3.b.12 – What binds democracy to freedom?

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March 28, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

What binds democracy to freedom?

When democracy was introduced for the first time in Greece in the sixth century BC, it was clearly intended to remove political power to the ruling class at the time. A similar situation occurred in France at the time of the Great Revolution, where there was a ruling class of wealthy landowners (aristocrats) and an emerging new class (the industrials) increasingly intolerant of the aristocratic domination. In English colonies in America, in the same period, the transition to democracy was simultaneous to the access to the independence from a central government, still of aristocratic, despotic and distant type; several times in history therefore democracy was proposed as a form of alternative government to that of a ruling class, felt as too oppressive. The dominated class, or the people, being generally formed by the vast majority of the population, gets free from the yoke of its rulers and then decides to govern itself; the word democracy in ancient Greek had the meaning of government of the people (demos = people, cratos = strength, power, government). In principle the concept is very simple: no more masters, and then no authority above the people, who will then have to find some form of self-government; then democracy has two fundamental characteristics:
– people become the highest authority
– the government depends on the will of the people.
Consequently, the forms of non democratic government does provide that the people is ruled by someone else, i.e. that people is subordinate to it, subject to other authorities, in other words is not free. Democracy is therefore essential to have a People free from higher authorities, including the public institutions that are themselves subject to the People authority (self government).
A free people does not guarantee that every individual is politically free, even a democratic government can establish unjust and discriminatory restrictions, especially against ethnic, linguistic, religious, etc.. minorities, but the individual can not truly say that he is free if the people he belongs to are not; democracy is a prerequisite, although not sufficient, even for freedom of individual citizens.
Although the principle of popular sovereignty may seem simple, banal, his achievement appears certainly much more difficult: the tribal societies in which the human being has evolved, as far as we know, were not of democratic type; although there wasn’t a ruling class, its role was played by the chief of the village and by tradition, especially religious, which governed the daily conduct of each member; the population was not self-managed, but followed the teachings received from ancestors and the directives of the chief, which was accepted with a certain passiveness, but that were generally valid, being the fruit of a slow evolution of a cultural experience in a fairly stable environment. It follows that the nature of the human being is not naturally democratic, this is a new cultural adaptation that, however, was only partially diffused among the population, encountering much resistance.
The populations of Western countries descended indeed from the serf of the Middle Ages, in turn descendants of slaves of the Roman Empire: their cultural tradition is even less democratic than the tribal and after millennia of servitude is difficult to incorporate into the mindset concepts such as the people sovereignty and the self government; this explains why it is so difficult to accept and profitably use a democratic culture; what is then the use of the legitimacy of the authority of people, if the people can’t use it for ignorance or lack of education? We saw that a legal freedom deprived of the actual freedom, is indeed an illusory freedom; similarly a legal authority that cannot be exercised by the people is an apparent authority of the people, that is an apparent democracy.




pillola  n. 26 – DEMOCRAZIA E LIBERTA’ Libertà e Democrazia

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