E.B. White on the Meaning of Democracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2021

In response to a request from the Writers’ War Board in the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, E.B. White wrote this short piece for the New Yorker.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

My favorite line is “Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth.” Initially I read it as poetically referring to the first part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — which is lovely, no doubt — but upon further reflection he probably meant baseball. (via daring fireball)