(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 16 Oct 2005)
Only recently, I have established a charming friendship with one of the PPP big dogs – Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud. Although to this point our friendship has been one-sided, with myself doing much of the talking and him doing much of the listening.
However, I trust this is only because he is an ample listener. Or perhaps it is because he is so busy with his various posts that he simply cannot find the time to respond to some pointed questions I posed to him a couple weeks ago. In my deep desire to be a good friend, I feel therefore obligated to be understanding and considerate of his time constraints.
I do find it odd that he has found the time to respond to several letter writers though, and it would seem that, at first glance, he is neglecting our friendship and purposefully avoiding interaction with me. However, I refuse to believe such poppycock and have instead decided to forge ahead believing the best of my new friend.
My dear friend, Smart and Sharp Robert, has lately waxed philosophical in his remembrance of the PPP’s time in office. He has even been quoting the likes of Plato and Rousseau. This is of great interest to me, that he would choose these two particular philosophers to emulate, especially given the most alarming way Mr. Persaud chose to start his column from last Sunday entitled, “What is Democracy – Part 1.”
Within the first few paragraphs of my friend’s column, he cites no less than five philosophers/politicians/scholars. These citations were not of the endearing qualities of democracy, but instead, when all placed together in short form, made one question the value of democracy.
In fact, so anti-democratic were these quotes that one would even most certainly question the need for democracy at all. The primary thrust was to focus on the problems of democracy, which in the end is only one problem – the people. Smart and Sharp Robert was quick to point that out; however, I sense a struggle in my friend concerning democracy.
This whole episode left me to wonder if my dear friend does indeed believe in democracy. He spent so much time and energy on pointing out the negative aspects of democracy and so little on the positive aspects, that it would indeed cause any one to question his views on this subject. I believe his use of Rousseau would explain so much, so I will explore this a little more.
You see Rousseau’s issue with democracy was the people. He did not believe in individual rights or property ownership. He felt that in a society where individualism is allowed to thrive, each person’s self-interest would clash with the self-interest of others and the result would be chaos. In other words, he did not think the people capable of governing.
Rousseau thought the people were not smart enough to sufficiently control their emotions to govern judiciously. Therefore, only the abstract “general will” of the people should considered by a statist government – thereby assuming the state is superior to the individual and all individual rights are derived from the state. This teaching is the primary foundation of socialist thought and the basis of the writings by Marx.
The paradox in this assumption is highlighted in implementation since those in government are also people who would be driven by self-interest and have no more intelligence than the common citizen. As proven in most socialist governments, self-interest drives politicians as much as it drives the people, if not more.
Rousseau’s political ideology was the diametrical opposite of John Locke, the philosopher whose thoughts most democracies desire to emulate. The stance Locke assumed, that the people are capable of governing themselves, is also the one I believe.
The underlying notion of Rousseau’s teachings is the inherent ignorance of the people, which is funny considering his lack of a formal education. This assumption of ignorance is where I take issue and where I must differ with my good friend, Smart and Sharp Robert. I do not think the people of Guyana to be so self-interested that they cannot decide for themselves what is best for the nation.
On the contrary, I find the political discourse in Guyana to be highly intelligent and the letters to the editors on political and social issues to be progressive and inclusive of the needs of the society at whole. Would that more countries in the world had people who were as active, able and inclusive as the Guyanese.
I would venture to say that Guyana has more than enough people that are capable of governing. Guyanese know what they want in life and from their government. In fact, more times than not, it has been the government who has stood in the way of progress in Guyana – not the people.
To assume the ignorance and idiocy of the people is foolhardy in itself. For example, further on in my friend’s column he says, “The rule of law has been restored and people today can feel, with varying degrees of comfort, that their community is one in which the laws of the land are paramount and respected.”
Does he really think one person in this country believes this type of malarkey? Indeed my good friend, I must say that only a government who thinks the people inferior would insult them with these types of fairy-tales when they have to dodge bullets and run from rapists.
Don’t be distraught though, my good friend, I have a hefty library of John Locke and am more than willing to share these jewels with you and your other friends. I do hope you don’t mind if I point out little inconsistencies in your quotes or the overall imprudent judgment of your foundational philosophies.
Since last week’s column was only part one of your views on democracy, I do hope that you redeem yourself in part two. I’m sure our newly formed friendship is more than able to withstand such interaction and I look forward to additional amiable dialogue with you in the future.