The state of votes
Democracy is not a gift
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni
To serve vs.to deserve democracy: the abuse of the meritocratic discourse
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni | 2016. September 16. 23:55
Most people think that living in a democracy is a self-evident right, that they deserve it unconditionally. Even though democracy should be accessible and behooves everybody, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a well-functioning democratic system would be a gift. Citizens have to work hard to create a democracy they desire to live in.
Everyone is responsible for the political system they live in. Though the level of democracy is different in each European country, we live in a democratic continent which provides us democratic rights such as the right to protest, to revolt and to make our voice and political opinion to be heard. If we do not use these possibilities, we simply ignore the meaning of democracy: the rule of the people.
Voting is one of the most important democratic rights. However, there are many who don’t use this fundamental right but feel nevertheless free to demand a better political system. These citizens deserve living in the democracy they create. If they do not express their political opinion, how could they expect having any changes in their lives? Moreover, how dare they formulate any kind of criticism if they don’t use their most basic tool, which could generate changes? Voting is a visible feedback to decision makers! One might say that voting is worth almost nothing because one vote doesn’t decide anything. Yet this is not really the question of numbers, but of the attitude: by not participating during elections and referendums, we enable others to take a decision in our name.
European countries didn’t achieve democratic political systems at the same period in time. Those countries that have had democratic systems for a longer time might have a certain advantage over younger democracies, for the longer a democracy exists, the more it is embedded in national culture.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that most of the European countries are democratic: despite differences, all EU countries have the freedom of press, freedom to organize manifestations and referendums, have free elections and multi-party systems.
Therefore, for unsatisfied citizens there are two main possibilities: they can complain while staying passive and compare their own countries to richer ones or they can try to better their own system by participating in politics, elections and civil society, creating new opportunities and making their voices heard. This depends on us, the citizens, on how we deal with our resources and possibilities. There will always be “better”, richer countries set as examples to us, but if the grass looks greener on the other side, start watering the grass you are standing on!
Let’s dare believe in the essence of democracy, in the power of the people, let’s dare dream and say: we do deserve a better system, we do have the power to work for it and to fight for a democracy which satisfies our needs.
Israel Barroso | 2017. November 24. 09:40
At the basis of a democratic state, lies the liberty of common people to influence politics, making decisions which will affect the lives of their fellow citizens – and not only theirs – either for the better or the worse. No other form of government in history has been able to give people, turned into citizens, the benefits of enjoying freedom from arbitrary rule and of expressing their ideas and searching for a better economic position. But freedom in a democracy should also mean being able to exercise your rights because you were educated to know how to do it, because you aren’t merely struggling to survive with no time or willingness to think about politics, because you know what is at stake, not only for you and your beloved, but for the collectivity.
A good democracy provides not only civic, but also social rights or not only political, but also economical rights. We know that these rights were all historical conquests. Yet this doesn’t allow us to conclude that all people live in the democracy they deserve.To say deserve is a quite strong word. Should we consider that a poor woman in the suburb of a big city in Brazil deserves to live under a government which, despite being democratic, limits her social benefits’ rights, approves a law which in practice will turn impossible for her to retire at a reasonable age with a decent pay, does not provide her children with a good educational system, all to “save” the economy? She can certainly express her preferences through the ballots. Can we judge her if, tired of years of no changes in politics, she refuses to vote in the next elections?
Now think of a young boy born and raised in Milan, son of two Albanian parents. Does he deserve not to get the benefits a state only grants its citizens, because of his lack of Italian citizenship? Sure, he can participate of public debates or protest. Will his ideas be seriously considered, him who didn’t receive a good education throughout his life?
Someone could argue that this discussion belongs to a moral arena, when we insist to point out the dead end the verb to deserve leads us to. But the point is that liberal democracies usually have a strong meritocratic discourse. Thus, it really is a moral philosophical discussion, with pragmatic implications.
Meritocracy exists, but has many limits. Being high-skilled and not fleeing from effort does not grant everyone a place under the sun. The two examples mentioned above illustrate that. Things could be different when considering collectivity – a people who really engage in the making of politics could mold it in a fair manner and strengthen the democracy in its own country. But people don’t live isolated from other peoples, and states don’t make their politics without consideration for those of other states. In our contemporary world, there are many things common citizens don’t have the capacity (understood either as a lack of knowledge or of power) to influence. For instance, many of the decisions which impacts citizens directly are not taken in their home parliaments and courts, but in financial centers miles and miles away.
Being critical about discourses on democracy does not mean being skeptical about democracy. It is still the best form of government humanity created. But it is necessary to have a clear understanding about it and avoid reproducing the meritocratic discourse or being unable to look at the impact of a democracy outside its own borders. Only by realizing that real persons don’t always deserve to live in the real democracy they own, can we spread the kind of awareness needed to build strong and fair democratic societies.
Szilágyi Eszter Soewarni
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