A Society of Patricians

One can do nothing at all with a textbook definition of democracy, which again is only a cliché. It is no use to you to know that there are three forms of government, a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a democracy, and that in a monarchy one is at the head, that in an aristocracy several rule, and that in a democracy all rule. It is also no use to you if you know that in the democracy the people rules and that there is the great principle of popular sovereignty. All of that is of no use at all for a human understanding of democracy. One must draw upon other definitions of democracy, which are not intended as definitions in the textbook sense but as empirical observations of intelligent human beings.

I will now give three such definitions. The first is from George Santayana, the American philosopher:  Democracy is the unrealizable dream of a society of patrician plebeians. If men were all patricians, which however they are not, then a democracy could work. But since the majority is made up of plebeians, the greatest objections can be raised against the practicability of a democracy.

You see that this definition is geared to the human problem, but it is no textbook definition. You cannot write it down and take it home as a dogma about democracy. But there are still other views on democracy that complement this one, without their thus being false. [Winston] Churchill once defined democracy as the worst form of government with the exception of all the others. All forms of government are bad, because they have to take account of the human factor of imperfection. Democracy is a wretched form of government simply for the reasons Santayana mentioned in the first definition. . . . A third such definition is from the American humorist Mark Twain, . . . [who] says democracy rests on three factors: “freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

. . . . Every society that works, a society of patricians, is based on courtesy, on compromises, on concession to the other people. Whoever has a fixed idea and wants this to be carried into effect, that is to say, whoever interprets freedom of speech and freedom of conscience to the effect that the society should behave in the way that he considers right, is not qualified to be citizen of a democracy.

The political interplay of [every functioning society] is patrician. It is based on the fact that one thinks a lot about what the others do, but does not say it; that one is always aware that in the society there is more than one good to achieve, not only the good of freedom, but also the good of security, the good of welfare, and that if I specialized in one or other of these goods, I could thereby bring the whole society into disorder, because I could destroy the balance between the realization of goods on which the society is based. . . . If I harden myself with a particular idea and pursue only this goal, this one good, then in reaction there arises the counterstasis, the counterhardening, and with this the impossibility of social cooperation.

CW VOL 31,
Chapter 2, Development of Diagnostic Tools
§7,Clichés of "State"and"Democracy,", pp 84-85.