January 14, 2013
I have turned this subject on all sides the last couple of weeks, not really sure how to approach it. I’ve done some reading, talked to people, and maintained my point of view: representative democracy is far from perfect, and it has a limit.
This all started a few days before Christmas. I was out with some friends for coffee and while debating an entire wealth of ideas and subjects, some more profane than others, the issue with representative democracy stuck on the back of my head, unwilling to let go. Over the holidays, with less than usual day-to-day stress, questions developed and this whole issue soon engulfed me – how far does representative democracy still represent the many? is there, at the end of the day, such a thing as actual representation for millions?
Millions of people come with millions of ideas. Millions of education backgrounds and millions of sets of values. Of which it’s hard to believe you would have two of the same. Surely we can all come to terms on specific issues, if enough time is given and both sides are willing to adapt to the other’s point of view. But when you extrapolate that to thousands, tens of thousands, millions of different sides to the same story it’s hard to believe. By default then, when X million people choose 1 to represent them, they actually agree to give up some side of their views and go with one accepted view. In theory this sounds right, as it enables a certain set of ideas, backed by a large enough portion of the population, to become an active player in an environment that has tens, maybe hundreds of different opinions, that can be debated, negotiated and brought to a common denominator and thus laws and legislation can be passed for the good of all.
Sounds good right? It does. But this is true only at a precise point in time. That point in time is largely related to the time of the elections. As soon as that has passed, things change. When we invest someone with a representative mandate in all other areas, especially business, that mandate is valid for a fixed and determined set of points to be debated. When we discuss politics things change – because we invest people to be our representatives for 4 years, and give them a blank page to put on whatever subject will come to pass in the 4 years they will serve. It starts to sound somewhat doubtful that true representation is actually in play.
And on top of all that uncertainty add this – the Y number of elected representatives, elect a Z number of them, that in turn elects an individual “I” to represent a population at a higher level, say the European Council. And when it comes to the Consilium the ugly side is that you only know what you are told, and you’re told by “I”. What you’re never told is what’s his exact mandate, what exactly is discussed and significantly more important how is that mandate related to the initial mandate that “I” has been granted by the people. As a matter of fact you actually have no idea of the mandate. Or the detailed outcome of the negotiations.
To be clear – I’m not paranoid. I can understand the reasoning and system that works in the background. I see the practicality of the system and understand why it is used. I don’t agree with it on the other hand. Direct democracy would employ a different type of mandate, but the actual system that would need to be in place for this to work is huge, and would undermine the idea behind representation. Thus the dilemma – do we go on acknowledging that there is no clear mandate or do we push for a different type of democracy?
The number of questions that arise from this point on increases on a logarithmic scale with every point settled. Some answers I have, or claim to have them, some I would push for, some that seem logical on paper could turn out to be quite undemocratic in the long run. And that is because none of the systems is actually perfect. And in more ways than one, I think that a better democracy should involve both systems – a hybrid of the two. And in that respect, the Swiss have something in place which is working. And has been working for quite a while.
There is the great debate on whether to go federal or confederate, with obvious pros and cons to both ideas. I for one believe in the federal system. And that is because you can have a federal system and draw some qualities of confederate systems to implement, in such a manner as to guarantee what all of us in Europe desire – a chance for a better future.
This future seems at arms length sometimes and then it fades away as a chimera, only to return again and restart the cycle. It’s the nature of Europe, or more to the point of Europe’s Nations. We have always bickered and had love – hate relationships between us. And history and the likes of Caesar, Napoleon or the Austro-Hungarian bipolar empire have shown time and again that Europe can not be united by force. Our force is in our individuality. We have so much history on our side. But as much as it is an advantage it is also a disadvantage. Two sides of one coin, that fate tosses around and however it falls, Europeans fight or love each other.
I will say it again – our force is our individuality – this multicultural environment that allows any seed room to grow. Representative democracy in most cases resolves to us laying our individuality aside. Direct democracy in most cases resolves to us using our individuality to influence policy and law and development. But at the end of the day both end with a vote. Voting is a most important aspect, one that has to be purveyed continuously. But it has to matter. And the one casting the vote must understand what he is doing and why.
The time of mindlessness sheep has passed. Each one of us is his own rightful shepherd, looking over a herd of one and a herd of 500 million at the same time. Unless these two herds are held at the same regard, we have no common future.Horatiu Ferchiu