The Illusion of Democracy

The events of the past two years have come in so fast and hot that I think most people haven’t yet digested them. Human psychology doesn’t incorporate new and difficult changes very well; it tends rather to pretend that everything will come back to normal… for sure… any minute now.

This gap between perception and acceptance makes us vulnerable. And so it’s massively in our interest to narrow it and close it. Very briefly, I’ll try to help that process along:

However much hold democracy has had in the past, it clearly hasn’t held over the past two years. Our daily lives are ordered by edicts, not by democratic processes. National, state and local potentates have locked down their populations, demanded them to cover their faces and ordered them to accept untested and sometimes dangerous medical treatments. They’ve forbidden alternative treatments. They’ve sent their policemen to breakup religious gatherings.

We’ve all watched these things, day by day, for almost two years. This was not done by votes in legislatures, it was done by executive orders, without checks or balances. We can describe that as dictatorial or as tyrannical, but we cannot call it democratic. It simply is not.

Even if we believe that democracy will return after “the crisis” is over, there will always be another crisis, and ignoring democracy will be easy from here on. Politicians will rhapsodize on the virtues of rule by edict “when it’s necessary,” and will be eager to enjoy that power again.

However solid democracy was or wasn’t in the past, it’s clearly just an illusion now.

In the United States, rights were things that the government could not take away, save by criminal due process. Not only was this specifically stated, but it was stated in the supreme law of the land. That meant that nothing: no subsequent law, no ruling, no executive order, no anything could challenge those rights. Period.

And yet, bodily autonomy has has been proudly trashed. Mass firings have been publicly ordered and backed by tremendous penalties. Even forbidding medical care – regardless that it will result in death – is openly lauded and implemented. There is no honest way to sugar-coat such things. Rights are now subject to non-democratic edicts.

These are facts; no amount of clever justifications or pithy slogans will make them anything less. And whether or not we face them, posterity will.


Paul Rosenberg

4 thoughts on “The Illusion of Democracy”

  1. You have it backwards. The U.S. was never a “democracy” (top down, mob elite rule, no we the people component) we are a representative republic, bottom up, of the people, by the people, for the people, rule of CONSTITUTIONAL law! – the exact opposite of a democracy. Current, public, bragged about democracy = Afghanistan! Current, public, bragged about, rule of law government = Afghanistan. WE AIN’T AFGHANISTAN (yet).

    1. Two quick points:

      1. Yes, of course it was a republic. (Which I’ve written about before.) I was making a particular point, and didn’t want to force readers down rabbit holes. It simply didn’t matter for making this point.

      2. Having a republic is not a magic fix. The one we had was pretty good as republics go, and it couldn’t prevent massive rot within just its first 12 years.


  2. I hate the misuse of the word “democracy” in this piece. And I’m not talking about the distinction between democracy and republic. Either a democracy or a republic can, without contradiction, be the most brutally repressive society in the world. What this column is actually about is civil liberties (or the lack of them), and there is no correlation whatever between whether a country is “democratic” and whether it respects civil liberties.

    Apologies if I seem overly stoked; this is a pet peeve of mine, using the word “democracy” as if it meant ANYTHING other than mob rule, or the word “republic” as if it meant anything other than mob rule by proxy.

    The repression currently being practiced in the U.S. would not be any less horrible of Congress has passed laws mandating it. The problem is not which branch of government is pushing tyranny, it is that tyranny is being pushed.

    1. Again I understand, but sometimes I feel it’s better to make one point, and one point only, using common vernacular. I suspect that many regular readers will make the distinction you’ve made, but that newer and pass-along readers would be encumbered with a side explanation. At least that’s my guess. 🙂

Comments are closed.