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Illiberal Democracy - An Erosion Of Social Justice

| by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( August 6, 2014, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently, Newsweek reported that Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orban speaking at the 25th Balvanyos summer university and student camp, had provoked liberal and left leaning opposition to outrage by announcing his intention to follow in Russia and China’s footsteps to create an 'illiberal state' in Hungary.

Orban had said: " “We want to build a workfare society... which is willing to bear the odium to declare that it is not liberal in character”. Citing economic unfeasibility as the main fault of liberalism and lauding the political models of countries such as Russia, Turkey and China, what Orban did was to seemingly recognize a modern trend sweeping the winds of political change in some quarters of the world.

In 1997, political CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria, writing to the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs an article titled The Rise of Illiberal Democracy - The Next Wave said: " The American diplomat Richard Holbrooke pondered a problem on the eve of the September 1996 elections in Bosnia, which were meant to restore civic life to that ravaged country. "Suppose the election was declared free and fair," he said, and those elected are "racists, fascists, separatists, who are publicly opposed to [peace and reintegration]. That is the dilemma." Indeed it is, not just in the former Yugoslavia, but increasingly around the world. Democratically elected regimes, often ones that have been re elected or reaffirmed through referenda, are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedoms. From Peru to the Palestinian Authority, from Sierra Leone to Slovakia, from Pakistan to the Philippines, we see the rise of a disturbing phenomenon in international life -- illiberal democracy".

Democratic elections are based on social justice and the social contract theory. Social justice requires a catharsis of truth and compassion. Without truth, justice cannot prevail, and without respect and compassion, morality cannot prevail. At the end of the day, social justice is about respect for human rights and dignity. A government’s authority comes from the will of the people. Everyone has the right to work and people have the right to choose the kind of job they want to do. Everyone has the right to good working conditions. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work. People should earn enough to keep themselves and their families healthy, to give them enough food to eat and enough clothes to wear, somewhere to live and medical attention when they are ill. Everyone has the right to own property. Anything that belongs to a person cannot be taken away from him or her unless there is a fair reason. Everyone has the right to think the way they like. People have the right to hold opinions and tell other people what their opinions are, and they have the right to practice their religion in private or in public. All people have the right to meet together and to form associations. But no one can be forced to join an association if he or she does not want to.

Everyone has the right to live, the right to be free and the right to personal safety. No one can be someone else’s slave. No one is to be hurt or to be punished in cruel or humiliating ways. The law must be the same for everyone. The law must protect everyone. People have the right to be protected by the courts, so that their rights are respected. People cannot be arrested or sent away from their country, unless it is for a very serious reason. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. No one has the right to interfere in other peoples’ lives, in their families, in their homes or in their correspondence. People have the right of free movement within their country. People have the right to leave any country, even their own, and then return.

The social contract is between the State and the individual where, in exchange of empowerment at democratic elections by the people, a government promises to protect its people and future generations from injustice and inequality. An erosion of this theory or breach of the contract would annul the legal legitimacy of a State.

In a recent article I published in this journal I said that Niall Ferguson, in his book " The Great Degeneration - How Institutions Decay and Economies Die" speaks of Western civilization and institutions in the context of four "black boxes" which he "opens" in his book. They are: democracy; capitalism; the rule of law; and civil society. These four boxes, in my view, form the bulwark of successful government and governance, which should drive the implementation of a political agenda of a government which was touted before the people before being elected. They also should apply to any democratic or purported democratic government, be it in the west or east. Ferguson goes on to quote Francis Fukuyama who says that the three components of a modern political order are a strong and capable State; the State's subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens.

The bottom line in democracy is that it is the will of the people. People are rooted in their culture, their values and their purpose for existence, development and happiness. These cannot be compromised by politics. Politics does not drive culture but culture should drive politics. Constitutional liberalism drives this point, as Fareed Zakaria says: " Constitutional liberalism, on the other hand, is not about the procedures for selecting government, but rather government's goals. It refers to the tradition, deep in Western history, that seeks to protect an individual's autonomy and dignity against coercion, whatever the source -- state, church, or society. The term marries two closely connected ideas. It is liberal because it draws on the philosophical strain, beginning with the Greeks, that emphasizes individual liberty. It is constitutional because it rests on the tradition, beginning with the Romans, of the rule of law. Constitutional liberalism developed in Western Europe and the United States as a defense of the individual's right to life and property, and freedom of religion and speech. To secure these rights, it emphasized checks on the power of each branch of government, equality under the law, impartial courts and tribunals, and separation of church and state".

I would support this view.

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