Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Democracy in America: How the Big Lie Rolls On and On

I get democracy.  It is a set of political institutions that allows the demos, otherwise known as the multitudes, otherwise known as the people, to self-rule.  By its very nature it is opposed to the rule of the one (monarchy, dictator, emperor) and the rule of the many (aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy).

Essentially, we can trace the origins of democracy to the golden age of Athens.  In the words of John Dunn, one of the world’s leading political theorists: “what the term means is that the people hold power and exercise rule.  That was what it meant at Athens, where the claim bore some relation to the truth.  That is what it means today, when it very much appears a thumping falsehood: a bare-faced lie.”

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Thumping falsehood?

Bare-faced lie?

If this were the case, it seems that an incredibly large number of people have been taken in to believe that the United States of America is the world’s greatest democracy.

It takes a slick rhetorical sleight of hand to get that many people to fall for such a big whopper.

So how do they do it?  What’s the trick?

Well, dusting off the cover of a book on rhetoric, what do we find?

Here it is, synecdoche:  a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole or the whole for a part.

Let’s see, in this case, holding elections, a small part and the least democratic of Athenian political institutions reserved for choosing military leaders, is substituted for all of the Athenian political practices that taken together locate power and rule with the people.

So, in other words, if a country like the US holds a lot of elections, it must be democratic?

Excuse me but that’s one mighty big leap of pretzel logic.

Yeah, but it works.

Through in lot of flag waving, asking for God’s benediction, images of virile youth ready to die for their nation and most Americans are more than happy not to insist that their meaningful participation in the process of governance does not extend beyond the time it takes to cast a ballot.

It’s part of the American dream.

You got to be asleep to fall for it.  

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