I have had a couple of conversations with friends who made comments that democracy was not all it was cracked up to be, or who admired a non-democratic country and suggested that we could learn from them. A recent poll from the Lowy Institute claimed that only 60% of Australians and only 39% of all 18-29 year olds believe that democracy is the best form of government.
I always find myself surprised when I find myself defending democracy. Surely this is a non-argument? Surely democracy is the best defence of our political freedom and liberty we have? I couldn’t contemplate wanting to live under any form of dictatorship.
But obviously, some Australians, particularly the younger generations, aren’t so happy.
It’s true that democracy has some flaws. Sometimes populist politicians pass bad laws with the support of the ignorant majority, and the politicians are always arguing with each other; surely in a civilised polity the experts should at least get along in a spirit of wisdom and co-operation.
These are irritating aspects of democracy it is true, but they are also essential by-products of what it means to be free. If we don’t have them then we become less free.
People often complain about populist politicians making bad laws simply because they have 51% of the vote. This seems to be a serious flaw in democracy- laws are not made based on whether or not they are good and just but rather on how popular they are with the people. This is a valid criticism. However, if we are going to live together in a society, then somebody is going to get their wills crossed. The beauty of democracy is that it enables dissenters to keep fighting for their position even after the decision is made. Therefore decisions will be made inevitably against the will of some, but that minority is never permanently excluded from the political scene.
For all it’s glory this freedom leads to a second complaint with democracy. We are always arguing. The politicians live to score points off each other instead of working together. It’s telling that the people who complain about this normally belong to the majority which is getting their way anyway. We cannot praise democracy for giving minority views the freedom to dissent if we complain about constant arguing. The freedom to dissent and yet still participate in the political process inevitably creates argument. We would not be free if we were not free to dissent, and dissent loudly
So democracy gives people the joint freedom to disagree with society but still participate openly in it’s politics. So far I’ve assumed that this is a good thing. But when there is doubt about something as fundamental to our freedom as democracy, it is not safe to assume anything.
The freedom to dissent yet participate is a freedom worth defending because it acknowledges the God-give truth that all humanity is created equal and has an equal right to have their views heard. To deny the latter is to undermine the former.
Pragmatically, we can make better laws when more perspectives have been consulted. This is the old adage “two heads are better than one”. People have more loyalty to a community if they know their views have equal value in that society. This loyalty is the glue which keeps a society cohesive.
Our democracy is never perfect. Democracy is not a saviour which solves all our problems. But it is a good form of government that we should never undervalue, because it is obliged to respect the human being for being human; an obligation no despot shares, no matter how benevolent he may be.