March 12, 2013

Theses on Democracy

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Liberties, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 4:42 am


Even where it transcends grade school civics class brainwashing, votism will often persist in the form of buying the lie that elections equal democracy. But this is a lie, and would be even if there were actual “choices” in the elections. Of course, in practice we have no such choices, and our elections are just kangaroo elections, de facto one-party slates. You can vote for Monsanto or Monsanto, Wall Street or Wall Street, empire or empire, war or war, police state or police state…
But like I said, even if there were some choices, this would not be democracy. Here’s some theses on democracy. I recommend Lawrence Goodwyn’s The Populist Moment, especially the introduction, as a good introduction to how this applies in the American context.
*Democracy and hierarchy are antithetical.
*To the extent a society is hierarchical, it cannot be democratic, and vice versa. Zero sum.
*Democracy is direct political participation, citizen self-management, self-determination, actually controlling our own affairs.
*Hierarchy is any version of letting elites usurp and concentrate our sovereignty, our power, and then waiting for a dispensation from Our Leaders, Our Betters, from on high.
*”Representative” government is a version of hierarchy, and not a version of democracy. “Representative democracy” is a contradiction in terms.
[Compare how Franklin, as colonial agent in Britain, answered Grenville when asked about the “no taxation without representation” slogan. The patriots didn’t want representation, they wanted independence. (The second part of this wasn’t completely clear in 1765, but was implicit in the logic, which applies equally to the equally distant and fraudulent version of the British Parliament set up by the 1788 Constitution.) By definition, a patriot doesn’t want to be ruled by alien hierarchy, and therefore doesn’t want “representation”. He wants democracy. No other definition of the term can make any sense in the American context, the proclaimed principles of its founding.]
*Any version of hierarchy, including the “representative” version, is a version of the Fuhrerprinzip, “Leadership Principle”. This is the doctrine that self-constituted and self-alleged elites should monopolize power and assert control over the people. This is what we have in the US. The US is a hierarchical society. It is not a democratic society. This is the way these terms should be used.
*If you want a democratic society, if you are a citizen, if you are a patriot, you have to fight to abolish hierarchy.


  1. All I can say is wow Russ.. this is by far your best post!

    Comment by Dave Outlaw — March 12, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    • Thanks Dave.

      Comment by Russ — March 12, 2013 @ 8:54 am

  2. Russ,

    Can humanity abolish hierarchy? It seems to be part of the human condition.

    Put another way, as a practical matter, can you have a democratic society that demands the absence of hierarchy? For example, can we do away with the parent-child hierarchy when the children are minors?

    All men are not created equal. Like snowflakes, they are created fundamentally the same but uniquely different. Some believe their differences make them better than others and will seek to lead. Others believe their differences make them worse than others and will prefer to follow. Others just don’t care, one way or the other, which tends to make them followers, too.

    A “democracy” that commands that each individual subjugates his personal predisposition towards his own role in the collective clearly creates a hierarchy of the collective over the individual, and who will determine the will of the collective? You? How can you make followers not follow? How can you make leaders not lead? Leading and following are commanded by emotion, not reason, and the only way you can overcome such emotions is with a stronger emotion, e.g., the fear of severe punishment. Purges, anyone?

    If we insist on having a state, I’d prefer to have one that starts by accepting and revering the differences among us than insisting that we all must be the same when we manifestly are not (and don’t really want to be). Hierarchy is part of the human condition, so isn’t the real question whether those higher up in the hierarchy feed on those below, or do they serve them? Does being a leader bring responsibility, privilege, or both? There are all sorts of ways to imagine and construct hierarchies that are less dehumanizing than demanding a level of equality that no human seems to admit or understand.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 12, 2013 @ 11:52 pm

    • I refer to structurally enshrined hierarchy, authoritarian things like corporations and the state, not straw men like “what about the hierarchy of parent and child?”

      A community can’t “make followers not follow” in an emotional sense, but it can certainly refrain from any sort of supply-driven economic policy, distribute resources according only to what people can use, and forbid hoarding. In that case, it would be far more difficult for anyone to monopolize resources and use them to control materialistic followers, even if there were indelible dregs who preferred to be wage slaves. Historically, that hasn’t been the case. Free human beings have always preferred to become their own bosses, wherever that was economically possible. Only under the combined assault of modern economic hierarchy and middle class ideological indoctrination have people broadly come to consider being an “employee” to be a desirable condition. It seems to me that much of your critique is taking the modern middle class “norm”, which is really abnormal, as the timeless human condition. That’s the kind of scam modern Hobbesians want us to buy into.

      There can be leadership, based only on moral authority and practical merit, without structures of enshrined hierarchy and concentrated power. As anarchists are always pointing out, most of our relationships are of this nature. Why would we need any other kind of relationship? For what do we need corporations, governments, police, etc.? Don’t those things do nothing but impose alien regulations and taxes upon us, which are totally unnecessary, and only for their benefit, not for ours? On the contrary to our detriment? Meanwhile, the alleged human-nature basis of the Fuhrerprinzip is also a fabrication of modernity.

      I’m interested to know what kind of relationship you think we need those things for. Needless to say, anything involving globalization and empire, and the maintenance of these, doesn’t count.

      So summing up, history doesn’t support the Hobbesian view of human nature you propound here. Most people have functioned stably and comfortably in non-state community frameworks, and there’s no reason to think we can’t do so again, once the top-down-imposed enforcement of the psychopathic antisocial “norms” of today is removed. (Have you noticed how much brute force of violence, extortion, and bribery is required to keep hierarchical ideas and practices as a going concern? If that really was “human nature”, or if people really wanted to live that way, wouldn’t it come far more naturally to them by now, given how many generations such favorable circumstances have prevailed for that ideology?)

      “If we insist on having a state” – but it’s among the premises of this blog that (1) we don’t have to so insist; there are alternatives, (2) we’d be better off insisting on an alternative.

      Comment by Russ — March 13, 2013 @ 2:09 am

      • Language comes between us again.

        I don’t think your issue is hierarchy generally, or even “structurally enshrined hierarchy” but exploitive hierarchy. (One can imagine a structurally enshrined hierarchy that is not exploitive.)

        The current system is certainly an exploitive hierarchy– actually, a network of them– that robs us of what makes us human. I agree that we don’t need exploitive hierarchies and must reject them. In that regard, my insistence that hierarchies generally will inevitably arise in any society is the opposite of being Hobbesian as all I am saying is that we should let people be people, that going too far in attempting to erase exploitive hierarchy could be just as dehumanizing.

        A democracy is a state, and you insist upon it (I said “we,” but only because we are having a conversation; I don’t know that I believe that we need to replace the exploitive hierarchies with anything once they are gone). Part of your vision of democracy is forcing everybody to take responsibility as a citizen. I just don’t think everybody can, will or should have to take such responsibility.

        I guess I’m more of an anarchist these days.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 13, 2013 @ 10:35 am

      • Once again language does come between us, and once again I can’t imagine why, since I’ve laid my cards on the table. I propose a rigorous terminology for large-scale, formally enshrined structures, calling them “hierarchy”, and reserving that term for them. I don’t insist upon it, but I do insist that anyone who doesn’t like it has to offer an alternative. Since you keep disagreeing but also refuse to offer an alternative, I have to conclude that you don’t want a term for this concept to exist. And I have to conclude that the reason for this is that you don’t want the concept discussed or even thought about at all.

        “One can imagine a structurally enshrined hierarchy that is not exploitive.”

        History provides zero evidence for this creature, this benevolent despot I wrote about in my liberal cargo cult post.


        If nothing else, any hierarchy requires significant resources for its maintenance. That right there means society has to generate a surplus and suffer its extraction by elites. These in turn already require coercive procedures, taxation and policing. Since we agree that the hierarchies are unnecessary, why would anyone want this thing which would be purely parasitic even if it weren’t actively predatory?

        Indeed, belief in it is particularly characteristic of “progressives”. I know you don’t believe in it, so I can’t imagine why you’re touting it here.

        “A democracy is a state”

        On the contrary, I just stated as a basic thesis that they are antithetical. If you want to use a broader, more amorphous term like “government” I wouldn’t object, but “the state”, and especially the modern state, is a uniquely oppressive form of government. Tribal “government”, town-hall “government”, worker council “government”, are different in form, process, and most of all in the direct participation of the people, with such participation taking various forms, but always being in the immediate proximity of, and directly controlling or impacting, the way decisions are made. While small size and immediate proximity can’t guarantee against injustice or coercion, they render it more difficult, and place natural limits on its effects. With the unaccountable, opaque, massive state, there’s no theoretical limit on its evil, quantitative or qualitative.

        “Part of your vision of democracy is forcing everybody to take responsibility as a citizen. I just don’t think everybody can, will or should have to take such responsibility.”

        Unless someone’s going to be a pure lone-wolf beachcomber, it’s hard to see how he’s going to exist other than as part of a community. In which case, while he needn’t participate in decision-making if he doesn’t want to, he certainly has to take his minimum responsibilities for defense and for whatever unpleasant jobs have to be done. What other anarchist position could there be? Here again, it sounds like you’re echoing the standard media lies about anarchism, that it means chaos or something. Even cave-dwellers certainly had responsibilities for all members of the group.

        “I guess I’m more of an anarchist these days.”

        Is that why you indulged the “hierarchy of parent and child” anti-anarchist canned talking point? Anarchists, of course, never denied that children need the guidance of adults. It’s rather different from an alien, and almost certainly inferior, cop or bureaucrat trying to tell a citizen what to do.

        Comment by Russ — March 14, 2013 @ 5:50 am

      • I have offered an alternative term, exploitive hierarchy, because the word hiearchy already has a definition much broader than you propose. Everything else you have attributed to me is obviated by that proposal as it should be clear I was using the term hierarchy in its generally understood sense except when modified by an adjective.

        An example of a structurally enshrined hierarchy in certain cultures is deference to and care for one’s elders. Again, I am using the word hierarchy in its general sense.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 14, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  3. To be clear, the selection of law makers is democratic, but the important roles of making and enforcing laws is not. It’s important to accurately describe the structure as it is now and as it could be when a “reversal of polarity” is achieved so we don’t end up with people like Tao J. seeing it as a totalitarian solution. I don’t think we can abolish all hierarchy, but clearly our current culture is sick with too much of it and most cannot imagine anything else. This absolutely must change.

    It’s natural to look to others for guidance and have them provide structure. Hierarchy can be tolerated as long as it’s not totalitarian and a person can move freely in or out of the hierarchical group. In open source software there is the concept of the “benevolent dictator” who leads a project and is accepted as such on meritocratic terms. This takes place in the context of a software commons however, so people who want to go their own way have access to the entire body of developed work to start their own fork with.

    The reversal would be where the commons and direct democracy are the primary logic of government and hierarchy is relegated to small, temporal parts of the system. As it is now, democracy is only practised in the smaller, temporal parts.

    Comment by Karl — March 13, 2013 @ 1:39 am

    • Since self-management in all the most important things has been largely ruled out, and one cannot select to not “select” a ruler at all, I can’t agree that the selection process is democratic. On the contrary, where your only “options” are to select which of two indistinguishable, fungible elite scum will rule you, or to refuse to select and be ruled anyway, with the result the same no matter which of these fraudulent “choices” you make, we have the opposite of democracy and true politics. It’s anti-democracy, anti-politics.

      As I said, an election where I could vote against Monsanto would be “more democratic” (far more), but still not democratic. (It’s important to get that straight, lest the “progressives” move on to the scam of finding candidates who mouth empty anti-corporate words even though they’d never do anything, but at best serve as designated buffoons like Kucinich or Sanders.)

      Your example of the software commons is a good example of what I’m talking about, except that I’m not using “hierarchy” to apply to such relationships. The fact is, there’s no reason whatsoever why what can broadly be called the open source framework can’t be applied to everything. All economic sectors are distorted by concentrate power, which can apply itself to impose a planned economy based on corporate welfare and government thuggery. Abolish these, and supply-driven economies wouldn’t be able to exist. Their abuses would abolish themselves.

      If people don’t want to discriminate and give that word a more precise definition, then what word would you use to denote authoritarian structures like corporations (including most NGOs) and governments, which concentrate power and impose it down the structure, for which I’d reserve the word hierarchy? If you can offer a better term, I’ll gladly accept it. But if you can’t, then I recommend we use the term the way I was using it here. Otherwise we’ll never be clear what we’re talking about, when we work on accurately describing the structure (which I’ve spent several years working on at this blog; but of course we have to continue repeating and elaborating) and giving clear guidelines for the alternatives.

      Comment by Russ — March 13, 2013 @ 2:10 am

      • Damon Vrabel had a good description of exploitive hierarchy with his reference to both its structure (a pyramid) and its function (a “vortex” that extracts power and wealth from the bottom and drives it to the top of the pyramid).

        Personally, I view corporations as a form of usury. Indeed, I’ve come to think of all exploitive hierarchies almost entirely by their extractive function, which I label usury for convenience.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 13, 2013 @ 10:41 am

      • Yes, it’s wrong to try to distinguish “usurious” finance sector corporations from alleged “real economy” corporations. All corporations are parasitic and merely steal from the real economy.

        Comment by Russ — March 14, 2013 @ 5:53 am

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