I am categorizing this under “election theory” generically because it certainly should be admitted that a key concept in standard political science is the emergence and behaviors of “parties” in real world democratic-republican politics. And it seems there is an intense, and it seems to me even perhaps unreasoned, aversion to it among many here, such that it is difficult to even convey I am talking often about basically partisan electoral processes.
I gather that many infer, from CES urging us to adopt cardinal methods, that the consensus and community-building values and practices such methods are supposed to promote mean some sort of visceral and total rejection of anything acknowledged to resemble a party as is commonly understood to exist in established republics, and some dream of seeking a way to purge the demon utterly as a perceived source of all manner of wickedness and dysfunctionality. So if I suggest that actually, human voters form parties for human reasons that are often quite rational and quite compatible with cooperation and community in the whole, I suppose it must seem I am at war with the very concepts of cooperation and community and speaking disingenuously.
But I don’t think so. I don’t think the formation of bands of candidates supported by larger bands of sectors of the electorate, who upon winning elections with the support of those electorate factions, must as part of their positive party spirit, which positively enables them to identify and form bonds of trust with representatives and potential representatives whom they have reason to believe they can rely on to promote their most important values and interests, must also imply a spirit of mistrust, zero-sum opposition, ultimately warfare with others.
Sometimes, quite often, a state of war does exist, but it is not inherent in the fact of partisan organization (which can in fact be quite informal, and exists when expressly forbidden and formally “prevented” by law, in vain) but rather in the facts on the ground in the social relations between the various sectors of the public the parties more or less represent. When such a state of war is not being waged in the actual society outside of government (when it is of course, government is one crucial factor, but there are others equally vital) then party spirit is plainly harmless and is in fact a major part of the normal functioning of many communities.
We are of course cultivated in typical societies since the rise of civilization to take team spirit as inherently and necessarily a matter of war on some level. I believe this relates to the nature of what post-agricultural civilization has been, and it is our task today to change these rules, and an urgent one it is too.
But none of this team spirit logically implies a ruthless, egotistical inability to work with the champions and fans of other teams with a different common bond. In fact I’d say the unity of forces enabling a small or large party to exist and function in electoral systems is one of the prerequisites for persons, inherently individually weak and outnumbered literally billions to one separated, to have the confidence in their security to take risks on win-win joint ventures, knowing that effective force is behind the brave words of “all for one and one for all.”
Of course the contrary warlike spirit is manically cultivated in our society, and has been in many throughout history, but I situate my judgement on basic human nature on the reflection we spent most of the time span in our modern form of species (consensus among anthropological sources say the horizon to modern mentality was crossed sometime around 50,000 years ago, as shown by tool types and quality, various art works, burial practices, and other bits of material culture clues) as pre-agricultural gatherer-hunter bands, and anthropological study of those bands pretty well shows a general social and cultural pattern quite different from those prevailing after the invention of agriculture enabled material surpluses to be accumulated, which in turn enabled exploitation and made war a potentially lucrative thing.
Prior to this, there was no rational reason for humans to indulge in systematic hatred and aggression against Others. The band was everything, and the default attitude to strangers would be not hatred but wary caution, watching the new person or people until it could be ascertained whether they would behave reasonably or not. There was no profit to be had by preying on others when no one had any material surpluses to plunder! A stranger could be a danger, but could also be an opportunity for the kind of profit our hand to mouth but basically healthy and prosperous in terms of having basic human needs met ancestors could benefit from. It is this spirit of perhaps wary but basically optimistic form of relations with others I think we have it in our power to revive on a higher level with well designed institutions–but certainly the forces that transformed it into something much darker are serious ones to be reckoned with.
Our ancestral state changed in the past 10,000 years–so while some 80 percent of all human generations have passed without much of what we take for granted today being relevant, let alone normal, the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived on Earth have lived just in the past couple centuries, and the numbers of those more or less “civilized” as we call it were vastly greater than those of their ancestors–because higher technology is much more productive. It did not follow that the lives of humans became easier and safer though–the most relevant metric was that humans became far far more numerous, to the point today our domestic animals (and ourselves) account for something like 6/7 the vertebrate biomass on the planet. Vastly increased population density multiplied by tremendous leverage of clever high production methods available to organized humans changed us from an obscure niche species that cleverly found a way to make every environment on the planet a niche for small numbers, into a force literally geological in magnitude causing scholars to dub our times the new era of the Anthropocene.
Long before we sequestered the first half of Earth’s vertebrate land dwelling biomass, civilization had been going thousands of years, but we cannot reasonably conclude we are somehow “evolved by nature” to behave the way that has seemed rational for us today to do extrapolating from norms in our recent past, because 10,000 years or less is an eyeblink in evolutionary time, especially for a species as long lived and with such long childhood development as we have. And our yeast-like expansion of population hardly seems like much of a setting for much ruthless Darwinian honing going on.
Our changed nature relates then to social training, to cultural norms, and it therefore lies in our hands to change our behaviors by changing our incentives and our rules.
So we cultivate a militaristic competitive spirit, which definitely served our recent ancestors to survive in a situation where all societies warred against all others–but as we have had democratic revolutions, adopted humanistic values, and come to face our deep interdependence, we must come to terms with the need to reevaluate these old norms rather than mindlessly roll with them.
Rolling with dominator hierarchies based on pervasive and predatory militarism fundamentally means affirming authoritarianism. It means recognizing the rule of the great and good and serving them in our lowly places, if we know what is good for us.
Or of course if we are one of the few, enjoying magisterial power, privilege and flattery, but as a student of history and human culture, I feel on firm ground saying, the serenity and self-satisfaction of the “Great and Good” throughout has been haunted by both insecurity and guilt. Jefferson, speaking specifically of slavery and the fate of the African-American in the fullness of time, expressed it–“I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just.”
The visceral fear I felt as a child reading in encyclopedias that the US standard of living was measured in thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars per capita–but in many nations overseas, comprising in fact well over half the world and more in population, those averages were measured in handfuls of hundreds of dollars–a year!–is another instances of the roots of insecurity in fear of the inevitable consequences of building on the sand of unsustainable injustice. It is true that over thousands of years, essentially every society has stood on such foundations–but it is also true that human history is filled with much misery and turbulence and all of them ultimately collapsed with terrible and sweeping consequences, bringing down the mighty and the lowly alike–though most people had little distance to fall, it was true. But that often meant that just a small fall would be the end for them too.
Whether we believe in a theocratic enforcement of justice, or just observe the basic fragility and instability of human institutions, the fear of the tables turning, of the moment changing and privilege and luxury granted capriciously being just as capriciously being snatched away, has soured many a lordly stomach, unless they could concoct some ideological reason to suppose their special place in the world was well founded and their special authority somehow guaranteed by God or nature.
But all such notions are illusions. Either we found durable institutions on genuine common ground for all, or the chaos of history will surely overturn every future one built on terror and deception, even very clever and plausible self-deception, as their contradictions eat away at them relentlessly, driven by high voltage human fear.
I firmly believe our species need not live in fear; no force we face is stronger than ourselves working together, there is no adversity we cannot overcome if we can only trust one another.
The spirit of democracy must either be daunted and falter and fail before the ancestral, insistent drum beat of falling line behind the powers that be–or challenge it and overcome it.
CES, in touting cardinal methods, asserts that their value is in building community by building consensus. I say such consensus must be founded on all the people being able to actually express real power in our republican institutions, proportional not to their wealth or credentials or knowledge of technological or financial or even philosophical esoterica, but simply to their numbers. Every person is equal, under the law and in democratic politics, or we fail.
As it happens the poor and yet accomplished approximations of democratic republicanism we have witnessed in actual history, as opposed to the musty musings of abstract philosophers whose allegiance to the general project of furthering the escape of humanity from fear is often quite dubious if not plainly contradicted by deeds as well as words, has been characterized in very large degree by the robust operation of political parties. These have often coexisted for generations without any side believing itself capable of eradicating the others or doing much to damp down their power beyond a certain degree. In fact, in often flawed and contradictory ways, they have in their operation furthered the expansion of democracy and general values of human mutual respect.
Therefore when I speak of party, I want it to be understood that this mighty and perhaps indispensable tool of human political action should be used where it is useful, and tamed of its pathologies, not presumed to be defined by them. In the course of many people purporting to find fatal flaws in suggestions I have made here these past few weeks, I find them actually laying a stronger case than I would ever set out to to prove that probably the notion of forming reasonably large legislatures, capable of decently encompassing the full range of the spectrum of public interest, almost certainly cannot in fact accomplish a coherently democratic representation without parties in fact coming into being de facto, however piously we may pretend they are taboo and banned. The knotty problems of how millions of voters whose lives are not in fact centered on electoral politics day in and day out are to reasonably identify and join with their best allies, and have bonds of trust mutually tying electorate and representative together in a mutually useful way, seem largely solved at a stroke by instead cheerfully and openly allowing self-defined, self organized parties in a context of positive representation, and specific proposals I have presented are grounded in the notion of building these up from individual candidacies.