With Mishana Hosseinioun
If Democracy Is The Answer, What Was The Question?
By Mishana Hosseinioun
November 12, 2006
In his 1762 work, Social Contract, the sometimes loved, other
times dreaded French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserts that
it is essentially the role and shared responsibility of citizens
to question the validity of the status quo and test the soundness
of the powers that be. To that end, he concluded that in order
to preserve their autonomy, people must first and foremost ask
themselves how they would like to be governed. In this way, by
their very own hands, a social contract or set of communally determined
codes of government conduct would be born, to put leaders in their
intended place from the very start-a place, which Rousseau depicted
as the obligatory convergence of humility, invisibility and seamlessness
in governance. Furthermore, a compact that proposed to privilege
the volition of the people every step of the way would also ensure
that power would not be summarily abused, as it has so often been.
The dramatic notion advanced by Rousseau that sovereignty emerges
from the will of the people as opposed to government is slightly
if not entirely paradoxical by today's standards. Such a prospect
trumps the contemporary, greatly over-simplified logic used to
deduce that democracy is achieved through the mere act of voting
and that democratically elected officials are by extension, automatically
democratic in their actions once stationed behind their bureaus.
This may even suggest that with no mechanism in place to lubricate
the flow of democracy in between election seasons, every time
citizens vote their conscience, they may actually be surrendering
a priceless and irretrievable piece of their agency to the ballot
Most probably, Rousseau would have hoped for this profound message
presented in his Magnum Opus, to have at least caught on, posthumously,
in the mainstream-a book, which in its time practically incited
the French Revolution but which, today, might easily sub as fly-swatter.
That Rousseau's line of thinking is scarcely to be found in modern
day convention is not a matter of incompatibility, neither does
it make a case for the existence of a form of ideological Darwinism
wherein philosophies are either bound to sink or swim in the 'think-tank'
of humanity; for the sake of inciting one less controversy, we
will just blame its current unpopularity on poor 18th century
marketing, and collectively pick things up right where Jean-Jacques
left off-no questions asked.
Mishana Hosseinioun is the Program Director of
International Convention on Human Rights (ICHR), a non-profit
dedicated to drafting a legally enforceable international human
rights document. She is a longstanding intern in Mayor Gavin Newsom's
office in San Francisco and a recent graduate of Rhetoric and
Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
Email Mishana at Mishana@ichr.org
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