The Founding Fathers created a new kind of democracy, one that has impacted regimes all around the world since the US Constitution became law. But since then the very word “democracy” has acquired both a positive connotation and multiple definitions. The standard definition is rule by the people, whether direct as in a town hall-style government or the representative republic the Founding Fathers espoused. But George Orwell makes provocative statements about the further meaning of that word in his essay “Politics and the English Language”:
In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.
The dictionary at answers.com has some surprising definitions, in addition to “rule by the people”:
• The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
• Majority rule.
• The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.
These meanings go a bit beyond “rule by the people” and explore what that rule theoretically leads to: social equality, respect, majority rule…hence the word’s positive connotation. But perhaps Orwell’s most provocative statement is that the defenders of all regimes take advantage of democracy’s meaning.
The question now is: when is a regime truly a democracy? Or in the case of the United States, how much of the actions of elected representatives are truly representative of the majority’s interest? Is South Carolina a democratic state if its governor uses taxpayer money to go to Argentina? Certainly that was more in his personal interest than in that of South Carolina’s majority.