The people in a democracy get the government they deserve. We all deserve better. Governments the world over need to be improved.
Electoral systems vary widely. Washington’s electoral process is far ahead of most. Secretary of State Kim Wyman, now in her third term, oversees elections here. She’s the only Republican on the West Coast elected to a statewide position. Now she’s leaving to serve as President Biden’s election security lead in the Department of Homeland Security, a necessary improvement in our democratic republic.
But more is needed. Athenian democracy appeared about 550 BCE. Plato’s Republic delivers “a damning critique of democracy” because it’s “conducive to mass ignorance, hysteria, and ultimately tyranny.” Plato predicts “an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others … they will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.”
Our world has had democracies since Athens. One of the newest began a century ago and has spread globally. I’d like to share some characteristics of a representative democracy both enfranchising and just. It serves a tiny but growing portion of humanity.
This democracy holds elections annually by secret ballot. Electors are free to vote for any eligible candidate. Nominations, even discussions of individuals, are considered gossip or backbiting and are prohibited. To create a local governing body of nine, voters consider choices thoughtfully, often through meditation and prayer. They write nine names on each ballot to create that local institution. The top nine individuals constitute the institution. Nations, divided into regions, elect regional representatives to an annual national convention. Regional delegates elect nine to membership on the national governing body. Every five years, members of national bodies worldwide elect an international institution that governs the organization globally.
Criteria for election are simple. Voters cast ballots for individuals who best combine “qualities of unquestioned loyalty [to the organization], of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.” Because individuals with these characteristics are generally known to the electorate through their work in the organization, tellers can sort through ballots relatively quickly, even at the international level.
This type of election precludes any expectation of “reward” on the part of a voter. Trust is essential in this system — trust in the system itself, and trust in the institutions established through elections. Another unusual aspect is that, once elected, institutions or members are not responsible to those who elected them. They function on the basis of standards rooted in justice and equity. Further, no individual throughout the organization has any personal power. Individual members of governing bodies have no special status. As the international governing body has explained, “There are spiritual principles ... by which solutions can be found for every social problem. Any well-intentioned group can in a general sense devise practical solutions to its problems ... . The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures. Leaders of governments and all in authority would be well served in their efforts to solve problems if they would first seek to identify the principles involved and then be guided by them.”
Although foundational principles are unchangeable, institutions can exercise flexibility in applying them. No written body of laws can encompass all possibilities. Laws, therefore, must be applied with equity, which is not the same as justice, which is often considered “common law” or “case law.”
Equity is associated with principles of fairness in the application of the law, a medieval concept for alleviating harshness and inflexibility of common law. When conflict arose, equity prevailed.
In our current system, ignorance of the law is not excusable. An equitable system might allow a defense of ignorance under certain circumstances. We see this in cases of people who are mentally incompetent. The organization I’m describing interprets and applies its foundational principles with equity.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could live under such an equitable system?
Haug and his live-in editor and wife of 60 years, Jolie, discuss topics like these over dinner. Contact Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org.