All Commentary
Thursday, October 1, 1970

Freedom and Democracy

Mr. Zarbin is a newspaper man in Arizona.

A coworker, assigned to write a newspaper story about Indepen­dence Day talks in Arizona, opened with this sentence:

“Lawmakers and political figures beckoned back to the first Fourth of July in talks throughout the state yesterday with the message that democracy is hard to come by and even harder to maintain.”

This linkage of the word “de­mocracy” with the Declaration of Independence surprised me. When I asked if the word “freedom” might not be more correct, he re­plied: “I didn’t think about it that much when I wrote it.”

Precisely. Seldom do we think about it. Woodrow Wilson said, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Would it have made any difference if he had used “freedom” instead of “democra­cy”? Perhaps not, but it is delu­sion either to suggest or to be­lieve that the words are alike in meaning or significance.

Freedom is “the absence of ne­cessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another.” Democracy is “government by the people; es­pecially rule of the majority; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or in­directly through a system of rep­resentation usually involving peri­odically held free elections.”

In no way can the words “free­dom” and “democracy” be sub­stituted without confusion. That they are frequently used for one another is understandable. Democ­racy, not freedom, is repeatedly held up to us as representative of the ideal. If we have democracy, we are presumed to have freedom, according to much of the oratory. But we can—and do in fact—have denials of freedom brought about by democratic or majority rule. Prohibitions against peace­ful citizens entering peaceful oc­cupations and pursuits abound. For instance, no one can open up new land to cotton without an allotment; no one can start a radio or television broadcasting station without approval. Instead of re­lying upon market determination of approval or allotment for every honest enterprise, all too often permission from government must first be won. And there are count­less examples of how such eco­nomic freedom has been denied under democracy.

Freedom is one thing, democ­racy another. They may be re­lated in some ways. But the con­cepts are not interchangeable, nor should the nature and pur­pose of the two be confused.




If you work for a man, in Heaven’s name work for him; and stand by the institution he represents. Remember—An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must growl, con­demn, and eternally find fault, why—resign your position and when you are on the outside, damn to your heart’s content—but as long as you are a part of the institution, do not condemn it. If you do, the first high wind that comes along will blow you away and probably you will never know why.


  • Mr. Zarbin, a retired newspaperman, does historical research and writing in Phoenix, Arizona.