Changing the Language of Democracy

The Economist makes a long-overdue call to jettison the language of the democracy debate, and come up with new, more accurate terms to talk about freedom and governance.

A good shorthand term for the free, law-governed and public-spirited countries of the world is badly needed, to replace the misleading and off-putting “West”, with its echoes of colonialism, self-satisfaction and cultural supremacism. The best candidate so far is “open” societies—the term coined by Karl Popper and promoted so energetically by the philanthropist George Soros. That has the advantage of a natural antonym: closed societies. Better terminology means clearer thinking, but it does not guarantee victory. Nearly 20 years on, the gains of the heady and happy late 1980s are looking troublingly fragile and temporary. Closed societies are riding high; open ones are rattled and demoralised. Rather than asking when the values of “open Europe” will finally triumph, it might be better to ponder if they will survive.