France is called the fifth Republic because the previous four republics failed. Democratic experiments began in France a little after the American Revolution. The French Revolution began in 1789. This was George Washington’s first year as President and two years after the Constitutional Convention. Most are aware the first republic descended into chaos before Napoleon erased the democratic experiment and declared himself emperor. Yet not as many recall the fall of the Second Republic.

The Second French Republic was a result of the Revolutions of 1848. The French elected Louis Napoleon as President who renamed himself Napoleon III when he transformed the Second French Republic into the Second French Empire. This is the fundamental paradox in democracy. Is it democratic when the people choose to undemocratic outcomes?

The democracies of the nineteenth and twentieth century were known as liberal democracies. But the road to democracy was never simple nor easy. The United States is the World’s oldest democracy, but elections were not free and fair for an African American until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Some have argued the United States did not truly democratize until the end of the Jim Crowe era. While the United States represented a democracy for white males in the early 19th century, the South was an authoritarian state for African Americans throughout most of its history.

George Orwell used the term “double think” in his classic novel 1948. This concept has made its way into the literature on totalitarianism. Yet American democracy has employed a sort of double think in its explanation of history. America was a democracy. But American law resembled South African apartheid for African Americans in the South. America is the world’s oldest democracy. But South Africa did not democratize until the end of apartheid.

I find it odd when Marc Plattner says liberalism has been integral to democracy. Or his belief where you can’t have one without the other. Democracy has an illiberal tradition. Fareed Zakaria is wrong to believe “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” is recent. It is difficult to argue a nation with free and fair elections is not democratic because the policy outcomes are illiberal. The hallmark of democracy rests on the consent of the governed and the will of the people. But what happens when the people establish undemocratic policies?

The illiberal democracy of Viktor Orbán is more than a slogan. His policies have eroded the freedom of the press. The fundamental contradiction of the illiberal democracy is illiberalism erodes the presence of free and fair elections. Illiberalism erodes the foundations of democracy. In this way Plattner is right. You can’t have democracy without liberalism. But does this mean complete self-determination is impossible? This is the Democracy Paradox.

jmk, carmel, indiana, democracyparadoxblog@gmail.com

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