Evolving Democracy

EDITORIAL, 13 Feb 2017

#468 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

What is the essence of democracy?

“Rule with the consent of the ruled” implies two classes of people, Rulers and Ruled; concretely State and People, Statism. “Free and Fair Elections” implies voting for a Parliament; Parliamentarism. Together, a three-tier power structure State-Parliament-People; with People controlling Parliament, and Parliament controlling State.

In 2016 some voting differed from what State-Parliament expected; leading to talk about elitist vs populist democracy–from statism and parliamentarism to peopleism. A crisis. And talk about post-democracy.

Another answer about democratic essence is “one-tier self-ruling units”; no rulers vs ruled, and decisions are made by general assemblies for all.   This is often referred to as Anarchism, “no structure”. A misnomer:  there is no State and no Parliament, but many assemblies. A concrete interpretation would be Localism, the units being local authorities-LAs, municipalities; the assemblies being their municipal councils.

A key dimension then becomes the level of state control of LAs. In Spain, with an anarchist ideological tradition, the LAs are strong.

A different, not institutional–more philosophical, intellectual in general–answer would pick up words like transparency and dialogue.  Democracy is a context with everything in the open, no closed doors, available to everlasting people dialogue: by way of the word, logos.  Fine for people who are good with words.  How about those who are not, but project themselves into public space, with their bodies in sports, or with beauty in music–the two ways African-Americans gained access to public space in USA, paving the way for the other democracies?

Look at the US-Western media today: high on sports, but now also on arts carrying words, as songs by singers, as drama by actors.

Is the essence of democracy changing from improving society to accessing public space–TV-media in some; the town plaza in others?

From the public space of societies-countries-states to provinces-NGOs-municipalities-companies, and to regions-IGOs/UN-TNCs?  Down to domestic families, up to global space? The right to a presence with words is fine, a say, but so is any other presence, a show. Well knowing that some may turn presence into an event for instant fame.

“Freedom of expression” is more; better than “freedom of speech”.

We started with the quest for essence, and the first answer was a conventional chain of control.  But watch out–what controls people? Answer: deep culture, collective subconscious; unknown scripts.

Example: imagine a people taking for granted that there are two, only two, sides to any issues; one right, one wrong; if no compromise, fight it out and the victor decides the outcome. That script controls the people. Power to the people sounds fine, but what kind of people?

Watch out again: what controls the scripts?  Shared encounters with reality leading to assumptions of what is so natural-normal as to be sedimented in the collective subconscious, not consciously present.

There were two concrete answers above: Statism and Localism. How much damage people with the deep culture just described can do depends on the power of what they control.  People with a deep, dark culture controlling a state can do a lot of damage; if only a LA, not much.

Thesis: people do not rule democracies, their deep cultures do. But people can become aware of their deep cultures, and change them.

Crucial because democracies interact. Intra-state elections have   inter-state effects–societies are not mutually isolated–but extra-state citizens have no right to vote. Hacking others’ elections is a participation substitute, but it matters whether hacking is downward, sideward or upward. Much better would be global referenda on global issues and intra-state elections on domestic issues. They will come.

Today, no human right exists to influence US, Chinese, Russian decisions; and for EU difficult even for EU citizens. An unacceptable anomaly.

Then, evolution. Is change from simple democracy by fair, free, national elections to complex democracy by everybody interacting in public space, thereby shaping society evolution?  If we see evolution as diversity and symbiosis leading to ever higher complexity–like anorganic to organic to life to humans: Yes.  Democracy is a context favoring evolution to the extent it hosts diversity and symbiosis.

Then the next question: what do future democracies look like?  Answer: we do not know, had we known we would be there, or on the way.

We are told that homo sapiens is an outcome of evolution, but not the end of evolution. What do future humans look like?  Answer again: we do not know; had we known we might try to stop it, or speed it up.

Evidently, “evolution” is tricky; but a reality whether we understand it or not.  It is not the same as “development”. That is  conscious steering of a society towards a better society; and hence a part of politics as usual, under statism, localism or anarchism.

Evolution, driven by competition-natural selection, cooperation- mutual aid, discovering new niches–Darwin-Kropotkin-Imanishi–none, all or other factors, has its own logic. So also evolving democracy.

Let us retrace our steps.  Calling election democracy “simple” is not an argument against elections, but against conceiving of democracy only as election.  May FAFE stay with us as a major human achievement.

In the complex the simple is included, not excluded. But anything with life evolves; so do democracies. Focus changed to public space, accessible to all with freedom of expression not reducing the freedom of others, broadened from verbal to non-verbal, for mutual enrichment.

Democracy is where people rule by being themselves; incompatible with mega-capitalism, but not with some micro-capitalisms.

The human right not only to stay alive but for everyone in demos to rule over oneself by being oneself, with the evolution pillars, diversity and symbiosis, intact.  In short, an evolving democracy.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1670 articles and book chapters, over 450 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Feb 2017.

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2 Responses to “Evolving Democracy”

  1. Per-Stian says:

    Excellent article, and I particularly liked this paragraph:

    “Thesis: people do not rule democracies, their deep cultures do. But people can become aware of their deep cultures, and change them.”

  2. Gary Corseri says:

    As often is the case with Professor Galtung, we have here a rich matrix of ideas; but, honestly, it can be difficult to make all of the connections.

    “Evolving democracy,” “evolving humanity” are key points here, but there are many ramifying issues that invite exploration and development…, but seem to terminate too abruptly. (“Anarchism,” for example–books have been written on that subject…good books and bad book!)

    Personally, I’d like to see more concrete examples of “localism” in Spain. (Even a book on that subject?) Decades ago, I read a bumper sticker: “Think globally; act locally.” Makes sense, makes idealistic sense, and I’d like to know how the principle is applied.

    A phrase I learned recently from the good professor’s A THEORY OF CIVILIZATION is “diversification with symbiosis.” Happily, I see that idea expressed in these musings here–and it seems crucial to me in this age of mass-movements of peoples, mass immigration and emigration. How can all these various people of various cultures work together; how can they “integrate”; what sort of “symbiosis”–directed by whom and for whom?

    These are vital, even existential, matters for any kind of evolving democracy or evolving humanity to address. I look forward to further discussions.