Ch. 17, Marx's method, The Social System : Section VII
The important distinction which we made there was that between persons and institutions. We pointed out that, while the political question of the day may demand a personal solution, all long term policy--and especially all democratic long-term policy--must be conceived in terms of impersonal institutions. And, we pointed out that, more especially, the problem of controlling the rulers, and of checking their powers, was in the main, an institutional problem--the problem, in short, of designing institutions for preventing even bad rulers from doing too much damage. ...
We thus arrive at a distinction between two entirely different methods by which the economic intervention of the state may proceed. The first is that of designing a `legal framework' of protective institutions (laws restricting the powers of the owner of an animal, or of a landowner, are an example). The second is that of empowering organs of the state to act--within certain limits--as they consider necessary for achieving ends laid down by the rulers for the time being. We may describe the first procedure as `institutional' or `indirect' intervention and the second as `personal' or `direct' intervention. (Of course, intermediate cases exist.)
There can be no doubt, from the point of view of democratic control, which of these methods is preferable. The obvious policy for all democratic intervention is to make use of the method whenever this is possible, and to restrict the use of the second method to cases for which the first method is inadequate. (Such cases exist. The classical example is the Budget--this expression of the Chancellor's discretion and sense of what is equitable and just. And it's conceivable though highly undesirable that a counter-cycle measure may have to be of a similar character.)
From the point of view of piecemeal social engineering, the difference between the two methods is highly important. Only the first, the institutional method, makes it possible to make adjustments in the light of discussion and experience. It alone makes it possible to apply the method of trial and error to our political actions. It is long-term, yet the permanent legal framework can be slowly changed, in order to make allowances for unforeseen and undesired consequences, for the changes in other parts of the framework, etc. It allows us to find out, by experience and analysis, what we are actually doing when we intervened with a certain aim in mind.
But it is not only in this sense that the first method can be described as rational and the second as irrational. It is also in an entirely different and highly important sense. The legal framework can be known and understood by the individual citizen; and it should be designed to be so understandable. It introduces a factor of certainty and security into social life. When it is altered, allowances can be made , during a transitional period, for those individuals who have laid their plans in the expectation of its consistency.
As opposed to this, the method of personal intervention must introduce an ever-growing element of unpredictability into social life, and with it will develop the feeling that social life is irrational and insecure. The use of discretionary powers is liable to grow quickly, once it has become an accepted method, since adjustments will be necessary, and adjustments to discretionary short-term decisions can hardly be carried out by institutional means. This tendency must greatly increase the irrationality of the system, creating in many the impression that there are hidden powers behind the scenes, and making them susceptible to the conspiracy theory of society with all of its consequences--heresy hunts, national, social and class hostility.
Ch. 19, Marx's Prophecy; The Revolution, Section V
... I base this criticism on the contention that democracy can work only if the main parties adhere to a view of its functions which may be summarized in some rules such as these (see also section II of Ch. 7):
1) Democracy cannot be fully characterized as the rule of the majority, although the institution of general elections is most important. For a majority might rule in a tyrannical way. ... In a democracy, the powers of the rulers must be limited; and the criterion of a democracy is this: In a democracy, the rulers--that is to say, the government--can be dismissed by the ruled without bloodshed. Thus if the men in power do not safeguard those institutions which secure to the minority the possibility of working for a peaceful change, then their rule is a tyranny.
[ Here, I disagree with Popper for reasons which are either obvious or which I'll have to explain at another time. My view is that the full basic rights and protections of the law must extend to all and at all times.]
- We need only distinguish between two forms of government, viz. such as possess institutions of this kind, and all others; i.e. democracies and tyrannies.
- A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.
- In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to violent overthrow of the democracy.
"As opposed to such a policy, that of Marxist parties can be characterized as one of making the wokers suspicious of democracy . `In reality, the state is nothing more,' says Engels, `than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.'"
- A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be anti-democratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers [ hence my objection to withholding legal protections from those who may violate or be accused of violating the law, above].
- If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance.
- Democracy provides an invaluable battle-ground for any reasonable reform, since it permits reform without violence. But if the preservation of democracy is not made the first consideration in any particular battle fought out on this battle-ground, then the latent anti-democratic tendencies which are always present (and which appeal to those who suffer from the strain of civilization, as we called it in Ch. 10) may bring about a breakdown of democracy. If an understanding of these principles is not yet developed, its development must be fought for. The opposite may policy may prove fatal; it may bring about the loss of the most important battle, the battle for democracy itself.
But such views must produce :
(a) "A policy of blaming democracy for all the evils which it does not prevent, instead of recognizing that the democrats are to be blamed, and the opposition usually no less than the majority. (Every opposition has the majority it deserves.)"
* * *
"It is high time for us to learn that the question `who is to wield the power in the state?' matters only little as compared with the question ` how is the power wielded?' and ` how much power is wielded?' We must learn that in the long run, all political problems are institutional problems, problems of the legal framework rather than of persons, and that the progress towards more equality can only be safeguarded by the institutional control of power."