The Meaning Of Democracy

This piece originally appeared in the Notes and Comment section of the July 3, 1943, issue of The New Yorker.

“We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”

—E. B. White

[I heard it read on the radio.  It is relevant to this current discussion, especially to “The Battle For The Biosphere”.  My assumption is that democratic norms are needed to “save” the biosphere.  Some may argue that a benign dictator would be a better solution – history argues against that.

The language of the answer is of course dated and the themes are very American, very New York.  Applicable nonetheless

Except maybe “the score at the beginning of the ninth”.  If you are not a baseball fan you will need to look it up.  I had to.]

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