Democracy and Justice #
“Democracy is the worst form of government; except for all the others”. Churchill.
“that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. From the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
“The first question of government is a question of trust. As Confucius told his disciple Tsze-Leung, three things are needed for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler can’t hang on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand”. Onora O’Neill
The word ‘democracy’ has its origins in the Greek language. It combines two shorter words: ‘demos’ meaning whole citizen living within a particular city-state and ‘kratos’ meaning power or rule. The social contract relies on Abraham Lincoln’s aphorism: The government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Justice is achieved when citizens live in an environment in which all citizens are treated equally and accorded dignity and respect.
Power, in a liberal democracy efforts are made to define and limit power, often by means of checks and balances
*According to Robert French, “The judicial process is the ultimate determinant of interpretation of disputes”, giving the *Courts the power of the final say. Unfortunately some Judges believe this gives them the licence of Humpty Dumpty’s assertion to Alice that how we interpret things is informed by nothing other than “who is to be master, that is all”!
One would expect Justice to prevail in democracies, yet this is not always the case. Politicians are renown for being motivated by popular perceptions and will often cater to current fads of “law and order” or stoked fears of crime waves and make punitive laws which will appeal to voters. A politician was overheard to say,” Never mind about Justice, Law and Order is all that matters”.
The three tiers of government; Legislative, Executive and the Judiciary need clear separation of powers and checks and balances to monitor each other to ensure not one of them oversteps their power.
Like the three nymphs of the Hesperides, given the task of guarding the golden apples, had to watch each other. Not trusting them, Hera also placed in the garden a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon as an additional safeguard. So too the three bodies of government have to keep an eye on each other to make sure each one remains true to their calling. We the people have the onerous task of Ladon – vigilantly guarding our hard won freedoms.
Despite her vigilance, the Apples were twice snaffled, once by Atlas for Achilles, and also by Discord, the goddess of strife, AKA Eris, the Greek goddess of mischief. Eris (casuistry, sophistry, eristic reasoning, specious arguments…) is present in presidential debates, in court rooms and wherever people are talking not to discover truth but to win with whatever it takes.
True Democracy is an ideal of equality; an illusion that has been hijacked by vested interest groups, government institutions, political parties and lobbyists. In America the Military Industrial Complex has been wagging the dog since the end of WWII. The FBI, the CIA, NASA, Gun Lobby, the Medical Industry and the judiciary have untrammelled power that elected representatives cannot control. A strong country needs a strong body politic.
The hallmark of a true democracy is a government that acts in accordance with the will of the people, not a government whose preoccupation is to con its citizenry, whilst looking after its mates. Little wonder our political system is profoundly struggling to maintain functionality, credibility and legitimacy in the West. Politicians cave in to powerful lobbyists or business interests rather than the Public Interest. Even in the most democratic countries, maintaining power trumps integrity by sacrificing truth for pragmatic concerns.
The critical issue in all forms of government is its commitment to public good. A benevolent dictator is better than a democratically elected government that rules in the interests of a select few who put it into power. Singapore is often held up as an example of an autocratic state that succeeds because it appears to put the interests of it citizens at a high level.
The Bush administration, Canada, Australia and England tend to elect governments who owe favours to powerful vested interests. Rupert Murdoch, through his vast media empire, claims he decides which government is elected. This debauches the will of the people.
Some advice from Machiavelli to all rulers, especially ones who need to be re-elected:
“The promise given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.” “He should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, guileless, and devout. And indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how."
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Joseph Goebbels - borrowing from Nietzsche
It is frequently clear that the National Interest is the interest of the ruling elite; the real interests of rank and file citizens is never a factor in the equation. Never before have private interests so successfully and relentlessly argued that their interests are one and the same as the public interest.
The Public Interest is not the same as what the public may be interested in. Up to 90% of the public is not interested in politics. This gives the governing classes lots of rope. As long as they use lots of three word slogans to convince apathetic voters that they are responsible.
Statesmen (in short supply) have a longer term vision and can draw up constitutions which can protect citizens from short sighted politicians. Yet breaches of judicial codes can only be held to account by current politicians whose short term interest cannot see past the next election.
Ground swell movements like Get-Up or Change.org have emerged to give the powerless and the downtrodden a powerful voice. Change.org is a platform website. People set up an account and start their own petitions, with or without the help of the staff at change.org.
Ben Rattray, the 33-year-old entrepeneur who started the site in his garage while studying at Stanford University in the US in 2007, says his aim is to change the relationship between governments and citizens around the world.
‘‘The goal is basically democratising democracy; the goal is basically creating a world in which the policies of government and the actions of companies reflect public interest, not private interests,'' he said.
In a tacit social contract we see the role of governments as “providing genuine basic public goods such as defence, law and order, Justice; public transport infrastructure; and social services – disability support, health and education” - at all times we should apply a public interest test. In turn we see it as our public duty to live in peace and harmony, doing our bit to maintain public amenities and live productive lives.
Increasingly, in an abnegation of responsibilities, governments privatise by “offloading”, “farming out”, “outsourcing”, or “contracting” regulatory powers, the public trust in our institutions begins to corrode. Self regulation is a worthy ideal, but too often fails in practice. As token gestures, governments set up supposedly independent regulators; without sufficient coercive powers to conduct productive or effective investigations. The question remains, “Who will guard the guardians”? Many are toothless tigers, lapdogs, rather than watchdogs – more poodle than pit bull terriers.
We have little philosophical grasp of the (rightful) diminution of governmental power which deregulation has brought so become increasingly angry at government without a coherent view of what we want from it.
Right wing leaders like Reagan and Thatcher’s mission; her privatisation policies to dismantle state socialism, was projected from a narrow ideological base. In instinct and language, she was a follower of Friedrich Hayek. For Thatcher, as for Hayek, the great intellectual error of the 20th century was the belief that the state could improve on the spontaneous efforts of individuals. What others saw as the state’s role in elevating the condition of the people, Thatcher saw as the insidious road to serfdom.
Whistleblower laws are an historic step in protecting brave sources who expose wrongdoing. Academic Suelette Dreyfus tells us:
“There is always serious wrongdoing peppered throughout governments over time. Good whistleblowing legislation ensures that is caught before it becomes a catastrophe …
“Many people were perplexed and asked ‘how could this happen?’
The Catholic Church is in trouble, not because a small percentage of priests abused children, but because its first instinct was to ignore the problem, to protect its reputation.
According to Australian journalist John Stubbs there are three basic rules of politics in action:
1: Sooner or later everybody stuffs up.
2: Any attempt to cover up the stuff up is invariably worse than the stuff up was originally.
3: Everybody forgets Rule 2.
The fact that they do it is not the thing that should bother us. The fact that we are expected to shrug our shoulders and accept the petty parochial political calculations for what they are and give them grudging admiration, that’s the troubling bit.
We let ourselves be taken for this ride, by participating mutely in a structured Judicial drama that can argue speciously and inconsistently on one hand and then expect respect and cred. They have freed themselves from the shackles of consistency and grounded evidence
That we collude quietly for now is a particularly dark piece of moral turpitude. It shouldn’t be assessed against the standards of political cunning, it should be judged against the standards of simple human decency.
Overstepping their authority is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the people and if governmental institutions are regulated under a self-regulatory system, it becomes merely a sorry piece of window dressing. As they are part of the same government it is easy to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. Too often, at best, warnings raised are ignored or at worst the whistleblower is crucified to protect vested interests. Courts are not always sympathetic to dissident views.
Evan Whitton writes: (Crikey 09 06 11) that one of the fundamental problems with the adversarial legal system we acquired as a colony of England are that trial lawyers who are in charge of evidence are necessarily adept at sophistry; eristic reasoning. Judges are not trained as judges separately from lawyers and many fail to make the transition from an adversarial to a judicial mindset.
Having a cabalistic judicial system based on nepotism does not augur well for independent, disinterested and fastidious verdicts.
Taxpayers who fund the system thus cannot be sure that statements by lawyers or judges are the product of justice or of sophistry to serve some other purpose.
We are bombarded with political rhetoric. Diverse religious systems and institutions across the globe proclaim themselves as the guardians of ‘Truth’, ‘Justice’ and ‘Peace’, despite their patent failure to put these noble ideals into practice. It is this miscarriage of justice that saps society of constructive energy and advancement.
Systemic or institutional tyranny
I appreciate the invidious position of a judge in contest of narratives
- of vested interests in which power rather than quaint notions of truth and logic determine the victor. Judges have little training upon accepting their promotions and some may find the transition from an adversarial career to a judicial one a paradigm shift too difficult to make.* *
*“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. *Doctor Who
“The thin and precarious crust of decency is all that separates any civilization, however impressive, from the hell of anarchy or systematic tyranny which lie in wait beneath the surface.” Aldous Huxley
Power, though still concentrated, is measured and exercised through the evasion of accountability.
The media has a duty to scrutinise the use of power
Harold Evans The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013
No editor wants to give aid to murderous enemies, but abuses of power must be revealed
‘One point Edward Snowden made bears examination: he had to do what he did, he argues, because the National Security Agency hierarchy required him to “report wrongdoing for those most responsible for it”.
“Freedom of the press” loses its moral force when it is played in aid of reckless conduct: the Washington Times telling Osama bin Laden that the US was able to monitor his mobile phone was indefensible. But there is danger, too, when the respect due to “national security” is diluted by accusations that prove unsubstantiated. From the Pentagon Papers on, there is a whole history of authority crying wolf. I don’t know if this is another. What I do know is that the current attacks on the Guardian echo those levelled at the Sunday Times in a number of investigations. We took national security as seriously as anyone, but over 14 years the barriers erected against legitimate inquiry on grounds of national security – reporting, not document dumps – proved spurious or self-serving. Kim Philby betrayed his country and sent countless people to their deaths. However, when we exposed the full measure of his treacheries the outrage in government and sections of the press was directed not at Philby and those who protected him for years but at our reporters. The diaries of the scholarly cabinet minister Richard Crossman have been recognised as shedding valuable light on the way we are governed, but government made a full-scale attempt to censor their publication. Same yet again in the long ordeal of Northern Ireland. Cheerleading was exalted and real reporting excoriated.
The cautionary maxim of Daily Beast writer Clive Irving’s “Stasi principle” remains valid: “A state’s appetite for collecting intelligence expands in direct relationship to its technical ability to do so.”
H. L. Mencken Quotes on Democracy
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.
If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
While watchdogs and Royal Commissions can expose official casual corruption, they need to do more. Despite clear evidence of criminal behaviour in the 300 Million dollar Australian Wheat Board Scandal, not a single person has been charged. Further not one crooked member of Wall Street who collapsed the entire world economy will ever be charged. As well, bribing other countries to build jails on their land to jail innocent people from other countries is illegal, but the Americans are doing it anyway.