. . . it is the citizen who is enabled (by law, knowledge and will) to think and to do things. So the person who is not educated to have knowledge, or who has knowledge but is deprived of the ability to participate, or who has knowledge and the opportunity to do things but decides not to do them, experiences a degradation in the human condition (citizen).
Jorge Benítez Nazario
One of the pillars of the technocratic mentality that is dominant today is the idea that human and social reality consists of separate fields, such as social, political, economic and cultural, and that each one is independent of the other. They are therefore subject to the reductionist analysis of specialized disciplines, each with its own techniques, rules and methodology. When speaking of economics, it is often presumed that it responds to its own logic that is different from the one that governs, for example, the field of politics.
This habit of separating and isolating the fields of human endeavor can be beneficial for detailed and specialized studies of limited scope, but in general it is often an unfortunate practice that leads to disinformation and limits the ability to understand organic social complexity. For example, when considering the structure and organization of the government, it can be tempting to stay away from other social spheres and focus on internal political elements as if they were a separate reality with their own life.
It should be noted, however, that one of the most outstanding aspects of democratic and republican political systems is their direct effect on economic development. Political values and moral principles are worthy on their own, but it is an established historical fact that the enormous prosperity generated by Western countries in the modern era – since the 18th century – is closely tied to the rise of democratic systems of governance, citizen participation and the rule of law. In fact, when considering the issue of a country’s economic norms and strategies, it is correct to speak of economic policy.
The French Revolution of 1789 marked the moment in Western history when it was recognized that the European states, to take advantage of the economic development of the First Industrial Revolution, would have to replace the centralized monarchies (the ancient regimes) with republican institutions that guaranteed a more stable and efficient social order. The economic classes realized that for industrial and commercial activity to be more efficient and productive, it would be necessary to share political power with the traditional (aristocratic) classes through decentralized representative institutions. This would ensure that the state would act to protect and facilitate national economic activity. The time had come to limit the arbitrariness of the autocratic state that was typical of authoritarian monarchies that did not fully understand the rules and habits of capitalist economic activity and to replace them with a stable, institutional legal order that was capable of protecting property rights and guaranteeing the stability of commercial transactions. In other words, under the cover of democratic-republican principles, a new modern national state was created whose primary role was to maintain social peace and ensure a legal order that created an air of civic confidence in private transactions. Thus one of the most coveted rights in the new political order, even above freedom, equality and brotherhood, was that of private property. The shared supposition was that the state, as the only possible guarantor of the integrity of private property, was essential for national economic development in a capitalist system, and as a result, for the prosperity of its citizens.
As a secondary part of this practical goal, it was also recognized that individuals had the human and civic right to self-actualization, including developing private interests outside the public sphere. Therefore, in addition to the guarantee that the state would not infringe on personal property rights, the rule of law gave the citizens the freedom to enter into contractual transactions in a stable and dependable climate. Also recognized was the obligation to maintain social order and protect the citizens from the danger of arbitrary and abusive seizures by agencies of the state or other private agents.
Today it is believed that civic harmony and the ability to create cohesion, cooperation, reciprocity, trust and solidarity — what is known as social capital — is more important for economic development than natural resources and investment capital. In other words, the higher the level of social capital in a given community, the greater will be its level of prosperity. Additionally, a high level of social capital reduces the costs of disputes, which are often the result of mistrust, a lack of solidarity, and selfishness.
Increasing the level of social capital is one of the fundamental political goals for the modern democratic state. But, like each political community, each state establishes its own methods and strategies to achieve this goal and some are more successful than others. The differences are the product of cultural traditions, specific geopolitical and hegemonic realities, and geographic and demographic circumstances that affect the development of each individual country. What they all have in common, beyond the variables that may arise in each state’s organization and its interaction and production, is the organic relationship that exists between political stability, the solidity of the state’s legal institutions, the citizens’ confidence (in other words, social capital) and the level of quality of life.
It is essential to approach the nature and historical role of the democratic system of government, both from the perspective of its political values and its universal morals, as the empirical and unbreakable link between social capital and economic development and material prosperity.
Author: Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Published: September 11, 2014.
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