Welcome back to part four of the series on ‘Democracy of the Hundreds’. Democracy of the Hundreds is a proposal to provide a limited form of direct democracy through the addition of a geographically dispersed third chamber of parliament sitting in each electorate, drawn by lot from each of the electors to consider each act of parliament. In part one of this series, we provided a brief explanation of how Parliamentary Systems based on the Westminster system work, using the Australian State of Western Australia as our example. In part two, the meat of the proposal was put forward, and in part three, the general process of the functioning of the chamber of the hundreds was discussed. This post will seek to address some of the concerns that have been raised about providing direct legislative power to the electors.
One of the most common arguments I have heard against allowing the general public to decide on legislation is to the effect that ‘The average person is simply not intelligent enough to make these decisions'. I hear this argument not just from those who would exclude themselves from the general public, but also from good people who, due to their humble station, depreciate themselves.
To this, I respond with an emphatic ‘NO!’ While it is true that the average astrophysicist will score higher than the average cleaner (sorry, cleaners) on standard measures of intelligence, this does not in any way mean that the cleaner is unsuited to or unable to make sound judgements. The cleaner, while generally ignorant of astrophysics, remains a human being and is still able to determine for themselves where their interests lie. Furthermore, I hold this line of reasoning to be untenable as politicians who currently propose debate and legislate are definitely not selected on the basis of intelligence.
When conceding that perhaps the average person is intelligent enough to make sound judgements, my titular opponents often modify their statement, saying that legislation is complex, ‘the average person is simply not educated enough to comprehend legislation’. This claim seems to hinge on two predicates; one that the wording of legislation may be too complex for legal laymen to easily understand, and two that the complexity of the problems sought to be resolved in the legislation may be outside of the experience of the common (working) person.
The solution to the first problem is, as I alluded to in part three of this series, to require simplicity of language in proposed bills and to promote the principle of withholding assent on that which is incomprehensible to the councillor. In short, instead of allowing complex and ambiguous language to be used in legislation, I would suggest that legislation should be written so that each word is clearly defined. This could be achieved as illustrated below (Figure 1), where each word has its intended definition included in the explanatory documents.
This is necessary as even the word ‘the’ has six separate meanings (see Figure 2). Providing clear definitions of each word would provide legislative and legal clarity. It would dissuade attempts to write in loopholes to legislation and promote the use of simple unambiguous language in acts.
As to the second premise of the statement that ‘the average person lacks the education to understand the intended purpose of the bill’. This can be rejected as blatant elitism. As with intelligence, there is no requirement that I am aware of that stipulates any minimum qualification level for entry into parliament. Furthermore, this argument ignores that the elected representatives would continue under this revised system to debate, consider, and propose legislation as before and that it would be their job to explain how the bill would affect the electors. All that would be required of the electors would be the natural human ability relied on in juries to judge correctly between for and against arguments. We could enhance the quality of these judgements by teaching critical reasoning skills and promoting civic virtues. However, it must be pointed out that we are happy to trust the judgement of citizens in legal proceedings, so why should not the same citizens be trusted in legislating?
Another argument that has been made to me is that ‘The average person would be swayed by any notable who happened to be in the council’. This argument seems to rest on the assumption that if a lawyer, professor, or some other person of influence is drafted to the council, they will by the power of eloquence and authority sway the other electors to their position. This is, of course, a possibility at the district level, but I do not see it as a problem. After all, the proponents and opponents of the bill would be, by design, attempting to influence the councillors in the same way through the presentations as would, undoubtedly, the media and vested influences through advertising.
Finally, the last but most concerning argument against the conscription of the councillors is that ‘people might just not care enough to make the effort to judge the issue correctly’. This is indeed a problem given the disengagement of most people with politics. This disengagement would be resolved partly through participation in the legislative process. As the electors were required to participate in government, they would naturally take greater ownership of governmental outcomes. Through the consciousness of their sovereignty and power, the citizens could be expected to demand that the government enforce their interests.
However, this could only go so far without more comprehensive reforms to the institution of citizenship. Citizenship, as it currently stands, by allowing dual (or more) citizenships (and the resultant conflicting loyalties) to be held concurrently, is ill-suited to a form of government that requires active participation by the citizens. If the government is to be run for the interests of the community it serves and the members of that community are to actively legislate, be it through the implementation of this proposal or any similar system, then these inconsistencies in modern citizenship must be resolved.
Join us next Thursday as we begin a new series examining the conception of Community and Citizenship in the Code.
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