||Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe|
The ABCs of Democracy
The ABCs of Democracy is a basic primer prepared for use in Eastern Europe by Jakub Karpinski, a professor and author of books on political science, sociology, and history and cofounder and member of IDEE’s Board of Directors until his death in 2003.
Begun in the early 1990s, the book is meant to address the gaping lack of even the most basic knowledge of the concept of democracy and democratic systems of government throughout the region. It provides chapters on democratic systems in the U.S., Spain, the United Kingdom, among several others, so that people could compare systems and obtain a knowledge of democracy’s underlying ideas. The book’s need was quickly evident. It has been translated into a dozen languages, including Spanish (as part of IDEE's Cuba Democracy Pamphlet series). Other languages include Azeri, Bulgarian, Estonian, Polish, Serbian, and English, presented below.
Section 1: Political Aims
Thus democracy is a characteristic of a collectivity; we say that a given collectivity is governed democratically. Usually we consider states, and the mode of government in a state. But we may also speak about democracy in a political party, in social organizations, in trade unions, in factories. How are we to define democracy if we are to remain close to the etymological sense of the term but at the same time not to deviate too far from those meanings in which the word „democracy” was used in various times? When we speak about democracy, we are interested in decisions pertaining to some collectivity: a state, other territorial collectivity, or an organization. The point is whether that collectivity has its say in the decisions which pertain to it. If it is so, then we speak about democracy. A democratic government is the government in a state whose citizens can influence governmental decisions. Democracy might be defined in that way. But when we hear such a definition, stating that democracy means an influence of a collectivity on decisions about it, we may ask how such influence can be exercised in practice, especially in large collectivities, such as contemporary states, and how to bring into agreement the influence of a given collectivity, for instance, citizens within a state, and the necessity of many decisions being made by experts, for instance, in economic matters or in foreign policy.
We have referred to the influence on decisions, exercised by a collectivity. The difficulty in exercising such influence, and hence in putting a democratic government into practice, consists, among other things, in the fact that unanimity and universal concord in making decisions are rare. Historical experience, studies carried out by psychologists and sociologists, and ordinary experience in life prove that people are different, have different needs, different interests, different viewpoints, and different opinions. Democracy is to consist in that a collectivity, in a special case, the state, is the architect of its fortune. But if we acknowledge the differences among human beings, then democracy must somehow be brought into agreement with diversity; mechanisms must be devised whereby decisions would be made by a collectivity in which there is no concord. Such mechanisms, social institutions intermediating between individual will and collective will, have been formed in political history. Like many social inventions, they are collective ones and it is not easy to establish their authorship. One of such inventions consists in voting, in which every member of a collectivity has one vote, and the majority decides. It is interesting to note that voting as a method of bringing diversity into harmony with democracy refers to equality, namely the equality in voting rights. Every person has only one vote, and each vote is equal to any other. This is not the only possible solution, nor is it perfect. In general, in social matters perfect solutions are not easy to find: when one strives to make certain values materialize, one impairs other values. It seems that the equality of votes is more acceptable if one considers individuals and not social wholes as the fundamental value. If it is individuals who are the value and if we consider problems which pertain to those individuals, for instance, the distribution of some goods among them, then it is difficult to find arguments why the vote of one of them should carry more weight than the vote of another. But there are certainly such who know less and those who know more, and there are matters in which competence is of primary importance. That fact is taken into consideration if the voting is preceded by information and discussion, and if the spreading of information and the freedom of discussion are not limited, are not subject to prohibitions. One of the conditions of the functioning of democracy consists then in the freedom of the circulation and gathering of information, and also the freedom of the exchange of opinions, to put it briefly, in the freedom of public opinion. These are the conditions of democracy if one does not want democracy to be a democracy of incompetent people, and to be doomed to chance or to skillful manipulation by monopolists who have information media at their disposal.
Let us revert to the definition of democracy. It was stated that democracy means making decisions by a collectivity about its fortunes. But what is to be done if a collectivity has many million members? In such a case direct democracy is difficult to achieve, that is conditions in which all people have direct influence upon all collective decisions. Two solutions are then available. One of them consists in decentralization, that is in making decisions in smaller collectivities and possibly in bringing them into harmony by agreements among those smaller collectivities. Contemporary states, trade unions, and even political parties sometimes have a federal structure, they function on the strength of agreements reached within smaller units that make decisions separately and bring them into harmony if necessary. The other solution owing to which democratic institutions can function in large collectivities consists in representative institutions. A given collectivity decides to appoint its representatives, who make some decisions in its name. But if we are to speak about democracy, then the collectivity in question (in a special case, the citizens of a state) must retain its influence upon what its appointed representatives do in its name (in a special case the government making decisions in a state).
The influence of a given collectivity upon its representative government consists, first, in that the collectivity somehow decides by whom it is to be represented, that it influences, for instance, by elections, the choice of its representatives. This gives rise to various practical issues: how often are the elections to be held? are there to be any measures limiting and intermediating the selection of the candidates from among whom the representatives are elected? what, if any, are there to be the ways in which representatives can be recalled? The democracy of representative governments is not confined to the fact that those governments are elected. If representative governments are to be democratic, then there must be ways whereby the collectivity voices its will in matters in which its representatives make their decisions; moreover, the decisions made by the representatives should be largely made public so that they could be supervised: if they do not comply with the wishes of the collectivity, then the collectivity should be in a position to oppose them and to demand their modification. It follows therefrom that the government in a democratic society does not function in isolation; its actions are being attentively watched and if they are judged improper, measures can be taken to change them. Thus the functioning of a democratic society depends upon various liberties, namely political liberties pertaining to running in the elections and nominating candidates, the freedom of information which consists in access to the knowledge about the actions of the government, and the freedom of criticizing those actions, intended to bring about their change. Those liberties must be real if a representative government is to be democratic, which is to say that although democracy is not direct, society is in a position to influence decisions pertaining to it.
Contemporary states are exceptionally strong social organizations. That in particular applies to states in the countries that were governed by communist parties. Those states had at their disposal almost all means of production and to a large extent decided on the distribution of means of consumption. Those states also had at their disposal the means of coercion, that is to say the army and the police, whereas in some non-communist states the police is at least partly decentralized and not fully subordinated to the central government. In the states governed by communist parties there was also an almost complete state monopoly of the mass media. When faced with such a state, the citizens were weak and their influence upon the decisions made by state agencies was practically unimaginable or at least extremely difficult.
In democratic states solutions have been adopted which are intended to improve the citizen's position vis-à-vis the state so that he should not be totally deprived of opportunities to act and exert his influence. One such solution is the freedom of organization, possibility for citizens to form alliances, especially in political matters. It is only if there is the right of coalition, of the association of people for their common causes and if people avail themselves of that right, that citizens can influence the decisions made by the authorities and can thus at least to some extent counterbalance the power of the state. If a state is to be democratic, its decisions have to be sensitive to what individuals want. Such sensitivity of the state to social desires can be secured only if the citizens can oppose the strength of the state not severally but jointly, being associated in organizations. Opposition is a special case of an association of citizens. The invention of the institution of opposition, including parliamentary opposition, facilitates the functioning of democracy.
In the contemporary world, the societies which have the democratic institutions described here are numerous but in large areas democracy does not prevail. Democratic societies have not been devised by social planners who have then been putting their ideas into practice. The first such societies have worked out their institutions in a long historical process, which often proved difficult. Democratic institutions took shape in a struggle and contrary to resistance of various kinds. Those democratic institutions include the constitutional laws which regulate the prerogatives of the government and establish the relationships among governmental agencies. An elected parliament is another democratic institution, which exercises, as the representative of the people, the supervision of the government and is also the legislative authority. Further, those institutions include political opposition whose legal and recognized task is to criticize the acts of the government and to prepare for its replacement, should society voice its intention of such a change in a manner provided for by law. Sometimes political opposition has its surrogate in opinion-forming centers whose existence independent of the government can bring closer to democracy those societies which have so far been governed undemocratically.
Democratic countries try to solve difficult social problems and to work out ways of simultaneously attaining goals which are not easy to bring into harmony. The stability of the government has its advantages connected with the possibility of planning and the achievement of remote goals in both internal and foreign policy. At the same time, however, a government which cannot be changed and one whose policies cannot be changed is not democratic. The institution of legal opposition has precisely in view the reconciliation of stability with the possibilities of change. If the opposition is legal, then when it takes over the power in the country, that does not mean a revolutionary change, nor is it the abolition of the existing legal order; hence it need not cause alarm about the future of a given country. The advantageous harmony of stability and the possibility of change has been attained in the oldest democracies, in Great Britain and the United States, that developed, in political life, a system with two dominant parties. Their parliaments imitate correctly conducted court proceedings, in which both parties have equal rights and their task is to oppose one another in order to arrive at the truth. The opposition's task is to oppose the government, and the opposition does exactly that. The existence of the opposition is not dangerous to the government because coming to power and abandoning power is a normal process, and a democratic government does not claim that its staying in power is necessary or is its duty. In that interpretation, the exercise of power is not a sacred obligation, and authority need not be maintained at all price. The exercise of power is one of social functions, it is done for the community and in the interest of that community. That interest is tentatively defined and determined by such measures as elections, the functioning of public opinion, and the functioning of independent social and political collectivities, interest groups, and pressure groups. Defining social interest is not easy and requires compromises, but these are possible only if different viewpoints are presented and can be brought into some agreement, with the acknowledgment of the fact that a compromise consists precisely in that each party may obtain less than it originally expected.
The functioning of democracy requires the existence of many special
social institutions, such as elections, representation, means of voicing
public opinion. It also requires special political culture, in which certain
values and ways of behavior are taken for granted. That means political
culture in which it is normal for a person to have some knowledge of political
issues, it is normal to voice one's protest (in civil disobedience), but
in which it is also normal to strive for a compromise and to be able to
reach it. Democratic political culture favors the functioning of democratic
institutions, and, reciprocally, the existence of such institutions favors
the consolidation of political culture. We thus have to do with a mutual
influence, which could be observed in the case of Solidarity, an independent
and self-governing trade union in Poland. That movement both worked out
democratic institutions for a democratic decision making and democratic
supervision, and participated in the formation of democratic political
culture. Its existence was important for shaping the social attitudes of
Polish people and for the country's evolution toward democracy.
One could pose the question about the existence of partial or limited
democracies. Such democracies do exist. The influence of the collectivity
upon decision making may be greater or lesser and it may cover only some
spheres of societal life or only some decisions. In a society governed
in a non-democratic manner there may even function institutions, organizations,
and other groups with a democratic internal structure. They may be relics,
not yet eliminated by non-democratic authorities, but such islands of democracy
may be important seeds of a change towards democracy, be it just for the
fact that the relics of democracy are a school for democratic political
culture, whose survival is essential and which, under favorable conditions,
may be popularized. Exerting pressure upon undemocratic authorities is
a partial democratic mechanism. It is possible if adequate means for exerting
such pressure are available. They may consist in the spreading of information
concealed by the authorities, in the refusal to comply with the instructions
of the authorities, or in a strike. The pressure exerted upon the authorities
may win a temporary influence upon their decisions, even if there are no
durable democratic institutions. Pressure can also be used for the construction
of incipient democratic institutions, which would later facilitate the
citizens' influence upon the decisions made by the authorities. And such
an influence upon decision making is, in accordance with what has been
said earlier, decisive for our speaking about democracy, or at least a
degree of democracy.
Freedom was one of the slogans of the French revolution, and Polish political émigrés fought abroad "for your freedom and ours". When speaking about freedom, people sometimes thought about the restoration of the political independence of the state and the sovereignty of that state. But the sovereignty and independence of the state is something else than the freedom of its citizens. There happen to be states which are sovereign but despotic, such in which people do not enjoy much freedom. It is, therefore, useful to discuss separately the freedom of states (which is better to be termed sovereignty or independence) and the freedom of citizens.
Eighteenth-century philosophers referred freedom to rights and called
freedom such a system in which one can do all that which is not prohibited
by the law. What law, one may ask. Some authors meant probably the so-called
natural law, "honest," or "just" law. The law imposed by the states (now
and in the past) not always happened to be a just law. We feel that it
does not suffice to say that freedom consists in allowing everything within
the limits of the law. There have been Draconian laws, and often when people
fight for freedom they fight for a change of the law.
The political controversy over freedom is most often a controversy with
the state and most often a controversy over law. It may seem paradoxical
but freedom is protected by prohibitions. The freedom of citizens is protected
most effectively if the law prohibits the state from infringing freedom.
Many constitutions of contemporary states include positive declarations
on the existence of the various freedoms, but it sometimes is also so that
such positive declarations are accompanied by legislation which restricts
freedom allegedly guaranteed by the constitution. Such was the case of
the former communist states whose constitutions guaranteed the freedom
of press and associations, but laws of a lower level imposed various restrictions.
Vis-a-vis those restrictions, the constitutional declarations concerning
freedom proved illusory.
Constitutions are usually legal acts superior to the law imposed by
legislative bodies; the constitutions state who and how is to pass laws
and what laws cannot be passed by legislative bodies. The first amendment
to the American constitution explicitly forbids adoption of laws which
would restrict the freedom of the press. The rights of the citizens --
including those supporting their freedoms -- are derivative from the prohibitions
formulated in many constitutions with respect to the acts of the government,
and also with respect to the laws passed by legislative bodies. In a constitutional
state not every law can be passed, even if that were done by a competent
legislative body and in a proper way. In a constitutional state, the question
may always be posed whether the laws comply with the constitution, and
that is why such a state needs an agency (constitutional tribunal, supreme
court, or the higher chamber of the parliament) which would decide whether
a given law is, or is not, in agreement with the constitution.
Freedoms are protected by the special organization of the state: such
in which laws hold and are taken seriously. Laws cannot be then pure "instruments
of coercion," but are intended to protect citizens against coercion. But
a state which protects freedom is not only a state in which laws restrict
its activity. It is also a state in which institutions that are independent
of the government pass laws (independent parliament) and there are also
institutions, independent of the government, which apply the law (independent
courts). Moreover, laws cannot be passed arbitrarily, but must be regulated
by higher constitutional principles which prohibit the adoption of laws
that would restrict freedoms. In a state which protects freedom, there
are institutions which examine the compliance of laws with the constitutional
principles. Note that such a state can hardly exist if its people do not
act as independent subjects. If a state is effectively to protect freedom,
it must function side by side with an independently organized society,
because only such society can exert influence upon the laws which are being
passed and can make laws an instrument of protecting freedom against the
government. In Poland, in 1980-l, numerous measures were taken to restrict
the arbitrariness of decision makers in the economic sphere and to curb
the arbitrariness of censorship. The citizens could have their freedom
in the economic sphere and the freedom of speech protected, to the degree
that the monopoly of the rulers was restricted. The rulers' freedom of
decision making was limited then, for instance, their freedom in imposing
prohibitions, and hence the freedom of the citizens was broadened. All
that was possible because pressure could be exerted upon the authorities.
In Poland, in 1980-l, it was above all the organization of the employees
which acted as the force in the defense of freedom.
In East Central Europe, under those systems which called themselves "socialist," there were often changes consisting in the reduction of the coercion applied to the citizens by the authorities of the communist party/state, while on other occasions coercion was intensified. When coercion was reduced and prohibitions were mitigated, freedoms were broadened, be it only just a little. For instance, the average danger of being arrested could be lesser, the possibilities of traveling were increased, prisoners were released, there was a weaker pressure of the authorities on the collectivization of agriculture, formation of a larger number of associations, even if controlled by the state, was permitted, the freedom of religious practices increased. Such changes might be termed "liberalization." People received freedoms in small doses accorded by the authorities, which usually somewhat later withdrew those freedoms again. Liberalizations in small doses proved to have been short-lived, for those social forces which would defend their partial freedoms were weak. Those liberalizations were conducted without democracy, and hence without the citizens' influence upon the authorities. Freedom offered as a gift could easily be taken back.
Since coercion may be lesser or greater, freedom (which is its opposition) may be lesser or greater, too. Reduction of restrictions may take place in various fields: free circulation of persons, free circulation of information and cultural goods, access to information, to public posts, and to economic goods. When restrictions dwindle, the scope of freedom increases.
There are social movements and doctrines which consider the expansion of freedom as a value in itself and strive to secure greater freedom in the sense considered here, that is a reduction of external limitations to social actions, in particular exercised by the state. Those movements and doctrines are often termed liberalism. Liberalism in economics means the striving for a reduction of the sphere of activity of the state in the economy and for the granting to individuals and organizations such rights that they could at least form a counterbalance to the state property and to decisions made by the state authorities. In the Roman Catholic social doctrine, the term "liberalism" is not very willingly used, but it is said, nevertheless, that the state should not go too far in taking over those tasks which individuals, groups, and organizations could carry out with their own forces. That principle of restricting the role of state applies, among other things, to the economy.
When the scope of freedom in the economic sphere was discussed in communist countries, what was meant was above all the granting of rights to peasant farms or the restriction of such rights, the role of the craftsmen, private production of goods and services, existence of genuine or fictitious cooperatives, and also the social sense of the state-run economy: how far average people are to be informed about what is taking place in that economy and what are their rights to influence what is taking place there. Proposals were voiced to separate the economic activity of the state from its political activity. Such proposals could hardly be called "liberal" in the traditional economic sense, nevertheless they tended to create conditions in which the citizens could to a greater extent supervise the economic activities of the state. That would reduce the arbitrariness of the authorities and increase the freedom of making decisions on the part of the citizens. The existence and sanctioning of a monopoly, and a fortiori an uncontrolled monopoly, means the denial of freedom.
The term "legality" was frequently used in the countries ruled by communist parties, replacing a stronger formulation, used in other countries, namely "the rule of law." Legality was interpreted as the observance of the law by the state which was itself concerned with the drafting and passing of laws. Why then should a state not pass laws which would be observed? That turned out difficult to achieve. Among other things because in the communist countries the law performed a propaganda function by providing for special ornamental institutions which pretended to work. Ornamental institutions functioned as screens for other institutions in which real decisions were made. The parliament and the "collective head of state," under the name of the Council of State, were screens for the Political Bureau and other agencies of the Central Committee of the communist party or even other less formal groups of party functionaries who made real decisions. Decisions in the ruling communist parties were usually made without restraint; the law was tailored for such decision making, but in principle it was not thought that it could restrict decisions made by the authorities. On the contrary, an important task of the law was to curb freedom of the citizens.
There were institutions which the communist authorities wanted to exclude from the supervision of the law; they included above all the leadership of the communist party and the political police. But such a complete exclusion from the law sometimes turned against the interests of the party functionaries. That was the case under Stalin, when terror was applied not only to political opponents and ordinary people but to communist activists as well. It then occurred that the idea of "legality" was attractive to those party functionaries who sought some protection against the doings of the party leadership and the political police. In those cases, "legality" was primarily to prevent terror from being excessively directed against party functionaries. But then it turned out that it was not only difficult to stop terror but that the idea of legality, as a reaction to terror, did not stop either and spread to ordinary people. That meant the spreading of elementary freedoms and a reduction of fear and of the danger of being arrested or deported - even though those dangers did not disappear completely. Periods in which some attention was paid to "legality" were marked by a lessening of direct physical coercion and the threats of such coercion. But the history of communist states shows that the freedom from being mistreated and beaten by the police was not easy to attain, and that the law was not considered by the authorities to be a constraint on their own actions but was to be used primarily as an instrument of governing; the existing laws were to help the authorities to attain their goals.
Reference is sometimes made to freedom of thought or freedom of conscience. If taken literally, these formulations are not very fortunate. It is still not easy now, with the available technical means, to infringe the freedom of thought, nor can there be a direct influence upon the freedom of conscience and it would be difficult to make a person's conscience react in a specified way. But usually those who speak about the freedom of thought mean thereby the freedom of public statements, of receiving and spreading information by various technical means, and of voicing opinions and theories. He who speaks about the freedom of conscience means the freedom of acting in accordance with one's conscience, especially in the sphere of religion, moral beliefs, and ideological views. The despotic states usually have not opposed the literally understood freedom of thought and freedom of conscience. Their representatives seemed to say: think what you like and believe in your conscience what you like, provided you do not make that public.
Many 20th century states specialized in restricting and hampering the exercise of the rights implied by the freedom of speech. Persons outside the state apparatus of information service and propaganda were hampered or prevented from having access to the technical means of the mass media. There were legally established state monopolies for making use of mass media, and people who infringed that monopoly were punished, legally or extra-legally. The spreading of information was sometimes licensed by the state, and those who acted without a license were prosecuted. Besides, the system of licensing can also be used to restrict freedom in other fields than the spreading of information. In that field, freedom is restricted by censorship and by the jamming of foreign broadcasting stations. If asked about the justification of such measures, the authorities would probably reply that society was not ripe, except for those whose task was to select the food for thought for others. Such an opinion requires great conceit when one's knowledge and soundness of judgment are concerned, and great contempt for the rest of society.
We have mentioned the struggles for freedom. The communist leaders proclaimed that they protected the little man, carried out a program of perfect society and knew how to put it into effect. More and more often it was an opinion voiced on festive occasions, when facts were pinching less. Nevertheless, the implementation of the ideological program combined with the thesis on the collective wisdom of the party leadership was the official justification of the restrictions of freedom in communist countries. There were also much simpler arguments, called "geopolitical": excess of freedom in a small country belonging to the Soviet camp might anger the center of the bloc. In that interpretation a given communist party ceased to be an organization of Utopians and ideologists who wanted to make their social visions materialized, and changed into a lieutenant organization which conveyed the will of a neighboring state and, moreover, emphasized the fact that it conveyed it. In the "geopolitical" interpretation, a lack of freedom was a result of a lack of sovereignty. That could also be formulated less firmly in the form of statements on limited freedom and limited sovereignty.
Whatever the official justifications of restrictions were, the restrictions themselves could be modified. Proofs in that respect were provided, among others, by the events in Poland from July 1980 on. The winning of the freedom of association proved helpful in the spreading of freedom in such spheres as the economy, the circulation of information, and the relations between the apparatus of power and the citizens. The communist system proved susceptible to pressures intended to broaden freedom, but, on the other hand, it also proved capable of mobilizing powerful forces opposed to the change. Freedom, if existed, was not offered as a gift but won in a conflict.
The durability of the gains in the sphere of freedom is linked to the
durability of gains in the sphere of democracy and depends on the existence
and activity of social forces independent of the state and hence capable
of exerting pressure upon the state if it proceeds to limit freedoms.
It would be difficult to devise a social organization that would secure
fraternity. But one can strive, be it to a small extent, for reducing hatred.
The requirement that fraternity dominates human relations may end in the
imposition of compulsory fraternity, with the police apparatus being on
guard over it. Such was the end of some utopian visions of perfect society.
In the system created by communist rulers, there was something more than social inequalities. There was an institutional apparatus, including the apparatus of terror, whose proclaimed reason of existence was the imposition of "social justice." As Andrei Sakharov wrote, in the Soviet Union, millions of people fell victim of terror disguised by slogan of "social justice". That justice, quite doubtful, was to be imposed by enormous political organizations, such as the communist party, the police, and the army, whose activity was the denial not only of freedom but also of what is usually understood as equality and justice. The lack of equality was so much visible that references were rather made to justice than to equality, and it was accordingly claimed that inequality can be just. Helpful in that respect were reasonings called "dialectical," according to which the current lack of freedom and equality was to create conditions conducive to freedom and equality in the future.
But the values of equality and justice require explanations. Not only people differ from one another by their abilities, education, temper, knowledge, and skills, but these differences are important in promoting the development of societies and cultures. Diversity is for many people an important value.
Not only it seems that differences among people are useful, but also
that people have the right to differ from one another. Under the social
systems in which the human person is respected, the care is taken so that
diversity is not be limited, and conformity is treated as a negative value.
In the communist system privileges played an immense role. That included the privilege of power and of making decisions on other peoples' careers, fixed in the institution of the nomenklatura, the privilege of the group ownership of means of production on the scale of the state, and the usurpation by the elite of the political power.
Total equality in all respects seems possible to attain only following recourse to terror, which, as the above mentioned examples show, later may turn against those who had initiated it. But if one asks for equality, this, fortunately, not always means total equality in all respects. Those who demand equality often mean restriction of privileges, especially those sanctioned by legal or quasi-legal provisions. Reference is then made to equality before the law. Such was the sense, in the communist countries, of the call for the abolition of the institution of nomenklatura and for the equal access to various posts. The point was not that such posts could go just to anyone, as had once been suggested by Lenin (who, however, in practice did not follow the principles he himself suggested in "The State and Revolution"). The point was to get rid of the privilege in accordance with which party bodies, not known to the public and acting in accordance with principles that were not known either, decided on the prerogatives of some people and a lack of such prerogatives in the case of others. Opposition was directed against the privilege of decision making and the privilege of being members of a chosen group; the demand of equality illustrated the opposition to those privileges.
The trade union movement active in Poland in 1980-198l rose, among others, against privileges in medical care and in access to various consumer goods. Those were privileges which the group claiming to represent "social justice" granted to its members.
Demands of an equal pay for all are rarely formulated; more often reference is made to equal pay for equal work and to "just pay." When it comes to justice, diverse criteria are involved. Justice in the remuneration for work may be based on taking into consideration the amount of work done, the necessary abilities or education, the social usefulness of the work done, and even the needs of the employee. These diverse criteria are often ambiguous and have to be made more precise. It is not always easy to compare the public usefulness of the work done by a cabinet minister and that done by a skilled mechanic. Nor is it always known who is more indispensable and who is more useful from the public's point of view. Ultimately, such ambiguous criteria of justice are often replaced by the criterion of public expectations, and it is then argued that what is in agreement with public expectations is just. But, first, public expectations may prove internally incoherent, various people may treat various things as just, and secondly, public expectations may in themselves be treated as unjust if one applies an external criterion of justice. For instance, an equal distribution of goods may be considered unjust by those who demand that the distribution should take individual merits of the recipients into account.
When the distribution of goods is discussed, the question arises of the persons or institutions who are to distribute them. Sometimes distribution can be conducted at random or through impersonal economic mechanisms. Such is the case of free competition, where the pay for work and services depends on the demand for this kind of work and services. Remuneration then is in some proportion to the demand for work or services, and depends on the assessment of work and services by the customers for whom they are provided. In other cases, separate agencies or institutions make it their task to distribute goods. When the justice of such distribution is examined, one has to consider, among other things, the sum of the goods to be distributed, and also the mode of distribution.
Out of two modes of distribution that one may be treated as more just in which the sum of the goods distributed is greater, because then the general good is greater. In that case the sum of the goods -- difficult to calculate -- is taken as the criterion of justice. But that need not be the only criterion.
Additional complications in the distribution of goods come in question when it is believed that a certain minimal dose is to be desired. Then that distribution is considered more just in which more people receive goods above the minimum level. The minimum level can easily be exceeded if the sum of goods to be distributed is relatively large. But there are cases in which some people can receive the minimum only at the cost of inequality, that is only if others do not receive that minimum, An equal distribution of food rations may prove insufficient for all. Some people say that in such situations there are no just solutions, others claim that inequality is more just. The minimum level of goods may be determined biologically, and then we may have to do with an amount of goods indispensable for survival, but the minimum may also be determined socially, in accordance with public expectations (that are far from easy to determine). If the goods are distributed by an institution, or a set of institutions, whatever the principles of the distribution, there is always the problem of the supervision: of the institutions and persons involved, of the amount of the goods and services distributed, and of the principles of distribution adopted.
But movements that intend to bring about equality are not always totalitarian and may aspire to something else than complete equality. The striving for equality may also mean the striving for the abolition of privileges that are considered not useful, or outright harmful, or unjust. Existing inequalities, for instance of incomes or influence upon public matters, may be mitigated by the demands that inequalities be linked to social positions opened to all. That may mean demands for the removal of legal barriers that prevent certain people access to positions associated with privileges, such as the possibility of influencing decisions that are made in social matters. Striving for equality may then lead to demanding the legal recognition of the equal start. Equal start does not guarantee being first at the finish, but it prevents the elimination before start of people whose characteristics are unrelated to the competition, such as being at the disposal of the party authorities and being ready to carry out their instructions, regardless of what those instructions are. From the point of view of the party authorities such readiness was essential, but from an external point of view, it could be harmful. The institution of the nomenklatura meant the fixing of the privileges granted to those who were ready to subordinate themselves to the decisions of the communist party leadership.
When such freedoms as freedom of speech and such rights as right to information are discussed, the equality of those freedoms and rights is usually implied. Human and civic rights, listed in various ways, are supposed to be vested in every human being and every citizen. Then, those rights assume equality. We already noticed that equality is implied in certain democratic institutions, such as voting. The ordinary electoral procedure assumes the equal importance of votes. The equality of prerogatives is further implied in such political institutions as the Senate in the United States, where every state, regardless of its size, is represented by two senators. Equality is an often made assumption in international relations. In the conclusion of agreements and treaties, it is assumed that the rights of the states are equal; agreements, for instance alliances, are concluded on the reciprocity principle, even if facts differ considerably from the legal fictions adopted. Thus equality happens to be an assumption adopted conventionally in those cases in which some rules of procedure must be adopted, and the rules reflecting inequality would seem even more artificial than those which fictively assume that persons, territorial units, or states are equal. Rules establish equal rights which are sometimes approved as a lesser evil than other solutions, and sometimes are treated as a value in itself.
The striving for equality is called egalitarianism and assumes various forms according to the sphere to which it applies and to the suggested policy of arriving at equality. Egalitarianism may demand an equal distribution of goods which are not yet attributed to anyone in a given collectivity, but it may also demand a change in the ownership of goods which are already in someone's possession. A change of ownership may mean restoration of rights, but it may also mean their infringement. Thus, egalitarianism may not disturb the existing legal order, but it may also strive for its change. In the name of egalitarian equality and justice, people sometimes try to infringe laws and to infringe justice interpreted as the observance of laws. In some spheres, such as education, it is difficult to deprive people of goods in the name of equality, but then it is possible to eliminate people who possess certain goods or qualities. That was exactly done in red Cambodia, where educated people, or those suspected of being educated, were killed in the first place. Sometimes, the egalitarians would rather give more to those who are handicapped and who have less, sometimes the stress is on taking goods away from those who are privileged, regardless of whether those who have less will profit by that. Thus egalitarianism may suggest a reduction of the sum of existing goods -- in the name of equality.
Meanwhile, contemporary social programs, when referring to economics, often stress the need for increasing the quantity and quality of the available goods. That increase can be achieved by competition and the pluralistic organization of the economy. The market links the needs of the consumers with what they receive for their disposal, that is the supply.
The usefulness of economic systems from the point of view of the needs of the consumers has been sometimes assessed on paper, that is on the basis of reflections on ideal human motivations and on the perfect organization of production and distribution (this way the argumentation for central planning was provided). Such reflections may be interesting, but it is worthwhile to consider also practical criteria, mainly because reflections on paper of necessity fail to cover all the factors which in fact come in question.
There is a trend in the social policy, originating from the liberal tradition, that considers essential the satisfaction of the needs of the consumers and the multiplication of available goods and services. The organization of the economy is then intended above all to satisfy the needs of the greatest possible number of consumers, while the distribution of goods is largely left to market mechanisms. The distribution of goods is then derivative from the demand for the services offered to others by a given individual. That distribution may be corrected by providing goods and services to the poorest individuals. Sometimes such corrections are the concern of the state, on other occasions, they are provided by other social organisms, such as territorial communities, or private foundations. There are also services to the public, financed by taxes. A controversy is going on, however, over how far the organization of means and institutions providing services to the public should be centralized, and how far it should be financed from the state budget, because there are manifest negative aspects of the state monopoly in various spheres, including the post, the health service, and the educational system. Suggestions have been even made that the state monopoly for the issue of money should be limited.
The advocates of a liberal social policy claim that justice can be ascribed only to conscious human acts, while the justice of social systems can at most be treated as something secondary, relative to what actions are favored by such systems. One may ascribe justice to the principles of the distribution of goods if that distribution is made by someone and if it is a conscious decision. The greater the role of the state as the distributor of goods, the greater the importance of reflections on the justice of distribution. But, on the other hand, it is reasonable to suppose that if the state is the monopolist in public life and in the national economy in particular, then there are few goods to be distributed, and their quality may leave much to be desired.
Contemporary capitalist states, in particular those governed by socialist parties, have made many egalitarian corrections which have restricted the free and unhampered working of economic mechanisms. There are not only taxes imposed on consumption in the form of a fixed percentage of the sums spent on purchases, but there is also a progressive income tax. Note that it is neither equal nor proportional; it is computed in accordance with the principle: the higher the income, the greater the percentage of the tax. In controversies over the taxation policy, efforts are made to stimulate the public responsibility linked to the possession of wealth and to encourage people not to accumulate wealth, but use it for financing production and investments.
Equality is an important idea correcting public life. Its advantage consists in correcting unjustified privileges. Particularly important is the idea of equality before the law, which under communism has been infringed, among other things, by the privileges accorded to members of political organizations. But equality was also a dangerous utopia in the name of which terror and despotism were justified.
Justice is not always identical with equality. British social thinkers have formulated the principle of utilitarianism, in accordance with which the just thing is to provide the greatest possible amount of goods to the greatest possible number of individuals. A given good not always lends itself to measurement, but if we can approximately assess the quantity of a good, it may be so that we are in a position to offer a greater amount of it, though not necessarily in equal quantities to everyone. The principle of utilitarianism recommends such a behavior, even though it may appear unjust to radical advocates of equality, who defend equality even if that may be to the detriment of other values. There are many such values which it is dangerous to implement separately, without regard to other values. As explained above, dreams about a society in which people would be maximally equal in all respects ? may be dangerous if taken as a direction of policy.
If one wants the striving for equality to take into account the widespread
sense of justice, then that striving must co-occur with respect for freedom
and rights, which cannot be fixed arbitrarily. Conflicts of different values
and problems in their simultaneous implementation are not only possible,
but are common in public life. That applies also to equality, freedom,
and justice (in the various senses of those terms).
The existence of a state is a necessary condition if one is to speak about independence. There are nations which in the recent period of their history have formed independent states for only a short time; such, for instance, is the case of the Ukraine. China, on the contrary, is a state which has been independent for millennia.
In the 18th century the United States gained independence. In the early
l9th century many states in South and Central America, which had previously
been mostly Spanish colonies, won their independence. Also, in the l9th
century, nations which previously formed part of the Ottoman Empire became
separate states. Such was the case of Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
After World War II, many Asian nations, among them the Hindus, gained independence. In the 1960s, colonies in Africa were becoming independent states. The British and the French Empire ceased to exist, and Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal (as the last) abandoned their colonies. Dominica in the Caribbean and Tonga Islands on the Pacific are independent states. Each of them has about a hundred thousand inhabitants, and there are also even smaller states. The number of independent states has exceeded 190, and the United Nations have 185 member states (in 1995). Until 1971, the UN. did not include the People's Republic of China, while from its very beginning they include conventionally two republics that were parts of the Soviet Union, namely Ukraine and Belarus (then Belorussia). Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which lost their independence in 1940, were not members of the United Nations, even though the émigré governments of those countries had their diplomatic representatives in some other states.
From the late 18th century on we can thus watch the growth of the number of independent states, and hence the growth of the number of centers in which political decisions are made. The colonization of Africa and the Near East (mainly by Great Britain and France) was short-lived when seen in the historical perspective. Only one state was almost incessantly increasing its possessions and its sphere of influence, namely the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as its legal and real heir. One could ask then how far that state was to succeed in behaving contrary to the tendency dominant in other areas of the world. In 1939-40, the Soviet Union incorporated with its empire large areas in Eastern Europe: entire Baltic states and considerable parts of Poland and Romania. In 1944, those acquisitions became fixed, and moreover the Soviet Union acquired new territories at the cost of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Around 1948, the Soviet domination in the states between the Baltic and the Black Sea -- from Poland to Bulgaria -- became consolidated. That gave rise to a problem that is relevant to the issues now under consideration. The states, in that area of Soviet control existed separately, unlike Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia. But the influence of the Soviet Union in those apparently separate states, especially in foreign policy and defense matters, but also in internal policies, was that strong that there was a need for defining the legal and political status of those states, at that time called "people's democracies." The direct control by Soviet advisers of the internal agencies of those states, the army and the political police in particular, as well as the total atrophy of their foreign policy, be it even minimally independent, led to the conclusion that only puppet governments ruled there and the respective states were deprived of independence and sovereignty, even though they were formally endowed with attributes of independent states, such as ministries of foreign affairs, armies, and diplomatic representatives.
In the late 1940s, the Soviet occupation zone in Germany came to be called the German Democratic Republic and thus acquired formal attributes of independence. Czechoslovakia, immediately after World War II, had a government which was in principle non-communist; in Hungary, in the elections held in 1945, the communist party won 17 percent of the votes; Romania was a monarchy until 1947. Yet the situation of all those countries began to differ but little from that of the German Democratic Republic. The Soviet occupation zone in Germany was formally becoming an independent state, while formerly independent states were becoming similar to the Soviet occupation zone.
The process of liberalization which started in the Soviet Union after Stalin's death had its impact upon the inter-state relations within the Soviet bloc. That found expression, for instance, in the Soviet declaration of 30 October, 1956, which made a reference to "the removal of all possibilities of infringing the principles of national sovereignty" and the need for examining "the sense of a further stay of Soviet advisers" in those countries in which they had resided. But that declaration was accompanied by practice that was not quite in harmony with its tenor. Five days later, the Soviets intervened in Hungary for the second time, which proved that the Soviet authorities did not intend to cease to control the countries in their sphere of influence. When the control exercised on the spot failed, the Soviet Union was ready for an armed intervention, as in the case of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
When after that intervention it turned out that those Czechoslovak "party
and state leaders" who allegedly had asked for the intervention could not
be identified, the Soviet Union justified its action by referring to the
need of defending "the socialist achievements" in Czechoslovakia. Those
Soviet declarations were treated as an explicit formulation of the doctrine
of limited sovereignty, called the Brezhnev doctrine in the West. That
doctrine boiled down to the statement that the Soviet Union, possibly with
the cooperation of other states from the Soviet bloc, had the right to
military actions in the countries of "the socialist camp," regardless of
the opinion of the government and the nation of the country in which such
an action was to take place. The Soviet authorities justified such measures
by the need of defending socialism, and it was the Soviet authorities which
enjoyed the prerogative of defining what "true socialism" is and when it
must be defended. Interestingly, the Soviet Union has not advanced the
idea of an armed intervention in the defense of socialism in Western countries
governed by socialist parties. Also there, such an operation could have
in view "the defense of socialism" or its "consolidation."
Undoubtedly, there are various interdependencies among states in the contemporary world. Foreign trade, which implies contacts among states, is an important factor of economic development. But when it comes to sovereignty and independence, we do not mean simply the influence of what is taking place in some states upon what is taking place in other states. The point is, who is ultimately entitled to decide what is to take place in a given state and what foreign policy that state is to pursue. Are these most important decisions made within the country or outside its frontiers? The emergence, after World War II, of the Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe demonstrated that the status of a separate state, even if recognized on the international forum, is not a sufficient condition of this state's independence. In the 1990's, the states in the Soviet bloc, as well as the Soviet republics, moved towards independence. Regaining independence has been a process encountering many obstacles, particularly in the military and security policies and in taking strategic economic decisions about the country's energy resources. The movement towards independence was accompanied, however, by Soviet, and later Russian, efforts to preserve the former Soviet sphere of control. Commonwealth of Independent States helped to create economic and political links between Russia and other former Soviet republics, except the Baltic states. It remains to be seen what the word "independent" means in the name of this commonwealth.
Under what circumstances do we speak about the sovereignty of state authorities? Those authorities are sovereign which in the last analysis are authorized to make decisions referring to a given collectivity, in the special case, a state collectivity. In absolute monarchies it was the king who was sovereign; likewise sovereign were the despotic rulers in the ancient East, as well as the tsar of Russia in the period of autocracy. The doctrine of autocracy was precisely the confirmation of the sovereign nature of the ruler's political prerogatives.
British parliamentarism, acting in the name of the king and advising the king, early limited the king's sovereignty. England was a sovereign state, but the state was not identified with the person of the ruler to such a degree as it was the case in tsarist Russia.
In the late 18th century, the principle of the sovereignty of the nation
was explicitly stressed in the then emerging United States and in France
. In accordance with that principle it is the nation which is ultimately
empowered to determine the form and the activity of the government. The
ruler does not enjoy unlimited prerogatives. The denunciation by the English
colonies in North America of their allegiance to King George III and the
proclamation of the independence of the United States were consequences
of the principle of the sovereignty of the nation.
The existence or non-existence of an internal sovereign is important in international relations. There is the custom in this sphere of negotiating and concluding agreements with representatives authorized by the sovereign authority in a given state. But with whom is one to negotiate and conclude agreements if there is no sovereign authority? One can then negotiate "as if," and pretend than one concludes agreements. Meanwhile, an essential influence of the international situation upon a non-sovereign state is exercised through the intermediary of the superior state, which then acts as a sui generis filter of external influence. The external situation influences a subordinate state not directly, but through the intermediary, or at least with the assent, of the superior state.
In a non-sovereign collectivity (group, organization, or state) there may be a self?government, such as in schools and even in prisons. Such a limited self-government may make decisions in some minor matters. But in such a collectivity it is difficult to establish democracy because the collectivity has no say in the matters reserved for the sovereign external decisions. Democracy is here limited by the limitations of sovereignty.
In a non-sovereign collectivity, processes may take place processes which are sometimes called democratization or liberalization. We refer to democratization if the scope of matters left to the decision of the majority is broadened; we refer to liberalization if the scope of freedom is broadened, and thus the application of coercion, in particular coercion by state authorities, is reduced. But in view of a lack of sovereignty, both democratization and liberalization encounter limitations determined by external barriers. The collectivity is then deprived of the right to make decisions in essential matters, such as the basic rules of the internal organization of the state. The struggle for democracy, for the active status of society in a nonÚsovereign country comes to a point at which it also becomes a struggle for sovereignty, or at least a struggle for a reduction of non-sovereignty. In such a case, not only the external resistance but also the resistance of the institutions active within a dependent state and functioning as a transmission of non-sovereignty, must be overcome.
A non-sovereign state whose citizens are not resigned to non-sovereignty must keep an apparatus of repression which ultimately defends alien interests. In such a state also the propaganda machine works for the defense of the interests of the superior state. Institutions in a subordinate state require actions by functionaries who in turn adopt the ideology which justifies those actions. It is easier to act if one can justify one's actions both to oneself and to others. The ideologies adopted by the functionaries of the apparatus of repression, and the functionaries of other institutions which are transmissions of non-sovereignty may be an interesting subject of study. When undertaking actions directed against their own society, such functionaries often claim that those actions are to the benefit of that society. Functionaries of the apparatus of repression, when acting against the society, sometimes claim that they ward off the danger of an external intervention. As defenders of the external authorities, they are allegedly representatives of "reason of state." That "reason of state" is then identified with the defense of the subordination to the external power. But then the external intervention may become unnecessary because it is replaced by repressive action of local authorities, undertaken in the name of the existing social order and the said "reason of state."
In a state deprived of sovereignty, a "realistic" ideology is also sometimes
popularized. While "realistic" policy consist in availing oneself of existing
possibilities to attain the aims intended, "realistic" ideology demands
special limitations and formulation of modest aims that involve no risk.
Proposals for a conciliation or collaboration with the occupying power
are then termed "realist." The advocates of such "realistic" ideology sometimes
proclaim the need of hypocrisy and keeping society in a state of ignorance;
they call the false information realism, because truth in their opinion
may be inflammatory and dangerous. Indeed, it is not always possible to
foresee when a bold and risky action leads to the attainment of one's aim.
But the attainment of some generally important goals is not possible without
a large dose of courage and risk.
A sovereign state need not be democratic, it may have no respect for freedom and for law. Communist Albania was sovereign and so was the Third Reich. Sovereignty does not guarantee democracy, but the striving for democracy in a non-sovereign state must be also a striving for a reduction of non-sovereignty. Democracy in essential matters is not possible if the policy of a given state is supervised and limited from the outside.
Independence is not an absurd demand, especially in the contemporary world, in which more and more countries attain it. Independence is indispensable if a given society is to regain its active status and to build its social order in accordance with the will of its members. If the attainment of independence is difficult as a result of a single action, then it is always possible to reduce non-sovereignty, to recover, even if gradually, the area of freedom by the people, and to reduce the scope of matters solved in accordance with alien will.
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