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Vita Activa

Vita Activa

There is an inscription on Athens’s ancient city wall which claims that ‘The man with no public business has no business’. Greek ancient philosophy asserts that someone who is ignorant towards public affairs can be considered as being an idiot – an uneducated and self-centered person. However, it is comforting to know that in the same Athenian democracy, idiots were born and citizens were made through education. More than 2000 years after, being the so-called ‘idiot’, notwithstanding, is a common matter. Thus a question inevitably arises: what consequences can the absence of the civic virtue impose on our everyday life?

It is evident that competing interests can produce relevant effects on governments’ decision-making procedures. But if this is the case, why there are still people who refuse to participate in elections? The level of apathy is constant and it might be determined as a free rider problem: people assume that the government will be formed anyway and thus avoid contributing their time and effort in selecting the best possible option. However, this kind of mindset should be altered, since obviously the right to vote is a fundamental democratic right, which represents the very word ‘democracy’. In principle, consent expressed through elections makes the government a legitimate one. It expresses acknowledgment of those in power and contributes to their future policy-making processes.

It thus can be said that one’s active and continual participation in public affairs introduces a moral component to our understanding of citizenship and tells us how it can be determined. Setting aside our private matters and acting in accordance with our civil duties emphasize how personal choice can influence sovereignty of a particular community. In other words, by exercising his or her right to vote, an individual transforms his private interest to a public one. Consequently, public opinion then defines state’s identity and determines its future.

Personal choice can influence state matters.

However, it seems that the power of civic virtue in our nowadays modern society is slowly eroding. Vita activa which was portrayed as the principal paradigm of one’s existence in ancient Greek society today lost its importance, since a worldview which comprises labor, work, and political action as the three basic living conditions is no longer necessary for our well-being. It became easier to be irresponsible towards public matters and the very perception of duty is now contradicting with the power of right. Thus reluctance to be a part of the electorate only encourages imbalance between the government and the people which it is supposed to govern. And where there is imbalance, there is always a risk of massive dissent which may lead to revolt. Therefore, the right to vote should be cherished not only because it is a privilege, but also because it contributes to certain state’s prosperity and justifies the existence of democracy.


About Kristina Preiksaityte

Kristina is a graduate of International Relations and International Organisations. She is currently working at the Centre for Language and Culture, University of Groningen, where she teaches Public Speaking in Various Cultural Contexts.


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