Friday, July 2, 2010

An ecological design for democracy

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Democracy is surely the highest ideal that social coexistence has historically developed. The underlying principle of democracy is: "what concerns all should be able to be thought about and decided by all."

It has many forms: the direct, as is experienced in Switzerland, where all people participate in decisions via referendum.

The representative, in which more complex societies elect delegates who, on behalf of all, discuss and make decisions. The big problem now is that representative democracy has been unable to gather together the forces of a complex society, with its social movements. In societies of high inequality, such as Brazil, representative democracy takes on characteristics of unreality, if not farce. Every four or five years, citizens have the possibility to choose their "dictator" who, once elected, is more concerned with making palatial policies than establishing an organic relationship with the social forces.

There is participatory democracy which is an improvement on the representative kind. Organized forces, such as the major trade unions, social movements for land, housing, health care, education, human rights, environmentalists and others have grown in such a way as to constitute the basis of participatory democracy -- the state is obliged to listen to and discuss with such forces to make decisions. It is imposing itself everywhere, especially in Latin America.

There is also communitarian democracy that is characteristic of the original peoples of Latin America, little known and acknowledged by analysts. It is born of the communitarian structure of the native cultures from north to south in Abya Yala (an indigenous name for Latin America). It seeks to "live well", which is not our "good life" that means that many live worse. "Living well" is the constant search of balance through the participation of all, a balance between man and woman, between man and nature, a balance between production and consumption in the context of an economy of sufficiency, decency, and not of accumulation.

"Living well" involves overcoming anthropocentrism -- it is not only in harmony with humans, but with the energies of the Earth, sun, mountains, water, forests and with God. This is a sociocosmic democracy, where all elements are considered bearers of life and therefore included in the community, their rights respected.

Finally, we are moving towards a global superdemocracy. Some analysts such as Jacques Attali (A Brief History of the Future, 2008) envision that it will be the saving alternative to a superconflict that could, if given free rein, destroy humanity. This superdemocracy starts from a collective consciousness that is aware of the uniqueness of the human family and that the planet Earth -- small, with scarce resources, overpopulated and threatened by climate change -- will force people to develop global policy strategies to secure everyone's life and the ecological conditions of the Earth.

This global superdemocracy does not override the different democratic traditions, but makes them complementary. This is best achieved through bioregionalism. This is a new ecological design, i.e. another way to organize the relationship with nature starting from regional ecosystems. Unlike the globalization of uniformity, it values differences and respects the peculiarities of each region with its local culture, making it easier to respect the cycles of nature and harmony with Mother Earth. We must pray that this type of democracy will triumph; if it doesn't, we don't know at all where we will end up.

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