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Forum Post: Direct, participatory, consensus based democracy

Posted 2 years ago on July 9, 2012, 12:47 p.m. EST by francismjenkins (3713)
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. . . the more participants there are the more time and money is needed to set up good quality discussions with clear neutrally presented briefings. Also it is hard for each individual to contribute substantially to the discussion when large numbers are involved. For the system to respect the principle of political equality, either everyone needs to be involved or there needs to be a representative random sample of people chosen to take part in the discussion. In the definition used by scholars such as James Fiskin, deliberative democracy is a form of direct democracy which satisfies the requirement for deliberation and equality but does not make provision to involve everyone who wants to be included in the discussion. Participatory democracy, by Fiskin's definition, allows inclusive participation and deliberation, but at a cost of sacrificing equality - because widespread participation is allowed there will rarely be sufficient resources to compensate people who give up their time to take part in the deliberation, and so the participants tend to be those with a strong interest in the issue to be decided, and therefore will often not be representative of the overall population.[15] Fiskin instead argues that random sampling should be used to select a small but still representative number of people from the general public.[16][17]

Fiskin concedes it is possible to imagine a system that transcends the trilemma, but it would require very radical reforms if such a system is to be integrated into mainstream politics. To an extent, the Occupy movement attempted to create a system that satisfies all three desirable requirements at once, but at a cost of the resulting system being widely criticized for being slow and unwieldy.


According to the above cited article, direct democracy is defined as:

Direct democracy (or pure democracy)[1] is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives.[2] Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy. See Id.

Here's a link to the first of an eight part series on the democracy of ancient Athens.


The history of Athens is mixed, some good, some bad. Like all ancient civilizations of that era, they treated women as chattel, and slavery was commonplace. However, this should be read in temporal context & the potential benefits of direct democracy (along with its potential pitfalls) can still be explored by studying ancient Greece (notwithstanding the many aspects of ancient culture, which are offensive by modern standards). However, here's an example of what we're up against:

For example, James Madison, in Federalist No. 10 advocates a constitutional republic over direct democracy precisely to protect the individual from the will of the majority. He says, "A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."[9] John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said "Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage." Alexander Hamilton said, "That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity."[10] See Id.

Really, I see no reason to believe that protection of minority rights would be impossible under direct democracy, but insofar as the need for an anti-democratic mechanism to protect minority rights, our founders certainly had a valid point.

So I think we're forced by logic to admit a certain number of non-democratic concepts into our marketplace of ideas. For instance, if we like the protections granted by our Bill of Rights, and we do not believe that matters concerning civil liberties should be subjected to majority rule, then we're no longer talking about pure direct democracy, but rather a hybrid.

The only answer to this is a consensus based democracy, where oppression of minority rights is rendered impossible, by caveat of the requirement for unanimous consent. However, whether or not a consensus based democracy is viable in practice, is still an open question (and there's plenty of reasons to question the soundness of this idea, for instance, no mechanism for self-criticism, self selection, the creep of group think, etc.).



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5843) 2 years ago

Here's a model http://occupywallst.org/forum/amendment-for-a-democratic-congress/ of what a direct democracy could look like.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I'm convinced that even if it were somehow possible to effectively manage a country the size of the United States through a central governing structure, it would still be undesirable. Not that I oppose the idea of a national government, or even federal social welfare programs, but overall, I believe that society should be administrated locally (a federalist structure with a confederation of regions that cooperate to further their shared interests).