The Idea of Democracy and Its Distortions: From Socrates to Cornel West


Democracy is a highly-cherished idea nowadays as it casts an aura of legitimacy and prestige on political systems, theories, and ideologies. This is why regimes, political organizations, theories, and ideologies of all types lay claim to being democratic or aiming to serve its interests. To justify their claims and aims, they all define democracy in ways that suit their interests and fit their purposes. Some examples: ideologues of capitalism define democracy in ways that serve the interests of the free-market system and endorse the rule of capital, hence liberal democracy; economists formulate it so that it fits within the conceptual framework of their discipline; and Cornel West defines it as a tragicomic concept that suits his Christian vision. These attempts at making democracy fit one's interests, purposes, and views have distorted the true practice and meaning of the idea, and have subverted its normative substance. Putting its focus mainly on examining Cornel West's Democracy Matters (Penguin Press, 2004) as one of the latest misrepresentations and distortions of the idea of democracy, this essay argues that we need to revisit the original meaning of the concept (the "rule by the people"), and revive the contention that democracy entails the citizens' direct, deliberative, and ongoing participation and power in politics. To counter the economists’ and liberal democracy’s gutting of the normative substance of democracy, and also to counter West's distorted vision of it, the essay attempts to retrieve the authentic content of democracy, and puts forth a positive vision for its future.


Cornel West, Socrates, Deliberative Democracy, Participatory Democracy, Direct Democracy, American Democracy, Liberal Democracy, Athenian Democracy

How to Cite

Behrouzi M., (2007) “The Idea of Democracy and Its Distortions: From Socrates to Cornel West”, Journal of Public Deliberation 4(1). doi:







Majid Behrouzi (Cuyahoga Community College)



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