talk to one another about them. As we formulate our thoughts and hear ourselves talk we learn for the first time just how important our beliefs and visions are to ourselves and to others.

Conflict is essential to life. Where there is true democracy, it is resolved not through compromise but through creative redefinition of the problem. Democracy is inclusive, inclusive of ideas and people. Democracy is open-ended. The outcome is uncertain.

The values we prize so much—freedom, justice, equality—do not exist in the abstract, they are a creation, the outcome of our interaction with each other in the democratic process. Without that critical interaction, they cease to exist.

Actions are political and democratic when we are all actively engaged in taking an action that has consequences for all of us. Democratic political action is neither arbitrary nor whimsical. It is exercised in response to a common need and has as its goal the resolution on of that common need. It requires our active engagement on a sustained basis.