Defining Democracy

I began to write about politics because our society’s political language has devolved into a dangerous state. For example, Americans will often use a specific term without considering its meaning: the concept is asserted using glib, unexamined assumptions, rather than relying on a thoughtful investigation into its definition.

The word democracy falls into this trap.

Our use of the term democracy follows a pattern that’s similar to the unthinking use of terms I’ve addressed in previous posts, and will revisit below. But it also differs from those cases in ways that must be discussed over a series of inquiries.

In addition, many folks attempt to frame democracy as the cornerstone of our culture. This makes its misuse far more dangerous than the misuse of other terms …… and therefore requires more clarification.

Before, diving into democracy’s definition, a summary of some previously debunked terms might be helpful. For example, the word centrist is typically a self-labeling attempt by someone who holds great power, but would like for others to regard the exercise of that power as benign. Another term – non-partisan – is sometimes used with similar intent. But it can also be a product of naivete: many of those who self-label as “non-partisan” simply don’t know what else to call themselves.

The misuse of democracy differs from the misuse of these terms, as it does from most other political terminology.

For example, the confusion surrounding many words can be traced back to the one-dimensional left-right spatial model …… a construct that can be proven false through a series of simple exercises. The term centrist held a distinct position on that model, and was therefore demonstrably false. Non-partisan fails to be a productive political concept for similar reasons.

Those two examples have a direct relationship with the spatial model because they represent specific locations. In contrast, democracy’s relationship to the spatial construct is indirect. Democracy isn’t a position; it’s a process that links the various positions of our political spectrum. This distinction – process versus position – makes the analysis of democracy more subtle than the analysis of most other political terms.

The political process follows three stages. It begins with conflict. Conflict can then only be addressed productively in one way: with dialogue. When a commitment to dialogue has been made, sound decisions can be forged. Democracy attempts to address the three stages of this process. It grapples with conflict, dialogue, and decisions.

A pragmatic structure for addressing these three stages can be constructed in any number of ways. Therefore, a democracy can be constructed with many frameworks.

I’ve presented a basic level of abstraction here. But the typical reference to “democracy” rarely rises to this remedial level. Instead, we rely on simplistic assumptions and cheer-leading mantras.

The next series of posts will examine these misapprehensions and other dangerous confusions. But an understanding of democracy will always return to the processes that occur between positions on the political circle.

…… How does democracy address conflict?

…… How does democracy facilitate dialogue?

…… How can democracy forge sound decisions?

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