A year of reflection, of deliberation, of challenges. One with division, debate, and protest. So much so, that the internal implosion of the EU states is a constant nagging threat, one which leaves the individual states vulnerable to the vultures from the east. No, I am not referring to the end of a calendar year or some historical anniversary. This would be the closing off of my annual term in office, and the final contribution which I’ll leave behind in this student organisational setting. For those who have read my previous articles, the constant theme that dominated was undoubtedly the defence of the will of the people and the protection of their freedoms. In other words, the promotion of democratic ideals. Be that as it may, the uncanny feeling of disillusion with the current political climate necessitated the reformulation of my thoughts as to what exactly should be the political ideal that is sought. Much like how the 19th Century philosopher Karl Marx thought of socialism as being the path to reach the ‘economic ideal’ of communism, democracy should be thought of as the pathway to the most equitable and freedom-inducing system of all: The Republic.
Democracy and Republic: One and the same?
Confusion on this topic stems from the failure of the education system to properly distinguish between a democracy and a republic. Whilst the two have some overlapping aspects in that both rely on a government elected by the will of the majority, the two are not interchangeable. To suggest that democracy should be the triumphant ideology is no more than a mockery of the injustices that the system has brought about, and will bring about if we remain blind to this distinction.
Democracy’s etymology consists of two Greek words: ‘Demos’ (the people) and ‘Kratos’ (rule or power), the rule of the people. This is alluding to the will of the majority in a one person, one vote system. The purest form of democracy is the one displayed in Ancient Athens, known as direct democracy, where an active forum of the city’s recognised citizens participated and set laws in real time by a simple show of hands. Republic originates from the Latin terms: ‘Res’ (thing) and ‘Publicus’ (of the people), the public thing, alluding to the body of inalienable laws that regulate how power is exercised. The world first witnessed a republic in Rome, before the consolidation of power in the hands of the Caesar reorganised the system into the infamous Roman Empire. Within the Roman Republic, the Laws of the Twelve Tables acted much like the modern-day Constitution. At least in theory, no individual, whatever their social status could act beyond the confines of the law. The chronological order of the two systems should be indicative of the refinement that republic has over democracy. Indeed, the Roman Republic can be described as a spiritual successor to the Ancient Athenian Democracy.
If the distinction exists, why do many consider them one and the same? This could probably be attributable to the fact that the representative democracies of the west are supposedly a mixture of both elements, laws exist but are subject to change if enough people are convinced, through parliamentary action taken by elected representatives.
Some of those we hail the most are skeptical about the democratic system. The same man who stood against the dark forces of fascism with his unwavering stance to never surrender, Winston Churchill, also famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Socrates, who I’m sure is a very familiar name to students of philosophy, an intellectual and philosopher who would become a martyr for his own principles (envisioned in David’s ‘Death of Socrates’ which happens to be my favourite painting), also heavily criticised democracy. So, we have the father of western philosophy and a leader committed to safeguard democracy against authoritarianism both cynical in confrontation of the popular rule. Why? Their pessimism is a product of perceived demagoguery, the appeal for the desires of the ordinary citizen by ill-willed politicians. Taken in the local context this is what one would be referring to as the practice of leaving crumbs for the populace (bżar fl-għajnejn). This may not necessarily take the form of money or materialistic resources. Some even go as far as to sacrifice the integrity and morality of the country.
But the founding fathers of constitutionalism were aware of the dangerous wolves that hide in sheep’s clothing. History was cruel enough to narrate a story of injustices when only the majority matters, how quickly the people lose their privileges and liberties, and an elitist oligarchy inevitably emerges. The safeguard is the Constitution. This generally requires an absolute majority of 2/3 in parliament in the case of Malta, although other constitutions need 3/5 and sometimes even 3/4 majority. Now, theoretically speaking, a party would have the power to single-handedly change the Constitution if it has enough public support, although the last time this happened was in the 1945 General Election, before Independence and before universal suffrage. Unquestionably, that eventuality is still concerning so perhaps a mechanism should be in place to disallow this. As undemocratic as that may seem, the alternative would pose a serious threat to opposition and minorities.
The beauty of the Constitution and the rule of law can only be recognised and properly enforced if good people are in positions of power. ‘Good’, some may say, is subjective, and the opposite camps always seek out to vilify the alternative and paint themselves as the champions of societal wellbeing. And yet, I argue, there are a set of objectively benevolent principles that maximise the common good. To supplement this line of thought, let’s go over principles which democracy gets wrong and the republic gets right.
Freedom of Speech vs Freedom from Consequence
A frequently debated privilege is the freedom of speech, the fundamental building block for any pluralist society. It is something which we take so much for granted that we would not notice how it is being grievously threatened by a vocal minority and an indifferent majority. Democracy would ascertain that, so long that more people express favour towards a prohibition than the fewer who express concern, the prohibition would come to law. A Republic would not compromise and the principle should be very clear; anything that is said is fair game except if it incites violence. As long as there is no direct call for the physical damage or abuse to other parties, no filter should otherwise be applicable.
Immediately, the recent provisions on the incitement of hate within the Laws of Malta stem into mind. Before I dive deeper, I want to make it very clear that neither myself, nor ASCS condones and advocates for the bullying, discrimination and harassment of any kind of people. Racism, sexism, and most of the other -isms that one hears of are, by their nature, very ugly and have no place in the civilised world. The solution, however, is not the concealment and polarisation of these opinions. It should rather be the open platform. A thing need not be illegal for it to be heavily discouraged. Society’s wrath comes into play when all other remedies have failed.
The case of Daryl Davis, is one of inspiration and proof that this system works. A musician by profession who also happens to be a person of colour, Mr. Davis set out to understand why people would want to hate him when they do not even know him, befriending one of the leaders of the KKK movement, Robert Kelly, and by attending their rallies. Because he was listened to and was allowed to discourse with a black man, Mr. Kelly would sooner leave the Klan. In a TED Talk, Mr. Davis described how “ignorance breeds fear…fear turns into hatred, and if it is not kept in check, it will breed destruction.” He continues: “It’s when the talking ceases, that the ground becomes fertile for violence.” The inherent flaw of censorship in these cases is thinking that this helps educate people who exhibit these hateful remarks. I argue that those who are refused the platform will continue to harbour their hatred internally, and are unable to seek reconciliation of their views. This is where tragedy strikes.
Be weary that those who seek to block out other opinions are not always doing so with the noblest intent. For argument’s sake, consider a situation in which 60% of individuals agree that the other 40% could not publicise their views. From the remaining 60%, suppose that 60% do the same with the remaining eligible speakers. One can see how quickly the unrestrained people’s rule spirals down into totalitarianism. But if it’s enshrined black on white in the body of laws, there can be no grey areas, no hidden loopholes, nor any negotiation which jeopardises the freedom of speech.
Equity vs Equality
Perversion of the God-given liberties does not stop there. Forcing equal outcomes for everyone may seem like a fair and righteous mission. Alas, that school of thought is unsound and unfair. On this note, I’d like to reference an article by Jake Smith on The Third Eye’s portal where he differentiates between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. First of all, it is an excellently written opinionated article whose views very much align with mine. Secondly, one can simplify the debate even more, by recognising that equality of opportunity is simply the advocation for equity and equality of outcome is simply equality. So, why is equity superior to equality?
Whilst equality is a brute force attack on the institutional setting to enforce an even representation according to some identity criteria, even at the cost of merit, equity recognises different circumstances and works towards an individual’s strengths. It needn’t be said how unfair it is to push more capable people out of a vocation or opportunity because of the colour of their skin or the anatomy of their body. This negative discrimination one tries to eliminate through gender and race quotas is the very thing they are promoting because of these quotas. In addition to being illogical, it is also an unnecessary pressure on fiscal resources, pressure which one should really be trying to avoid in these harsh economic times. I’m here referring to the unprecedented 79 seat Parliament.
The ASCS Executive Board is made up of 12 individuals, of which 7 are women and 5 are men. Did we need a gender quote to reach this nearly even split? No, and in fact women outnumber men. One can point out that this stems from there being more women than men in the University. Again, were the women in our country given some form of privilege to be allowed entry into Uni? Once more, the answer is no, as they sat for the very same MATSEC exams and had to abide by a common course entrance code, just like myself.
On the topic of university entrance, there is also some fixation that a person’s worth is only recognised if they enter university. But the undeniable truth is that not everyone is cut out for tertiary education, and there is nothing wrong with that. Certain trades and occupations require other skills instead of academic learning. By lowering the standards to academic succession, three parties are suffering: those who are gifted in the academic sense for they are not obtaining the same quality that would previously have been given; those who manage to enter because of the lowered standards, by misguiding them in where their true gifts lie; and the economy as the labour market cannot easily discern through signalling who is most capable and deserving of an occupation.
The Future that we Want vs The Future that we Need
There was a time when democracy served a noble purpose, when absolutists dominated the political sphere and the common man held no real status in society. Each additional day we spend bickering and creating problems and disunity amongst us where they aren’t necessary, is a waste of time and resources which only strengthen the great deceivers from the east.
It is time to recognise that democracy can only do so much and move on to the final stage of the liberty ethos. The more we keep playing with it, the more corrupted it will become. It is time to make the choice as to the form of governance we want to in our nation and the inevitable supra-national and global governments to come: a utopian republic or a tyrannical dystopia? It is time for The Republic!