Radical Democracy

Going to its roots, democracy is kratos, rule, by demos, the people. Pure democracy is the rule by all the people, not just some of the people. The only way to implement absolute democracy is for each participant to voluntarily agree to the governance structure, and be able to exit when one no longer agrees.

Democracy can be divided into mass democracy versus “cellular” or small-group democracy. Mass democracy occurs when the voting group is so large that the people cannot individually know the candidates. In a small-group democracy, the voters are able to join meetings with candidates in groups small enough so that every person is able to fully participate. In a small group, a candidate may distribute literature at a low cost. Although money can play a role in a small group, the influence of moneyed interests is limited by the ability of other candidates and promoters of propositions to counter large spending with personal contacts. A small voting group solves the problem of having both free speech and the will of the people.

The German sociologist Max Weber, writing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, wrote that “bureaucracy inevitably accompanies modern mass democracy in contrast to the democratic self-government of small homogenous units.” Mass democracy cannot be pure, radical, and absolute. “The demos itself, in the sense of an inarticulate mass, never ‘governs’ larger associations.”

A mass democracy is governed by how the leaders are elected. The politicians must use the mass media to send their messages to the public in order to curry their votes. These messages have to be condensed and simple, as most of the public will not pay attention to detailed issue analysis. The messages are often negative attacks on opponents. And the messages have to be paid for, which generates an inherent demand for large amounts of campaign funds. While individuals do send contributions to parties and candidates, much of the financing comes from special interests such as corporations, labor unions, lawyers, and the financial and real estate industries.

Economists use the odd term “rent seeking” for the seeking of subsidies, privileges, and protection from competition. The classical economists recognized that land rent is a surplus. They generalized the concept to “economic rent,” any payment beyond what is needed for production. Subsidies to special interests are economic rents.

Governments today practice imposed representative mass democracy. The implied ideology is the moral supremacy of the majority in each particular issue. The majority imposes its will by force on the minority. As Weber stated in his essay “Politics as a Vocation,” “He who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as a means, contracts with diabolical powers.”

Many people think that democracy is based on equality, since each person has an equal vote. But Weber wrote, “The propertyless masses especially are not served by a formal ‘equality before the law.’” The poor believe that justice requires compensation for their economic deprivation. But the political process determines how this is done, and “under the conditions of mass democracy, public opinion is communal and born of irrational ‘sentiments.’” The sentiments of the poor tend to seek a forced redistribution of wealth in their favor, since that is the superficial solution.

The radical alternative to imposed mass democracy is voluntary small-group voting. The political body is divided into tiny neighborhood cells, just as the human body is composed of small cells. The population of a neighborhood cell should be about 1000, small enough to know the candidates and meet personally to discuss issues. Citizens vote only for a neighborhood council.

Then a group of neighborhood councils, say about 20 or 30, elect, from their members, representatives to the next higher or broader council. The second-level council elects the next higher level legislature, and so on, all the way to the highest level parliament or Congress. That legislative body then elects the president.

Such cellular democracy can replace the mass democracies that prevail today, and that would be a major improvement, in extricating money from politics. But radical democracy also requires another change: replacing imposed democracy with voluntary democracy. The neighborhood cells would be voluntary contractual organizations.

In law, the written contract is required for major decisions, such as the purchase of real estate. The American political philosopher Lysander Spooner wrote in The Constitution of No Authority:

“It is a general principle of law and reason, that a written instrument binds no one until he has signed it… The laws holds, and reason declares, that if a written instrument is not signed, the presumption must be that the party to be bound by it, did not choose to sign it, or to bind himself by it…. Neither law nor reason requires or expects a man to agree to an instrument, until it is written; for until it is written, he cannot know its precise legal meaning. And when it is written, and he has had the opportunity to satisfy himself of its precise legal meaning, he is then expected to decide, and not before, whether he will agree to it or not.”

If a signed contract is needed for real estate transactions, how much more important is the political transaction of governance? If one joins a residential or condominium association, the law requires a display of the laws governing that association, and the new member must sign if he is to join. How much more important, then, is this principle for general governance? Radical democracy requires the signed consent of each member to the written contract.

The rule of all the people begins with the recognition of individual sovereignty, a contract among equal sovereigns for governance, and then implements small-group multi-level governance to let the people govern and minimize transfer-seeking by special interests.

Of course, even radical democracy does not guarantee liberty. A free society must have a constitution that protects individual liberty from the tyranny of the majority. But without genuine democracy, a constitution is an unsigned document that becomes manipulated to provide the appearance of equality and freedom. Behind it is the reality of imposed “diabolical powers,” the tyranny of both majorities and minorities.

(This article is also at http://www.progress.org)

California’s Neighborhood Legislature Initiative

In California, the voters are able to put proposed laws on the ballot if they gather enough signatures. This process is called an “initiative.” The legislature may also place propositions on the ballot, a process called a “referendum”.

One of the ballot propositions for 2014 is “The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act,” which would decentralize the election of representatives in order to reduce the political power of special interests such as corporations, labor unions, and trial lawyers. This reform would shift political power to the people of California. (For the text of the initiative, see this.)

Like the US Congress, the California legislature has two houses, a Senate with 40 members and an Assembly with 80 members. The population of California is 38 million. The districts for the California Senate now have 950,000 persons, a greater number than for Congressional districts, while about 475,000 people live in each assembly district. It now takes a million dollars to win a California Senate seat.

The Neighborhood initiative would instead create Senate districts of 10,000 persons and Assembly districts of 5000. These neighborhood districts would form a greater association of 100 neighborhood districts within the current districts. The association council would elect a representative to the state legislature, thus keeping the same number of representatives in the state legislature. However, the final approval of a law would require a vote by all the neighborhood district representatives. That vote could be done on an Internet web site, as corporations now do for their elections of board members and propositions.

The Neighborhood Legislature proposition was initiated by John H. Cox, who has been a lawyer, real-estate management executive, and local office holder. The aim is to have the measure on the November 2014 ballot. That will require over 800,000 valid signatures, 8 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election, by May 19. That is a high hurtle, which usually requires several million dollars to pay for signature gatherers. This initiative has already made a splash, with articles in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other media.

I have been writing for years on reforming democracy with tiny voting districts in a bottom-up structure. Back in 2007, I wrote an article, “Democracy Needs Reforming”, proposing that the political body be divided into cells of 1000 persons, each with a neighborhood council. A group of these would then elect a broader-area council, and so on up to the national congress or parliament. The state legislature would then only need one house, rather than a bicameral legislature that mimics the US Congress and British parliament. This “cellular democracy” would eliminate the inherent demand for campaign funds of mass democracy.

The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act would not be quite as thorough a reform as a cellular democracy based on tiny districts, but it has the same basic concepts: smaller voting groups, and bottom-up multi-level representation. This initiative would indeed greatly reduce the demand for campaign funds that are needed in today’s huge California electoral districts.

It will be a great challenge to obtain the needed signatures. It could happen if the media provide editorial support and coverage. At any rate, the fact that this initiative is taking place will go a long ways to publicizing the gross corruption of democracy that is taking place, and the only effective remedy to the inherent dysfunction of mass democracy. Many reforms are needed in today’s governments, reforms in taxation, pensions, environmental protection, transit, criminal law, and economic deprivation. The main reason that useful reforms are not taking place is the subsidy-seeking and reform-blocking induced by mass democracy. The initiative process in California and other states is a way to circumvent the corrupt legislature, but in a large state like California, that process itself requires big money.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of the Neighborhood Legislature initiative, and to watch the special interests jump in with misleading negative ads. If this goes on the ballot and wins, it will be a victory for the people and a defeat for the moneyed special interests.

(Note: this article first appeared in The Progress Report)

More on Secession

Secession is not just a means of creating new countries, but can become a central element in governance in general. The general principle is that at any level of government, lower-level governments or individual residents may secede in part or in whole.

This is from a paper by our own Dr. Foldvary. Do read the whole thing. One thing I get tired of dealing with is the “confederate!” slur that is inevitably hurled my way when I bring up secession as a legitimate political function. In other parts of the world, secession is just as hotly debated (if it is not a forbidden subject to talk about).

I think there is a good case to be made that secession would get better reception once a larger (and lighter) federal or confederal system is place, and then allowing for mechanism of decentralization to happen. This way the polities under each system are still bound to each other economically or in some small political way, and would thus likely keep the threat of violence to a minimum.

Dr. Foldvary’s fascinating paper touches on this, too. Just read it!