Governments must be on our side: the absolute importance of democracy


Given that in practice we probably do need governments we need, first, to ask what we want those governments to do; secondly, to ensure that we install the kinds of governments we think we need; and, thirdly – and at least equally important – ensure that we can get rid of governments that fail to operate in our best interests. Again the complexities are endless but the general principle was expressed very beautifully by Jesus (From St Mark (10:42-44): 

“ … whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all”

In short, we need to ask for starters – “Is the government really on our side?” Or indeed, “Whose side is it really on?” The present-day, government-corporate axis with its revolving door gives plenty of reason to doubt whether the wellbeing of people at large, and still less of the natural world, is really the priority of government. 

One thing that emerges from all such contemplation is the absolute importance of democracy. Again the this is an infinitely complex concept but again it has been summarised in a few words – this time by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg: 

“Government of the people and for the people” —

— although these days we surely should add — “and for the natural world”. 

There are many snags of course. One is that governments are useless unless they have power and the more power they have the more they can do. But as the historian and statesman Lord Acton commented around 1900: 

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men”.  

Vladimir Putin demonstrates this perfectly, as did Donald Trump.  

But then we need mechanisms to ensure that governments are not corrupt, or at least to keep corruption to a minimum, As the Roman satirist Juvenal put the matter: 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” “Who will guard the guardians?”

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