Governments and Their People

The intertubes are full of the news of the revolution in Egypt and while I’m glad to see millions of people embracing their freedom and responsibilities as citzens, their is one trend I find a bit worrying. I’ve seen the thought “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” and I find that a bit disconcerting.

V for Vendetta

The line is from V for Vendetta. I think it’s an awesome movie that everyone should watch at least once. V is a very interesting character but it’s worth remembering that he is ultimately a character in a book (and movie). “Governments should be afraid of their people” is something that you would expect from someone in his position, with his past and his mission. But it is not something that should be taken as the working principle for concerned citizens.

 

Dictatorships and totalitarian regimes are bad, sure. But in a properly functioning democracy the government and the people are one and the same. Let’s not forget that the point of democracy is to have a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Government officers are stewards entrusted with protecting the interests and rights of their fellows. Their duty is to listen to their people and execute their will. They provide security, direction and cohesion, but not at the cost of liberty.

People should not be afraid of their governments, but governments should not be afraid of their people either. Fear is a primitive emotion from a time when we getting chased down and eaten by a bigger, meaner animal was a clear and present danger. Fear’s main purpose is to override everything else: including both other emotions and logic. You cannot establish a working, sustainable government on the basis of fear on any side. There must be balances and checks on the power of the government, but the atmosphere and general feelings must be of respect and cooperation, not fear and suspicion.

Democracy is based on the idea of “We, the people” not on the basis of “rulers vs. the ruled”. As citizens of the free nations of Earth, let’s keep that in mind. Freedom, Forever!

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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