Home > Ignas Kleden > Means and End in Democracy

Means and End in Democracy

By Ignas Kleden

The conception of democracy as a political theory turns out to be understood in accord with the circumstances in which it is applied. There is a strong tendency in which politicians at least and the people in general are inclined to treat democracy not as a guideline with which to develop politics, economy and socio-cultural life, but rather as a notion, whose content is dependent upon political and economic conditions.

For many industrialized countries in North America, in Western Europe as well as in Eastern part of Asia democracy is perceived as a goal in itself, in which human rights, freedom of expression, right to organize political opposition and equality before the law are insured by the state law and political consensus. This is quite easy to understand since welfare as another goal democracy is to deliver has been there.

However, in countries where so many people still live below the poverty line while unemployment is still lingering at every corner of big cities and political stability is still so precarious owing to unbridled power game among political parties, one is very much tempted to speak of democracy merely as a means, a process, or a way for that matter, but not as a goal or an end in itself, whereby political stability and welfare are seen as the real goals of national politics. A recent statement of the chairman of Golkar’s Advisory Board, Surya Paloh, can be taken as a good case in point.

During a political get-together of Golkar and PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) that took place in Medan on 20 June, he said “Democracy is not a goal but only a means to achieve people’s welfare. If there is no welfare, democracy is of no avail” (Kompas, June 21, 2007). One can be easily reminded of the doctrinal tenor of the New Order regime. In those days political stability and economic development became everything at stake. Many basic democratic rights were revoked, or truncated: right to political opposition (on behalf of cultural differences), right to organize political parties (that were reduced to only three), while freedom of expression was put under direct control of the government (through Ministry of Information as its apparatus), this being done under the pretext of national responsibility, whereby responsibility was understood according to Soeharto’s definition of securing political stability and economic growth.

The 1998 political reform seems to have debunked all this belief and make-believe by making it explicitly clear that democracy is a means, but it is definitely an end as well. This principle can never be overstated. To believe that democracy is only a means is to imply that all universal values of democracy such as equality, freedom, right to political participation and political expression, can be suspended if social welfare is still to be pursued. The danger of such a belief is very clear: one can never establish the extent to which economic wealth and social welfare have sufficiently materialized in to order to be able to allow for all democratic rights to be implemented.

Besides that, Indonesia has had a good lesson learned from the New Order time that economic wealth and social welfare are two different and, in many cases, different things. In order for economic wealth to bring social welfare one needs to push for active political participation in democratic way, so that social inequality (that seems to be inevitable) does not give way to social injustice (that can be forestalled). To take for granted that sustainable economic growth will bring about democracy and social justice on a certain stage of economic growth thanks to trickle-down or spill-over effects, is to revive the day dream of developmentalism theorists that has never come true in the whole Indonesian political history.

To assume that social welfare and economic wealth are the only and ultimate goal of doing politics has an obvious risk. If it takes too much time to achieve wealth and welfare through democratic way, one will easily feel justified to go an authoritarian way. However, once one embarks upon an authoritarian politics, it is almost impossible to set the limits where the power-that-be would change his or her authoritarian politics back to democracy.

Our proposition is therefore, democracy is a means and an end at the same time. Both should have democratic character. This implies, one should never aim at democratic goals (e.g. social welfare) by using anti-democratic means (e.g. authoritarian governance) and one should also never use democratic procedures (e.g. legislation) to aim at anti-democratic goals (e.g. authoritarian or theocratic governance).

Ignas Kleden , Sosiolog

Sources:  The Jakarta Post 26 June 2006, Headlines page 3.

Categories: Ignas Kleden
  1. October 5, 2011 at 10:52 am

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