Secularist Now Champions Self-Governance
A citizen however is human first and “political animal” next. The life of human relates to self, family, community, society, culture, and religion. A citizen does not surrender his life to democracy.
By Aqeel Ansari
By self-governance we generally assume that sovereign power in a republic belongs to millions of citizens. However, a small body of elected representatives, parliament or legislature, exercises power. Collective choice of the polity is thus reducible to personal choices of individual representatives who obey the rule of majority. But the rule of expediency guides choice making of individual representatives. The secular challenge now as before is to manipulate legislative action of representatives to wed wealth and political power for the managers of wealth to stay in control. Once the majority of polity members prefer the secular lifestyle, they join the managers of wealth to frustrate citizens’ aspirations for equality and shared prosperity. The new polity only offers new challenges; it does not set roadblocks. This is why the secularist champions the cause of democracy.
The challenge for the managers of wealth requires dual response to frustrate aspirations of citizens. A part of response deals with concentration of political power whereas the other part deals with concentration of wealth. We deal with economics of the response in our discussion of secular economy. We deal here with politics of the response. The idea of democracy divides citizens into those who govern (members of polity) and the governed (all citizens). And the governed includes those who govern! The polity derives its authority from the consent of the governed. It has no power of its own; it exists to exercise political power delegated to it by the citizens. It is assumed that the governed enter into a social contract with those who govern. The polity adopts a constitution to spell out the social contract. The civil society sanctifies the constitution, which is assumed to embody general will of the citizens.
As the advocates of democracy in Europe find in concentration of power the source of anarchy and misery, they are preoccupied with division of sovereign power to restore social order. They distribute political power equally among representatives who are elected by the citizens. They presume that it will protect the representative body from abuse of authority and make the polity more responsible and more accountable. The presumption relates to the polity as an organic whole. They disregard the fact that every member is constituent part of the whole of polity and thus ignore the natural tendency of parts to combine in order to diminish the whole. An English scholar, John Stuart Mills, argues that unpopular legislation through deception is possible. He therefore qualifies consent of the governed with undeceived consent. But obsessed with the abuse of concentration of power, the advocates structure the polity to distribute power among hundreds of elected representatives to proportionately diminish individual power of representatives. Since the inception of democratic polity, the civil society remains busy restoring integrity of the whole to deal with unpopular legislation and political scandals.
The advocates create the idea of separation of powers to divide the polity by function into three independent branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative branch makes laws that are constitutional. The judicial branch is empowered to resolve conflicting interpretations of the constitution. The judiciary therefore has the authority to declare a law unconstitutional. The executive branch headed by a president or a prime minister administers laws enacted by the legislative branch. The chief executive nominates members of the judiciary subject to confirmation by the legislative branch. In some democracy, depending on political structure, even the cabinet members are subject to confirmation by the legislative branch. Again, some democracy empowers the chief executive with the power of veto to reject a legislation that he considers wrong or unjust. The chief executive in some democracy is designated the head of the state. This is an erroneous designation because such designation is symbolic. Moreover, the separation of powers requires that no branch be subject to authority of another for every branch independently exercises its power. Every branch contests for power and interprets the constitution accordingly to support its pursuit of power. You notice that conflicts are likely to arise between independent branches of government. Who shall arbiter the conflicts between the branches? The separation of powers may result in a drawn contest or a deadlock. But the managers of wealth discover in it opportunity for manipulating political power regardless of function.
Then there is the separation of powers by geography. There is a national government, several provincial or state governments and many local governments in every province. The idea of self-governance is to empower local governments of villages, towns and cities where elected officials are in direct contact with citizens. In fact, we discover the idea of democracy in city state of ancient Athens. The archeologists discover the word amagi meaning freedom or liberty written on clay about 2300 B.C. in the Sumerian city state of Lagash. The provincial governments are conceptual wholes for the purpose of coordinating local programs and projects that transcend jurisdiction of one community. Likewise, the role of national government relates to matters of national importance including money supply, defense and national programs and projects.
The provincial and local governments also have separate legislative, executive and judicial branches. The central government has offices in provincial capitals and major towns and cities of every province. Likewise, regional governments have offices in capital city and major communities. The citizens pay for operational expenses of every level of government; they also pay for public programs and projects. Again, history evidences that the local, provincial and national governments compete for power and public revenue. The managers of wealth discover in geographical separation opportunity for manipulating choices of polity members at all levels of government.
The advocates extend the idea of separation to create multi-party system. Because they fear concentration of power in the hands of one party, they divide those who govern into two or more political parties. A candidate contests for a share in power for own party in local, provincial or national election. More members a party has in the polity the greater is its power to promote the party agenda. If members of a party are in the majority, they form the government. The ruling party generally stays in power until the next election. The losing parties sit in the opposition. It has no choice but to work with the ruling party. The opposition supports the ruling party or hinders its progress depending on how far the latter accommodates party agenda of the opposition. The political parties naturally compete to grow own share of power. The contest for power by political parties divides citizens’ loyalty along party lines at every level of government. The managers of wealth find in party affiliation and party politics great opportunity for influencing public opinion and manipulating legislative action regardless of function and geography.
A citizen however is human first and “political animal” next. The life of human relates to self, family, community, society, culture, and religion. A citizen does not surrender his life to democracy; he only surrenders political power through election. The polity members become lawgivers of the citizens. They exercise common force, the force of coercion, to accomplish the following.
· Secure life and property of citizens
· Safeguard citizens’ freedom to engage in private pursuits
· Legislate for wellbeing of citizens
· Apply the rule of law equally
· Establish fair market practices in production and exchange
The polity of democracy is overly admired because people admire what it promises to accomplish. If the citizens receive what it promises, they ought to thank it for selfless exercise of delegated authority to govern. The performance of democracy over two centuries however evidences failure of polity members to meet the constitutionally enshrined terms of the social contract. They are under oath to uphold the constitution but they increasingly prefer what is advantageous for them to what is advantageous for the citizens. Read the next column to understand why democracy is a misunderstood form of polity to advance the cause of individual freedom.
(The writer is based in Texas, USA and can be reached at: