The Democracy Gospel: Power

In recent months I have read many articles and watched numerous documentaries. Most documentaries were politically or societal themed and the word “democracy” was often mentioned. As I learn more it becomes easier to become a cynic, hence the title. This essay is about democracy and the promise of power.

First things first, democracy promises power to “the people”. Democracy is a system of government that can be very complex when implemented. When implementing a democratic system there are generally  two big issues, namely power and representation.

Here I want to focus on power. How to define power and its context? It helps to take an example of a powerful person, say the chief executive officer of an enterprise, in short the C.E.O. This person is first of all able to do this job of being a C.E.O. Second this person is given a mandate to operate and decide on many matters as a superior in the organisation.

Systems of government are applied to a state with a country. In each state there is head of state. In a democratic system the head of state can be directly voted for or another method is applied. In the Netherlands the prime minister is not chosen by a population vote. In the U.S. the president is directly chosen by “the people”. The Dutch prime minister and American president fulfil the same role.

In democratic systems of government power is given by voting rounds. A majority of votes decides on decisions (referendum or parliament); who is tasked and given responsibility and who is given executive power to decide and carry out specific assignments. The ability and power to vote is given to “the people”. They have the power to elect and protest. In their vote lies their decision-making power.

Next there are “the people” themselves. In each country with a democratic system of government there is some sort of constitution that describes who are allowed to vote. Per country there are differences. One thing is clear though: when a citizen reaches a minimum age he or she may vote for a representative candidate of choice.

Now the power of the people might seem limited. Fact is that the power of the people is actually less limited than most people think. Citizens are able to vote; have the power to vote; may protest as individuals and groups; can practice civil disobedience when their government acts unacceptably and basically stop the country’s economy and trade by saying “Fuck you, now stop governing us or we shall revolt”. I may come across as an anarchist. Thing is, a democracy is a less anarchistic system of government with elected representative to let the voice of “the people” be heard in the government.

When the elected representatives and politicians of the country continually ignore their citizens and go as far as to trample on the confirmed and described civil rights of their citizens, these citizens have every right to disagree in word and act. When in the media and government publications elected representatives and politicians distance themselves from or simply deny their citizens to protest, these representatives and politicians are not worth the vote, such is a democracy.

In democratic system of government the promise of power to “the people” is central to the functioning of the country and the state. This power enables the people to disagree with their government in word and act. In extreme cases citizens can revolt because their government is acting unconstitutionally, think of the American Revolution. Per country and per situation how citizens respond is more complex though. In some countries citizens prefer harmonious solutions, in some countries citizens prefer less harmonious solutions.

As for the title, sometimes certain figures present the democratic system of government as the perfect solution like apostles who bring a new gospel. I say, “Fuck them and let them come with arguments for a fair and pragmatic system with checks and balances”. A democratic system can work very well for a country. A democracy can also change into a less democratic system of government as has happened before, it is not a perfect solution.

This essay is part of a series of essays on aspects of democratic systems of government. I will also address representation, separation of church and state and the trias politica. The challenge in these writing about these topics is finding the balance between general, specific and factual details.

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