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ARE POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY AND THE LEGITIMATION OF GOVERNMENTS STILL VALID? PDF Print E-mail
Democracy-Totalitarianism

electionIn the critical age that we are going through - at a world and not only a national level - and in spite of the institutional development of 'democracy' and the technological progress of our civilisation, we discover that there is a vast democratic deficit and a turn towards totalitarianism, in spite of the fact that the means used in the West for the imposition of power are at present different from what they were in the past.

Democracy has, in a manner of speaking, a double form: on the one hand, the form given to it by the constitution, and, on the other, the ideal form which man can envision.
These two are in constant contact and friction with one another. Exclusive attachment to the law which gives it a specific organisational form leads inevitably to problems, since society changes constantly and thus new problems rise to the surface which the previous form taken by democracy can no longer solve. For example, the existence of parliaments by itself may once have been great progress and have been sufficient for democracy, but today, with the complex articulation of the world economy, it is not enough, because it cannot counterbalance the negative influences of this economy. Furthermore, present-day man is much better informed and active, and this means that institutions must be transformed in such a way that man can take a greater part in public affairs.
One of the major points at which democracy is ailing is the interpretation and implementation of the principal of popular sovereignty, which in Greece is guaranteed by Article 1, para. 2 and para.3 of the constitution, which states: "Popular sovereignty is the foundation of government. All powers derive from the People and exist for the People and the Nation; they shall be exercised as specified by the Constitution." The next article is related. It lays down that: "Respect and protection of the value of the human being constitute the primary obligations of the State." Without this second article, there would be no foundation for popular sovereignty and the reference to it would be mere words.

A. Problems with and obstacles to popular sovereignty
The constitutional mandate, however, is not sufficient for the fulfilment of this declaration in practice. Practice always falls short of declarations and laws, and various factors are responsible for this. The distortion of the principle of popular sovereignty, a principle which is fundamental to democracy, comes from two conflicting factors:
1. The inadequate understanding of and response to the needs of governance on the part of the people themselves; when, that is to say, the people do not understand the ideas put forward or are indifferent to public affairs - or both.
2. The counterfeiting on the part of the ruling elite of the democratic mandate. This, in turn, may be for two reasons:
(a) A lack of clarity in the circumstances - when, that is, the popular will is not clear, in which case interpretation or guessing of the popular will is required, or when it is not certain which political option would benefit the people.
(b) A desire on the part of the elites for the manipulation from a position of power of the popular will which has either been specifically expressed or can be concluded from the circumstances, or must be investigated, and their desire to retain power at all costs, even contrary to the common good, in which case their proclamations are deliberately unclear or directly false, in order to avoid any commitment or to filch the people's vote. These politicians, usually, address themselves to the affective of the citizens, to prejudices and the satisfaction of instincts, by speaking, for example, in elevated language about the country or prosperity, and their proclamations are chiefly based on the concealment and distortion of information and ideas. The dominant political discourse is not substantive, but misleading; its aim is not understanding, but, on the contrary, personal victory by any means, with complete alienation from the truth and from real need.
There is, undoubtedly, the rare instance where a ruler may come to power who has such integrity that he can on his own responsibility and initiative bring a people to the necessary point of correct regulation of the social process of development. Such a case was that of Solon, who built democracy in ancient Athens, far ahead of his times, and - it would seem - ours.
Today, however, is a time when mankind has the maturity to decide on its own account, and it would be truly retrogressive to expect to have a leader who would act on his own initiative to its benefit while it remained passive. At this particular point it would be useful to cite a passage from an important article by Immanuel Kant on the Enlightenment: "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. … Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance, nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians."[1]

Furthermore, today's world is so complex, so heavily populated, and so highly organised that such a leader (e.g., like Solon) would be destined to fail without the active support and participation of society. It should be noted here that Solon, in the democracy of ancient Athens, required of citizens by law to take part in public affairs. It may be difficult in present-day society to impose such a thing, but it should be sought after by society itself, which must demand such institutions. The fact that society has such large populations cannot be an obstacle when there are the technological means which will facilitate participation and transparency.
The fundamental problem here is the inertia of man, which nurtures his selfishness even more. This inertia is not bodily, but inertia of the consciousness of man, who wants someone else to handle problems on his behalf, without taking any part himself and without making the necessary changes in his life. But this shifting of responsibility must stop, and responsibility for the management of public affairs must be undertaken voluntarily. Only then can we have true representation and democratic control.

B. Failure of understanding and response on the part of the people
Understanding is exceptionally important and forms the basis which will draw out and bring to the surface the appropriate forces of governance and will direct political management. Understanding, however, is not the mere receiving of information and intellectual processing; it is a way of apprehending which presupposes acceptance of the appropriate values. In other words, it is the will for investigation, acceptance and implementation of principles and values, and a grasp of reality. For this reason, it is not possible, except rarely, for an immature people - in the above sense - to have a mature government. As we have pointed out in a previous article, for the functioning of a true democracy, true sociability as understanding and acceptance of the ideas and principles which must regulate life, as self-inaugurated responsibility towards the self and society and as an active interest in public affairs, is required.
Inadequate understanding rests upon two other inadequacies: (a) inadequacy of knowledge; (b) moral failure.
Inadequate understanding, whether this is due to a lack of knowledge or to a failure of morals, leads to a deficient response to the ideas which must govern democracy. It is our belief, however, that the fundamental failure of man is moral - and we are not speaking, in any circumstances, either about conventional morality or about naive sentimentalism. Hegel was right when he spoke of "such a dedication to abstract truth as will make the selfish interests which drive the daily life of man fall silent". But this abstract truth touches upon ideas, which, in their turn, are particularly despised in the world, even though from time to time they become the theatre in which fanatical ideological conflicts are acted out.
In reality, all the necessary transformation of human life will lead to a higher level of popular sovereignty, since it will give man more integrity as an individual and make him more active and sociable as a citizen.

C. Ruling elites and the handling of power
The handling of power has no connection with governance. By the word 'power', in the present article we mean the selfish imposition of strength. This power is the history of mankind up to the present, with certain exceptions which have helped in the creation and maintenance of civilisation. And the whole history of democracy is the history of the maturing of man and of humanity, and progress towards the undertaking of the corresponding responsibility.
The setting up of institutions has as its aim the safeguarding of the operation of democracy, but institutions without the protection and participation of society cannot guarantee democracy for long. If the members of society, as citizens or as state functionaries, violate the institutions for their own advantage, democracy suffers and is gradually led towards totalitarianism with the institutions now serving as its tools.[2]

For example, the most fundamental institution of democracy is the separation of powers, in which the three powers - the executive, the judicial, and the legislative - have as a purpose the avoidance of involvement with one another and the dominance of one of them, as well as the strengthening of democratic control. But, in reality, this independence of the powers was long ago overthrown, since instead of the legislative power legislating principally, the power which legislates is the executive, with the legislative simply having as its duty to endorse the draft laws proposed by the government. If, moreover, it is taken into account that the deputies who make up parliament are subject to party discipline, the conclusion is reached that members of parliament will accept or reject the draft laws proposed depending upon the views of the party elites, and not their own judgement. And this is the reality. Furthermore, the concentration of power in the executive enlarges its influence on the two other powers, the legislative and the judicial.
The political parties themselves, in addition, function in such a way that their influence on democracy is becoming negative, and in the end they turn into anti-democratic organisations within a broader scheme of democracy, which, however, they are not able to serve.
The major question which has always been there, but which today is dramatically topical is whether governments have legitimation when - almost always - they promise one thing and do another, or when they act covertly, without the people being able to be informed and to react accordingly, which is an expression of totalitarianism. This is something which has always been a concern of the science of constitutional law, and, regardless of what has prevailed in the field of implementation, we have reached a time when these issues are raised as a matter of urgency in the field of social developments and they can no longer be dealt with by conformist evasions. In practice, the legitimation of governments nowadays is based only on formal factors, such as elections, without the consistency of words and practice being examined - but this no longer suffices for even superficial normality.

D. Elitism as a constant source of the problems
Elites are usually treated as classes, but this is not a useful approach, because elites are joined by whoever acquires power, while the lower 'classes' constantly supply the power elites with individuals who stand out in their field from them, so that even revolutions end up at the same point.
The basic problem of man and of society is not only the elites (except in a specific place and period) but, above all, elitism, which is a gradual expression of alienation, superiority, and domination of others. It is much more a problem of consciousness than of circumstances, a fact which is, unfortunately, only now being realised. It is not a natural phenomenon (like an earthquake, for example), nor is it due to psychological characteristics possessed by only a few. The ordinary person gives expression to the two first stages (alienation and a taste for superiority) in full, but the third, domination, he expresses in his micro-social environment, for example the family, and not in public life, since there his social power is inadequate, whereas the stronger also express the third stage on a large scale. However, the progress of both tends towards comprehensive domination, in spite of the fact that for many this desire does not bear fruit. The essence, nevertheless, does not change, and calls for special attention. It is the inner solution of the problem on the part of the many which will eliminate domination and which will be, in all cases, capable of effectively averting the selfish domination attempted by the few.
Moreover, the narcissism of the alienation and desire for superiority of the everyday person renders him passive and vulnerable, because it robs him of lucidity of apprehension and plunges him into the satisfaction of the minor interests of his everyday life.
A society without vision cannot prosper for long either materially or psychologically. But vision cannot be based on everyday routine, and is indissolubly bound up with standards as personal integrity, in conjunction with social responsibility.
What does this mean?
(a) that everyday life exists, but the consciousness of man extends beyond it;
(b) that standards are not passivity and emotionalism, nor is individual integrity individualistic irresponsibility, while social responsibility cannot be that absence of freedom which wipes out the individual.
The usual separation made between these two poles of human existence (the individual and society, or individuality and wholeness) gives rise to a chaotic situation and fragmentation, both individual and social. Fanatical positions adopted in favour of one or the other pole nourishes both, leading them to a conflict without an escape route, whereas, on the contrary, what is urgently needed is a synthesis of both. This synthesis, furthermore, is also the fundamental problem of man when he falters between the two. For this reason, democracy is an excessively difficult undertaking, since it requires a balanced synthesis of these two poles, which is something which entails both the institutions and a mature individual participation in public affairs.    

E. Popular sovereignty and opposing interests
Popular sovereignty, of course, is not so easy to define, because in society there are opposing interests, not only among the few who have power and the many who are powerless, but also among the many. Furthermore, mere fragmented groups of people, in conflict with one another and lacking freedom are very far from constituting a healthy society of a synthesis of the individual and the whole and from having enlightened public opinion, and so they are transformed into 'objects' for manipulation or 'subjects' of random and momentary enforcement. This is also the true difficulty.  
The majority system is the only one which can be applied with the least possible harm, without this meaning that the will of the many is always right. It should not be forgotten, for instance, that the Nazi party in Germany had been voted into power by the majority of the people or that the Roman Senate was more sensible than the people in certain cases. For the majority system to yield better results for democracy, transparency, genuine information, and education, so that the majority shapes its decisions by way of truth, are required. Unfortunately, however, obvious lack of transparency, propaganda, and an absence of genuine education cancel out the benefits of this system.
In any event, democracy cannot be confined to elections and political management. Democracy must ideally include a whole way of apprehending and behaving on the part of citizens, so that the individual and the whole are harmonised with one another. This in no circumstances can mean a uniformity of views (which would be catastrophic), but certainly should arrive at the elimination of egoistical interests. Naturally, ruling elites should also be subject to the same principle; however, they are not going to act in this way because they have no reason to do so, and thus any such expectation is somewhat naive.
The problem is not that this utopian (from one point of view) vision cannot immediately become reality, but that most people are not working in such a direction. A shift in direction alone would have brought about exceptionally important results to the social process. But people's real utopia is that they want to preserve intact their individualistic interests and that at the same time they require society to operate smoothly – which is not going to happen because these things are incompatible with one another.

F. Popular sovereignty and political parties
The existence of parties guarantees – in theory, at least - the existence of many views and trends, and, consequently, democracy. However, the parties, in spite of their pluralism, have serious imperfections which cancel out democracy, which they ought to be serving. Very briefly stated, it must be said that party discipline substantively overturns the obligation of the deputy to vote in parliament as a person and obliges him to vote as the party elite wishes; the selection of members of parliament is not carried out by the party bases, but indirectly by this elite. Political parties cultivate the field of politics as a field of competition for power with other parties, and not as a field of responsibility and implementation of ideas; the processes of the shaping and taking of decisions lack transparency, while their economic nature is totally obscure. Their funding by the economically powerful removes from them any trace of scope for work for the common good. Many other points could be touched upon, but the above has been cited, very briefly, to make it clear that the parties, despite their rhetoric, have deviated from their purpose and do not serve the constitutional principles and popular sovereignty.
None of this means that political parties and parliamentarianism should be abolished as useless, but that today we are faced with a total crisis, with the self-destruction which will lead people to complete enslavement outstandingly visible. Usually, when something fails as an ideal, as is the case today with democracy, people tend to reject it and to turn to something opposite, just as long as they do not have to take the trouble to think, to realise the truth, and their responsibility. And thus a failed democracy can easily end up as totalitarianism, but in this transmutation people will not have understood the nature of the problems and the obstacles. In reality, they are in this way completing the cycle of failure with extremism, without having, however, apprehended their own responsibility for the failure. They regard the institutions and ideas as independent of themselves, and, paradoxically, capable of functioning on their behalf, but without their own participation - which is completely senseless and irresponsible.
It is the absolute responsibility of society to read the signs of the times and to behave responsibly in the field of governance. Inertia, wilful ignorance, and fanaticism of every kind are catastrophic. And what is at risk is not only the economy, but individual hypostasis itself and the freedom of the individual.

__________________
[1] Kant, Immanuel, What is Enlightenment? [Greek edition], trans. N.M. Skouteropoulos, Kritiki publications, 1989, p. 19.
[2] Zisis, Ioannis, 'Totalitarianism and sustainable plans for the future', "Ολοκληρωτισμός & βιώσιμα σχέδια για το μέλλον" (in Greek).


Ioanna Moutsopoulou, Lawyer
Member of the Secretariat of Solon NGO

Photo by wikipedia

 
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