by Spencer Pearson
I was listening to the excellent Stark Report interview with Siryako Akda recently and was hugely impressed with the depth of knowledge of Siryako and his ability to conduct such a high level discussion in a foreign language. However I was somewhat disappointed that local democracy was dismissed as an idealist utopian proposition for areas outside of Western Europe. Apparently Alain de Benoist proposed such a system although I wouldn’t know that being too much of a slacker ever to have read any of his stuff. Never the less I would like to defend the proposals for local autonomy as being realistic and viable.
Democracy is generally thought of as being anti-elitist, which is to say that many like to suggest it is anti-elitist. However this assertion would seem to be contradicted by the fact that elites most definitely exist in democratic societies. We could argue that the reason for that is that these elites corrupt and subvert the democratic process in order to give themselves unfair advantages, but that does not mean that democracy is intrinsically anti-elitist.
Even if we imagine some perfect direct democracy some people within the community are going to have huge advantages within the system. People who can construct appealing arguments and counter arguments are going to find it much easier to win support among the electorate than the inarticulate. People who learn and apply the techniques of garnering support for measures are going to find it much easier to get them enacted. More to the point people who want to wield influence within the democratic process are going to find it much easier to do so than people who don’t.
So even within a very simple “pure” democracy a “natural elite” are going to emerge. The reality is that such democratic systems would not likely be mass participation phenomena. Most people would continue to behave in such a system as they do now, which is to be passive observers who use their vote, if they do at all, based on rather stupid considerations. Elites which seek to gain power in such a system would have to compete as they do now to get support from such people anyway they can. I would suggest that because of this localised direct democracies, far from being anti-elitist, are in fact the most elitist systems imaginable.
The problem with conventional national level “representative” democracy is that once they have power elites tend to use it to corrupt the system to their own advantage. The “entrench” themselves behind defences which make it impossible for them to be effectively challenged. Safe and secure behind these defences such elites are no longer required to be actual elites in the sense of being capable of beating their rivals in a fair fight, they no longer need be the best in any sense. The absence of pressure on those elites causes them to atrophy, degrade and suffer from a progressive condition which appears to be something like collective senility. It is this process which reduced the feudal ruling class of Europe from meritocratic warrior elite to wig wearing buffoons. The same process turned the political elite of Rome from steely eyed master strategists and consummate politicians into horse marrying clowns (although, as Terry Pratchett argued lead pipes probably didn’t help). The same process has turned our own Western politicians, a class which once dominated the politics and economy of the planet, into people regarded by everyone other than themselves as incompetent petty crooks.
A true elitist would then not wish to protect themselves from competition because they would recognise without it they would no longer be elite. Moreover someone with an intellectual commitment to elitism should want the most capable group to lead rather than wish to “cheat” the system so they themselves could. A true elitist then would relish and hold sacred the democratic system as the means by which they can become and remain the elite by a process of competition. They would appreciate democracy’s unique power to identify elites and remove those which have been proved not to be the most capable quickly and efficiently.
If democracy is the ultimate tool of elitism then localised direct democracy is the ultimate optimisation of that system. At a national scale simple superiority is complicated by demographics, a small group of highly capable individuals is going to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers of larger groups regardless of relative merit. At a local level there exists a natural limit to the possible advantage that can be accrued by sheer number. Within a democratic system measured in the tens of thousands of participants any individual has a reasonable chance, with sufficient qualities, of having an impact. Beyond that scale no qualities, with the possible exception of massive amounts of money, are sufficient to allow an individual or even small group to have any significant influence under normal conditions.
A secessionist/New Right society would not be a collection of utopian communities in which everyone was a civic minded citizen and responsible actor in a democratic process. Each locality would most probably have political factions competing with each other for the support of elements of the population. I would estimate that not more than ten percent of the population would be active in such a process with the majority of the rest simply being passive participants casting votes on measures put to them.
Such a system would have several advantages over the present one. Most obviously the “compartmentalisation” of the political process would prevent the poor choice of sections, even substantial majorities, of the population inflicting adverse outcomes on the entire of society. This would not merely be practically useful but would prevent the injustice of people having things they rightly and sensibly opposed inflicted on them by the tyranny of the majority.
Another advantage would be that such a system would encourage the maximum participation by individuals. Although most likely the political process would still only be contested by a minority those who might be inclined to take part would be encouraged to do so. This would be because of “push” effects in that such self governing communities would be relatively volatile thanks to their democratic nature and thus as a matter of preventing ill advised policies citizens would be compelled to get involved. Additionally “pull” factors would encourage people to engage with the process because they had a realistic possibility of getting their favoured proposals enacted. Neither of these are the case with mass nation state level “democracies” in which people are either content to leave their political defence in the hands of the elite or incapacitated by the impossibility of swaying that elite towards specific proposals. It is to be preferred that people take part in the political process because that encourages people’s personal development as well as the creation of the resultant local political class benefiting the life of the community.
It’s worth adding that here I have described the operation of self governing communities as “democratic”, of course there is no reason why they should be democratic, any conceivable system of governance might be employed. However I would suggest that democracy has some benefits that would make it the de facto “operating system” of autonomous communities. Also because democracy is well established in the cultures of the West at least it is to be expected that democracy would be the natural at least initial choice for most newly self determining entities.
In conclusion then radical political decentralisation does not presuppose the existence of entire societies and communities of well informed civic minded citizens. Indeed it does not require any modification of the behaviour currently exhibited in most societies, it is not a fantastic egalitarian utopian proposition. In fact one way of looking at radical political decentralisation is to see it as a practical revolutionary proposition which is aimed to bringing local elites into conflict with national ones with the objective of dismantling the over mighty state.