COMBONI THAT DAY

Democracy at the service of the common good

Monday, February 19, 2018
"A democracy without fundamental values to guide political and social action easily becomes a more or less covert totalitarianism." Democracy, monarchy, republic or dictatorship are not, in principle, more than frameworks in which social and political relations are circumscribed with a multiplicity of cultural, demographic, political and religious factors. Ten reflections on democracy inspired by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. [Jpic News from John Paul Blog: Vol. 6 - N 2]

Democracy at the service of the common good

"A democracy without fundamental values to guide political and social action easily becomes a more or less covert totalitarianism." Democracy, monarchy, republic or dictatorship are not, in principle, more than frameworks in which social and political relations are circumscribed with a multiplicity of cultural, demographic, political and religious factors. Ten reflections on democracy inspired by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

1.-The human person

Democracy is valuable insofar as it ensures participation and guarantees the possibility of electing and controlling the rulers, as well as replacing them when appropriate by peaceful means. An authentic democracy is only possible in a State based on a right concept of the human person, where the development conditions of each person are given, through the ideals and values inspiration, and where there are structures of participation and co-responsibility.

2.- Basic values

Democracy is not just a series of requirements or rules for a formal fulfillment; all its actions should respect a minimum foundation that is the intrinsic dignity of every human being, born or unborn, sick or healthy, enlightened or illiterate, rich or poor, believer or atheist, chaste or promiscuous. This implies the protection of fundamental rights - starting with the right to life, and the assumption of the common good as the aim and criterion of political life.

3.- The risk of relativism

Ethical relativism is a threat to the democratic system. One thing is the plurality of opinions and another the contempt of objective criteria on crucial issues. A harmful drift of moral relativism is where those who do not declare themselves agnostic or skeptical are disqualified from the public debate; those who affirm that it is possible to know and defend the truth are then designated as anti-democrats, fanatics. A democracy without fundamental values guiding political and social action easily becomes a more or less visible or covert totalitarianism. Democracy is only an instrument, and not an end in itself, and its morality, therefore, is not autonomous, but depends on the morality of the aims it pursues and the means it uses to achieve them.

4.- Social control of power

The formal division of power - Legislative, Executive, and Judicial - is essential in democracy construction, but it is not enough. There is also the controlling role on power exercised by intermediate social bodies: family, schools, Churches, associations. The responsibility of those who have obtained the legitimacy to govern is towards society. In addition, this responsibility has to be continually subjected to social control through public opinion and, above all, in its formal expression, through free and guaranteed elections. Accountability must be in the DNA of those who obtain the citizens’ trust to exercise any function of power or public representation.

5.- Freedom of elected officials

The people who are responsible for directing and making decisions are subject to the citizens’ scrutiny through the exercise of freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration. At the same time, they enjoy a space of autonomy so that they do not become passive agents of the electors. Those who have the responsibility must exercise it, always for the common good, even sometimes, against what their governed people express, because the social body is not infallible either. This autonomy, and necessary freedom, are, however, subject to objectives that aim at the common good and not at the interests of one's own or a group.

6.- Practice of power with a spirit of service

Whoever has the responsibility to govern, or to exercise a public service with decisive power of a certain entity - kings, mayors, councilors, judges and legislators -, must not forget the moral dimension of their representation. The responsible authority is one that is exercised with a spirit of service, with patience, modesty, moderation, charity and generosity.

7.- Corruption, the great cancer

Political corruption is one of the most serious causes of degradation of democracy.  It negatively influences the relationship between governors and the governed, compromising the proper functioning of the State; promotes distrust in public institutions; causes the contempt of citizens for political activity; weakens institutions and the consideration of their representatives; distorts the original role of institutions and turns them into exchanges of corruption. In short, corruption prevents the realization of the common good and paves the way for populism, revolutions and social disorder.

8.- Excessive bureaucratization

Every public, national, regional or municipal administration is an instrument and intermediary of the State and must be at the service of citizens: it must serve, be useful, facilitate - not the opposite. The State must avoid excessive bureaucratization. Each process involves a form, a window, a processing time; but if these efforts become complex, democracy loses quality, citizens despair and officials become a fatalistic presence difficult to swallow. Those who work in the Public Administration are at the service of the common good and their performance must be for the community service.

9.- Participation channels

In democracy, political parties constitute one of the most important channels of participation. Therefore, they too must be democratic. The parties’ internal democracy, when it is scarce and based on clienteles or in a flawed sense of loyalty, stifles the state democracy. The systems of closed lists, the size of the circumscriptions or the different systems of electoral counting and assignment of representatives should be seen as democratic issues. The same goes for the referendum that has a lot of value for citizen participation, as long as it is carried out in conditions of true legality.

10.- Information and media pluralism

Information and media pluralism are key elements of a healthy democracy. The media, the fourth power, play an essential role of watchdog. The journalistic work has to be developed, however, in favor of democracy, with the highest possible degree of independence. Laws should prevent the concentration of media in powerful groups, which monopolize huge advertising quotas, leading to irrelevance of the other media. Media concentration opens the way to the political discourse concentration, which does not benefit at all to neither the whole of society nor the common good, because it neither empowers people, nor makes them aware of their rights and dignity and more responsible in decisions taking.