Theory of Deep Democracy


Theory of Deep Democracy

Theory of Deep Democracy

The theory of deep democracy makes a distinction between merely formal and deeper forms of democracy. Formal democracy is an important part of deep democracy, but it is merely a beginning or a necessary condition. In order for democracy to be deep, democratic practices have to become institutionalized in such a way that they become part of normal life in a democratic society. Cluster conditions for deep democracy include both cultural-political and socio-economic conditions. Deep democracy is a structure in addition to formal democratic apparatus, such that the practice of such democratic life can be reproduced with the basic values intact. Change is not precluded, but all such changes should deepen democracy, not weaken it. Deep democracy in this sense is intimately connected with economic and social justice. In order to make such a concept of economic justice tenable, however, a cluster of conditions connected with deepening democracy must be realized. The following is a list of such cluster conditions, as well as a summary of social capabilities essential to the realization of deep democracy.

Cluster Conditions for Deep Democracy

1. Ending of economic and other status inequalities 2. Public emphasis on furthering of democratic autonomy, internationalism, and individuality

3. Adequate incomes for all socially recognized work, as well as for children, the handicapped, the aged and others not able to work in order to promote equality of capability

4. Respect for and articulation of differences in public life and within parties 5. Downward democratic congruence of and within ordinary social institutions, including work place democracy 6. Debate over the history and future of the movement – the nature of deep democracy – in neighborhood assemblies and schools

7. Cultivation of respect for civil disobedience, strikes, and other acts of protest on major public issues

8. Integration of local and national leaders into features of ordinary economic and political life and creation of arenas for criticism

9. Curtailment of all direct political intervention in the arts, religion, and personal life

10. Establishment of independent judicial, policy, communication and electoral review bodies

11. Diversity of perspective in communications and education

12. Use of differential, serial referenda on central issues

13. Public funding of issue-oriented committees as well as parties

14. Takeover of some security and civil judicial functions by neighborhood or regional democratic associations; abolition of centralized, especially secret police powers and units

15. Universal public service, military or community; restructuring of armed forces in a defensive, civilian-oriented direction; removal of authoritarianism of rank and status, and institution of democratic unit organization, allowing serious discussion of policy

16. Proportional representation of parties

17. Abolition of patriarchy

18. Adoption of democratic child-rearing practices

19. Full freedom of social intercourse of diverse groups

20. Full freedom of diverse cultural expression

21. Encouragement of the arts and varying modes of expression so that every individual can experience and struggle with the challenge of non-dominating discourse

22. Practice of radical forms of individual and group subjectivity leading to what Guattari has termed the molecular revolution

23. Adoption of technology and innovation systems which will reinforce the conditions above, rather than undercutting them

It may be useful to elaborate upon the idea of social capabilities in condition three above by summarizing the following Nussbaum and Sen and giving a social interpretation of all the capabilities, as they apply to Khan’s theory of deep democracy.

Summary of Social Capabilities

1. Being able to live to the end of a complete human life, as far as possible

2. Being able to be courageous

3. Being able to have opportunities for sexual satisfaction

4. Being able to move from place to place

5. Being able to avoid unnecessary and non-useful pain and to have pleasurable experiences

6. Being able to use the five senses

7. Being able to imagine

8. Being able to think and reason

9. Being acceptably well-informed

10. Being able to have attachments to things and persons outside ourselves

11. Being able to love, grieve, to feel longing and gratitude

12. Being able to form a conception of the good

13. Capability to choose; ability to form goals, commitments, values

14. Being able to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s own life

15. Being able to live for and to others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of familial and social interaction

16. Being capable of friendship

17. Being able to visit and entertain friends

18. Being able to participate in the community

19. Being able to participate politically and being capable of justice

20. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants and the world of nature

21. Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities

22. Being able to live one’s own life and nobody else’s

23. Being able to live in one’s very own surroundings and context

24. Capability to have self-respect

25. Capability to appear in public without shame

26. Capability to live a rich and fully human life, up to the limit permitted by natural possibilities

27. Ability to achieve valuable functionings

These considerations present the tools that can guide the practical agenda in building a deeply democratic society.

Theoretical Framework of Deep Democracy

In order to understand these principles more clearly, it is pertinent to discuss their role in the theoretical framework of deep democracy. The goal of a just political and social economy is to guarantee each individual’s freedom or ability to live the kind of life she chooses. The social capabilities can be construed as the general powers of human body and mind that can be acquired, maintained, nurtured and developed. Capabilities are economic, but they are also political, social, psychological/spiritual, and mental. No one capability can be simply substituted for another. A deeply democratic society must take into account all forms of capabilities without the sacrifice of some over others. For all members of a society to develop freely, one individual’s capabilities cannot infringe upon the capabilities of another individual. In other words, any form of exploitation in society, no matter how legally construed or hidden systematically, infringes upon an individual’s freedom. In addition, radical change without actual participation and decision from below is impossible. For a deeply democratic society to exist, it must contain the political and social conditions that allow for the full development of the individual’s capabilities. Yet it must also contain the necessary economic conditions which provide the material base for egalitarian political and social participation as well as physical and psychological health. Proponents of deep democracy must examine, therefore, which specific values and institutions within an economic framework would support or hinder democratic practices from taking root and flourishing.

The next question to answer, regarding the economic conditions that must be met in order for a deeply democratic society to exist, is whether the economic can ever be ranked before the social. Amartya Sen argues that in contrast to the utilitarian approach of maximal GDP growth, the fundamental goal of development should be the development of the substantive freedoms – capabilities – to choose a life one has reason to value. In other words, the aim of economic growth should be to further the freedom of the individual to choose the kind of life he or she desires. The question which needs further examination as an extension to this precondition is, precisely what values must drive, shape, and ultimately determine an economic system so that the full capabilities of each individual are developed?

Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel suggest the evaluation of economic institutions based upon five moral and logical criteria: equity, efficiency, self-management, solidarity, and variety. Transparency of the full social costs of every economic transaction to the greatest extent possible, and ecological consideration are two other criteria that ought to be added to this list. The gross forms of exploitation and income disparity which lead to capabilities deprivation can only be eliminated if the economic system is fundamentally equitable. The most vital components of equity would be the elimination of surplus value extraction and compensation for the disadvantaged. This would include the elimination of all forms of surplus-value extraction currently found under the wage labor system of capitalism. An economic system which eliminated the extraction of surplus value would greatly abet in the abolishment of exploitation and hierarchy, and to some extent, class disadvantages. The increasing self-management of workers would further erode hierarchy, division of labor, and class, as all members would gain versatile experience in organizing and decision making. Through self-management alone can the dilemma of alienation in either hierarchal capitalist systems or within top-down command structures of centralized planning be alleviated. Solidarity within the workplace through team effort, rather than competitiveness, is also crucial in the return of man to his social essence as envisioned by Marx and overcoming the alienation of ‘species-being’ that he experiences where economic transactions are a zero-sum game. Work as a variety of tasks rather than one specific repetition would help to develop and unite the currently disparate emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the individual. Through a variety of tasks the breakdown of the invidious division between manual and mental labor which centralizes authority within the hands of the elite could be eroded. Finally, a transparent, eco-friendly economic system that allows citizens full awareness of the social and environmental costs of the economic transactions within that system is vital to creating a sustainable economy with full citizen participation and decision-making.

Furthermore, the theory of deep democracy suggests furthering democratic practices through civilian participation in the oversight, design, governance, and evaluation processes of technological development. In a deeply democratic society, research and development expenditures, for example, will be publicly discussed and debated, and some asset redistribution so that the poor can have access to markets and take part in civic deliberations would be necessary.

Political Preconditions for a Deeply Democratic Society

Building a movement for deep democracy anywhere will require taking rights, particularly human rights, seriously. Rights that enhance the ability of each individual to participate politically, equally and fully with respect to all other members of society, constitute a vital component of a deeply democratic society. The theory of deep democracy does not separate political process from all other forms of power in society, be they social, political, or economic, or ideological. The extent to which the disadvantaged class in a society suffers from the exploitation of the oppressive classes is as much reflected in the political alienation of the oppressed as their economic alienation. Deep democracy criticizes the separative characteristic of the state. As an alien power, it stands above and apart from the subordinate classes. Like the fetish character of commodities, wherein the human created product comes to dominate its creators, the state, a creation of human political endeavors, comes to dominate the individual. The individual has no direct control over the instruments he is being governed by. In fact, he does not have any true influence whatsoever. Hence, with the increasing power of the state, the public life of the individual is increasingly governed by an alien power that stands separate and apart from him. Therefore, if class, economic, social or any other form of oppression is to cease, political rights must be given priority.

Beyond economic and political preconditions, for a deeply democratic society to be both sustainable and fully human, we need to question more deeply the meaning of well-being. The development of social capabilities is no less crucial but perhaps more difficult to define. Social capabilities are capabilities that can only be developed in relation to others. They consist of positive relations to other members of society as well as a healthy relationship to oneself. If we conceive of social possibilities in the context of legislation, Khan includes as part of the set of cluster conditions for a deeply democratic society the abolition of patriarchy, the adoption of democratic child-rearing practices, the full freedom of social intercourse of diverse groups, and the full freedom of diverse cultural expression. A progressive legislation which ensures these basic rights would be the first step for the establishment of social capabilities.

Beyond progressive legislature, truly deep democracy would call for a breakdown of the monopoly of intellectual, artistic, scientific, and spiritual elitism. It is as impossible to judge scientifically, given this historical elitism, the extent to which the majority are capable of developing in these areas as it would have been to determine the intellectual/spiritual potential of women two hundred years ago under patriarchy. It may be argued that under the current capitalist society, education is more widespread and accessible than ever before. Yet this, too, comes at a price. In a consumerist society, even the limited artistic, scientific, intellectual and spiritual fields are commodified, infringing upon the individual’s ability to perceive anything without a price. A deeply democratic society would both have to dismantle the elitism which typically surrounds these areas as well as provide the material means for anyone to participate in these areas. This could be done by free, accessible, lifelong adult education with the reduced working hours available under participatory economics.

Within social institutions such as education, greater democratic practices are also necessary. Alternative systems of education have experimented with such practices with considerable success. Education centers built upon the philosophy of thinkers such as Krishnamurti, Vivekananda and Tagore attest to this. Their educational philosophy protests against the typical use of reward/punishment, competition and fear and hierarchy which, according to them, condition the individual so deeply that real self-discovery, questioning, and creative thought is impossible. Instead, more emphasis is placed upon self-inquiry around the vital questions of life and the ability to find meaning in one’s life – Victor Frankl employs logotherapy to help individuals find meaning in any given situation in their life, even suffering. Democratic practices within the educational system could be expanded to include more spiritual institutions with similar democratic practices of non-elitism and non-hierarchy, and full participation in both thinking and interpreting spiritual script.

List of Sources

* "Technology, Development and Democracy" Haider Khan (1998)
* "Deep Democracy: A Political and Social Economy Approach" Frame and Khan (2007)
* "Democratic Individuality" Alan Gilbert (1990)
* "Strong Democracy" Benjamin R. Barber (2004)


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