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Alternating minorities versus a democracy based on majorities
The 10th article in the series "Political Catastrophes".



Some members of the Dutch Libertarian Party invited me to deliver a lecture. The President of the Party was obviously afraid of what I had to say and cancelled the meeting. I wonder how this president connects this restriction of the freedom of information of his members to the libertarian principle that freedom is one of the highest goods that have to be cherished. This is what I wanted to tell the libertarians. (Here you find the Dutch version).

Alternating minorities versus a democracy based on majorities

Ladies and gentlemen,

During my visits to the Third World I wondered about many things e.g. about the difference between paved roads in richer quarters and mud roads in poorer ones. You may wonder why everywhere in the world such systematical differences occur. I will return later to this problem.

A new government is in the making in Holland and the agreement about the political line in the next few years gives a good starting point for this lecture. This agreement states that the duties of the citizen will be emphasized. Duties are connected to rules and laws and limit the freedom of the citizen and his (or her) influence on his own life. All these rules prevent that citizens can interfere when their life is disturbed from the outside. In a democracy citizens have only a few possibilities to bring their ideas to the front and they have hardly any power to impose their ideas on rulers.
Elections in which voters transfer their power to elected representatives are one of the most important means to exercise influence. I do not like this dependency on others. I want another society in which all people have equal status.
I am not a democrat
.

When two hundred years ago the count of Montesquieu proposed the democratic system, society moved forward. The struggle within the leading class had to be canalised. His system was in the first place meant to solve conflicts within the elite. Solutions for problems of masspeople were not included. The masses remained powerless and are still virtually without power. They were at the best used as foot soldiers in wars between different parts of the privileged classes. In the Middle Ages defeated knights were sometimes invited to join the banquet in which the end of the war was celebrated while at the same time foot soldiers were slaughtered. Without soldiers defeated knights were harmless for the triumphing knights. Towards other knights, people of their own kind, the nobility was chivalrous, people from lower classes were hardly seen as human. Not too long ago Western colonists considered people in the colonies also as inferior and this idea has still not completely disappeared.

Before the introduction of democracy conflicts within elitist groups were solved by wars between warlords who used Machiavellian methods based for the greater part on tricks and deceit (and the necessary violence). These methods are by the way still used in struggles between industrial and financial principalities.

De Montesquieu ended the inter-elitist struggle partly by the creation of the Trias Politica, the separation of the judicature, the executive and the legislature. It is striking that a controlling power is lacking, the possibility that citizens can directly control ruling bodies. Conflicts within the elite could now mostly be solved on a peaceful way. But after two hundred years democracy knows only some kind of success within the boundaries of a country, between countries the Machiavellian methods (and a great amount of violence) are still used. The influence of supranational organs is minimal what we for example can see in regard to the commotion around the founding of the International War Crimes Court. It is evident that the Western warmongers will never be brought before any court.

Because of the growing influence of laws and rules and because of the cost of juridical procedures the conflict solving method of De Montesquieu is only reserved for people who have money. De Montesquieu was a member of the French elite and he invented democracy only to solve problems in his circles and never to increase the possibilities of masspeople on a fairer world. Democracy is indeed working quite well within the elite, the masses did not benefit much from the system. The influence of the citizen is still minimal, his life is to a great height determined by democratic laws but he does not have many possibilities to alter these rules and laws.
The indirect voting system makes direct influence nearly impossible. Masspeople are therefore not very much interested in politics, they are not allowed to think or act independently. All is controlled from the top. I want to give masspeople the possibility to control the high placed that govern.

There are many objections against democracy. Most people on high positions are not elected but co-opted. In July 2002 primaries were held in 18 states in the United States. Turnout in the 18 states that held Democratic state-wide primaries averaged just 8 percent of eligibles. Republicans fared even worse: turnout in the 18 states averaged just 7 percent. In the presidential elections of 1966 51 percent of the voters came to the ballot boxes. Did anyone say that democracy was based on decisions of majorities? The president was voted in power by hardly a quarter of the population.
But I do not want to analyse democracy, I want to concentrate on alternatives. Because when you say that you are not a democrat, people are asking if you prefer a dictatorship. Or they do not understand why you want to change this beautiful system because all other systems on the world are worse than democracy. Indeed I do live in a fairly agreeable country but people have not much influence on the things that influence their life. Should it not be possible to get a better world, a world in which all people have equal status, a lot more to say about their own life and more personal freedom?

I think everyone will agree with me that the growing number of rules and laws in our democracy more and more restrict the freedom of the citizen. The big increase in the number of laws started around 1945 when in Europe social democrats got more influence with their idea of a society that only could become ideal by laws and rules thought of by people (leaders of course). They wanted to make the world better by regulating the behaviour of people but without allowing people to get any say in the society they had to live in. Because the United States saw also a comparable increase in the number of laws it is not right to say that the restriction of the freedom of the citizen was caused by the rise to power of social democrats.

It is by the way striking that those laws restrict the freedom of citizens more than the freedom of elitepeople. The reason for all these laws is not in the first place the better regulation of society but an attempt to keep masspeople under control because masspeople threatened to become more conscious of their inferior position by the rising level of education.  A better education is a prime condition to reach another kind of society that can replace democracy. In the Third World it will take still a long time to reach this point. In a society with free and autonomous people the elite will lose its place. To maintain its power and its privileged position, the elite has to restrict the freedom of the masses because otherwise it loses its special place in the world.

A philosophical objection against democracy is the statement that democracy is the best system ever. This statement means that democracy should be the final social system though it still needs some improvement, e.g. by the introduction of referenda in the decision process. Though it is known that the result of referenda is often influenced by manipulation and the availability of advertisement money.  It is principally incorrect that we should decide now how future humans should live.

I am only interested in the road to a different future.
It is evident that on this road several elements of the new society will have to become visible. By travelling on this road the citizen will start to feel freer and will start to have more influence on his own life and on the general process of decision-making. But how the new society will look like will be the work of our offspring, of the people who live then.

When someone starts to look for a new future he should distance himself from the present democratic system. The central guiding point is the idea that humans must get more influence on their own life and on the general social development. Only then humans will really become freer.
I propose the formation of temporary and alternating minorities of active, interested and involved citizens that are contrary to the democratic organs in which decisions (on an albeit fairly vague way) are based on majorities of partly uninterested and often manipulated citizens who do not know much about the subjects they vote on but vote by believing that leaders know what is best.

The phenomenon Fortuyn is illustrating. The charismatic Fortuyn won - after a campaign that lasted only a few months - 17% of the votes in the last Dutch elections on a program that was emphasizing the discontent of the Dutch voter with the political elite. Fortuyn did not give any solutions and I do not expect that his party will last long - even when he should not have been murdered. But after his death many fans said something like 'They have murdered our Fortuyn who should make life better for us'. That is terrible. The idea that others could make life better is in clear contradiction to the idea that free people can decide for themselves, that free people can decide over their own life. Citizens are dissatisfied but other leaders who decide over and for masspeople but never together with them can never solve this discontent.
That is the prime characteristic of democracy, people are allowed to vote and the elected decide. And democracy continues to exist even when it becomes more and more clear that the elected do a very bad job, that difficulties are mounting and that the freedom of citizens is more and more restricted. It speaks volumes that in the above-mentioned declaration of the new Dutch government duties and not freedom stand central.

Let I return to the paved roads in the richer parts of the Third World or to my own country where in the not so long ago past roads in richer quarters were better cleaned than roads in poorer parts. Who takes the decision to maintain roads in richer parts better than roads in poorer parts? Could it be that complaints of richer citizens about dirty streets have more weight than complaints of poorer citizens? Or to put it more precise could it be that decision takers value the opinion of their own environment more than of people who live farther off? When their world is part of the upper layers of society (where the elite lives) then many decisions will be taken that favour that elite.
Because the top of the ANWB (the Dutch pro-car organization that is still called the General Cyclists Union) travels in cars the signs on auto roads are much better than the signs on cycle paths. Small crime, which hurts also the elite, is treated with zero tolerance while white-collar crime his hardly taken on. The most obvious reason is clear, leaders find hooligans and other people from the lower echelons of society strange, even disgusting¸ while criminals from their own circles are in general considered to be nice people. A Dutch left wing MP attacked harshly an imam when this Moslem attacked homosexuality. But when the MP was asked what he thought about a fundamentalist Christian fellow MP who found that women were second range citizens he said that that was not so bad because that fellow-MP was always ‘so nice’ (it is of course self-evident that the left MP was male and that MP’s belong to a ruling circle to which imams do not belong).

Political decision takers form an isolated group (as was also advanced by the late Fortuyn) who base their decisions in the first place on ideas that live in their close environment, on ideas of their peers and not on ideas that live in the masses because they hardly know masspeople. The same is true for the industrial and financial top. It is remarkable that the theft of many millions by the bosses of Enron or the millions that vanished after dubious actions of Brink and Boonstra (two Dutch CEO’s who managed to earn a lot of money before the involved concerns went bankrupt) were not treated by their fellow-leaders with zero tolerance or real indignation. Because this last kind of criminals is mostly quite nice (except in regard to the small mistake of the few millions that were embezzled).

Humans have changed the old world on which miraculously only lived one kind of humans in two worlds on which seemingly two different kinds of people live, elitepeople and masspeople. Decisions are being taken in the eliteworld, the masses have to abide by these decisions. Of course, I know that this is a black-white sketch but it contains a lot of truth and later-on nuances can be added. But nobody can deny that decisions are for the greater part taken in favour of the group that possesses already most privileges. That is obvious when we regard conflicts between powerful and less powerful countries. But also inside the borders of one country differences are obvious. The retirement regulations for MP’s are much better than for the rest of the population. The MP’s think that they do very important work and that they deserve to be treated differently than the rest of the world. And this belief is affirmed in their own circle that for the greater part consists of fellow MP’s.

I propose a political idea and an action method that will diminish the distance between the two worlds. Masspeople have to penetrate into the world of the elite so the elite will acknowledge they are not the only people that exist. Decision takers will directly come in touch with other people and because of the constant pressure that is exerted on them they will start to change their way of thinking (and thus their way of deciding). When they continue to take into account primarily the wishes and ideas of their peers they know the pressure of masspeople will remain. At the same time masspeople will get more self-esteem because they see that their pressure has more result than actions that "fit" in the democratic system, actions that only ask and never demand that leaders will decide on a different way.  When they have some success, masspeople will realise that they also have power. Then they will lose their powerlessness.

Only a few people think that demonstrations make any impression on leaders who see the demonstration at the best from a distance. Former Dutch prime minister Kok participated in the biggest Dutch demonstration ever against nuclear weapons. He then told demonstrators that he was against any nuclear weapon on Dutch soil. Years later he became prime minister but he never returned to his past words because the pressure from the demonstration had dwindled and his head was free from any thoughts against nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons remained in Holland.

I propose the formation of temporary alternating groups of independent and autonomous people who are interested and involved in one subject and who want actively approach decision takers in their environment in such a way that these decision takers will take their argumentation into account. These masspeople can be active on the time and the place they choose and about the subjects in which they are interested. This is now impossible because politics and political organizations (led by a party elite) decide what has to be done. Now the citizen gives his power to elected people because of the indirect voting system. These elected people are nearly immune from any influence from ideas that live under the masses, not in election time and certainly not after elections have been held.

When citizens who live on mud streets will go again and again to the beautiful paved streets it is possible that decision takers will acknowledge the fact that those people come to their quarters because they also want to walk on nice and clean streets. Maybe then they will decide to make also nice streets in poor quarters (because they do not want to be disturbed by masspeople in their own living place). In my book “The Power of the Autonomous Human” I describe several actions and also some (small) successes. People who have participated in those actions have seen that something else is possible, that it is not necessary to lose your autonomy by giving your voice to someone who takes decisions that are in the first place beneficial for the kind of people that live in the close vicinity of the decision taker.
I define once more the elite as the more or less closed group that wants in the first place to preserve and strengthen its privileged position. This group can use its power also to transfer its privileges to its offspring. The isolated position of the most powerful group on our earth has to be broken will masspeople get more freedom. My method can be a first step on the road towards that goal. But I will say nothing about the future that lies at the end of that road. People who live then will decide on that future.

I will end with some words about the composition of the temporary autonomous groups of active citizens and the methods that can be used. It is of course not right that citizens will replace rulers. Leaders have some capacities and education but make one-sided decisions. Massgroups may never rule but must only control. The controlling power of masspeople must be added to the three elitist powers of the Trias Politica. This controlling power will penetrate the private living world of decision takers in such a way that those leaders will take different decisions that will be more determined by the interest of all people than by the interest of those people who live in the same living space as the decision takers.
This can be achieved by something that I once called political stalking. I have described it better with the words Small Violence or .Creative Disturbance (see the Chapter 19 in "The Power of the Autonomous Human". Everywhere where decision takers are present they will be forced to meet people of massgroups. Activists have many ways to make their wishes known but media are less important than is taken for granted in our society. Media are important when there is a conflict inside the elite but in a conflict between elite and masses they side mostly with the elite. Moreover I want a psychological change in the way of thinking of decision takers and in this process media have hardly any influence compared by the influence of direct pressure on elitepeople by active citizens.

The massgroups I propose must be temporary groups of active people with the same interest in a certain subject. They are never and must never degenerate into political parties because these kind of mass organizations – as Roberto Michels already remarked a hundred years ago – will change in oligarchic institutions that obey the iron Law of the Oligarchy, big organizations will after some time always be led by an elite.
When the goal is reached massgroups will dissolve and former members will again take care of their personal business or join other massgroups in which they meet other people to become active on another subject. The dynamics of these changing groups will in the end fundamentally chance society.

This idea is partly borrowed from ideas that were already developed shortly after De Montesquieu proposed his democratic ideas. Jean-Paul Marat proposed the formation of patriotic clubs. I will quote some of his words and you can find more in the first chapter of my book “The Power of the Autonomous Human”.

Marat was seen as the leader of the sans-culottes, the people without trousers, the poorest and most powerless people of Paris. During the Revolution he edited the newspaper 'L'Ami du Peuple', 'The Friend of the People':

The 'Friend of the People' has never been directed against common citizens. She has only attacked people in the civil service, unreliable bookkeepers, magistrates who neglected their duties, representatives of the people who forgot their obligations and betrayed their principals. And her respect for justice was so high that the paper did even find laudable exceptions in the most corrupt circles.

The patriotic clubs will only pay attention to people in the civil services and unite the forces of the people in order to make up for the grievances of the citizens. She will punish the agents of the authorities who are guilty, arrest the continuation of their bad deeds and safeguard the well-being of the people ...... but we will never be a club that is involved in the process of making decisions. That should be a serious mistake: a free union of citizens is not allowed to meddle in public affairs, to govern or to administrate. That must be clear: a club has only the simple and pure right to make propositions, to give advice and to ask questions.

I admit that my idea is still in its infancy but the growing discontent under the masses – that became clear when 17% of the votes went to newcomer Fortuyn in the last Dutch elections – the growing awareness of powerlessness in regard to rulers and their apparatus and the mounting restriction of the freedom of individual humans demand another political system than the present democracy. Democracy is over its top and approaches its end. I invite you to make a step forward that increases the direct influence of masspeople on the decision making process.

Thank you very much.

 Joost van Steenis (July 10 2002)


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