• Democracy as a destination will always be a challenge




    15 september 2019



    Democracy is an ideal recognized by an overwhelming majority of countries, and is one of the basic values of the United Nations. However, in recent years this political system seems to be undergoing one of its greatest challenges.

    Democracy, and democratic governance in particular, mean that human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted and fulfilled, allowing people to live with dignity.

    In an active democracy, women are on an equal footing with men both, in the public and private spheres; and citizens live free from any discrimination that may arise from race, religion, gender, sexual choice or any other attribute.

    However, in several countries, some of these democratic assumptions are being questioned with increasing force. How to understand the current situation? What is the way forward?

    On International Democracy Day, which is remembered every 15th of September, we share the views and reflections of Dr Max Hernández, renowned Latin American intellectual and psychoanalyst, member of the Peruvian Consultative Committee of the National Agreement (a set of measures approved by the main political parties of Peru in 2002 to strengthen the governance of the country). We appreciate his participation.

    filosofo, Max Hernández, democracia

    Doctor Hernández, How to understand the role of democracy in the world today?

    I think we have to know that democracy is still a project under construction, and it has never suffered so many attacks as today. It is an unfinished journey and, at the same time, it is the victim of its own success, because when something is successful you reach a point when you need to transform it.

    To transform it how?

    Democracy has to adapt in various ways. It did happen first in Europe. In that sense, England and France have been pioneers, but let's not forget that other countries have had a very recent ascription in other parts of the world, and the authoritarian temptation continues to be around.

    The problem that you point out translates into a reemergence of populism and extremely conservative and intolerant forces that weaken a system that is based on opposite values. Would this not indicate a failure?

    I have the impression that we need to clarify some aspects. I believe that in politics some form of populism has always existed. One cannot imagine a Winston Churchill talking about "blood, sweat and tears," if he did not appeal to feelings that produced a sense of unity, which seemed to erase the boundaries between minorities, and that seemed to sweep through any class distinction.

    The problem today is a type of authoritarianism that is alien to that type of populism. It is an authoritarianism that exalts the presumed virtues of the strong man, the firm hand, and unfortunately they have a heinous appeal. It is the renunciation of one's own responsibility as a citizen.

    70 years ago, the United Nations System arose from an armed conflagration that was the product of intolerance and extreme ideologies. What triggers exist today in the West that have put human rights under attack as never before?

    This can be seen more clearly in Latin America, but you can also think of Europe. It is the emergence of the individual and the mass. That is, I become aware of my value as a person and my rights as an individual. In feeling that I have those rights as an individual, I also create a sort of disorder in a traditional logic that granted rights to man and citizen, but not to the individual.

    How so?

    A ‘citizen’, by definition, is someone whose rights exist without consideration of sex, ethnicity, education, economic status, etc. But no individual exists outside these parameters. What was an abstraction, without which democracy could not have built the notion of citizen, acquires today very unique characteristics.

    Today, increasingly we tend to believe in the rights of men as citizens, but also as an indigenous Awajun, as a linguistic minority, or as a sexual orientation. This is very important, because we believe that democracy has to welcome minorities who were discriminated against until recently, but this hurts the gregarious will that requires a common denominator

    And these attacks to the system, is it the same as saying that democracy is sick?

    No, I would not say that. I do believe that democracy is brutally besieged, but the siege should make large institutions, such as UNESCO, take the time to think about what redesigns are necessary for democracy to continue this journey still unfinished.

    In Latin America there seems to be a perception that this system is limited to voting every five or six years, but existing data indicates that it remains a deeply unequal region, which does not respond to the needs of the majority of its citizens. Do you agree?

    The big question is how much inequality can democracy endure? And the second is how do we end these immense chasms of inequality that make people feel that democracy does not provide for their needs and become indignant with it and political elites. ? Because economic inequality creates the feeling of inequality of all kinds.

    Greater equality is the only answer?

    What I mean by this is that we should not stop at the ideals. We have to learn to respect ourselves, to tolerate ourselves, to understand each other, and to obtain benefits from these differences that initially scare us.

    It is clear that one way to measure a healthy democracy is in its ability to include minorities, granting them rights and opportunities. How else can a democratic society be measured?

    By its tolerance to conflict. I believe that disagreements can lead to conflict and then, sometimes, to violence. If one is able to tolerate it and know that conflict is an essential part of life, we will find ways to tolerate it more and more. A democracy that is capable of withstanding these social conflicts without falling into abusive dictatorial solutions is a good democratic society.

    LEducation and self-awareness of citizen’s rights are essential to strengthen participatory and inclusive democracies. Do you think that despite the problems mentioned above countries are moving in that direction?

    What is happening with the gender approach in schools and the distortion of the 'gender ideology' that wants to reverse some important advances in education in terms of human rights, is a worrying symptom.

    The former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was recently asked how to improve the rule of law, and whether it can be able to protect us against tyranny. His reply was "the first five centuries are the most difficult, they take time". And today, with a system that seems to live in real time all the time, we have developed a terrifying rush to achieve things now.

    Sometimes we talk about these issues only as an obligation of the State, but there is also a responsibility of the individual. What elements have you thought of important to share in the up-bringing of your children, for instance?

    I have always tried to teach them that freedom and responsibility are not incompatible, and that one cannot exist without the other. I believe that what is essential in a human being is freedom, the sensation of it. The feeling that you, in front of the other, can continue to think differently if you wish so, without fear of any kind of censorship.


    I have tried to communicate this to my children and grandchildren. All of them, I believe, are great defenders of their own rights and those of others. Second, it is important to eradicate any racist scourge or discriminatory attitudes against those who are different. In my case, being a man from a different epoch, has not always been easy, but I`ve tried. A conversation will always be better when there is a will to move forward.




    See also:


    What is democracy?



    Mensaje 2019 de la Directora General de UNESCO



    The Interaction between democracy and development


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