Professor Miroslaw Matyja: The Responsibility of Politicians in Current Democracies

One of the main reasons behind the existence of the current democracies in the world is the fact that the politicians evade the responsibility for the country’s affairs and development. Unfortunately, the concept of political responsibility lacks an objective meaning, and thus it is interpreted in numerous ways. Nevertheless, politicians’ actions have real political and economic, as well as moral, consequences. In socio-political terms, very often actions that benefit politicians are at the same time harmful to citizens. This stems from the fact that politicians’ actions are not guided by Christian ethics, or they simply lack the awareness of being responsible for the fate of the nation that they represent.

The Ethics of Politicians

This problem becomes especially visible when it comes to amending the constitution in some countries or the introduction of new electoral regulations. People in power know very well that any amendments to the constitution or electoral laws should benefit society and the state. Instead, they usually shun the responsibility and prepare changes that serve solely their vested interests. While leaving Christian ethics aside, they follow only their party’s moral code and, thus, are biased in evaluating their own actions.

Is it then possible to assess actions that are not based on an objective moral responsibility? Moreover, is it necessary for politicians to come up with their own moral codes that often serve as a protection from real responsibility?

Politicians distinguish between objective and subjective morality. Usually, they follow a subjective moral code that suits their current political situation and reflects positions taken on various issues by the major parties (which are generally managed in an authoritarian manner).

It is precisely this cunning that prevents them from amending the constitution, introducing new electoral laws or elements of direct-democracy that would grant the power to the true sovereign. This stems from the fact that the major parties, as well as interest groups that accompany them, follow their own tribal moral codes. If the political circumstances change, politicians instantly come up with new “moral values” in order to open new ways for their political or material profits. They do not consider this to be immoral or destabilising, they view it simply as beneficial or disadvantageous in a given situation. All beneficiaries of the system automatically adapt to the changing circumstances and thus create a new, stable foundation for their further activity. Political parties follow their own rules, which they call “moral,” as long as all of their members agree on them. In reality, however, this “morality” has nothing to do with objective or Christian ethics and responsibility. The major parties define their own systems of values in a way that rarely, or never, corresponds to the country’s social and economic reality.

This disparity in understating of ethics by politicians on the one hand and citizens on the other confirms the semi-democratic (half-democracy) nature of the political systems with their fundamental division of the society into two groups: those in power and those who are governed by them.

That is why it is so important for the people to be able to express their voice, for example, in a nationwide referendum. Decisions made in this way are not subjective but are based on general ethics and social consent.

Naturally, it is the task of the government’s agencies to define and execute the rules of systemic harmony between the economic and the socio-political side of a country’s life. Only in this way efficient solutions of a political life of a nation can be found. But what kind of agencies do we have in mind, and how should they be elected? Certainly, not in the system of party-determined list of candidates, which compels citizens to run for office in a collective manner. Today, as a result of parties following their subjective moral codes, the representatives are de facto elected by those parties’ leaders.

According to the objective idea of Christian ethics and democracy, “the representatives of a nation” should be elected by the people. Although it seems plain and simple, it is so only for those who follow their innately held principles of Christian morality.

Society – State – Economy

The quality of people’s lives should be assessed on the basis of how a given system is beneficial for them and for the state in general. Citizens, politicians included, should be aware of their joint responsibility for the optimal and moral functioning of the triangle “society – state – economy.”

The standard of value for moral behaviour can be based on Christian ethics, which can serve also as a foundation for objective political responsibility. It is time to overcome the phenomenon of parallel society in which the government follows the aforementioned “we vs. you” principle in its actions toward citizens. First, however, it is necessary to take a closer look at the shape of the political system, which our politicians seem to be incapable of doing. They are so entangled in their political quarrels that they simply lack the time to take a proper care of the economic and social policies of the state.

If that is the situation, then why citizens, i.e., the sovereign, cannot take matters in their own hands and start making decisions on issues that concern them directly?

Normally, the parliament is the main decision-making agency. It is supposed to be composed of the country’s elite, i.e., the best and the most independent individuals, capable of understanding the most important problems, and acting on the social teachings of the Church and the Nation’s interest.

Let us then take a look at the current reality of parliaments in democratic countries.

The representatives do not feel responsible for the country’s fate because, above all, they represent the interests of their parties. They do not work for the good of the country, but rather adapt their actions to the will of their party’s leaders.

Why? Because they depend on them; it is the leaders who put them in the position of power, not genuine electoral laws.

The methods of “appointing” the representatives are the same in all parties and electoral committees. The leader appoints candidates who later become “the representatives of the Nation,” given that the party crosses the electoral threshold.

That is how the governing elite is chosen in the most coutries. And it governs in the same way it is chosen: irresponsibly, with the party’s interest as an end, short-sightedly, based on personal sympathies and antipathies. Instead of making decisions based on national interest, the parliament occupies itself with issues such as Smolensk crash, shady past of parties’ members, inspection of their personal files, and shaming opponents or promoting bootlickers.

The Nation’s “chosen ones” also lack the sense of guilt for socio-economic crises, which is an another example of them evading the responsibility. They focus only on party quarrels and obedience to their leaders, while seeking the opportunities to maximise their own gains (in terms of money and re-election). All of this leads the country into unnecessary conflict and gradual demise.

As a result of this way of governance, millions of citizens have emigrate abroad, families became divided, many absurd laws have been enacted, the country’s assets are sold off, making it poorer. Do the people in power feel responsible for this situation? Do they feel ashamed of their egoistic actions? Has any of the cabinets in the most coutries apologised for its errors? Sadly, these are only rhetorical questions. The only answer we hear is: “It is not our fault, it is theirs.”

The parliament is a caricature of democracy and one of the main reasons for the dysfunction of the political system. It mocks society by making citizens elect unwanted candidates determined by parties’ leaders. In this way, any remains of the true democratic elements in our system are undermined, and the politically dependent media not only applaud this infringement but also support the actions of the parliament elected through a de facto illegitimate electoral system.

Confused by the media and politicians, the citizen vote without even realising that regardless of whom they elect, it will not change anything in the state’s socio-economic policies that have been continued for years now. So far, none of the parties has presented any complex plan for socio-economic reforms or for improving the political system.

Democracy, But What Kind of Democracy?

Democracy, as some people believe, is not superior to other political systems, nor is it eternal or immune to any destabilising factors. The evidence for that lies in the fact that there are several fundamental forms of democratic governance. Therefore, it is difficult to define which of them is the most functional and effective. According to many political scientists, the best one is the Swiss direct democracy. However, it also has disadvantages. Moreover, the political or economic success of a given country does not always correspond to the level of functionality or dysfunctionality of its form of governance.

Nevertheless, everyone agrees that the most effective form of democracy is the one that brings the process of governance as closely to the people as it is possible and engages them in decision-making both on the local and the national level.

 There is no perfect democracy – all of its forms require constant corrections and adjustments. As a system, it is characterised by uncertainty; it has to constantly face the challenges of the postmodern world. Certainly, it is not “the best of all political systems.” Suffice it to say that the presidential system of the United States, semi-presidential one in France, as well as the German system, or even the Swiss one, leave a lot to be desired.

 It is crucial to implement the principles of a given form of democracy in a proper and efficient manner, which is often indirectly determined by a country’s historical experience, geopolitical situation, and the level of development.

The level of active participation of citizens in the political process on the one hand, and the operational efficiency of the state – including its local agencies – on the other, are certainly the two most important criteria for assessing the functionality (or dysfunctionality) of a given form of democracy.

Since democracy and conflicts, as phenomena, are closely connected, every democratic system should provide instruments that would contribute to their resolution. Such tools are worked out within the frameworks of a broadly defined political culture. What is a political culture? It is inextricably linked with the development of civil society, which is further determined by the functionality of a given democracy.

The concept of civil society, in its optimal meaning, refers to the activities in the social, economic, and political spheres, which constitute the elements of the political decision-making process. In this context, a political culture is the sum total of attitudes, values, and patterns of behaviour that determine all interactions between those in power and the rest of citizens.

The constitution in all democratic countries invokes the system of “direct democracy,” but in reality the whole governance is carried out top-down, and all “democratic” decisions are made by the undemocratic parlaiment or by cabinets whose members follow their parties’ leaders.

It is interesting that we do not know the actual authors of the document…

Apart from being designed in a very wily way, it is also hedged around by so many laws that people in power can interpret it as they like – and they do so since they are incapable of taking a real responsibility for the country.

The history of our country shows that while designing a constitution we should consider the spirit of the times. If we want the constitution to be up to the modern standards, it needs some serious amendments. It should provide legal instruments that would allow us to carry out our own, sovereign policies, keep the country safe, and to directly influence the nation’s fate.

Conclusion

It is important that we define citizens’ participation in the country’s decision-making process in terms of specific laws. By doing this we can propose certain amendments that would introduce a proper form of referendum – a binding tool of expressing citizens’ will and social supervision – and people’s initiative that would allow us to initiate a referendum whenever we deem it necessary. In short, in order to open the possibility for citizens to actively participate in shaping the country’s future, we need a new rules, it means new constitution.

The way in which the current political elites consolidate their power – by exploiting their dominant position – is at odds with true moral principles. As it was already mentioned, politicians invent their own codes of ethics and conduct. However, crookedness, financial chicanery, constant lying, and corruption cannot provide a foundation of any ethics. Direct democracy is the only way to fill our political life with integrity and conduct anchored in Christian and humane ethics. The modified constitutions should fully protect citizens’ rights to decide on matters that concern them directly.

Professor Miroslaw Matyja

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