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An ecological design for democracy

         Leonardo Boff


         Earthcharter Commission

  Democracy surely is the highest ideal that historically social coexistence has developed. The principle underlying democracy is: «what is of interest to everyone must be considered and decided by everyone.»

It has many forms: direct democracy, as it is experienced in Switzerland, where the entire population participates in decisions, by means of plebiscites.

Representative democracy, where more complex societies elect delegates who, in the name of all, discuss and make decisions. The great present problem is that representative democracy appears incapable of putting together all the elements of a complex society, with its social movements. In societies of great social inequality, such as Brazil, representative democracy assumes unreal, if not farcical, characteristics. Every four or five years, the citizens are able to chose their«dictator» who, once elected, devotes himself more to palace politics than to establishing an organic relationship with the social forces.

Participatory democracy, which is an improvement over representative democracy. Organized forces, such as the large unions, the social movements involving the Earth, housing, health, education, human rights, the environment and others, have grown in such a way that they become the basis for a participative democracy: the State is obliged to listen to and to discuss with those forces the decisions that are to be made. This is becoming a reality everywhere, especially in Latin America.

There is also community democracy, characteristic of the original peoples of Latin America, little known or recognized by analysts. Born of the community structure of the original cultures throughout Abya Yala (the native name for the continent now known as America), community democracy seeks to realize«living well» which is not the same as our to «live better» which implies that many live poorly. To «live well» is the permanent search of equilibrium through the participation of all, equilibrium between man and woman, between human being and nature, equilibrium between production and consumption, from the point of view of an economy based on what is sufficient and decent, and not on accumulation.

«Living well» implies overcoming anthropocentrism: it is not only harmony among humans, but also with the energies of the Earth, the Sun, the mountains, the waters, the jungles and with God. It is about a socio-cosmic democracy, where all the elements are considered carriers of life and therefore are included in the community, which respects their rights.

Finally, we are heading towards a planetary super-democracy. Some analysts such as Jacques Attali, (Short History of the Future, 2008), imagine that this will be the saving alternative in the face of a super-conflict that could, if left to run its course, destroy humanity. Thisplanetary super-democracy starts from a collective consciousness that understands the uniqueness of the human family, and that planet Earth, small, scarce in resources, over-populated and threatened by climate change, will force its peoples to establish global political strategies to guarantee life for everyone and the ecological conditions of the Earth.

Thisplanetary super-democracy does not annul the diverse democratic traditions, but makes them complimentary. This is best accomplished through bio-regionalism.  It is about a new ecological design, which is to say, another form of organizing the relationship with nature, starting from regional ecosystems. Contrary to globalization, that seeks to make everything alike, planetary super-democracy values differences, and respects the singularity of each region, with its local culture, facilitating respect for the cycles of nature and harmony with Mother Earth. We must pray for this type of democracy to triumph.  If it does not, we do not know for certain whither will we be led.

Leonardo Boff