Hong Kong has never been a democracy and it is certainly not one now. It has, in fact, become decidedly less democratic in the last few years. And that is a reason for the friends of a democratic Hong Kong to feel down-hearted. But there is no need for despair. There is need rather for a strategic retreat and for tactical rethinking.
Democracy is, after all, more than a governmental system; it is, first of all, an ideal – one that is never fully realized but can only be approximated. It is the ideal of a group of people who together rule themselves. This is most easily pursued in a small group of mature, informed, and like-minded people. But states and, in particular, modern states are not like this. There are vast numbers of citizen of all ages in all kinds of condition, with degrees of knowledge or ignorance, who are anything but like-minded. The ideal of democracy thus becomes easily confused. And, worse, we lose sight of what lies behind it which is a conception of human nature as capable of a proud self-determination.