What is Democracy? (9): Self-Government

Democracy is the right of the people and of every member of the people to participate in the decisions of the government and in the framing of the laws. The underlying justification of this right is the wish of the people to control their own lives.

Control over your own life is a universal value. Few people are willing to accept that their lives are controlled by others. Democratic participation and democratic political life guarantee this value and this is one of the reasons or justifications for the universal application of democracy.

Underneath the principle of self-control or self-government lies the claim that people can only be subject to those laws and decisions to which they agree, either because they voted for these laws themselves or because they have chosen the people who vote for these laws. This is a fundamental claim of democracy. If you have to obey laws you do not agree with, you do not control your own life.

There are two ways of guaranteeing that the people agree with the laws they are supposed to respect. One way is to allow the people to make the rules themselves, for example, by voting in a local meeting or in a referendum. That would be direct democracy. The other way is to allow the people to elect or dismiss representatives who frame the laws. In the latter case, the people contribute indirectly to the framing of the laws. Participation or control can be exercised on two levels: either directly or through the election or dismissal of representatives; election in the case of representatives who vote for the laws the people would also have voted for themselves, dismissal in the opposite case.


3 thoughts on “What is Democracy? (9): Self-Government”

  1. […] This is not only a lack of finesse; it also reduces the power of the people to influence decisions and to judge politicians. A politician may take one very unpopular decision and still be re-elected, because all his other decisions are approved by the people. The people generally approve of the politician, and therefore, cannot disavow the unpopular decision at the election. However, this means that decisions can be taken against the will of the people, and cannot be undone by the people. The people, therefore, do not govern themselves. […]


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