The Governed and Their Governments: A Working Democratic Paradigm for the 21st Century

The Governed and Their Governments: A Working Democratic Paradigm for the 21st Century

Diogo Santos, Mylla Maria Maria Sousa Sampaio
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3152-5.ch001
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The relationship between citizens and the state is omnipresent: even the most totalitarian regimes present some interaction between society and ruler. Digital communications have added new instruments through which all, especially the least represented, can make their voices heard. This chapter provides theoretical bases for analyzing how citizens and government interact in the digital age. Dictatorships rely on performance and resort to violence to obtain support. Democratic leaders rely on principle, performance, or elections. Legitimacy by policy efficiency can support despotic governments. Digital communications arise as new channels for governments to promote their views to the people, convincing them of their policies' value; monitor the population's activities in support or against the government; and block information contrary to governmental interests. The people too can use digital interfaces to obtain information, share approval or discontent, and organize protests. Digital communication tools deeply impact the traditional democratic mechanisms to provide regime legitimacy.
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What Is Democracy?

Democracy is the most widely and universally accepted form government. As regimes can rarely resist for long by using force alone (Rousseau, 1913:8), it is necessary that all exercise of power be justified by one means or another so that the governed minimally accept and support such rule. A discussion of what is meant by political legitimacy is provided below in this chapter. For now, it suffices to establish that in the contemporary political debate democracy is the only source of political legitimacy that enjoys virtually absolute and complete support. This stems from the voluntarist approaches of Grotius and Locke in the 17th century, which replaced the divine right of kings with natural law as the foundation of authority’s legitimacy. Since then, the consent of the ruled is deemed as the fundamental basis for legitimate authority, as well as limitations on the power of the rulers whose authority rest in the consent of the ruled. These powers can be revoked by practical institutional mechanisms to enforce such limitations and keep the powerful in check.

This is why concepts such as democracy, checks and balances, representation and legitimacy do not have only an epistemic significance, but also a fundamental impact on what, in our age, is considered to be a democratic polity, and building a political framework to reflect such an ideal model to the best possible extent. Furthermore, as stated above, even the most authoritarian of regime leaders needs, at least to a minimal extent, the consent or recognition of her authority by the ruled. If not for legitimacy at least to aid in enforcing her authority and avoiding the need to use brute force in every social interaction, which is obviously cumbersome and ultimately impossible.

Therefore, even the most authoritarian regime must obtain a minimum legitimacy, which is demonstrated by the frequent recourse to “elections” and “referenda” in which the dictator extracts from the governed their formal consent. In the age of social media, as we will see in the latter chapters of this book, democracies and dictatorships alike use the new and widespread tools of digital communications to preach their views to their populations, share information of interest to the government, and monitor the opinions and behavior of the common people. On the other hand, populations have also used such tools to obtain relevant information to inform them- selves of their decisions (when their consent is asked or can be given), share misdeeds by the government and organize resistance and/ or protests. Democratic methods beyond the traditional representative formulas are thus absolutely relevant to analyzing the interaction between citizens and the State.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Representation: Governing functions are exercised by individuals chosen by the people in competitive elections.

Separation of Powers: The division of governmental functions into three branches of government—Executive, Legislative, Judiciary.

Democracy: Refers to the political arrangement where the functions of government, namely, executive, judiciary, and legislative are distributed in a way to avoid their concentration and unrestricted power of one or some social actors upon others; so that to promote the common good, as defined by governing rules set by the people to limit the discretionary powers of the rulers, who are chosen in open and competitive elections.

Legitimacy: The source of the State’s claim to power over society, and a necessary condition for the continued maintenance of any established political regime.

Checks and Balances: Mutual controls by each branch of government on the exercise of power by the other branches in order to avoid the concentration of political power. Under this principle of government, separate government branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are induced to share power ( Checks and Balances, 2008 ).

Rule of Law: The actions of the elected rulers and the state are limited by a pre- assigned set of regulations which are defined by the people, through its representatives, or directly in order to prevent the use of political power to oppress or restrict the liberties of the individuals.

Common Good: The ultimate goal of the state’s actions, the common good in concrete terms is also defined by the representatives of the people and expresses the objectives and aspirations of each society.

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