Often we say that we get the leaders (systems, parties, politicians, governments) that we deserve, and we may not quite think about the real meaning of what we say, what it implies and if it is clear at all. It was the French political philosopher, historian and diplomat Alexis de Toqueville (1805-59) who coined the term or saying when he stated: “In a democracy we get the government we deserve.” He lived at a time when France and Europe had many new political ideas and ideals, and others appeared later in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, also with the Russian Revolution (1917), and the development of socialist and social democratic parties in the West. The tragic Nazi period was relatively short.

Toqueville is remembered for the quote about leaders that I focus on in my article today. He also said about General Napoleon (1769-1821): “He was as great as a man can be without morality.” Furthermore, Toqueville is also known for his travel records, or fieldwork, as we would say today, in America, and his analyses of that new society. Let us remember how attractive the ‘new world’ was for immigrants from an overpopulated Europe at the time. America had new ways of economic, political, social organization. About America’s black population and slaves that time, Toqueville saw it problematic, but he was not a racist. He said the white men in power, who had brought the slaves, did not know how to solve the issue. He may not have had solutions, but till this day, race is an issue in America. About colonialism, Toqueville accepted that system. In that field, we have moved far ahead today, and we don’t even accept that greater powers annex other territories (such as Russia in Crimea), but we do accept, for example, America’s economic and other influence in South Korea. Indeed, we do accept that capitalist economic power rules countries and the world, with little democracy and people’s power over multinationals and family companies. Isn’t it very strange that we allow this to happen? So, if we blame Toqueville for his shortcoming in seeing more aspects of the political reality in his time, we must also blame ourselves for how little we understand when we chose leaders and government, and in how shallow our analysis is of the world we live in.

Although Toqueville was impressed by much in America – which that time was more democratic than Europe – yet, he also thought that allowing everyone to have an equal say dragged everyone down. He kept some of his ‘old world’ elitist soul, where many still thought it was only the educated, wealthy and those of the right stock that could rule. A few came from below the upper classes, such as Napoleon, who was ‘just’ lower nobility. Hence, to when Toqueville said that we in a democracy only get the leaders and government we deserve, it must be understood in light of such attitudes; the old ruling class would simply think that ordinary people (men only that time) didn’t know how to rule, who their leaders should be, and how they should be trained and groomed. They would not even elect leaders in their own interest. It is certainly an arrogant statement, but not entirely outrageous, certainly not 150 years ago, also not when the colonies gained independence 60-70 years ago, and not quite even today. Nobody would say it anymore, but many might think it.

When we in a democracy choose a political party, we do so based on rational as well as irrational reasoning and considerations. I remember when I was young in Norway, I had some relatives who were quite snobbish in their party affiliation, always agitating for the Conservative Party, and probably also voting for that party, although they were quite ordinary people, who should rather have voted for Labour on the left. It was also common that people voted for the party their family had voted for before; women were also expected to vote for the same party as the husband, and so on.

There were lowly paid bank clerks, secretaries in private companies, and young staff in prestigious government organizations, such as the Foreign Office, who would feel so strongly with the owners and bosses that they, too, thought they should vote for the Conservative Party. Indeed not out of their own interest, if they had taken time to analyse their real interests, not being deceived by party propaganda and irrational thinking. But then, none of us is entirely logical and rational all the time. Yet, there are serious consequences for what we do a democracy; yes, we even get to influence the leaders and government we get, so we should be responsible enough and analyse what is in our own interests and those of others who need to be supported to get a fairer share in society, and thus bring the country ahead.

When leaders are groomed, trained and eventually elected, they carry with them the values they have learned on the way. They get nominated and given functions in their political party and other organizations first, usually for many years, and then they can be elected in general elections at local, regional or national level. It is the parties that elect their candidates, who then eventually will be elected, or rejected, in elections. It is important to be aware of the fact that the powerbrokers in the parties are the key persons and groups choosing candidates for elections. So, if we get, or don’t get the leaders we want and deserve, it is the party powerbrokers and the culture they are a part of, that must be taken to task. We can all influence the party we belong to, although it may be easy just to follow the leaders.

Before ending my article, I would like to say a few words about the term ‘deserve’. I find that when Toqueville said that we get the leaders and government we ‘deserve’, there was a nasty or negative touch to it. I would say: people only ‘deserve’ good leaders!

In Pakistan, USA, and my home country Norway (with general elections on 11 September), do we really have democratic systems that are truly democratic? Do the parties have the leaders and other candidates that we believe will work for the interests of all, indeed those lowest on the ladder in society? In other words, do we have a touch of a chance to influence elections, so that we can get the leaders and government we want – and deserve?

The short answer is that we can play a role if we want to. It may be demanding, but it is our duty to participate. And it takes time to build democratic organizations and develop democratic mindsets. We must learn to think how to share and care in the best way so that all can do their best and receive what they need, no, not ‘deserve’ – because every human being and group deserve the best.

The spirit of Eid-ul-Azah can help us; may we keep it throughout the year. Eid Mubarak!