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Moriho Hirooka

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About democracy

Moriho Hirooka
Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

A hot dispute has been taking place in the political science world for quite some time. That is the liberal-communitarian dispute. On the NHK program Hakunetsu Kyoshitsu [White-hot Classroom], the now quite-famous Michael Sandel is one of the communitarian leaders.

The beginning of this dispute lies in John Rawls A Theory of Justice, with Rawls today being labeled as the original liberalist. In this book, Rawls presses on the issue of what kind of inequalities are being accepted. In extremely rough terms, Rawls insists that social inequalities should not profit the majority, and should only be allowed when the profit is to be made by all. The gap theory that was established by that has become highly well known among political scientists.

The influence this dispute has had on political science is a growing interest in standard theories, or more precisely, political philosophy. In other words, there is a growing interest in fundamental research about what democracy is.

Another area gaining the attention of political scientists is civil society research. This came about with the Revolutions of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Political regimes are systems which ride on the foundations of society. So, no matter how heavy-handed and dictatorial a regime is, if the people hold democratic power, they should be able to overthrow the government. The concept of civil society was born from that kind of idea.

Interest in both the liberal communitarian debate and civil society theory grew after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The end of the battle between capitalism and socialism signaled the start of deepened research into the contents of democracy.

So, what exactly is democracy?

It is a society where, politically, people gather as a free and impartial nucleus, and based on the consensus of the people take part in the decision-making process to establish what rules need to be followed.

For that kind of society to work, citizens must act spontaneously when there is a need for them to have a responsible interest in public affairs. There are many forms in which people can be involved in politics, and there is no need for them to take specific steps in order to be part of the decision-making process. Therefore, the political participation setup is made by the people themselves. Going even further, the makeup of the government is planned and managed by the people. Take the practice of the institutionalized separation of powers system as an example. That in itself is what makes the essence of the people. A society constructed by that kind of nucleus is a democratic society.

In economic terms, in the society, nobody holds any special powers, and the mechanisms of fair and free competition work well. If you want to earn money, you must produce better and cheaper products. Moneymaking in itself isn't seen as a negative, but it is desirable that one works hard toward that goal. That is the kind of society it is. If people want to be successful in that kind of society, they mustn't be afraid of fortune or failure in an enterprising social climate and must be sincere and work hard. If the rules of competition are obeyed, sincere and hard-working people will generally progress to the upper-middle class of society. If the rules are firm, trust will speak for itself in the end, and trust is not something that can be built overnight.

Also, there is active entrepreneurship taking place. As the term social entrepreneurship suggests, entrepreneurship is not restricted to only commercial enterprises, but also includes non-profit enterprises and volunteer activities. When thinking of democracy in modern society, one must not overlook the core non-profit activities of NPOs. Because NPOs do not aim to make a profit, everybody gets involved voluntarily. Therefore, NPOs have an extremely important existence indicative of a democracy's capacity. In short, be it for profit or not, through technological innovation, entrepreneurship or lobbying, the people build the social system through their own strength. A democratic society is that kind of society.

But what is more important is opening up the opportunity for everybody to have the freedom of self-realization. Society is continually mobile with no social classes or closed groups, and even if classes do exist, they are not structuralized. School education activates social mobility between generations, in other words, to a high degree a parent's social standing does not restrict the social standing of their children. Lifelong education gives empowerment opportunities to the people, and it is simple to get an opportunity to reenter the workforce after quitting one's job after marriage. Economist Amartya Sen uses the word capability, where it has to be possible in society for anybody to develop capabilities for self-realization.

People also hold no prejudices or discrimination against specific groups based on sex, age, race, nationality, religion, disabilities, sexuality etc., and respect that they were born that way. That is, the right to live with no restrictions due to circumstances that are no fault of their own is afforded to everyone. The concept of gender in sexual discrimination, the concept of normalization in elderly welfare and disabled welfare, and the acceptance of the coming out of sexual minorities such as those with gender identity disorder and homosexuals as being justified, all occurred in the latter half of the 20th century. They all share the idea that anyone has the right to self-realization. You can't take away somebody's chance of self-realization based only on the grounds of them being a man or woman. In the same way, while aiding residual abilities of elderly people whose bodily functions have weakened, we should respect their wishes and support their lives. People with gender identity disorders and homosexuals are born with those natural traits, so it is a natural right that the people live in accordance to their true sexuality. In the ways listed above, democracy is a society which provides self-realization opportunities to everyone.

The ideology of democracy has developed in the ways mentioned above. It is my belief that democracy since the second half of the 20th century has developed alongside the development of psychology. Abraham Maslow's concept of self-realization doesn't only open up new domains in psychology, but also shines a new light on movements happening in other areas. For example, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which sparked the second wave of feminism, undoubtedly brought up the issue of women's self realization. Carl Rogers' client-centered therapy opened the road to empowerment for those with no voice. Several of Rogers' activities such as active listening and encounter group, cannot be avoided when thinking about democracy.

Isn't it time we should have a systematic vision of a concrete shape of democracy?

Moriho Hirooka
Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Born in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1951. Poet and songwriter. Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, but has wide-ranging interest in modern Japanese social phenomenon. Concurrently served as head of the Saga Prefectural Women's Center Avance for two years from April 2005. Has held public posts such as member of the Cabinet Office Gender Equality Committee. Major publications among many include, Otoko Datte Kosodate [Men Can Raise the Kids] (Iwanami Shinsho), Chichioya De Aru Koto Wa Kanashiku mo Omoshiroi [Being a Father is Sad Yet Interesting] (Kodansha) and Kindai Nihon no Shinsho Fuukei [The Imagined Landscape of Present Day Japan] (Bokutakusha).