* Democracy: an idea whose time has come *


Richard Moore


There's been a lot going on since I got back from my tour. There are 
some very promising initiatives underway, regarding community 
democratic processes, some of which I've mentioned in posts and some 
I haven't. It's been hard to keep up. There are some very useful 
email dialogs going on between process innovators and community 
organizers in various places. There's even been some favorable 
interest in the proposal I posted earlier, the 'Community Empowerment 
Project' (http://cyberjournal.org/show_archives/?id=1222&lists=cj)

In the course of these conversations, I've had to reformulate (and 
refine) my ideas, based on who I've been communicating with. I'd like 
to share one particular 'formulation' that I posted to a 
democracy-theory list (edited slightly since).



 From history and from other observations I've learned that 
hierarchies cannot be tamed. Hierarchies have certain innate 
dynamics, and they always tend toward centralization of control, 
self-perpetuation, and aggrandizement. Part of this process involves 
the nature of organizational politics, and the emergence of cliques 
and networks within organizations. Within the aggrandizing 
organization arises an aggrandizing clique. In the case of a 
hierarchical government, that means we end up being ruled by an elite 
clique, overtly or covertly. Such has been the story of  civilization 
for its entire 6,000 year history.

The US provides a perfect example of these aggrandizing tendencies. 
The US Constitution defines a very devolved society. The individual 
states are very close to sovereign, with the powers of the federal 
government strictly limited..."Those powers not granted herein 
specifically to the federal government are hereby reserved to the 
states, or to the people themselves". Ever since then more and more 
power has been abrogated by Washington, and now we've finally reached 
the point where the Constitution itself has been all but abandoned.

This is why I cannot go along with those who advocate 'holarchy' as a 
solution to hierarchy. Holon systems are simply hierarchies that we 
hope will behave in a prescribed way. In order to make sure the holon 
rules are followed, we must centralize the policing of those rules. 
Hence, the central holon ends up with the potential power to distort 
the system so as to enhance its power further. And so it goes, always 
has and always will.

The core problem of democratic theory, in my view, is to find out how 
we can eliminate the need for hierarchy altogether.

I suggest that a good way to approach that question is to begin by 
asking it first at the local level: "Is it possible for a community 
to govern itself by direct democracy, without delegating 
decision-making authority to any mayor or  council?" If the answer to 
this question is 'No', then certainly direct democracy is not 
possible on any larger scale either. In that case, there is no way to 
eliminate hierarchy. Our only course is to try to tame it, and do a 
better job of it than did the Founding Fathers.

I have considerable reason to believe, however, that the answer is 
'Yes', that direct democracy is possible at the local level. There 
are 'consensus creating' tools, dialog processes, that have proven 
their effectiveness in small-group settings. These 'harmonization' 
processes enable ordinary people to move beyond adversarial thinking, 
and work together collaboratively to find creative and wise solutions 
that take everyone's concerns into account.

I am currently involved in several collaborations, seeking to make 
use of these dialog processes in various local communities. We 
believe it may be possible for these processes, used appropriately 
and inclusively, to awaken an ongoing sense of 'We the People' 
consciousness, where the community as a whole will be able to set its 
own agendas.

One of the mechanisms we are using has to do with the microcosm 
concept. If you gather twelve 'random' people -- a cross section of 
the community -- and give them an opportunity to dialog together 
creatively, the ideas and proposals they come up with are likely to 
resonate in the wider community. Using this and other mechanisms, 
over an extended period of time, we believe a 'sense of the 
community' is likely to converge out of the harmonization processes. 
More important, once achieved, the dialog processes can continue to 
maintain and evolve that 'collective consensus' over time, serving as 
the policy-making process for the community. The process of electing 
city officials would naturally be transformed under such a regime. 
Elections would become a matter of selecting people to administer the 
policies determined by the people themselves, on an ongoing basis.

I believe these are very important experiments. If they fail, then we 
will learn something useful about the obstacles that stand in the way 
of achieving a democratic society. If they succeed...the mind boggles 
at the potential consequences!  If such a self-governing community 
came into existence, in a modern society, I expect there would be 
lots of interest from community activists all over the world. 
Certainly the experiment would be repeated, in at least a few places, 
and the chances of success would be much higher with an available 
'working model' to look at. The more successes, the more widespread 
interest, and so on... a positive feedback  loop. All the while, of 
course, our collective understanding of how to 'do democracy' would 
be evolving.

The positive feedback loop would be accelerated by another dimension 
of this process: the enlightened initiatives we can expect from 
self-governing communities.  As a 'collective consensus' emerges, 
that consensus is around sensible, creative solutions to important 
community problems. When we look at places in South America where 
consensus processes have been used successfully, we often see cities 
that receive international acclaim for their urban quality of life, 
and their innovations.

Not only would individual communities transform themselves in 
creative ways, but such communities could be expected to network and 
to collaborate in creative ways as well. One can imagine direct 
relationships between urban areas and agricultural areas, benefiting 
both economically. Regional transformations would become feasible, 
with all the synergies that brings with it, and mechanisms would 
evolve for achieving regional democratic governance without 
delegation of power, without hierarchy.

Earlier I said:
         The core problem of democratic theory, in my view, is to
         find out how we can eliminate the need for hierarchy.

I believe that in this case the theory will be written after the 
fact, unless you can call my few paragraphs above 'a theory'. In any 
case, I believe  that hierarchy can only be abandoned by creating 
democracy from the ground up -- one way or another. I have faith that 
it is possible. I think it is an idea whose time has come.


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