Numerous theories and books will tell you how democracy operates and how should a country be run. Any missing cog or broken bolt of a democratic state machine can send it out of order, creating unlimited havoc and chaos. Two of the key parts of the machine are citizens and the government, the entity formed through elections apparently to represent the former. Both the parties have their roles to play and goals to achieve. Neither of the parties fall from the sky or is born automatically. One should work hard to become a citizen or a citizen’s representative in the true sense of the word. A representative is also a citizen, by the way. That is how citizens become a major component of the state as they determine the future of the country, by their judgments and actions.
Lack of self-respect among the citizens not only weakens the democracy but also makes them victims of state oppression. We cannot and must not settle for less when it comes to social self-respect that directly drives from political liberty
Speaking of judgment and actions, a true citizen must nurture serious discernibility to make judgments and develop self-respect through realizing self-worth as an active participant within the state. At the same time, this discernibility means the citizen must be aware that the self-respect should not be driven by ego. For instance, we saw the recent protest in the US where a large number of protestors, supporters of former president Donald Trump to be precise, took over the US Capitol building violating rules and creating anarchy. Although thousands of citizens participated in that riot, the purpose of the protest was to serve the chauvinistic ego of a presidential candidate, also a fellow citizen who could not bear the electoral defeat – the people’s mandate. On the contrary, another group of citizens in Russia took to the street demanding the end of Vladimir Putin’s abuse of power and the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. These two instances that created a brouhaha over global media and social network showed us the distinction between judgments driven by discernibility and ego.
As citizens, we have to have accurate knowledge of our roles and rights within the state. For wielding the power of judgment, we must know and understand that we elect representatives not leaders in a democratic country
In Bangladesh whenever, any incident of massive corruption or irregularities comes in the light, the media goes gaga immediately and citizens are divided into multiple groups ending up being each other’s rival. There is another group who play the blame-game. They start blaming journalists, police, intellectuals and other institutions for not addressing the issues and expect those institutions to speak for them. This mentality of dependency and avoiding responsibility comes from lack of self-respect and sense of self-worth. Such people do not grow discernibility of judgment and ultimately surrender their responsibilities to others - be it an institution or an individual.
As citizens, we have to have accurate knowledge of our roles and rights within the state. For wielding the power of judgment, we must know and understand that we elect representatives not leaders in a democratic country. The machine named state must be run by someone and we the people elect some persons as our representatives for the job. They make policies, laws, rules and regulations, bring disciplines and ensure security in the society. It is their job to fulfill all those tasks, not to control the voice or repress people. Collective self-respect of citizens ensures this understanding.
Lack of self-respect among the citizens not only weakens the democracy but also makes them victims of state oppression. We cannot and must not settle for less when it comes to social self-respect that directly drives from political liberty. We must claim respect for people’s equal political liberty from the state.
American philosopher John Bordley Rawls argues that the state respects its people when it recognises the equal political liberty of all. For example, if a certain group of the society is denied their equal rights to participate in social activities such as employment opportunities, education rights, voting rights or freedom of expression, the group may be unable to secure their equal worth which is connected to self-respect.
It ultimately takes away two basic moral powers from the citizens mentioned by Rawls. They are: the capacity for a sense of justice, and a conception of good. The two moral powers are involved with liberty of thoughts. Needless to say, when the state restrains freedom of expression it only limits the liberty of thoughts of people over generations. Liberty of expression is also derived by the conscience and liberty of practicing the rights openly. Rawls writes, “Unless we are at liberty to associate with other like-minded citizens, the exercise of liberty of conscience is denied”.
When the citizens fail to grasp their worth, the state manipulates them, exploits them to extract illegal advantages. Without collective self-respect, the citizens become the ‘ciphers’ of the ‘One State’ from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel ‘We’. The ruler becomes like the One State’s Benefactor and snatches the citizens’ rights in the name of welfare of the state. Freedom of the citizens becomes secondary to the rulers.
The citizens must know their rights. They must know the persons riding luxury cars are nothing but public servants. They must realize it is unfair that the elected representatives are enjoying VIP treatments on the roads while a hundreds of thousands working hours of the people who elected the mare lost due to traffic jam. Also those representatives and government employees are bound to repair the roads and clear the traffic for citizens too. There is just nothing to brag about that since those are the jobs they have been elected for. Moreover, the citizen must remember those people are being paid for the job with their tax money. Otherwise, the state will turn into a dystopian entity. What would Huxley, Orwell or Zamyatin write then, Utopian novels?