Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Polyarchy.

by Ronald Rutherford Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 03:07:10 AM EST

As my first post I wanted to open a forum for a discussion about democracies and some theories in regard to Polyarchy.

In modern political science, the term Polyarchy (Greek: poly many, arkhe rule)[1] was introduced by Robert A. Dahl, now emeritus professor at Yale University, to describe a form of government that was first implemented in the United States and gradually adopted by many other countries. According to Dahl, the fundamental democratic principle is that, when it comes to binding collective decisions, each person in a political community is entitled to have his interests be given equal consideration. A polyarchy is a nation-state that has certain procedures that are necessary conditions for following the democratic principle.[1][2]

Definitions
Dahl's original theory of Polyarchal Democracy is in his 1956 book, A Preface to Democratic Theory. His theory evolved over the decades, and the description in later writings is somewhat different.


So I wanted to ask first whether the EU governments are also Polyarchy.


Another article that may be of interest in our discussion is CHAPTER 2 / Defining Democracy.

I also imagine that we could talk about theories of Democratic Peace. Edit (4-3-07): Thanks for some of the fine comments below. I am not sure about all the rules, so I wanted to know if anyone would be offended if I quoted anyone of the people that post here on another Forum/Blog/Board? (With appropriate attribution.) I look forward to learning much from you guys/gals here!

Display:
a form of government that was first implemented in the United States and gradually adopted by many other countries

Only a US citizen can write things like that. I wouldn't even know where to start. Slavery ? Indian affairs ? The Astrodom ?

As to the EU nations (not "governments"), I suppose the smaller ones (Nordic) may be closer to this ideal than the larger ones.

by balbuz on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 03:27:11 AM EST
Sometimes I like to start a thread and then just watch the conversation develop and not try to control it.

Then to follow up at a later date like now...

I believe in some of the US exceptionalism but we can say that about almost all countries. So obviously the writer is a navel gazing American, like the Americans developed new forms of government.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Apr 4th, 2007 at 04:32:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the wikipedia article:
Polyarchy and its procedures by itself may be insufficient for achieving full democracy. For example, poor people may be unable to participate in the political process.

When, in the 1940s, Joseph Schumpeter argued that ordinary citizens should limit their participation in a democracy to electing its leaders, he was effectively arguing for polyarchy. This contrasts with the view presented in the eighteenth century by Rousseau, that the health of a polity depended on active citizen involvement in all aspects of governance. According to Schumpeter, massive political participation is regarded as undesirable and even dangerous. Schumpeter thought that the electoral masses are incapable of political participation other than voting for their leaders. Most political issues are so remote from the daily lives of ordinary people, that they can not make sound judgements about opinions, policies and ideologies.

In Preface to Democratic Theory (1956) Dahl argues that an increase in citizen political involvement may not always be beneficial for polyarchy. An increase in the political participation of members of "lower" socioeconomic classes, for example, could reduce the support for the basic norms of polyarchy, because members of those classes are more pre-disposed to be authoritarian-minded.

In a discussion of contemporary British foreign policy, Mark Curtis stated that "Polyarchy is generally what British leaders mean when they speak of promoting 'democracy' abroad. This is a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites."

Elite rationalisations for incomplete or formal democracy.

Sure, European countries are polyarchies. France is (rule by enarques or polytechniciens). The Low Countries are (see pillarisation). Spain, Germany, Italy, are as well (they have a substrate of corporatist structures in economic decision-making). And so on.

The EU itself is a polyarchy (the "democratic deficit").

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 04:52:06 AM EST
In Preface to Democratic Theory (1956) Dahl argues that an increase in citizen political involvement may not always be beneficial for polyarchy. An increase in the political participation of members of "lower" socioeconomic classes, for example, could reduce the support for the basic norms of polyarchy, because members of those classes are more pre-disposed to be authoritarian-minded.

Actually toyed with that idea for a while now ever since Jerome (and others?) were defending the French political model. Are technocrats a boon or a plague?

Seeing the developments in the Netherlands with the increase in voting population and rampantly growing xenophobia, I'm not so sure whether I'd like to live in the Netherlands ruled by full polyarchy... Then again, a technocracy is no guarantee either. The intellectual elite can be equally profoundly stupid.

by Nomad on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 06:03:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's also Plato's "government of the Philosophers". There is no shortage of elitist political theory in the history of thought. Especially when the thinker belongs to the elite they think should rule.

Then again, rule by the authoritarian social dominators who can best play the media game to get elected by mass suffrage might not be all that good either.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 06:08:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see a difference between the views attributed to Schumpeter (above) and advocacy of "representative democracy". The classic questions then would be:

  • Is there a level of detail or complexity at which people would be better off if they select the decision-makers than if they decide?

  • Is it legitimate for people to both delegate a class of decisions and to decide it would be in their best interest to insulate subsequent decision-making from their own media-incited passions?

There seems to be widespread agreement that the answer to these questions is "Yes". Am I missing something?

Whether the current means of selection work well or not is a separate issue. I think that deep constitutional reform* would be worth pursuing, but this is too metalevel to get a fraction of the attention it deserves. Squabbling about particular politicians and policies always dominates the attention of even the intellectual elite.
-----------
* For example: Distinctions between constitutional frameworks, high law, ordinary law, and parliamentary funding and oversight of administration. Parliamentary election by means of delegable proxies or a sampled electorate. Electoral mechanisms using approval voting and sortition. Clear principles and protection for subsidiarity.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 03:02:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Schumpeter makes that case that contemporary democracy is a case of interest representation rather than preference relevation in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.  So what matter is not that individuals have their say, but that interests in society are represented.

It begins to break down when you realized that union members may also be taxpayers, the religious may also be wealth,etc.  Individuals rarely belong to just one group in society.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 03:29:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bureaucracy is not a bad system of administration as long as it contains strong checks against nepotism and influence-peddling. But administration is not all of government: there's also politics. And the analysts should not also be the decision-makers, though the decision-makers should be able to understand analysis.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 06:11:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
administration is not all of government: there's also politics

And policy.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 06:37:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Miguel,

a math oriented question for you.

Σ Individual Good = Common Good ?

Cause, if so, then the market is a much better suited to create democratic outcomes than elections.  Because it allows the real time summation of individual interests, and accounts for intensity of preference.

Of course if all this democracy stuff is about preference relevation, and head counting, shouldn't we be asking where preferences come from?

Are preferences the result of rational though processes at the individual levels?

Clearly my preference for pork rinds (fried pork skin) is the result of my individual rationalization of the benefits of consuming fried skin over the cost to my health, rather than the result of my internalization of a cultural preference (maybe even encompassing part of that mythic cultural capital that Bordieau likes to talk about.)

Does it really make since to believe that our individual prefences exist outside of a societal context?  So do we really need to sum the value of all individual preferences to ascertain the collective preference, or are we able to allow groups to stand in as proxies for individuals so that we don't have to have an election for each decision made?

In the social partnership model, does it make sense to substitute the individual level contract for the centralized bargaining of labor and capital?

Might it be that the summation of interests in this manner doesn't account for power imbalances?  Thus, we need collective organizations that stand in as proxies for individuals and operate based upon the cession of preference representation from the individual to the collective.  (Ruminate now upon the significance of the one person-one vote rule predominate in labor, as opposed to the shareholding rule present in finance capital.  Then think of the relevance of bank based capital, in which the actors for capital are bound to social ends rather than the summation of weighted preferences.)

So might it be preferable that we have an organized society, in which groups exist to reduce power assymeteries, even if it means that individuals are not able to make all decisions on their own?

That's the heart of pluralism, and of polyarchy.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 10:58:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Man,

This is not a math question, this is a modelling question. It depends on what the definition of 'sum' is (do I get to say this with a cigar?). But, in any case, the common good is not an aggregate quantity, because the distribution counts. See my earlier critique of Kaldor-Hicks optimality. I have also constantly hammered on the necessity of considering partial orders and multi-dimensional measures of "good".

Preferences are not the result of rational processes at the individual level. That's why social choice theorist have had to devise things like "implied preferences". And, if you accept people have multiple conflicting desires, Arrow's impossibility theorem not only means that collective decision making is problematic, but that individual decision-making is also problematic.

Anyway, very good comment.


"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 11:34:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If preferences are not the result of individuals acting as rational actors, what since does the making a fetish of democracy make?

After all, liberalism is all about freeing the individual to "be all that they can be."  That's the reason social orders are rejected, because social orders restrict the freedom of the individual, even if they reduce the existential angst that comes from wondering how you are going to get food and a roof over your head is going to come from.

Remember, they lived bravely, and they starved free.    

They were not persecuted by a social order that would have compelled them to act in ways against their wishes, and that's the reason they could die proud.  Because though they starved for nothing more than the sense they were in charge, they did not yield to what others demanded of them.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 12:20:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Arrow's impossiblity theorem.

You have a small child.

Empirical proof of the transitivity of prefences can be gained from taking small children to the ice cream shop.

Parent: "What flavor do you want?"

They don't have that one,  remember you said your second favorite was this one.

Child: I don't want that one, I want this one.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 12:22:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Point, counterpoint
MAJORITY RULE — Piet Hein

His party was the Brotherhood of Brothers,
and there were more of them than of the others.
That is, they constituted that minority
which formed the greater part of the majority.
Within the party, he was of the faction
that was supported by the greater fraction.
And in each group, within each group, he sought
the group that could command the most support.
The final group had finally elected
a triumvirate whom they all respected.
Now, of these three, two had final word,
because the two could overrule the third.
One of these two was relatively weak,
so one alone stood at the final peak.
He was: THE GREATER NUMBER of the pair
which formed the most part of the three that were
elected by the most of those whose boast
it was to represent the most of the most
of most of most of the entire state --
or of the most of it at any rate.

He never gave himself a moment's slumber
but sought the welfare of the greater number.
And all people, everywhere they went,
knew to their cost exactly what it meant
to be dictated to by the majority.
But that meant nothing, -- they were the minority.

I bolded my favourite bit.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 11:40:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An argument for relatively flat political structures?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 03:06:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for all the post listed above.
I wanted to add a couple audio clips talking about Polyarchy from a US/South America Countries.

William I. Robinson, Ph.D.
A portion of it:

Organic intellectuals and U.S. policymakers... insist that polyarchy must go hand in hand with neoliberal global capitalism. If there is no free market capitalism there is no democracy. That in order to be democratic, one must be capitalist. And not any capitalist but neoliberal capitalism. Global Capitalism. And so normal society is capitalist society and any other vision is anti democratic heresy. Numerous State Department and other U.S. Government pronouncements declare explicitly that promoting democracy or promoting free market capitalism, or neoliberalism, are complementary, a singular process in U.S. foreign policy, now with the cliché, market democracy or pre market democracy. And indeed, central to U.S. polyarchy promotion is supporting those business groups, political and civic organizations in intervened countries that favor neoliberal reform, and capitalist globalization, and marginalizing those groups who oppose it.

Who is associated with NACLA.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Fri Apr 6th, 2007 at 12:24:44 AM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]