The Republic is one of the dialogues created by Socrates, as recorded by Plato, his student.
The central issue of contention in The Republic is when Socrates and his interlocutors try to answer the question: What is justice?
Since that time, for two and a half millennia, The Republic has been a standard text for all political discussions, in all corners of the world.
In trying to answer the question, Socrates’ student, Polemarchus, proposed that justice is to the advantage of the stronger.
Throughout history philosophers and teachers of mankind have given that definition of justice, to generations of people who have enquired after the subject.
In modern parlance, it means that ‘might is right’, and the definition of justice is determined by the people with stronger muscles.
In the history of thought, the central focus of political science has been a steady refutation of this philosophy that ‘might is right’.
Diverse arguments have emerged to prove that human civilisation is an improvement on the law of the jungle and that the conquests of any powerful king are but fleeting victories for the high and mighty.
What we are witnessing today, in the toppling of powerful dictators in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Malaysia, etc, is but part of an evolutionary changing of the rulers over time.
But Polemarchus will never run short of supporters. The latest examples of believers and proponents of the doctrine that ‘might is right’ are the policemen who dispersed the Bersih rally with unthinkable violence.
‘A fate worse than death’
They did this in the mistaken belief that fear is the only thing that the Bersih 2.0 protesters have respect for.
In actual fact, the Bersih protesters did not fear the policemen. They knew they were fighting for the democratic rights of Malaysians, in demanding a more credible electoral system.
The consequence of not protesting is to surrender all rights of the citizens to authoritarian rule, and that is a fate worse than death.
Political reform in Malaysia must begin with an overhaul of the system of laws by which we elect our own government.
Unlike in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Malaysians can demonstrate peacefully, without the fear for widespread loss of lives.
This is one advantage that we Malaysians have, and we must push it to the limit, in order to introduce institutional change in the ways in which we choose our government.
Politicians in power tend to regard such attempts to revert power to the people with great contempt. That is only to be expected.
In a repressive society like Malaysia’s, those people with power in their hands will never want to surrender that power, so that they can continue to enjoy the privilege of wealth and influence.
In trying to reform our country, we have to pry that power, that control, from the fingers of the elite group of politicians. No sacrifice is too great to achieve meaningful reform of the power relations in our country.
Over the last sixty years, I have watched how the power of the rakyat has been whittled away by the political elite of all races. Finally, the opportunity for redemption of the Malaysian political system is in the process of becoming a reality.
All we must do is to return power to the rakyat, especially by restoring the reins of government to the ordinary citizens.
We now know all the rhetoric and all the arguments from both sides of the political fence. The historic moment for national redemption is within our grasp. All we need is a change of government at federal and state levels.
Can any government be trusted?
But change of government per se is not a panacea for all our political ills. All forms of government cannot be trusted completely and uncritically, as we have been shown throughout history.
We citizens have to strengthen checks and balances, to prevent abuse of power, so that if a new government cannot live up to expectations, we can reserve the right to change the government again.
As a matter of principle, a change of government is certainly good for the growth of democracy. But the BN, in power for many years- for all those long decades – must go first.
I am sure Socrates would have approved of our aspirations to change our government at regular intervals – and to find out for ourselves, a definition of justice.