Thursday, May 20, 2010

Government and Democracy

Here is a plea from one of the people in Thailand who is protesting the current government, taken from the NY Times today [05/20/2010]: "Everyone feels that our leaders betrayed us. We want democracy. True democracy, free democracy. Why is it so hard, why?" [p.A10]

Well, I know at least part of the reason and, I think, maybe the most important part. Because we use the word "government" so frequently we fail to understand that "government" is just one way of organizing power in what we call "societies." Aristotle never used the word "government" when writing about politics, which is not to say he did not understand the phenomenon we call "government." You see, "government" is a what I call a "modern invention," which can be traced, I think, to Nicolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and others like John Locke. "Government" is a distinct phenomenon and it is meant to replace, among other forms of organizing power, democracy. Hence, expecting "government" to be or become "democratic" is akin to expecting turtles to fly or to shed their shells and grow gills and become fishes. It ain't going to happen.

To explain a bit more. "Government" is, essentially, a bureaucratic phenomenon and, of course, bureaucracies are not and cannot be democratic. In bureaucracies, the power is hierarchical, flowing from the top down, not from the bottom up as it flows in a democracy. There are remnants for democracy in our political organizations but they are just that, merely remnants. They help to disguise our situation, leading to such pleas as that of the young lady in Thailand who is waiting for her government to become democratic. This is like "waiting for Godot," who of course never shows up.

Also, "governments" are, like the "societies" they control, inherently repressive, as are all bureaucracies. This repression should not be confused with "oppression" as the two are very different phenomena, with the latter, "oppression," justifying what is called "the right of revolution." But while two different phenomena, repression invariably becomes oppression and, hence, the Declaration of Independence says "That when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [preserving our rights], it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it" and create a new government that secures our rights. This is what is going on in Thailand and even in the United States today, as it goes on in any and every society ever constructed on what I am calling "modern principles." As Thomas Jefferson knew and said, a little revolution every now and again is a good thing and the tree of liberty is nourished by the blood of patriots, necessarily.

But, again, most of this escapes us because of how we speak, using terms like "government" and "bureaucracy" without realizing just what it is we are saying. I sympathize with the Thai who pleaded for democracy. But why is it so hard to get "true democracy, free democracy?" Because we have governments - this is the simple but not inaccurate answer.

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