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The pillars of democracy

The modern democracy, that most of the nations in Europe and America experience right now, rests on three important pillars, or principles of political organization:

  • the separation of Church and the State
  • the separation of powers in the State
  • freedom of speech and of the Press

The second of these political doctrines are by all means not new and it has been around since Montesquieu. The separation of the rule of religion over the public affairs has been around as a concept for millenia but has been brought again to light closer to our times by the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (the Kingdom of Heaven that stays separated from the Kingdom of Earth, or the political rule of the people). The Enlightment was definitory also for instilling into the political thought the idea that the political affairs need to be conducted by humans. Eventually, the freedom of speech and the press are modern notions with roots in the post-Enlightment period and guarantee that the people under a political rule of a system can keep in check that system and prevent it from becoming tyrannical.

Now, this article is not about explaining why these 3 pillars are important for a modern society. The political philosophers that put forward these principles have done already the job of explaining them. For the modern citizen they come as commonsensical arguments. But these ideas have been constantly under attack. The freedom of press and its capacity to fight the wrongdoings of governments have been diminuated in several democratic countries. One of the reasons is because of a blatant conglomerization of media outlets. The control of news channels rests in the hands of few companies or individuals that can sway the public opinion according to very narrow private interests. While good journalism requires money, the financial part of news organizations has become more important than the purpose of these organizations: to offer a public good.

For violations of these other 2 principles I direct you towards several countries in Europe and the US. First, Romania has completely disolved the separation between the executive and legislative powers. The current government is controlled beyond constitutional means by an overreaching Parliament. The government is legitimate having the support a majority invested with votes, but this has been interpreted by the rulling parties as a free pass for accaparating the executive powers and controlling de facto a government that needs to be independent. What is a more brutal violation is that the control doesn’t happen through the normal legislative powers of the Parliament, but also happens in the non-transparent meetings of the rulling party.

Eventually, the separation of religion and the state is not necessarily violated but there have been attempts to introduce fundamentalist principles in the political organization of a country. What is going on with the abortion law in the US is a very good example. However, in general this principle is complicated to assess, since morality also rests on Christian thought. The risk of going back to a theocracy is extremly low but nonetheless, a modern democracy should be on the guard when it comes to allowing extremist religiosity in the conduct of public affairs.