Organic and Inorganic Democracy

2 May 2009



As intellectual preparation for my upcoming trip to South America I have been listening to The Americas in the Revolutionary Era, a series of lectures produced by The Teaching Company, given by Marshall C. Eakin. In the lecture on Paraguay (no. 22 of 24), Professor Eakin employs a distinction between organic and inorganic democracy that I have not previously encountered.

I looked up some references of the distinction, and found it used in various ways, but it is a compelling distinction, and when I have more time later to research its origins and conceptual foundations I will do so.

Caudillos, by Hugh M. Hamill, credits the origin of the term “inorganic democracy” to José Luis Romero (Buenos Aires 1909 – Tokyo 1977). I have an English translation of his classic study, A History of Argentine Political Thought, which is a wonderful book. Hamill writes that “inorganic democracy is exemplified in the “mutual identification of people and caudillo.” (p. 117) I will consult Romero’s book to try to determine if this is the ultimate source of the distinction, and whether Romero makes it explicit.

I found an interesting document online, Spain and the Rule of Law, that included this: “The making of laws and the dissemination of public information about laws and the participation of all Spaniards in the legislative tasks are being carried out efficiently. They are not done with the democratic formalisms that are used by the inorganic democracies in many countries, but it is evident that this system here complies with a living reality.” Nowhere is “inorganic democracy” defined in the document, nor is the contrast between organic and inorganic democracy made explicit, so we have to speculate as to what the authors intended. This document was authored in 1962 by The International Commission of Jurists, which is in turn identified as, “a non-governmental organization which has Consultative Status, Category “B”, with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The Commission seeks to foster understanding of and respect for the Rule of Law.”

In The Poverty of Progress by E. Bradford Burns, he writes, “Vague as the concept of ‘inorganic democracy’ might appear in retrospect, it did hold meaning to the gauchos who identified it with their life-styles, a unique adaptation of limited apects of European civilization to the demands of the pampas.” (pp, 127 – 128)

Another good quote can be found in Collective Memory and European Identity, by Klaus Eder and Willfried Spohn, where they write regarding Franco, “In opposition to what he labelled the ‘inorganic democracy’ of other European countries, Franco promoted ‘organic democracy’, a ‘natural order’ based on traditional ‘Spanish institutions’ such as the Church and the family.” (p. 112)

What is puzzling about these various characterizations of “inorganic democracy” is that some seem to suggest that the democratic forms of constitutional republics is artificial and therefore inorganic, whereas the mystical identification of ruler and ruled is an authentic and genuine form of democracy that has no need of vulgar democratic mechanisms like elections and press freedom. Etymologically, this seems to me the best reading of the distinction. However, most of the sources point to “inorganic democracy” as that form of political regime that has no use for elections or formal democratic processes.

I intend to do some further research on this distinction and clarify what is meant by it, as it is suggestive and potentially fruitful way of interpreting a fundamental divide in political thought. Moreover, I think it will have implications for and applications to what I wrote about in Spreading Democracy: An Historical Perspective, but more on that later.


. . . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: