• Democracy and Self-respect

    Democracy is important in many senses. It is first and foremost a form of government – famously described as, “government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

    It is then a process, which enables us to choose our government; that process, of elections and political parties, is often confused with democracy itself, but elections are merely the mechanism by which we deliver the form of government.

    Importantly, democracy also allows us to choose our leaders. Government and leaders are, for this purpose, two quite different concepts.  A government makes the laws and implements the policies by which we organise and govern ourselves.

    Our leaders, though, are those who represent us, who embody the values we hold and who bring them to life in both the national and international context.

    Democracy, in other words, allows us not only to elect those who govern us but also to choose those who represent and lead us. The former choice is very much a political one; the latter much more a personal choice – and we accordingly tend to choose those whom we like, with whom we identify and whose values we share.

    It is this aspect of democracy that is often overlooked, yet that provides us with one of its most valuable benefits. Observers from outside the country will be able to identify the true spirit and temperament of a democratic country by examining the personality of its leader or leaders.

    And for us at home, democracy produces leaders with whom we are happy and whom we trust. The choice we make tells us something about ourselves, and is therefore in some senses an exercise in self-respect. The more we respect ourselves, the greater the care we will take to elect leaders who represent us and who, in embodying our values, seem to deserve our respect.

    The personal qualities of our recent leaders in New Zealand tend to bear out this analysis. Whether it be the charm, warmth and bonhomie of a John Key or the compassion, concern for others and inclusiveness of a Jacinda Ardern, it can be argued that we have chosen leaders whose qualities not only resonate with us, but which are applauded by our friends overseas.

    There can be little doubt that Jacinda Ardern’s profile has greatly benefited New Zealand’s international standing. When our sportspeople perform well at international competitions – World Cups and the like – the good impression created by our prowess on the sports field reinforces the impression given of our national characteristics by those whom we elect to represent us in international forums.

    We can afford to feel proud of our leaders on the basis that they provide an accurate reflection of the qualities we value in ourselves. Democracy allows us both to demonstrate our own self-respect and the qualities on which that self-respect is based.

    We are not of course alone in choosing leaders who demonstrate qualities of which we can be proud. But our example does make it all the more puzzling that some of our friends overseas do not take the same opportunity.

    How can it be, we might ask, that the Americans can use their votes quite deliberately to choose a leader who, in the eyes of the world, does not deserve respect. Whatever other qualities he might have, Donald Trump’s lack of a moral compass – his tendency to lie, bluster and misrepresent, his readiness to divide the country by targeting particular groups as un-American, his treatment of women as playthings, his lack of respect for democracy and the rule of law – bespeaks an absence of, or at least peculiar definition of, self-respect on his part and, as a consequence, on the part of the American people as well.

    It is hard to believe that the Americans are willing to have their national identity established worldwide in terms of these qualities.

    Until they re-discover their sense of self-respect, the Americans will forfeit one of the most valuable aspects of democracy – the ability to demonstrate to the rest of the world the value they place on themselves. Given that we are not about to lend them Jacinda, we must hope that they can discover by themselves how to restore the foundations of what “made America great” in the first place.

    Bryan Gould
    22 July 2019




  1. Bill says: July 24, 2019 at 5:07 amReply

    Well said Bryan. How are you keeping?

    • Bryan Gould says: July 24, 2019 at 11:45 pmReply

      I’m fine, Bill. Good to ear from you. Bryan

  2. mikesh says: July 25, 2019 at 9:43 pmReply

    What we appear to need at present is a pro environment dictatorship. By the time global warming becomes so bad that “the people” are willing to vote in a government that will take strong action it will be too late for us.

    Democracy can also be thought of as a form of government which acts for the benefit of everybody, and this is also possible under a dictatorship. Whereas an elected government can still be quite oppressive.

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