‘Democracy’ by and for the Elites

from The Wall Street Journal,

The word, endlessly repeated, is "democracy." But the meaning is precisely the opposite.

The word “democracy” no longer indicates much about popular rule. The word now merely refers to a hypothetical goal that gives those who invoke its holy name a mandate to do just about anything—even the opposite of what the people desire.

America is still breathing the musket fumes of 1776, and words that play to the imagination of America’s founding—“freedom,” “democracy,” “free speech”—are sources of enormous power for the apparatchiks warring, pillaging and censoring on behalf of those values. These abstract words help to maintain the facade of self-government.

“War is peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength” from Orwell’s “1984” comes to mind, but there is a long tradition in the West of this paradoxical interpretation of democracy. Many of the most vocal champions of democracy, from Thomas Jefferson to our own day, have been advocates of this Rousseauean inversion, using the word “democracy” as justification for what would otherwise be naked authoritarianism. Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that eventually an “immense and tutelary power” would replace genuine popular rule in America. The people would accept their tutelage, he says, because of their belief that they “themselves hold the end of the chain.” The soft despots today will undoubtedly continue to use the democratic lexicon even as they transform the fiber of the republic. What better way to pre-empt the opposition than simply to declare it “a threat to our democracy”?

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