Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Generating" democracy, Part II

The idea of "generating" democracy is the idea that when we associate, in the form of a community, our result is a full-fledged democracy that is not merely procedural, allowing us to vote every once and a while and allow representatives to sit in office passing policy for us; rather, the driving force of such democratic relations is literally "generation:" how can the community be reinforced daily? How can the community be sustained? The idea of "generation" is that each new day that is brought to the community finds the community in a position to govern.

The first area of importance is abolishing the ideals of representative government. All persons must be legislators. Thus, the idea of community requires is not a "fascism," in which individual identity is lost in a mob; rather, it requires individuals thinking outside of themselves, and handing-over their selves to the community. In this case, community is not merely constituted by mere shared ideals or collective consciousness: the community is constituted by persons that are actually, materially together. This brand of community does not need procedural representative structures because all will need to be legislators; the idea of each person legislating creates a "nobility of the masses," if you will. Severe equality, radical participation, and true legislation over oneself...not merely "you make the laws," but, "you make the laws in tandem."

Such a community must be entirely inclusive; there cannot be a hierarchy of individuals or of various groups; in this sense, democracy is "homogeneous," but in a very broad sense of the word. Various in-groups will not need to exist because of the equality granted through each person giving their person to the whole. Again, as stressed above, this is not merely an idealistic "giving," but a material "handing over." Political action is hereby expressed by a radical ethical action by which (a) one gives oneself to the community and (b) one maintains severe and absolute rule over oneself.

The clue for this idea of democracy is found in Rousseau's Social Contract (I.6), in what is perhaps one of the most-(mis)quoted and most demanding passages in the history of political philosophy--and I'm not overstating (almost had it by heart, but had to quote it):

"Find a form of association which defends and protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate, and by means of which each one, while uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before" (emphasis added).

Further...(same section):

"These clauses, properly understood, are all reducible to a single one, namely the total alienation of each associate, together with all of his rights, to the entire community. (emphasis added).

Compare this with one of Rousseau's most overt (and probably richest) definitions of freedom (this passage is from Part One of the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, one of the most neglected metaphysics in the history of philosophy...look out, nearly the entirety of Rousseau's metaphysics is either contained within or derived from this potent paragraph):

"Every animal has ideas, since it has senses; up to a certain point it even combines its ideas, and in this regard man differs from an animal only in degree. Some philosophers have even suggested that there is a greater difference between two given men than between a given man and an animal. Therefore it is not so much understanding which causes the specific distinction of man from all other animals as it is his being a free agent. Nature commands every animal, and beats obey. Man feels the same impetus, but he knows he is free to go along or resist; and it is above all in the awareness of this freedom that the spirituality of his soul is made manifest. For physics explains in some way the mechanism of the senses and the formation of ideas; but in the power of willing, or rather of choosing, and in the feeling of this power, we find only purely spiritual acts, about which the laws of mechanics explain nothing." (emphasis added)

So, the idea of being "free as before," in reading Rousseau, can be drawn from this earlier metaphysical passage: freedom in the state of nature. Freedom in this state--which is a true state of nature unlike that of Hobbes and Locke (for civil society merely follows logically from Locke's state of nature)--is entirely negative--much like the individual freedom that most wish to protect with a liberal state...

The paradox of Rousseau is thus: we return to our state of freedom, when we were most free in nature, by giving our person to the common forces, by which we retain rule over ourselves in its truest possible form, which all share...and yet, all share in my "person" as well, for I have given my person to the community.

A misreading of this passage could easily lead one to paint Rousseau as a totaltiarian. But there is one catch: if one understands Rousseau to his fullest extent, and takes his metaphysics and politics to its fullest point, the point about this community is that it is not a state! There is no bureaucracy, no hierarchy, but only radical equality, by which each person is a legislator, and by which each person participates radically in the community.

The greatest possible conclusion here is that a person is at his or her fullest through community!

And so, we must generate this form of community; it is not merely procedural, by which I can vote, walk away from the polls, do nothing for any number of years, and believe that I am being represented adequately. The scam of liberal representative government is twofold, compared to full community:

(a) Representatives are merely reflections of our selves. By this I mean that when I vote, I am placing my self into politics, I am taking political action. The result is not my true self in politics (the political action is actually very brief), but rather, the result is that a mere reflection of my self---my expectations, my morality, my beliefs and values, my goods, my status---onto a "representative." In the metaphysical sense of this word, even representative is too strong; liberal representative government is actually (merely) "reflective" government.

(b) The worst part of liberal "reflective" government is also that because of its protections, it allows for persons to accumulate property without ever participating. This is a very difficult reality from which to draw meaning from: sure, i give tacit consent when I pay various taxes, but without any political action whatsoever, I am reinforcing that the state can function without my political action. So, even though I may have so-called protective rights, this form of individualist government is actually an exclusive form of government: perhaps as exclusive as totalitarian or authoritative regimes are; after all, liberal, totalitarian, and authoritarian regimes all have one important shared feature: bureaucratic hierarchical structure.

Thus, we need a more meaningful form of association.


Such a form of association is generative because it cannot merely function without my political action, for I am part of the community because I have given myself to the community: this association is total insofar as it is totally inclusive. In turn, every day that I am acting in community, I affirm my action in community, and the concrete relationships between myself and community. To "generate" democracy is to participate in total community; without state, without structure, entirely in truth, and as free as before.


Blogger 'Thought & Humor' said...

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.

*Boas Festas e um feliz Ano Novo,
*Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo,
*Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
*Mo'adim Lesimkha. Shanah Tova,
*Fröhliche Weihnachten und ein glückliches -
Neues Jahr!
*Merry Christmas,
Dr. Howdy

'Thought & Humor'

7:50 PM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

Thanks for the comment! I would imagine that my audience would be quite atypical. I am very happy that you find the blog riveting.

8:14 PM  
Blogger baelmon said...

Hey, Nick. I finally got a chance to read this post, which was interesting (as always). I agree with your point that liberal and authoritarian/totalitarian polities share the basic characteristic of bureaucratization. I further agree that any meaningful form of democracy would abolish bureaucracies and representatives altogether, having citizens legislate directly. Any significant incarnation of democracy is equivalent to anarchism, i.e. the absence of artificial intermediaries between citizens and power. Joe Feinberg had an interesting article on yesterday's ZNet concerning Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. Feinberg argues that Chavez's leftist reforms have been good, but that if democracy is to progress the people must take the reins, making Chavez and the institution of the presidency irrelevant in a polity of direct self-determination. I think this is in keeping with your conception of democracy? We cannot rely on artificial structures like representatives and occasional voting to ensure our democracy (such structures are usually corrupt anyway). Real democracy must be directly participatory. On this point, I basically agree with you, Rousseau, and Feinberg.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

Thanks for the post, Toby. I appreciate you reading it, as it was a long one.

I am interested to see how this problem that you raise with anarchy and democracy plays out. I completely agree. Insofar as truthful democratic theory reduces political action to involvement at the level of morality, democracy becomes somehting organizational rather than structural or form-al. What's very interesting is that anarchy can remain a moral form of action, but merely morality that is disorganized and entirely non-communal.

I like this challenge of "organization" and "direct democracy" vs. structuralism. Chavez in Venezuela is a fantastic example of a type of socialism that challenges old formats of politics--be it what he calls "neoliberalism" (a much better classification of American politics than "democracy") or some form of "communism." Remember that in Venezuela, there is basically an entire bureaucracy that is contrary to Chavez's rule; my understanding is that much of Chavez's successful populist policies have occurred despite the resistance of legislation and executive bureaucrats (this is significant precisely because other central/south American countries--e.g. Mexico--have had a huge problem with gridlock between legislatures/bureaucracies/militarism and "presidential" rule)...

As always, thanks again for the comment. I really enjoy this ongoing discussion. Perhaps we could carry it into phil club, or maybe meet and have a longer discussion about this whole grab bag of politics, morality, and democracy?

6:17 PM  

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