[This is the 4th chapter to my first book Evolutionary Basic Democracy published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013. I was visiting my parents when writing it and have sweet memories of typing from my childhood’s dining table where, decades prior, relatives had held me accountable to my vegetables and there, decades later, I was trying to hold democracy accountable to the very same.]
Abstract: This chapter is best understood as a tale of two stories. The first half describes the type of foundational claim that places the origins of ‘modern’ democracy during the period of North Atlantic revolutions. Although a nod is given to ancient Athens it is not viewed as a legitimate democracy but rather a source of ideas for moderns to draw on. The second half of the chapter describes the arguments that see democracy on the horizon. The government and governance we call democracy has not yet arrived. And if it has, it has done so only in part. It must improve to be more democratic. The chapter demonstrates the contestability of democracy’s
origins and the anthropocentrism inherent in dominant understandings of democracy.
This chapter demonstrates that democracy’s dominant narratives are
inescapably human. For all but one example, nonhumans have no role
in the two narratives that we are going to look at. The first narrative takes
the revolutionary periods of the North Atlantic as the place of modern
democracy’s origins. Parts of democratic Hellas, usually ancient Athens,
gets a nod in this literature. But this nod is used to designate where certain
ideas came from and how philosophers like Edmund Burke, Alexis de
Tocqueville, Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill came to elaborate on them.
Modern democracy, while rooted in the ancient civilizations of Greece
and Rome, was propelled by the players, beliefs, and events of Europe in
the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Grounded by enlightenment optimism
about progress, liberty, and human rights, modern Europeans reinvented
their political, economic, and social institutions to reflect these new ideals. Indeed, they waged battle for these beliefs through a series of revolutions that would transform daily life and expectations for every social class. (Campbell, 2011: xi)
Although ancient Athens was erroneously thought to have been the first democracy it was not a model for modernity. Something new was needed. During the centuries leading up to the revolutions of the 1700s, the assembly typology promoting the participation of a type of ‘common man’ was distasteful for aristocrats and aspiring elites. Moral and logical wars ensued in Europe. These were inspired by the Greek and Romans and medieval lore. These recollections of shared experience culminated in triumphant revolutions that established democracy once and for all. This is the way that many speak of the rise of democracy itself. What this story does tell is one version of the evolution of a type of democracy for a specific set of times and spaces. It is not the story of humanity’s democracy.
The second narrative that we look at establishes the origins of democracy elsewhere. This literature recurrently nods to assembly and representative types of democracy – but scoffs at them too. How can Cleisthenic Athens or Paris in 1790 be considered democracies if their citizenries were limited, the franchise miniscule and violence widespread? Scholars that look to ancient democracies circumvent these critiques by stating ‘those were the times’. They then move to analysing ancient and impressive institutions. There are numerous theories, concepts and practices of democracy, each with their own moral ethos, that argue for the things that need to come. ‘For democracy to exist we need to implement this thing’ and ‘for democracy to exist we need to broaden that parameter’. I view this heuristic as democracy on the horizon’. These types of arguments keep us looking forward. Democracy is coming. The lady can be seen standing in the prow of her ever-nearing boat. We hope that she lands on our sometimes wretched shores. We worry that she might never land and remain, as some have said, only visible through the magnifying effect of a looking glass.
I think that it is clear at this juncture in the book that evolutionary basic
democracy (EBD) views democracy as a phenomenon, one that stretches
across vast times and spaces. What I demonstrate in this chapter is that
EBD’s wholesome look is unusual. The discourse of democracy has been
colonized by Eurocentric and then US-American empire. It remains dominated by certain times and places. Democracy is also stuck in a morass
of contemporary uncertainties which negatively affects current politics. The root of these problems is our uncertainty over what democracy for all humanity means. We have not been able to provide a definition that works
across all of time and space. Lady democracy might disembark, but only if
we can provide her with a scientific foundation to step on. That foundation
is something, as I argued in the Introduction, that does not exist.
Democracy born in revolution
There is no easy-to-define body of literature that specifically argues against evolutionary narratives. Rather, these kinds of arguments are dispersed across the literature. Logic dictates that if a foundational claim on democracy is being made in recent history it disqualifies previous claims. In this view, older democracies were preludes to democracy. They were something else.
The Introduction and Chapter 1 discussed the Grecian debates on democracy’s origin. These debates explain why this foundational claim is
wrong. This first half of Chapter 3 looks at claims founding democracy in the historical North Atlantic. It is in these times and places that modern
democracy was born. Some argue that this is the only relevant foundation
of democracy for contemporary times. Arguments from Wood (1969) and Campbell (2011), for example, place the birth of modern democracy with the US and French revolutions. Others see modern democracy as a product of the English revolution.
I take the French Revolution as a case study. But the US, English or Russian revolutions would work equally well. Some consider the French Revolution to be the ‘triumph of man’. For American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, by way of the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel and others, it was the Battle of Jena where the ideals of the French Revolution gained dominance in the early 1800s. It was a change of the old guard, a triumph of the many over the privileged few. It was the victory of modern democracy that the past two centuries have only come to build upon.
Weitman (1968) takes a unique approach regarding the French foundations
of democracy. Instead of claiming that the French Revolution posed as the cradle for later European democracies, or democracy itself in modernity, he asks why the Revolution turned toward democracy at all. Why not something else? One answer is probably because there were no other alternatives that had weight in the moral philosophies leading up to the revolution. Indeed, in our contemporary literature, democracy is considered to have no alternatives. Whatever it is, it is the best we have.
Commentators during and after the French Revolution recognize that
some achievements were made among its terror, violence and deaths.
Ideas in social, political and economic ideology were fermenting in the
1700s. Monarchs, the Catholic Church, and certain aristocrats, protected
businesses, as well as military structures came under increasing ethical
pressure from both elites and non-elites. Governing in the interest of the
elite and a disdain for ‘the common man’ became increasingly perceived
as fundamental injustices.
Parts of France in the 1790s and early 1800s underwent a series of policy shifts. Changes were made to what a democratic citizenry means. It was a place of innovation. It was also a place of danger. The guillotine is one reminder. French beginnings contrasted with English beginnings. The foundational narrative during the time of North Atlantic revolutions
is not homogeneous. Anglo–American liberal democracy is not the
dominant model of democracy for modernity. The French or European
approach is its rival. We have to, however, be careful with these kinds of
explanations because both the Anglo–American and French–European
approaches are subjective. It comes down to how an individual explains
each camp and, specifically, how this individual contrasts the two. Bourke (2008: 10) explains why the French Revolution, or its cognates, is argued to be a starting point for modern democracy:
Modern conceptions of democracy are for the most part static. Very often
they are ideologically programmatic too. There is a connection between
these two aspects of democratic theory. Static conceptions can serve the purpose of ideological definition by the very fact of their agreeable simplicity: they offer a snapshot – a frozen analysis – shorn of disagreeable complications. This kind of static analysis is a reversion to the earliest modes of political description in the Western tradition.
The ‘why’ of the foundation is clear: the revolution destroyed parts of
an increasingly unethical and unjust monarchy. Ensuing battles on pitch
or paper imbued certain ideals with more power. The elites of old fell.
‘Common man’ rose and a new system of elites gained footing. Women,
children, nature, religious and ethnic minorities, and other subalterns
were excluded. Many suffered. It is a story of a nexus point. Something
called democracy began with the French Revolution. But what exactly
came out of the Battle of Jena or its cognates? How did the ideals that
drove the revolution cement themselves under its authoritarian and
brutally violent aftermath? Wollstonecraft (1795) suggests that it was the
people throughout France and those outside of this State. They knew of
the ideals and of the violence that robbed them of their chance for flourishing in pluralist society. It was these people that protected the flame of democratic principles that burned on a delicate wick.
Fukuyama argues that the Napoleonic victory over monarchic Prussia
in 1806 solidified the principles of equality and liberty. But the meaning
of the two terms was fiercely debated during the revolutionary period.
Perhaps what the Battle of Jena did was solidify a commitment to these
vague ideals. States, after Jena, would not be able to work against the two principles. If they did, they would be held in contempt by those individuals that feel unequal. And by those individuals whose liberty is trodden on. The Battle of Jena was indeed a momentous occasion for parts of Europe. It helped to create awareness of certain principles that many hold dear for democracy. It empowered non-elites. And it emboldened resistance against most, if not all, forms of tyranny. The State, males, the Church, greedy bosses, aristocratic arses, and others of that vein became increasingly aware of the common person’s reproachful eye.
John Adams (the second president of the United States) had said, after
the onset of revolutions and uprisings in the early 1800s, that he did not
intend for this outcome when framing the constitution of the USA. He felt that it was the US–American revolution that acted as the watershed of democracy. It was responsible for inspiring the French Revolution and the subsequent revolts in many parts of Western Europe. I think he meant that he was sorry for the violence that came out of these revolutions and resistance movements. I am uncertain whether he lamented the fall of
reproachful institutions or individuals.
A useful story of how the foundational claim of the French Revolution
produced different interpretations comes from Irish philosopher Edmund Burke and British philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (O’Neill, 2007). We will contrast their positions on the revolution with the actions of Nicolas de Condorcet (Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet). This discussion helps to highlight the subjectivity of foundational claims to democracy in the revolutionary period – and any other period. Burke (1790) begins his description of the revolution in his letters and then in a more coherent position that he elucidates in the book Further Reflections on the French Revolution. The sentiments of liberty and equality were brewing in the hearts and minds of many French individuals leading up to their revolution. These were not different to the ones that English persons held in the middle and then later 1600s. The French, Burke argued, reacted too radically to what they viewed as the abhorrent excesses of the monarchy. And the monarchy acted pitiably when it fled Paris. Burke, in 1791, wanted to see an international coalition of monarchies against France. In short, it seems, the French seem to have done the revolution wrong. It produced Jacobins, terrorized much of the population and spread violence. The revolution should have been done gradually, in partnership with the monarchy, and in line with presumably ‘English’ sentiments.
Wollstonecraft (1795) approaches the revolution similarly. She argues
that the French began something remarkable. It was a push by an enlightened majority of individuals to create a stable state, one based on the
principles of the enlightenment such as the responsibility to protect the
weak. It was a rebellion against ‘unjust and cruel laws’ (Wollstonecraft,
1795: 8). Despite the good intentions of an increasingly educated body of
French citizens, it was violence that ruined their chances.
The rapid changes, the violent, the base, and nefarious assassinations, which have clouded the vivid prospect that began to spread a ray of joy and gladness over the gloomy horizon of oppression, cannot fail to chill the sympathizing bosom, and palsy intellectual vigour. To sketch these vicissitudes is a task so arduous and melancholy, that, with a heart trembling to the touches of nature, it becomes necessary to guard against the erroneous inferences of sensibility; and reason beaming on the grand theatre of political changes, can prove the only sure guide to direct us to a favourable or just conclusion. This important conclusion, involving the happiness and exaltation of the human character, demands serious and mature consideration; as it must ultimately sink the dignity of society into contempt, and its members into greater wretchedness; or elevate it to a degree of grandeur not hitherto anticipated, but by the most enlightened statesmen and philosophers. (Wollstonecraft, 1795: 6)
Condorcet (1795) shares the opinion with Wollstonecraft and Burke that the revolution was initially a triumph of enlightenment principles. Mathematical thinking, or logic, dealt superstitious ignorance a deathly
blow. The empowerment of women was a growing reality. These points
were agreed upon by the three thinkers. Condorcet was active in the politicking of the less violent period of the revolution. He seems to have
entertained some toleration for proposed violence against the monarchy
– a violent means to a democratic end? This was in stark contrast to Burke and Wollstonecraft who lamented and opposed violence of this sort. The historiography of Condorcet’s political actions shows that he was firmly against the wider and looser violence that followed the Girondin’s resistance to the Montagnards.1 Despite Condorcet’s intentions, the resulting belief in the revolution by the Jacobins and then Napoleon was that violence was a legitimate means for the imposition of democratic principles. Loyalists to monarchs, individuals intolerant of the violence that blind belief in radicalism spreads, monarchic states, and powerful aristocrats had to fall by sword or other means if democracy was to succeed. It is a different spin on this one foundational claim for modern democracy.
The approaches to explaining or understanding the revolution from Burke, Wollstonecraft and Condorcet establish three points. The first is that this one foundational claim of democracy is inescapably anthropocentric. Most foundational claims are. The second is that it is contested – there are numerous ways of explaining origination. Any other case study of democracy’s origins has this type of contestation. Some, for example, say that the French Revolution is a more democratic one than the English or American. Others say that it is less. Certain individuals link the French Revolution to ancient Athens. Others do not link it at all. The third point is that a number of explanations for this origin of democracy are inextricably European. They disregard most of the data from other times and spaces. These three points, if taken together, argue against the idea of an evolutionary democracy. This thing, democracy, is the product of specific and brilliant inventions that happened in specific times and places. It is the product of specific individuals and their thoughts and struggles. It is European. And it is something that an increasing number of thinkers heartily disagree with.
Democracy on the horizon
Despite the claims by others that democracy was born in Athens, France, the USA, England, the post-war ashes of Europe or elsewhere, there is a convincing counter-argument that deserves elucidation. It is the view that democracy has not yet arrived. Some might construct the discussion we will have below as the process of ‘democracy arriving’. In this narrative, humans have made numerous efforts to establish democracy but have failed in each regard. The fact that we do not know what democracy is plays a role in this thinking too. Because its definitions are varied we must take into account its diverse past, its many current manifestations and combine these to form a teleology for us to reach. Democracy then could not have come from the principles won at the Battle of Jena or in the Straits of Salamis.2 It is something that we are still building and trying to figure out.
Keane (2009), for example, argues about the future of monitory democracy. He describes this theory by differentiating it from assembly democracy and representative democracy. These previous forms of government and governance were efforts at democracy but could not achieve it due, in part, to their lack of accountability, transparency and anti-corruption. It was not common in ancient Athens or London in 1850 for the vast majority of individuals to participate in politics. Women and young property-less men had significant barriers to accessing politics. It was difficult to gain information about public taxes and to have much, if any, influence over who would represent you. The malaises of assembly and representative systems are well documented for contemporary times. Even though individuals are given a vote, it tends not to count for much. Even though constituencies are represented – it is not as if representation is wondrously effective.
From Keane’s perspective, democracy can exist only if it has a diverse collection of individuals, associations, assemblies and representations. These criteria must be held in check by multiple universes3 of monitorism.
From governing the self to global government there has been a remarkable increase for what I call the ‘new holy trinity’: accountability, transparency and anti-corruption. This trinity, for example, extends to media, business, public institutions, family life and university administration. The worry from Keane and others is that monitorism might be resisted by the enemies of democracy. That it will crumble in the face of elite opposition, the political and communal apathy of individuals, and the sober reality of how hard it is to achieve our collective aims. We are trying to innovate ways that will resolve the problems we have with assemblies and representation. We are trying to be better at monitorism. But will it be enough?
The British political theorist Carole Pateman and the now sadly late American political theorist Iris Marion Young argued, as early as the 1970s, that for democracy to exist it needs substantive participation. Over the past four decades arguments in this part of the literature state that the citizenry has to be much wider than it is. Recall that in the 1970s women throughout the ‘west’ still had not yet achieved the universal franchise; there were significant racist barriers for people of African, Latino and indigenous descent; and access to information from the government was much harder to come by. The point of entry into political voice for citizens has to extend past casting a ballot. Individuals and associations should have easier access to their representatives. And institutions need to operate on these principles of inclusion and participation. Wingenbach (2011) makes this point in his reconsideration of agonistic democratic theory. He argues that institutions should be founded on liberal agonism: a theory based on principles of capaciousness, inclusiveness, resistance and flexible foundations.
Pateman and Young’s work lead to arguments about the inclusion and participation of youth as members of the citizenry. Can we have democracy where teenagers below 18 years of age are not permitted to cast a ballot? Children and teenagers do often play a role in politics. They can visit politicians, write to them, make collective decisions in student unions, be filmed in advocacy videos and be seen at political rallies. But despite this recognition they are still informal members of the citizenry. Should they not, like tourists and non-residents, be given greater voice through a vote and the right to run for election?
The Australian political theorist Robyn Eckersley also has interesting things to say about participation, representation and the citizenry. A growing discourse, termed critical political ecology, is making a number of interesting arguments. It asks poignant questions. The various foundational
claims to democracy over the past two–and-a-half millennia are inescapably human. It is an assembly of people. Individual humans are represented. People form citizenries. But what about trees, streams and
brooks? And animals, ecosystems and oceans? If humans are animals, and we depend on nonhuman things for our survival, then are we not representing them too in our politicking? That is an interesting point that emerged over the past 50 years of increasingly popular environmental
politics. For democracy to exist we need to not only include the representation of nonhumans, but those humans that are too disabled
to represent themselves, and those humans yet to be born many future
generations from now.
Critical political ecology has seen practical manifestation in contemporary
politics. In 2008, the Constitution of Ecuador gave legal rights to nature. It is a system of public law that gives enforceable rights to nonhumans. When a human feels that a forest, animal or river has had their rights violated, humans act as their legal representatives. This constitution is also celebrated for its enshrinement of human and nonhuman right to
food. It raises a novel dimension of the rights that must be present if a
democracy is to work: pure water, healthy food and clean air should be
inviolable rights for any human and nonhuman.
Over the past 20 years greater focus on types of political participation has emerged. The emphasis is on how we can measure the quality of participation. Are there techniques that humans can use to improve the nature of collaboration, cooperation and communal decisions? Dryzek,
Belgique democratic theorist Didier Caluwaerts and English democratic
theorist Stephen Elstub argue that the third generation of deliberative or discursive democracy is that tool. Although humans are increasingly in the habit of using deliberation and discursive techniques to reach communal decisions we are unfortunately not that good at it. It takes a long time, compromises are rushed and the result is unsatisfactory. This is another reason why Seeley argued we have much to learn from how honeybees make their decisions. For democracy to exist, deliberation has to be more impressive. Politicians must refine their discursive techniques. So too should civil societies and other governing bodies. We should, like honeybees, be able to reach good decisions in much shorter amounts of time.
Individuals need to be capable of acknowledging the frailties and fallibilities of their own democracies. Australian political philosopher
Mark Chou (2011, 2012, 2013) points to how sacred democracy is today.
It is near blasphemy to speak of alternatives to democracy. Chou stresses
the need for individuals to understand the way their democracies are built and what risks their particular system poses to the maintenance of that democracy. In other words, we have to recognize that any good democracy carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Citizenries can vote a democracy into a monarchy. The division of power can be used to manipulate democratic institutions to create a fake system where citizens think they have a voice but in actuality do not. These are two examples of democide. There are many others. By recognizing these dangers, we become aware of them. Awareness leads to the mitigation of these democidal risks. It offers directions away from political apathy.
The democide angle brings the work of Finnish political theorist Lauri Rapeli into play. He is a mixed-methods thinker who uses empirical studies to establish his points. Rapeli has demonstrated that a majority of citizens are today lacking in even the most basic political and social knowledge. There are not many people that can name each individual that compose the cabinet or executive of their respective governments. Those who can are seldom able to identify which portfolios these politicians hold. It is even harder to keep track of who represents your interests at the local, provincial/state, federal and multinational levels of government. A larger portion of individuals in federal systems are able to identify their direct representatives but the numbers are not exactly promising. What Rapeli’s work points to is a fundamental problem with the knowledge that individuals should have to be able to better participate in the act of self-government. When reading his works I felt that we should increase non-partisan political education in compulsory schooling and then do something a little crazier: add standardized knowledge-testing as a requisite for voters. If we tie this in with more robust ‘vote-compasses’4 then we should have the makings of a slightly more impressive electoral body.
The final thinker that I would like to include in this overture is the British social theorist David Beetham. He has argued for a remarkable change to happen if we are serious about realizing an actual democracy. His point is that parliament should be separated from political parties. Parliament or congress is a building. Political parties and politicians come and go but the building stays: it is an institution embodied by a physical structure. For Beetham it is about creating space between parliament and the people that do politics under its roof (this includes the senate and the executive for those systems that have them). If there is a separation, what role does this space play? Can other actors be brought into parliament and, if so, what will they do?
For democracy to exist that space in between politicians and parliament
should be filled by citizens, bureaucrats and experts. We can attach a body of randomly selected citizens to mirror legislatures and administrations. The role of these individuals will be to participate, communicate and deliberate. A body of bureaucrats, serving parliament and not a government or political party, would act as investigative accountants,
journalists, ethics managers and any other useful function. This could
result in the greater monitorism of politicians and an increase in their
discursive abilities. Finally, universities can bid for a space in parliament
to conduct research, consult for politicians and bureaucrats, and, in partnership with the citizens and bureaucrats, propose cutting-edge ideas for legislative consideration.
I too have a role to play with regard to this heuristic of ‘democracy on the horizon’. My opinion may change after we achieve a scientific definition
of democracy. But for now I maintain that we cannot achieve our democratic aims without establishing the following conditions: that politicians should undergo standardized education just as doctors, plumbers, dentists, electricians, lawyers, carpenters, teachers, and philosophers do. If a citizen is interested in running for election he or she should undergo a ‘politician’s degree’ and swear a Socratic Oath or something in similar vein to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors swear. This would ingrain a common code of ethics against which politicians can be measured by a type of professional review committee: this could help to keep politicians more honest. It would be one more area evaluating the quality of political performance. The educational aspect would help prepare leaders for the act of governing. It would instil a new level of performance expectations. For those who graduate from the degree, but are not elected, they will be in stronger positions to understand what those in office are doing – or should be doing. It could increase monitory democracy.
Politicians holding positions in cabinet (executive) should not at the same time be expected to represent their constituencies. Politicians who are to hold specific portfolios should be directly elected by the citizenry and not by a political party. Is it too much to ask that individuals take notice of who is going to govern one or more of their most valued services? Should the decision of who will be minister or secretary of education or health not come from voters? During general elections it would be a boon to know who is running for which portfolio and how their platforms differentiate. The different dynamics of having individually elected members in the cabinet is interesting to think about. Would this destroy the capacity for representative rule in the way we know it today? I think that it would improve the quality of governance as politicians holding portfolios would strive to perform for their public service rather than to tow the party line. That being said, these types of ministers would still suffer from the politicking that occurs between parties in parliament. Making unscrupulous deals and breaking electoral promises are better mitigated through Beetham’s proposals. By directly electing portfolio-holding politicians we are also enabling individuals to run for the only purpose of representing their constituencies, not to climb the political ladder and juggle several responsibilities at the same time.
There is also the question of taxation. Citizens are typically not in the strongest position to determine how much they will be taxed. They have
little say in how their economies will be run, and, fundamentally, where
their tax moneys will be spent. This includes how tax moneys are spent.
It is common for individuals to pay sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, airport taxes and various contractual taxes like estate or capitalgains
taxes (i.e. when a property transfers from one person to another). It is uncommon for us to know exactly how much tax we have spent in a calendar year – especially in regards to sales taxes. It is equally uncommon
for us to know where our tax contributions are being held, who decides where to use them, how they are to be used and what they are in the end buying or paying off. I am uncomfortable with the idea that my tax money might be spent on a poorly performing politician’s salary, that it might be used to buy munitions that kill people, that it might be used to subsidize polluting industries, that it might be used to help cater overly expense multinational summits (why not serve a bowl of rice, fufu, or beans to these representatives as the majority of people in the world subsist off these staples?) or that my tax money might be used to pay for the torture of extrajudicial prisoners.
Democracy cannot be achieved unless a capacious and inclusive citizenry can decide on and verify their taxes. My proposition would be for us to develop a system that associates a serialized number to each unit of currency we spend in taxes. We could use a ‘tax file number’ for identification. For sales taxes, hardware would need to be installed in stores. And a chip would need to be placed inside a type of ‘tax card’ which
we would touch during a transaction. That would associate our number with the sale and the amount of sales tax paid. This money would then be serialized and registered on our tax profile. That would necessitate the
development of a software system that holds our ‘tax profiles’. We could
log-in to this system online to see how much we have been taxed, where
the money is held, where it went and who signed off on it. With this kind
of profile in place, we could put exclusions on our taxes. In other words,
I could decide that my money is to be spent only buying equipment for
schools, paying a teacher’s salary, subsidizing medicine for free medical
or dental clinics and paying for the rice that I think should be eaten by
our representatives at the G20. Despite its many logistical hurdles and
political problems, this system definitively establishes us, the citizenry,
as the paymasters of the government. It brings us closer to a number of
ideals in contemporary democracies.
We are continuously on the cusp of getting to democracy or being democratic. Many voice whether this will be an interminable process.
They ask whether we are going to move from achievement to achievement
indefinitely. We ask whether we can ever become a non-violent citizenry, or whether we will reach a point of singularity in the theory and practice of democracy. To be clear, I do not think that my model or its underlying theory will be this singularity. It will, rather, provide a first foundation of democracy. This foundation will need to be built upon. It will be investigated in a multitude of ways to challenge its underlying logic. And we will need to figure out where to go from that first foundation to the next and better one.
The heuristic of ‘democracy on the horizon’ that I use in this part of Chapter 3 is subjective. Others reading this work might argue that the thinkers I cite do recognize democracy and are not claiming that it will not exist until their views are achieved. In this light, the evidence that I offer argues for better democracy to exist, for democracy to function more effectively, or for democracy to survive. It is a portrayal of an evolutionary story. We try to understand previous or current flawed democracies. We try to make them better. Moral judgements drive this process. We think that democracy will lead to a better place.
There are, however, still those individuals who exclaim ‘what democracy
is this?’ They are the many individuals in apathy, in disillusion and disdain over this forbidden forest that ostensibly brings benefits to the people on its edges. ‘Democracy does not exist until we achieve x, y, and z’ is no different from ‘democracy can be made better if we achieve a, b, and c’. This is because I, and no one else in this world, can possibly know what democracy is. It is a variation on the case of SchrÖdinger’s cat. Democracy has existed and evolved for a long time or it has not. It exists or it does not. It is alive or dead or somewhere in between. The only way to know is to open a door. But in our case we first need to build the room that holds the door. We still need to stuff it with postfoundational democracy data (the cat). Every time we run an analysis on this data it is an act of ‘closing and opening the door’. I suspect that, at the end, we will find the cat alive with a long and complicated story to tell: democracy was a manifestation of altruism which began in its most basic form during the dawn of life. It came into the complexity we see it in today due to a myriad of factors. Democracy was not founded by the French, English or American Revolutions. Basic democracy has been with humans all along. We have just been enacting it in different ways depending on which spaces, times, agents and constructs we look to.
This point is not meant to disparage achievements that we think are central to this thing called ‘democracy’. But we cannot definitively say that they are achievements for democracy until we know what democracy is. As I stated in the Introduction, the work is about recontextualizing democratic things. It is about situating the dominant narratives alongside the subaltern and unknown narratives in the grand planetary picture of democracy across time and space. It is meant to enhance the real victories and dispel the pretenders.
1 The Girondins were a political faction that felt, in the early 1790s, that the revolution was proceeding too quickly. The Montagnards were also a political faction during that time and were, we think, the drivers of radicalism during the revolution. The Montagnards were associated with the Jacobins. When the Girondins tried to resist the radicalism of the Montagnards, they were met with furious and murderous violence. Historians argue that this is one possible starting point for the period many today know as the Reign of Terror.
2 A battle in 480 BCE between an alliance of Greek states and the Persian
Empire happened around these Straits. This battle is regarded as a turning
point for the history of democracy as this victory demonstrated the strength
of democratic Hellas over despotic Persia.
3 Keane (2009) uses the term ‘pluriverse’ to make this point.
4 A vote-compass is a tool designed to increase ‘electoral literacy’. It helps
people who do not know much about politics to identify where they are
situated in relation to every political party’s platform. It aids individuals to
cast better votes for whatever election a vote-compass is being used in.
Articulations of democracy Boundaries of democracy Breeds of democracy Characterizations of democracy Classifications of democracy Collections of democracy Conceptions of democracy Concepts of democracy Conceptualisations of democracy Conceptualizations of democracy Constructions of democracy Contours of democracy definitions of democracy Delineations of democracy Demarcations of democracy democracy democrat democratic Democratic design Democratic innovation Democratic innovations Democratic Theories democratic theory Democratical democratization descriptions of democracy Designs of democracy Details of democracy Determinations of democracy Divisions of democracy Elucidations of democracy Exemplifications of democracy Explanations of democracy Explications of democracy Expositions of democracy Families of democracy Figures of democracy Formalisations of democracy Formalizations of democracy forms of democracy Frames of democracy Groups of democracy Ideals of democracy Ideas of democracy Ideations of democracy Interpretations of democracy kinds of democracy meanings of democracy Models of democracy Modes of democracy Molds of democracy Moulds of democracy Number of democracy Numbers of democracy Orders of democracy Outlines of democracy Patterns of democracy Profiles of democracy Representations of democracy Schemes of democracy Sets of democracy Sorts of democracy Species of democracy Structures of democracy Styles of democracy theories of democracy types of democracy