Last semester I followed a minor in law, and since then I’ve started to appreciate the concept of democracy a bit more. I learned about the Dutch law system and the Japanese system—among other things. What I came to realize, is that a lot of countries have very different interpretations of democracy because of their specific cultural norms. Due to this, different societies can also have very different understandings of what democracy means for them. The fact is: Democracies are not as perfect as some like to argue—yet I would like to believe they are a good basis for ruling a country. Democracy enables the opportunity for voters to hold governments accountable, which I find important since governing powers can do a lot of (unintentional) damage.
One of the key parts of democracy is the legal system. Not only the system itself but also the way society perceives it. This is described by Braithwaite as the concept of motivational postures. In short, these postures show to what degree people respect the law. Whereas most people will follow the law after some valid arguments, such as the perceived gain for society, others are more likely to look into the grey areas of the law and use these for personal gain. These postures can change over time if people have negative experiences with the police or other governmental bodies, as they begin to doubt the system. The most important part about this is that depending on which category on the spectrum of postures citizens fall into, you need a different approach on how to make them obey the law. Some people will only obey the law when they are treated with respect by civil servants. Others will need hard sanctions, or they will simply continue to violate the law. However, we must also call into question if some laws are to the benefit of society or exploit many for the gains of an elite few.
By keeping in mind the differences in people’s attitudes towards the law and the (democratic) governmental institutions, we can prevent ourselves from becoming too essentialist. I would like to urge my fellow students to be mindful of these motivational postures when studying other countries and regions. This way, we can get a better perspective on how the people look at the (democratic) government and the legal system that holds it together.
Laura van der Vleuten
*DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of BAISmag or BASIS.*
Find us on Instagram @basis.baismag