Canada Day ?
Be beautiful and vote says the election advert for Lebanon's 2009 election. Either the best or most ironic of the many "just vote" ads coaxing and cajoling citizens to vote.
In Canada we citizens have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are the envy of the world's citizens.
But beyond the ballot box and beyond the Canadian box of citizen goodies, what does it mean to be a citizen?
Canada Day is coming up. A summer holiday long week end. Another reward for being a good citizen?
What makes us so deserving?
Leading up to the 2009 US election I went with my family to hear Barrack Obama speak at the Bangor auditorium. There in the shadow of Paul Bunyan, Obama was asked, "What can I do?" by a young woman in the audience. He said to be a good citizen was to be informed.
It was a surprising echo of radical Austrian economist Ludwig Von Misis observation in his 1944 book 'Bureaucracy', where he answered the question by squaring up citizens as the basic building blocks of democracy - with no treats or goodies and no feel good reward for just voting. "The first duty of a citizen of a democratic community" he said, "is to educate himself and to acquire the knowledge needed for dealing with civic affairs. The franchise is not a privilege but a duty and a moral responsibility. The voter is virtually an officeholder; his office is the supreme one and implies the highest obligation."
It seems to me the "just vote" era is over. Citizens who expected that just voting was good enough see a lack of dynamic change within the bureaucratic fiefdoms that makes one government look very much like the last.
So what can you do?
To be a good citizen is to be responsible - to act as if you are responsible for what happens in your community.
Oscar Wilde said “The problem with socialism is that it will take up too many evenings.” Likewise people act like they don't have time to participate in democracy. They imagine someone else will take care of it or that it can be deferred to experts like dentistry or auto repairs. The experts, bureaucratic professionals, political parties, consultants backroom boys and basically everyone in the radical fringe is just fine with that. They get to run the country because normal people have stuff to do.
When you think about it, this is a very serious thing. We can't remain a democracy if citizens defer to experts and professionals. Citizens lose their sovereignty if they aren't responsible and democracy ends.
How much time would you expect to have to contribute as a citizen to keep Canada's democracy operational? What's it worth to you?
I'm imagining quite a few evenings. And some lunch hours and week ends too.
We talk a lot about freedom. Especially around Canada Day. Unfortunately, national celebrations tend to replace the symbols - flags and fireworks - for the thing symbolized. Freedom doesn't mean citizens are free from duty, it means citizens are free to do their duty - to play their part in the intellectual machine that is democracy.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.