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Monday, 20 August 2018 17:27

Social Credit and Democracy: The Problem - Part Two

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     In this second article, I will continue to examine some of the structural problems with conventional democratic political systems that Douglas had identified in the course of his writings, especially in the writings of his latter years. Beyond the particular defects in the voting system which were discussed in the previous month’s article, there are also problems with the party system and with how the voting and party systems interact with each other. Since there is quite a bit of information to cover, I beg the reader’s indulgence if the following is reminiscent of a lawyer’s seriatim brief.

A/ Problems with the Party System

     One of Douglas’ main objections where conventional democracy is concerned is that it has incorporated the ‘alternate party’ system as a chief component of its operating mechanisms and procedures. Douglas was convinced that the inner logic of the political party and the party system could only succeed in vitiating any real democracy:

“The idea of party government is comparatively modern, probably not ante-dating the Wars of the Roses, and contains in itself a subtle perversion of the democratic idea.”[1]

     To begin with, let us observe that the whole raison d’être for a political party of any stripe or persuasion is to attempt to gain sufficient political power for itself so that it can form the government. As a result, competition and alliances for power amongst the various political parties end up replacing honest co-operation for the sake of advancing the authentic common good. The underlying and patently false assumption seems to be that in some mysterious way the best interests of the country will be served by alternating the reigns of power from one self-serving party, which ostensibly represents certain political and economic positions on the conventional spectrum, to another, which ostensibly represents an alternative:

“Once the idea is grasped, the criminal absurdity of the party system becomes evident. The people of this country are shareholders in it first, and employees of it only secondarily, if they are employees. Can anyone conceive of a body of shareholders consenting to the party system in their business? And this idea is just as applicable to undertakings carried on by the state as in the case of so-called private business. As shareholders we have an absolute right, and a right which by proper organisation we can enforce, to say what we desire and to see that our wishes as to policy are carried out, if those wishes are reasonable, that is to say, if they are practicable.”[2]

     To make matters worse, the Members of Parliament, who are supposed to be the representatives of the individuals in their constituency, have a very strong tendency, under the party system, to become slaves of their party and its leadership. Achieving, maintaining, and consolidating power for the party require that the members of the party follow the instructions of the party, even when such obedience is at odds with the wishes of the electorate or the prescriptions of natural law.[3]

     Individual politicians are thus subordinated to the interests of the group such that they must often sacrifice their own intentions and beliefs, in a word, their integrity, in exchange for being considered a member ‘in good standing’ of the party and having any prospect whatsoever of garnering any influence with respect to the party’s programme or its implementation. How many times has a Member of Parliament been disciplined or threatened with discipline by the party whip because he wished to vote in line with the desires of those who elected him instead of in favour of the conflicting goals of his party? A system which subordinates individual policy to a partisan group policy cannot serve as an effective vehicle for the imposition of the common political policy of individuals. Should it come as any surprise that the various parties are more concerned with changing the administration in their own favour than with altering the policy of the existing order in favour of the common individual? More often than not, the party game is a competition for the right to exercise an anti-social power in the service of vested interests:

“Parties which would appear superficially to be separated by aims utterly divergent, such as, let us say, the German military party, and the Fabian section of the British Labour Party, are found on close of analysis to have identical objectives – the domination of a system over all effective individual dissent.” [4]

     Political parties also weaken the strength of the voting public as a political force by destroying any possibility of unity amongst them. From the outset, the possibility that individuals could ever unite on a set of common policies is excluded a priori. By means of the party system, the population is divided into various antagonistic groups and conditioned to identify themselves with a particular party and to submit to its leader. There is, in consequence, a great deal of similarity between the political party phenomenon and the behaviour of individuals in regards to their favourite sports teams. The difference is that sports is, or at least should be, merely for entertainment; politics, on the other hand, is a deadly serious business:

“There has been a cant-phrase in politics in this country since the days of Mr. Asquith that the will of the people must prevail. Mr. Asquith was probably one of the greatest experts in modern history at arranging that the will of the people did not prevail. And the method which was followed though not initiated by him – a method which still appears to be successful – is to divide up the population into warring sects, each of which imagines it has a complete set of blue-prints for the construction of an immediate Utopia. Since practically all these Utopias are schemes for penalising somebody else, you have only to adopt each in turn and eventually you will have reduced everyone to a dead level of slavery, which is what is happening.” [5]

     In sum, the very inner logic of the party system is at odds, i.e., militates against, the establishment of an effective democracy. It tends to artificially centralize rather than to distribute political power, and, in doing so, it lessens the power which individual citizens can exercise over their governments. It cannot be considered an appropriate mechanism for forwarding the true purpose of political association and so it must also be rejected alongside the standard voting system.

B/ Problems with the Interactions between the Voting System and the Party System

     The other dimension of the standard set of ‘democratic’ mechanisms which must be scrutinized has to do with the conventions which govern the various interactions that occur between the individual citizens (via the voting system) with the people who compose the various political parties and governmental bodies. Here too, we see that the nature of these interactions prevents the individual citizen from exercising any genuine or effective control over his government.

     For example, it is often assumed that it is correct for the public, as well as for their elected representatives, to be preoccupied with purely technical methods, i.e., how a government should do something. This tends to take the focus of the electorate and of their representatives off of what the government should be doing. As a result, political discussion and debate often centre on questions of administration as opposed to questions of fundamental policy. The different parties are then given the task of proposing different technical methods by means of which policy can be realized:

“In this country the two main obstacles to a genuine democracy are the party system, with its offshoot, the Front Bench oligarchy, and, secondly, a mistaken idea on the part of the Member of Parliament that he is supposed to understand the methods by which results desired by the general public should be attained, and to pass laws which specify the actions of executive bodies and interfere with technical undertakings. None of these is correct.” [6]

     This assumption of technical competence thwarts the genuine will of the people in a variety of ways.

     For starters, the majority of the electorate and indeed the majority of the party members themselves are in no position whatsoever to offer a professional judgement as to the efficacy and overall appropriateness of various technical methods. The general lack of sufficient intellectual capacity and/or technical knowledge on the part of the bulk of the population is a reality which any real democracy must meet head on; i.e., we must stop pretending that the submission of technical questions to the electorate is a suitable means for ensuring that the people will get what they really want and have a right to expect from government:

“It is not democracy of any conceivable kind to hold an election upon any subject requiring technical information and education.”[7]

     Unfortunately, it is quite common for political parties to present all sorts of positions on purely technical methods in their programmes that are above the heads of most of the citizens and indeed above the heads of most of the party’s own membership:

“Nothing could be more fantastic, for instance, than to hold an election on, say, whether aeroplanes or airships would be better for the purpose of defence, or for any other purpose. Yet the information which is required to give an intelligent opinion on the use of tariffs or monetary policy is at least as high an order, and is, in fact, in the possession of far fewer people, than the thorough knowledge of aerodynamics necessary for an election on aeroplanes versus airships.”[8] 

     A variation on this misdirection of the public’s attention is to consider that part of the task of ‘democracy’ is to ask the public to decide on which people, i.e., which political party and which personalities, would form the best administrative team for implementing the technical methods (which neither they nor their supposed representatives understand). Naturally, this sort of selection is also beyond the competency of the majority.

     The second major problem with the technical focus is that by diverting the people’s attention from basic questions of policy (over which they should have control and are far more likely to agree) the division of the population into warring camps by means of the party system is only intensified. A tremendous amount of political energy and indeed of the political social credit is exhausted in considering and wrangling over a plethora of technical methods that the bulk of the population is not even competent to evaluate. This is one of the basic ways in which political activity can and has been misdirected. The people are bound, as a result, to be even more confused and frustrated, divided and conquered:

“What is certain, however, is that the mechanism of democracy can never be applied with success to methods of realising a policy. An understanding of this has enabled our lords and masters to split the so-called democracy of this country on every occasion on which it was desirable to the maintenance of their power.
     “To submit to a democracy a highly technical question such as Free Trade or Tariff reform, with its endless implications, is as absurd as to submit to a democracy the relative advantages of driving a battleship by steam turbines or diesel engines. Any decision obtained upon such a subject by means of a popular vote can be demonstrated mathematically to be wrong. The more complex a subject is the more certain it is that an understanding of it will be confined to a few people who will, of course, always be outvoted by the majority who do not understand it.”[9]

    A third major problem with consulting the public on technical methods is that very often the range of choices with which the electorate is presented is actually, in reality, merely a choice between different technical methods of implementing the same policy. It is possible to allow talk of purely technical methods to so dominate the political discourse that questions of policy are completely ignored thus making it easier for a particular policy or set of policies to be subtly imposed: “... the aim of the political wire-pullers is to submit to the decision of the electorate, only alternative methods of embodying the same policy.”[10] This is most easily accomplished by getting the different political parties to represent different possible technical methods to the public as their only distinguishing calling cards.

     Alternatively, if the attention of the electorate is focused not so much on the methods themselves, but on deciding which party has the best administrative team, it is still often the case that changing the administration will not translate into a policy-change. The electorate is merely being given a choice as to which team it would prefer to administer the same overarching policy. Now, if the general electorate is not even in basic agreement with the policies that are being pursued, it should be clear that the choice it is being given as to methods and/or administrative teams can be of no democratic value whatsoever:

 “It is not democracy of any conceivable kind to hold an election at regular or irregular intervals for the purpose of deciding by ballot whether you will be shot or boiled in oil.”[11]

     The focus on technical methods in lieu of fundamental policy has a fourth consequence: it is also partially responsible for the tendency in the standard democratic system for politicians to both regard themselves and to be regarded as ‘public affairs experts’ who were elected to manage our affairs on our behalf. This elevates them to the status of temporary despots who are supposed to look after us and do to us and for us what they think is best for us:

“The present Administration of this country is of course purely mon-archic and monotheistic, and as a natural consequence, ‘Common’ or ‘Natural’ Law has lost both its meaning and its sanctions, since the House of Commons, with its Cabinet which is the unitary locus of Sovereignty, has become a rubber stamp for administrative works orders, masquerading under the name of Laws – a function for which it was never designed and for which it is grotesquely unfitted.”[12]

     The contrast existing between rotating dictatorship and the authentically democratic spirit should be clear. ‘Elected’ rulers are still regarded as rulers, rather than as mere administrative servants of the citizenry. What good is it to have some power to change the membership of the ostensible government if one does not have much power to alter the policy of that government?

     Closely connected with the idea that politicians are delegates rather than mere representatives is the belief that it is proper to hold elected officials personally responsible for the attainment or non-attainment of desired results. However, since the elected officials are not the first-rate experts in the civil service who design the methods by means of which any policy-objective can be realized, it is not reasonable to hold them responsible for the use of improper methods:

That democracy consists in empowering a set of pseudo-experts, elected by majorities of non-experts at stated intervals, to pass highly technical laws which are ultimately enforceable by all the tremendous powers of the state ... is, and must be, an illusory conception ... if it were the only conception possible, the doom of democracy would be automatic and inevitable.”[13]

     The focus placed on the elected officials as those who are ultimately responsible (when it is actually deemed that someone can or ought to be held responsible for something) does serve to hide, however, the incredible power which the Civil Service wields under standard democratic conventions. Douglas’ observations on this subject remain, mutatis mutandis, valid for our present times:

     “Although the general public has partially awakened, during the past few years, to the immense power exercised by the permanent and superior Government Services, it is probable that few persons who have not intimate experience of the workings of a great Government Department, understand how completely the Permanent Heads of those Departments are immune from public control. They are, in the first place, appointed under a system which ensures that they shall possess a habit of mind suitable for incorporation in the formal machine of government (and in passing it may be noted, that for success in this initial stage, a purely Classical education is almost essential). Once appointed, their promotion and success is subject to secret influences whose ramifications may be said to extend to the ends of the world. The ostensible, or ‘Political’ head of a great Government Department, is a mere tool in the hands of the superior Permanent Officials (and this is pre-eminently so in the case of a Treasury). It is not a difficult matter for the Permanent Officials of a Government Department to obtain the removal of the Political Head of it, but it is a matter of practical impossibility for the Political Head to obtain the removal of one of his own Permanent Officials.”[14]

     In practice, it is often the case that the civil service bureaucrats are actually in a position, on account of their superior technical knowledge, to govern without any parliamentary oversight or even awareness. In other words, the representatives, i.e., the second-class experts, can become powerless in relation to the first-class experts, i.e., the permanent officials. The responsibility for any failure can then be laid at the doorstep of the elected representatives, or, what is worse still, at the doorstep of the government or, even worse yet, at the doorstep of the electorate for having made technical mistakes when it came to deciding what and for whom they should vote. Knowledge is power and the power which their expertise confers on them can enable the governmental bureaucracy, under the present system, to exercise that power without responsibility. This whole phenomenon was dubbed ‘administrative lawlessness’ by Lord Hewart:

“The system to which he [Lord Hewart - OH] refers does not merely place the anonymous bureaucrat above the law. It places the law, and the sanctions of the law, at the unchecked disposal of the bureaucrat.
     “It should be realised that the situation of an anonymous lawmaker has become at least temporarily impregnable, and is a violation – admittedly only open rather than covert – of the principles of Parliamentary government without those principles having been renounced. That is to say, while the Act proceeds from the bureaucrat, or his shadowy inspiration, the responsibility, and the odium, rest still upon the Member of Parliament who is constitutionally, but not actually, able to check him. The stealthy separation of power from responsibility, which is so marked a feature of secret societies, is now incorporated into Government activities. For some time, much too long a time, no Bill has been presented to the House of Commons which has not been drawn up by the Treasury, whoever ostensibly sponsored it. But someone did sponsor it, and a façade of responsibility has been maintained until recently. This has now gone. ‘The State’ makes laws tout court. ‘The State,’ in fact, is quite probably some little naturalised alien full of bright ideas from the ghettoes of Mid-Europe, looking for preferment to any quarter rather than that affected by law-making.”[15]

     Finally, there is this common problematical feature of our ballot-box ‘democracies’: the party platforms unveiled at election time mean that even with regard to the policy-objectives that might be included (as opposed to purely technical proposals), individuals cannot choose one thing at a time. If one votes for the party, the entirety of the party’s programme is being at least formally supported and this apparent endorsement is often interpreted by the party leadership as a carte blanche approval or mandate. Insofar as one does not, in fact, accept some aspect or aspects of the party’s platform, one is actually being compelled to go along with the whole package if one chooses to vote for that party. This is incompatible with true freedom since, as Douglas never tired of repeating: one must be able to choose or reject one thing at a time if the integrity of one’s choices is to be maintained:

“Liberty is really a simple thing, although difficult to come by. It consists in freedom to choose or refuse one thing at a time.” [16]

Conclusion:

     From the point of view of establishing an effective democracy, the foregoing analysis has demonstrated that the standard democratic mechanisms are completely ineffective. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Douglas held that the Great Britain of his time – and the same sort of judgement is equally applicable to all other conventional democratic systems with which we are familiar – was not an effective democracy:

“... whatever else it may be, Great Britain is not, and never has been, an effective democracy, and was never less so than at present.”[17]

 

---------------------

[1] C.H. Douglas, The Nature of Democracy (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1934), 5.

[2] C.H. Douglas, The Tragedy of Human Effort (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1978), 8.

[3] There have been numerous cases, for example, of candidates who were selected by local party organizations being rejected and replaced by the centralized party authorities because the latter judged the former to be unsuitable as a means to the end of gaining political power for the party. The message to the prospective candidates is clear: fall into line if you wish to have a chance of sitting in the legislature.

[4] Cf. C.H. Douglas, Credit Power and Democracy (Melbourne: The Social Credit Press, 1933), 145:

[5] Cf. C.H. Douglas, Security Institutional and Personal (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 6-7.

[6] Cf. C.H. Douglas, Security Institutional and Personal (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 11.

 

[7] C.H. Douglas, The Tragedy of Human Effort (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1978), 9.

[8] C.H. Douglas, The Tragedy of Human Effort (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1978), 6.

[9] C.H. Douglas, Security Institutional and Personal (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 12.

[10] C.H. Douglas, Social Credit, rev. ed. (New York: Gordon Press, 1973), 126.

[11] C.H. Douglas, The Tragedy of Human Effort (Vancouver: The Institute of Economic Democracy, 1978), 6.

[12] C.H. Douglas, Realistic Constitutionalism (London: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1947), 7-8.

[13] C.H. Douglas, The Alberta Experiment (Western Australia: Veritas Publishing Company PTY. LTD., 1984), 48-49.

[14] C.H. Douglas, Social Credit, rev. ed. (New York: Gordon Press, 1973), 126-127.

[15] C.H. Douglas, The Brief for the Prosecution (Liverpool: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1945), 73., as Douglas never tired of reapeating:n than not that if and the er logic of the political party could only vitiate any real de

[16] Cf. C.H. Douglas, Social Credit, rev. ed. (New York: Gordon Press, 1973), 38. Cf. C.H. Douglas, The Development of World Dominion (Sydney: Tidal Publications, 1969), 124: “The whole object of civilisation is that a man shall be able to choose or refuse one thing at a time. Until he can do that, he is a determinist, and ought not to resign himself to the idea that [for example – OH] he cannot have atomic energy to free him from ‘full-employment’ without having atomic bombs to render his further employment unnecessary.”

[17] C.H. Douglas, Realistic Constitutionalism (London: K.R.P. Publications Ltd., 1947), 9.

Last modified on Monday, 20 August 2018 17:36

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Anon Sunday, 26 August 2018 21:54 posted by Anon

    Greetings.

    Did C H Douglas give the definition of democracy as [agreed?] policy of the majority of voters (or something like that), in an earlier writing? How would this be different from the concept of "majority rule?"

    In line with the Douglas analysis above, is social credit supportive of the voters having the legal right of binding voter veto over policy? (eg. "Liberty...consists in freedom to choose or refuse one thing at a time.")

    Anyway, good articles on Social Credit and Democracy. Thank you.

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