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March 24, 2010

The ongoing campaign to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment
Posted by Teresa at 11:34 AM *

I don’t know whether you spotted the story amidst all the noise and fluster of getting Health Care Reform passed, but Texas congressman Louie Gohmert proposed that one way to fight health care would be to abolish the direct election of senators, and go back to having them be appointed by the good ol’ boys in their state legislatures. It’s remarkable how many rightwingers have redefined “democracy” as “the Republicans automatically win,” and how quick they are to denounce democratic institutions that don’t produce that result.

However, Gohmert’s attempt to link repealing the Seventeenth Amendment with right-wing fury over health care reform isn’t so much random as it is opportunistic. The Far Right’s been arguing for an end to the direct election of senators for some time now. The easiest way to see this is by Googling the search string repeal “seventeenth amendment” OR “17th amendment” -“2010”.

And what principle do they claim to be defending? States’ rights, of course!

Comments on The ongoing campaign to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment:
#1 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:14 PM:

Let me get this straight. Gomer's position here is that by removing the power to select senators from the individual citizen to the state government, we'd actually be transferring power from the federal government to the state? Distributing power down the hierarchy by shifting power up the hierarchy?

Really?

#2 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:17 PM:

Well, repealing the 17th amendment is a lot more efficient than having to gerrymander the district boundaries every few years to keep white men in charge. All that work undermining democracy really cuts into their time on the links, smoking cigars with Rush, or visiting their mistresses in Dallas.

#3 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:22 PM:

Repealing the 16th amendment seems even popular among the far right, based on mentions I've seen for it over the years.

Google will turn up pages advocating the repeal of just about every amendment that's still in force. The "19th amendment" hits include a large number of "satirical" as opposed to serious pages, but sometimes it's hard to tell. (And I've come across at least one site that's been around a while and was dead-serious about it.)

#4 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:23 PM:

I'm pretty sure that the only Amendment Gohmert et al. want to keep for sure is the Second.

#5 ::: Kevin Standlee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:28 PM:

It's just vaguely possible that he's clever enough to be using this as a smoke-screen for a "real" goal of calling a Constitutional Convention. Claims that you can call a Convention with a limited scope are complete nonsense, as anyone who has actually paid attention to our own history knows. After all, the current constitution was the result of a so-called "limited conference" deciding to ignore its instructions and promulgate a new basic governing document. If they actually succeed in calling a Constitutional Convention, all bets are off, because everything will be on the table.

OTOH, I'm not actually terribly fussed about the substantive subject. I don't object in principle to the "undemocratic" distribution of votes that the current system provides, frustrating as it is when it works against my own interests. I could live with going back to state appointment of Senators, even though the previous version of it was rife with abuses. Living as I do in a state that has a surplus of direct democracy and seeing what the negative impacts of it are, I understand why our current national government has the firewalls and inefficiencies built into it. It drives me nuts when it stops things I like, but it sounds much better when the other side starts proposing stupid things.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:42 PM:

There will be more stuff like this.

"The old order changeth, yielding place to the new, and God fulfills Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world."

Everybody whom the old order maketh rich, or mighty, or just convinces that their balls aren't falling off, won't take the news philosophically; they'll be doing the most that they can imagine to do, to prevent any change.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:51 PM:

They sure are fond of the 19th century, for people who have never lived in it.

#8 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:59 PM:

Keith Kisser @2:

Gerrymandering districts has nothing to do with electing Senators -- each State in the Union gets two and ONLY two senators, so said states hold a statewide vote to elect them.

Representatives (as in House of) represent districts and this is where gerrymandering enters the picture, a State's number of representatives in the House is based on the population of that State. A national census is take every ten years to ascertain if there have been changes in those numbers.

Whether there have been increases or decreases in the State's population, either result can demand that the districts be redrawn. And yes, it has been used in the past to keep white males in the House.

#9 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:05 PM:

Funny thing is, if he had his way Scott Brown wouldn't have been elected in MA. Our legislature is controlled by Democrats.

#10 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:12 PM:

So that's where my right-wing friends are getting it. Kraw.

Personally, I propose a countering position: abolish the Senate.

#11 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:13 PM:

If it is truly the case that the Constitution of the United States of America is to be amended, then the rest of the world, including (most certainly including) my poor, but deeply beloved, country, will watch and tremble.

And prepare.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:23 PM:

#7: They're living then in their minds. Just like right now I'm living in Narni WATCH OUT MR. BEAVER, THE WOLVES ARE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:28 PM:

GOP pundits are really going over the top:


What House Minority Leader John A. Boehner has called the Battle of Capitol Hill is over. I expect that the Battle of the Electorate is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of a nonsocialist America. Upon it depends our own American way of life and the long continuity of our institutions and our history. The whole fury and might of the media and the Democratic party must very soon be trained on the electorate.
.
If they can stand up to the coming propaganda, America may be free, and the life of the wider free world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
.
But if the voters succumb to those seven months of blandishments and deceptions, then free America — including all that we have known and cared for — will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

I mean, seriously: "broad sunlit uplands?" You could grow prize orchids in that, or put it in a digester and get enough high-quality methane to power a small city.

#14 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:30 PM:

It's hardly even worth laughing at, really. But I'm also missing something, probably because I haven't been paying attention: how did the health insurance bill get to be such a big burden on state governments?

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:34 PM:

Stefan Jones @ 13... the lights of perverted science

I didn't know that GOP pundits were fans of Girl Genius.

#16 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:36 PM:

Stefan Jones @ 13:

"... a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."

"Perverted science" sounds kind of fun. I wonder how I can join in...

#17 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:37 PM:

...a new Dark Age made sinister by the lights of perverted science

I'm imagining Stan Lee saying this. With a lot of exclamation points. It's making me pretty happy.

#18 ::: daftnewt ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:00 PM:

I hope they credited Churchill for the second-last paragraph of his "Their Finest Hour" speech:

"Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."

(From here )

#19 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Uh, folks ... You DO know that's from the most famous Churchill speech, right? After Dunkirk; June 4, 1940, before the House of Commons. The righties do luvs themselves some Winston. With bonus comparison of Barack to Adolf:


"What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us now. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, 'This was their finest hour.'"


#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:14 PM:

10
I'm willing to let the Senate be appoointed, but only on two conditions: the name is changed to House of Lords, and its power is limited to advice only.

#21 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:15 PM:

C Wingate@14: Rising costs and calculated subversion of lots of efforts at cost controls. Stuff that's taken for granted in the rest of the world, and taken for granted here when there isn't a big industrial machine dedicated to opposing it, keeps getting ruled out, like government agencies bargaining for better drug prices, or sponsoring more care provision by people whose training isn't so expensive, like RNAs. All the political calculations start with the presumption that existing health-related industries must remain viable, and that really limits what you can do to manage costs.

#22 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:24 PM:

Every time a wingnut quotes Churchill, he (it's usually he) should be forcefully reminded that Churchill was voted out of office for opposing the national health in the '50s.

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:27 PM:

Bob Devney @ 19... Thanks for clarifying that one. I thought that the idea of the GOP decrying perverted science was rather strange, considering how they have tended to let ideology get in the way of Science ("Science!") so far in this 21st Century.

#24 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:30 PM:

(Bad me, I confused myself. Opposition to the NHS was the end of Churchill's first go as PM, not his second.)

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:52 PM:

I propose the 28th Amendment to the US constitution, which will read "The 29th Amendment to the US constitution is hereby preemptively repealed."

Then we can pass the 29th Amendment, repealing the 28th.

Dave @11, the Constitution was amended a dozen times over the course of the 20th century, most recently in 1992. It didn't crack the Earth open.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Perverted science. You know: evolution, stem cells, the Big Bang theory, heliocentrism.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:04 PM:

"They laughed at me at the University! The fools! The world will recognize my Genius when I unveil my invention - the Cat O' Ten Tails!"

#28 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:13 PM:

In the background, you can faintly hear the plaintive cry of the ConservaDroids: "The United States isn't a democracy, it's a Republic!"

"You mean, filled with Republicans?"

"Yeah, that's it, -- no, I didn't say that, dammit!"

#29 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Avram @25 --

I think Dave was having a terminological oops between "amend" and "whatever you call what happens if you-the-People were to call a Constitutional Convention".

I'd certainly be made deeply uneasy by an American Constitutional Convention round about now.

(has anyone else noticed that the 3m fences and five layers of security around things like G20 conferences are essentially an admission of the loss of legitimacy on the part of at least the process involved and maybe the government in question? There's a lot of that going around, and trying to fix it via constitutional means would be especially and extravagantly dire.)

#30 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:20 PM:

@18, 19, 22 - quoting? Goddam' plagiarising... And I'd be a lot angrier about a speech in a great cause being ripped off for one in a pathetic one, if the bathos wasn't so overwhelming.

#31 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:31 PM:

states' rights, of course

This makes good sense -- states' rights are by nature often in conflict with citizens' rights; by supporting direct appointment of senators one is supporting the state over the citizen.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Jeez, get our hopes up with talk of Perverted Science ("Four Gears" — Professor Strout's Guide to Scientific Atrocities) when it's just a reference to Hitler.

#33 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:36 PM:

P J Evans, #20: LOL. See.

#34 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:45 PM:

I couldn't help myself. Here, have some charts:
Repeal the nth amendment

#35 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Mikael@34: The charts are fascinating. At a quick approximation, the higher the spike the more I value that amendment; except the the 2nd is disproportionate (I rank it roughly equal with the 1st and 4-7, not way above). The third is pretty clearly a dead issue.

So maybe I should take a closer look at appointing senators directly :-).

#36 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Mikael @ 34: Is there any way to distinguish between "I think we should repeal the Second Amendment" and "those durn liberals are trying to repeal the Second Amendment"? I would guess that a preponderance of the latter is skewing the results, but that's just a guess.

#37 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:52 PM:

Anyone who thinks that appointing senators is good should read the first 100 pages of Robert Caro's "Master of the Senate", the third volume of his LBJ biography. It is the finest capsule history of the US Senate I've encountered.

If you think things are bad and corrupt now, you need to look at the Senate just before the 17th amendment was passed. The pre-17th amendment Senate was probably one of the most corrupt institutions in US or World history.

Steve C@28: The fact of the matter is that the government of the United States was deliberately created by the Founders as a Republic. Otherwise, we would not need a legislature (slight hyperbole there).

When it comes to "direct democracy", be careful what you wish for. Californians and my fellow Oregonians can tell you what mischief can be accomplished in states with wide open ballots.

I used to think New York was bad with it's almost totally corrupt legislature. But, now that I live in Oregon, I understand why the Founders rejected direct democracy. Federalist #10 clearly articulates the reasons why Madison and others rejected democracy as they understood it.

(see: http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111fed.html)

As for the Right in the US, it has become populated with a set of ignorant, foolish and demagogic figures whose only agenda is to support their own self-interest and the wealth of their patrons.

#38 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:53 PM:

According to a quick THOMAS search, there are currently 3 Constitutional amendment repeal bills before Congress. One is from Jose Serrano (D-NY) to repeal the 22nd amendment (on presidential term limits). Two are to repeal the 16th amendment (on the income tax); one from Steve King (R-IA) and one from Ron Paul (R-TX).

The 22nd amendment repeal bill has no cosponsors; the two 16th amendment repeal bills have a total of three. None of them, then, are at likely to go anywhere. (Actually, the vast majority of introduced bills, statistically speaking, never go anywhere.)

I don't yet see any bill actually before Congress to repeal the 17th amendment, though if something went in the last day or so I'm not sure it would be in THOMAS yet.

#39 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:59 PM:

C. Wingate@14

The health-care bill burdens state governments because it expands eligibility for Medicaid, and Medicaid costs are split between the state and the federal government. (It used to be 50-50, I think it varies by state now.)

#40 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Rick York @ 37 -

Oh, I have no quarrel with the US being a republic or being called that. I'm just amused by how often it pops up as a conservative talking point. The experiences of California with Initiative and Referendum are enough to scare anyone out of a direct democracy.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:19 PM:

I want to appoint Mister Ed as Senator.

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:21 PM:

37
Many of the problems with 'direct democracy' in California can be fixed (at least in part) by raising the minimum number of signatures to get stuff on the ballot from the current very low number, which I think is something like 2 percent of the registered voters.

#43 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:22 PM:

There are arguments for why bodies whose members are selected by subsidiary bodies are more likely to be useful than people elected at large. On the other hand, any system known to mankind can be gamed; just changing the system doesn't change the nature of the humans inside it, so there cannot be any perfect system.

I'd be moderately in favor of repealing the 17th amendment myself, but only moderately. Having different incentives for different houses' members to be elected provides them with a somewhat different viewpoint, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:29 PM:

As noted above, once a Constitutional Convention gets called, everything's up for grabs. If it happens, I suggest pushing for the ERA....

#45 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Hey, it says right there in the Constitution:  “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”  ’Nuff said.  Democratic Form of Government’s unconstitutional.

#46 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:37 PM:

I want to repeal the 11th Amendment.

#47 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:48 PM:

daftnewt, #18: Yes, they did, more's the pity. It would have been nice to stick them with a good juicy plagiarism scandal, but no such luck.

#48 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Amazing how much they pull from Churchill for that quote. Do they really equate the current events with WW II? I guess the wing nuts really do see the rapture coming.

#49 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 06:10 PM:

@36
No, not without a LOT more attention to context, and near-AI-complete language parsing.

I did a quick hour-or-two hack inspired by this and by the reoccurring graphs @ xkcd, not a deep and significant study. ;-)

#50 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 06:11 PM:

John Stannin@45:

Maybe it's just my having a different perspective as a non-USAn, but I always thought Republic (except in the context of discussing Plato) mainly meant "not having a hereditary monarchy", principally because that's what it looks like in Roman history from a height of 20,000 feet by contrast with the Tarquins and the Empire.

From that perspective I see no opposition between republican and democratic -- they're two completely different axes.

#51 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 06:41 PM:

James – you see no opposition between republican and democratic?  You sure ain’t been around the good ol’ USA this last coupla years...

“two completely different axes” is nearer the mark.

Seriously, of course a Republic is a state that doesn’t have a hereditary monarchy (though, in parenthesis, a remarkable number of leaders of “republics” seem to have the hereditary urge to pass the leadership to their family);  and a Republic isn’t necessarily a democracy, as the Comité de salut public showed conclusively.

But in the USA the visceral hatred of the political party called the “Republicans” towards anyone who’s different from them and/or doesn’t believe in ... whatever it is that they believe in – especially “libruls”, that is, people who are in favour of freedom – has become so ridiculous that the urge to make jokes about them is irresistible.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:02 PM:

I can go along with not electing Senators by popular vote, but as long as we're changing things, why not just eliminate the middle man and have them appointed by the corporations that sponsored them? Then we don't have to pay them or give them health benefits; they'll be getting paid by lagniappe.

#53 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:04 PM:

P J Evans @ 7:

A hit, a palpable hit!

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:08 PM:

Maybe the wingnuts would like to repeal the 13th Amendment as well? After all, they insist that the obscenely high wages forced on poor corporations by rapacious labor unions have been the downfall of the US economy. If we don't have to pay the workers at all, there will be a lot more profit to go around (a lot fewer people for it go around to).

#55 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:17 PM:

John Stanning@51

That's why I was careful to use the lower-case on both adjectives.

Seriously, I often see arguments which defend some non-democratic feature of the U.S. Constitution (e.g. the massive deviation of the Senate from rep. by pop.) as an aspect of the "republic" character of the U.S. ("the drafters designed a republic, not a democracy"), where I can't see what it has to do with the defining characteristic of a republic. It would make sense if, "republic" was replaced by, say, "oligarchy" in most of these defenses, but I have a feeling that that substitution would not be welcome to the people making the argument.

#56 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:37 PM:

In Canada, 'Senate Reform' is the conservative types trying to get rid of appointed senators and get elected ones, instead.

Sorry; I just find this amusing.

#57 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 08:22 PM:

The Federalist Papers (number 62) offer several reasons for having the Senate appointed by the state governments:

  • To make the existing state governments stakeholders in the new Constitution, so that it could be adopted al all,

  • Indirect appointment may result in choosing a more select class of senators. (I don't see how that was supposed to work.)
  • If the people in different parts of the government are chosen in different ways and at different times, they are less likely to all go corrupt together.
#58 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 08:29 PM:

James #55

Yes, well, most republics started because someone got up a movement to get rid of the king (I don’t recall anyone knocking off a queen to form a republic, but no doubt it happened) in favour of... someone who wasn’t the king, who in due course generally evolved into an elected president, either executive (e.g. USA, France) or non-executive (e.g. Italy, Germany).  So in Europe we’ve come to think of a modern republican as someone who’s in favour of swapping out the monarch for a president but generally (since all European monarchies are now democratic constitutional monarchies) leaving everything else more or less the same.

(Although one might observe that when the Spanish, being dissatisfied with dictatorship after Franco died, decided to create a democracy, they made it a constitutional monarchy which has worked very well.)

But the USA is tied to its history of coming into being by accretion over several decades out of a collection of originally more-or-less-distinct states and territories, not just a republic but a federal one, which is terribly, terribly important, with the states within the federation having their own legislatures and the powers of the federal government over the states being strictly limited.  The German federation of Länder has some similarities, but not as extreme as the US.  The UK is moving towards tensions between state governments and federal government with the creation of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish legislatures (though not yet English), but not yet on the USAian scale.  The US democracy has its oddities, like the way the Senate is elected, but it’s a compromise as so many democracies are.  See Allan Beatty’s first bullet (#57).

Enough;  as I’m in England, it’s past my bed-time.

#59 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 08:40 PM:

Larry, #48: I've been thinking about this, and I'm sort of grasping at an idea... I'm not sure if I'll manage to express this well, but I think this Churchill thing is part of a larger strain in modern right-wing discourse, something about the narratives some of these people construct about their lives.

People understand their lives by organizing them into stories. Whatever our stories are, we are inevitably the heroes. Sometimes we measure our heroism by what we've made or accomplished. "I build houses!" "I run a business!" "I'm a teacher!" "I'm a parent!" Sometimes we belong to groups filled with people we look up to--a political party, a church, a fandom--and we absorb a little of our heroes' heroism.

I think maybe the Churchill guys understand their stories as war stories. (See also the health care vandalism thread, and the violent rhetoric currently getting tossed around.) Heroes are heroes because they struggle against villains; to see themselves as heroes, these people need villains--and the bigger and more dastardly the enemies, the mightier the heroes.

And that's why "socialism" is an unstoppable bogeyman, and Nancy Pelosi is a master criminal, and a relatively tepid health care bill is an existential threat.

#60 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Tim @36, Mikael @49, you could at least get an order-of-magnitude estimate of the strength of this effect by checking some sample of the results -- you'd want to use a few pages, so that you don't just look at the top hits and skew the results, but it's better than nothing.

My totally unscientific "glance at the results" method suggests that the first page is primarily people actually in favor of repealing it, but after that the fraction of "they're trying to repeal the 2nd amendment! Oh noes!" rapidly increases. But this becomes increasingly like work....

#61 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 09:09 PM:

@44: I pessimistically suspect that if a convention were called now, I'd be too busy trying to hang on to the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments to be pushing for much of anything else. (I'd say 7th, too, but it's already dead in practice thanks to arbitration clauses. Maybe it needs to be brought back and beefed up somehow.)

Although it's possible that when starting from scratch, a few well-chosen words added to the 14th could do a lot, and amount to including the ERA (not to mention a few other illegitimate bases for discrimination not specifically mentioned); and I think the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th could all be combined into one if it were written properly.

I'd like to add a ban on disenfranchisement of criminals, too. It's too easy to criminalize things to allow voting rights to depend on it.

#62 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:13 PM:

Graydon @29

I'm not sure the G(N) conferences are lacking entirely in legitimacy. If 60% of the people are in favor of something, 39% are indifferent and 1& are strongly opposed, it doesn't make it a big deal if 1% of the people are willing to send a delegation to protest.

The existence of strong opposition provides no evidence of overall approval.

#63 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:21 PM:

Wesley Osam #59: Yeah, but notice how they're trying to have it both ways... they're claiming Churchill's rhetoric, but displaying Nazi goals and behavior! (yada Godwin yada...)

#64 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:40 PM:

The Federalist Papers make interesting reading, but you have to remember what they are. They aren't abstract political philosophy, they aren't a disinterested exploration of different governmental structures, and they aren't even an exposition of what Madison, Hamilton, and Jay thought. They're campaign pamphlets, written to persuade undecided voters. They addressed topical arguments, and we're reading them wrong by taking them out of context.

The Federalist Papers were written to convince people that a proposed constitution should be adopted, so naturally they defended every provision of that constitution, even the indefensible ones, even the ones that Madison and Hamilton and Jay argued against during the convention itself. Since they were writing campaign pamphlets, they couldn't very well be frank and explain that some part of the constitution was just a political power play, or that it was a compromise between two points of view that left both sides unhappy but that the document as a whole was still better than nothing. But sometimes that explanation would have been the truth.

#65 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:27 AM:

#3 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:22 PM:

Google will turn up pages advocating the repeal of just about every amendment that's still in force.

How about the third?

http://www.theonion.com/articles/third-amendment-rights-group-celebrates-another-su,2296/

I did find this:

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060821213644AAUwr9Q

But it doesn't seem like a groundswell...

#66 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 07:35 AM:

"But it doesn't seem like a groundswell..."

I can't say there's a huge groundswell in either major party for repeal of any of the current amendments, though the 17th is one of the ones where repeal occasionally gets mentioned in some well-known conservative circles. (And the relative obscurity of the 3rd is reflected both in the Onion piece and in Mikael's chart.)

It can be tempting to overplay the significance of the current repeal movements to fit into a pre-existing narrative. For instance, if you Google for pages on the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, you'll find a mirror world of other blogs (though there's not nearly so much good poetry in them), where the current repeal bill for that amendment is presented as part of a nefarious covert Leftist plot to install Obama as President-for-Life. (In fact, the repeal bill's single sponsor has introduced the bill on principle in every Congressional session since the 1990s, in both Democratic and Republican administrations.)

#67 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 08:00 AM:

@58 - republics and queens - Spanish First Republic, if you start from the deposition of Isabella in 1868... Didn't last long, of course...

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 08:26 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom 66

Oops, missed Mikael's chart. I can see why no-one's advocating the repeal of the 9th; somewhat more surprised that the twentieth gets a free pass.

#69 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Andrew @62 --

Legitimate leaders, governing with the consent of the governed, hold their deliberations in public -- and I mean in public, anybody who wants can wander into the viewing gallery, anybody who wants may take pictures, film, and record, and do anything they like with the recording that doesn't involve misrepresentation through alteration -- and go about their lawful occasions in company with their fellow citizens without guards or escort.

If there is opposition, there is opposition. In a representative form of government, opposition is legitimate. You don't put it behind a fence for being opposition.

Presidents, Prime Ministers, and members of the cabinet are all fundamentally and essentially expendable in a representative form of government. When they stop being considered expendable, you're headed at an aristocratic or oligarchical form of government.

(Well past "headed", alas.)

#70 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 10:13 AM:

Alex #67:  Aha!  Well remembered!

Graydon #69:  I know you’re just being provocative, but I’ll respond anyway...

You don't put it behind a fence for being opposition.
No.  You put it behind a fence for being, or potentially being, violent opposition.  See also below.

Legitimate leaders ... go about their lawful occasions in company with their fellow citizens without guards or escort.
Yes, in the ideal world, which sadly this is not.  Philip II of Macedon tried that and got assassinated (making way for Alexander), apparently by a man with a grudge.  Maybe Philip deserved it, maybe not.  In the real world, a legitimate leader can be supported by millions of adoring citizens and still be assassinated by one single madman.  It’s not clear to me that the world is a better place because of the actions of John Wilkes Booth, or Gavrilo Princip, or Lee Harvey Oswald (if it was he).  Nor is it clear to me that the world would be a better place if the present POTUS were to wander around without the Secret Service and be shot by some crazy red-neck.  I do agree with you in principle that politicians are, and must be, expendable, but surely that doesn’t mean that they should be expended recklessly?

#71 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 10:58 AM:

I'm astonished that Mikael's chart shows no support at all for repealing the 9th. I'd have bet money there would be a visible faction of nutcases who wanted to repeal the 9th as a way to strike down Roe vs Wade.

#72 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:13 AM:

John Stanning @70 --

No, really, not being provocative. I'm very strongly of the opinion that there is no such thing as a secret court or secret sessions of the legislative body, and that you -- collective, you-the-People, you, for whatever value of People -- have to fix the problem, not provide guards for the President.

(and yes, "random citizens will step between you and the madman with the gun" is a high test for legitimacy, but it's the appropriate one, too.)

Political violence is not in any way legitimate, and I find that I actually agree with what Pierre Trudeau did when faced with some. But potential violence isn't enough to justify the fence. NOTHING is enough to justify that fence. Either the meeting is legitimate (=can be held peacefully) or it isn't, because it can't be held peacefully.

The right wing is going berserk because they've had a couple generations now to panic over their culture going extinct (which it certainly will, absent major regression in capability; culture is a function of technology), they have no cultural basis to consider change good, and something has happened that not only makes them think they're losing (a black president getting something "socialist" through Congress) it makes their corporate sponsors think they're losing, too. The effective ways to deal with that don't include ever-escalating levels of security on public servants and elected officials.

#73 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:16 AM:

Strange nobody wants to repeal 12 (the electoral college).

#74 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:21 AM:

praisegod barebones #68: Things may not be proper when the general is Prim.

#75 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:39 AM:

There is this to consider, as far as the corporatist wing of the GOP is concerned--they have started to the goons, and they have no way of controlling them at all. At this point, all they can do is continue to try and placate them with lip service, because they can't stop them by any means at their disposal, and they don't dare speak out loudly against them.

#76 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:32 PM:

Fragano: google suggests that this may be more relevant to Alex @ 67. Unless the general is Prynne. In which case all sorts of things are improper, including long hair on men, drinking someone's health, and going to the theatre.

#77 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:33 PM:

@72 - your political theory gets very close there to the madman's veto, which is no way to run a poker night, let alone a country.

I note on reflection that 'madman's veto' is not a googleable definition, but y'all can work out what I mean.

#78 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:40 PM:

Graydon @ 72: "Either the meeting is legitimate (=can be held peacefully) or it isn't, because it can't be held peacefully."

So then you agree that the Republican operatives flown into Florida in order to hold a faux riot to shut down the 2000 presidential ballot recount was a legitimate political action? You believe that any Tea Bagger that wanted ought to have been allowed to enter the Capitol during the HRC bill vote? That that would have produced a more democratic result?

You're starting from a reasonable premise (The huge protests against the G(N) are a sign of their undemocratic nature) and universalizing it into a ridiculous one (all democratic meetings can and ought to be held with any member of the public participating who wishes to). But it's impossible for everyone to speak at once, and trying to allow it ends up with a tyranny of the most bloody-minded--that's why we agree to assemble ourselves into blocks and elect representatives. Therefore those representatives do in fact have more right to speak and to participate than any random individual wandering in, and if the presence of those wanderers makes it impossible for the democratically-elected officials to do their job then barring random people from that time and that place is, in fact, more democratic than allowing them in.

(Yes of course that's an argument that can, and is, misapplied to shut down political opposition where it ought to be allowed to speak, and yes of course we ought to be very discerning when and where we allow the freedom to participate to be curtailed. It is nonetheless an essential part of representative democracy.)

#79 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Graydon@72: There are scale issues. The US president is of major significance to 300+ million people who have relatively unfettered access to his general vicinity (the US not being big on internal travel restrictions), and arguably of major significance to around 6 billion. And it takes one loon with some threaded pipe and some black powder, or any of a large range of other tools, to take him out. I don't have any problem with having experts guarding the president; I think he needs it, and his family needs it. I think we're already suffering from many of the best people not wanting to face the demands of public service because they think the conditions under which they'd have to serve are too unpleasant, and that making it physically more dangerous in addition would NOT have any good effects.

On the other hand, it does look to me like you're talking about meetings being "open" in a somewhat different sense than some of the responders are; you aren't actually suggesting that anybody be allowed to walk in and participate in the meeting, or disrupt it, are you? The non-existence of secret sessions means they can be observed and reported, not that everybody can disrupt them.

I don't really think that combat between mobs of citizens with pitchforks and torches is a good way to decide which politicians get to remain alive.

#80 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:57 PM:

heresiarch @78 --

Of course I don't agree.

However, I can note that as an empirical, pragmatic matter, that recount was not legitimate, because it could be shut down by such means. The legitimacy of government is not an abstract, theoretical matter. If it's possible to declare a winner in an election without counting the votes and the populace as a whole does not rise in (effective) protest, well, it's not good, but it's certainly legitimate should it prove to be the case that everyone goes on acting like the person appointed was really elected.

Which is, as I recall, precisely what happened.

Alex @77 --

If the system of government is so poorly constructed that any particular member of it isn't expendable, it's a woeful example of systems design and could do with replacing with something vaguely due the name of "robust", don't you think?

Once you accept that some particular official is important, and needs that armored limo and the "security presence" and whatnot, you've accepted that they have a right to rule. I (vehemently) disagree that this is the case. They have a job to do; the job may include dying attempting to get the job done, and the job certainly includes dying in preference to deciding they're important. Ground-ape band structures do not serve the cause of civilization nor the common weal.

The major problem with the US is that about half -- maybe a narrow majority, maybe not -- of the white male population is to some degree of the opinion that the US federal government is not legitimate when it insists that blacks and women are human and peers of white men, and maybe not at all. From this, all else, including the present condition of naked plutocracy, derives.

No amount of security can or will do anything about that particular problem; at the very, very best, it will buy some time in the hopes that what has already demonstrated itself to be a trans-generational grudge will go away in the fullness of time.

#81 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 01:14 PM:

#80 Graydon:
"about half -- maybe a narrow majority, maybe not -- of the white male population is to some degree of the opinion that the US federal government is not legitimate when it insists that blacks and women are human and peers of white men, and maybe not at all. "

That's a strong statement, and one that's new to me. Got a source?

#82 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 01:16 PM:

Graydon@80: If the system of government is so poorly constructed that any particular member of it isn't expendable, it's a woeful example of systems design and could do with replacing with something vaguely due the name of "robust", don't you think?

No. Very, very much no.

I certainly won't claim "vital"; we'll very likely survive the loss of any given politician. But we need to make it as hard as reasonably possible to affect the political process by violence.

All workable ways of governing humans must take account of the fact that we are humans. This, of course, is why "New Soviet Man" is a running joke.

#83 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 01:36 PM:

DD-B @82 --

One of the ways you make it very hard to affect the political process by violence is by setting things up so that, as much as possible, any particular political figure is expendable.

(N.B. -- "expendable" doesn't mean "we want to expend them", or consider it good were they to be expended, or anything like that; it means we don't lose vital capability should it prove to be the case that they have been expended.)

In a reasonably robust system where political figures are expendable, if someone is assassinated, their agenda doesn't fail, their coalition doesn't collapse, and the full and august majesty of the law gets applied to the assassin. It's when something else happens that political violence becomes effective. (See the assassination of Dr. King for an example of effective political violence.)

Sandy B @81 --

Other than US politics since 1960? Also, actually listening to what the Paliban are saying? They do have a consistent world view and their statements and actions derive logically from it; the problem is the refusal to apply empirical testing to their choice of axioms, not the application of logic using the axioms.

The "about half" comes from (my recollection of) polling data on fivethirtyeight.com during the run up to the most recent American Presidential election.

#84 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Graydon@83: nice in theory, but doesn't happen in practice. There simply aren't enough people with the skills and inclination to be politicians; it's always a big deal when we lose one. Paul Wellstone was replaced in the Senate by Norm Coleman!

I dunno about the King assassination. It may have been key to bringing legal changes in. Or, of course, if he'd still been around things might have gone much further, too. Dunno. Maybe more important, if he'd been around maybe he could have kept the social reaction to the legal changes in a different channel. Maybe.

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:17 PM:

Graydon @ 80: "If it's possible to declare a winner in an election without counting the votes and the populace as a whole does not rise in (effective) protest, well, it's not good, but it's certainly legitimate should it prove to be the case that everyone goes on acting like the person appointed was really elected."

Weren't we talking about democracy? I think there's a slightly higher bar for legitimacy in a democratic system than "I got away with it." Rather a defining characteristic, I'd say.

But that's just a distraction from my question, which was: do you believe that allowing any individual that wishes to attend a meeting to attend will result in a more democratic result?

#86 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:34 PM:

DD-B @84 --

I'm taking the position that "not happening in practice" is part of the structural problem.

Barriers to entry for politicians are extremely high in the US; you more or less have to be millionaire to run for Congress, frex. (There are exceptions, but they're scarce.) (Said barrier is merely high in Canada, but I think it's too high here as well.)

I suspect that there are some relatively minor structural changes that would make available a much larger pool of people.

Without those changes, treating public servants and political personages as expendable would not be helpful; that would create a efficacy-at-expending contest, which is not desirable.

The "I'm important!" social stratification isn't desirable, either, though, and I would like to see it go away.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Graydon, #72: and yes, "random citizens will step between you and the madman with the gun" is a high test for legitimacy, but it's the appropriate one, too
Yes -- if you happen to live in Diane Duane's Middle Kingdoms, and have an author standing over you to make sure it all works out right in the end. Short of that... not so much.

The effective ways to deal with that don't include ever-escalating levels of security on public servants and elected officials.
I would be delighted to hear your proffered method(s) for dealing with that in ways that don't involve providing security for people who have received death threats.

and @80 -- Now you're arguing backwards, from conclusion to premises. I think that's called "begging the question".

You appear to be arguing in favor of a Platonic ideal of both society and politics, and saying that if the real world doesn't match up to it, then reality is incorrect and must be replaced. This does not fill me with confidence in the robustness of your mental processes.

#88 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Well, a million isn't what it used to be, either.

I don't think any kind of structural change can bring us to a place where protecting the President won't be important (and senators and congressmen at least if they show signs of being threatened).

Well, except for one I know you wouldn't like either; a Soviet-type politburo system might actually bring us to the point where no one person was going to change much. Nothing resembling liberal democracy can do it, though. Not with the monkeys we have now.

I guess it's non-disprovable, at least with current science, to hypothesize that the things that are issues are social rather than truly innate, but I'm not buying it; we're social from way back.

You identified this as a problem yourself, as I recall; but you hope to get us past it, whereas I think it's a windmill and do not wish to tilt at it.

Many of the attempts to change campaign finance do look an awful lot like forbidding me to combine with others to make my positions felt -- which is the essence of what the 1st amendment is supposed to protect, I thought. Amusing that the people deemed "socialists" by their enemies wish to forbid this collective action, and those self-identifying as "individualists" are concerned to preserve it. But perhaps neither self-identification nor identification by enemies is really that accurate.

#89 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Graydon@80:

The government is not a server farm and assassination is not the same thing as a DNS attack. Our leaders are not hot-swappable.

We have security around our leaders, not because we've deemed them all kings and our social betters* but because we'd rather not go through the the drama and pageantry of an election all that often. It's stressful and not at all conducive to the fabric of our society if we were to stop what we were doing and find a new president every fortnight just because we refuse to assign them a bodyguard out of misplaced idealism.

This goes double for Obama, who was receiving death threats a year before he even took office.
_________
* a few among us do, and we generally regard them as weirdos not fit for polite society.

#90 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 03:04 PM:

heresiarch @85 --

I believe that not allowing business to be conducted in secret will lead to a better result. "More democratic" is a very squishy descriptor, and I'm not sure what I'd mean if I said that and I'm certainly not sure what you mean by it.

One of the obvious trends over the course of my life has been more and more public business being conducted with increasing amounts of secrecy. Now we're seeing objections to very basic things like the right to face your accuser in court. This is not primarily driven by, but is certainly enabled by, the legitimacy granted to secret proceedings by those who are either in public office or public servants.

Lee @87 --

ALL security, every bit of it, everywhere, at all times, isn't a solution. It's a stopgap because you either can't solve the problem or you haven't solved the problem yet.

The actual core political problem in the US isn't a lack of security process/people standing around guarding things/metal detectors in public buildings, now is it?

Providing security for people who have received death threats is, well, mostly pointless if the security provided is less than what the Secret Service does for the President, which is certainly not perfectly effective and which is much more expensive than you-the-People can afford generally, contributes to the whole climate-of-fear thing, contributes to the notion that you can kill fear with a gun (a most destructive delusion), and doesn't do anything towards arresting the people making the threats and putting them on trial.

In the current case, I'd say the reasons the folks responsible for making the threats, cutting the propane lines, and throwing the bricks aren't being (and almost certainly won't be) classed as terrorists, arrested, and tried are much more important than the provision of (inevitably ineffective at levels below "protective custody", and not necessarily effective then) security to the people being threatened.

The point is to have a system where "kill the king" isn't an effective tactic because there's no king to kill, not because killing the king is too difficult to accomplish.

#91 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Keith Kisser @89 --

I'd contend that a whole lot of Americans are much more comfortable with hierarchical, and authoritarian hierarchical, at that, forms of social organization rather than egalitarian ones, and the argument over which group is polite company drives much of the energy seen from the right.

Of course your political leaders are not hot swappable, and of course Obama being assassinated would be several sorts of disaster. The way your political system is designed, this is more or less inevitable.

I am trying (with broad lack of success) to point out that this is a bug in the system design, or, better, not something considered in the requirements, because it makes threats of political violence disproportionately effective AND (and most importantly) drives a culture of treating security as a solution, rather than a stopgap. Security is not, and never can be, a solution.

#92 ::: Marc Moskowitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:17 PM:

Graydon @91,
I think this is a necessary bug, the sort of issue that's dictated by other requirements, in particular the requirement to have a government that represents the interests of the citizens without requiring the constant involvement of a direct democracy. Until we can program AIs to effectively represent us, we'll need humans to do that job, and those humans will be weak points in the system. This is true of corruption as well as assassination. Since they are a necessary feature of the system, it makes sense to protect them from attacks as best we can.

#93 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:50 PM:

QUESTION: What percentage of US federal legislation arises in response to the ratification of international treaties and/or international agreements reached between governments?

This is a serious issue. In the UK -- which is part of the EU -- over 50% of current legislation originates outside Parliament, in the shape of EC Directives (which have admittedly been chewed over by the European Parliament, which -- if it was working properly -- would introduce some democratic accountability into the treaty process). But a lot of treaties -- see the current fuss over ACTA on BoingBoing and elsewhere -- will result in draconian legislation if implemented, and nobody asked us, the people, if we were in favour of it.

What I'm hinting at is that it's possible that a chunk of the perceived democratic deficit[*] lies outside the normal scope of representative government. In other words, we haz an embryonic world government already ... and it is an unaccountable bureaucratic cryptarchy staffed by mid-level diplomatic policy wonks.

[*] obviously not the current HCR stuff in the USA, but think in terms of the impact of trade and currency agreements on our lives.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:52 PM:

Graydon @ 80

The major problem with the US is that about half -- maybe a narrow majority, maybe not -- of the white male population is to some degree of the opinion that the US federal government is not legitimate when it insists that blacks and women are human and peers of white men, and maybe not at all. From this, all else, including the present condition of naked plutocracy, derives.

I hope we're not that bad in the UK, but I sometimes wonder, when I see what the politicians get away with saying. They don't think that playing the "otherness" card will lose them an election.

Amd, where we do have proportioanl representation in the system, we can get the open racists elected.

#95 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 05:06 PM:

#91 and #92:  I think Graydon is right, the problem is indeed a bug in the system design, or better (as he says), something that the user didn’t consider in the functional specification.  Only too familiar.

But it seems to me that the bug is not in the democratic system, but in the functionality of human beings.  Supposing for the moment that humans are designed at all, or that there is a user (which, despite being a Christian, I would deny, but that’s for another discussion), it seems to me that we’re simply not designed to fulfil Graydon’s requirements:  there’s no point in protesting about that, we are what we are, and we have to live with it.

#96 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Graydon@91:I am trying (with broad lack of success) to point out that this is a bug in the system design, or, better, not something considered in the requirements, because it makes threats of political violence disproportionately effective AND (and most importantly) drives a culture of treating security as a solution, rather than a stopgap. Security is not, and never can be, a solution.

The problem with your solution is that it would require us to rewire human nature for it to work. We are not now, nor will we ever be so enlightened as a species as to do away with hierarchical systems of governance, at least not outside any group bigger than a dinner party.

Security may not be a solution but until we find one, we'll have to settle for the a stop gap. The question then becomes: how do we make the most efficient and unobtrusive stop gap we can?

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Graydon, #90: Once again, I await your proposals for Making It All Better. I don't insist that they be fully-functional right out of the box, but it seems obvious that you must have some idea of how to implement the violence-proof society that you feel would be the perfect solution to all of our current problems. But how can we even start thinking about it if you refuse to share your wisdom with us? At the very least, what have you identified as the bugs in the system which cause the security-feedback loop?

Failing that, I refer you back to the final paragraph of my preceding post.

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Graydon is talking in abstract, idealistic terms. It sounded, at first, that he was proposing that Obama et al walk around without security, but he's made it clear that that's not what he meant.

Graydon, you're talking about fixing the fundamental structure of our house—replacing wood with brick, let's say—while we're trying to figure out the best way to get rid of the oil-soaked rags in the living room. As a solution to piles of oil-soaked rags, replacing wood with brick really sucks.

Do you have any practical suggestions for reform of the system starting from where it is now (i.e. with tons of people around who are quite willing to assassinate Obama if his security should lapse even for a moment) to get to something better?

#99 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 05:56 PM:

#97 Lee
#98 Graydon

A national boycott of product of any and all advertisers on Fux TV would help.

#100 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 06:46 PM:

#99: A national boycott of product of any and all advertisers on Fux TV would help.

Peddlers of Survival Seed Banks and overpriced gold coins tremble at the thought.

#101 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 10:16 PM:

I wish to enquire how many legitimate national governments Graydon is familiar with in history, going by his definition. I'm not coming up with any off the top of my head.

#102 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 10:16 PM:

I wish to enquire how many legitimate national governments Graydon is familiar with in history, going by his definition. I'm not coming up with any off the top of my head.

#103 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:27 PM:

Keith Kisser @96

We are not now, nor will we ever be so enlightened as a species as to do away with hierarchical systems of governance, at least not outside any group bigger than a dinner party.

And not even all or most dinner parties can manage that. I'm sure all of us have been at dinners that would have been greatly improved by one member of the party declaring themselves dictator for life in a bloodless coup and apportioning the check by imperial decree.

#104 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 11:54 PM:

Well, there's always Gilbert and Sullivan's kingdom of Utopia, with its Public Exploder. It seems to me that it was based on a very similar notion of legitimacy, and it seemed to work there.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 12:58 AM:

Chris W @ 103:

I can think of several dinner parties that would have been greatly improved by all the members but one inviting that one in strong language to leave immediately. This seems to me analogous to the assassins that Graydon is talking about; if we can't get them away from the dinner table, we're not likely to be able to legislate them out of existence in the body politic.

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 03:59 AM:

The problem, of course, with uninviting people from the dinner party is that once the power of uninvitation is possible, it can be used on people whom it was not intended for.

(See, for instance, prisoners and the franchise.)

#107 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 04:09 AM:

Keith @ 96: The problem with your solution is that it would require us to rewire human nature for it to work. We are not now, nor will we ever be so enlightened as a species as to do away with hierarchical systems of governance, at least not outside any group bigger than a dinner party.

When I hear arguments like this, I think of nineteenth-century European conservatives arguing in favor of authoritarian monarchies, because of course those flaky liberals just don't understand that the people need strong leaders to tell them what to do.

What is this "human nature" of which you speak, and what makes you think it is something fundamental and essential, as opposed to something shaped by historical context?

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 09:39 AM:

But Jeff, it has been shaped by historical context. Do you have a proposal for getting from where we are now to doing away with hierarchical governmental systems? I don't see a way to do that.

#109 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:31 AM:

Charlie@93: In terms of national mindshare, I'm pretty sure the answer is "very little; a negligible amount". What hits the media probably isn't directly proportional to what time is spent on.

We rarely drive policy by treaty; usually its the other way around.

The Traffic in Small Arms treaty, or whatever the exact name is, has gotten the attention of the RKBA community pretty solidly, but I don't know that it's occupied much debate time in Congress. The last time anything got my attention that was treaty-driven, it was the Berne convention enabling act, which was long ago (1988 it looks like).

#110 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:32 AM:

praisegod barebones #76: You're right!

#111 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Jeff Davis@107: What is this "human nature" of which you speak, and what makes you think it is something fundamental and essential, as opposed to something shaped by historical context?

Human nature is largely fundamental. We're primates after all, and organize ourselves as chimps and gorillas do, even if we call our tribes nations. Our nature can be shaped by historical context and often is but slowly, over decades and centuries. There's a social dimension to evolution. At one point we did need the Sun Kings to organize states and fend off the other psychopaths who wanted to steal our crops and women. We outgrew that need however, (mostly due to industrialization but that's another topic entirely) and one day, maybe in a few thousand years, we'll no longer need hierarchical institutions to organize ourselves and they will become vestigial. I'm all for working towards that but it won't be easy, since there's an entire class of people who have a vested interest in maintaining the hierarchy, since they're at the top of the pyramid.

Graydon, however was suggesting we just all cut off our heads of state and learn to live with the ensuing chaos, because bleeding form the neck will make us freer, somehow. Which makes me wonder if he's not from a parallel universe where there aren't failed states and Somalia really is the free-market paradise libertarians wish it to be.

#112 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Keith, I think you're misreading things. (Graydon is no species of Libertarian that I'm familiar with.)

What he's pointing out is that one of the huge advantages of government by elected party is that there should be no single point of failure -- no one individual whose death will result in massive policy changes. Vulnerability to assassination as a tool of policy modification is one of the weaknesses of monarchical systems, and to the extent that this is a problem besetting the US presidency, it highlights the fact that the presidency is imperial (thus reinstalling the single point of failure that republics in general strive to get away from).

You can keep your social pyramid if you want; I'm from a country that did away with feudalism and the great chain of being, thanks, and I'll take boring beige disposa-politicians in preference to gaudy and exciting kings on white horses any day of the week.

#113 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 01:45 PM:

In once sense the problem is better than what you're suggesting, in another sense worse. That is: it doesn't highlight a particular weakness of the US presidency (although that weakness exists), because its scope is wider than that.

First, lots of countries have the weakness that political murder is an effective tool for policy modification. One recent and very obvious example is Israel, where the murder of Yitzhak Rabin changed government policy drastically. (And for the worse, in my opinion, although I realize others disagree. I think Israel would have been much better off if it had taken more care to avoid having its prime ministers murdered.)

And second, it's not just that the US president is a single point of failure. In the US, at any rate, we have multiple single points of failure. There are lots of government officials whose sudden deaths would cause big changes -- sometimes temporary changes, but that's not always easy to tell. I can probably name a dozen or so of those people, and I'm sure there are more I can't name. We saw last year what the death of a single Senator could do.

#114 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 01:55 PM:

More broadly, when there is political conflict or any kind of important political dialog in progress, there will be leading voices on both sides of the conflict. I find I'm not able to imagine a society of plains apes where that isn't true. And I have some trouble imagining a society where there are always half a dozen just as good in reserve, ready to step in if something happens to the current leading voice.

Assassinating the leading voice of a side is always going to have a big effect. (What effect depends on details; broadly, they could become a martyr and their cause could benefit, or their cause could go down because nobody competent steps in to replace them, or the succession fight becomes publicly damaging.)

Those people may not be political leaders; I can imagine societies where that's true. You can set things up so the political leaders aren't important, maybe; if you take the discussion largely outside of politics. But the people whose death would derail the discussion still exist.

#115 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 02:09 PM:

Xopher @ 108: I think the first step is recognizing that we have a problem -- in other words, acknowledging that our problems are more fundamental than simply being stuck with the current crop of too-eager-to-concede Democrats or batshitinsane Republicans or whatever. The second step is to build social movements that focus on fixing those fundamental problems (as opposed to, say, pinning vague ideals like "hope" and "change" on the existing political system). Learning from the successes and failures of past examples like the civil rights movement or the pre-WWI labor movement -- and from the failures of their present-day inheritors -- would be one way of doing that.

It's an uphill struggle and a hell of a lot of work. But short of giving up and heading for the hills, it's the only alternative I see to our present downward spiral.

Keith @ 111: If our social structures are "the social dimension of evolution," then the social dimension of evolution operates through punctuated equilibrium. Radical change can happen overnight (or over the course of a generation or two), and has done so in the past. The model of human history you propose is based on a very selective reading of the evidence, and I think it misrepresents how human society works.

I don't think Graydon is saying we should do away with all heads of state right this instant. It seems to me that he's proposing a test for whether a given social order is legitimate, not a mode of government that he wants us to vote on in the next election (although I'm sure he'd be delighted if someone was campaigning for a series of reforms that would make his proposal feasible in the real world).

David @ 114: If political decision-making were consensus-based rather than adversarial, the prospect of assassinating leading voices would not be so much of an issue. Of course, for that system to work, you'd have to decentralize political decision-making to a point where meaningful consensus processes are possible...

#116 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 02:35 PM:

Jeff@115: I don't think I believe in consensus-based process. I've seen processes that needed to reach consensus, but not one that worked while in a state of consensus. Can you suggest a fictional or historical example I might be familiar with?

I think the whole concept of consensus is not applicable to decisions on a national scale, is what I really think. Or if it is, it's the mirror universe evil version of consensus, where suppressing the will of the losers to continue to object becomes the core of the process.

#117 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 02:46 PM:

Charlie, #112: Are you saying that having someone assassinate the PM wouldn't have the potential for major changes in policy? And would you have said the same thing about Churchill?

These are serious questions, because it seems to me that this is a weakness of the party system in general, and you appear to be saying that it's not. IMO any time you have rule by elected parties, the loss of a party leader has the potential to bring about policy change -- and the more widely separated the party platforms are, the more potential there is.

#118 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 04:02 PM:

David @ 116: I think the whole concept of consensus is not applicable to decisions on a national scale, is what I really think.

I'm inclined to agree. That's why I was saying decision-making would have to be decentralized. What's so great about the nation-state?

Examples you'd be familiar with ... maybe the Zapatistas? From that link: "Within Zapatista communities, most decisions are apparently made collectively, on a consensus model, in local assembles where everyone (men and women alike) over the age of 12 can participate." They're far from perfect, and certainly not completely non-hierarchical, but their system is supposedly founded on consensus and it seems to have worked fairly well for them.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy has one or two examples of how a delegate system might represent local, consensus-based communities at a "national" level. But IIRC it was more of a reaching-consensus situation rather than operating-in-consensus. And I'm not sure the viewpoint characters meet Graydon's legitimacy test. It's been a while since I read those books, though.

#119 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 04:50 PM:

Jeff@118: The nation-state is the best tool for concentrating power that has been invented by mankind so far, by a large margin. And I'm fully onboard with the arguments in Starship Troopers about the non-viability of pacifism. As with capitalism, I think we can't afford to give up the nation-state, as the alternatives are too expensive. It'd be the political equivalent of the corporate failure mode of short-term thinking, which will kill you in the long run.

#120 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 05:58 PM:

The nation-state is the best tool for concentrating power that has been invented by mankind so far, by a large margin.

That is an argument against nation-states, not an argument in favor of them. Concentrations of power are not good.

#121 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:08 PM:

Graydon @ 90: "I believe that not allowing business to be conducted in secret will lead to a better result. "More democratic" is a very squishy descriptor, and I'm not sure what I'd mean if I said that and I'm certainly not sure what you mean by it."

Because "better" is such a well-defined term of art? More to the point: that isn't what I asked you, or what you are arguing. Your original observation was "the 3m fences and five layers of security around things like G20 conferences are essentially an admission of the loss of legitimacy on the part of at least the process involved and maybe the government in question." Secrecy isn't even mentioned--it's lack of physical access that you take as evidence of lack of legitimacy, and that's what people objected to. Then when challenged, you took the position that "yes, "random citizens will step between you and the madman with the gun" is a high test for legitimacy, but it's the appropriate one, too." Again, the question isn't about secrecy or the lack thereof, but about security and the lack thereof.

@ 91: "I am trying (with broad lack of success) to point out that this is a bug in the system design, or, better, not something considered in the requirements, because it makes threats of political violence disproportionately effective AND (and most importantly) drives a culture of treating security as a solution, rather than a stopgap. Security is not, and never can be, a solution."

What you are doing is trying to point out that concentrating cognition in the head makes headshots disproportionately effective AND drives the development of thick bone covering
(which cannot be a solution), while totally ignoring all of the other constraints and drives that drove the development of that particular arrangement in the first place. Yes, designating particular people political representatives makes assassinating them particularly effective at derailing the political process--assassinating garbage collectors would also be particularly effective at derailing garbage collection. It's an unavoidable consequence of specialization. Nonetheless, political specialization has enough benefits that creating that vulnerability and then attempting to compensate for it with security is a far more effective system than going it without.

#122 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Adding my two cents to this argument, this is also a reason why the US constitution sets up a line of succession to the president. It seems to work reasonably well.

#123 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:21 PM:

Concentrations of power are not good.

Concentrations of power are inevitable, and whether they're good or not depends on exactly what power is concentrated and how it's used.

#124 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:32 PM:

Jeff@120: Concentrations of power are not good unless you're facing one; at which point they're indispensable. There is nothing more expensive than the second-best military.

#125 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:32 PM:

Charlie Stross@112:

I'm by no means arguing in favor of the monarchy. My point was, at this time in our history, some form of social pyramid is inevitable. Engineering the best possible one should be our highest priority (the more beige and boring the better, as far as I'm concerned).

But until that happens, we have to make do with what we have, as flawed as that is, which means trying to actively minimize the chances that some Gavrilo Princip will get close enough to one or more of our democratically elected Arch Dukes to alter the agenda.

#126 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 07:50 PM:

Steve @ 123: Concentrations of power are inevitable, and whether they're good or not depends on exactly what power is concentrated and how it's used.

Concentrations of power are only inevitable in the absence of checks and balances, which are vital because in the long run power tends towards evil, even if it's used for good along the way. Decentralization and consensus are some of the particular checks and balances that I prefer. I object to nation-states in part because everywhere I look today I see the failure of existing checks on state power, and no viable way to prevent or reverse those failures without making fundamental changes to the political system.

David @ 124: There is nothing more expensive than the second-best military.

Actually, the best military in the world today is more expensive than all the other militaries combined. You are arguing for a (literal and metaphorical) arms race; I think we'd all be better served by detente.

And now I've gotten all abstract. Sorry about that.

Getting back to Xopher's point about practicalities, I think there are lots of things we could be doing -- organizing neighborhood assemblies to make decisions that affect our communities; building movements, rather than trying to work within an electoral system that will always favor the people at the top of the pyramid; agitating for workplace democracy and for unions that are about solidarity instead of bureaucracy; setting up free schools rather than settling for our decaying, corporatized university system -- that would present real alternatives to existing hierarchical institutions in the here and now, while also moving us toward a more free and just society in the future.

I'll stop there for now, because I'm getting away from the stuff that everyone else is talking about in this thread, and I have to finish cleaning before the houseguests arrive.

#127 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:14 PM:

Keith Kisser #89: LOL, and amen!

Graydon, you're talking through your hat! Those arguments are political versions of the Spherical Cow -- they simply don't apply to the real world.

In this real world, leadership is important, and humans vary widely in their abilities. Furthermore, the Law of Large Numbers means that any sufficiently large group of people will include some who are aggressively non compos mentis. A basic function of modern society is to prevent such people from attacking the weak points of our infrastructure, specifically including leadership. To insist that this function must be served, not by specialists ("guards", "police", etc.), but by whatever ordinary citizens happen to be in the way, even at the cost of their own lives, is simply disingenuous.

#128 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 12:52 AM:

#109 David

ITAR -- Internation Traffic in Arms Regulations

#129 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 02:33 AM:

Graydon: No, the system isn't going to fail badly if a single official gets killed.

But if a group is upset enough to keep killing the president, that's a problem, because killing the president every couple of weeks will bring gov't to a standstill, no matter how robust the rest of the system.

It's not that they have a "right" to rule, it's that they have a right to not have a target on the red shirt they got handed by central casting, and I (as as a citizen) have the right to not have the gov't I elected completely overthrown by a small group of fanatics; who aren't trying to actually replace it.

#130 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 02:59 AM:

Graydon, #72: and yes, "random citizens will step between you and the madman with the gun" is a high test for legitimacy, but it's the appropriate one, too

In a word, not. Lets take a recent example, in Texas (I think) a trio were arrested for plotting to shoot Obama. The plan was to snipe him from a huge distance (I mean really long range, the sort of distance a professional sniper would think at least twice about).

If he didn't have the sort of security detail he's got, a simple shot from about 300 meters would do the trick. There's no option for someone to get between the "madman" (which is a strange term, it might be a case of, "if this be madness, yet there is method in it"), because by the time anyone knows the gun is there, the target has a large hole through him.

Given the conditions you are arguing for, I guarantee that I, David Dyer-Bennet, Jim Macdonald and any number of less open rifle shooters her on ML could kill any politician we felt the urge to kill, and make a clean departure from the scene.

David Dyer-Bennet: re consensus based process. The Religious Society of Friends. They use consensus. The drawback, it can take a long time to get a decision (the Central Coast Meeting [California] took something like 6 years to decide to not acquire a phone line). But it works, and has worked for hundreds of years. It has worked in matters small ("Do we need/want a phone") to large (shall we solemnize "x" type of marriage), on scales local (cf the phone) to national (cf solemnisation of marriages).

#131 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 06:22 AM:

Jeff @126 (and DDB, maybe)

I think you're misreading the context of the term "second-best military". What makes is so wastefully expensive is that it loses. Not fighting a war is a better choice than fighting a war, but if you don't have a military, do you have a chance to choose?

The USA didn't possess the best military in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. What it did have was a plan for creating vast armed forces, and the industry not only to arm the USA but their allies. The Soviet Union won their war with General Winter and General Motors.

The USA made plenty of mistakes in the first year they actually fought. But they also had that expansion plan, and moments of luck and brilliance.

Anyway, defining "best" can be tricky. One for one, the US Sherman was horribly outclassed by the German Panther, but the battles were never one on one, and the Sherman tank was more reliable and easier to repair when it did break down.

#132 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 11:45 AM:

heresiarch @ 121 --

There are drawbacks to posting while in the middle of a compile. (well, moral equivalent of a compile.) My normal tendency to terseness gets worse.

The fences and security and total exclusion zones -- to the point where elected officials are being excluded from the ACTA copyright talks, so that the European Parliament is making threats towards the bureaucracy involved because it won't tell them what it's negotiating -- involve a lack of legitimacy in a couple-three ways.

One way is that they're pitching the whole "legitimacy derives from the consent of the governed" thing. ("Consent of the governed" started as a right of refusal backed up by regular armed rebellion. Regular armed rebellion is not a good thing, but it seems pretty clear that actually representative government doesn't survive as representative without some analog. The way the process has shifted in the US to represent money, rather than people, dilutes the "vote them out" analog of rebellion.)

There's a flat assertion involved that the people don't need to know what's going on in there, or that the work cannot be done if the people know what's going on in there. (Most notably recently in public statements about ACTA from the folks doing the negotiating.)

The prevention of physical access is used to support the secrecy; it's a "you can't find out what your government is doing" assertion. I'm arguing that "you can't find out what your government is doing" isn't a legitimate response from a government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

Another way is that the public assertion about the necessity for pitching the consent of the governed thing is "security". Security isn't a thing; anybody who is talking about it as a thing is either deluded or mendacious. You can't be safe; you can't be secure. You can, with effort and expense, manage states of known risk to some degree. But the invocation of security as a concern is taken as sufficient reason to keep everybody out of the negotiations; no third-party, public record information is allowed out. The conference will decide what it decides, say what it chooses to say in a short public statement, and that's it. No one -- whose consent is ostensibly required -- can find out what actually went on. This is obvious nonsense from the point of view of the least sufficient means necessary to make it very unlikely anyone will be attacked at the conference, so the invocation of "security" is obviously pretty bogus.

Still a third way is the structural distortion brought on by the idea that security is a thing that can be possessed. This tends to lead to lots of security theater at airports and less "well, _why_ do they want to blow up planes? What can be done about that?" "What's going on that a whole chunk of the US population is using a world view derived from a common set of counter-factual axioms?" This is a problem, because even really good -- multi-layer process view of security enacted by smart people, excellent detective work, focusing on substantial threats rather than the emotional expectations of sources of threats -- security measures are purely reactive and will leak. Actual peace won't be arrived at through security apparatus.

Keith @111 --

Human nature is highly plastic and under strong selection pressure from human culture. (Coffee changes human nature. So does living in cities, widespread literacy, and growing up without being involuntarily hungry.) Oh, and what gets repeated becomes true; even when you know it's factually false it will still tend to influence your thinking.

There are constraints; anything that requires most people to think rapidly and accurately about probability most of the time is going to have real trouble, frex. But the whole thing is remarkably elastic. (We seem to default to Aristotelian physics, for example, but Newtonian physics can be taught young and will stick.) I don't see any reason to suppose that the 10,000 year process of getting away from ground-ape band structures and towards civilized ones has stopped, or is about to stop.

Terry @129, @130 --

One of the points I'm trying to get at is not that the President doesn't have enough security (though no amount of security is "enough") or should not have security (though the amount of security and the perception of legitimacy are easily in conflict); the point is that the response to the high percentage -- 20? 30? 40? Somewhere in there -- of the population who really do fundamentally believe that he's not legitimate is to beef up security, which is the wrong response. (Or, at least, that this is the entire response is what makes it the wrong response.)

So to pull (my recollection of) a practical example, Bill Clinton would walk through crowds to shake hands and kiss babies. When he did that, however it distressed his Secret Service detail, he's (in the sense I'm trying to talk about) acting on the presumption of his legitimacy; somebody might yell at him about losing their job, but he's safe walking in among his fellow-citizens, and he might be the President but the "pares" part of primus-inter-pares holds.

George W. Bush never did that. He didn't allow people with printed uncomplimentary slogans at his political rallies, and introduced "free speech zones" and similar, and used sometimes extra-legal means to arrange all of this. This is (from this angle) an acknowledgment of his illegitimacy; it was probably not that from his own point of view, of course, but "will not trust his fellow citizens" is in this sense a failure of legitimacy.

Obama probably can't do that, because despite being unquestionably duly elected, a significant plurality of the population does not recognize his legitimacy as President. (Note that your own choice of language appears to my reading to axiomatically assume that any President (and perhaps other political figure; I would myself be much more concerned about Speaker Pelosi than the President right now) must be guarded ceaselessly or they will certainly be assassinated. This is not an indication of a stable political culture.)

No amount of security is an effective or sufficient response to that problem.

Keith @111 --

Graydon is suggesting no such thing. Graydon isn't even suggesting that you do something (since it's not like you need a President to negotiate as an equal with George III anymore!) like replace the President and VP with a number of consuls, said number required to be prime, greater than one, and less than one third the current number of states, groups of consuls of whatever number to run as a electoral slate together and to replace most of the ministerial functions of the primary cabinet offices as well as the Presidential functions, decisions among consuls to be made by majority vote (this is, after all, very close to what you currently really do).

Graydon is suggesting two things.

One is that security, as a primary response to perceived illegitimacy of government or elected officials, is insufficient, ineffective, and wrong-headed.

Structural adjustment, addressing the basis of the perceived illegitimacy, and generally engaging with the problem, rather than the nuts-waving-guns symptoms of the problem, would be much better primary responses, especially undertaken collectively.

Two is that if nobody is willing to step between the elected official and the nutcase with the gun, the system of government has a general legitimacy problem. This is not a sufficient security management approach (though I will note it's more or less what the US did until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and very nearly for some time after) but it does seem to be the appropriate measure for legitimacy. Sometimes you get the short straw and it's time to, metaphorically, stand in the shield wall. If no one in the general population is willing to do that in defense of the government, there's a really serious legitimacy problem.

René Marc Jalbert is not a perfect example, since in some sense as Sargeant-at-Arms what he did was his job, but as an example his is a very good one.

Or consider Jim's account of the quadruple murder that occurred near where he lives, and the fellow who did everything in his power to slow down the gunman, despite having nothing in the way of physical conflict skills, until he was killed; regrettably, my google-fu is not presently up to finding Jim's post and his name. That's a less immediately political/elected official case, but I'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of, in this language, a private citizen accepting their responsibility to maintain the legitimacy of their polity.

#133 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Graydon: I don't know what US you are looking at, but the one I'm living in has an Obama who goes out among the people. More to the point; if you have a small group who can de-legitimise an executive, in the way you say is what happens. They aren't legitimate, but they can drive all to a standstill.

I didn't say those figures need to be guarded ceasesly (and the example you give of Pelosi points this out. I don't think She ha a Secret Service detail.If she does it's pretty unobtrusive, because it doesn't stand out to me when I've seen her in public areas [her district is just up the road, I was in it last night]) I think a huge part of Bush's personal problems are that he saw himself as the level of indespensible you are saying needs to be avoided.

The quirk here is, I don't think he was legitimately elected, yet there was no real worry that the "fringe" element of the opposition was going to organise to kill him.

And Obama, whom you grant a level of legitimacy, has that. The problem isn't the system, it's that one as open as you seem to want is one in which a vocal minority gets to throw and in the works; by participating in bad faith in the process (look the Town Halls) or outright sabotage (assassination).

I can't concieve of a "structural adjustment" which can accomodate the things you want. If governing was a bland operation, not in need of personality, then there would not be this problem, because the system wouldn't need to have such things. But it does. Someone has to drive the ship, even when the number two guy; the one to step in and fill the shoes when the number one guy dies, has a parallel vision, things change.

Right now, on this subject, the ball is in your court. You say the game is built wrong. Fine. Accepting, arguendo, this is true; what are the structural adjusments which can bring about the more utopian age you want.

#134 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 02:13 PM:

Graydon @ 132: "There's a flat assertion involved that the people don't need to know what's going on in there, or that the work cannot be done if the people know what's going on in there."

I strongly agree with you on the former, and mostly agree with you on the latter. I only mostly agree because I do believe that there are some conversations which are necessary to creating political compromises and getting things done that nonetheless can't be had in front of cameras--that's less than ideal, but it seems to be an unavoidable side effect of representative democracy.

"The prevention of physical access is used to support the secrecy; it's a "you can't find out what your government is doing" assertion."

That's, at best, a partial explanation for the security. The other part is that protesters would use physical access to disrupt the proceedings. In that the G20 meetings are not unique: for any process of sufficient magnitude, it's a given that someone somewhere cares enough about it that they would bring the process to a halt if they could: allowing free physical access would consistently result in nothing getting done. Insofar that the process is a democratic one, this disruption by a tiny minority represents a degradation of democracy, not an improvement.

The G(whatever) and the WTO meetings are sufficiently undemocratic that the protests probably represent a net increase in democratic participation, and so in this case the formidable security employed to suppress them is working against democracy. But that has to do with the particular nature of the meetings, not the universal nature of the security surrounding them.

"Security isn't a thing; anybody who is talking about it as a thing is either deluded or mendacious. You can't be safe; you can't be secure. You can, with effort and expense, manage states of known risk to some degree."

The fact that some people mistake security for an absolute doesn't render the entire concept invalid. "Safety belts" don't protect against poison, but they still make people measurably, materially safer than they are without. To return to the skull analogy, you're pointing out that no amount of thick bone and cushioning flesh can protect against all dangers, and therefore we might as well leave our brains exposed directly to the elements. No: security is always incomplete, and always comes with costs, but sometimes those costs are worth it. The universal rule you're trying to make isn't universal. Security isn't fundamentally invalidated because sometimes it's used to protect undemocratic things, or because sometimes it doesn't work.

"Actual peace won't be arrived at through security apparatus."

Obviously, patently, self-evidently, security alone cannot achieve peace. If that is all you are trying to say then you are arguing with strawmen, because that is not what anyone is claiming. What we are claiming is that some measure of security is one component of peace, and that it is, in this small way, necessary, because without it it is far too easy for lone crazies to fuck it up for everyone else.

#135 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 09:11 PM:

Y'know, the ideal political system may well be one in which any one elected individual is expendable from the point of view of the system, but I very much doubt any single elected individual is expendable from the point of view of their family, friends, and aquaintances.

I would love the sort of democratic republic in which an assassinated president didn't lead to a political standstill at best and armed revolution at worst. But I also rather love Barack Obama and wouldn't want to see him dead. I think Michelle and the kids feel that way too only much, much more so, being his family.

Security doesn't necessarily mean "This is a king with divine right to rule." It means "We don't want to see you get dead." There are many legitimate reasons for not wanting to see Barack Obama, or Nanci Pelosi, or Michael Stupack, or even godsdamned Sarah Palin, get dead.

Yes, I know Graydon did upthread define "expendable" for the purposes of this argument, but it doesn't really change that anti-assassination security has a totally legitimate function in terms of the more emotional definition that leads me to cry, "No human individual is expendable! We are all precious to the Universe, and to the people who love us!"

#136 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 02:56 AM:

Dave Bell @ 131: I take your point, but my comment about "the best military in the world" was mostly just me being a bit of a smartass in response to the "second-best military" line, which struck me as more rhetorical than substantive. My point was that the logical consequence of David Dyer-Bennett's line of argument is a continual escalation of militarism, which strikes me as madness.

Terry @ 133: Accepting, arguendo, this is true; what are the structural adjusments which can bring about the more utopian age you want.

I'm not Graydon, but most of my comments on this thread have been attempts to answer precisely this question. (No one's really responded to those parts of my comments. Maybe I sound like a crazy person? Maybe I'm not being clear enough? I dunno.)

heresiarch @ 134: Insofar that the process is a democratic one, this disruption by a tiny minority represents a degradation of democracy, not an improvement.

A society is democratic in direct proportion to the degree to which its minorities have a meaningful voice in decision-making. If a decision-making process excludes tiny minorities* to the point that they feel the need to actively disrupt the process, it's generally safe to say that their deeply held views are not being adequately represented. Your position only makes sense if we equate "democracy" specifically with large-scale majoritarian democracy, rather than with the actual democratic principle of "rule of the people by the people."

*The phrase "tiny minority" is a bit misleading here. In the case of the G8 and WTO protests, we are talking about thousands of people who actually show up at those protests (and, to a lesser extent, the millions who share the protesters' views but don't actively disrupt G8 and WTO meetings themselves). This is also true of the Tea Party folks. We shouldn't be too quick to conflate such groups with genuine lone crazies.

#137 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 06:30 AM:

It doesn’t matter whether the disrupters are a tiny or large minority;  what matters is that they try to shout down the process.  That’s not democracy, whatever way you count it.

Somebody said (probably Churchill) that democracy is the worst way of ruling society, except for all the other ways.  We don’t have a better process than what we’ve got.  Yes, we need a better one:  so propose something realistic, please.

The trouble seems to be that “representative democracy” doesn’t scale up.  We elect people to represent us at local level and at national level, and that just-about works.  But raise that to international level – EU, Gn, UN – where our representatives have chosen people to represent us – and it seems to stop working, because the representative recursion is too deep.  But how can we fix it?  Not by shouting mob, that’s for sure.

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Jeff Davis: I asked that very specifically of Graydon, because Graydon is the very specific interaction I've been having.

He's made some claims. He's conflated some things. He's argued the present system is fundamentally illegitimate.

I wonder what he sees as a legititmate system, and if that system is workable in the real world, or merely a statement of ideals (a la Kant, and the ax murderer). I'm sorry if you don't think you've been properly engaged, but I'm dealing just with Graydon's arguments.

#139 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 01:07 PM:

John: I agree that shouting down the process is undemocratic. I contend that the tactic is a symptom of a process that has already become undemocratic. I propose democratic governance at scales where it can actually be representative and participatory, and not governing at all at the national and supranational levels, except by direct consent of genuinely democratic communities and to as limited an extent as possible (i.e., avoiding bureaucratic apparatus and non-representative representatives making large decisions for us). Building non-hierarchical alternatives to existing institutions in the here and now -- trying out the model I'm talking about at smaller scales and building up from there -- would be one way towards that.

Terry: Fair enough. I'm curious to hear how Graydon answers you too.

I don't want to drown out the other conversations in this thread, and I'm more interested in conversation than in merely propagandizing my own views. So if I'm being obnoxious or overbearing, please tell me to pipe down.

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 03:11 PM:

John Stanning @ 137:

I agree that representational democracy doesn't scale well, but I'm not convinced the problems of international governance in a democratic environment (the EU, for instance) are the result of that lack of scaling. All the successes of democracy at the national level that I can think of offhand (the USA, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, England (not necessarily Britain), etc.) are the result of agglomeration of similar structures (states, counties, whatever) with similar behaviors. In other words, much of the national structure and behavior comes from the bottom. On the other hand, many of the failures or problematic cases I can think of (India, Nigeria, the EU itself) have problems because the underlying tribes/districts/provinces/countries are sufficiently disparate that a top-down imposition of structure and behavior has been (or appeared to be) necessary, or was imposed just because the colonialists didn't give a rip about the differences.

#141 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 03:32 PM:

Terry @138 -

Legitimate systems don't start aggressive wars.

heresiarch @134 -

Security is only possible in a context of peace. Trying to achieve security while ignoring peace is unlikely of success. (right up there with debugging the compiler and ignoring the hardware problem generating some but not all of the compiler bugs).

Canadian courts have a "no cameras" rule, and a "no publication during the trial" rule in some cases; this does not forbid people making sketches, taking notes, or personally attending, and I think something similar would work fine for "if we televise this there will never be agreement" cases.

Terry Karney @133 --

Obama was (to the extent that American elections return results that can be treated as accurate with confidence) legitimately elected.

Some large slice of the population -- anything more than 10% is enough to have a revolution, and it seems to be at least 20% -- insists that he is not and cannot be legitimate for reasons that sound like organic brain dysfunction to persons who are not members of their faction.

Playing defense -- reactive security, like what the Secret Service does or the recent FBI raid on a militia group called Hutaree -- isn't going to fix the whole "not legitimate!" problem. That's been going on since the Carter administration, it got much worse during the Clinton administration, and is worse still now.

It's a basic terrorist tactic to try to dilute the general perception of legitimacy of the established government; the point is to remove from it the consent of the governed. There's been a propaganda effort to that effect going on my entire life, and to a certain extent a terrorist campaign with very limited (and mostly successful) objectives toward preventing any medical services that provide abortion from operating.

One of the ways such tactics succeed is by making people frightened; another way such tactics succeed is by getting the (legitimate, established) central authority to act in illegitimate ways. (The recent Bush presidencies were an interesting example of the folks who see the government as illegitimate *being* the government and acting in illegitimate ways.)

It's pretty hard to argue that the way border control acts is legitimate; we've got the recent example of Peter Watts' conviction, we've got the whole useless officiousness of the post-9/11 air travel security setup, we've got the case of Maher Arar; legitimate authority doesn't act like that. All of this gets done in the name of security, of making people safer. It's pretty obvious that it doesn't do that. This acts to dilute the perceived legitimacy of the government performing such acts.

It's equally obvious that holding trade treaty negotiations away from all public view isn't legitimate, and that "someone might protest in a violent way" is especially not a good reason for this (especially given the degree to which "police riot" may explain previous instances of violent protest at trade negotiation sites), but "security!" gets trotted out as the explanation.

So that's a substantial chunk of the "not legitimate" problem; government acting, through malice (Dick Cheney), lack of imagination, cowardice, or just plain reflex, in ways that really aren't legitimate and really do serve to dilute the perception of legitimacy, but which satisfy the "do something!" public demand. (Often being made by people who insist that the government is illegitimate no matter what it does...)

The other substantial chunk is the portion of the population that will not grant a non-racist, non-overtly-their-flavour-of-Christian, non-tool-of-the-patriarchy government legitimacy no matter what it does. There's a real, core, fundamental disagreement over what constitute a legitimate government.

So on the one hand the propaganda effort that insists the government is illegitimate keeps right on going; on the other, the government keeps doing illegitimate things (like torturing prisoners, disappearing citizens, and using "security" as an excuse for those and other bad behaviors).

It seems politically impossible to restore legitimacy by doing things in the public interest like trying the folks responsible for the torture policy for war crimes. So either there's a plurality of public opinion that it's good to torture, or the folks with political power see themselves as an aristocracy above the law, the privileges of which they will happily extend to their political opponents but fellow aristocrats, or some combination.

Recovering legitimacy would take, structurally, addressing the 20% "can't be legitimate" crowd. It would take putting those people responsible for their commission on trial for the war crimes that have certainly been committed. It might take something like my suggestion of replacing the president with a team of consuls; it's not like one person can possibly do that job, after all. It might take a much harder political stance that people calling for genocide, aggressive war, and violence in general are outside the pale and will not be given a seat at the policy table.

But no amount of pleading necessity for invasive reactive security can do it, not any amount of invasive reactive security, because it's not legitimate from the viewpoint of either side of this incipient civil war. And it's not really a problem of a tiny number of crazies; it's an organized movement with generational staying power. So, one way or another, its concerns about legitimacy have to be addressed as what they are.

#143 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 08:29 PM:

Some large slice of the population -- anything more than 10% is enough to have a revolution, and it seems to be at least 20% -- insists that he is not and cannot be legitimate for reasons that sound like organic brain dysfunction to persons who are not members of their faction.

This is also called the crazification factor: basically, it's the part of the population that will always be in disagreement, for reasons that don't make sense to anyone else, and the people in that minority can't explain it, either.

#144 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Jeff Davis @ 136: "A society is democratic in direct proportion to the degree to which its minorities have a meaningful voice in decision-making. If a decision-making process excludes tiny minorities* to the point that they feel the need to actively disrupt the process, it's generally safe to say that their deeply held views are not being adequately represented."

That's a patently unattainable definition of democracy. It's quite easy to identify actual decision-making scenarios that do not draw to them not one but multiple minorities who are willing to actively disrupt the process if it does not produce the result they want, and they all want a different result. No possible outcome can satisfy your criteria--even doing nothing will draw the ire of someone (probably a lot of someones). No, a society is democratic in direct proportion to how much opportunity minorities are given to make their case in an open forum, not whether they're handed a minority veto.

(This is beside the fact that "people who are willing to disrupt decision-making processes" is a poor proxy for "people whose views are inadequately represented." It's not at all safe to say that anyone who is willing to disrupt decision-making has legitimate grievances--there's a high correlation between perceptions of persecution and mental illness as well.)

#145 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2010, 10:54 PM:

It's a hard problem. I don't know that I'd want to give specific percentages, but I think it is true that if a large enough minority feels completely disconnected from the process then maybe the system isn't legitimate, no matter how fair the vote counting is. Maybe at some point we aren't talking about a single legitimate democratic community, but two different communities illegitimately linked together.

That's pretty obvious then the split is along ethnic or linguistic lines -- is it really a legitimate government when the population is a 60-40 split of two groups, and the votes always fall along ethnic lines? That's the reasons for independence movements even in democratic societies.

The harder question is what this means when the polarization isn't cleanly regional.

#146 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 01:07 AM:

heresiarch @ 144: That's a patently unattainable definition of democracy. It's quite easy to identify actual decision-making scenarios that do not draw to them not one but multiple minorities who are willing to actively disrupt the process if it does not produce the result they want, and they all want a different result. No possible outcome can satisfy your criteria--even doing nothing will draw the ire of someone (probably a lot of someones). No, a society is democratic in direct proportion to how much opportunity minorities are given to make their case in an open forum, not whether they're handed a minority veto.

For large groups, it might not be 100% attainable, but it is the democratic ideal, and what I'm advocating would get us a lot closer to it than our current forms of governance do. In part this comes back to the question of scale. Do a lot of people actively disrupt municipal political processes where you live? It's a rare occurrence in my city, and when it does happen here, in my experience, it's always because the disrupters' views have been unfairly ignored by the decision-makers. Disruption becomes more common as we move up to national and supranational scales, but that's because the bigger you get, the less democratic input there is; decentralization of decision-making would go a long way toward neutralizing the problem.

I don't really disagree with your definition of democracy, and I don't think it's incompatible with mine. Our current open forums are extremely far removed from the actual process of decision-making -- and in most cases they are also dominated by entrenched interests and therefore not all that open. I think genuine open forums need to be far more closely integrated into the decision-making process, more or less to the point of being the decision-making process.

Also, for all my talk of consensus, I'm not advocating a simple minority veto. The important thing about consensus is not that everyone has a veto (if indeed they do), but that it requires people with shared interests to come together in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation: you have to talk through your differences and find a solution that pretty much everyone can live with -- as opposed to simply talking over the people you disagree with, which is what happens in liberal democracies. Given a sufficiently large and diverse community, some form of rough consensus would probably be necessary in order for such a talking-through of differences to happen on non-geological timescales. But rough consensus is not at all the same thing as majoritarian voting.

I'm not sure what specific scenarios you have in mind to show that this is impossible, but I'd be more than happy to talk about them.

It's not at all safe to say that anyone who is willing to disrupt decision-making has legitimate grievances--there's a high correlation between perceptions of persecution and mental illness as well.

Sure, and this is where some form of rough consensus could come in handy.

(Also, there's all the difference in the world between Tea Party-style craziness, which is just a severe case of what the Marxists call false consciousness, and the relative handful of people with actual mental illness who are liable to be politically disruptive. It's very easy to conflate those two things as a way of dismissing the Tea Party types, who do have legitimate grievances somewhere underneath all that ideology. I don't think you've done any conflating and dismissing, but others in this thread -- myself included -- have come pretty close at times.)

On preview, I strongly agree with Matt @ 145.

#147 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 03:20 AM:

Graydon: Moving goalposts. You said legitimate systems don't need to have security for the leaders. Legitimate systems don't fail when the leaders die. Now it's they don't start aggressive wars. I never said they did, so it's also non-sequitor, and red-herring.

You say having ten percent of the population feel the people in power aren't legitimate is 1: proof that practical legitimacy (in the forms you postulate) impossible. Fine, you have agreed that no form of gov't can be legitimate. Ok, on your terms thats the case, and it's not fixable. You win.

Only that's pathetic. It's a fiction. You've rigged the game. You win because you can't lose.

#148 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 11:18 AM:

Jeff@126: An infinite arms race isn't something I actually like the thought of very much either. The cost of the inadequate military, however, is much more than just the money spent directly on that military.

#149 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 01:31 PM:

A primary issue for me in improving the quality of the military is to increase enlisted ranks pay above the level where their families need freaking food stamps to survive.

#150 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 01:36 PM:

Ear@149: It makes a convenient cost-saving move for the military, part of the food for their people comes out of a separate budget category!

The article does point out that many people would not qualify if the value of housing provided by the military were taken into account. What this doesn't tell us is how badly off the people actually are.

#151 ::: RestoreFederalism ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 01:45 PM:

Try this:

http://www.restorefederalism.org

for information on the 17th.

#152 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 01:59 PM:

Restore Federalism, are you joining the conversation, or just advertising your site?

#153 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 04:19 PM:

I find it amusing that the Tea Party types really really dislike Elitism when they're talking about Obama having gone to Harvard, but are happy to push hopelessly elitist concepts like Unitary Executive Power or this attempt to get rid of election of Senators, or to quote Ann Coulter as if she were a populist political philosopher as opposed to an elitist entertainer whose schtick is to find the most fractally wrong things to say about liberals.

However, I doubt this is a large movement, even among Tea Baggers. Some of the small-government people are serious, and stuck with either working with the Republicans or trying to subvert them, while others are useful idiots, parroting whatever the instigators tell them (because they've got some legitimate anger but no philosophical basis for deciding what to do about it), and some are of course just useless idiots along for the party.

#154 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 08:30 PM:

Jeff Davis @ 146: "In part this comes back to the question of scale."

It's amazing, actually, how much of democracy comes down to scale. Control the scale at which decisions are made and you can very nearly determine the result. Take the Civil War: if slavery was decided at the state level it would continue; if it was decided at the federal level it would end. In my experience, arguments over scale are nearly always arguments about substance when different scales will produce different results.

"Do a lot of people actively disrupt municipal political processes where you live?"

That's a poor comparison. Had municipal governments the power to determine use of the death penalty, the legality of abortion, gun control, state religion, gay marriage, affirmative action and so forth, I think you'd see a bit more disruption. The reason why local government in the US is relatively sedate is that it really doesn't do much on those hot-button issues. The one area where local government does have a fair bit of power, education, does indeed see a great deal of drama at the local level.

And then there are things like this.

"The important thing about consensus is not that everyone has a veto (if indeed they do), but that it requires people with shared interests to come together in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation: you have to talk through your differences and find a solution that pretty much everyone can live with -- as opposed to simply talking over the people you disagree with, which is what happens in liberal democracies."

If coming together in a spirit of cooperation is your starting point, then honestly you hardly need democratic institutions at all. Democracy is for when everyone disagrees and hates each other but still need some way of resolving those unresolvable differences of opinions without one side killing the other. That's what democracy is: the best alternative to genocide. A democratic system that can't handle virulent, terminal disagreement isn't worth the bother. A democratic system that can't handle a fraction of the members opposing to the very idea of democracy is doomed.

Re-read Terry Karney's @ 130 describing trying to get unanimous consensus among the Society of Friends, a religious group that is, as I recall, pretty big on the ideal of consensus. Now imagine doing the same thing, only with a motley slew of Marxists, Aryan nationalists, fundamentalists, and hippies. Consensus is impossible; now get things done.

#155 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2010, 08:32 PM:

The point of democracy is to create consensus, not start with it.

#156 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Someone upthread asked for examples (real and fictional) of governing by consensus. How about the Marq’ssan Cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp? I've only read the first volume, but a major theme seemed to be the difference between decision making by consensus and imposing a decision through power.

#157 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2010, 04:31 PM:

heresiarch @155: The point of democracy is to create consensus, not start with it.

Um, actually, I would submit that the point of democracy is to resolve conflict. Consensus is gravy.

#158 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2010, 01:40 AM:

heresiarch @ 154:

"The reason why local government in the US is relatively sedate is that it really doesn't do much on those hot-button issues. The one area where local government does have a fair bit of power, education, does indeed see a great deal of drama at the local level."

No doubt. So we've got two sets of issues: the hot-button stuff, and everything else. Is consensus impossible in the latter case, or only (in your opinion) in the former?

"If coming together in a spirit of cooperation is your starting point, then honestly you hardly need democratic institutions at all. Democracy is for when everyone disagrees and hates each other but still need some way of resolving those unresolvable differences of opinions without one side killing the other. That's what democracy is: the best alternative to genocide. A democratic system that can't handle virulent, terminal disagreement isn't worth the bother. A democratic system that can't handle a fraction of the members opposing to the very idea of democracy is doomed."

First off, I realize you're being hyperbolic, but "democracy vs. genocide" is a false opposition, and the existence of majoritarian liberal democracy is hardly the only thing keeping people from killing one another over their differences.

Secondly, coming together in a spirit of cooperation is a minimal prerequisite for the liberal democracies you're defending as much as it is for the non-hierarchical, rough-consensus-based approach I'm advocating. If nothing else, the different sides have to agree to use the liberal democratic forum to resolve their differences.

Thirdly, regarding how to handle "virulent, terminal disagreement": in general and in principle, I support not only processes that emphasize cooperation over contention, but also the right to disassociate when differences are irreconcilable. To me, this is a logical extension of the question Matt Austern raised @ 145. In majoritarian democracy, a simple majority gives one side the right to disregard what everyone else wants; if you don't like it, too bad. I think this is fundamentally illegitimate insofar as legitimacy arises from the consent of the governed. Minority views deserve due consideration in decision-making, and if a minority finds a decision intolerable, they should not be forced to submit to it. Obviously there are plenty of exceptions -- it can be legitimate to insist even if someone disagrees with you and wants to disassociate; equally obviously, all political debate comes down to where those lines are drawn. My point is that in majoritarian democracy, imposing your preferred order on absolutely everyone is a matter of routine and is even institutionalized, to such an extent that the legitimacy of the whole system is undermined.

"Now imagine doing the same thing, only with a motley slew of Marxists, Aryan nationalists, fundamentalists, and hippies. Consensus is impossible; now get things done."

You've left out the important bit: what are the things we're trying to get done? There are a lot of fundamental divisions among your motley slew, but that doesn't mean consensus is impossible on every single issue. Even white nationalists and black nationalists have been known to cooperate when they have common interests (Staughton Lynd goes on about this in his work on the Lucasville Prison riot of 1993).

I'm kind of bemused that I started off in this thread by questioning an offhand assumption about hierarchy and human nature and am now defending a specific and rather elaborately-mapped-out political model. Such is the nature of Internet debates, I guess. I'm hoping I can at least convince a few people to seriously reconsider non-hierarchical alternatives to the present system, even if we disagree about the specific implementation details.

*reads Juli @ 156, makes a note to check out the Marq'ssan Cycle*

#159 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2010, 06:45 AM:

Jacque #157:

Democracy, like any other form of government, exists in order to make decisions for an entire society. Those decisions may be of major, long-term import: How the schools should be run, how health-care shall be provided, what mode of national defence shall be provided. Or they could be minor, everyday matters: which roads need repair right now, for example. Democracy resolves the question of how those issues are decided by institutionalising the decision-making process through reference to the representatives of the entire national community.

The question then becomes whether the institutions of democratic representations should be direct (i.e., should permit decision-making through referendum), should be majoritarian (i.e., should ensure that the will of a majority of voters is what is carried out). Or should be structured in order to produce a consensus (by giving some minority groups a veto, for example). Or should combine some or all three of these.

#160 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2010, 08:44 PM:

Jeff Davis @ 158: "Is consensus impossible in the latter case, or only (in your opinion) in the former?"

That depends--who are you trying to get to agree, and on what? "Hot button" is a relative term, basically meaning "things which people disagree over." It can be bake sales or nuclear weaponry. Certainly the potential of irreconcilable differences can be found anywhere.

"Secondly, coming together in a spirit of cooperation is a minimal prerequisite for the liberal democracies you're defending as much as it is for the non-hierarchical, rough-consensus-based approach I'm advocating. If nothing else, the different sides have to agree to use the liberal democratic forum to resolve their differences."

Quite true. Let me revise my earlier statement: the point of democracy is to start with abstract consensus on basic issues like "we all like not being shot" and bootstrap that into a functional consensus on complex, fraught issues like "what should we tax and how much?" It's very possible you'll never get a consensus on the latter, but it's still a decision that needs to be made, one way or another, in order to prevent the former.

"in general and in principle, I support not only processes that emphasize cooperation over contention, but also the right to disassociate when differences are irreconcilable."

With a few caveats, I do too. That's not really what we're talking about here, though. For all the furor over the Affordable Care Act, no one is seriously suggesting splitting the US over it.* The same goes for abortion, affirmative action, and so forth. Most of these consensus-less political struggles are over instituting some kind of law over the whole of the land--neither side wants to dissolve the Union. There's a big gray zone where consensus will never happen and dissolution isn't what anyone wants either. What should happen there?

That's the context of me saying "this minority physically disrupting the agreed-upon decision-making process is not democratic": they aren't objecting to the institutions, they're objecting to losing.

"I'm kind of bemused that I started off in this thread by questioning an offhand assumption about hierarchy and human nature and am now defending a specific and rather elaborately-mapped-out political model."

Feel free to disregard it; it was something of a one-off thought experiment. It's not worth spending a lot of time on.

*Key word: seriously. There are a few people making noises about it, but that's just post-Confederate dogwhistling.

#161 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:22 AM:

The level at which you're trying to achieve consensus is important. You may not ever be able to achieve consensus on whether Burnham Way or Kenneth Drive should be paved first, but you might reasonably be able to achieve consensus around the idea that we can establish a city planning department whose decisions you'll accept.

That's the basic premise of democracy: that under certain circumstances a process can establish legitimacy, and that we can go along with decisions made by that process even if we don't agree with them.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 12:40 AM:

Matt 161: That's the basic premise of democracy: that under certain circumstances a process can establish legitimacy, and that we can go along with decisions made by that process even if we don't agree with them.

Just so, and this is exactly what the Teabaggers have forgotten. The ugly sausage-making in Washington didn't do what they want (or rather did what they DIDN'T want) so they declare it ipso facto non-legitimate. The birthers are crazy racists, but at least they're trying the right point of delegitimization.

I certainly disagreed with a lot that was done, by both Rethuglicans and Democrats, during the past administration. But you know, I didn't break anyone's windows or show up armed to a town hall meeting about it. I marched a couple of times. That was all.

#163 ::: Jeff Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 01:31 AM:

heresiarch @ 160: "For all the furor over the Affordable Care Act, no one is seriously suggesting splitting the US over it.* The same goes for abortion, affirmative action, and so forth. Most of these consensus-less political struggles are over instituting some kind of law over the whole of the land--neither side wants to dissolve the Union. There's a big gray zone where consensus will never happen and dissolution isn't what anyone wants either. What should happen there?"

Well, I'm seriously suggesting dissolving the Union -- not overnight, but over time, in part through the creation of counter-institutions like the ones I mentioned upthread.

But let's set that aside for a minute. If parties in a consensus process simply can't find common ground, there are usually a few different things that can happen. One option is for one side to stand aside and let the other side have its way; this happens all the time in consensus-based groups when the issue isn't important enough to keep haggling over. Another option is to resort to some non-consensus fallback like majority or supermajority voting. In one group I'm involved with, if there's no consensus on some proposed action at one meeting, we bring it up for discussion again at the next meeting, and if we still don't have consensus, we vote on it, and if 75% or 80% (I forget which) vote yes, the proposal passes. This is better than simple majoritarian voting because it creates plenty of opportunity for minority voices to be heard and compromises to be developed; you're forced to try to accommodate differing views rather than immediately overriding them. Also, anyone who disagrees with the supermajority's decision is free to walk away from the group, which is not really the case in a liberal democracy.

Also, I think it's often the case that saying "consensus will never happen" on a given issue cedes too much ground in advance. Political opinions and political landscapes change, and consensus (or a reasonable approximation of it) can and does develop over time, as people become convinced by ideas that had previously been dismissed. This is true for both individuals and entire populations. (An example of the latter: Not so long ago, official wisdom held that democracy was unworkable, but these days pretty much everyone in the Western world takes some form of democracy for granted as the only way to run a society.) Since we know opinions can change, there is always the possibility of consensus, at least in principle.

If consensus-building and peaceful disassociation seem like impossible political alternatives right now, it's because we're accustomed to a system that is coercive and adversarial. The solution to that problem is to change the system.

#164 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 05:25 PM:

heresiarch:

ISTM that one goal of democracy, or at least elections, is to give a particular decision legitimacy even in the eyes of its opposition. So I don't have to agree with the society-wide consensus that we'll lock up drug users and buy a gazillion dollars of unneeded military hardware next year, but I can recognize that it's the decision that's been made by mechanisms I have agreed to. It gets legitimacy that way--not that it's a right decision, but that it's a decision arrived at and confirmed in the right way.

#165 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 07:38 PM:

I wonder if there's a axis conflation issue here; democracy and open government are neither identical nor (as certain departments of the U.S. Government are trying to prove) essential to the other.

You can have a closed government democratic system; the people vote representatives in, and they do stuff (what, you don't know, and can't find out). If you like the state of your jurisdiction at the end of the governmental term, vote the representative back in; if not, elect someone else. Blackbox governmental testing, as it were.

All the people pushing for democracy back in the day believed that this was inferior, inefficient, and leads inevitably to a return to despotism. Of course, they also thought that only the "right" people should be voters, the ones that were like them - but they might just have been right about closed government. At least, all the successful democracies have been, in the past at least, as open as possible.

Open governments are harder to game; enough eyes do make all bugs shallow. Enough eyes *looking*, that is. The thing that disappoints me about the current rhetoric and focus on the process, not the content, is that it's expressly designed to turn eyes *off* looking. The parts that are explicitly closed, whether convention negotiation or extra-congressional unviewable regulation or otherwise, are just gravy. They're at least recognizable, and people are complaining about them. But the insidious "we'll tell you what to think" applies here as well; once they train that in, what to think about that is "trust the government, they're doing what's right for your safety."

on another topic, an example of government by consensus: Northwest and Nunavut Territories.

#166 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 11:35 PM:

I've been talking to people about consensus, and come back with a few more suggestions: Starhawk has written several books, fiction and non-fiction, about achieving consensus, group governance (for lack of a better term) by consensus, etc. Consensus was also a major topic in feminist theory in the 70s and early 80s. A search of that literature should unearth some relevant works.

#167 ::: unknownamerican ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 01:02 AM:

What you guys don't realize is that their are natural checks established by a senate that exist solely for the state governments. States legislatures, who are chosen by the people of that state, then pick senators who represent the state's intererest against the federal government. State governments then place a check against the federal government as its wishes are mirrored in the senate.
It also places another check against the house of representatives as a body directly elected by the people are in conflict with a body directly elected by the states. The senate and house then oppose each other.

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 01:48 AM:

Hmm. "You guys" is on my bingo card. Let's see how much more I can fill up.

The Senate and the House already oppose each other, unknownamerican. In fact, when a new Republican Congressman kept referring to "the enemy," his mentor asked him who he meant. "Why, the Democrats," he responded.

"The Democrats are the opposition," explained his colleague. "The Senate is the enemy."

#169 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 01:54 AM:

UnknowAmerican @167, "natural checks"? You're saying the Founders found the Constitution growing on a tree?

#170 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 02:42 AM:

Boy, that sure doesn't square with my 9th-grade civics class. State legislatures most assuredly do NOT serve as any sort of check on the Federal government; their purpose is *gasp* to run state government. The Federal "checks and balances" system (when it's functioning properly) is the Executive / Legislative / Judicial setup, each branch of which was designed to be able to rein in the excesses of the others.

But then, I had civics before the Republicans had gutted the public-school system, back when you actually learned things.

#171 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 03:01 AM:

Lee @170: The Federal "checks and balances" system (when it's functioning properly) is the Executive / Legislative / Judicial setup, each branch of which was designed to be able to rein in the excesses of the others.

Nation-scale Rock/Paper/Scissors?

#172 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2010, 03:06 AM:

I think what he's trying to say is that he thinks that the checks and balances system worked better before the 17th Amendment enabled direct election of US Senators. From what I understand, though, there were too many empty Senate seats over the years due to endemic political conflict at the state level which interfered with the old selection process. I figure that as a consequence of the old selection system not intended by the Founders.

#173 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2011, 03:43 PM:

Earl Cooley #172: From what I understand, though, there were too many empty Senate seats over the years due to endemic political conflict at the state level which interfered with the old selection process.

I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing -- this would at least provide state governments with a serious consequence for being utterly incapable of reaching a compromise on critically important issues.

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