The Problem: Exclusive Democracy

“… . Among other things …  wonder why it is that politicians so often fail to serve the interest of their class or of the groups with which they are personally connected.  Politically speaking, the [person] is still in the nursery who has not absorbed, so as never to forget, the saying attributed to one of the most successful politicians that ever lived: ‘What the business [leaders] do not understand is that exactly as they are dealing in [assets] so I am dealing in votes”.

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) – Joseph A. Schumpeter HarperCollins, Publishers – Third Edition (2008)

Exclusive Democracy, our current “top-down” form of democracy, has evolved into a political system that generates highly polarized citizens, highly polarized political parties, and highly polarized government.  Exclusive Democracy has, for example, served to continually widen the inequality chasm.  The rich are becoming richer as the standard of living of the populace stagnates or diminishes.  Exclusive Democracy has not evolved to consistently include the needs of all the people.  Are we creating a new class of citizens?  Call it the “minimum wage“ class.

The increasingly evident needs of the populace are surpassing the governance capabilities of exclusive democracy.  In other words, exclusive democracy has not adapted to the changing world.  It opens the inclusivity door occasionally, but is not intent on being, or trying to be, all-inclusive in a meaningful timeframe.  

Following are three evident examples of exclusivity in action within democracies today :

  • Bicameral parliamentary political systems typically present as exclusive. The House of Lords oversees the House of Commons and has the power to veto policy presented for consideration by the commoners.
  • Multi-party political systems typically include political parties that each stake out their exclusive “territory” on the political continuum. Policy formation by each party thereby is biased in the favour of the political leanings of that party – exclusivity while that party is in power.
  • And, the most damaging evolvement evident in democracy today: With the purpose being to win the next general election, the exclusive formation of party policy by the political party “elite”. Today voters tend to vote for a party through their elected representative. Generally, the elected representatives no longer deliver the voice of the voters that elected them.

Exclusive Democracy – a broken system

Exclusive Democracy has not evolved to consistently include, or make an attempt to functionally recognize, the needs of all of the people all of the time. As an example, are we creating a new class of citizens – call it the “minimum wage “ class – as the former “middle class” is hollowed out and the increasing economic inequality becomes more evident and the left-behind more vocal and militant in their protests.

A principal intention of democracy is to have communication flow from the people to government, where expressed needs of the people will be turned into national policy and “laws of the land”.  Unfortunately, the political parties, in their overwhelming need to be in power, have reversed the voter communication process.  Whereas the elected representatives were to carry the message from their constituents, those representatives now deliver the party elite’s exclusive platform to the voters.  Results of this outcome include a widening inequality gap, ghettoization of societal segments, and the stagnation of the well-being of a large segment of the populace.  The ever-widening standard of living differentials have become starkly evident to the populace.  Desperate people are easily targeted by unscrupulous politicians who have autocratic tendencies rather than the pursuit of equality.  Extant examples of encroaching autocracy are identifiable in the western democracies. 

Party Politics

The Era of Exclusive Democracy is on a normal evolutionary path which leads to ultimate extinction.  Responsibility for this evolutionary extinction lies largely at the feet of the political-party system.  Not only are the parties fighting each other for dominance, but segmentation within parties also often further complicates the governance process.  Meanwhile, under-employed elected legislators twiddle their thumbs having been given their marching orders from the party’s elite; with no dissent wanted or expected. 

Additionally, human rights and other issues, have not been adequately addressed, if addressed at all. Fortunately, with information flow increasing via the internet, aided by communications advances and social media, a wider swath of the populace has become aware of the actions and deficiencies of government. A positive outcome of this evolution stems from the ever-increasing willingness of the citizens to “take to the streets” in protest – an attempt to wrest away from the political parties the control of information flow; and to be included in policy deliberations.

The Era of Exclusive Democracy is on a normal evolutionary path which leads to ultimate extinction.  Responsibility for this evolutionary extinction lies largely at the feet of the political-party system.  Not only are the parties fighting each other for dominance, but segmentation within parties also often further complicates the governance process.  Meanwhile, under-employed elected legislators twiddle their thumbs having been given their marching orders from the party’s elite; with no dissent wanted or expected. 

Let’s take a moment to clarify the usage of ”elite” in this document. A definition from the Oxford Dictionary states, Elite – a “group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society, especially on account of their wealth or privilege – ‘the country’s governing elite’.  Or, from the author, a group of people seen as having the most power and influence over a political party, wealth, or privilege, notwithstanding. Regardless, these are the folks that “call the shots” on behalf of the “rest of us”.  This practice is not democratically acceptable or sustainable.

The elites suffer built-in biases against the “rest of us”.  Amongst their biases, their presumed belief that citizens at large are not suited to participate in the process of policy formation –

“Perhaps the most enduring … charges [are] that: most people are incapable of participating in government in a meaningful or competent way because they lack the necessary knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, experience, or character.

Encyclopedia Brittanica

This notion does little to endear the party elite to the evolving voting citizens, or to a constructive political process –  a certain recipe to produce division and foment disruption in the population.

Politics have become party centric whereas democracy demands people centric focus.  In our evolving world, dissent and argument by the populace is coming out of the closet.  Call it public debate.  Debate that leads to inclusion and resolution.  Recognition of this natural process provides the entrée to a new political era via evolution to an inclusive democracy system of governance.

It seems that many voters have succumbed to the elite proclamation of unsuitability.  Do the voters ever determine the position of a constituency contender on issues important to the constituency?  Does the contender ever put the constituency ahead of the party?  Not often enough, I think.  But not to belabour the discussion about the political parties, I pass the ball to Steve Almond, a Cognoscenti contributor.  His 2018 article, “What If We Got Rid of Political Parties?”  addresses the question in this quote: 

“… In fact, political prejudice has become our most accepted form of bigotry. Back in the 1950s, only 10 percent of voters had negative feelings toward the opposing party.  That number now stands at 90 percent. What today’s voters see is not a candidate, or a set of policy proposals, but a party affiliation …  a political label …, a symbolic color …But imagine a world without such labels.”

What If We Got Rid of Political Parties? October 30, 2018 Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor

Exclusive Democracy is polarizing by definition – the battle between the warring parties is never-ending and extends to the populace.  It is like a “civil war” using words as weapons, and more recently extremists who foment disruption.  Political parties bring polarization, and often paralysis, angst, childishness, egomania, and too often downright incivility to the legislative process.  The two-dimensional ideologic left-right continuum labeling regimen, divides intentionally.  It establishes the boundaries of the shouting match, which is absent focus on policy formation and any sense of the well-being of all people and the nation.

Human Rights

It is somewhat difficult to accept that human rights could remain a battleground in the political party elitist war.  However, the parties engaged in the battle seem to differ on many key issues the populace would have little difficulty agreeing upon.  Examples include: 

  • Education – Universal free perpetual education programs would generationally adjust the standard of living playing field.
  • Bigotry – Most people agree systemic bigotry, including racial and religious, is extant in most countries. 

There are many issues that could be listed here including human induced climate change, environmental risks that threaten life on our planet.  Others include abortion, sexual identity and orientation, gender equality, senior’s rights, the rights of the disabled and people with special needs, and universal opportunity to prosper. Many of these issues are not addressed because political parties perceive certain issues, if raised, can harm their electability.  This really does shine a cowardly exclusionary light on political parties generally and exclusive democracy particularly.  

Problem Summary

The principal intention of democracy is to have communication flow from the people to government where the needs and aspirations will be prioritized and become national policy.  Unfortunately, the political parties, in their overwhelming need to be in power, have reversed the voter communication process.  Whereas the Members of Parliament were to carry the message from the voters, those representatives now deliver the party platform to the voters.  The resulting polarization of parties, along ideological lines, has, for example, created an inequality gap in society which manifests in ever-widening standard of living differentials which are evident to the populace, and not happily so.

Additionally, human rights, and other issues, that have not been adequately addressed, if addressed at all, have found a voice.  Broader based education and communications advances have evolved such that a wider swath of the populace has become aware of the actions and deficiencies of government.  A positive outcome of this evolution stems from the ever-increasing willingness of the citizens to “take to the streets” in protest – an attempt to wrest from the political parties the control of information flow.

“Fanaticism is the danger of the world, and always has been, and has done untold harm.  I might almost say that I was fanatical against fanaticism” 

Bertrand Russell.

As control begins to slip from the political party elites, the extinction of Exclusive Democracy is hastened.  It would be unwise to not address the void created.  Witness the increasing number of autocracies, and autocratic initiatives, around the world. 

The Uncommon Bad

“… Without voluntary adherence to a set of common notions about right and wrong, daily life would be insufferable.  We would be living in a jungle where only the strongest, cleverest, and most wary could hope to survive.  This would not be a society.  It wouldn’t even be a civilization because there would be no civility at its core.”

The Future of Science (1959), p. 79

A sunset over a city

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Sun Sets on Exclusivity