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Direct democracy unworkable in almost all situations

As a means of governance, “direct” or “participatory” democracy might appear appealing at first glance, but fully investigating its implications shows it to be of limited utility as a form of government that might work only in very limited circumstances.

In this system, society’s members of appropriate voting qualifications (such as having attained the age of majority, being a citizen, not being a felon, etc.) would vote on every legislative policy that government is proposed to pursue. Any thoughtful review of this possibility should bring to mind numerous practical objections in application to national, state, or even municipal or county governance.

Including all matters such as procedural motions, Congress casts several thousand votes a year and passes hundreds of bills. This year, the Louisiana Legislature passed 560 acts (meaning a vote in each chamber), a couple of hundred resolutions and had roughly double this total number dealing with amendments and other procedural matters. Shreveport’s and Bossier City’s City Councils, and Caddo and Bossier Parish’s legislatures also pass dozens of ordinances each year and have as many of other kinds of votes. Given that it’s hard enough to get even half the voting-eligible public to show up for the occasional election, probably far fewer than one in a hundred would vote regularly on the myriad matters that concern these bodies – even if the technological difficulties could be overcome to allow regular mass participation.

In addition, those microscopically-few who would regularly participate would be unlikely to be representative of the public as a whole. While representative democracy does not allow for direct participation in policy-making, it beautifully creates sufficient and diverse representation because officials must face a broad electorate and respond to it. Therefore, practically speaking policy from a representative democracy more likely will reflect society’s preferences as a whole than would that produced by a direct democracy (if it could be gotten to work). This also does a better job of protecting the political rights of minorities whose numbers by definition cannot win against a majority that may decide to be oppressive, showing the downside of translation of popular passions unfiltered into policy.

Thus, for these obvious reasons, only the smallest political jurisdictions can operate a direct democracy (such as the two Swiss cantons –states – of less than 15,000 inhabitants that still practice the Landsgemeinde) and in a limited fashion (such as in American townships by having a board of selectmen who make periodic decisions of which the most important may be subject to infrequent ratification by electors). A modified version could work, for example, in Louisiana with special districts such as fire, water, levee, etc. where (as is done currently) governing members of boards are selected by local governments, but to have some of their important decisions such as tax increases also requiring ratification by electors.

But to argue such a system could work to any larger extent shows ignorance of the concept and inability to understand the philosophical and practical aspects of the idea.

1 comment:

UKMinarchist said...

The Trouble with Proffesors is that you Profess to know what something is or means.

Ref: "vote on every legislative policy" - I'm afraid I did'nt have time to read much more after that statement.

All we can be sure of in future is change !!

Therefore any DD Initiative would naturally have to be fully flexible where participation is concened and also applcation of the Legislature to ensure that it is not of "of limited utility" as you suggest.

Methinks your entire premis is flawed by the vigourous application of what YOUR view of the framework should/could be.

Have you considered a DD Forum that acts as a lobbyist with Congress/Parlament still in place. After all I see no need to eliminate central government completely, IMHO tha would be an Anarchists view of DD.