Continuing the democratic tradition

As the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) completes its Congress where it early announced it would be removing the terms “Socialist” and “Marxism-Leninism from its constitution, it is clear it is moving towards the liberal democratic tradition that we inherited. However, even as the Opposition has promised to hold its Congress in August, there are some who would ignore the long precedence that has been set in that democratic tradition. John Locke (1632-1704) proposed that it was hardly credible (a la his predecessor Hobbes) that people who did not trust each other in a state of nature would repose that trust voluntarily in an absolute ruler, even to guarantee social order. Locke accepted Hobbes’ postulated “state of nature”, but held that “natural law” governed there and made all men free and equal – with the right of “life, liberty and estate”.
To overcome the shortcoming that there would be, at a minimum, severe confusion since everyone can interpret the “law”, he proposed in his version of the social contract that men should first seek to create an independent society and secondly a government. Sovereign power would remain ultimately with the people, who could remove their deputies or government if it did not protect their “life, liberty and property”. Societies and Governments existed to fulfil the rights of man and Governments have a duty to fulfil their side of the bargain.
By the next century – during which slavery in the colonies was abolished and “free” societies were established – the tenets of what was called the ideals of “Liberal Democracy” were established and dominated Britain’s political thought and consequently the model held out in the colonies. JS Mill (1806-1873) summarised the tenets of liberal democracy. He was in favour of “Representative Democracy” in which the people would govern through their representatives who would be “qualified” to make the decisions of State. The State, liberals assert, exists to safeguard the rights and liberties of individuals who are ultimately the best judge of their own interests. The State must be made as small as is possible in order to ensure the maximum freedom for each citizen. Liberals also focused on the necessity for Government to operate within a constitutional framework that accepted the rule of law. Much of what we call “Westminster” constitutionalism is derived from this phase of English history.
The contextual nature of the development of specific features of democracy can also be seen in the contributions of two Frenchmen. Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), extended Locke’s mild suggestion that the power of government ought to be separate and proposed that this “separation of powers” was key to the preservation of liberty. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) proposed that the State is supposed to facilitate the opportunities of citizens to enjoy his rights.
The American extension of the democratic idea arose from their concerns over “factions” seizing power and oppressing the others. Their solution was to utilise and extend the ideas of Montesquieu and divide power vertically and horizontally within a federalist structure that betrays the fact that substantively, many of the founding fathers were stirred by the Lockean prioritisation of “life, liberty and property”. Democracy’s reintroduction in Europe in tandem with the development of the nation-state and capitalism is not coincidental.
The economic middle class, newly-formed by the spreading Industrial Revolution, were demanding greater political power to go with their burgeoning  economic worth. The slogan of the French Revolution of 1789 – life, liberty and fraternity has proven durable and has been a beacon for colonised people in the modern era. What we have seen in the survey above is while intuitively “the people” exercising political power shapes democracy, it is not a straightforward, uncomplicated idea that we can take for granted – it is an omnibus value-expression. As such, democracy can never be a static idea: the democratic institutions that we consider to be the standard have only been around for a hundred years or so and even in that time they have been considerably modified.
The PPP is clearly committed to advancing this democratic tradition.