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The Beauty Among the Kangaroos: The Perennial Season of Democracy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
May 27, 2022

@Beautiful Kangaroos Perennially Battered. Photo and Title by Lisa Saye.

Democracy insists that all are worthy. Worth is important because the value of human life is the founding bedrock of any sincerely administered governmental structure. Worth is an unenumerated right inferred from other natural and fundamental rights. Thus, there is no daylight between worth and humanity. Their notions are interchangeable. There is also no daylight between public administration and good public service. Democracy is its serious machinery and that machinery must operate deep in the marrow of government. In this light, democracy is life-support. It rejects the feudal mindset of control and hate and embraces Freedom as its only conceit—a conceit that is extremely necessary.

If we were to look around today, we may be tempted to ask one major question. Who are democracy’s allies? If you can answer this then you would discover infinite models of public administration for every issue or concern in the known universe. History’s narrative reveals democracy’s allies throughout its numerous stages. At times there are many, while at other times there are few. Humanity has relied on democracy’s narrative to direct us towards best practices. Unfortunately, even democracy is not immune to bouts of irrationality. Alas, we have entered a season whereby historical narratives are being ignored and sometimes criminalized. This is a dangerous undertaking and one that I do not recommend we continue. When we criminalize the real historical narrative, we lose any freedoms attached to it. Democracy needs history. It cannot survive without it. It will not survive without it.

Technology resists the desire to erase the historical narrative, but even that is not enough. Democracy is a mood and public administration is an event. Democracy calls for a holistic analysis of governance and budgeting in order to make as accurate an application of resource allocation through public service delivery as possible. When dark phases and dimensions of loss begin to look like acceptance and contentment, we become the shame of the future in the very textbooks and technology that we are attempting to omit.

Through generation after generation, democracy’s robustness has replaced a plethora of thrown-together governance systems. Poor citizens do not receive the support they need in any appreciable degree outside of democratic structures. When aid or grants have been placed in the hands of those who assign need and worth based on self-serving criteria, the poor cry for relief and yearn for a value system that sees them as citizens. Democracy remains one of the few ideologies that is equipped to do so and equipped to make it last through the rule of law and through an inherent social contract among equals.

Poverty is not dogma. It should not be a de facto standard of living in any civilized society. If the objectives of government are not objectives towards poverty elimination, then that government cannot call itself a democracy. In a previous article, I wrote about how in manufacturing democracy, governments wave goodbye to the status quo. Similarly, democracy is not poverty’s place holder. Democracy is where and when poverty ends. Allies know this and keep pressure on the system to transform the lives and livelihoods of the citizens who are still our immediate vocation.

I do not know it all, though I wish I did. I have studied many of the same models, systems, theorists and theories most of you reading this article are acquainted with. I return to those examples, perusing case studies while looking for clues or cues that would offer some resolve to today’s dilemmas. I always come away hopeful and inspired, be it from readings about democratic representation in the court of King Shamba Bolongongo in what is now the Congo in 1600 or when scholars encourage us that life is its own study and suggest this as a continuous theme for public administrators.

In an 1862 letter to Chief Editor Thomas Higginson, the poet Emily Dickinson referred to herself as the only kangaroo among the beauty. What she meant by this has been everybody’s guess, however my guess would be that it was her attempt at spotlighting her own personal distinction. Democracy is so inclined in its distinction as a governing ideology. It is the beauty among the corrupt, the unjust and the many mismanaged government ideologies that are so often adopted by humankind. Like the photo accompanying this article, democracy’s structure has been battered and bruised. And yet….she’s still recognizable, she’s still salvageable, she’s still worthy and she’s still beautiful.

The copyrighted ‘Beautiful Kangaroos Perennially Battered ’ image was taken by Lisa Saye.


Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected]

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