What's in a name? How a democracy becomes an aristocracy

Democracy Futures Series, The Conversation (2016)
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Abstract

Is there something about the deep logic of democracy that destines it to succeed in the world? Democracy, the form of politics that includes everyone as equals – does it perhaps suit human nature better than the alternatives? After all, surely any person who is excluded from the decision-making in a society will be more liable to rise up against it. From ancient thinkers like Seneca to contemporary thinkers like Francis Fukuyama, we can see some version of this line of thought. Seneca thought that tyrannies could never last long; Fukuyama famously argued that liberal democracy is the end of history. I want to focus instead on the person credited with giving the most direct and uncompromising statement of this thought: Benedict de Spinoza. However, in this article, I argue to the contrary that Spinoza’s view of aristocracy should give pause to radical democrats. He does not see a historical movement towards democracy, nor does he see the superiority of democracy as written into human nature.

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Sandra Leonie Field
Monash University

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