Friday, December 3, 2010

Trying to Establish a Democracy? Focus on a ‘Declaration of Independence’ First, Then a ‘Constitution’

Thailand is currently on their 18th Constitution since 1932 yet they still do not have a democracy.  Might I suggest that Thailand consider adopting a lesson learned from the history of the United States. Certainly, America’s system isn’t perfect but it is the longest lasting democracy in history.
America has two founding documents; the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  It was the Declaration of Independence which came 11 years before the Constitution which actually planted the seed of democracy.  As Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration, governments, “derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Beneath Jefferson’s simple eloquence lies a profound question. How should the consent of the “governed” be determined?  By a vote it was assumed.
The Constitution, except for its soaring preamble, falls short of the Declaration’s eloquence, and has little bearing on democracy. While the Constitution assumes elections of some sort, its innovations were controlling power (through checks and balances), and dividing power (through Federalism).  Moreover, in making the compromises needed to win consensus, the Constitutional Convention actually limited democracy. For example, the Senate’s composition vastly overweighs the power of states with small populations.
Although the Declaration and the Constitution are both revered in America, it is fitting that two of our greatest speeches are rooted not in the Constitution’s rules and compromises, but in the Declaration’s soaring democratic promise.
Thus, the first words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are:
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
It was the Declaration that was four score and seven years before Gettysburg.  So, while a war was being fought to hold the country together, Lincoln rededicated the country not to the rules of the Constitution, but to the Declaration’s vision of equal opportunity and democracy.  Then in closing his short Gettysburg speech with reverence for government “by the people,” Lincoln called for a “new birth of freedom”:  so that:
“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
One hundred years later, speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech, also harked back to the Declaration.  It was a promissory note covering “’inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”  This promissory note was payable to “all men, yes, black men as well as white men.”  But, America, as King said in 1963, had “defaulted on this promissory note as far as her citizens of color are concerned.”
Just three years after King spoke, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that helped make real the promise of black voting.  And then, forty-five years after King’s speech, Barack Obama was elected as America’s forty-fourth President.
America’s democracy originated from its Declaration of Independence and not its Constitution.  I submit that a similar plan will succeed in Thailand.  In order for that nation to become a democracy, the Thai people will need to first plant the seeds of democracy by declaring their own independence as well, independence not from an external country but from the anti-democratic amart / military within Thailand which have been repressing its citizens for decades.  Something along the lines in the US Declaration of Independence that said “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
That is the cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of liberty–loving people together as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of people throughout the world – including Thailand.

No comments:

Post a Comment