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Thread: A Political question

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    C_C
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    A Political question

    It crossed my mind the other day that modern democracies vary from ancient democracies in one significant way : Modern democracies are overwhelmingly party-based while ancient democracies were not.

    In the world of party-based democracies, there is one serious philosophical flaw : policies often get dictated by party lines rather than the merit of the policies in itself. Often, if the parliament is dominated by two factions, they both usually take a 'contrarian' standpoint to each other. Obviously, its not the case in each and every policy passed but a significant portion of the policies get decieded in this fashion.

    The party based politics also have one advantage over the individualistic parliaments of the ancient times ( where members were usually elected without affiliations to a party or a party platform) : the collective clout of a party dwarves that of any individual in economic (and thus logistical) terms.

    It seems to me however, that the advantage of the party style politics are not in the benefit of the public system but rather simply a matter of the strong displacing the weak.

    Would it be better if we returned to a non-party based parliamentary system ? And if so, how do we make it work logistically ?

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    International Captain Slow Love™'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by C_C View Post
    It crossed my mind the other day that modern democracies vary from ancient democracies in one significant way : Modern democracies are overwhelmingly party-based while ancient democracies were not.
    That, and who is empowered to participate in the process, of course - In Classical Athens it was a minority of the population.

    In the world of party-based democracies, there is one serious philosophical flaw : policies often get dictated by party lines rather than the merit of the policies in itself. Often, if the parliament is dominated by two factions, they both usually take a 'contrarian' standpoint to each other. Obviously, its not the case in each and every policy passed but a significant portion of the policies get decieded in this fashion.

    The party based politics also have one advantage over the individualistic parliaments of the ancient times ( where members were usually elected without affiliations to a party or a party platform) : the collective clout of a party dwarves that of any individual in economic (and thus logistical) terms.

    It seems to me however, that the advantage of the party style politics are not in the benefit of the public system but rather simply a matter of the strong displacing the weak.

    Would it be better if we returned to a non-party based parliamentary system ? And if so, how do we make it work logistically ?
    Party-based politics have so many disadvantages, I agree, in terms of the public's interests (and the State's ethical responsibilities) being effectively represented. But I don't know that dispensing with party affiliations will give us something better necessarily, unless perhaps nations dispense with some levels of government, and revert back to being simply jostling smaller communities without overarching state or federal bureacracies, which I can't really see happening in the near future. Nonpartisan and direct democracies seem to function fairly well in small communities, or elections to positions with small pools. The larger the geographical area, the more untenable they seem to become, for various reasons.

    Mainly the best balance IMO until a better way can be discovered is shifting to different conceptions of party affiliation (ie, I'm in general aligned with a particular philosophy or ideology but not beholden to a party in terms of preselection, membership dues, etc). And I think proportional representation may make a big difference in quite a few cases (of course, some countries use it already), in the sense of ensuring a reasonable variety of views/interested are represented - that's intrinsically more democratic but is of course far more vulnerable to fringe groups, some of which can be quite extreme in their views. I thought that making ballots for bills/laws secret could dispense with some of the machine politics inherent in the party system, but then I realised it would make sitting members not accountable to their constituency.

    Anyhow, just a few quick comments Interesting topic, hopefully a good discussion will ensue, I'll try and return when I'm more able to think.
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    Nonpartisan and direct democracies seem to function fairly well in small communities, or elections to positions with small pools. The larger the geographical area, the more untenable they seem to become, for various reasons.
    I don't see how geography is an issue. What has size of a country got to do with requiring partisan politics ? Surely, today's media means that publicity over the whole nation is not an issue.

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    Global Moderator Matt79's Avatar
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    It's an interesting topic - I guess firstly, there isn't really a practical way to have direct democracy, so some kind of intermediaries are necessary (unless we do something clever with IT, but honestly the web is such a nightmare for doing anything important with that I'd prefer we don't go down that way).

    Parties have become formalised parts of most democracies, but I would think that they were, and still remain, organic growths of a democratic discourse. People with an agenda and any brains are going to seek out the like-minded and try to form a group or coalition - its the only way to effect any change. The advantage of formalised parties is that they generally represent established brands that voters, who are generally not interested in understanding all the ins and outs of all issues, understand and can judge on past records. They thus generally act as an agent to get people to take an interest and participate.

    Is your objection the adversarial nature of party-based democracies or just that things always boil down along party lines?
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    Is your objection the adversarial nature of party-based democracies or just that things always boil down along party lines?
    Both but primarily the latter.

    People with an agenda and any brains are going to seek out the like-minded and try to form a group or coalition - its the only way to effect any change.
    It is the case when voting for policies in the parliament, yes. But why does it have to be so inorder to get to the parliament ? Strictly speaking, coalitions or parties arn't necessary for a candidate to win ( assuming they arn't competing against a party that is) because they can all stand as independents and people can select them based on the issues they've come up with.

    We don't need a president or prime minister to run a country simply because in most democracies, the important issues are decided by the parliament.


    I guess the prime problem with direct democracies would be the lack of capital on an individual level that's required for effective campaigning and getting the public involved on a national level effectively.

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    There was a theory put forward in the Yes, Minister books about a 'better' form of democracy, that went something like this.

    A street elects their representative. The streets form a neighbourhood committee and elect a suburban representative (if the town is big enough) and from there a city representative, and from there, a district representative and from there a state/province/county rep. And from there, a national figurehead to represent us overseas.

    A problem with this, though, is which levels gets given money to decide what needs to be done? At the moment it's national, state & council who decide where roads go and if a hospital gets built, and allocates taxes to it.

    But for mine, that'd be a neat style of democracy. Probably the truest form, as you'd definitely know who is representing you at one stage or another.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NZTailender View Post
    There was a theory put forward in the Yes, Minister books about a 'better' form of democracy, that went something like this.

    A street elects their representative. The streets form a neighbourhood committee and elect a suburban representative (if the town is big enough) and from there a city representative, and from there, a district representative and from there a state/province/county rep. And from there, a national figurehead to represent us overseas.

    A problem with this, though, is which levels gets given money to decide what needs to be done? At the moment it's national, state & council who decide where roads go and if a hospital gets built, and allocates taxes to it.

    But for mine, that'd be a neat style of democracy. Probably the truest form, as you'd definitely know who is representing you at one stage or another.
    It'd also solve the problem of over-governance in Australia at the moment.

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    Global Moderator Matt79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by C_C View Post
    Both but primarily the latter.



    It is the case when voting for policies in the parliament, yes. But why does it have to be so inorder to get to the parliament ? Strictly speaking, coalitions or parties arn't necessary for a candidate to win ( assuming they arn't competing against a party that is) because they can all stand as independents and people can select them based on the issues they've come up with.

    We don't need a president or prime minister to run a country simply because in most democracies, the important issues are decided by the parliament.


    I guess the prime problem with direct democracies would be the lack of capital on an individual level that's required for effective campaigning and getting the public involved on a national level effectively.
    Its not necessary but its an organic tendency to band together with like minded people to HELP you get power, as well as apply that power. If you look at most 'grassroot' political movements, the first thing they do is form some kind of action group or association.

    The funding/campaigning aspects are a big part of it obviously.

    I actually don't mind the political parties as 'schools' from which issues enter into the political debate. True, sometimes they stifle debate, but no political party can consistently suppress debate on an issue that is important to a large part of the population without a challenger party emerging, or without some kind of spill within the party. The fact that most major parties try to stay safely within the mainstream means they tend to stick to issues they know are popular and can be quite uninnovative, but it also means they are generally reflecting the will of a majority electorate.

    To use two Australian examples (purely because that's what I'm most familiar with and they came to mind): - Howard and the Liberal party have for a long time poured scorn on concerns regarding climate change. Through their hold on power they suppressed it as an issue for some time, but eventually that has become unsustainable, and now they are quite busy trying to address the issue, albeit in a way that doesn't inconvience their constituency. The other example is the One Nation/Hansen debacle. Whether you agreed with it or not (I certainly did not) a large chunk of the electorate felt that the major parties were not being sufficiently nationalistic in their approach to several issues and that they voices were being frozen out of the debate - so a new party emerged, achieved some quite remarkable success, and caused at least one of the major parties to adapt its policies and rhetoric to reflect this attitude.

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    Very interesting topic, have never thought about it much tbh.
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    Its not necessary but its an organic tendency to band together with like minded people to HELP you get power, as well as apply that power.
    i think, for a large part, that is to do with the party mentality in our cultures.
    For,how come the ancients did not band together and form parties ?

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    Global Moderator Matt79's Avatar
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    I'd be almost sure, admittedly without having researched the subject, that every society since, and before in fact, man descended from the trees has had their own version of parties. Whether they had different names, were formal organisations, or loose confederations of individuals with a common interest in how power was wielded, its an permanent feature of human behaviour. We're social beings who organise and align ourselves politically. We extend it to all aspects of our behaviour, be it in the office, in your family, or in the nation.

    Ancient democracies might not have had 'parties' but amongst their politicians they would have had alliances and emnities. Take the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. The Roman senate was definitely divided into two camps of pro-war and pro-peace.



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