Such odious tactics are democracy’s leitmotif globally, as Brexit and Donald Trump’s election demonstrate. In combination, they suggest that democracy is not fit for purpose, especially in developing nations, particularly since there is a clear alternative: China’s political system.

Leitmotif is defined as:

  1. (Classical Music) music a recurring short melodic phrase or theme used, esp in Wagnerian music dramas, to suggest a character, thing, etc
  2. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme in a literary work

It seems to fit the second definition, but as we can see it's a literary term, so how do you explain the way it is used here?

Theme is defined as:

  1. an idea or topic expanded in a discourse, discussion, etc
  2. (in literature, music, art, etc) a unifying idea, image, or motif, repeated or developed throughout a work
  3. (Music, other) music a group of notes forming a recognizable melodic unit, often used as the basis of the musical material in a composition
  4. (Education) a short essay, esp one set as an exercise for a student
  5. (Grammar) linguistics the first major constituent of a sentence, usually but not necessarily the subject. In the sentence history I do like, "history" is the theme of the sentence, even though it is the object of the verb
  6. (Linguistics) grammar another word for root19, stem19
  7. (Historical Terms) (in the Byzantine Empire) a territorial unit consisting of several provinces under a military commander
  8. (modifier) planned or designed round one unifying subject, image, etc: a theme holiday.

It seems to fit the first, so can leitmotif mean a recurring idea? Can we use it to mean a simple thing such as a recurring idea? Is an odious tactic an idea? I guess everything is an idea, but does it justify the usage?

  • 1
    It's referring to odious tactics. Ergo, it is 2).
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 18:43

1 Answer 1


Such odious tactics are democracy’s leitmotif globally ...

Means that the tactics being discussed are common, often repeated, in countries with a democratic form of government. This is a somewhat extended or figurative use of "leitmotif", extending the sense of "an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme" which is itself a generalization or extension of the musical sense. Personally, i would not have used "leitmotif" in that construction, but I have no trouble understanding it. The writer is implying that such actions or tactics are commonly associated with democracy, indeed that they form a sort of identifying signature for democratic societies. This picks up on the original musical use, where a leitmotif is used to identify or mark the entrance of a character, much as a "theme song" or 'signature tune" is in other forms of entertainment. The writer is saying that the tactics s/he deplores are, in effect, democracy's theme song or signature. The author is analyzing current events as if they were part of a literary or dramatic creation, to some extent.

  • I don't have trouble understanding it, but I am not sure if this type of overextension is allowed.
    – aLex
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 19:38
  • question is if a tactic is a word, phrase, image, or theme, and if it's a theme if it's an idea developed or expanded throughout a work. that's why I don't really think it makes sense.
    – aLex
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 20:30

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