Intellectuals on Democracy

After the reelection of Barack Obama as president of the US, the country remains more divided than ever. I began to reflect upon what the meaning of democracy is, or what it is supposed to be. So I turned to earlier authors who speculated about this subject and found a wealth of enlightening, albeit confusing wisdom.

“Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.” — Howard Zinn

“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.” — Plato

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” — Mahatma Gandhi

“The idea that each individual has intrinsic, God-given value and is of infinite worth quite apart from any social contribution — an idea most pagans would have rejected as absurd — persists today as the ethical basis of western law and politics. Our secularized western idea of democratic society owes much to that early Christian vision of a new society — a society no longer formed by the natural bonds of family, tribe, or nation but by the voluntary choice of its members.” — Elaine Pagels

“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of the morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.” — EB White

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