Guest post by cjm: What about a Demarchy?
Posted by aogSunday, 10 August 2008 at 09:08 TrackBack Ping URL

cjm wrote a comment on another thread. I deleted it and moved it here.

i have been kicking around this idea for awhile now, and this is as good a place as any to talk about it.

building on existing social networking platforms, provide a tool that allows people in each congressional district to debate and decide on each piece of legislation — amongst themselves. once a majority position has been reached, the nominal representative votes accordingly. if he votes counter to his constituents’ wishes, then the auto-recall mechanism kicks in and he is out within a week. this would eliminate parties, lobbyists, etc. note that this tool is not electronic voting ala diebold, so security and identity issues aren’t a problem.

Certainly the concept has come up in various science fiction stories. One might look at The Outcasts of Heaven Belt which has an extreme citizen directed democracy of that sort. I think there was at least one other short story in that ficton but I can’t bring the title to mind. The “Demarchy” in Revelation Space is an homage to this.

Ender’s Game has a set up more similar to yours, with on line debates in effect directing government action. The Dosadi Experiment with its Bureau of Sabotage touches on some of the potential downside.

My own concerns would be how much conformity was created. After all, the debates are public? Which means that voting is de facto public as well, or you couldn’t know that a majority concensus had been achieved. I suspect such a system would require even more civic virtue than our current one (which, alas, I also suspect about a true minarchy). Just look at any website with a lot of commentors — how do you keep the flamers, ramblers, and utterly incoherent from derailing the conversation? On the websites where that (mostly) doesn’t happen (such as LGF) it’s because of a benevolent dictatorship. Who would serve that role in debates about government?

Comments — Formatting by Textile
erp Sunday, 10 August 2008 at 11:05

Our founding fathers gave us a Republic because they knew that a participatory democracy wouldn’t work as well and so far, they’ve been proven right.

cjm Sunday, 10 August 2008 at 15:41

hopefully — there are no gurantees in this life — the removal of parties would remove the rancor caused by partisanship, and create a more fluid environment for negotiated decisions. a given person may vote one way on legislation-A, and a different way on legislation-B, relative to what we now call left/center/right.

people wouldn’t necessarily have to identify themselves in the app, in the same way they identify themselves publically. there would just be pro and con counters for each piece of legislation being considered.

the effect of having the mass of voting age people actively involved in the governing process would be a devastating shock to the “new class” that acts so selfishly (and stupidly) now.

Ali Choudhury Sunday, 10 August 2008 at 17:23

The mass of voting age people are spectacularly uninformed on most issues. Like Harry says, for any proposed reform, you have to see how well it will scale. Direct democracy might work with small electorates but definitely not for large, industrial nations with voters ranking in the multi-millions. The US has an OK system of governance as it is. Spend two weeks in Karachi and then see if you can complain about the dysfunction of the present system.

David Cohen Sunday, 10 August 2008 at 17:39

Also, I’m not sure why you think that this will get rid of parties. My expectation would be that individual citizens are simply not going to put in anything like the effort necessary to make informed decisions. Do we really want the public deciding how many parts per million of arsenic should be groundwater, how long assets should be held before they quality for capital gains and where military bases should be cited.

People will just do whatever their preferred party tells them to do or more power will end up in the hands of bureaucrats. Compared to parties in parliamentary systems, parties in America are incredibly weak. Joe Lieberman is still in the Senate and the Blue Dogs get elected because of their refusal to toe the party line. I really don’t see party power as being a huge issue; the issue is that one of the parties is wrong.

(Also, where’s the evidence that people disagree with their congressman on the large issues?)

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 10 August 2008 at 18:36

A point that didn’t occur to me originally is something that I discussed on a thread on another weblog, which is that most (if not almost all) people would far prefer to completely ignore politics. Those of us with an interest in the subject are a small minority. It’s a key reason for the perenial failure of “participatory democracy”.

cjm Monday, 11 August 2008 at 09:18

now that we are all done patting ourselves on the back :)

the mass of voters are suffering from a shrunken sense of civic involvement, because there has been no way for them to participate more fully. with the rise of the federal government, most big decisions have been taken away from the lower levels of governance, and so people get out of the habit of caring. the tool i propose would work at all levels of government, and allow people to be involved continuously in the political process.

it is easy to say “people don’t care” or “people are too busy”, but let me tell you, there is nothing more compelling than political power. once a person gets a little taste they will be drawn into participating frequently. and something like this beats 99% of the websites out there as a way to spend time. combine blogging, social networking, and legislative decision making, and more people than you crdit would respond.

not everyone will care about every issue, but every person will have at least one/some bills they care enough to get involved with. when a given bill doesn’t draw a substantial response, the nominal represenative can vote as they please.

maybe parties will evolve and become more responsive, who knows. but the system i envisonage is extremely disruptive.

Brad S Monday, 11 August 2008 at 10:47

“the removal of parties would remove the rancor caused by partisanship, and create a more fluid environment for negotiated decisions.”

The experience of Nebraska’s non-partisan Unicameral Legislature argues vehemently against this notion. In the Unicameral, any ONE Senator can use parlimentary tactics to shut down the WHOLE process, once a bill gets out of committee. When a bill has to be passed THREE TIMES before it gets to the Governor, as it does with the Unicameral, that’s quite a few opportunities to wield monkey wrenches.

Political parties do impose a certain discipline into the process, and thus create a sense of responsibility for all outcomes. Even if the parties don’t appear to want to take that responsibility, sometimes!

cjm Monday, 11 August 2008 at 14:01

nice story; how does it apply to the topic of this thread?

Peter Burnet Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 06:20

I’d be interested in hearing from cjm as to why he thinks this is a positive ideal, even despite all the practical difficulties. Is it because you think it will result in superior government or because it is some kind of good in itself? Orrin makes the point frequently (made by many others) that the success of liberal democracy in the Anglosphere is because the majorities are relatively disengaged from politics and especially ideological rigour. Certainly we need a strong middle-class clerisy and a wary common sense spread widely, but why should the average joe spend more time studying the budget than NASCAR or Bradgelina? Funny kind of freedom that mandates all citizens must be well-versed in global strategic studies.

I’ve just finished this, which is a pretty good trashing of modern education and the techno-mindlessness of today’s youth. Music to my ears, but over and over again he cites those studies that show 43% of American youth don’t know who won WW11, yada, yada, and repeats that timeless Whig shibboleth about how democracy relies on an informed citizenry to protect it. When in history have we ever had broadly informed masses up on their history and cultural heritages? Is such a thing possible or even desirable? Be careful what you wish for.

cjm Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 08:47

book smarts are fine, in the right environment, but a healthy society has a full spectrum of smarts.

i have only one goal with this project, that is to provide a way to cause the “average joe” to become engaged more fully in the running of society. the emergence of a permanent political overclass is abhorrent to me, and hopefully this tool will offset that. the reason most people are so disengaged with politics is that they have very little opportunity to be involved with it. sure they can lick stamps and knock on doors, but obviously that has limited appeal — “be the janitor for the revolution!”. make it easy and fun to directly participate, and even people with busy lives will join in.

cjm Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 08:54

suggested features?

here’s some of mine:

web based client for low security features

desktop client application for more secure features

municipal, state, and federal legislation coverage

personal filtering for areas of concern

auto-recall for rogue represenatives


circle of friends (user defined list of known people) <- this is how “trust” is built-in

Peter Burnet Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 09:04

make it easy and fun to directly participate

User-friendly freedom and democracy, eh? I dunno, doesn’t that kind of takes the heroic lustre off your revolutionary heros? cjm, I’m wondering, will your direct democracy also be a good place to meet hot babes? :-)

cjm Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 11:49

babes are what make the world go around :)

new feature to the project: dating service

erp Tuesday, 12 August 2008 at 12:02

When? When the public schools taught American history and Civics without a leftwing spin, i.e. before the schools were taken over by the teachers unions — going into the third generation now.

When a test of American history and government went around the internet a while back, us geezers did a lot better than the youngsters even though it might have been half century since we sat in a public school.

Also voting was seen as a duty and privilege. You registered to vote the same way you registered your car — with the proper documentation.

Bret Saturday, 16 August 2008 at 02:06

This would be my approach to direct democracy.

cjm Sunday, 17 August 2008 at 18:55

have bookmarked your site, will read soon. thx.

Tom C Monday, 18 August 2008 at 14:34

What’s with this romance you guys seem to have with ‘direct democracy’? Too much democracy is the problem. Repeal all progressive era amendments to the constitution and renew the proper place of the 9th and 10th amendments. Might as well begin there prior to implimenting some scheme for more ‘direct’ democracy within what is actually a federal republic.

cjm Monday, 18 August 2008 at 14:45

TomC: America seems to have been abandoned by its elite class. if this is so, how do we maintain a nation state without direct control? not ideal, but maybe necessary under the current circumstances.

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