What’s more democratic than democracy? Demarchy

In the West, democracy is held to be the highest form of government. It is suggested that any government which does not derive its power from the people is illegitimate, even as Western “democratic” governments actively work to subvert the will of the people through various machinations. A 2014 Princeton study by Gillens and Page [1] revealed the extent of this subversion, concluding that public opinion has a “near-zero” impact on U.S. law. The following video from Represent.Us highlights the findings:

However, like most upper-middle-class (bourgeoisie) reformers, the folks at Represent.Us are stuck in the same trap of attempting to change a system that is actively fighting changes from within. What they decry as “corruption” is merely the logical outcome of a society in which money–or more accurately, capital–is the highest moral authority. Bourgeois liberals clearly live by the adage “Money is power,” while pretending it’s false by promulgating myths of opportunity and equality.

Even as these reformist groups suggest the way to fix unbalanced representation is through the passage of “anti-corruption acts,” county election boards all across the US are purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls thanks to systems like Interstate Cross-Check. The remaining wreckage of the civil rights movement’s gains, like the Voting Rights Act, is steadily being cleared away by conservative judicial rulings at all levels of the federal court system. The much-vaunted checks and balances of the Constitution have, in the end, turned out to be little more than a speedbump for capital – almost as if they were not, in fact, intended to prevent oligarchy, but rather a bulwark to defend the bourgeois revolution of 1776 from a future popular revolt.

If it is indeed democracy that we seek, and not the twisted parody of democracy that bourgeois capitalism has produced, then we must dispense with all of the bourgeois sensibilities we carry along with us. We must distill society down to the bare elements, and re-shape it anew. In programming terms,we might call this a “refactoring” of society: recognizing that the old system was incapable of achieving the desired result, starting over from a clean slate with the desired result in mind and rebuilding a functionally equivalent system without re-using any of the old code outside of, perhaps, some universal shared elements.

During this endeavour, we must question all the norms of the previous society, and ask ourselves why systems operated the way they did. How did American electoral politics develop the way they did? How was that related to the original requirement for all voters to be white landholders? Why is it, for all the reverence toward the ancient Greek democracy of Athens, elections by lot were never seriously considered in the West?

Likewise, it is telling that Western states blast former and current states like the Soviet Union and Cuba, respectively, for being anti-democratic and authoritarian. Soviet, for example, literally means “council” in English. Anti-communists like to scare people by implying that the “all power to the Soviets!” cry of 1917 was a cry for authority, when in fact it was a purer expression of democracy (“All power to the workers’ councils!”) than the American revolutionary cry of “no taxation without representation.”

The following video explains the functioning of Cuban democracy, which is likewise based on popular assemblies or councils:

The appeal of popular assemblies should be obvious. Indeed, this concept forms the cornerstone of participatory politics, an idealized system of nested councils in which every person votes (participates) in a local council, elects a representative to be sent to the next council up, and so on until all of humanity is represented by a single elected council, which could be accomplished in as few as 6 council levels depending on the number of members per council.

nested_council

However, this system still relies on elections. This means that at least one person must be willing to run for the next level council from within each council, convince a majority of members to vote for them, and repeat the process for each level of council until all levels have been filled. This promises to be tedious, mostly uninteresting, and not terribly rewarding for most people unless driven by an ideological motivation – which may be a good thing, but more often than not, we see politicians driven by naked ambition rather than any sort of altruism. Parpolity, as designed by Professor Shalom, thus appears to replicate the failures of Western electoral politics.

One possible solution to this is explored by Belgian writer David van Reybrouk in his book “Against Elections.” [2] He advocates for a return to the ancient practice of election by lot, alternately known as sortition or, when practiced as a form of governance, demarchy. Instead of forcing each council in a nested system as proposed under parpolity to have its own tiresome elections, all members would instead place their names into a pool to be randomly drawn from. This is little different from lottery or drawing systems, and as such methods of preventing fraud are easily carried over. A series of campaigns and elections that might take months may instead be reduced to a few days of random selections, allowing a rapid re-organization of society under participatory demarchy.

Sortition also has further, more everyday, applications. It can easily be used to replace elections in any popular body, as long as a majority agrees with the requisite rule changes. Associations, party chapters, union chapters, and the like may all benefit from the impartiality (and proportionality!) of sortition.

Of course, we can fully expect the upper class and their admirers to strongly resist any such changes to existing bourgeois states, as it would destroy the power structures they have carefully built over the years to perpetuate the forced division of labor under capitalism. This means that any such speculative proposals are only useful following the collapse of capitalism and the bourgeoisie state, whether through its own failings or because of proletarian revolution.

References and additional reading:

  1. Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspective on Politics, 2014.
  2. David van Reybrouk, “Against Elections,” Policy Network, 2014.
  3. Brian Martin, “Demarchy,” 1989.
  4. Stephen H. Unger, “Government by Jury,” columbia.edu, 2013.
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