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New Social Compact

Democracy, Ancient and Modern



“Poverty is not measured by how much one possesses but by how big are one’s desires.”–Plato

“A well regulated State is based on the common sense of the people.”–Giambattista Vico                

“No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.” –Winston Churchill

In a relativistic age which beliefs in functional relativistic truths but not in Truth itself, when consequently many sing the praises of democracy but precious few can pin down its essence, a revisiting of Plato’s skeptical attitude towards it may be in order. It may lead us to a surprising discovery, that of Giambattista Vico in the 18th century (see his New Science): that democracy has never been based on the rule of a few all-wise leaders and not even on that of well-learned people, i.e., the philosopher-kings and the all-powerful manipulating politicians, but on the “common sense” of all the people.

The statement on democracy quoted above was proffered by Churchill in the House of Commons on the 11th of November 1947 at the origins of the EU. Some have assumed that Churchill had Plato’s critique of democracy in mind when he proffered it. That assumption is based on a kind of rationalism devoid of imagination which ends up missing the irony of Churchill’s statement, not to speak of the paradoxical nature of Plato’s critique of democracy in The Republic.

Indeed, in an age of relativism, when many sing the praises of democracy as the gift of the age of Enlightenment, ignoring the fact that in reality its cradle is ancient Athens, when others (the futurists who run on cars with no rear view mirrors) say that its essence may have changed even in the last fifty years or so, and will keep on changing faster and faster, while precious few bother to explore its essence, its ambiguity and paradox, perhaps a revisiting of Plato’s critique of democracy may be worthwhile. In book VI of The Republic Plato narrates a parable as a way of answering this crucial question by Adeimantus: “How can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?” This is the parable by which Plato answers the question, via Socrates: “Suppose the following to the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is large and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short sighted and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarreling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it cannot be taught and are ready to murder any one who says it can. They spend all their time milling around the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drinks or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure-cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the wind and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship (488b-d).”

The above allegory, as per Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric, can be interpreted thus: the ship is the Athenian ship of State, the rather incompetent captain is the Athenian people. The people own the state and are supreme in it, as indeed it ought to be in any democratic Republic, even a rudimentary undeveloped one. The motley crew represents the politicians who are constantly quarrelling with each other on how best to navigate the ship while regularly attempting to take the helm from the captain.

Now, it would appear that things have not changed that much in twenty four hundred years. Undoubtedly, this allegory from The Republic paints a rather bleak picture of democracy. Plato seems to be neither a “republican” nor a “democrat.” Had he lived today in the US or somewhere in the EU, he might have ended up voting for the green party. Be that as it may, some of his readers over the ages, while acknowledging his penetrating genius, have attributed to him totalitarian-elitists intellectual tendencies, the attempt to explain the whole of reality with one over-reaching theoretical scheme. This charge seems to be supported by the fact that Plato maintains a rather skeptical attitude toward the poetical in general, and that his ultimate solution to the conundrum of the political incompetence of ordinary people who own the ship of state in a democracy, seems to be that philosophers become kings or vice versa, kings become philosophers. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that he also advocated that no one is ready to be a philosopher before the age of fifty; wisdom arrives, if at all, with the experience of a life-time of virtue, or to say it with Shakespeare: “maturity is all.”

Were we to seriously survey the history of mankind we would soon find out that humanity has had as their leaders precious few philosopher-kings and an abundance of Caesars and Napoleons, people who in general are in love with Machiavellian “power politik” which they practice rationally on the chess-board of life while being completely uninterested in philosophical speculations. Exceptions are Alexander the Great (a student of Aristotle) and Marcus Aurelius, the author of The Meditations.

We would also find out that sometimes the rule of the majority turns into the tyranny of the mob which represses the few who may be branded as outsiders. This ugly phenomenon is observed and commented upon in modern times by none other than Tocqueville; despite the fact that he had great sympathies for democratic systems, he suspected that it applied to democracies also. The founding fathers of the United States were in fact so troubled by this sad tendency of human nature to rule and manipulate others, that they decided to add the Bill of Rights to a Constitution which already proclaimed and enshrined inalienable and universal truths and values.

At this point one may ask: is Plato’s critique still valid today, and if so, what are the practical consequences of ignoring it? Let us try to apply this critique to an overarching problem of modern Western Civilization, namely the principle of sustainable development. This principle would require that we change the way we live our lives. We should distinguish what we truly need from what we want, as Aristotle teaches in The Nicomachean Ethics. In other words, we the people would have to democratically agree to place a greater value on the future quality of the environment than on our present comfortable life-style. This is particularly true in the developed countries, the so called first world, such as the US and the EU.

This moral concept creates obligations not only for the common good of the present inhabitants of the world, but also toward future generations. There is a problem however: in a free market there is no normative standard of what constitutes a need and what constitutes a want. The only standard is one’s desires, as Madison Avenue well knows and as Plato intimated when he said that poverty is not measured by how little one possesses but by how big are one’s desires. In effect the idea that the majority of the people in a democracy would deprive themselves of their wants is redolent of one of Eco’s hyper-reality fantasies.

Most “successful” politicians would not risk their popularity with the ones who elected them for the sake of voters yet to be born, to wit the jettisoning of the Kyoto agreement by a President Bush and its disregard by the EU political leaders despite its pious lip service to it. Hence Plato’s dire pessimism about democracy. He would tell us this: in rational terms, you lovers of democracy have a clear choice; you can keep democracy or keep the earth cool so that you can keep on living on this earth, but you cannot do both. You may ask: what Is Plato suggesting that we opt for dictatorship or perhaps that we vote for the Green party and Ralph Nader? Not exactly, but he is however suggesting a rational pessimism about democratic governments.

The question at this point is this: is such pessimism warranted? Yes, if one keeps in mind Plato’s metaphor of the ship of State and its assumptions. No, if one challenges any of its assumptions. One such assumption is that wisdom does not reside with the people but with a select few elites: the philosopher-kings. However, Giambattista Vico asserts in his poetic philosophy that such an assumption is unwarranted. He has another better idea: he called the wisdom of the people “common sense” and he considered it superior to that of the few which he called “la boria dei dotti” (the conceit of the learned). He is the first philosopher to put forward a radical notion: that Homer, the blind poet, did not exist, that he is the poetic representation of the common oral tradition and wisdom of Hellas, i.e., of all the ancient Greek people which he calls “common sense.”

Vico proved this notion philologically by comparing The Iliad and The Odyssey and showing that they could not have been written by the same author. He repeatedly explains in his New Science how this common sense wisdom has, time and again, saved humankind; that Providence avails itself of that wisdom within the immanence of human history, and it is that kind of wisdom, much more than the elitist kind of wisdom of the learned parading as “leadership,” that saves humankind time and again.

Here we need to remember that in the above statement by Churchill there is an “exception:” Churchill seems to agree with Plato that democracy is inefficient, the worst kind of political system imaginable when manipulated by incompetent politicians, yes, but with the exception of all the others. This paradox that Churchill perceived and Plato seems to miss can be explained thus: when one has trust and faith in the innate wisdom of the people, then democracy begins to appear as the only possible solution to the problems of all the people, for democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people.

This explanation has been proven even empirically and mathematically based on fixed statistical laws by which most modern insurance companies operate. Two or three people are asked to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar; an average is taken and recorded. Then six more people are asked and the average is again taken and recorded. Twelve people are than asked and the average is taken and recorded again. Consistently, the average for the last group will be closer to the reality of the situation than the second or the first, the second closer than the first, that of all the groups together closer than any individual group and closer than the guess of any single individual. This phenomenon was observed even by Aristotle who observed that the decisions of many people tend to cancel out the blunders of a lonely tyrant or even a group of tyrants, hence democracy is always preferable.

In practical terms, the above statistical mathematics proves that one can trust the common sense of all the people more than the conceited knowledge of a few elites. Not to do so, is to risk ending up with dictatorship, albeit that of a philosopher-king. Which is to say, trusting the people, the way an Abraham Lincoln did, for example, when he advocated a government of the people, for the people, by the people, has far better consequences than not trusting them, as a Machiavelli would suggest in his Prince and his geo-political considerations.

Indeed, few people would cooperate with a State that denied them some sort of participation in the decisions affecting their own lives. They would only do so under coercion. In conclusion we can say that from a purely rational viewpoint Plato was justified in being skeptical of democracy, nevertheless he was wrong in the assumption that it was a mere matter of logic and rationality; it is also a matter of imagination and faith: faith in the ultimate wisdom of the “common sense” of the people.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

An Analysis on Marshall McLuhan’s concepts



Marshall McLuhan is an important scholar who has made major contributions to communication discipline through introducing new concepts like “global village” and “medium is the message”. It can be said that ideas of McLuhan can be applied to new technologies and social media discussions today.

McLuhan introduced the idea of “medium is the message” in his book called Medium is the Message that was published in 1967. According to McLuhan, what is said by the message is not very significant. The media actors which can be regarded as the medium hold a more major influence on the masses than the message it presents.

The medium (or media in other terms) does not only have the role of being the carrier of the message but it is also the message that shapes people’s views and perceptions (McLuhan, 1967). McLuhan, based on the idea of “medium is the message” gave examples to support his claim in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964. According to McLuhan, the content of any medium is always another medium. For instance, the content of writing is speech; the written word is the content of print; and print can be seen as the content of the telegraph (McLuhan, 1964).

Another important concept coined by McLuhan is “global village”. This concept was introduced in the 1960s to say that mass media will spread all over the world and make the world become a global village (McLuhan, 1962). According to McLuhan, the electronic interdependence of today’s world produces a world in the sense of “global village”. The global village has been created by the instant electronic information movement according to McLuhan.

McLuhan believed in the usefulness of communication technologies. One of the most important emphases McLuhan made was about drawing attention with his findings about the global communication revolution. According to McLuhan, TV has been a critical invention that ensures that nothing remains a secret, and that eliminates privacy, and he believed that the change of societies is possible with the development of communication tools in various forms. McLuhan made one of the most important predictions of the 20th century. This was  the Internet.

In contemporary world, social media is used by millions of user all over the world. New technologies have turned the world into a “global village” Although McLuhan said almost 60 years ago, his ideas about media (medium is the message) and the “global village” concept are still relevant today.


  • McLuhan, M. (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man.   London: Routledge.
  • McLuhan M. (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan, McGraw Hill
  • McLuhan, M. (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.  London: Penguin Press.

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New Social Compact

Leaving no one behind with Fiqh for person with disability



As I watch the new Netflix documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution produced by former President Barrack Obama and Michelle Obama, I realize thatthere is an urgent need for grassroot activism to support disability religious rights to pave the way towards greater equality. The movie highlights disabled summer campers who fight for the realization disability rights in 1970s, at the time when they were largely ignored by the state.

And does Indonesia need A Disability Revolution?

According to a study by Monash University, it is estimated that the disability prevalence rate in Indonesia is between 4% and 11%. There are several causes of disability, ranging from malnutrition, diseases, ageing population, natural disaster, and accident. Unfortunately, due to social stigma in the society against people with disability, the disability statistical figures may be underreported.

The Indonesian government has been actively involved in international convention by ratifying United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 and issued the law no. 8 of 2016 on rights of persons with disabilities to comply with human rights standards. But, at the same time the law faces some stagnate situation regarding improved well-beings of people with disabilities because disability prejudices are still at the heart of this tension. 

For example, disabled children are less likely to attend formal education because of lacking inclusive schools. In public places, ramps and accessible information are not easily available. Zooming into the workforce, Indonesian 2010 census reported that only 26,4% people with severe disabilities were employed in formal sectors. This resulted in high rate of self-employment among people with severe disabilities. Many people with mental disability, such as bipolar disorder, have to conceal their condition for the fear of losing jobs.

A research found that discriminations against people with disabilities in developing countries, including Indonesia, caused a loss of up to 7% of Gross Domestic Product(imagine : what if a genius with severe disability like the late Professor Stephen Hawking had never been employed at university?).

Women with disabilities even suffered more from double prejudices, by their gender and their disabilities. What makes thing more difficult for disabled citizens is that, despite of some disabilities laws and ministerial decrees, they were poorly enforced. This explains the urgency of ending this discrimination from a social-economic developmental perspective.

As the largest Muslim majority country in the world, Fiqh (Islamic jurisdiction) for person with disability remains important to safeguard equal religious rights. As a non-disabled Muslim woman, being able to perform Islamic prayer (shalat) properly help me increase my mental wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

Unfortunately, there are still some Muslims who believe that disabilities are by-products of witchcrafts (sihr) or demons (syaitan) which can be healed only by involving spirits and enchanting some quranic verses. Further, in Islamic law per se, there is no specific term which can encompass all disabilities.

“Fiqh for person with disability is very important because the society has yet to accommodate special needs for people with disabilities in performing religious rituals. For example, how does Islam regulate the wudlu(ablution) taken by a man/woman without arms? Considering that Islamic law obligates that someone must wash one’s arm up to elbow during wudlu. And will the wheelchair be considered as najis(impure) inside the mosque?” said Mr. Bahrul Fuad, a disabled person and board member of AIDRAN (Australia-Indonesia Disability Research and Advocacy Network).

Mr. Ahmad Ma’ruf, the Disability Program Team Leader of Muhammadiyah, the second largest and most influential Islamic organization in Indonesia after Nadlatul Ulama (NU), even posed critical questions:“What if persons with hearing impairment wish to get married and say ijabqabul (Islamic marriage vows), will they use sign language? Because religious court has yet to regulate the sign language issue. And who has the authority to validate the sign language as “legally correct” in Islamic marriage?  What if a man with wheelchair wishes to be an imam (leader of a congregational prayer)? Is he allowed to do that, given the fact that many people still interpret explicitly the regulation that makmum (member of a congregational prayer) must follow movements of imam? What if there is no accessible ablution facility in a mosque? Should a person with disability performs tayamum (dried ablution)?”

To address this issue, NUand Muhammadiyah issued Fiqh for person with disability and raise awareness of the public concerning equality for disabled communities. NU even collaborated with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to disseminate the Fiqhto mosques nationwide.

Fiqh for person with disability will fulfil civil rights of disabled community comprehensively, ranging from ubudiyah(religious rituals),muamalah(interpersonal relation), to sahusiah(public policy). This Fiqh will also protect rights of disabled women, as the most marginalized group.

To ensure the smooth implementation of the Fiqh, the government, civil societies, disabled people organizations, religious leaders, and experts of Islamic law should collaborate for accountable monitoring and evaluation. Regular capacity buildings for judges, teachers, and village officials should also be organized.

Finally, political buy-in through Perda(regional regulation)and guidelines should be issued to strengthen government officials’ commitment to enforce the Fiqh. For example, the Special Province of Aceh under Syariah law have regularly issued qanun(regional regulations subjected to Islamic stipulations).

Historically speaking, during the Umayyad Caliph era in the 700s, the Caliph Al-Waleed ibn ‘Abdul Malik accommodated health treatment needs for his population with disabilities through the provision of health care clinics within all his jurisdictional provinces. This idea was emulated by Caliph Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who hired support services workers for people with disabilities. This initiative resulted in social and legal impacts worldwide, in which a broad array of laws on disabilities were enacted.

In making public policy for citizens with disabilities, the government of Indonesia should not paint disabilities situation with a broad brush. Rather, Fiqhfor persons with disabilities must be taken into consideration seriously. Otherwise, there will be far-reaching consequences on well-beings of people with disabilities in the long run.

This Fiqhis a beacon of hope for future generations, to leave no one behind.

As put forward by a member of Crip Camp: “If you don’t demand what you believe for yourself, you’re not gonna get it”.

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New Social Compact

Good Parenting Reduces the Divorce Rate



Divorce is a very stressful event. Apart from having a bad impact on children, divorce has a major impact on the survival of the husband and wife who experience it. Divorced couples visit psychiatric clinics and hospitals more than couples from intact families. Divorced couples experience anxiety, depression, feelings of anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection, and loneliness.

In Indonesia, the divorce rate from year to year shows an increasing trend. The Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia reports that since 2015 until now there has been an increase in the divorce rate. In 2015 there were 394,246 cases, in 2016 it increased to 401,717 cases, then in 2017 it increased to 415,510 cases, as well as in 2018 it continued to increase to 444,358 cases, and by 2020, per August the number had reached 306,688 cases.

               The increase in the divorce rate from year to year has serious consequences in families. Conflict during the process of parental divorce and separation has a negative impact on the physical and psychological well-being of all family members. Quite a number of research results show that divorce has a negative effect on all family members, especially children. The results of Amato’s research in 2011 with a meta-analysis approach to 67 study results showed that children from divorced families had lower academic achievement, behavior, psychological adjustment, self-concept and social relations than children from intact families.

               Based on In the author’s empirical observation, the ending of marital status for a particular family also brings several social impacts, for example: narrowing social networks which results in a lack of social support, causes negative life experiences and psychological suffering, and causes economic hardship for women.

Thus rather than that, a marriage which basically originates from an agreement between two parties, so if there is a divorce, it is certain that both parties will suffer losses. Even children from marriages who divorce will share such losses. Then, what factors cause divorce? In my opinion, the substantial cause of divorce is the parenting concept of a married couple.

Good Parenting

               Parenting, generally known by the public as a pattern of parenting parents towards their children. This assumption is not completely wrong, but it must be straightened out that parenting is an ideal household conceptualization. Of course, you have to move from a husband and wife long before you have children. A husband and wife have had to discuss it long ago so that in various desired manifestations it can be carried out harmoniously together.

Parents (married couples), basically forming their children until they reach maturity will not be separated from the influence of their world. The mode of reflection on the relationship between parent and child is a complex activity that includes many specific attitudes and behaviors that work separately and collectively to influence the child’s outcome and the emotional bonds in which parental behavior is expressed.

In this case, parenting can be explained in terms of two components, namely parental responsiveness and parental demandness. Parents’ demands are the extent to which parents set guidelines for their children and how their discipline is based on these guidelines. Parental responsiveness is an emotional characteristic of parenting. Responsiveness continues to the extent to which parents support their children and meet the children’s needs. Both responsive and demanding parenting have been linked to securing attachment to children. Referring to Baumrind (1971), he identifies three parenting styles, namely: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive with responsive and demanding concepts in mind.

Authoritative parentingis a condition of authoritative parents as a combination of demands and responsiveness. They make logical demands, set boundaries and demand children’s obedience, while at the same time, they are friendly, accept the child’s point of view, and encourage children’s participation in decision-making and often seek their children’s views in family considerations and decisions. This type of parent is then referred to as the type of parent who monitors and disciplines their children fairly, while being very supportive at the same time.

Authoritarian parenting, a demanding and unresponsive parental condition. They engage in little reciprocal interaction with children and expect them to accept adult demands without question. Strict socialization techniques (threads, commands, physical strength, love withdrawal) are used by parents who are authoritarian and withhold self-expression and independence. Authoritarian parents tend to set high standards and guidelines and require compliance. Authoritarian parents attribute love to success and not nurturing like the other two parenting styles.

Permissive parenting, consists of several clear and predictable rules due to inconstant follow-up and neglected bad behavior, neutral or positive affective tone. They give children a high degree of freedom and do not restrain their behavior unless physical injury involves. Permissive parenting shows an overly tolerant approach to socialization with responsive and non-demanding parenting behavior. These parents are nurturing and accepting, but at the same time they avoid imposing demands and controls on the child’s behavior. They have little or no hope for their children and often see their children as friends and have few boundaries.

Based on the three parenting models above that the author has reviewed and conducted a literature review, it is clear that the Good Parenting pattern that must be applied by a husband and wife is authoritative parenting. This concept implies a condition in which a positive influence on the realm of a child’s life until he grows up on the aspects of education and psychological well-being is formed.

A positive parent-child relationship illustrates that the family will survive in harmony so that it becomes the foundation of a healthy home and community environment. The influence of the parents on the whole life of the child means the influence from birth to adulthood due to the parents. Children spend most of their time at home and the attitudes, behavior, standard of living, and communication of parents with their children have a major impact on the child’s future life. If their parents are too strict or too obedient, it has a negative impact on their life. But the supportive, caring and flexible attitude of the parents results in a psychologically and mentally healthy child.

Parents (a married couple) should adopt an authoritative parenting style and practically apply it when dealing with their children. They are the backbone of a nation and the nation’s future depends on their psychosocial development. Healthy parents can produce healthy children in exchange for a healthy nation. On the other hand, unhealthy parents (husband and wife) will have a bad influence, a small example is divorce. And this is a burden for the nation.

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