Participatory politics

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Participatory politics or parpolity is a theoretical political system proposed by Stephen R. Shalom, professor of political science at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

It was developed as a political vision to accompany participatory economics (Parecon). Both Parecon and Parpolity together make up the libertarian socialist ideology of Participism; this has significantly informed the interim International Organization for a Participatory Society. Shalom has stated that Parpolity is meant as a long range vision of where the social justice movement might want to end up, within the field of politics.

The values on which parpolity is based are freedom, self-management, justice, solidarity and tolerance. The goal, according to Shalom, is to create a political system that will allow people to participate, as much as possible in a face to face manner. The proposed decision-making principle is that every person should have say in a decision proportionate to the degree to which she or he is affected by that decision.

The vision is critical of aspects of modern representative democracies arguing that the level of political control by the people isn’t sufficient. To address this problem Parpolity suggests a system of Nested Councils, which would include every adult member of a given society.

Nested Councils[edit]

A diagram of the nested council structure.

In a parpolity, there would be local councils of voting citizens consisting of 25–50 members (number of represented citizens should not exceed approximately 300 per council member). These local councils would be able to pass any law that affected only the local council. No higher council would be able to override the decisions of a lower council, only a council court would be able to challenge a local law on human rights grounds. The councils would be based on consensus, though majority votes are allowed when issues cannot be agreed upon.

Each local council would send a delegate to a higher level council, until that council fills with 25–50 members. These second level councils would pass laws on matters that affect the 200,000 to 750,000 citizens that it represents. A delegate to a higher level council is bound to communicate the views of their sending council, but is not bound to vote as the sending council might wish. Otherwise, Shalom points out that there is no point in having nested councils, and everyone might as well vote on everything. A delegate is recallable at any time by their sending council. Rotation of delegates would be mandatory, and delegates would be required to return to their sending councils frequently.

The second level council sends a delegate to a third level council, the third level councils send delegates to a fourth level and so on until all citizens are represented. Five levels with 50 people on every council would represent 312,500,000 voters (around the population of the United States). However, the actual number of people represented would be even higher, given that young children would not be voting. Thus, with a further sixth level nested council, the entire human population could be represented. This would not however be equatable to a global world state, but rather would involve the dissolution of all existing nation-states and their replacement with a worldwide confederal "coordinating body" made of delegates immediately recallable by the nested council below them.

Lower level councils have the opportunity to hold referenda at any time to challenge the decisions of a higher level council. This would theoretically be an easy procedure, as when a threshold of lower level councils call for a referendum, one would then be held. Shalom points out that sending every issue to lower level councils is a waste of time, as it is equivalent to referendum democracy.

There would be staff employed to help manage council affairs. Their duties would perhaps include minute taking and researching issues for the council. These council staff would work in a balanced job complex defined by a participatory economy.

Council Courts[edit]

Shalom suggests that a council court be formed of 41 randomly chosen citizens that have two year terms. Shalom claims that the number 41 ensures a broad range of opinions, although he says that this number is just a suggestion and it could be lower or higher as long as it was big enough for a diversity of opinion but small enough for discussion and debate. This court would be a check against the tyranny of the majority. It would rule on laws passed and would be able to veto them if the court deemed them contrary to human rights. Shalom argues the council court should be unelected, as elected members could hold the biases of an oppressive majority.

The two year terms of the council would be staggered: As 21 reached the one year midpoint of their term, the other 20 would reach the end of their two year term and be replaced by a new group of 20. A year later, when that new group of 20 reached the midpoint of their term, the older group of 21 would reach the end of their term, to be replaced by a new group of 21.

It is not clear how the court would operate, i.e. by majority vote or by consensus. The council court would also have the right to rule on which council, economic or political, has a right to vote on a given issue. A dispute between councils would presumably be resolved by this court, for instance if a minority population insists that its vote should count for more than the larger population, as the majority wants to cause environmental damage to a lake that the minority lives near. The council court would be responsible for evaluating this claim, and many different possible rulings could be given. The guiding principle would be that those most affected by the decision would have the most say.

Regular criminal courts would remain essentially the same, though there might be more juries.

Law enforcement[edit]

Shalom argues that police will be necessary even in a participatory society, as you cannot expect crime to disappear even in a good society. Also, police work is a specialized occupation, demanding specialized skills. Police work would be part of a balanced job complex and would be scrutinized by independent review boards.

Media[edit]

Shalom notes that a vibrant and diverse media is essential for a functioning democracy. A participatory economy would have consumers of media indicating the types of media they desire, and these would be generated according to demand. To help ensure diversity, Shalom recommends that media that show debates and encourage diverse viewpoints should be given extra funding.

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