Participatory Democracy for the People
by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK
This seminal work is the keystone of a proposed political philosophy that addresses the political malaise of the populace. The individual must become the centre of political discourse and participation -- something made feasible by modern technology. These changes will necessitate re-thinking of long-held concepts and ideas. However, this re-thinking and re-formulation of the body politic is essential for the survival of society. In the spirit of this philosophy, your input and comments are welcome on this piece. Your thoughts, your ideas on this philosophy are essential to its growth and success.
Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, says the following about John Locke's political philosophy:
Locke's political philosophy was, on the whole, adequate and useful until the industrial revolution. Since then, it has been increasingly unable to tackle the important problems. The power of property, as embodied in vast corporations, grew beyond anything imagined by Locke...
The single separate citizen has no longer the power and independence that he had in Locke's speculations. Our age is one of organisation, and its conflicts are between organisations, not between separate individuals. The state of nature, as Locke says, still exists as between States.
Russell's words ring hauntingly true today. As noted in my previous article, Dictatorial Democracies, and my recent series on Bush, Iraq and the state of U.S. Democracy, the individual -- the real individual, not the artificial individual created by corporations -- has been dispossessed by political agendas dictating their lives. The greatest application of Locke's philosophy has been in the United States Constitution -- but as Russell states, much of Locke's philosophy proved inadequate once the industrial revolution began.
The elimination of the rights of the individual are not limited to the United States, however. Note as well that the corporations are not the only villains. Government carries just as much, if not more blame, for the current situation. Capitalism emphasised trade as the liberator of the individual. Marxism, utilising its labour theory of value, focused on ownership of production. Yet both ideologies, when translated into the real world, did little for the individual. Both philosophies were utilised by the power elites for their own purposes. In capitalist countries, money ruled over people -- witness the fact that almost all members of the U.S. Congress are re-elected, simply because they command the vast majority of campaign funding provided by corporations. In Marxist countries, the former capitalist elite simply rule as the new Marxist elite -- witness China, where all the Marxist leaders in the 1949 revolution (with the exception of Mao) were from the top elite families. And so it goes.
The situation has now worsened to the point that there is a worldwide disaffection with governments and corporations by the people. Former employees have replaced lifetime corporate loyalty with a legion of 'unfair dismissal' court cases. These former employees frequently never achieve their previous income -- a situation so prevalent and severe that government tax departments are acknowledging the problem. Tax-favourable severance benefits go unused because dismissed employees rarely earn enough income after their dismissal to utilize these features.
Why have the jobs of the white-collar lifetime employees disappeared? Have these people all become incompetent? Hardly. The reality is that their jobs, their careers, their lives have been 'outsourced' to foreign countries.
This situation is prevalent in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and many other countries in the European Union and elsewhere.
In the United States, the Presidential election's biggest domestic issue is that of U.S. Corporations compromising U.S. security by moving jobs overseas to countries of questionable alliance with America. Yet few politicians want to touch the issue because of the funding their campaigns receive from corporations. American voting participation rates hover around 30 percent. When I asked one American why the low turnout, he told me that 'people feel they cannot change anything'. Certainly an disturbing comment -- yet one that seems reflective of the mood of the country. Combine that with the corporate sell-out of American jobs to overseas near-enemy countries -- such as China -- and is it any wonder that Americans are disillusioned?
In Canada, the current federal Parliamentary elections have a major crisis on their hands -- the reality that polls show a record 57 percent of the potential electorate will not vote in the June 28 elections. The disaffection of the Canadian electorate is due to a strongly felt conclusion that none of the parties -- whether of the right, centre or left -- has the interests in the people in mind. Scandals have so permeated the government, combined with broken promises amounting to deception of the electorate, that the future of democracy is in danger. There are no government initiatives to help those eliminated from the work force -- yet the funds seem endless for major estates for government civil service managers, and for foreign aid or other politically correct initiatives. Yet the voters are the very people who are not being helped. Is it any wonder that Canadian journalists have had to acknowledge that this is the 'angriest' election they have ever seen?
In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister is alternatively referred to as 'Toady Blair' or 'Tony Bliar'. The credibility of the government is in tatters. However, the problem runs deeper. Britons view Parliament as a club for the prominent and the wealthy. There is no gain in supporting Parliamentary government (frequently called 'Parliamentary dictatorship') when a small executive branch rules the legislative branch populated by the elite. The people are then expected to vote for either a Labour elite or a Conservative elite. What is the difference?
In China, the government is now shutting down any vestige of democracy or rule of law left in Hong Kong. Of course, no one will condemn China -- and China knows it. The elite in the West and their political friends have too many financial dealings and interests in China to care about what happens to individuals in that country. Companies in the West face regulatory reporting and auditing of their results -- and frequently those companies are guilty of fraudulent practices. Yet China and Chinese companies, in a Marxist dictatorship with no rule of law, have their rather amazing financial results accepted without question or review by the Western elite. As noted above, the elite in the West have no problem sending their nation's technological jobs and skill-sets over to China. Yet relations with China are problematic (witness the threats to Taiwan), so handing China our technological strengths is sheer folly. The elite in the West of course ignore any complaints regarding these actions, since they such a hold on the body politic that they feel they cannot be touched.
Or can they? Witness the growing anger of individuals in Western countries.
Note that I have not mentioned Iraq to this point. However, it cannot be ignored. In the United States, the media -- which never admit fault -- have been forced, one by one, to admit that they were wrong in their reporting on the threat from Iraq prior to the war. Why wouldn't they be wrong -- when the same elite running the media dine with the government officials as well as their corporate friends? The elite decided that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction, and that was that. The average American was uneasy about 'Daddy's war', 'Chaney's war', or the 'war for oil'. Yet all the American media did was 'embed' themselves in the military operation, and report the war as if it was 'our team' on the football field winning the state championship. Now they recant their sins. Let them recant their sins over the hundreds of dead U.S. boys and girls who truly wanted to defend their country. Let the Congressmen who never asked a question before the war, but are now quick to jump into the fray for political gain -- let them recant their sins as well.
We know the problems -- now the question is, what is the solution?
Traditional western political philosophy starts with the situation in nature, and then suggests that humans agreed to give up rights to a greater entity -- government -- for the greater gain. Some philosophies suggest that government then retains rights indefinitely -- as in Hobbes's Leviathan. Other philosophies suggest that individuals retain rights, which can be taken from back from the government. These inalienable rights differ from the thought of the utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham, who view the achievement of the greatest happiness as the determinant of rights.
Concepts of individual liberty -- for example, John Stuart Mill -- are a beautiful read -- but ignore the social disruption created by capitalists who co-opted the rights of the individuals for their corporations. Of course, as with most philosophers, Mill could not have imagined the impact of individualist philosophy in society. The concept was good -- but as usual, the execution was disastrous.
The problem clearly is that Western political philosophy is based on assumptions and principles that ignore the reality of the world.
What is needed is a different strategy, one that looks at the reality of today, and moves to improve that reality.
Hence -- the philosophy defined in this article, and to be expanded in future articles.
That philosophy is as follows:
If the individual is dispossessed by the current systems, then the individual must be the centre of power in the new system. Everything then starts with the individual. The individual had rights in 'the state of nature', and never agreed on government. The historical reality is that governments were created in bloody fashion by conquering marauders.
Nonetheless, society cannot work without some form of government. It is not a question of whether people are inherently evil or good. Philosophies and religions differ on this issue, but it is irrelevant regarding the need for some sort of government.
What form of government would empower the individual? Ancient Greek democracies were frequently based on citizen participation in decisions. We see a modern day version in the 'Town Hall' meeting common in the New England area of the United States. We see, increasingly, 'snap' polls taken by television shows having people vote by telephone or the Internet.
Parliaments were created to allow petitioning of the King, and have evolved into a chamber of members approving the dictates of an executive drawn from that chamber. Public participation seems limited to elections, unless of course a public outcry ensues. The justification for Parliamentary power is that the people could never examine or approve the bills presented for approval. Yet this point fails when you consider that the members of Parliament themselves rely on their research staffs for advice on the details of specific Bills.
Do we need a member of an elite to decide for us in a chamber, when we the populace -- the electorate -- have the sophistication and knowledge to decide issues? Hardly.
The proposal is not to eliminate Parliament. The concept of a Parliament, with a first minister reporting to an apolitical figurehead representing the state, is the best of the bad lot of systems of government existing in the world. Unlike the U.S. system, where the President is both head of government and head of state -- causing difficulties in attacking the person holding that position, since the attack can be construed as an attack on the nation -- the Parliamentary system allows attacks on the first minister without implying an attack on the nation. The concept of 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition' is an excellent one, for it implies loyalty to the nation at the same time of disagreement with the direction of the nation. Opposition in the U.S. system, on the other hand, is submerged into 'bipartisanship' -- eliminating disagreement or indeed real discussions. Prime Ministers in the Parliamentary system have been forced to resign during their term of office -- while it is near impossible to impeach a U.S. President.
Rather, Parliament should be enhanced by putting the individual at the centre of the body politic -- not as now where the reality is vastly different.
Parliament should be reformed by allowing recall elections of sitting members. If the voters in a particular constituency are unhappy with their sitting member, they can petition for a recall election, which would automatically be called once the petition reached a certain, minority size of the electorate. The threshold of the petition size must not be placed so high that recall is unachievable; but neither should it be set so low that recalls occur for the weakest of reasons. The Prime Minister, in turn, should be subject to recall not only as a Parliamentary member in his own constituency, but by the electorate as a whole.
Recall, though, is a rather extreme action of the disaffection of individuals. The goal is to prevent disaffection but empowering the individual on an ongoing basis. Technology, particularly the Internet, provides an excellent means for that empowerment. The government, for example, faces scheduled questioning by opposition members in Parliament. Why shouldn't the government face similar question times by the populace via the Internet? Similarly, individual members -- whether in the government or the opposition -- should face similar question times by their constituents.
Review of bills presented before Parliament is difficult for individuals who of course have their lives to live. However, at the beginning of every Session of Parliament, the Speech from the Throne is read. For those not familiar with the Parliamentary system, the Speech from the Throne is an outline of the direction of government, written by the executive, for the new Session. The people have no input, but must rely on opposition members for commentary. There is no reason that the Speech from the Throne cannot be submitted, via the Internet, for approval and commentary of its contents, as well as the direction (or lack thereof) of the government. The contents of the Speech need not be approved as a whole -- individual items could be reviewed in their own right.
The issue of whether the Parliament should be bicameral or unicameral -- that is, consisting of two chambers or one -- is a valid one, and deserves examination. Of the bicameral systems currently in place, the Australian Upper House, called the Senate, is the best of the options. Each of the Australian states elects a certain number of members, which is different from the Lower House (called the 'House of Representatives') which elects by constituency. In this way, the rights of small regions are protected by the Upper House from majority rule of the Lower House that is dominated by population. Hence, the bicameral approach is superior to the unicameral, which offers no such protection. Note that the Upper House members, in the new system proposed in this article, would likewise face the proposed reforms.
What about political funding of campaigns, the source of such disillusionment among individual voters? There should be an election tax paid by all taxpayers (including corporations), based on income. This tax would fund parties and their elections. However, there is a weakness in existing funding approaches of this type -- namely, that it favours existing parties, and the major parties in particular. To resolve this problem, there should be a set percentage of funding set aside for new or minor political movements. Note, however, that such movements must use the funds for running for Parliament, not for political lobbying outside the electoral system.
Another problem exists in the current system -- namely, the tendency of the parties to nominate candidates who are on the 'inside' either as a member of an elite, or because of politically correct agendas. This situation alienates individual voters, who see little to choose from in terms of candidates. The problem, of course, is that parties have full rein to do as they please regarding nomination processes -- or the lack thereof. The reform of this problem would be leave to petition a new electoral court or commission. If a political party were using unfair practices in nomination, then that electoral court or commission would be empowered to act, whether by petition or by the court/commission's own initiative.
The judiciary varies in power in different countries. In the United States, the Supreme Court can override all arms of government without appeal or recourse. While this approach is justified by supporters when a 'good' decision is made by the court, what about when the court makes a decision such as Dred Scott v Sanford, which precipitated the U.S. Civil War? Or the case of Roe v Wade which imposed a decision on abortion on an unconvinced populace -- and which has resulted in political firestorms in the U.S.?
In the Parliamentary system, on the other hand, the judiciary is subservient to the actions of Parliament. The good aspect of this approach is that the court tends to avoid social engineering that results in political chaos and anger. The negative side is that subservience to a Parliament ruled by an elite will result in an unjust judiciary. Given that Parliament, under these proposals, would be taken back by the people, it would make sense for Parliamentarians, representing individuals rather than elites, to approve judges. However, as with the Parliamentarians, the judges so appointed would be subject to recall by the population. Recall of the judiciary should, however, be limited in scope in order to maintain a reasonable independence of the judiciary -- but not so limited as to separate the judiciary from the people.
The overriding principle, again, is placing the individual as the centre of power, not Parliamentary chambers ruled by elite members. The goal is empowerment of the individual, so they will have a say in their lives.
There will be more on these proposals in subsequent articles. There are many issues raised, and proposals presented, in this keystone work. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
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