Theory and Practice: The Role of Civil Society

Modern democracy is theoretically procedural rather than substantive. This means that democracy in itself is not a guarantee for the achievement of our desired ends. It can be argued that ultimately, democracy is not just a question of representation. The element of discourse takes a more crucial role in terms of securing just social arrangements. In addition, the rule of the majority simply means politics is a matter of numbers, thus diluting the essence and value of democracy as the ultimate expression of human freedom. Although the right of suffrage is an equalizer, there are sectors that influence and manipulate the whole electoral process, and as such, the results of elections are no longer reflective of the will of the people.

Democracy can only be built from the bottom-up because a top-down approach will only mean that those at the top will protect their interests. Democracy must begin from the grassroots so that the system of government is reflective of the concerns, issues, and aspirations of the poor and powerless in society. Democracy, in this respect, ensures that the system of government will give the people the ability to express themselves so that their concerns are heard by the authorities. The substantive meaning of democracy means that the freedoms of people are respected, their rights are protected, and their welfare is promoted. Democracy, as the wellspring of freedom, empowers people to allow them to enjoy human life.

Civil society has a role to play to preserve the above. It is important to reform the electoral system. Some leaders who are in power have abused their position. Civil society must take the cudgels in terms of leading, designing, and maintaining the discourse on legitimate social, economic and political issues. In a country where the political culture is weak and the state apparatus is unresponsive, the legitimacy of democratic decisions cannot be found in voting alone. Members in Congress blindly obey party decisions. Moral principles and the value of the common good have become secondary. In order to improve the check and balance in the state, civil society must seek transparency in government affairs. The function of civil society is to become the voice of the marginalized.

Communicative models are more comprehensive in terms of addressing difficult socio-cultural issues. Civil society, or what John Rawls calls the “background culture,” plays a significant role not only in educating the people but more importantly, in sustaining a more mature understanding of issues. Formal discussions in the halls of Congress, while indispensable in thwarting authoritarian state actions and the perpetuation of abuses by public officials, do not reach most ordinary folks. Informal channels that we find inside schools, the parishes, and others outside formal systems and institutions are as important insofar as these enable open and free discussions without the baggage of political bias. It is what is people political empowerment.

It is important in this sense that the authorities of a country understand the imperative of an informed citizenry. People are taken advantage of not only because of their ignorance but they are abused as a matter of fact because nobody protects them from the vultures who use the state in its machinations on the basis of propaganda. According to John Dryzek, civil society is the marriage between political association and public action. Most of our problems are a result of the fact that many things have been hidden from the public. Should the state make mistakes, it is civil society’s role to point out what’s wrong.

More than anything else, a conscientious population and a more educated voter should have developed out of these political ills, and yet, we remain to be the weakest in terms of political maturity. People are resigned to their fate, pessimistic of their government, and feel helpless due to powerlessness. In this regard, the communicative power of civil society must move us forward in terms of questioning and criticizing bad policies. When a state apparatus is non-functional, civil society takes the role as the final bastion of defense in protecting the weak. The action of civil society is instrumental in achieving moral results to complement if not supplement where the government appears lacking.

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