Sunday, May 27, 2012

Democracy: A Solution

Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)
Tyrants are common in history, be they kings or dictators. The system of absolute ruler was a rule in world history, where one person had absolute power over his/her subjects. The problem was, these leaders can easily abuse their powers, since there was no one with any power to stop them. Easy examples are Hitler and Stalin, both of whom became totalitarians (perhaps not in the case of Hitler) after their respective rises to power. But the leaders themselves were not the sole reason for tyranny, the governing systems had themselves to blame for being breeding grounds for tyrants as well. Julius Caesar, though perhaps not fully a tyrant, took advantage of the consul system (parliament-appointed two leaders with almost absolute power) to establish himself as the dictator. In these cases, the government structures had loopholes which allow ambitious men (and women) to rise to absolute power unchecked.

But tyrants were not the only problem in history. Oppressive rules could happen without the help of specific tyrants. Social and economical classes were another main element contributing to an oppressive rule. The most “noble” and rich people together formed the class of the elites, and held vast amount of land and power because of their wealth. And often time, the elites subjugated unwilling subjects using their unchecked power. The most classic cases occur during colonialism, where European immigrants exploited the newly discovered lands and oppressed the natives to their will (see: colonial North and South America). There were no specific tyrants, but those societies were clearly divided with the most bottom-ranked having little rights. For instance, the Native Americans under the Spanish rule had no rights at all, and the classes were divided by the trace of Spanish ancestry presented in blood (the pure Spaniards were the elites, followed by those with mixed Spanish-Native blood, and finally the Natives and the African slaves). In such societies, inequality abounded, and the fates of the societies rested in the hands of few rich people.

Democracy is meant to solve these types of problems. Ideally, democracy will give all people a say in their country’s governance. The people will have a say on who should be the leader, and what laws and regulations should be passed. With such power to the mass, no tyrants can emerge since no one would allow him to take the seat of power. However, with ever rising population, it becomes impractical for everyone to have their opinions heard, since there will be too many opinions. This leads to the birth of representation, where people elect regional representatives to be their voice in the government.

The Parliament of Great Britain
But more importantly, democracy allows check-and-balance system to be effective. Since democracy allows voices of dissention and evaluation by the people, the government can be structured so that every position of power is subjected to evaluation. Indeed, the people have the right of direct protest if a tyrant emerges. However, the check-and-balance system will prevent the creation of tyrants in the first place.  Check-and-balance makes sure that no one takes advantage of his/her positions within the government, and that he/she performs the job effectively. With a more effective and honest government, the people’s rights and interests can be served better, thus the society would improve.

However, this does not mean that democracy is a perfect ideology. Despite the check-and-balance system, corrupt can still run rampant if the evaluations are rigged. Bribes and deals can tempt human hearts and deviate the government from serving the people’s interests. Vote-buying is also a path to corruption within democratic government, since anyone with enough money will gain his/her way into the government, and almost always the vote-buyers are corrupt politicians. Worse, the system of representation, in spite of its practicality, means that the people have, once again, put their power in the hands of few politicians. Ideally, the people trust their representatives and the politicians will serve the people to the best of their abilities. But if the politicians look out for their own interests instead of the people, democratic government would be nothing more than a group of elites, abusing their power at the expense of the society.

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