Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Democracy Is Not Anarchy

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, a response to an interlocutor I suspect wants to launch into a dreary exchange about anarchism:

I want not to smash the state but to democratize it. I am no anarchist, and I have to say that neither is my patience unlimited when it comes to anarchists.

Not to put too fine a point on it, it seems to me that the definitive ideal of democratization, equity-in-diversity, is not attainable in the absence of good government, and unless we create and maintain institutions for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes the permanent possibility of violence inhering in human plurality will prevail.

Given the susceptibility of all states to capture by incumbents and all authorities to rationalization anarchism provides an indispensable vantage for critique, but few resources from which to educate, agitate, and organize the ongoing struggle for democratization, consensualization, and equity-in-diversity.

The red thread of inequity and violence undertaken by tyrannical and corrupt governments is horrible to contemplate and should bolster the resolve of radical democrats, but anarchists just seem to me to throw the baby out with the bathwater or, worse, seem in their assumptions about politics to have remained in the nursery themselves, mistaking hopes for harmony (or, worse, the customary coercions of contract for peace), or declarations of abstract principle for the painful compromised concrete struggles for reconciliation or reform.

In particular, I regard the endless recurrence to fantasies of "spontaneous order" on the part of anarchists -- whether they fancy themselves to inhabit the left or the right or some place "beyond left and right" -- a parade of functional facilitations of oligarchy.

Now, I abhor empire, and it is a deep confusion to identify all government with empire, or to insinuate that those who would struggle to make government of by and for the people more convivial pine after a "good empire" (both of which the commenter did in framing their question in the Moot).

As for why governance now needs to be planetary in scope (this was the topic of the post which occasioned this upgraded exchange from the Moot), as I said, global governance already exists now, but in authoritarian corporate-militarist forms, and it is the struggle of our living generation to democratize this existing global governance in the interests of sustainability and fairness not to invent some planetary government ab initio and as some kind of end-in-itself.

Our environmental problems are planetary in character and the nation-state system is manifestly inadequate to cope with them (thus threatening us all with literal destruction) while at one and the same time the public realm has been likewise rendered planetary through p2p-media formations that are the register in which contemporary citizenship makes its play. The planetary character of our problems, of the emerging terrain of political agency, and even of existing institutions are already before us, the work is to democratize them else be enslaved or destroyed by them.

As for the more basic questions posed about the presumed dispensability of political life as such: Human plurality is palpable, as is our interdependency with one another, peer-to-peer, and our shared indebtedness to the archive of history's accomplishments and troubles are all facts of life. That we are obligated by the voices of those with whom we share the world is no less true when we deny it or rationalize it away. Equity, diversity, consent are fragile but indispensable to human flourishing and must be accomplished through civitas. Until these fundamentals are grasped one cannot expect to talk sensibly for long about politic matters.

Please don't expect to draw me into a politics 101 discussion with an online libertopian of the right or the left, if either you may be, or any such nonsense -- I have learned the hard way that it's a waste of my time and to little purpose.


Summerspeaker said...

I'm missing your logical progression here. How does acknowledgment of plurality and interdependence lead to acceptance of the coercion fundamental (definitional) to government?

As you suggest, it's probably a waste of time to argue at this point. Anarchists and liberals hold enough shared values for useful cooperation. For example, and related to global government, consider the police brutality at the recent G20 protests in Canada. If a reformist movement could get the cops to stop their threats and acts of sexual violence, I would be all for it.

Dale Carrico said...

The permanent possibility of violent dispute doesn't cease to exist depending on whether you "accept" it or not -- the best one can do is canalize dispute into the amelioration rather than the exacerbation of that permanent possibility: Hence, no taxation without representation, regular elections, extension of the franchise, open up the field to office seeking, bills of rights with freedoms of press and association, equal recourse to the law, separation of powers, subsidiarity, federalist layering of governance, ideally through the provision of basic guaranteed income, universal healthcare, lifelong education, retraining and therapy and access to reliable knowledge, and so on, in many different configurations.

The problem of democratic governance is to secure a legible scene of consent and to provide for institutional alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes, as well as to institute checks on the vulnerability to violence and corruption obviously inhering in its monopoly (which is a precondition for its claim to legitimacy and in turn a precondition to its circumvention rather than expression of that violence).

Disapproving, wishing away, or defining coercions out of existence by fiat (all contracts are voluntary by definition, eg, whatever conditions of duress and misinformnation duress aticulate them) are altogether unserious compared with the efforts of democratic experimentalism and social struggle to actual address violence rather than merely making a self-aggrandizing spectacles of decrying it. There are no spontaneous orders, only articulated ones, the possibilities for instituting violences in the very act of making testimony and redress of other violences socially legible are not to be wished away but must be faced squarely by those who would advocate for nonviolence in earnest.

Mitchell said...

I'm not an anarchist. I'm not even against a UNPA. I'm sure I could live with it. I just severely doubt that there is anything efficient, practical, or necessary about such an institution.

I live in Australia. I don't see that any Australian problem is going to be assisted by campaigning for this globalized democracy, or that anyone else is crying out for their problems to be solved by giving Australians an institutional voice in their affairs.

Dale Carrico said...

People should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Institutions of global governance already exist, they simply are not democratic. They make decisions concerning the international regulation of trade, arms, immigration, environmental conditions, labor conditions, human rights, health, education, welfare, any number of things, and presently in corporate-militarist terms in ways incomparably more beholden to the interests of incumbent/moneyed elites in than to the vast majority of stakeholders to their decisions. You are of course free to disagree that you are among the earthly stakeholders so disenfranchised under such a system, you are free to pretend to Olympian detachment or nationalist parochialism, but unless you are very rich or Australia exists in some unearthly realm you are, I am afraid, quite catastrophically mistaken in your views.