Jun 21 2011

Democratic Government: The Thickening of Thin Democracy:

Taken from Karl Rogers, Participatory Democracy, Science and Technology (Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 163-72

Harry S. Truman, Dr. John L. Childs, Alex Rose, and David Dubinsky look over a campaign poster urging people to register to vote, 1944.Benjamin Barber’s idea of “thickening thin democracy” involved achieving participatory democracy (which he termed “strong democracy”) through a gradual process of increasing the level of public participation in the existing institutions of representative democracy (which he termed “thin democracy”) rather than dismantling them. This would allow participatory democracy to emerge within a liberal tradition of respect for law, rights, and individual liberty, alongside the public tolerance of differences within a pluralistic, diverse, and open civic society. He also argued that participatory democracy would be a development of the communitarian and “classical” republican traditions, which advocates strong local government and a high level of public commitment to fostering good citizenship, civic virtues, and the development of civic society as a public good.

Public commitment cannot be ideologically imposed through either intervention or revolution, on the part of some external agent (such as an invading and occupying army) or any internal intellectual elite (such as a “revolutionary vanguard”), as if seizing power, setting up elections, writing a constitution, and declaring the beginning of a democracy was sufficient for the creation of a democratic society. Democracy is an ongoing process, not a state or particular set of institutional arrangements. It is a civic society defined internally by its citizenry and the decisions they make to constitute themselves as the demos.

The emergence of democracy, on such an account, is inherently a grass-roots movement, within which the development and differentiation of the form, structure, and content of society are brought-together into three aspects of a unity through the democratic participation of the citizenry. It is the outcome of a social evolution, rather than a political revolution. This can only be achieved as the result of an ongoing historical and cultural process of the development and differentiation of how to best understand “democracy” in theory and practice.

The possibility of participatory democracy depends on the widespread public education and consciousness about this historical process and the cultural traditions from which the current institutional arrangements have emerged. The potential for democratic participation very much depends on the existence of an educated and committed citizenry, without which civic society cannot exist at all. In this respect, participatory democracy should not be understood as an abstract, utopian political philosophy, but as giving political form to situated and ordinary acts of civic participation, volunteer work, and helping one’s neighbours, as performed by citizens in their local communities.

The theoretical task for advocates of participatory democracy is not to provide models for how ordinary citizens should cooperate to develop their communities, workplaces, schools, hospitals, action groups, etc., but, rather, theory should relate such ordinary civic practices to the ideals of participatory democracy and, thereby, connect them with the historical process of the development of democratic participation in both theory and practice. It is this educational aspect of democratic participation that is crucial for the purpose of understanding how the transition from a representative to a participatory democracy could occur in practice.

Even though widespread public participation is the crucial foundation for any genuine democracy, the development of the democratic ethos requires the prioritisation of universal access to high quality education and impartial protection under the law, which must prescribe the norms and ideals of the vast majority of citizens. By combining the liberal ideals of liberty (or negative ) and respect for private property with the “classical” republican ideals of civic responsibility and citizenship, Barber argued that participatory democracy would be

“…a much less total, less unitary theory of public life than the advocates of ancient republicanism might wish, but it is more complete and positive than contemporary liberalism. It incorporates a Madisonian wariness about actual human nature into a more hopeful, Jeffersonian outlook on human potentialities…”

Barber was also inspired by anarchism, especially in its social libertarian form, which promotes the ideals of equality, voluntary cooperation, and positive freedom. However, one important difference between Barber’s strong democracy and social libertarianism is that the latter calls for the revolutionary of the state apparatus, whereas the former is an evolutionary development from “actually existing democracy” and calls for a gradual withering away of the State as more and more of its functions become absorbed into civic society. Participatory democracy would be an evolution of liberal democracy, rather than a radical break from it, but it would transcend the limitations of liberalism by recovering the communitarian and social libertarian aspirations for positive freedom and local autonomy, as a social evolution of human communicative and cooperative capabilities within an open-ended, complex, and changing world.

Unlike anarchism, participatory democracy does not require some “year zero” revolutionary event for its possibility, but, instead, would continually develop a participatory civic society in direct proportion to the public willingness and ability for people to administrate, legislate, and magistrate their own affairs. Rather than emerge from some great historical act of mass violence or enlightenment, a participatory democracy involves the continuous development and differentiation of participatory opportunities for societal development. Democratic communities will succeed or fail on the basis of the trust, commitment, respect, and compassion for each other that the members of those communities have and cultivate, as ordinary citizens come together and take personal responsibility for the local administration and development of civic society.

Liberalism assumes that human beings are essentially private, asocial beings that engage in public affairs only to preserve their private interests, and, public administration and legislation requires a level of expertise that is only possessed by the minority of well educated and wealthy citizens or those citizens with specialised, technical training in bureaucratic administration or law. Theories of participatory democracy challenge these assumptions and assert that human beings are both private and social beings, and, the distinction between the private and the public is a product of political activity, not its condition. Specialised training, wealth, or privileged education does not provide or guarantee the acquisition of knowledge of universal truth, morality, or goodness, and, there are not any necessary or sufficient connections between political expertise, rationality, and civic virtue. The relation between political expertise and rationality is open to deliberation and exploration; citizenship and civic virtue would be outcomes of democratic participation. Public participation in the development of civic society (including administrative, legislative, and judicial affairs) would be the educational and transformative means for the development of civic virtue, political efficacy, and social responsibility for the majority of citizens.

Historically, the city has been one of the primary loci (alongside the rural commune) for theories of direct democracy. Barber considered neighbourhood and municipal assemblies to be the most important sites of negotiation, wherein citizens and their delegates could deliberate and coordinate the administration and legislation of their local affairs, including healthcare, education, sanitation, transportation, lighting, etc., through the cooperation between other assemblies, local workplaces, and other organisations. Regional, national, and international assemblies would be convened, whenever deemed necessary, through alliances between city based assemblies to achieve common goals and develop economic relationships. A federation of modern cities would be able to perform all the functions of the modern state (including organise mutual defence through trained citizen militia and reserves), without requiring any centralised authority or bureaucracy. Barber argued that neighbourhood assemblies are important for recovering democratic participation and restoring the sovereign power of the citizenry.

A neighbourhood assembly should be convened whenever any citizen wishes to raise a matter of concern or suggest a proposal to his or her neighbours. Even though a neighbourhood should have a dedicated space for assembly, an assembly does not need to be formal, it does not need regular hours, and attendance should be voluntary. The citizen should merely inform his or her neighbours that s/he wishes to convene the assembly in advance and invite all interested parties to attend. Given that participatory democracy operates through enrolment, rather than consensus, the purpose of the assembly is to communicate and coordinate voluntary participations, contributions, information, and distribute resources. Decisions would be non-binding in the sense that they would be voluntary agreements between citizens to cooperate to achieve a shared goal. They are statements of intent and plans, rather than decrees and resolutions, and do not involve citizens who either disagreed or did not attend, unless those citizens change their views at a future date.

It is in this respect that participatory democracy can be considered to be a libertarian and collectivist form of democracy, within which citizens decide how to organise their own efforts and resources, rather than based on “majority rule”, wherein the majority dominates dissenting minorities, once a consensus has been established. Neighbourhood assemblies would be meeting places and mobilisation centres for neighbourhood residents, and, they could be used to communicate and cooperate with other neighbourhood assemblies and enhance each neighbourhood’s capacity to administrate its own affairs. They would also have educational value for helping citizens to develop their understanding of the meaning of citizenship, civic virtue, social responsibility, and community.

For Barber, New England town meetings offer a starting point for how we could envision local democratic assemblies. Despite their limitations, town meetings, as a local branch of legislative government, are capable of dealing with complex local agendas and concerns, while also helping develop civic virtues and skills, such as cooperation, sociability, social responsibility, civility, solidarity, tolerance, restraint, and humility. They also help develop communitarian commitments and values, which despite the risk of parochialism, are fundamental for genuine democracy based on common enterprise and cooperation between citizens.

Despite his fear of the excesses of democracy, Madison’s federalist ideas of the Republic were dependent on the existence of a citizenry that knows how to govern local affairs and take an interest in national affairs. Otherwise, on what basis could citizens be expected to recognise and choose good representatives? On what basis could citizens hold their representatives accountable? Individual self-interest and ambition must be balanced by the cooperative discovery and realisation of common goods, visions, and responsibilities in order for any system of democratic governance to work for the benefit of the vast majority of people. The State is only able to effectively protect the constitutional checks and balances, including the institutional separation of powers and the rights of the individual citizen, if citizens are able to participate in maintaining the political conditions for the preservation of their political freedoms.

Liberal critics of participatory democracy have often failed to take this into account when they argue that participatory democracy places too heavy a burden upon the citizenry. One needs to take the realities of preserving the conditions for political freedom into account, if one wishes to preserve political freedom. Politically passive citizens, only concerned with the private realm and the satisfaction of their individual preferences, will not be able to develop the skills needed to preserve their political freedoms and, therefore, will be overly reliant upon a politically active minority to do it for them. Under such circumstances, one should not be surprised when the majority have their freedoms radically curtailed by the minority, acting in their own interest. The administration and legislation of public affairs may well be time consuming, but the level of complexity in modern society requires a high level of attention and participation in order to acquire the skills and political efficacy required to deal with that level of complexity. If citizens are unable or unwilling to exercise the required level of attention and participation then they will be unable to protect their own rights and freedoms.

Equal rights will depend on equal participation. Political freedom requires the defence of negative freedom through exercising the positive freedom to participate in the societal development of the institutional arrangements of political and economic relations and activities. It is through democratic participation in securing political freedom (over and above the necessary means to satisfy and protect private interests) that the public realm of human relations can be liberated from the technocratic “nation-wide administration of house-keeping”.

By emerging from within the liberal tradition, democratic participation will afford pragmatic and progressive opportunities for citizens to improve their confidence and political efficacy, while avoiding many of the possible mistakes and injustices that could occur through “excesses of democracy” while the citizenry are inexperienced in governance, and also provide institutional frameworks and support for the ongoing development of democratic processes and opportunities. The liberal tradition would also provide standards of legitimacy and constitutionality that can ground the legal basis to challenge the continuance of any antidemocratic efforts undermine or dominate democratic participation.

By participating in the administration and legislation of local affairs, citizens will also gain the skills and experiences required to develop political efficacy at a national or international level and make alliances and associations that will further empower their local communities and workplaces. Participatory democracy requires a dynamic and revisable process of interpreting how democratic participation should be conducted, within local contexts, which allows citizens considerable latitude and flexibility in their experiments in how to conduct assemblies at local, region, national, or even international levels. It requires a dynamic and revisable process of interpreting the nature of citizenship and the boundaries between the public and private aspects of human life. Decentralised and localised experiments would gradually emerge as a careful and practical form of societal development. Should any experiment make mistakes, these would be localised and their impact of wider society would be dampened, while providing useful experiences and information for other communities and workplaces as well.

By maximising societal pluralism and diversity, there would be a societal stock of alternatives, while citizens would be able to continue any traditional practice that they found to be satisfactory for their local communities or workplaces. The motivation for experimentation would be to discover better ways of organising practical activities, rather than something done for its own sake, and, the decision where and when to experiment must remain a local matter made by the people likely to experience the consequences of such a decision. A strong democracy could be achieved by creating cooperative free-associations between various democratic assemblies which agree to cooperate in accordance with shared respect for the right of each assembly to govern their own affairs.

Participatory democracy advocates the grass-roots collectivisation of political and economic organisations among citizens in order to create alliances capable of effectively resisting and opposing powerful governmental agencies and . By collectively negotiating contracts and the conditions of their participation, without relying on the authority and power of a centralised state apparatus, citizens can confront and challenge organised power, whether corporate or governmental, through the organised power of the citizenry. Participatory democracy radically transforms the conception of the role of the political party. The “traditional” role of the political party is to gather support for a policy platform or agenda, in order to achieve an electoral mandate for administration and legislation. Participatory democracy would transform political parties into educational, persuasive, and consciousness-raising organisations that enrol citizens into collective action to implement and develop particular programmes and projects. The political party would be transformed from being a “representational” to an “ideological” instrument of organisation and coordination. Many citizens would have “overlapping membership” of several political parties and multi-party alliances would be commonplace for specific issues, concerns, or proposals.

The political form of a participatory democracy is that of a decentralised society wherein citizens have sovereign authority to develop an egalitarian, libertarian, and rational society through democratic assemblies, free-associations, and alliances. Such a society requires a high level of knowledge, skills, and political efficacy among the citizenry in order for local problems to be solved through collective action and political parties should help citizens meet these requirements. Citizens would make decisions through enrolment into cooperative efforts, resulting in a decentralised structure of local-outwards efforts to build networks of participants, through a process of enrolment, rather than either a top-downward hierarchy or a bottom-upward process of consensus formation. In this respect, it would radically differ from competitive elitism and democratic centralism.

It is important that democratic participation provides the means for the successful harmonisation of individual goals and social purposes, but the discovery of what constitutes examples of successful harmonisation, as well as deciding the criteria under which we would make such qualifications, needs to remain exploratory and pluralistic – effectively decided in context at a local level– rather than prejudged in terms of theory. The process by which such decisions are tested must remain laissez-faire in relation to other communities and workplaces, rather than decided through centralised planning and coordination, on the basis that, through trial and error, stable alliances and agreements would arise between different workplaces and communities simply on the assumption that it is in their own best interest to achieve them. Theories should be critically developed as heuristics to help propose experiments in workplace and community democracy, rather than axiomatic models for defining democratic participation, which is something that must remain at stake, discovered and decided through democratic participation.

There are also irreducibly aesthetic and contextual aspects of face-to-face communication that are essential for the development of meaningful democratic participation, within local contexts, which cannot be understood in the general terms of theory. Different communities and workplaces will develop democracy in different ways and an over reliance on any theoretical account will result in a definition of democratic participation that will not be universally applicable or meaningful. Even with the best intentions, over-reliance on theory will tend towards ideological dogmatism and its concomitant impractical and coercive democratic centralism. Of course, at a theoretical level, we can specify a universal set of minimum conditions for the possibility of freedom from coercive power and equality of participation, for example: individuals must be able to learn how to develop their diverse qualities and abilities in order to realise their potential; communities must be able to collectively protect themselves; individuals must agree to respect privacy and tolerate differences; freedom of association and freedom of expression must be valued and practised; individuals must have the right to choose the economic conditions of their labour, given their abilities, skills, and available resources; society must provide free and public access to scientific knowledge and technological innovation, as well as open and free access to communications; and every citizen must have the right to participate in any public assembly on any matter of direct concern. However, in order for these to be meaningful as a set of minimum conditions, they must be recognised by the vast majority of citizens, and whether they are satisfied in local contexts will be a matter of interpretation.

Whereas there is little doubt among theorists that direct democracy is possible in homogeneous societies, its practical value is open to question, but we face the reverse situation in heterogeneous societies, wherein the practical value of direct democracy is evident, but its possibility is in doubt. Participatory democracy offers the possibility of developing a heterogeneous society into a dynamic polyarchy of allied associations of citizens, forming powerful groups and organisations. Alliances between confederated democratic assemblies, alongside courts, organisations, and networks, would provide the means by which citizens are able to communicate and cooperate with each other, while preventing the possibility of the centralisation of power and authority. It is on this basis that citizens could have the direct sovereign power to administrate, legislate, and magistrate public affairs, without having to be Rousseauesque gods, while our lack of divine foresight or perception is the best reason why we should divide this sovereign power among us in equal measure.

This would empower democratic participation and collective action through polyarchic and decentralised networks of free-associations, forming alliances to deal with specific issues and particular projects, without any need for authoritarian and centralised government. A polyarchic citizenry would form an allied majority only for the purpose of satisfying over-lapping interests and concerns. An allied majority would not be forthcoming for extreme or excessive proposals, given that there will be a low level of over-lapping interest in the success of such proposals. It is also highly likely that the polyarchic majority would counter the possible emergence of any dominant faction, except on matters with a high level of common agreement, and a polyarchic majority would fragment in response to extreme or excessive proposals. A polyarchic majority would be incapable of acting in a tyrannical manner because it relies on a high degree of commonality and consent among the citizenry.

As Dahl argued, the fear of “mob rule” or “the excesses of democracy” are actually overstated within a modern pluralistic society, given that the majority is actually an equilibrium state of overlapping membership. Furthermore, each citizen has over-lapping membership of several associations, groups, and organisations, which allows them to democratically participate in societal development and political institutions on many different levels and in different capacities. Of course theorists of participatory democracy should be concerned with problems that might occur through “excesses of democracy”, such as lynch mobs, pogroms, or other injustices or excesses of zeal, but one must ask, should such abuses occur, whether they are more likely to be stopped and corrected through a decentralised democratic alliance of powerful organisations, or through a massive state apparatus of centralised bureaucratic, police, and military power controlled by a minority in the name of the majority? It is arguably the case that both systems would localise abuses and dampen conflicts in more or less equal measure, but, whereas local abuses may go unchecked for longer in direct democracies, they would be unlikely to spread beyond the locality without being opposed, but in an indirect democracy, even though there are checks and balances against the minority abusing its position of power, if should it overcome these checks and balances (through conspiracy, public manipulation, or a coup d’état) then it will be extremely difficult for the majority to stop these abuses of power, due to the power of the state apparatus in shielding the minority from the majority through the use of police and military forces.

The risk that a participatory democracy could degenerate into chaos or civil can be avoided by strengthening the democratic assemblies through cooperative federations and alliances in accordance with their over-lapping interests and concerns. During the process of decentralising power and increasing local community power, through federations and alliances, citizens would have sufficient time to learn how to cooperate and administer their own local affairs through reasonable and practical deliberations. The process of gaining power through cooperative action (rather than competition) should teach people how to collectively coordinate their actions, without resorting to violence or coercion. The “thickening of thin democracy” is not to be mistaken with reforming the state apparatus because, from the outset, it amounts to eroding the State through an ongoing process of deconstructive decentralisation and constructive participation as citizens learn how to govern their own affairs to their own satisfaction.

Withering away the State would be the direct democratic process of gradually making the State obsolete by absorbing its operations into civic society as citizens take over its administrative, legislative, and judicial functions, in that order, as a social evolution from a mass society to a rational, egalitarian, and libertarian society. It is only after citizens have become proficient in administering their own affairs that they should begin to legislate for themselves through citizens’ assemblies and democratically write their own constitution. It is only after citizens have become proficient in legislation that they can democratise the judiciary, without risking injustices or excesses of zeal. During this transitional stage, wherein citizens take over the administration of society, the liberal constitutional framework of law and the appeal to the judiciary will act as essential guides to avoid abuses of power and excesses of zeal, while citizens are learning how to be good citizens and deepening their commitment to the practical value of participatory democracy by learning how to deliberate and make decisions in the absence of centralised standards or arbitration, and, by critically examining their habitual norms and practices.

A participatory democracy would not be a system of local, autocratic “majority rule”; lynch mobs and kangaroo courts do not constitute legitimate expressions of democratic participation, if they contradict the Constitution. By refining and developing the liberal tradition of law and jurisprudence, while citizens are learning how to administer local affairs, a conception of constitutionality acts as a guide to the process of transition, after which citizens can learn how to legislate through democratic assemblies and magistrate through juries.

Once the administration of society is conducted through democratic participation, citizens will be in a position to take over the legislative powers of the State as well. The ongoing deliberation and refinement of the Constitution, through democratic assemblies and referenda, will be a crucial component of successfully navigating this transition. It is only once citizens have embodied their own constitutional understanding of the nature of democracy and citizenship (including their rights and duties) in legal practices and conceptions of justice, will they be able to competently transcend the liberal tradition and achieve participatory democracy. The Constitution should be an agreement between all citizens (or at least the vast majority) if it is to act as a General Authority against which the legitimacy of local sovereignty can be challenged. This allows individual citizens to challenge the legitimacy of the legislative and judicial decisions of their neighbours, through appeals to the Constitution, claiming that particular local decisions contradicted the Constitution, as agreed by the same neighbours. If necessary, it is only on the basis of appeals to the Constitution that citizens could enrol the aid of other citizens to defend them, without risking degeneration into factionalism or a civil war. This is essential for the development of political efficacy among an active citizenry capable of learning how to deal with the problems of local self-governance.

By taking the liberal tradition as its point of departure and holding that the General Authority of the Constitution is an essential educational aspect of the transition from representative to participatory democracy, by acting as a heuristic focus for how the demos assembles and understands itself, the limits of democratic participation can be balanced with the individual expectation of negative freedom. It is only in virtue of having these limits and this expectation that positive freedom can be a part of political activity at all. John Rawls argued that a liberal constitutional protection of pluralism was necessary because

“…a basic feature of democracy is the fact of reasonable pluralism – the fact that a plurality of conflicting reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious, moral, and philosophical, is the normal result of its culture of free institutions. Citizens realise that they cannot reach agreement or even approach mutual understanding on the basis of their irreconcilable comprehensive doctrines.”

If public institutions embodied the comprehensive doctrines of some citizens rather than others, then any cooperative enterprise deliberated and decided through such institutions would tend to endorse these doctrines as positive freedoms, while also treating them as negative freedoms and, thereby, preventing others from challenging them. Hence, Rawls argued that public reasons for mutually binding forms of social organisation and cooperation should be decoupled from comprehensive doctrines and appeal only to “free-standing political values”, as explicitly stated in the constitution. The institutional structures of deliberation and decision making in the public realm should only be based on “free-standing political values”, shared by all citizens, while the employment of comprehensive doctrines should be confined to civic society and the private realm. However, this is all well and good as an abstraction, but how do we decide what “free-standing political values” are? The “free-standing political values” that Rawls endorses in the US Constitution have emerged from a cultural background and entail comprehensive doctrines regarding conditions for human freedom, equality, and happiness, hence allowing us to agree that (and understand why) freedom, equality, and happiness are goods.

Given that “free-standing political values” entail comprehensive doctrines in defining the boundaries of constitutional protections of pluralism, it is essential that the citizenry (or at least the vast majority) are involved in collectively deliberating and deciding what these values should be. The citizenry must be able to deliberate and agree upon the Constitution, which must remain open to re-evaluation and revision, and in this sense “free-standing political values” are the political values agreed by the vast majority, if not all. Otherwise the Constitution will assert the comprehensive doctrines of a minority as “free-standing political values”, which will either distort public reason, by only permitting the outcomes that benefit that minority at the expensive of the majority, or it will simply become an historical document without practical value. It is in this sense that participatory democracy becomes a condition for the preservation of liberal pluralism. By recognising that every comprehensive doctrine is equally worthy of consideration and it should be left to particular citizens in particular circumstances to decide for themselves which comprehensive doctrine they wish to try to live by, theories of participatory democracy are able to embrace liberal pluralism at a societal level, preserving negative freedom through the societal commitment to a principle of localisation, while also embracing the practical value of particular comprehensive doctrines at the local level as an expression of positive freedom through a principle of free-association. In this respect, the tension between the local and societal levels will constitute its own check and balance against the centralisation of power and authority. A participatory democracy would satisfy Galston’s requirements for constitutional liberal pluralism that the demands placed on the citizens are not too heavy for them to bear; the “free standing political values” are not too diverse to exist in the same society; and its broad outlines must correspond to the moral sentiments and circumstances of members of that society.

Once we take Galston’s requirements into account, alongside the recognition that Rawl’s “free-standing political values” entail comprehensive doctrines, then we can answer Dahl’s claim that there are some universally accepted values, rights, and liberties that override the democratic process and majority consensus. Such values, rights, and liberties could only be universally accepted through the democratic process and majority consensus. In my view, any such universal values, rights, and liberties would by discovered through the process of discovering what the democratic process means in context, and these values could only maintain their universality due to the commitment of the vast majority to their reasonableness (as universals) on the basis that it is a condition of having such individual rights that the individual respects the individual rights of others. Without the agreement of the vast majority, it would be impossible that any set of rights could be universally respected. Instead they would be based on the imposition of assertions and privileges of a minority over the majority. Any such overriding values, rights, and liberties would be based on coercive power relations.

In Dahl’s example of “a fair trial”, he claimed that it is only the individual’s right to due legal process that overrides the desire of the majority to punish whomever is accused of some vile crime, but he failed to recognise that any such act of “mob justice” would also require the suspension of democratic values, such as (of the defendant and the accusers) and free association (having skilled representatives to aid the defendant and the accusers), which would involve the suspension of the democratic process, as well failing to satisfy the practical need to actually protect the public from the guilty party by correctly identifying them. If we possessed absolute foresight or universal epistemological principles of jurisprudence then we would have no need of the democratic process at all, but, in their absence, the democratic process is the best means to “a fair trial”. Of course, even with all due diligence, sometimes the democratic process will make mistakes, such as convicting the wrong person for a crime, but this is due to human fallibility, rather than a failure of the democratic process. Human fallibility is the reason why the democratic process has practical value in the first instance and the individual’s right to “a fair trial” inherently involves the democratic process, as the best means to realise the public good (correctly identifying criminals and protecting the public from them), and, if the majority did not respect this right (by stringing up the first suspect from the nearest tree) then this would not be an outcome of the democratic process, but, rather, a failure on the part of the majority to engage in the democratic process. A lynch mob cannot be considered as an outcome of a democratic process in the same way that a cattle stampede cannot be considered as an act of democratic agreement formed by cows to decide which direction they should run. In this sense, once we consider the practical value of the democratic process as the means to realise the public good, we can recognise that “majority consensus” is necessary but not sufficient for a decision to be democratic, if that consensus has been achieved without a process of public deliberation directed towards discovering the best course of action. Instances of ‘”mob rule”, lynch mobs, or the exclusion of minorities would be incompatible with participatory democracy because they would be the consequences of failing to engage in democratic processes of deliberation and decision making among those concerned with the consequences of any course of action.

Who is Karl Rogers?

Karl Rogers is a Professor of Philosophy, co-founder of the John Dewey Center for Democracy of Education, affiliated with the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Minnesota. He is the author of a number of books including Modern Science and the Capriciousness of Nature; Participatory Democracy, Science and Technology; and, On the Metaphysics of Experimental Physics. His latest book is Debunking Glenn Beck: How to Save America from Media Pundits and Propagandists is available from Praeger, ABC-CLIO



Leave a Reply