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The political power of words : "democracy" and political strategies in the United States and France (1776-1871) Dupuis-Déri, Francis

Abstract

For more than two thousand years, "democracy" had referred to chaos, violence, irrationality and the tyranny of the mob. Almost all the principal founders of what we now call the "democratic" systems of the United States and France openly and proudly proclaimed their opposition to "democracy." "Democracy" was a term which, for them, had a disparaging connotation. Thus, the term "democracy" was an effective weapon for undermining the legitimacy of a political actor, faction or platform. Despite this inauspicious beginning, political leaders gradually became defenders and promoters of "democracy" (around 1830-40). The shift may be explained by the birth of the official parties in the United States and by the introduction of Universal suffrage (for adult males) in France. The word "democracy" was consciously employed to induce the people into believing that the politicians cared about representing their wishes and interests. In both cases—the United States and France—political factions competed for control of the term "democracy" and even openly acknowledged the existence of this semantic competition. It may be said, therefore, that it is mainly due to successful propaganda that we use the label "democracy" today to characterize the American and the French regimes.

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