Robbins: Democracy: What Would It Be Like?

Arthur D. Robbins writes in the Sri Lanka Guardian:

What would it be like if we really lived in a democracy? These days just about everybody seems to be enjoying the benefits democratic government, that is if you believe government propaganda and you are one of the credulous many who are eager for a sense of well being at any price. But what is usually called democracy is in fact an oligarchy of elected representatives responsible to the business interests who bankrolled their campaign. If people were actually given the opportunity to choose democracy, they might do so, provided they understood what the word actually means. Our one uncontested example is ancient Athens.

Note the difference between “equal speech,” or “political speech,” the right to debate and legislate, and what today we call “free speech,” the prohibition against being denied the right to speak. We could be speaking on a street corner or marching in a protest. “Free speech” says we have the right to do that. It says the right cannot be taken away. “Free speech” has no particular context. We are granted the right to say what we want, provided, it turns out, we do not threaten the governing powers. “Free speech” is a civil right. It is not a political right. It does not give us the right to set national policy. “Equal speech” in ancient Athens did.
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