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- Elective and Appointive Offices
- Harnessing the Pursuit of Self-Interest
- Simplified Illustration
- Time Lapse Example
- Cost And Time Consumption
- Why Practical Democracy Works
Supporting Arguments and Supplemental Information
- Rationale for Triads (Group Size)
- Addressing the Paradox of Mass Democracy
- Resolving Errors in Contemporary Political Thought
- Support For A More Democratic Political Process
- Political Parties - An Historical Perspective
"The problems that currently plague our democracy have their roots in the functional and mechanical arrangement of our electoral system - in the nuts and bolts of how we select candidates and how we vote."[see: The Design of Our Democracy] Those problems arise because the people we elect and entrust with running our government are failing us. They can't resolve of our national debt. They lead us into war with fictitious threats of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). They maintain laws allowing the growth of huge corporations that suck trillions of dollars out of the world's economies to the detriment of the humans among us. They gut and repeal laws that protected us from monstrous banks and then called them 'Too Big To Fail'. They are, as Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said, unable to conduct the people's business, and, as Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware said, under the suffocating influence of money.
How did this happen?
What in our system allows such travesties?
How can we prevent it?
We must think! We must open our minds to the lessons of our history. Dr. Jane Mansbridge, in her keynote address to the Austrian Political Science Association in 2004, said:
"Responding to the problems in the electoral system, I suggest heuristically various non-electoral mechanisms to increase government responsiveness, reduce the democratic deficit, and enhance the representative process."
and closed her address with this quote:
"The old saying that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy is not apt if it means that the evils may be remedied by introducing more machinery of the same kind as that which already exists, or by refining and perfecting that machinery" (Dewey  1994, 144).
Those who insist that partisan politics is the best exercise of democracy must admit that it can never create a triumph for humanity. It can only inspire and perpetuate conflict. That is terrifying for those, like Aubrey Manning, Emeritus Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh, who realize our ever-increasing population and the limits of our environment are on a collision course. The perpetuation of a political system powered by the emotions of partisanship and corrupted by those who profit from 'growth' is ludicrous.
Corruption pervades our political system because the politicians are controlled by the parties and the parties are controlled by the financiers who underwrite their operations. When the people's only political right is to vote Yea or Nay on choices made by political elites, those who control the choices control the outcome. This travesty has led to moral bankruptcy in our government and is leading to economic bankruptcy in our nation.
Practical Democracy describes one way the humans among us can chart our own political course. It lets every member of the electorate participate in the electoral process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability, it makes integrity an important character trait in those who seek public office, and it eliminates the influence of money on the political process.
1) Divide the entire electorate into groups of three randomly chosen people.
a) The random grouping mechanism must insure that no two people are assigned to a triad if they served together in a triad in any of the five most recent elections. At the initial level, it must ensure that no two people are assigned to a triad if they are members of the same family.
b) At any time up to one week before an election, people may declare themselves members of any interest group, faction, party, or enclave, and may create a new one, simply by declaring membership in it. People that do not declare group membership are automatically assigned to a set of people with no affiliation. Triads will be created from members of the same interest group, as long as more than two members of the group exist. When a group has less than three members, the group's remaining candidates are merged with unaligned candidates.
c) For the convenience of the electorate, triad assignments shall be based on geographic proximity to the maximum extent practical, subject to the foregoing restrictions.
2) Assign a date and time by which each triad must select one of the three members to represent the other two.
a) Selections will be made by consensus. If consensus cannot be achieved, selection will be by vote. Participants may not vote for themselves.
b) If a triad is unable to select a representative in the specified time, all three participants shall be deemed disinclined to participate in the process.
3) Divide the participants so selected into new triads.
4) Repeat from step 2 until a target number of selections is reached.
For convenience, we refer to each iteration as a 'Level', such that Level 1 is the initial grouping of the entire electorate, Level 2 is the grouping of the selections made at Level 1, and so forth. The entire electorate participates at level 1 giving everyone an equal opportunity to advance to succeeding levels.
The final phase of the Practical Democracy (PD) process, electing candidates to specific public offices, is omitted from this outline because that task is implementation-dependent. Whatever method is used, it is recommended that participants who reach the highest levels but do not achieve public office become a pool of validated candidates from which appointive offices must be filled.
An Electoral Commission conducts the process. It assigns the participants of each triad and supplies the groups with the text of pending ordinances and a synopsis of the budget appropriate to the group. In addition, on request, it makes the full budget available and supplies the text of any existing ordinances. This enables a careful examination of public matters and encourages a thorough discussion of matters of public concern.
- The public has a tendency to think of elections in terms of just a few offices: a congressional seat, a senate race, and so forth. There are, however, a large number of elected officials who fill township, county, state and federal offices. The structure outlined here provides qualified candidates for those offices.
- As the process advances through the levels, the life of the triads (the amount of time the participants spend together) increases. At level 1, triads may meet for a few minutes, over a back-yard fence, so-to-speak, but that would not be adequate at higher levels. As the levels advance, the participants need more time to evaluate those they are grouped with and to research, examine and deliberate on the issues concerning them. (See "Time Lapse Example", below.)
- Face-to-face meetings in three-person groups eliminate any possibility of voting machine fraud. Significantly, they also allow participants to observe the non-verbal clues humans emit during discourse and will tend to favor moderate attitudes over extremism. The dissimulation and obfuscation that are so effective in campaign-based politics will not work in a group of three people, each of whom has a vital interest in reaching the same goal as the miscreant. Thus, the advancement of participants will depend on their perceived integrity as well as the probity with which they fulfill their public obligations.
- PD is a distillation process, biased in favor of the most upright and capable of our citizens. It cannot guarantee that unprincipled individuals will never be selected --- such a goal would be unrealistic --- but it does insure that they are the exception rather than the rule.
The pursuit of self-interest is a powerful force. Allowed free rein, it can produce an anti-social menace. However, when it is an advantage for an individual to be recognized as a person of principle, one's natural tendency to pursue one's own interest is more than adequate to avoid improper acts. The PD process gives candidates a career-controlling incentive to maintain their integrity. Their own self-interest provides the motivation.
The initial phase of the PD process is dominated by participants with little interest in advancing to higher levels. They do not seek public office; they simply wish to pursue their private lives in peace. Thus, the most powerful human dynamic during the first phase (i.e., Level 1 and for some levels thereafter) is a desire by the majority of the participants to select someone who will represent them. The person so selected is more apt to be someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of going to the next level than someone who actively seeks elevation to the next level, but those who do actively seek elevation are not inhibited from doing so.
As the levels increase, the proportion of disinterested parties diminishes and we enter a second phase. Here, participants that advance are marked, more and more, by an inclination to seek further advancement. Thus, the powerful influence of self-interest is integrated into the system.
Those who actively seek selection must persuade their triad that they are the best qualified to represent the other two. While that is easy at the lower levels, it becomes more difficult as the process moves forward and participants are matched with peers who also seek advancement. The competitors will seek out any hint of impropriety and will not overlook unsuitable behavior. Thus, Practical Democracy harnesses the pursuit of self-interest by making integrity an absolute requirement in candidates for public office.
The process is inherently bi-directional. Because each advancing participant and elected official sits atop a pyramid of known electors, questions on specific issues can easily be transmitted directly to and from the electors for the guidance or instruction of the official. This capability offers those who implement the process a broad scope, ranging from simple polling of constituents to referenda on selected issues and recall of an elected representative.
This table illustrates the process for a community of 232,374 voters. For simplicity, it omits interest group considerations and assumes each triad selects a candidate. The process is shown through 9 levels. Those who implement the process will determine the number of levels necessary for their specific application.
Full Over Prev. Total People
Level People Triads Flow Level Triads Chosen Days
1 232,374 77,458 0 0 77,458 77,458 5 (1)
2 77,458 25,819 1 2 25,820 25,820 5
3 25,820 8,606 2 1 8,607 8,607 12
4 8,607 2,869 0 0 2,869 2,869 12
5 2,869 956 1 2 957 957 19
6 957 319 0 0 319 319 19
7 319 106 1 2 107 107 26
8 107 35 2 1 36 36 26
9 36 12 0 0 12 12 26 (2)
- If the number of candidates does not divide equally into triads, any candidates remaining are overflow. Level 1 is a special case. When there is overflow at Level 1, the extra person(s) automatically become candidates at Level 2. Thereafter, when there is overflow at any level, the number of people needed to create a full triad are selected at random from the people who were not selected at the previous level.
- To avoid patronage, appointive offices, including cabinet positions, must be filled using candidates that reached the final levels but were not selected to fill elective offices.
To give a very rough idea of the time lapse required for such an election, we will hypothesize triad lives of 5 days for the 1st and 2nd levels, 12 days for the 3rd and 4th levels, 19 days for the 5th and 6th levels, and 26 days thereafter. Using the example above, the time lapse for an election would be:
Level Start Report Days
1 01/05/11 01/10/11 5
2 01/12/11 01/17/11 5
3 01/19/11 01/31/11 12
4 02/02/11 02/14/11 12
5 02/16/11 03/07/11 19
6 03/09/11 03/28/11 19
7 03/30/11 04/25/11 26
8 04/27/11 05/23/11 26
9 05/25/11 06/20/11 26
The cost of conducting an election by this method is free to the participants, except for the value of their time, and minimal to the government. The length of time taken to complete an election compares favorably with the time required by campaign-based partisan systems. Even in California, with a voting-eligible population of about 21,993,429, the process would complete in less than 12 levels, or about 230 calendar days.
From the perspective of those not motivated to seek public office, it is worth noting that, as each level completes, two-thirds of the participants can resume their daily lives without further electoral obligation. At the same time, they retain the ability to guide or instruct their representatives to the extent and in the manner provided by those who implement the process. (See "Bi-Directionality", above)
Practical Democracy springs from the knowledge that some people are better advocates of the public interest than others. In Beyond Adversary Democracy, Jane Mansbridge, speaking of a small community in Vermont, says, "When interests are similar, citizens do not need equal power to protect their individual interests; they only need to persuade their wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens to spend their time solving town problems in the best interests of everyone."
The fundamental challenge of democracy is to find those "wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens" and empower them as our representatives. PD does that by giving every member of the electorate the right to be a candidate and the ability to influence the selection process, while ensuring that no individual or group has an advantage over others.
PD makes no attempt to alter the structure of government. We have the venues for resolving adversarial issues in our legislatures and councils. However, since the solutions that flow from those assemblies cannot be better than the people who craft them, PD lets the electorate select the individuals they believe will resolve adversarial issues in the public interest.
Peoples' interests change over time. To achieve satisfaction, these changing attitudes must be given voice and reflected in the results of each election. The PD process lets particular interests attract supporters to their cause and elevate their most effective advocates during each electoral cycle. Advocates of those interests can proclaim their ideas and encourage discussion of their concepts. Some will be accepted, in whole or in part, as they are shown to be in the common interest of the community.
Describing the public's belief in a common good, Mansbridge wrote
"Political theorists in the adversary tradition have tended to downplay the idea of a common good. But despite the frequent recurrence of real conflict, the ideal finds ample support in Selby, whose residents disapprove of 'factions', 'cliques', and 'special groups'. When they talk about the town, Selby's citizens seem not only to hope but to expect that the town meeting will make policy and the townspeople elect officers on the grounds of common interest, not according to which faction had the most votes."
Most people share this view. They expect their elected officials to represent their interests. The difficulty is that communities are made up of diverse interests and the relations between those interests can be contentious. Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view, from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.
Democracy's dilemma is to find those few individuals whose self-interest encourages them to seek advancement and whose commitment to the public interest makes them acceptable to their peers. Such persons can not be identified by partisan groups seeking to advance their own interests. They can only be identified by the people themselves.
Practical Democracy gives the people a way to select Mansbridge's "wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens". At each level, voters deliberate in small groups, where "... face-to-face contact increases the perception of likeness, encourages decision making by consensus, and perhaps even enhances equality of status." The value of this approach is underlined by recent academic studies of small group dynamics:
- Esterling, Fung and Lee show that deliberation in small groups raises both the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with the results of their deliberations.
- Pogrebinschi has found that "... policies for minority groups deliberated in the national conferences tend to be crosscutting as to their content. The policies tend to favor more than one group simultaneously ..."
These studies show some of the value of small groups. The PD process builds on these phenomena. It lets people with differing views deliberate and seek consensus on political issues. When triad members are selected to advance, those selected are the individuals the group believes best represent its perspectives. This necessarily adds a bias toward the common interest.
PD works because it atomizes the electorate into thousands, or, in larger communities, millions of very small groups. Each provides a slight bias toward the common interest. As the levels advance, the cumulative effect of this small bias overwhelms special interests seeking their private gain. It leads, inexorably, to the selection of representatives who advocate the interests of the entire electorate.
PD focuses on selecting representatives who will resolve adversarial encounters to the advantage of the commonweal. During the process, participants necessarily consider both common and conflicting interests, and, because PD is intrinsically bidirectional, it gives advocates of conflicting interests a continuing voice. At the same time, it encourages the absorption of diverse interests, reducing them to their essential element: their effect on the participants in the electoral process. There are no platforms, there is no ideology. The only question is, which participants are the most attuned to the needs of the community and have the qualities required to advocate the common good.
PD disproves the notion that it is 'impractical' to heed everyone's view. It lets the public discuss substantive matters --- with a purpose. It gives participants time for deliberation and an opportunity to understand the rationale for the positions of others. It lets every member of the electorate affect the electoral process.
PD is an electoral process through which the people actively participate in the conduct of, and impress their moral sense on, their government. It creates a unique merger of self-interest and the public interest. However large the electorate, Practical Democracy lets each of us share in the practice of politics to the full extent of our desire and ability.
That is the essence of a democratic political process.
- ↑ (removed)
- ↑ Beyond Adversary Democracy, Jane J. Mansbridge, The University of Chicago Press, 1980.
- ↑ Beyond Adversary Democracy, p. 88
- ↑ Beyond Adversary Democracy, p. 78
- ↑ Beyond Adversary Democracy, p. 33
- ↑ Esterling, Kevin M., Fung, Archon and Lee, Taeku, Knowledge Inequality and Empowerment in Small Deliberative Groups: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment at the Oboe Townhalls (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1902664
- ↑ Pogrebinschi, Thamy, Participatory Democracy and the Representation of Minority Groups in Brazil (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1901000
The Evolution of the American Political System
Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a condition of their sponsorship, they require the candidates to support the party, thus giving ultimate control of elected officials to the party rather than the people who elect them. This arrangement vests the power of government in the elites that control the party and, through them, to those who provide the resources required to conduct party business.
The dangers of partisanship were well-known to the founders of our nation. When they wrote our Constitution, they made no provision, express or implied, for political parties or any other organized factions to control our elections or our government.
George Washington, with remarkable foresight, sought to warn us "in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party". He called partisanship an unquenchable fire that "demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume", and predicted parties were likely to become "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government". History has shown the accuracy of his vision.
In spite of the warnings of our founding fathers, a party system developed in our nation because some early politicians used their standing to consolidate their power and institutionalize their advantage. They created party organizations, legitimized them in the several states, and enacted laws that advanced party interest at the expense of the public interest.
An early example was the manipulation of the size and shape of legislative districts. This strategem was advocated by the then Governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry. It was opposed by the people and denigrated in the press as 'gerrymandering'. The people of Massachusetts removed Gerry from office at the next election. In spite of public opposition to the practice, it was adopted by politicians throughout the young nation and given the force of law in the several states.
That wasn't the end of this sorry affair. Gerry's party, the Democratic-Republicans, demonstrated the arrogance and cynicism of party politicians by rewarding him with the Vice Presidential nomination in the 1812 national election. Gerry became the fifth Vice President of the United States under President James Madison.
This incident should have raised an important question: "What, exactly, could the people do to prevent such a travesty?" The answer, of course, is, "Nothing!!!" Political parties had already arrogated to themselves the right to pick the people they would let run for public office.
Had the question been asked, the obvious answer may have inspired research into methods of reasserting democratic control of the government, as we are doing here. However, the question wasn't asked. The people were fully occupied in the development of an immense, resource-laden land. Opportunities abounded. The self-serving acts of politicians seemed unimportant. We live with the legacy of that omission.
Those who engineered the rise of party politics in America's early days had the wit to maintain the forms of democracy while making sure the result was a pseudo-democracy rather than a real one. They publicized, indeed ballyhooed, the people's right to vote, but made sure they could only vote on choices made by the parties. The people were given no voice in the selection of their representatives or in the operation of their government. Having ceded to party politicians the right to select the candidates for public office and the ability to enact the laws that gave them control of the state and national governments, the people were helpless. That, of course, is the whole point of party politics.
Thus did the early politicians wreak havoc on democracy in the United States. Using their power to enact laws, free of all but the most feeble restraint, they insinuated themselves between the people and their government. They devised the rules that ensure their ability to control the political infrastructure - the most destructive being the right to pick the candidates for public office, a practice that guarantees party supremacy - a right the people must retake for themselves and never again relinquish.
At first, party operations were conducted and underwritten by the party leaders and their friends, but those reservoirs soon proved inadequate. As the parties engaged in sweeping campaigns to extend their reach, they incurred significant costs that resulted in substantial debt. They attracted the resources they needed by selling their stock in trade - the ability to write our laws - and hired fund raisers to arrange the details. The groups the fundraisers targeted for funds were not altruists. They demanded - and received - favorable treatment in the nation's state and national legislatures in return for providing the resources the parties needed.
(Note: Post-election debt continued into my childhood in the 1930's and 40's. As evidence of my own naivete at the time, I wondered why financiers would loan money to such insubstantial debtors as political parties while farm owners were having great difficulty finding lenders. Reality dawned slowly for me.
Debt no longer plagues the parties. Their coffers overflow with resources 'donated' by the vested interests that benefit from political largesse. See the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act reference, below, for an example of why this is true.)
By the beginning of the 20th century, these practices were so advanced and so widespread that Theodore Roosevelt, in his State of the Union Address on December 3, 1906, said:
"I again recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party. Such a bill has already passed one House of Congress. Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly."
and is reported to have said, on April 19, 1906:
"Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today."
By this time, party organizations around the country had became so powerful and so corrupt they inspired widespread calls for political reform. However, since the parties controlled the executive and legislative branches of the state and federal governments, the 'reforms' they enacted were merely cosmetic. New names were invented for old practices. Occasionally, a particularly heinous incident moved the parties to 'lip service' about 'cleaning house', but, essentially, nothing changed.
Corruption continued to be so firmly entrenched that, on January 17, 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower told the American people ...
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
Nevertheless, that unwarranted influence continues. The parties still act as conduits for corruption, selling legislation to fund their operations. The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2009, or H.R. 2428 illustrates the point.
This bill was introduced by two Democratic Senators and requires that highway and rail projects funded by the government also lay conduits capable of carrying fiber optic cables. The cost of this work falls on the American taxpayers. There is no provision in the bill for the communications industry to bear any portion of the costs imposed by this act, or the continuing costs of maintenance that will follow. Instead, our debt-ridden governments - and our people - are saddled with huge costs that should be borne by industry.
It would be incredibly naive to imagine that the parties did not agree to pass this law in return for 'donations' - and we would be even dumber to imagine that the parties, which are beholden to the communications industry for large donations, did not require their members to support the bill. After all, that's how lobbying works.
Party-based political systems renounce virtue and are ruled by cynicism. These qualities lead to widespread corruption. Yet, in spite of this, partisanship is an integral and important part of society. It is a blessing that, unfortunately, can be exploited to our detriment. Practical Democracy offers a method of harvesting the blessings of partisanship without falling victim to its curse.
Practical Democracy uses triads because we want to ensure the active participation of the entire electorate. We want to guarantee that those who are not accustomed to the serious discussion of political issues are placed in circumstances that allow and encourage them to express their views. The larger the group, the less inclined most of us are to participate in the discussion and the more inclined we are to simply form unvoiced opinions. To encourage broad participation, the discussion group should be of the smallest practical size.
Everyone who participates in the Practical Democracy process is affected by their participation. Many of us are unaware of our political talents because we are never placed in a situation that calls upon us to exercise them. When we are invited to discuss current and prospective political issues with our peers, some of us will blossom and thrive. Some, who start at the lowest levels unsure of their ability, will, when their reason is consulted and they learn they can persuade others of the value of their ideas, gain confidence in their own ability to influence our political existence.
If we examine the dynamics of the process, we find that, when three members of the electorate, probably neighbors, meet for the first time to select one member of the triad to represent the other two, there will be three kinds of participants:
- those who do not want to be selected
- those willing to be selected, and
- those seeking selection.
If none of the three participants are willing to be selected, the triad will not make a choice. The members of that triad will drop from the process in accordance with their own wishes.
Among triads that actually make a selection, those who are selected to advance will either be people who want to be selected or people who are willing to be selected. This is not to say that each person must be of one type or the other, but rather that each person will be somewhere on the continuum from those willing to be selected to those wanting to be selected.
For simplicity, we will assume that the desire to be selected is equivalent to a desire for public office and that the people we mention as examples are at one end of the wish-willingness continuum or the other. The reality is infinitely more complex but the results will differ only in degree from what we learn by thinking about the kind of people who are at the hypothetical extremes.
We must also note that the attitudes we've mentioned may not be static. Although, generally, a person seeking public office is unlikely to become a person willing to serve, a person willing to serve might be transformed into a person seeking public office, in this way:
If person-willing-to-serve (A) decides person-seeking-office (B) is not a good choice, (A) may seek to persuade the triad that (C) is a better choice. Such an effort moves (A) closer to being a person-seeking-office because, if (A) will not support (B), the chance that (A) will be chosen increases.
Based on this assessment, we can say that people who advance to the next level either persuaded the other members of their triad to select them or they relied on the other members to select them. The difference is the extent to which they used persuasion to achieve selection.
In a pyramiding process of the type under discussion, it is reasonable to think that active seekers of public office will succeed more frequently than those who only advance because they are willing to allow themselves to be selected. Thus, after several iterations of the process, we can anticipate that each member of a triad will be a person seeking public office. In other words, the art of persuasion assumes mounting importance as the process advances.
The essence of the activity at each level is that each member of a triad wants to select the person with the qualities deemed most desirable in the individual selected to represent the group. Those seeking selection will try to persuade their peers they have the qualities sought. In this sense, a person seeking public office may be thought of as a 'persuader'.
When persuasion occurs between two people, it takes place as a dialogue with one person attempting to persuade the other. In such events, both parties are free to participate in the process. The person to be persuaded can question the persuader as to specific points and present alternative points about the topic under discussion. Under such circumstances, it is possible that the persuader will become the persuaded.
However, when persuasion involves multiple people, it has a greater tendency to occur as a monologue. The transition from dialogue to monologue accelerates as the number of people to be persuaded increases. The larger the number of people, the less free some of them are to participate in the process. They have fewer opportunities and are less inclined to question specific points or offer alternatives about the topic under discussion.
In such circumstances, the more assertive individuals will dominate the discussion and the viewpoints of the less assertive members will not be expressed. The assertive individual is unlikely to be persuaded of the wisdom of an alternative idea, because the view will not be expressed or discussed.
Viewed in this light, we can say that when selecting public officials, a system that encourages dialogue is preferable to one that relies on a monologue. Discussion can best be encouraged by having fewer people in the "session of persuasion". Because of the need for a definitive decision, we believe the best group size to encourage active involvement by all participants is three.
Democracy evolves slowly. Plato, if not others before him, felt democracy could not work because 'ordinary people' are 'too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians'. He failed to note that some folks are more easily swayed than others, and that some individuals are not swayed at all. Yet, Plato's faulty view of democracy survived and still dominates political thought.
The weakness in Plato's opinion is twofold. The first is the notion that the only proper view of democracy is as a condition in which all the people make all the decisions. The second is the failure to recognize that 'the people' is made up of many individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some with integrity, some deceitful; some brilliant, some dull; some sociable, some unfriendly; some with leadership qualities, some without.
Though rarely noted, democracy is a bottom-up concept; political power is vested in the people and rises, by their choice, to the officials they elect. We have yet to achieve that arrangement of our political existence because those "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" who are "enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government" create top-down political organizations that let them set the agendas and choose the candidates for which the people vote. Such political inbreeding corrupts the political process because ...
Those who choose the options, control the outcome!
The principle building block used by political predators to build a structure they can control is partisanship. That is the one human trait that can be reliably used to manipulate the public. This devastating use of a natural, healthy human trait will be prevented when the people have a practical way to deliberate among themselves to determine the issues that concern them and to select the people they believe best suited to resolve those issues in the common interest.
Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to extract value from competing points of view. The challenge of democracy is to sift through the multitude of individuals to find those with the wisdom to accept the best parts of competing opinions, the ability to integrate them into productive proposals, and the persuasiveness to motivate others to adopt solutions that advance society. Given the range of public issues and the way each individual's interest in political matters varies over time, this can only be done by examining the entire electorate during each election cycle and letting every voter influence the outcome of each election to the best of their desire and ability.
The primary obstacle to achieving democracy is the seeming difficulty of sifting through the huge number and broad diversity of the populace, yet it is no different than a mining operation. It is simply a matter of separating the metal from the ore. Practical Democracy is such a separation process. It is a simple, bottom-up method of letting all the people deliberate on public issues, decide which issues concern them, and choose individuals with the qualities they feel appropriate to address those issues. The process ...
- builds on the participation of the entire community, whether the community is a village, city, county, state or nation.
- lets the people sift through the entire electorate to select the individual(s) best suited to address and resolve the people's concerns.
- makes integrity an important character trait in those who seek public office because the process ensures they will be examined by people with a vital interest in finding their flaws.
- encourages the formation of special interest groups, factions and parties, and gives them the means to identify and elevate the best advocates of the group's perspective.
- gives every member of the electorate equal access to political power, whether or not they have a party affiliation.
- lets every member of the electorate compete for public office, to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability.
- eliminates the influence of money on the political process. Candidates for public office incur no costs, except the value of their time.
- for active candidates, the process completes in less time than campaign-driven elections. For non-candidates, the process removes the incessant haranguing of power-seekers.
These citations step outside the common assumption that our political system is adequately democratic and offer critical analysis and justification for considering an alternative that will better serve society. They (1) provide a philosophical rationale for understanding that the Practical Democracy process would have a significant impact on those who participate; (2) offer academic support for exercising care in the selection of candidates for public office; (3) show why political parties are oligarchies, and (4) show that political parties, themselves, recognize their inability to represent the people.
1. Edward Clayton, "Alasdair MacIntyre", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- MacIntyre believes politics should be a practice in which everyone participates. Politics as a practice offers the possibility of internal goods and virtues, but since it is currently not a practice, it only has external goods to offer. External goods end up as someone's property. The more one person has of any of them the less there is for anyone else. Internal goods are qualities, not property. They can only be attained through interaction with others. Distinctions like justice, courage, and honesty are not owned, they only exist in terms of others. It is characteristic of internal goods that their achievement is a good for the whole community. As politics is conducted now, some win, others lose; cheating and exploitation are frequent, there is no good achieved that is good for the entire community.
- Anyone who has read The Prince cannot read MacIntyre on this point without recalling Machiavelli's advice to the prince about the need to be adaptable and the only relevant standards being those of success or failure; MacIntyre would certainly agree that the modern world is characterized by its Machiavellian politics.
Human beings, as the kind of creatures we are, need the internal goods that can only be acquired through participation in politics if we are to flourish.
Jane Mansbridge, "A 'Selection Model' of Political Representation"
- As trust in government plummets in most developed democracies, citizens routinely call for more accountability and transparency. These demands are implicitly grounded in a model of political representation based primarily on sanctions, in which the interests of the representative are presumed to conflict with those of the constituent. In such models the principal must invest in systems that monitor the (representative) closely, reward good behavior, and punish the bad.
- Another possible - and sometimes conflicting - approach is based primarily on selection. This approach works only when the principal and agent would have similar objectives even in the absence of specific incentives and sanctions. That is, the agent is already internally motivated to pursue certain goals -- goals that in politics include both a general political direction and specific policies. If the representative's desired direction and policies are the ones the constituent desires, and if the representative also has a verifiable reputation of being both competent and honest, then it makes sense for a constituent to put that representative in office and subsequently spend relatively little effort on monitoring and sanctioning. As a general rule, the higher the probability that the objectives of principal and agent may be aligned, the more efficient it is for the principal to invest resources ex ante, in selecting the required type, rather than ex post, in monitoring and sanctioning. If these objectives are well aligned, citizens will be better served by a constituent-representative relationship based primarily on selection than by one based primarily on monitoring and sanctions. From a normative perspective, the selection model also tends to focus the attention of both citizens and representatives on the common interest.
Robert Michels, Political Parties
- Organization implies the tendency to oligarchy. In every organization, whether it be a political party, a professional union, or any other association of the kind, the aristocratic tendency manifests itself very clearly. The mechanism of the organization, while conferring a solidity of structure, induces serious changes in the organized mass, completely inverting the respective position of the leaders and the led. As a result of organization, every party or professional union becomes divided into a minority of directors and a majority of directed.
- It is indisputable that the oligarchical and bureaucratic tendency of party organization is a matter of technical and practical necessity. It is the inevitable product of the very principle of organization ... Its only result is, in fact, to strengthen the rule of the leaders, for it serves to conceal from the mass a danger which really threatens democracy.
The Report of the Commission on Candidate Selection (a board composed of the leaders of five large political parties in Great Britain) that investigated why parties are not representative of the people.
- The public's ideal of representation, if seldom articulated clearly, can differ from that of the parties and political professionals. Voters seem to prefer candidates who are prepared to adopt a consensual approach to political behaviour in Parliament, the council chamber and media studios while selectorates and party professionals are more attached to an adversarial approach.
- (After quoting statistics showing the 'underrepresentation' of various minorities, the Report says:) These figures add up to a picture of a narrow group of representatives selected by a tiny proportion of the population belonging to parties, for which ever fewer members of the public vote and for whom even fewer people have any feelings of attachment.
- In most cases .... selection is in the hands of parties, and their relatively small groups of members. Voters themselves have to choose between candidates picked by these small groups, and, under the first-past-the-post system, the outcome in the vast majority of constituencies is a foregone conclusion.
- The whole thrust of our report is against uniformity of candidates and in favour of diversity. Quality can take many different forms in a political context. If we wish candidates to be truly representative of the communities they are elected to serve, we must recognise that there will (and should) be all sorts of candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds.
- The Commission has had to consider whether the ways in which candidates are selected should any longer be regarded as purely internal matters of no concern to the wider public.
- (The Report contains a good description of the waning public interest in parties) Party memberships consisting of just over one elector in a hundred are unlikely to be representative of the population as a whole.
- There is an apparent paradox that people feel less and less affinity with conventional party politics, yet many of their most important concerns remain very political.
- Ordinary people not involved in politics are either indifferent to internal party feuds or can react negatively to the priority which politicians and activists place upon party loyalty. It is loyalty to the constituency as a whole that the public wants to see in candidates ...
- When people are asked to rank the characteristics they value in their elected representatives, honesty is rated highest, followed by trustworthiness, accessibility and competence.
We don't lack trustworthy, accessible, competent people, we lack the means to select and elevate them to positions of political leadership. We would do well to look beyond the platitudes that harness academic inquiry to existing political structures; it is time to consider the benefits that will flow from making politics a project shared by the entire community.
3. Robert Michels, Political Parties,http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/michels/polipart.pdf
Robert Ortiz describes the paradox that the more people who vote, the lower the average thoughtfulness of the voters and the less any one individual's vote matters. The paradox results from the practice of treating 'the people' as an amorphous mass whose only political right is to vote their approval or disapproval of choices made by the oligarchy that controls the nation's political parties. PD avoids that error. It recognizes that the people constitute a vast pool of talent containing individuals with the ability to resolve public issues in the public interest. It accomplishes government by the people by empowering the non-partisans in the electorate and giving each of us a voice in our government.
Individuals with the qualities required to advocate the common interest are uniformly distributed among the people. To provide the largest possible pool of talent, the right to participate in PD is as unlimited as true democracy can conceive. The participants select their 'small, representative sample', not by externally prescribed rules, but by their own judgment. Participation is not mandatory; it is accomplished by peer pressure. If someone refuses to participate, that person implicitly grants the other members of their triad the right to make a selection on their own. While this circumstance is most likely to obtain at the lowest level, the effect is the same whenever it occurs.
Whether or not participants are sufficiently thoughtful to contribute to the political decisions of the community is a matter for their peers to decide. PD encourages and makes time for active, thoughtful participation and provides pertinent material for consideration. The requirement for thoughtfulness increases as the process proceeds because participants are grouped with ever more capable individuals. Because self-selection is not an option, participants must carefully evaluate their peers to ensure advancement of their own interests, and, by inference, the interests of those who advanced them to their present level. To inspire thoughtful political decision-making among the public, the political process must give the people a purpose --- a reason to think. When the people have the means to formulate the issues for their government, when they can select their own representatives, in short, when there is a purpose for their participation, the best among them will not lack for thoughtfulness.
The range of issues that concern the people is enormous. The individuals most qualified to deal with those issues will vary with circumstances and time. No set of selection rules can anticipate the qualities required. Only the people, themselves, can do that. PD lets participants examine their peers with regard to issues that concern them before choosing the individuals they deem best qualified to represent them. The process is always responsive to contemporary issues and dynamism is ensured because each election cycle starts with a fresh set of triads.
1. Daniel Ortiz, Rethinking The Vote, The Paradox of Mass Democracy, p. 210-225
2. ibid, p. 212
3. Michels, Political Parties, p. 270