Thursday, March 16, 2006

A perspective on radical democracy

Thoughts on Radical Democracy - 20 June 2004


The US-WILPF mission statement proclaims that “WILPF members create the peaceful transformation they wish to see in the world by making connections that build and strengthen relationships and movements for justice, peace, and radical democracy among people all over the world.” What do we mean by radical democracy?

Radical means “at the root,” and democracy means “rule by the people.” But combining the words together gives us something more than the sum of two parts. Radical democracy is not something modern societies have experienced in a widespread, sustained fashion, so it’s not a reality we can precisely define. But we have seen glimpses that suggest it is part of our core nature, something we can nurture and develop, so capturing its essence gives us something we can aspire to.

Radical democracy is a state of political being. It is not a kind of government, it is an end of government. It starts when people assume they have the values, beliefs, and skills to govern themselves. Then they create processes and institutions to meet their societal goals. But the existence of institutions like voting or courts does not guarantee radical democracy any more than the institution of marriage guarantees the presence of love. As one writer on the subject notes, radical democracy is an adventure of human beings creating with their own hands the conditions for their own freedom - it’s a way in which people order their lives together, through discussion and common action, on principles of equality and justice. Radical democracy can only come into being through widespread individual awakening that embraces commitment to community, inclusion, mutuality, and cooperation; it cannot be imagined and imposed on people by force or law.

Some of the goals, values, and conditions of radical democracy, as envisioned by US-WILPF, include:

  • the needs of all people are met - food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare, spirituality, lifelong education and growth

  • equal participation by each person in all decisions that affect them

  • a sense of community, connection, and right relationship to each other and all of life on the planet

  • sustainable cultures and economies

  • highly effective communication skills: the capacity for deep listening and speaking from the heart

  • trust, faith, and honesty

  • balance between heart, mind, and spirit

  • shared-power dynamics in which authority is linked to responsibility

  • human-scale societies and institutions

  • diversity being treasured and celebrated

  • a deep understanding that we must all do this together
US-WILPF recognizes that because we come from an anti-democratic society, daring to imagine radical democracy is an act of courage and vision. We cannot assume we will figure it out quickly or easily - after all, we have accumulated damage from 10,000 years of oppressive, patriarchal culture that we must heal from. Like massaging the blood back into a limb that has fallen asleep, waking up that part of our selves that is deeply democratic will be awkward and painful - but essential - work.

Whatever benefit it may have once provided us, the flat, two-dimensional nature of the left-right political spectrum is an inadequate framework for radical democracy. Expanding our imaginations and actions into a third dimension and beyond is crucial to bringing the world we want into being.

8 Comments:

Blogger Nick said...

I have a problem with your first point (suggestion). What if someone is perfectly capable of working, but they refuse? Should I still support them, through my hard earned income, to have food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.?

March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I question if human beings (with their natural destructive urges) can make a well meaning system like this work in the long run?

March 17, 2006  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi Nick,

Glad to see you joining in. I peeked at your blog, found it very interesting, and plan to comment a bit, if you don't mind.

In this blog, about 'achieving real democracy', we're considering a different kind of society, where everyone particates in governing their own communities. Your question has a different meaning in such a society.

In today's society, the governement confiscates our taxes, decides how to spend them, and sets the circumstance for employment. We are like mice in a maze, with rewards set out for us, and some of us do better in the maze than others. When we see others getting fed from the commons, while we work our butts off, it is natural to feel resentment.

But does it really make sense for the mice to blame one another for this situation? Might we not better focus our resentment on the masters of the maze, who sit back in their panelled offices, parasites on real working people?

In a society where the people of a community have power over their own destiny, our attitude toward work would be quite different. Rather than deciding if so many hours, and so much hassle, is worth so many dollars, we would be thinking of what we might do to participate in the livelihood of our community.

Your question still makes a lot of sense, in such a society, but a different sense. Rather than some distant government deciding about welfare, who gets it and why, we'd be able to find more creative ways to deal with those who don't want to contribute...if there indeed were such people in such a society. The evidence, fortunately, seems to indicate otherwise. When people feel ownership of their circumstances, they typically do want to contribute.

March 17, 2006  
Blogger rkm said...

Hi anonymous (why don't you use your real nickname?),

When we observe animals in cages, particularly if they are overcrowded and under stress, we see quite different behavior, more destructive and more neurotic, than if we observe the same species in its natural habitat.

Our hierarchical societies are cages, and our behaviors reflect that. This leads us to fear 'the people', and this, ironically, leads us to support our hierarchical system as a form of 'protection from the masses'.

Furthermore, most of the destructive behavior we do see in the world is preformed by governments, on behalf of elite interests, and has little to do with the motivations of people generally, who need to be persuaded by propaganda to acquiesce to the violence done in their names.

If you're interested, a useful perspective on human behavior, and its relationship to social structures, can be found in Eisler's, "The Chalice and the Blade". People are not naturally destructive, not any more than any other species.

March 17, 2006  
Blogger Rex said...

I've been trying to welcome Nick & annoymous for a week now, but I wanted to have my welcome include a picture of me. I never did manage to get my picture on my profile, but if you are really interested in seeing what I look like, visit my webpage!
I hope Nick & annonymous will come back. We need lots of diverse viewpoints if we're ever going to get closer to understanding how to acheive the truth of our oneness.
'Radical democracy' captures what I think 'democracy' should be: democracy all the way down to our roots!
I think that when we get closer to making it manifest, we'll find that everybody wants to do their share (because they will feel so good about themselves!) & nobody will refuse. Of course, I could be wrong about that (after all I am human so I do make mistakes!), but my experience tells me that when people respect each other fully, everything goes better! And I believe that when people realize that (because everything we do affects us all), nobody wins unless we all win! then radical democracy will have arrived to stay!

March 22, 2006  
Blogger disconnectus erectus said...

hi; i'm studyin' on radical dmeocracy in my master thesis, and had very glad to reading very successful summary here about it. thank you; i'll keep on watching your blog.

an additional note: essential readings about radical democracy: hegemony and socialist strategy (Laclau and Mouffe); democtatic paradox, the return of the political (mouffe)

March 30, 2006  
Blogger disconnectus erectus said...

by the way I'm from Turkey... :)

March 30, 2006  
Blogger Rex said...

Radical democracy exists when
*all people have access to the resources they need to sustain life
*each person's experience of life is fully respected, but not necessarily the conclusions we each draw from those experiences
{our experiences cannot be changed; the conclusions we draw from them can be changed & we must all be willing to revise our conclusions as our experinence is broadened by further experience: whether our own or others')
*we all are committed to respect all life
*we all are committed to the notion that nobody wins unless we all win
*we all realize that there will always be a gap between the words we use to communicate our understandings & our understandings themselves [understandings arise from actual experiences that are often extremely difficult to put into words]
*we are all committed to being as trustworthy & as honest as we can be
*we are all committed to being responsibly self-directed [not only as individuals but also as members of small groups]
*we are all committed to limiting the size of our political groups to no more that we can get to know personally
*we are all committed to humbly & willingly welcoming every opportunity to dialogue with those with whom we disagree until we do agree [making continual efforts toward consensus]

May 06, 2006  

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