1st Edition

Democracy’s Achilles Heel The Rocky Marriage of Relative and Absolute

By Bruce Fleming Copyright 2024
    220 Pages
    by Routledge

    220 Pages
    by Routledge

    Democracy’s Achilles Heel argues that the structure of democracy is a combination of two incompatible worldviews: one relativist and liberal, the other absolutist and conservative. This combination of opposites is essential for its survival, yet places democracy at risk since each worldview is prone to trying to engulf the other, creating threats from both the right and the left. This is democracy’s Achilles heel: it never goes away and can only be avoided. The nature of open societies means that absolutisms, for example of a religious kind, can exist quite comfortably within democracy, yet for democracy to succeed, they must permit other belief systems and worldviews, absolute or otherwise, to exist alongside them. Likewise, relativism can undermine the liberal nature of democracy itself in seeking to reduce the existence of absolutisms to nothing, thus threatening freedom and destabilizing democracy. Reacting to the recent clashes in Western democracies between left and right, and drawing on the theories of such now-classic thinkers as Fromm, Berlin, and Hoffer, as well as more recent sources such as Levitsky and Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, the author moves beyond the usual defenses of democracy, accepting the fact that democracy, because of its combination of opposites, is always unstable and always at risk, while urging those who live within democratic polities to strengthen its chances of survival by remembering its fundamental value and purpose. An impassioned defense of the democratic way of life even given (and indeed because of) its eternally threatened nature, Democracy’s Achilles Heel will appeal to scholars, students, and readers with interests in political sociology, philosophy, and political theory.


    1.     Democracy as Oddball


    2.     Philadelphia 1776 and Beyond


    3.     Democracy Is a Game with Rules, and Some People Play It Better Than Others


    4.     Absolute and Relative Are Yoked Together


     Th   The Arc of History Does Not Bend toward Democracy


    6.     Rights and Freedom in Democracy


    7.     Freedom Is Linked to Goals


    8.     The Dangers of Overselling Democracy


    9.     Democracy’s Two Elements at War


    10.  Democracy Isn’t Supposed to Be Sexy


    11.  Absolutist Actions vs. Relativistic Actors


    12.  Democracy Is Constructed, Like a Building


    13.  Do People Even Want to Be Free?


    14.  Laws, Freedom, and Democracy


    15.  Belief within Democracy


    16.  Democracy Doesn’t Demand the Provable


    17.  Reason vs. Passion in Everyday Life


    18.  Works Cited





    Bruce Fleming is Professor of English at the US Naval Academy and is the author most recently of The End of the Modernist Era in Arts and Academia, What Does ‘Art’ Mean Now?, The Civilizing Process and the Past We Now Abhor, Masculinity from the Inside, and Saving Our Service Academies: My Battle with, and for, the US Naval Academy to Make Thinking Officers.