Democracy without Conscience

Democracy without Conscience


Reza A.A Wattimena

Friday, February 4th 2010, hundreds of immigrant came from Sri Lanka and entered Cilegon, Banten Province, Indonesia. Some of them were sick. One already passed away. Until a week later, no final decision concerning their legal status. The local governor was waiting for command from the central government. Some of the immigrant already received medical attentions. However, the majority of them still placed in the detention center in Jakarta (See Kompas Newspaper, 6 February 2010). They trapped without legal status and protection in the “alien” land.

What is the relation between on the one hand the existence of immigrant in Indonesia, and the democratization process in Indonesia on the other hand, especially to our aspiration on becoming just multicultural society? Bluntly say, the full humane attention to the immigrant, no matter where they come from, is a concrete expression of democratic and humanistic values in its truest sense.

What we need is empathy. Empathy for the immigrants is an attitude that already embedded in the democratic and human rights values. In the democratic society, such as Indonesia, human rights are a postulate that cannot be removed, because it reflects the foundation of our policy and political practices.

The Indonesian government already denied the basic human rights of the immigrant. This is a concrete prove that our democratic values and ideals are not fully lived by our government. In this sense, our democratic government runs the course of their duty without the consideration of political conscience. Democratic ideals become too impersonal. In often times, it sacrifices human for the sake of procedure and bureaucracy. Indonesia is a conscience defect democratic country.

Deconstruction of Stigma

We have to begin from this simple assumption, that no matter legal defect and political status of the immigrants, they are, the first and most of all, are human. The logical consequences of this statement are they have inherent rights that embedded in their humanity.

One of the inherent fundamental rights is the right to live, therefore the right to have proper basis needs for life, including proper medical attention, basic and proper educational facility, and humane profession to maintain their life and dignity. These rights legally and ethically belong to the immigrant.

Many people in our society have a wrong view concerning immigrants. We think they are burdens to our society. We also think that they are useless person, lazy, poor, and coward, because they ran from their own country. These are the negative stigma of immigrants. Of course, these views do not have a strong epistemological foundation.

Immigrant is not an alien. Factually, they came from different race, religions, languages, and nations that different from ours, but they are human, same as us. In the existentialist philosophical terms, immigrants are “the other” (different race and culture), but still part of “the same” (human) with us. (Levinas, 1985) In other words, they are paradoxically same and different with us. Where is the similarity?

Immigrant is a person who went from their homeland, because of the natural disasters or social problems, namely symbolic or physical conflicts, political repression, poverty, war, disease, etc. What drives them is the self-preservation motive. This motive based on the natural human nature, namely survival instinct. These two elements owned by every human. In this sense, we are the same with the immigrant.

If you are experiencing civil war, plague, natural disaster that eliminate all your possessions, absolute poverty because of the structural injustice, the motive and instinct to survive and preserved one self will drive you to find safe place in other countries. This is a basic human nature. The immigrants feel this deep down in their heart.

They live in extreme and desperate conditions. Moreover, in that kind of situations, as Giddens formulate with his theory concerning discursive consciousness, the immigrant’s consciousness to become more creative and innovative will grow and become sharper. Often times, the immigrants are hard workers. They will do the most difficult physical jobs, so they can live proper and dignified. In this sense, immigrants are valuable human resources for the development of our country, as long as we treat them in the right and humane way, and not view them as an enemy or social burden.

Therefore, the long time stigma for immigrants, that they are burden to the new society, is not true. If we see them in humane, moral, and just way, they will drive the creativity of our society, and make our culture richer than before. They can become integral part of our nation. The negative stigma concerning immigrants in Indonesia has to be changed.

Democracy and Immigrants

Democratic government stands on the pillar of respect, recognition, and the guarantee of basic human rights. Democracy will thrive dynamically in the context of multicultural society. Democratic form of government gives the people opportunities to fight for their own welfare based on the certainty of just law. In this sense, democracy already contains conscience, and sensitive to the needs of every person.

Of course, these are the ideal values of democracy. These values have to lead our way to create a just and humane multicultural society. As a democratic nation, Indonesian people have to live these ideals, which concretely implement in the full respect and attention for immigrants. The negative stigma of immigrant has to be changed.

The quality of one’s nation can be measured by their treatment to the weakest human within the nation’s border, and in this context is the immigrant. Democratic society can truly be achieved when its ideal values lived and applied with conscience. Democracy without conscience is not democracy at all, but total tyranny.


Reza A.A Wattimena

Faculty of Philosophy, Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya, Indonesia

Diterbitkan oleh

Reza A.A Wattimena

Peneliti di bidang Filsafat Politik, Filsafat Ilmu dan Kebijaksanaan Timur. Alumni Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara Jakarta, Doktor Filsafat dari Hochschule für Philosophie München, Philosophische Fakultät SJ München, Jerman. Beberapa karyanya: Menjadi Pemimpin Sejati (2012), Filsafat Anti Korupsi (2012), Tentang Manusia (2016), Filsafat dan Sains (2008), Zen dan Jalan Pembebasan (2017-2018), Melampaui Negara Hukum Klasik (2007), Demokrasi: Dasar dan Tantangannya (2016), Bahagia, Kenapa Tidak? (2015), Cosmopolitanism in International Relations (2018), Protopia Philosophia (2019), Memahami Hubungan Internasional Kontemporer (20019), Mendidik Manusia (2020), Untuk Semua yang Beragama (2020), Terjatuh Lalu Terbang (2020) dan berbagai karya lainnya.

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