“It is loud and it is difficult – as it should be.”
The Roman concept of “res publica,” literally “public affairs,” was one of the early political arrangements to closely resemble the modern concept of the state.
Unlike the Athenian ideal of the city-state, defined largely by the people living with a city’s geographical metes and bounds, the “res publica” of Rome, on the other hand, was more of a theoretical abstraction, probably familiar to us as the “government of laws” that secured the rights and determined the obligation of citizens.
Over time, the concept evolved into the republican model of government. Basically, a republic is a system of government that is based on two key ideas: representation, which involves having a process of electing a government, and participation, that is the obligation of the people to take part in running the government. That is why having elected governments as well as protecting the rights that come with citizenship are among the key features of modern republics.
It might be interesting to note that republics may not necessarily be democratic. Two of the largest republics in the world – Russia and China cannot be, strictly speaking, categorized as democracies. Most republics, however, are democratic, thus explains the confusion.
Therefore, what makes a republic democratic in the truest sense of the world? First, it has a government elected either by the people or through their representatives. Second, the people have the freedom to make political choices – that includes the right to criticize and replace their leaders.
This is where it gets problematic. Any system that allows the people to freely decide on the quality of the future they would want and the means to realize them, including being able to choose the government that would help achieve them – is meant to be messy.
Messy. That is how many Filipinos would describe the state of democracy in the country especially in the last few months. The realignments and counter alignments in our country’s political space have left many confused and frustrated.
But here is the inconvenient truth: democracy is meant to be messy. Necessarily, to be a democracy, people must be free to exercise their beliefs, to speak, and to organize. Democracies encourages participation, as a result, anything can happen. It is not a neat or ideal process. This is because a democracy involves everyone who wants to participate. As wide and rich is the diversity in our backgrounds, opinions, ideologies, and persuasions, thus there is no doubt democracy can be messy.
In fact, governments that are controlled, neat and organized usually requires the citizens to subscribe to one way of doing or thinking and consequently, to give up part of their own freedoms.
That is why some republics would turn out to be dictatorships.
That is why the vigorous and sometimes heated discussions on issues, the sharply opposing viewpoints shared on social media and the propaganda efforts to convince others to agree with them is ironically “good” for democracy.
That is because, democracy is necessarily messy, and that “messiness” is its greatest strength. Strong differing opinions, the freedom to speak one’s mind, and the right to participate in governance are all part of the “messiness” of democracy.
The lack of civility in politics is another thing. That is a question of one’s moral character.
In fact, if one would trace the establishment and evolution of democratic societies, divisions and disagreements have always been part in our growth as a political community.
If the freedom to choose our political leaders is foundational and critical to our democracy, the dealing with the nuances that come with its processes is important as well. Thus, it is important to understand how the “messiness” can create an overall positive impact to a nation’s democracy.
While democracy can be a messy thing, and despite all its many faults and misgivings, a democratic system gives us hope because in the end, these mistakes can be corrected through wider political participation.
That is why even if democracy can be messy for all the noise and controversies that sometimes comes with it, we can always to make it better through our choices.
For example, voting during elections.
Elections are not just the be-all and end-all of democracies. It may be one of the fullest expressions of a democracy, but what matters even more is participation.
Discussing current issues intelligently, for example, can help further democracy.
Motivating others to understand for them the current issues that confront them and the roles they play in the community will definitely go a long way in shaping the political choices of people. Civics is also critical in building a strong democracy. It is important to note that a thoughtful, respectful, law-abiding, engaged, and responsible citizen is an irreplaceable criterion in furthering democracy.
Democracy can indeed be messy, difficult and loud – but the reality is all the messiness that comes with it is what forges democracy.