Larken Rose: Ya Gotta Vote!

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31 Responses

  1. Yoram,

    This is excellent! Thank you. I will pass it around. Here is a piece I wrote that delivers the same message: “In Love With Democracy.”

    http://www.intrepidreport.com/archives/14390

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  2. Hi Arthur,

    Thanks for the link – well written article, including the justified criticism of the well-meaning Moyers. Two thing are missing, IMO, however.

    First is an explanation for why elections do not generate a democracy. To some extent this is an absurd demand since it seems that the burden of proof should be on electoralists to explain how their system generates democracy. No serious attempt to do so has ever been carried out, as far as I am aware. Yet, since power asserts the tie between elections to democracy, the burden of proof does tend to fall on those skeptical of elections, as always the demands of those assailing established power are much higher than on those supporting it.

    Second, a credible alternative to electoralism has to be offered. I know that you do offer alternatives elsewhere in your writing, but some short description of your proposed solution would have made the criticism more effective, I believe.

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  3. Yoram,

    Thank you for your excellent critique. Two important points that I will keep in mind for the future.

    Arthur D. Robbins

    P.S. I just figured out IMO!

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  4. >The burden of proof should be on electoralists to explain how their system generates democracy.

    “Democracy” (at least in its Athenian incarnation) included two forms of equal liberty — isonomia and isegoria. The first form translates roughly into (numerical) equality in determining the laws that we are governed by. In the 5th century this was achieved via OMOV (or, more accurately, one male citizen, one vote) and in the 4th century via the votes of a statistically representative sample.

    The other form of equal liberty — the right to address other citizens — is much harder to achieve in large poleis. It clearly doesn’t translate into the right of individual persons as the resulting cacophany would be unintelligible and would privilege those capable of powerful speech acts. So that leaves the aggregated representation of interests/perspectives and that’s where “electoralism” comes in (along with direct initiative votation and a pluralistic media that runs on market, rather than oligarchic principles).

    Personally I thought Rose’s cartoon narrative had no intellectual value, just the usual tired cliches and conspiracy theories. The music was even worse, although it’s a cheap way of plugging a book.

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  5. Keith,

    A room filled with people debating the issues, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing:

    For you: cacophony;

    For me: democracy.

    On which subject Acropolis Books has just released an e-book of mine. “Democracy Denied: The Untold Story” is based on Part II of “Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: The True Meaning of Democracy.” I have added a chapter on Athens and written a new introduction and a new conclusion. It can be found at your local Amazon store. Comments and criticisms greatly appreciated.

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  6. >A room filled with people debating the issues, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing.

    Arthur, if we extrapolate estimates of the Athenian numbers (200 speakers out of 6,000 present at the Assembly), then a citizen body of 30 million would give rise to 1,000,000 speakers. That sounds pretty cacophonous to me, hence the need to aggregate speakers into interest groups. Political parties attempt to do this, albeit somewhat approximately, and when citizens vote for one as opposed to another, they are exercising their isonomia in order to select their preference from the various offerings of isegoria. As for the “none of the above” trope, this is a consequence of the FPTP electoral system and the median voter theorem, not the puerile conspiracy theory outlined in the cartoon. A single principle (democracy) will take on very different incarnations depending on the size of the polis.

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  7. Keith,

    1,000,000, that is small change. Let us say we have 10,000 assemblies around the country. That would be a mere hundred participants per assembly. Where is the cacophony? Currently there are 13,506 school districts in the United States. Turn them into local assemblies debating national issues and you have democracy.

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  8. Arthur, we debated your plan before; where sortinistas would take issue with you is that you still only have one voice in 1,000,000 (and one vote in 30 million) once aggregation is taken to the (UK) national level. So there’s no reason that any rational person would bother to take any interest in mass “democracy”. Not so with the school districts, where they are only concerned about their own local schools.

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  9. While I agree that it is essential to have smallish deliberative groups to overcome rational ignorance (or achieve what Jeremy Bentham called “interest aptitude”), I think there IS a way to allow ALL who wish an opportunity to speak. Imagine a modified online comments board… Anybody who wishes can post a comment. His or her comment will be displayed to a random sample of the allotted decision makers. Each decision-maker will see a random set of comments…and can highlight those that seem especially useful to share with other members. this combines equal opportunity for all to speak with a natural filter…all randomly and equally applied. I argue that the benefit of Isegoria is not merely the feeling of participation by those who wish to participate but the opportunity for the randomly selected decision-makers to learn from the diffuse knowledge of the society. In other words isegoria is a collective good (benefits good decision making) as much or more than it is an individual good or right.

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  10. Terry,

    The problem is that it then ceases to be a form of equal liberty, as which speech acts are privileged is down to entirely random factors (so it’s equal [minimal] chance as opposed to equal opportunity). It may have epistemic value (although there are other ways of establishing cognitive diversity), but only a tiny number of people will benefit from the sense of participation and the liberty will not be equally available to all who wish to exercise it. We do need to take the problem of scale very seriously.

    PS have you read Nadia Urbinati’s new book? She argues that the emphasis on epistemic factors by deliberative democrats is a disfiguration of democracy.

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  11. Terry,

    Encouraging people to submit their inputs in the unrealistic hope that it would come to the attention of a decision maker is not a promising way to go. Comments of this nature would be off handed – uninformed and unconsidered – since the investment-to-reward ratio is astronomical. Like voters, the commenters would likely be a very unrepresentative self-selected group of people and easily swayed by slogans and manipulative campaigns of disinformation.

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  12. Arthur,

    There is no getting around the fact that in a society of millions the impact of the average citizen on society as a whole will be very small. Participationists tend to see that as a problem to be (unconvincingly) solved.

    Instead, this fact should be seen as an opportunity that allows, if exploited well, for most citizens to enjoy good quality public policy without having to keep worrying about the many, many decisions that are needed to produce this policy.

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  13. Yoram,

    >There is no getting around the fact that in a society of millions the impact of the average citizen on society as a whole will be very small

    Exactly. In extended and populous states isegoria can only be achieved by aggregating interests via diverse political parties and pluralistic and competitive media. In the UK there is intense competition in both the broadsheet and tabloid press and this has challenged the hegemony of political class isegoria, especially on issues like immigration and the EU. Prior to UKIP, the representation of the views of ordinary working people has been largely through the tabloid press. I know this will stick in the craw of those who think the media are the playthings of the rich ‘n powerful but, if you ask (say) Lord Hollick, he would confirm that his attempt to swing the Express towards his own views under Rosie Boycott’s editorship was a complete failure. Working people buy the Sun because they like it, and it represents their political views, and Murdoch is little more than a slave to public opinion. I know their long-standing political editor Trevor Kavanagh quite well and he bitterly regrets his act of hubris in claiming that it was “the Sun wot won it”, as there is no evidence the Sun played a causal role in the results of the 1992 election. Political parties play a more important isegoria role in a PR-based political system. Isegoria cannot be achieved by individual speech acts in large polities — that is entirely anachronistic.

    >the commenters would likely be a very unrepresentative self-selected group of people.

    Yes, and that would be even more the case in a small group of allotted conscripts.

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  14. Keith,

    Perhaps “aggregating interests through political parties” is good (or bad) and inevitable in any free society, but you are stretching the concept of isegoria beyond the breaking point in trying to fit the platform of a party (generally drafted by the party elite, etc.) into that principle. They really have nothing to do with each other. Indeed isegoria as an INDIVIDUAL good is INEVITABLY reduced to near meaninglessness when there are millions of possible speakers. But it still has great value to the allotted body that (by random division) can screen vast amounts of testimony and possibly glean key concepts or facts that will improve the quality of their decisions. It would certainly be possible to require those wishing to “speak” to take some meaningful effort (not merely arbitrary hurdles, but rather go through a fact-checking process, etc.) to avoid completely uninformed troll comments.

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  15. Terry,

    >Indeed isegoria as an INDIVIDUAL good is INEVITABLY reduced to near meaninglessness when there are millions of possible speakers.

    Yes, individual isegoria is, as Yoram pointed out, impossible in large extended poleis — deliberative and epistemic democrats are trying to recreate an anachronism (see Nadia’s new book). The problem with political parties is not that policies are drafted by an elite, but that FPTP electoral systems are unresponsive to the public voice, so elites are not constrained by the preferences of the demos. As for the role of the media, it’s noteworthy that Nadia reserves her bile for Italy, where Berlusconi has/had a near monopoly. I understand that the US has problems with local media monopolies — not so in the UK where there is huge competition. The fear of the political class for readers of the Sun and the Mail indicates the important role of the media in isegoria. This has led to the closure of the (hugely popular) News of the World and the attempt by the Leveson Enquiry to shackle the remainder of the tabloid press, leaving the field clear for the Guardian and other forms of ruling class isegoria to dominate the field. This is further complicated by the Leftist illusion that the attraction of the masses to right-wing tabloids is an indication of the false consciousness induced by the cultural hegemon (Gramsci’s hi-falluting term for the blob). Rudi Dutschke’s call for the working class to replace bourgeois isegoria with their own endogenous voice has fallen on deaf ears, so we need to redouble our efforts to create genuine competition in the marketplace of ideas, rather than to resort to anachronistic calls for individual isegoria.

    >It would certainly be possible to require those wishing to “speak” to take some meaningful effort (not merely arbitrary hurdles, but rather go through a fact-checking process, etc.)

    Yes, that is the priority of epistemic and deliberative democrats, and could be taken verbatim from the Leveson proceedings. But these concerns are anti-democratic and alien to Athenian sensibilities, who would have been appalled at any such constraint on the thorubos of the masses.

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  16. >These concerns are anti-democratic and alien to Athenian sensibilities, who would have been appalled at any such constraint on the thorubos of the masses.

    “Their policy is also excellent in allowing even the worst people to speak. For if the good men were to speak and make policy, it would be splendid for the likes of themselves but not so for men of the people (demotikoi). But as things are, any wretch who wants to can stand up and obtain what is good for him and the likes of him” (Old Oligarch, 1.6)

    That, for better of worse, is isegoria and (in the modern context) is the role of the tabloid press (not the idealised and constrained Habermasian deliberator). Whether or not the opinions so generated survive considered scrutiny is the responsibility of the allotted sample of the people.

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  17. Keith,

    Much that is of value in life cannot be measured or counted. The many psychological, emotional and social benefits of speaking and listening to ones peers on subjects of import in a group setting is one of them.

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  18. Keith,

    Much that is of value in life cannot be measured or counted. The many psychological, emotional and social benefits of speaking and listening to ones peers on subjects of import in a group setting is one of them.

    I left out the most important: intellectual. J.S. Mill makes a strong case for the role of government in shaping the character and intellect of the citizenry.

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  19. Undeniably true, but only of interest to psychologists, not democratic theorists.

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  20. Keith,

    Interesting response. It is true that I am a psychologist. It is also true that I have written intelligently on the subject of democracy. If you are a “democratic theorist,” then perhaps I am a “democratic practitioner.” I believe the planet needs true democracy and I am doing what little I can to try and bring that about.

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  21. Arthur,

    J.S. Mill was no democrat. As a liberal moral philosopher his prime concern was freedom, not equality. Democratic theorists have to balance the two elements of equal liberty and it’s a tough call. Whilst reference to the principles of Athenian democracy are valuable, appeals to re-establish the institutions are, on the whole, anachronistic. It’s no coincidence that the only institution that has survived the transition to large poleis is the randomly-selected jury, as statistical representativity scales quite well. So by all means appeal to the principles of “true democracy”, but the $64K question is how to convert the principles into concrete institutions, whilst maintaining the precarious balance between liberty and equality for all. The cartoon that led to this post contributes nothing to this endeavour.

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  22. Keith,

    “J.S. Mill was no democrat.”

    True. He was an elitist to his bones and definitely no fan of democracy. Yet he had some important insights into the relationship between self-governance and character development.

    “A government is to be judged,” he says, “by its action upon men, … by what it makes of the citizens, and what it does with them; its tendency to improve or deteriorate the people themselves…” Completely popular government, he concluded “promotes a better and higher form of national character, than any other polity whatsoever.”

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  23. Absolutely, Mill was a first class moral philosopher and educationalist, unfortunately the topic of this forum is equality.

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  24. Keith,

    “Absolutely, Mill was a first class moral philosopher and educationalist, unfortunately the topic of this forum is equality.”

    Nothing unfortunate about it. It turns out that true democracy is the only form of government that establishes political equality. If that is what you are interested in.

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  25. True democracy sounds to me like two words, rather than a form of government. If it’s a reference to the proposals in your book, then we’ve been over that in depth before.

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  26. Keith,

    Fair enough. “Democracy is the only form of government that establishes political equality.”

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  27. Tautological statements are, by definition, true. Unfortunately they tell us nothing about the world, only the nature of language.

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  28. Keith,

    No tautology here. Democracy is a form of government. Political equality is one of its attributes.

    Arthur D. Robbins

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  29. Arthur,

    >Democracy is a form of government.

    It would be more accurate to say that democracy is a political ideology (Hansen, 1999) that includes the following desiderata:

    1. The people (demos) have power (kratos). (Kratos) is derived from the Greek for [strength of] “arm” and refers to voting (by raising of the arm) as opposed to (verbal) affirmation, as in the Spartan assembly and Roman (comitia).

    2. The right to advise the people (isegoria) is open to “he who wishes” (ho boulomenos), irrespective of wealth, birth and social standing.

    3. All citizens have equal (numerical) right to make laws, irrespective of wealth, birth and social standing (isonomia).

    4. All citizens have equal right to magisterial office, irrespective of wealth, birth and social standing. In small poleis this was generally by rotation, allowing all citizens to rule and be ruled in turn.

    4. Equality under the law. The laws should be written down and applied to everyone equally, irrespective of wealth, birth and social standing. No citizen should be condemned without trial and the verdict should be determined by a randomly-selected group of his peers.

    Various civilisations have, over the years, attempted to implement the desiderata of the democratic ideology. The political institutions required will vary, depending, primarily, on the extent of the polis, the number of citizens and the information technology available. The institutions of Athenian democracy changed over three centuries and to privilege those of (say) the 5th century is both arbitrary and anachronistic. Democrats should be committed to the ideology but open-minded as to the best way to implement it, depending on all the above factors.

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  30. >(Kratos) is derived from the Greek for [strength of] “arm” and refers to voting (by raising of the arm).

    Sorry, I should have said “hand” not “arm”; demokratia means, literally, “the people’s ruling hand” as in “the show of hands is the expression of the people’s rule, of Demokratia” (Ehrenberg, Origins of Democracy, Historia, I, 1950, p. 522). It’s the tallying of votes that counts, whether by arm or hand (in the assembly), clay tokens (in the legislative courts), or ballot papers/hanging chads (in indirect democracy). This is the isonomia element in the democratic diarchy of isonomia and isegoria.

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  31. And now with Spanish subtitles:

    (Thanks, Tomas!)

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