Simple Democracy Part 1: Free Men and Women
Introduction: Our Fathers’ Sin of Omission
I first started writing this as a response to what I believe is very faulty thinking when it comes to choosing leaders, particularly our inability to learn the lessons of the past well, and so are doomed to repeating past mistakes.
I initially wrote, “The idea that we would never hire a driver who cannot drive, a cleaner who cannot clean, a teacher who cannot teach, or buy a painting from someone who cannot paint, or patronize a chef who cannot cook, is simple to understand. Everyone I know would agree that it’s just wise not to. Then why is it so hard to understand that we should not elect people who cannot govern? Would you let a reckless driver drive your kids to school just because he’s your brother? Would you let your friend run your business just because he’s Christian? Would you let your classmate cut your hair just because you were in the same club? Of course not! Why then, do we use faulty standards about who is good for government?”
Then I realized the problem: We don’t have an objective standard, a sufficient understanding, nor a principled approach to choosing. These days, we choose things based on what “resonates” with us. But to people who don’t have an anchor, the last new wave large enough to hit us is what carries us.
- For electing officials in a democracy, the objective standards are basically the ideals of Democracy itself (liberty, equality, and fraternity) and the Constitution of that country, in my case, the constitution of the Philippines. Without an understanding of either, we will make emotional choices, or “least evil” choices, lazy choices, or worst of all, selfish choices.
Politically, previous generations have failed to educate current and future voters on how to vote, as they have failed to pass on the foundational principles of what it means to participate in a democratic society. They may have taught us to vote. But they failed to teach us how to vote, and I don’t mean the mechanics of voting, but the process of weighing candidates on their records of upholding liberty, equality, and fraternity, and their abilities to promote the ideals of the Philippine Constitution.
This our fathers’ sin of omission: We were not taught the importance of democracy, so now fail to appreciate its beauty. Neither were we taught the process of democracy, because it’s sure more than just show up and vote, so now fail to practice its principles. And as you’ll see further down, when we do not appreciate democracy nor practice it truly, can we really say we live in its sunshine?
Because of my own lack of knowledge, I’ve been studying quite a bit on this topic lately, arming my mind with the necessary tools to fight ignorance and subjectivity. I would like to explain what I’ve learned so far, and what I believe is a democracy well-practiced:
Free men and women who willingly agree to a constitution, and who, using their power to educate and vote, passionately participate in the political process, resulting in the fair appointment of representative leaders who have garnered majority of the trust of the people, and who, after the leaders have been sworn in, support these recognized leaders in the building of a better nation, with just as much passion as they applied to supporting their initial candidates and concerns.
Let me break this down.
Free men and women
My appreciation of the idea of freedom came in three stages:
– Stage 1: An immature view and enjoyment of freedom, which thought that the definition of freedom is to be able to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, where I wanted, with whoever I wanted. This was never a problem when my heart was tempered by prudence, but has caused me incredibly pain, complications, and embarrassment when that same freedom, that same permission and ability to do what I wanted, was not governed by a deeper understanding of the concept.
– Stage 2: A deeper understanding of the idea of freedom and its connection to God’s supreme virtue for man, love. This was first caused by learning that the etymology of the word *freedom* comes from the word *pri*, which means beloved, and that the original idea of being free meant, because you were loved by someone, you were part of the *pri* or the beloved, who enjoyed the benefits of the one who loved you (you can read my article on that here). Belonging to a family, for example, gives you certain privileges from simply being part and loved by that family, that other non-family members don’t get. Belonging to a nation gives you certain privileges that non-citizens don’t get. Of course these privileges vary depending on the quality of the values and the capability of the one who loves you. **I’ll touch more on this later** but the simple point is this: The level of freedom we enjoy, the benefits of that freedom, is greatly linked to quality of the person, or in the case of a country, the state, that considers you part of the beloved.
From a Christian perspective, theologically, I believe, that God made man out of the expression of His love, and that His greatest purpose for man was to enjoy the beauty of giving and receiving love. Of course this is love as He defined it in 1 Corinthians 13, life laying, enemy loving, and as He showed it in John 3:16. Now a crucial element to love is choice. To truly love someone or something, we need the freedom to choose it, which includes the alternate choice, which is, *not* to choose it. If something is forced upon us then can we say we really love it?
– Stage 3: A practical application of a deeper understanding of freedom in any political process. Putting the two concepts together, that the quality of the freedom we enjoy is dependent on the quality of the person or state that considers us as part of the beloved, and the Christian perspective that we were made free by God to choose (or not choose) love, how do we apply this to the political process?
We choose. And we choose wisely. As part of a nation, as a citizen, we are considered that nation’s “beloved” and have the privilege to choose who will lead us. We choose wisely because, as I said earlier, the quality of the person or state greatly affects the quality of the privileges we enjoy. Like I said in the article on freedom I shared above:
“Love (choose) a rich man and you’ll be free to afford fine material things. Love a strong man and you’ll be free to enjoy his strength. Love an artist and you’ll be free to inspire art, and stories, and paintings. Love a wise man and you’ll be free to enjoy his knowledge and insight. Love a famous man and you’ll be free to enjoy the perks of fame. Love an adventurer and you’ll be free to explore together*.
Yet, if you love a selfish man, your privilege is limited to his selfishness. If you love a proud man, your privilege is limited to his pending fall. If you love a crooked man, your privilege is limited to his punishment. If you love a cheater, your privileges will be limited to the lack of trust.”
The Simple Point: You’re free to choose. You have the privilege to choose. Choose wisely, for your choices today greatly affect the quality of your privileges tomorrow.
The starting point of a democracy is that people have liberty, they’re free, meaning we have the privilege to choose, even more, we’re all equally free. This also means, of course, that we have the responsibility of bearing the consequences of our choices, that’s why a well-practiced democracy cannot end with just freedom. It also needs Agreement, and that’s the topic for part 2.