Friday, 24 July 2015

"Rethinking Democracy" By Carol Gould: First Thoughts On Reading

 It is a tragedy that this kind of political philosophy is so overlooked. Carol Gould is one of the few authors out there who takes democracy seriously enough to construct a theory from it, and yet her work is often missed when reviewing the literature. Despite the fidelity of Gould's work to the democratic project she barely makes it into the democracy entry on the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy except as a foot-note. In fact the theories of democracy that are touched on in the SEP are largely restricted to liberal, neo-liberal and aristo-monarchic positions.

So why has the work of Gould and her peers been so ignored?

Personally I think the problem lies with its ambigious classification and heritage. The arguments that Gould offers are too radical to fit in with the liberalism of Rawls and Dahl yet too reformist to be discussed alongside Anarchism. Furthermore, theories of participatory democratic theory are so multifaceted in terms of their origins that it is very difficult to slot them into one singular account of modern democratic theory, ergo they are often left out. 

Pragmatically speaking, this kind of book would be very informative for those interested in anarchism: in so far as it delineates an actual modus operandi for future "liberated territories". While Gould does retain both the state and the market as methods of organisation they are so augmented by the time she re-formulates them that they can barely be considered to be the kind of things that anarchists rail against. Her view of a democratic economy, for instance, largely mirrors anarcho-syndicalism (though it is never described in such terms) and her approach to governance consists of bottom up participatory structures. In short, the market that Gould wants is a socialist one and the territorial governance that she envisions needs little tweaking to defy conventional anarchist critiques.

It's not all one way traffic though. Gould's model of democracy could learn a few things from anarchism vis-a-vis institutional practises. Her vision of democratic participation, the actual making of decisions, seems to be focused on conversations followed by, what one would assume to be, a majority vote. Her theory's defence against majoritarian tyranny and persistent minorities is simply an appeal to the democratic character of its subjects. The anarchist tradition could offer here both a model of consensus decision making and an emphasis on decentralisation in order to build a more robust systemic response to the various upsets that can result from majority rule.

The social ontology and the ethical underpinnings of her theory remind me of Susan Neiman's "Why Grow Up?": at its core there's a really invigorating vision of humans as creative beings seeking self-betterment. In line with this, the book's content rests on a moral conception of self-determination as a requirement for human self-development. Gould rejects both liberal individualism and socialistic holism for an intermediate ontology that views humans as individuals whose identities are understood, pursued and realised through social relationships.

In terms of economic justice, this social ontology provides her with a twin pronged attack. If the purpose of freedom is self-development then this defends both "welfarism" and worker control of the means of production. "Welfarism" is justified on the grounds that everyone is entitled, where possible, to the resources that make self-development possible and the "rights to worker control" become justified where work is a social activity in which self-development takes place.

The book is strikingly comprehensive. "Rethinking Democracy" deals with topics as varied and concrete as the relationship between freedom and equality; the role of technical expertise in participatory democracy,  and the consequences Gould's theory has for debates surrounding global interventionism. If you want an idea of how anarchist principles might play out in a future society, but can't stand the more tendentious elements of anarchist rhetoric, then this is a worthwhile read.

No comments:

Post a Comment