Love Under Will: Explorations in Participation

Michael Moore once stated that “democracy isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event.  If we don’t participate in it, then it ceases to be a democracy.”

“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event.  If we don’t participate in it, then it ceases to be a democracy.” ( M.  Moore)

In many western democracies, the citizenship is estranged from the oligarchy that purports to represent it.  Occasionally, the people are offered the opportunity to participate in a major decision, a recent example being the Brexit referendum in the UK.  But about 30% of those eligible to vote didn’t, and of the 52% that did vote for exit, many changed their minds afterwards.  It could also be argued that since the current government intend to honour the decision, despite many questions over the legality of the referendum,  a (small) tyrannical majority has just undermined the needs of the country, including those of its neighbours.

A similar example was the UK’s referendum to change its voting system from ‘first past the post’ to a more pluralist system.  The outcome was no change, but after the results of the next general election where the flaws of the first past the post system became evident, those who had opted for the long established system changed their minds.

“There are times when the majority opinion turns out to not be just.” (J.S. Mill)

What is required for a fully participatory democracy is a fully informed citizenship.  The rare referenda we are offered however, have become a stage for a clash of personalities and rhetoric, leaving the public to place their cross on the basis of emotion rather than reason, an insidious manipulation.

However, liberal philosophers have argued that participatory democracy is an educative process and one that leads to human and social development.  If there is no arena for debate, then how can the truth of a particular position be questioned and shown to be a falsehood?  Democracy helps truth to emerge.  John Dewey argued that participatory democracy offers the best culture for expressing one’s own talents and life purpose and therefore enables individual growth and realisation.

“Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”  (J.S. Mill)

Participatory democracy is a process of collective decision making.   Citizens decide on policy and politicians are responsible for policy implementation. Politicians are highly accountable.   Discretionary actions are severely constrained and their performance is judged by comparing citizens’ proposals with the policies actually implemented.   Ability to affect outcomes is positively correlated with a citizen’s extent of participation.  Modern democracies are fundamentally based on relations of rule, whereas participatory systems are based on relations of equality (Arendt).  Hannah Arendt advocates citizenship councils to replace representative party systems.

To make my own case for a more radical democracy, I will present a few case studies of local participatory democracy, commencing with the well-documented participatory budgeting initiative of Porto Alegre, Brazil.  Here’s a snippet to wet your appetite for the next post:


For a background to the Love Under Will Challenge click here.  Please join in!!


6 thoughts on “Love Under Will: Explorations in Participation

  1. I hear your frustration with the current system so I show below my thoughts on a new form of democracy. I’d welcome your thoughts!

    The Future
    We are now moving into an era when technology can transform the way people are governed and can offer an avenue for the government of the day to connect directly with the people they govern. It will bring true democracy down to the roots of democracy, the ordinary person. Everyone has a voice and a vote.

    Dispense with full time politicians and parliaments except for those who make up the Government of the day. They will act as a caretaker government who will facilitate the creation of the new system.

    Introduce a Peoples Assembly that is a forum for the debate of policies before we, the people vote. Those attending will be people with interest in the policies being voted on that week. The assembly is televised and streamed live on the internet. Anyone can attend with a weeks notice. The Assembly can move around the country. I envisage that it will be a continuously changing population that will attend as the topics being voted on will vary wildly week from week.

    Place policy decision making in the direct hands of the people who will vote via unique electronic voting cards (similar to bank cards) once a week on matters of policy only. People may vote online, by phone or via email/ post. For better or worse the people will decide if they wish to allow, for example, abortion, property tax without regard to ability to pay, water taxes, stay in the EU, cancelling public service giant pensions etc.

    Policy details are worked out by the Civil Servants who meet with interested parties to thrash the finer details.

    The Government will be a suite of ministers appointed annually by the people to carry out the policies passed in the People Assembly. It is largely a position of honour and ministers will be modestly remunerated for that year and will return to being ordinary citizens at the end of their term of office. These minister’s employers will have undertaken to keep their jobs open for them to return to at the end of their year in office.
    Your thoughts?


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