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EXPLORING DEMOCRACY: DEFINITIONS AND COMPARISONS

" For if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost. " - Aristotle

 

In the early nineteen-nineties, Devolve! (then known as Movement For Middle England) published Wall To Wall Democracy, a critique of Representative Democracy. This booklet proposed a system of Direct Democracy, intended to give all people a direct say in social decision-making, either face-to-face or through fully mandated delegates.

Following feedback from our original proposals for Direct Democracy, Devolve! set up a Democratic Devolution working group to develop ideas for practical forms of democracy, aiming for the maximum effective participation and empowerment (from the grass-roots upwards) in the processes of decision-making.

As a result of these dialogues Devolve! developed a set of proposals for a mixture of Direct Democracy, Delegated Democracy, and Representative Democracy that could be applied pragmatically, yet allow for greater popular involvement in decision-making: using structures appropriate to the level concerned - Mixed Democracy. See below for a diagram showing an application.

Ongoing work is now being focused on a more detailed analysis of the ways in which popular control of governance can be attempted and (more recently) the ways in which human types interact within small groups. Before a brief overview of these various forms of Democracy - their advantages and disadvantages - some terms need to be defined.

DEFINITIONS

Democracy: Derived from the Greek Demos (people) and kratia (power). Literally People-Power!

Representative Democracy: Candidates with manifestos, purporting to share the concerns of a section of a society, compete to represent a given constituency - usually geographically based. Once elected, representatives are supposed to follow their own consciences when making decisions - this is often referred to as Edmund Burke's Principle. In reality elected representatives may be expected to obey the whip of their party managers.

Delegated Democracy: Delegates are instructed by their electors, and are expected to express (and carry out) these instructions faithfully. There is little room for following the Burkeian Principle - or the party managers!

Direct Democracy: Unmediated by either representatives or delegates, decision-making is carried out face-to-face.

Cascade Democracy: Representatives or delegates are selected at the lowest tier of democracy by their constituents. Candidates for each next level of representation/delegation are chosen from and selected by their own peers.

Subsidiarity: The exercise of authority is carried out at the lowest practicable level, with minimal (if any) input from higher tiers of authority. We understand this to mean that each tier of decision-making is accountable solely to its constituents/electors.

COMPARISONS & CRITERIA

Six basic models of democratic practice (listed below) have been used to compare eight different criteria and their degree of effect on popular empowerment within each type, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each form of democracy.

  1. Size of constituency.
  2. Degree of influence by party machines.
  3. Whether the right of recall exists.
  4. Is there a direct mandate from electors?
  5. The effect of the number of tiers on the electorate.
  6. Where does ultimate control come from?
  7. The degree to which popular debate can have influence within the system.
  8. The amount of time required of us all for discussion and decision making.

REPRESENTATIVE (TOP DOWN)

NOMINAL CONTROL OF CENTRE THROUGH GENERAL ELECTIONS

REPRESENTATIVE (CASCADE)

EACH TIER ELECTS ONLY THE TIER ABOVE

REPRESENTATIVE (SUBSIDIARITY)

EACH TIER ANSWERABLE ONLY TO ITS OWN ELECTORATE

DELEGATE (CASCADE)

EACH TIER SENDS DELEGATES TO THE TIER ABOVE

DELEGATE (SUBSIDIARITY)

EACH TIER MANDATED INDEPENDENTLY

DIRECT (FACE TO FACE)

" The length of a meeting rises with the square of the number of people present. " - Eileen Shanahan

APPLICATIONS

The following diagram shows a possible application of the above models to various levels of governance - an example of Mixed Democracy. Note that this diagram does not represent our current thinking on devolving democracy.




TOWARDS A BETTER DEMOCRACY

This comparison exercise has avoided making referenda a category, since they can be used alongside any of the above. The problem with any referendum lies in who can call one and who frames the question(s). The six basic models outlined above clearly have merits and drawbacks. They may be combined in various combinations as shown in the structure diagram above.

We now recognise the limitations of even a good system of mixed democracy within an ultimately centralised 'Jacobin' state. Our current thinking is for a democracy based on confederations of local and particular associations, each with a level of autonomy fit for purpose. These bodies need to be based in the rich diversity of civil society - very local community groups and the like. These issues are explored on the next pages.