Democracy and The Dark Side of Men



and the Dark Side of Men

By: Reza A.A Wattimena

It is an ancient wisdom that said; men have both light side and the dark side. Men are a fighting arena between two ancient powers, namely light and dark. This is an eternal fight. The winner will determine the character of the related person, either he/she will be good, or on the contrary, will be bad.

Political philosophy also tries to contribute in these debates. The eternal question is, what is the right form of political order to manage this complexity, namely society that contains people who each have their own dark and also the light side? Put it in other words, how can human can live together without destroying each other, even though they are the “ultimate fighting arena”?

We can learn from Rheinhold Nibuhr. He is a philosopher and theologian from the 19th century. He argued that democracy is the right form of political order that can manage the “ultimate fighting arena”, namely human life. “Our ability to do justice”, he wrote, “make democracy possible. But our ability to do unjust act make democracy necessary.” (Brooks, 2009)

Justice is a virtue that embedded in every human heart. This virtue makes us possible to create government from, by, and for the people, namely democracy. However, men also full of vices. We can act very cruel in unimaginable way. These vices make democracy necessary to protect human from the self-create danger. Democracy is the lesser evil political order.


Human life is a life long struggle to defeat the darkness inside. Human have an eternal effort to live beyond his basic and destructive instinct which embedded in their nature. “This is a fact that we have a little totalitarian side inside bury in each one of us.” (Kennan as quoted by Brooks, 2009) One thing for sure, evil does exist. We can see the representation of pure evil from the act of Hitler and Stalin during the World War II and the Cold War. They killed so many people to fulfill their political ambitions.

Paul Ricoeur, French philosopher, once argued that we can see the dark side of man in symbols, namely the symbol of sin, guilt, and defilement. (Ricoeur, 1969) These symbols scatter in the Christian Bible, and some ancient text in almost every civilization. Once again, evil does exist.

Hannah Arendt, German philosopher, once wrote that the root of all evil is banality. She got this argument from his former professor, namely Martin Heidegger, who argued that thoughtlessness is the style of thinking of modern man. Back to Arendt, she argued that if human always do evil things, then in the future, these evil things will not be recognized as evil, but as something usual. The evil already become banal. (Arendt, 1963)

She wrote this to understand the root of evil in Hitler’s action during World War II. Of course, evil act have its own stage. We cannot judge burglar and the man who commit genocide with the same standards. They stand in the different level of evil.

Michel Foucault gives us different perspective. He argued that every form of knowledge is produced through the exercise of power. In this sense, power has creative function. (Foucault, 1969) Everything exists in the discourse, and discourse created through the exercise of power. Our knowledge concerning good and bad also produced through the exercise of power.

Therefore, nothing is evil in itself. An act of men is not evil in itself. Society judges it by the standards of the dominant discourse. Classical Buddhism already taught us that everything in the universe do not have essence. Everything is contingent and temporal. (Billington, 1997) Human gives meaning and essence to everything.

In my opinion, evil do exist. It embedded both as subjective experience and motives, and also as objective fact in the form of evil act. Evil act is real. Evil motivation is also real. This is the eternal enemy of men. And maybe, we always need this kind of enemy.


The question stands, how can we manage millions of men which each one have their own light and dark side? One thing for sure, totalitarianism is not an answer. Totalitarianism uses physical and mental repression to maintain stability. It was Gandhi that said, “Every form of violence to eliminate problems will just complicate the related problems, and will create much bigger problems.” (Obama, 2009) Therefore, the answer is the same, namely democracy.

Why? There are several reasons. Democratic form of government stands on the several important assumptions. The first one is the respect of freedom and dignity of every human. The second is just law and its certainty in practices.

The third one, like Niebuhr said, democracy stands in the assumption that can do just act. Deep inside their heart, men want to live in peace. They want to have harmony with each other. However, the contrary is also true, namely that men can act violent and unjust, and these are the reason why we cannot leave democracy.

We need to control our own dark side. Because of that, we need democracy. Therefore, do not give up with democracy. Democratization is a difficult process. Democratic mentality developed through long and windy road. However, these steps are good for our nation.

As a nation, we have to believe that these processes will make us a better nation, a more just and prosperous nation. These all are our basic purpose as a nation, as it written in our constitution. Therefore, once again, don’t give up with democracy. ***

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.

2 tanggapan untuk “Democracy and The Dark Side of Men”

  1. What a nice take on the paradox of collective power! I think the reason why totalitarianism exist is because it is clear and leave no place for multiple interpretation or dissenting argument. But, that also the source of inherent evil, when one type of power is legally and formally oppress to the diverse others.

    Inspired by Paolo Freire’s The pedagogy of oppressed, I believe that some people gave up on democracy because they are feeling sort of frustration upon the situation where there are too much space for multiple interpretations and dissenting arguments. I would argue that we can track it back to the school system, where a singular way of learning about a suggested-single truth are exposed to generations. This way of learning provide nothing relevant to the experience of democracy.


  2. Democracy is the best political form to manage the paradox of human nature wisely. I still hold this premise dearly. On the contrary, totalitarianism denies paradox. It wants absolute control of life which can never be controlled fully by a single man, or group.

    As I said in my article, democratization process is a long and windy road. It is in our nature to give up in the face of enormous challenges. But it is also in our nature to overcome challenges, and achieve excellence. So, basically, democracy is not a permanent concept. I always in a form of process. Democracy is democratization. It is a process, like life itself. And like everything we have.


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