Juan J. Molina

Juan J. Molina
Juan J. Molina

martes, 2 de marzo de 2010

PROBLEMS OF CONSENSUAL DEMOCRACY


Problems of Consensual Democracy

»In a modern participative democracy, consensus would seek legitimacy in the accord between personal liberties. It would be the product of an autonomous decision involving all citizens.«

The idea of consensual democracy originated before modern thought. It is peculiar to societies founded upon the need for collective labor; it generally concerns agricultural or stock-breeding societies, where community-based forms of life still remain. Collective work in the countryside demands cooperation, mutual assistance, and shared decisions. Likewise these consensual procedures are never questioned; they are part of a commonly accepted tradition, forming part of the established customs.

But traditional communities are torn apart when they have to adjust to "modern" forms of life. Democracy in this situation is the result of the agreed-upon will of autonomous individuals; it is no longer founded upon the customs transmitted by tradition but upon the legal system settled on by individual citizens. We should then wonder: Could these concepts from premodern societies traverse into modern individualistic societies? It is not possible to go back in time; we cannot resurrect, within a society, forms of life that are much less complex and belong in agrarian societies. Nevertheless these ways of living could offer us a means by which to overcome individualism and the lack of political participation amongst people, things that typically characterize modern liberal democracies. For this, it may be necessary to lift (in the Hegelian sense of Aufheben: to conserve and to overcome) the principles of liberal democracy to the height of a renovated communitarian democracy.

This proposal fosters theoretical problems. I will point out the two that appear to be most important:

The procedures for arriving at a consensus in the afore-mentioned communities found their legitimacy in inherit collective wisdom, which is often expressed in secular myths; these procedures form a part of the moral conventions that are observed in the society. Their acceptance expresses an attitude that reiterates traditional ideals and ways of life. Dissent from a group or individual falls outside of this social moral code; it is disruptive to the community and cannot be considered legitimate. In a modern participative democracy, on the other hand, consensus would seek legitimacy in the accord between personal liberties. It would be the product of an autonomous decision involving all citizens. Dissent, therefore, would have to be accepted as legitimate in front of a tradition or custom earlier agreed upon. It supposes a norm prior to the acceptance of the collective tradition: respect for the autonomy of all the members of the community and, therefore, for their right to dissent.

»Human beings have the ability eventually to cut trough their differences to the rock bottom identity of interests.«
Kwasi Wiredu

As Wiredu accurately indicates, consensual democracy presumes that all the members of the society are able to arrive, by way of communication, at a substantive common good: »Human beings have the ability eventually to cut trough their differences to the rock bottom identity of interests.« 3 In effect, in premodern communities, the people may coincide with the best goals and values that are accepted by tradition, which tend to maintain unity within the community. On the other hand, modern, multifaceted democratic societies do not necessarily behave this way. Rather the liberal idea of democracy is grounded upon the opposite supposition; it is a way of responding to the multiplicity of conceptions about the common good that spring from divergent interests. If the state were to accept a basic idea of the common good, it would be because of the imposition of one social sector above the rest. In fact, this is what could happen in reality if the principle of majority rules continues to be rigidly adhered to.

¿Could this practice be modified in order to promote the principle of consensus? To me it appears that the response would be different depending on the types of decisions being dealt with. Within local spaces, communities, municipalities and even aotonomous peoples, where citizens are able to maintain personal contact and where, when discrepancies arise, there is still a consciousness of common necessities, it is possible to employ procedures that would lead to a general consensus. These procedures would involve the solution of local problems, those that affect all members of the particular community.

»All that is suitable in this situation is a basic consensus that reflects an identity of interests: respect for the plurality of points of view regarding the common good and recognition of the differences.«

In geographically larger countries, interpersonal communication, along with an extensive knowledge of common problems, is rare. At this level, there actually exists a plurality of groups, each with different points of view and different interests that are generally not communicated between groups. All that is suitable in this situation, therefore, is a basic consensus that reflects an identity of interests: respect for the plurality of points of view regarding the common good and recognition of the differences. This is a value of second order, for to say so; it consists in the equal consideration and importance of the fundamental values that choose the different groups of the society. It is not innocuous, however. Recognition of differences implies giving to each person what is his or her, that is the classical definition of justice. Justice is equity in dealing with all the differences.

Given the absence of an all-encompassing definition of the common good in modern democracies – which was previously attained by reaching an autonomous consensus –, an agreement can only be realized considering those different ideas and goals that at least partially coincide, in the way of an overlapping consensus that John Rawls introduced in the debate. To accomplish this it would be necessary that rational dialogue is accompanied by willful cooperation. Applying the principle of equality to the recognition of differences would lead to the obtention of this at least partial rational consensus.

Consensual democracy, I believe, would tend to provide institutional solutions to both of these problems.

Luis Villoro
On Consensual Democracy
Concerning Kwasi Wiredu's Ideas

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