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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Not very magical, still... » » A brief history lesson on democracy...American Style (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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stoneunhinged
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OK, the history lesson to all. No PMs. You can check out my facts on Wikipedia or your library.

Go back to ancient Greece. They called their villages/towns/cities a "polis". The way the "polis" worked publicly was "politics". So a town is "towning", a city is "citying", and a village is "villaging". A polis "polises". THIS is where we get the word "politics". "Politics" means a polis polising.

We could think of it this way. Let's pick a town like, say, Springfield. "Springfielding" is the public life of Springfield.

"Politics" meant nothing more or less than the "polis" doing its thing. That meant laws, courts, decisions about what the polis was doing, and so on.

The Romans were very influenced by this language (the Romans very much admired the Greeks), though they had a way of life that centered on the city of Rome--a metropolis--rather than all of the little towns or villages or cites of Greece. Rome was "Romaning".

Their word for this was "republic": the way Rome Romed. It was the public life (or "stuff", as Magnus told us a few pages ago) of Rome.

So "politics", in an ancient sense, is simply the public life of a community, large or small.

This could be done in different ways. You could have a king (or a tyrant), an aristocracy (or an oligarchy), or a democracy (or a democracy...again, not a typo). These were the different ways of "Romaning" or "Athenianing" or "Spartaing" or whatever.

The Greek version of sharing public decisions among a large group of people was called (in Greek, transliterated into English) "democracy".

The Roman version of sharing public decisions among a large group of people was called (in Latin, transliterated into English) "republic".

So, in the ancient world, sharing the public decision making among a large group of people was called a "democracy" or a "republic", depending on which language you spoke.

(If you go look at the "Right or Wrong" forum, you can find discussions on the difference between "morals" and "ethics". The historical fact is that "morals" are the Roman (Latin) way of looking at it, and "ethics" is the Greek way of looking at it. Same thing, different languages.)

Fast forward to the dudes who founded America. What they were concerned about was what they called "tyranny". "Tyranny" is the bad rule of a single person--a bad king. So when they revolted against King George, they had a few options. One option was to have an American king. They thought about it (again, check up on it if you don't believe me) and rejected the idea (and they would have chosen George Washington). Some were for; some were against. What they wanted was some kind of rule of a large group of people. They thought several things, which everyone can read about in The Federalist. But generalizing, they thought that a large group of people having power was a good thing, and they thought that there should be mechanisms (like the electoral college; like proportional representation in the House of Representatives) to prevent something they called "tyranny of the majority".

This "tyranny of the majority" was something they feared, and indeed it seemed to be something like a mob-rule or majority-rule gone wild. But they used the words "democracy" and "republic" interchangeably, as I said before. (Why didn't I give citations? Because I can't remember every single time I read the interchangeable expressions while reading the thousands of pages of primary sources I read back in the day. I apologize for that. But I'm not wrong about it: look it up for yourselves.)

So the founders were working to create a form of government that was based on a rule of many people rather than one or a few. But they weren't trying to create a "rule of the majority". They indeed thought that the "majority" was problematic. On the other hand, in the Federalist we read about the advantage of having competing "factions", which means that the founders thought that a vigorous and multi-factional (multi-cultural?) debate was healthy and desirable. They didn't fear "democracy" as such; they sought to make provisions to protect against a "tyranny of the majority".

Fast forward to today: indeed, the Constitution has been changed (as I said above: the 17th Amendment and primary elections have changed things) to allow more people to be involved in the political process. But the obvious point is that there are hundreds of millions of people more who need to be involved than in 1987.

Back in the day, only men with property could vote. Typically (and I am not accusing anyone here of anything), those who keep pounding on the republic/democracy distinction are longing for a time in which fewer people could vote. "Mob rule" could easily be interpreted as "rule of the unworthy". Those who insist on the republic/democracy distinction just might be worried about the involvement of the unworthy. So when I get a bit uptight about this issue, this is what I am reacting to. I know that most people don't mean that. I also know that I am weird and especially sensitive.

Thus goes the history lesson. The USA was meant to be a democracy. Uh...I mean a republic. Who cares?

What counts is that our democratic discussions do not get deleted. Right?
Magnus Eisengrim
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In the deep irony of history, Plato's great work Politeia was translated into Latin by Cicero who horribly mistranslated the title as Re Publica, giving us the title we use in English today.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
Dannydoyle
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Jeff thank you sir!
Danny Doyle
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<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
Magnus Eisengrim
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, Magnus Eisengrim wrote:
In the deep irony of history, Plato's great work Politeia was translated into Latin by Cicero who horribly mistranslated the title as Re Publica, giving us the title we use in English today.


Sorry I was unclear in two ways. First Cicero (mis)translated Plato's title but wrote his own Roman dialog in a Platonic style. Second, the full title was De Re Publica.

Not that anyone will care, as it's at best a footnote to Jeff's piece.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
LobowolfXXX
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I think those most concerned with the republic/democracy distinction are those who most fear/dislike the tyranny of the majority.
"Torture doesn't work" lol
Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

"...as we reason and love, we are able to hope. And hope enables us to resist those things that would enslave us."
Magnus Eisengrim
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, LobowolfXXX wrote:
I think those most concerned with the republic/democracy distinction are those who most fear/dislike the tyranny of the majority.


Strikes me as a brand loyalty issue.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
LobowolfXXX
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Strikes me as a big/small government issue.
"Torture doesn't work" lol
Guess they forgot to tell Bill Buckley.

"...as we reason and love, we are able to hope. And hope enables us to resist those things that would enslave us."
Jonathan Townsend
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Silver, Copper and Brass? IE how brazen of the copper to expect to clean up and function as silver. No mention of the Gold so far. Smile Some might get a chuckle considering that coin trick through the eyes of Plato's Republic while in the days of Plato's Retreat.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
landmark
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Or the Coppers protect the Silver for the Gold?
landmark
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Huh? The other thread is gone?
Jonathan Townsend
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There's even a couple of books on the economics of the US constitution. Not sure where those ideas stand today.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
rockwall
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, stoneunhinged wrote:
...

What counts is that our democratic discussions do not get deleted. Right?


Except that the Café is NOT a democracy, (or republic), and they make the rules and can delete them if they want to! (And kick you out if you keep ignoring the rules to boot!)
landmark
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, LobowolfXXX wrote:
I think those most concerned with the republic/democracy distinction are those who most fear/dislike the tyranny of the majority.

But it's a straw man in my opinion because democracy doesn't necessarily mean rule of the majority at the expense of the minority.
tommy
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Now that in science we have to have a consensus before 2 + 2 = 4 then what will happen if we have not reached one before the next election?
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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mastermindreader
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Actually, if an actual scientific consensus was published that said 2+2=4, the math deniers would denounce it as junk science paid for by the teachers unions. Smile
stoneunhinged
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, LobowolfXXX wrote:
I think those most concerned with the republic/democracy distinction are those who most fear/dislike the tyranny of the majority.


Some might indeed fit into that category. Others fit into the category of a sort of conspiracy theory that suggests there has been a conscious attempt to change the language in order to change the regime. Lyndon LaRouche has been writing on this theme for decades. Still others just want to sound clever in arguments: "Dudes, y'all are just WRONG: America isn't even supposed to be a democracy!" The latter is important because it strikes a chord with those who think the founders brought the Constitution down from Mount Sinai. (And I'm only half-kidding in that last sentence.)

But it's all a red-herring argument, because all we really care about (or should care about) is what kind of regime we indeed have, and whether it's a good one or not. Assuming it used to be "good" and isn't anymore because people started using the word "democracy" to describe it...well, that's not really credible to me. Everyone else's mileage may vary. Things have indeed changed from the original intention of the founders. But whether that is a good thing or bad thing is not self-evident. It needs to be discussed.
landmark
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Quote:
On Jan 13, 2015, tommy wrote:
Now that in science we have to have a consensus before 2 + 2 = 4 then what will happen if we have not reached one before the next election?

Off-topic: Yesterday I saw someone wearing a sweatshirt that said "2 + 2 = 5 for extremely large values of 2."
landmark
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Quote:
But it's all a red-herring argument, because all we really care about (or should care about) is what kind of regime we indeed have, and whether it's a good one or not.


I quite agree with you there Stone. That's why in the deleted thread I mentioned something like it's important to look at examples of democracy--small "d" (juries, decisions to go to the movies with friends), in order to learn tactics for performing Democracy.
RNK
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Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, LobowolfXXX wrote:
Strikes me as a big/small government issue.



Bingo!
Magnus Eisengrim
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Quote:
On Jan 13, 2015, RNK wrote:
Quote:
On Jan 12, 2015, LobowolfXXX wrote:
Strikes me as a big/small government issue.



Bingo!


I'm confused, RNK and Lobo. What does arguing over which of the terms "republic" and "democracy" better describes the USA have to do with the size of government? I don't see a connection.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
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