A PHILOSOPHICAL LEXICON FOR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS, #7: Three Concepts of Democracy, Three Tyrannies, & Direct Democracy.

By Robert Hanna

“Young Woman With a Book [Reading Philosophy],” by Alexander Deineka (1934)
“A Philosopher Reading” (Wellcome Collection)

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APP Editor’s Note:

You can download or read a complete .pdf of the basic working draft of this philosophical lexicon HERE.

But since it is a work-in-progress, this does not preclude ongoing elaborations or revisions of the working draft, that appear only in the online installments.

After the series is finished, then a complete revised-and-updated version of the basic working draft will be made available for universal sharing.

Here are four preliminary remarks about the lexicon.

First, all terms in boldface have a definition or explication somewhere on the list.

Second, all of these definitions are, to some extent, controversial, precisely because they imply a certain philosophical point of view, or set of presuppositions, that not all philosophers share.

Third, entries marked with an asterisk* indicate a particularly controversial definition, and also include a brief description of the controversy, in italics.

Fourth, some entries also include a philosopher’s name in parenthesis, if that definition is closely historically associated with a formulation that was original to that philosopher.

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PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THIS SERIES

#6: “Animal.”

#5: “Anarchism” (A Philosophical and Sociopolitical Tribute to David Graeber).

#4: “Analysis.”

#3: “Acts.”

#2: “Abstract.”

#1: Introduction, & Other Preliminaries.

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Democracy*: the contemporary use of the term “democracy,” unfortunately, is three ways ambiguous, as between:

1. majoritarian-representative or liberal democracy: the rule of the majority of all the people (see persons) qualified to vote, who then hand over the control of coercive power to an elected or appointed minority,

2. open-procedural or libertarian democracy: the open-admission, competitive process of critical discussion and critical examination of opinions and social institutions (aka “the marketplace of ideas”), and, simultaneously, the unfettered expression of radically different and mutually opposed beliefs, lifestyles and sub-cultures (aka “experiments in living”), and

3. ethical or emancipatory democracy: the unwavering commitments to

(i) universal respect for the dignity of human persons (see person),

(ii) individual autonomy (see autonomy, individual),

(iii) relational autonomy (see autonomy, relational), and

(iv) universal resistance against human oppression.

Controversy 1: majoritarian-representative or liberal democracy entails neither open-procedural or libertarian democracy nor ethical or emancipatory democracy, a perhaps surprising fact that is known as “the tyranny of the majority.”

Controversy 2: majoritarian-representative or liberal democracy does not entail the actual rule of the majority, another perhaps surprising fact that is empirically demonstrated by the USA’s Electoral College system, and by the Supreme Court, and also known as “the tyranny of the minority.”

Controversy 3: open-procedural or libertarian democracy does not entail ethical or emancipatory democracy, yet another perhaps surprising fact that is empirically demonstrated by the 2016 Presidential election and the contemporary USA.

ELABORATION

What is democracy?

As I indicated above, in fact, there are at least three fundamentally different concepts of democracy at play in contemporary nation-States:

(i) democracy as the rule of the majority of all the people qualified to vote, who then hand over the control of coercive power to an elected or appointed minority: majoritarian-representative or liberal democracy,

(ii) democracy as the open-admission, competitive process of critical discussion and critical examination of opinions and social institutions, together with the unfettered expression of radically different and mutually opposed beliefs, lifestyles, and sub-cultures: open-procedural or libertarian democracy, and

(iii) democracy as the unwavering commitments to universal respect for human dignity and autonomy, and universal resistance to human oppression: ethical or emancipatory democracy.

Notoriously, however, the three concepts of democracy are mutually logically independent, in that they do not necessarily lead to or follow from one another.

It is really possible that what is decreed by the majority of all the people qualified to vote is in fact morally evil and wrong, and also radically suppresses any open-admission, competitive process of critical discussion and critical examination of opinions and social institutions, together with the unfettered expression of radically different and mutually opposed beliefs, lifestyles, and sub-cultures, aka the problem of the tyranny of the majority — and that is exactly what happened when the Nazis were elected by a majority of German voters in 1932–1933.[i]

It is also really possible that what is decreed by the majority of the people qualified to vote is a system in which an elected or appointed powerful minority of those people can actually override the majority, aka the problem of the tyranny of the minority — and that is exactly what happens whenever the US Electoral College (consisting of 538 people) votes to elect someone, like Donald Trump in 2016, who did not actually win the popular vote, and also what happens whenever the US Supreme Court (consisting of 9 people) determines the law.

And finally, it is also really possible that there could be an open-admission, competitive process of critical discussion and critical examination of opinions and social institutions, together with the unfettered expression of radically different and mutually opposed beliefs, lifestyles, and sub-cultures, which nevertheless leads to a situation in which universal respect for human dignity and autonomy, and universal resistance against human oppression, are in fact weakened and even undermined, which I’ll call the problem of the tyranny of an unconstrained, value-neutral process of public debate together with the chaotic babble-and-babel of a plurality of warring identitarian communities — and that is exactly what happened in the case of Trump’s election, via the (in effect) two-party system, the primaries, and psychologically-manipulative uses of social media and the internet,[ii] and it also exactly describes the current moral, social, and political situation in the contemporary USA.

Therefore, the only morally and politically acceptable concept of democracy is the third concept, ethical or emancipatory democracy: democracy as the unwavering commitments to universal respect for human dignity and autonomy, and universal resistance to human oppression.

In my opinion, then, we need to get rid of the coercive majoritarian representative rule of all the people qualified to vote, and also get rid of open-procedural or libertarian democracy, altogether, and replace them both by truly democratic decision procedures, by which I mean direct democracy: that is, participatory decision-making, understood as collective principled negotiation.[iii]

Direct democracy in this sense flows naturally from the principles of ethical or emancipatory democracy, and systematically rules out the tyranny of the majority, the tyranny of the minority, and also the tyranny of an unconstrained, value-neutral process of public debate together with the chaotic babble-and-babel of a plurality of mutually opposed identitarian communities.

How can that be?

In order to show how, I’m going to spell out, briefly, the social dynamics of direct democracy.

Let’s consider the classical majoritarian representative democratic one-valued voting system, whereby a single vote is cast for any one of a number of candidates, and its two-valued voting system variant, for or against a given candidate, or a ballot proposal:

Yes (or Yea)

No (or Nay)

and also the classical Robert’s Rules of Order-style[iv] three-valued voting system:

Yes

Abstain

No

There is also a variant on such systems, with numerical ranking of candidates or ballot-proposals, and iterated rounds of re-shuffled rankings in which the least favored candidate or ballot-proposal is dropped in each round, until a victor is determined.

In most versions of the classical majoritarian representative democratic one-valued, two-valued, or three-valued voting system, full participation of all eligible voters is not required.

So deciding not to vote, for any reason whatsoever, is functionally equivalent to abstention in that system.

More generally, the “abstain” option is used for any one of three reasons:

(i) genuine neutrality or unconcern about a proposal, either way (relatively rare),

(ii) as a polite way of saying “a plague on both their houses,” or

(iii) as a way of quasi-nay-voting, without incurring any social consequences or repercussions (or social stigmata, in voting without secret ballot) that might be attached to actual disagreement.

But by sharp contrast to all of the above versions of majoritarian representative democratic voting, consider now the following scheme for direct democracy:

(i) group decision-making should not be a discrete, individual act (like a vote) that is carried out at a particular moment by a group of people, but instead should be a temporally extended social-dynamic process containing a medley or symphony of mutually-coordinated individual acts, that is engaged in and performed by a group of people,

(ii) every such process of group decision-making should be a dialogue with people collectively discussing various proposals for institutional group action guided by principles of ethical or emancipatory democracy,

(iii) every process of group decision-making should feature a five-valued array of options for taking a position on any given proposal, including two degrees of agreement, one neutral or as-yet-uncommitted value, and two degrees of disagreement, namely —

Strongly Agree

Mildly Agree

Abstain

Mildly Disagree

Block or Walk

— any of which is registered by each member of a group at any point in a given dialogue about a given proposal being considered by that group,

(iv) every registration of a position carries with it the option to change or update your position at any time in the dialogue,

(v) every registration of a position is aimed at a principled, negotiated decision collectively made by that group as whole, and

(vi) therefore every process of group decision-making ideally involves full participation by all members of the relevant group.

But I will also add nine crucial further points by way of unpacking the specifically ethical or emancipatory democratic interpretation of direct democracy.

First, there is a basic principle governing this system of direct democracy, The Non-Coercion Principle:

No one is ever coerced in any particular sub-cycle or overall process of direct democracy, either with respect to their own position or with respect to their other contributions to the participatory decision-making/collective principled-negotiation process, and more specifically, no one is ever forced to walk, or punished for blocking or walking.

Second, blocking means not merely a strong disagreement with a given proposal, but also that one block is enough to defeat a given proposal in any given sub-cycle of a particular process of direct democracy.

Third, every blocker must also offer, or support, or at least refrain from blocking, an alternative proposal in the next sub-cycle of the same decision-making/principled-negotiation process.

Fourth, every participant is permitted only a limited number of blocks (say, four or five, or whatever) in a particular decision-making process, but if s/he uses up all his or her blocks, and also refuses to offer or support an alternative proposal, then s/he must then also walk away from that decision-making/principled-negotiation process and thereby exit it.

Fifth, walking away from/exiting a particular decision-making/principled-negotiation process can be done at any point in that process, not only after the permitted maximum number of blocks and the refusal to offer or support an alternative proposal; and it will always carry some natural consequences, whether good or bad; but these consequences are always freely chosen by the walker/exit-er, not coerced, since

(i) according to The Non-Coercion Principle, no one is ever coerced for walking/exiting, hence no one is ever forced to do so or punished for doing so, and

(ii) everyone involved in a particular decision-making/principled-negotiation process always has the option of staying in that process under one or another of the five positions — except after using up all his or her permitted blocks and refusing to offer or support an alternative proposal, which entails walking away from/exiting the process — but this is part of the rules, hence agreed-to from the start, and not coerced.

Sixth, walking away from/exiting a particular process in no way excludes the walking/exiting individual from participating in any other decision-making/principled-negotiation process: re-entry is always possible under direct democracy.

Seventh, mild disagreement always entails going forward with the current proposal if there is sufficiently strong support for it.

Eighth, sufficiently strong support means that there is close to or more than 50% strong or mild agreement with the proposal, and no blocks.

Ninth and finally, not participating in a particular process — yet, or perhaps for the duration of that process — for any reason whatsoever, is functionally and normatively equivalent to abstention or walking/exiting, hence it is never coerced, and more specifically, under direct democracy, no one is ever forced to participate, punished for not participating, or prevented from participating.

The dynamic registration of positions in direct democracy according to the scheme I just laid out, essentially tells us how a person is rationally feeling about any proposal put forward for group decision-making.

Therefore, the dynamic registration of positions in direct democracy in this sense is not majoritarian representative democratic voting: on the contrary, it is dynamically tracking the levels of what Brazilians call concordar — literally, “shared heart,” that is, solidarity, onboardness, or team-spirit — about any given proposal for ethical or emancipatory social-institutional action, for the sake of which those people are engaging in a dialogical process of decision-making/principled-negotiation.

Otherwise put, the dynamic registration of positions in direct democracy is tracking the level of people’s rationally-guided but also inherently affective (i.e., felt, desiderative, or emotional) onboardness about any given proposal for ethical or emancipatory democratic social action, in a way that is relevantly similar to monitoring the dynamics of team-spirit in team-sports or to monitoring the dynamics of mutual cohesion and harmonization in dancing or musical performances.

In this way, direct democracy according to the ethical or emancipatory democratic interpretation does not institutionally polarize people, thereby segregating them into partisan factions–a plurality of mutually opposed identitarian communities–nor does it coercively demand conformity and consensus.

This is for four reasons.

First, direct democracy in the sense I spelled out is essentially dialogical: it’s not a winner-takes-all debate.

Second, direct democracy in this sense dynamically registers people’s levels of concordar about proposals for social-institutional action.

Third, the direct democratic process of creating concordar is a mutual coordination and harmonization of basic affects and moral-political values.

Fourth and finally, not only do people freely enter into, freely walk away from/exit, and freely re-enter* any particular cycle or sequence in the overall direct democratic process, they also take individual and mutual responsibility for the social-institutional actions they perform at the end of any particular cycle or sequence.

*Except in the special case when someone has used up their quota of blocks in a particular cycle or sequence of participatory decision-making/principled negotiation and also refuses to offer or support an alternative proposal, and has therefore walked away from/exited that particular cycle or sequence.

Someone once said to me, after I’d spelled out this picture of direct democracy under the ethical or emancipatory democratic interpretation:

“Wow, cool: that all sounds pretty interesting. But how are you going to compel or force people to participate and to be good?”

After a jaw-dropping double take, I replied:

“In the direct democracy system I just spelled out, nobody ever compels or forces people to do anything! It’s totally anti-coercion! It’s rationally and freely chosen, and it inherently respects human dignity and autonomy! That’s what participatory decision-making and collective principled negotiation are all about!”[v]

NOTES

[i] See, e.g., Wikipedia, “German Federal Election, March 1933,” available online at URL = <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_federal_election,_March_1933>.

[ii] See, e.g., B. Schreckinger, “Inside Trump’s ‘Cyborg’ Twitter Army,” Politico (30 September 2016), available online at URL = < http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/donald-trump-twitter-army-228923>; and Y. Benkler et al., “Study: Breitbart-Led Right-Wing Media Ecosystem Altered Broader Media Agenda,” Columbia Journalism Review (3 March 2017), available online at URL = <http://www.cjr.org/analysis/breitbart-media-trump-harvard-study.php>.

[iii] See, e.g., R. Fisher, W. Ury, and B. Patton, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (rev. edn., New York: Penguin, 2010).

[iv] See, e.g., Robert’s Rules Online: Robert’s Rules of Order 4th Edition, available online at URL = <http://www.rulesonline.com/>.

[v] Yes, direct democracy in this sense is anarcho-socialism, or alternatively–if that term falsely evokes mental images of bomb-throwing nihilists or totalitarian communists–realistic optimist dignitarian humanism. See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), esp. parts 2 and 3, also available online in preview, HERE; and R. Hanna, “On Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: Optimism For Realists, Or, Neither Hobbes Nor Rousseau” (September 2020 version), available online HERE.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 491

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 27 October 2020

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