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Embracing our liberal democracy

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 20 November 2009


I embrace Australia’s political system. While there are some who argue that there is a greater political alternative out there (so-called social democracy), or just simply prefer to bag our political system, we are indeed fortunate to live in one of the freer societies of the world.

In addition to voting at elections and the role played by public debate on specific issues between elections, I celebrate further political expression opportunities created by the Internet and sites like On Line Opinion for both writers and respondents.

Public opinion and debate does count. One has only to view Rudd’s many radio interviews in the immediate days after a Newspoll (December 3, 2009) suggested declining support for Labor because of its approach to Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

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But that is the strength of liberalism. We accept the need for extensive debate to force policy elites to take greater account of public opinion, although many may be annoyed by individual policy outcomes.

While democracy is not perfect, it is certainly more desirable than any other political system that curtails freedom of expression or assumes the importance of policy elites.

So I do get annoyed when I read articles that attack democracy. For instance, David Fisher’s On Line Opinion piece (November 5, 2009) noted that democratic US was a danger to world peace - it exported more than US$142 billion worth of weaponry to states around the world since 1992 (half of all arms exports in 2001) - while the development of the EU offered a solution.

Sure, the US has made many policy mistakes. I agree some of the European nations (including Britain) do appear a bit more sophisticated in regards to many policy issue debates and outcomes.

But what did we really expect from the US or any other nation that assumes an international leadership role? Just as many individuals are often flawed due to their shortcomings, self-interest and ongoing mistakes, is it realistic to expect the US to abandon all contradictions to fulfill the idealism of democracy in such a competitive world?

While the EU has demonstrated the possibility of greater co-operation between like-minded democracies after centuries of shared experience, albeit that important national differences still remain, humanity continues its struggle to overcome competition between various political entities struggling for resources and the influence of certain ideas. This is despite much progress that has resulted from economic and ideological developments since the time of the 16th century when 500 independent political units existed within European feudal society alone.

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In all likelihood, human progress faces much pain ahead as individual nations make different decisions depending on their perspective and situation. In the hierarchy of nations in terms of influence and wealth, some will rise, some will fall, some will hold their ground, and others will remain poor and chaotic as few resources encourages conflict rather than social cohesion.

So what do we have left for those of us still interested in appeasing both national and international aspirations? Indeed, we have our various national struggles to either support or reject policy change in an ever-changing and interdependent world always searching for ideas which can mediate national differences to encourage co-operation.

Take efforts to address rising greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to Clive Hamilton ridiculing the capacity of Australia’s parliamentary democracy to address such an issue (Crikey, August 12, 2009), public debate will lead to a compromise that will promote positive measures yet not destroy the national interest given our high reliance upon energy-intensive industries.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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