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Democracy Now By Silver The word democracy is purposefully used today to mean things far different from what

it originally meant. Democracys meaning has had several things done to it. In one way it could be seen as having been expanded, yet it has also been altered fundamentally and then narrowed back down. This transformation begins in classical Greece with the original democracy and ends today with a term far removed from what it once meant. Democracy is now a term used in politics as justification, and is something that the western world thinks it possesses. The origins of democracy begin in ancient Greece over two millennia ago, and even then democracy was not pure. To idealists with their heads in the sand and those who believe in pure democracy, it is a government that is formed entirely of the people whom it governs. That some people view this as pure democracy is evidence in itself that it has steadily lost meaning over time. This form of democracy has never existed, yet people reference Classical Greece as a time when it did. Aristotle did say, Democracy [is] when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers. Unfortunately the situation he describes didnt happen. Even then the government was not of the people, it was of some people. The only people who could vote in government affairs were male citizen landowners. This means that at that time, a majority of the population had no say in matters. Women, slaves, and people without land were excluded from government affairs. The reality of what Greek democracy was means that those who believe in the pure democracy believe in a narrowed down version of what its roots were. Even this supposedly basic definition is an alteration of what history presents. From this

Wood 2 disreputable beginning in Greece it is easy to see how democracy has had a penchant for change over the centuries, leaving people with the nearly meaningless word it is today. The term democracy has come into its own as a living thing since the dawn of the United States. The revolutionary war was fought for the democratized ideal; because of this it is ingrained into the American psyche that democracy is true and great in every way. This is where things become questionable, and one must begin to doubt whether the initial rulers of the United States actually valued democracy for its ideology or for the support it garnered among the people. From history itself the only valid assertion is that they did not value democracy for its pure form, and only for the sake of the peoples support. Their real opinions appear in comments by Alexander Hamilton: real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy at the Debates of the Federal Convention (1787), and John Adams: Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide appear in their own discussions of democracy with peers. Following the success of the revolution, the founding fathers established a representative republic, not a democracy. The decisions of the nation were left in the hands of elected representatives, not the voters themselves. Ironically however, once again neither women nor slaves could vote. This will come back later when the civil war come into play. In truth the founding fathers must take a large portion of the blame for the word democracy meaning almost nothing of substance today. They offered it as payment to those who supported their endeavors, and in return gave them nothing. They gave them a republic, and democracy lost its inherent truth of being by the people.

Wood 3 Abraham Lincolns iconic statement that democracy is a government of the people, by the people, for the people fails to hold sway when you consider that he was a president. The irony is overwhelming. He is the ruler of a democratic nation, yet in idealized democracy there is no single person who commands others.. This is because the nations forefathers changed the meaning of the word democracy. They removed the initial meaning of it, and widened the scope of what it included to include elected officials. In this way the definition expanded to encompass the characteristics of a republic. The term by this point in history already had very little meaning. To further take away meaning from the term, one must look at the irony intrinsic in the Civil War, and the literature and justification that accompanied it. The justification was that the freedom of slaves was in the name of democracy, the democracy toted by the Greeks of old. If they had known that the Greeks of old owned slaves, they never would have raised the flag of democracy and taken it to war. The 20th century was an era of warfare in the name of democracy. Beginning with the Second World War and continuing until the wars in the Middle East, the ever-present justification of violence was liberation and the self-righteous backbone of reassurance was democracy. During the 20th century the word democracy lost all of its remaining meaning. When war came to the forefront of society, democracy began being used as a political buzzword, with the heart of a nation behind it. We entered Korea as the voice of democracy and Vietnam as the bringers of democracy. How does this work? How can we be the voice of democracy? How can you bring democracy to people? If it is a government of the people, then you cannot bring it to them; if it is a government by the people, you cannot speak for them. From Vietnam onwards, democracy has become the byword of the

Wood 4 U.S. State Department. It is used in all manner of things, and the media touts it as a ray of golden sunshine in the face of oppression. In the past few decades there has been a definite change in the meaning of democracy in everyday speech. Its connotation has changed to the point where it is now spoken of meaning something completely different from what it originally meant. Now when we speak of democracy, we are referencing not a government by the people, of the people, for the people, but a situation where everyone is free, and has equal rights and there is some sort of unspecified voting process. This form of democracy is the one that is used constantly in modern foreign policy to justify everything from searching for weapons of mass destruction to starting a revolution in Tunisia. What does Tunisia want? It wants what the Western world thinks it has. Democracy, it seems, is among the most widely and unconsciously misused word in not only the English language, but around the world. It was hurled around the international stage as justification for being in Iraq, with President George W. Bush stating in 2005 A democratic Iraq will be a powerful setback to the terrorists who seek to harm our nation. Such comments are the epitome of democracy being used for public ratings. If the United States brought democracy to the region, then we delivered them a pile of nothing. We now seek to remove all threats to democracy from Iran. The recurring theme that must be noticed is one of broadness. If democracy can justify overthrowing a dictator in his own country and then moving into a country with a stable government to go after militant groups, how can we say that it is specific? That it actually means something? A search right now of democracy in the Oxford English Dictionary yields several results. The first one states In mod. use often more vaguely denoting a social state in

Wood 5 which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege. That the OED notes the vagueness of the term must be seen as some indicator of how much of the meaning has been lost. Not only has the meaning been lost, democracy itself is lost. Another glance as the OED entries for democracy yields the subentry democratism, or democracy as a principle or system. The entry for democratism simply states rare. While rare is speaking to how often it appears in writing, it also is a symbol for just how far from pure democracy the world is today, that it is so uncommon, and in turn how little modern democracy means.

Works Cited

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Adams, John. Letter to John Taylor. 15 Apr. 1814. MS. N.p.


Bush, George W. "The President's Radio Address." Address. Radio Address. White House, Washington D.C. 25 June 2005. The American Presidency Project. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.