Newsletter of the Society for Democracy including Random Selection
Summer 2003 Issue No. 3
ISSN 1756-4964 (Print)

SDRS 27 Old Gloucester Street, LONDON, WC1N 3XX.

SDRS Iraq Proposal gets positive response

SDRS Proposal to establish Post Conflict Community Action Councils in Iraq.

This proposal includes suggestions for the construction of a favourable conflict management policy framework by coalition force leaders in Iraq. For the background to the formation and aims of the SDRS see our website: Through the SDRS Dr Keith Nilsen formed the Campaign to Defend the Right to a Secret Ballot, which is supported by Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

In our view such a policy framework should incorporate consideration of the following points.

It should be adequate to the scale of the problems underlying the conflict. In October 1997 Boris Yeltsin claimed that joint action by the USA and Britain against Iraq would start World War III. This possibility cannot be entirely ruled out even now. That is to say, these problems are world historical in character.

The political philosophical basis of conflict resolution policy should be consistently Jeffersonian in orientation. That is to say, the objectives of such policy should be oriented to promoting democratic progress both in Iraq, in the USA and on a world scale. The first points to consider in this regard are those I made in a letter to Mike O'Brien, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 7th April. See attached copy.

The basic character of global social development in this context may be understood as follows. On a world historical scale, human political organisation has for several centuries been developing from traditional to modern forms. This transition has accompanied and is largely engendered by the development of modern science. It is correspondingly presupposed by the separation of faith and reason, both in social norms and in scientific method. This separation came about first in Western Europe through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. It was engendered by two mutually interacting developments.

First, the growing esteem in which the practical know-how of ordinary labour and craft industry was held by the newly emerging empirical sciences, as contrasted to the scholastic methodology favoured by the older, largely ecclesiastical intellectual establishment. Second, the emergence of a similar contrast in matters of moral thought and religious faith in regard to relations between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the lay population. In Britain more especially than in other countries these tendencies combined in the Anglo-Saxon concept of common sense, which implied trust in the judgment of the common people, as compared to the continental meaning of the term, which tended to imply merely a spontaneously generated shared body of understanding culturally relative to any given context usually possessing no honorific value.

The West European process of transition from traditional forms of political authority to government by consent was accordingly pioneered by Britain and culminated in the American revolution.

In political philosophy, the intellectual foundations for this transition were laid chiefly by John Locke. At the heart of his approach can be found the common sense realist concept of self-evident truth, which, when challenged by Hume, gained clear and explicit status in the work of Thomas Reid. The work of Jefferson, therefore, notwithstanding the inevitable inclusion of partial errors - either in the direction of excessive conservatism or radicalism - comprises the summit of intellectual thought in the Enlightenment. Its core comprises the self-evident truths of his Declaration, and also the self-evident truth that the fruit of the earth belongs to the living. These accomplishments, set against the background of Jefferson's ‘ward’ republican recognition that Athenian democracy had indicated the direction towards which political progress should evolve, comprise the most succinct comprehensive statement of democratic aspirations and values in the modern era. Jefferson's legacy has not been fully upheld in American or world progress for two main reasons.

First, in the isolated conditions of its early existence, American radicalism had inevitably to compromise with more conservative thought, chiefly that of Alexander Hamilton. Second, this isolation was not relieved, but compounded by European radicalism. In Europe philosophy had not effected the decisive break with scholasticism made by Bacon and Locke, and at the same time conditions of political struggle there were harsher and more extreme. Self government was still virtually non-existent, and no community of thought between the intellectual and toiling classes existed which compared to the emergence of English common sense. Those who attempted to combine Cartesian rationalism with Locke’s approach became bogged down in what can reasonably be described as new forms of frequently contradictory and technically scholastic thought, including Condorcet's zealously mathematical version of empiricism, mechanical materialism, and positivism. John Adams believed the French had never understood common sense, and in so far as Locke's broadly flexible, commonsensical concept of self evident truth cannot easily, or if at all, be found in French philosophy, he was probably correct. The speculative obsessions of German idealism, deliberately shunned by Jefferson, exerted a further complicating influence. When Marx claimed to have retrieved a rational kernel of radical democratic thought from the mystical shell of Hegel’s philosophy demolished and abandoned by Feuerbach, this placed an insurmountably scholastic intellectual obstacle in the way of self-clarification for the semi-literate European labour movement regarding the world historical significance of Jefferson’s legacy.

Failure to understand and consistently uphold the Jeffersonian road map to global democratic progress by both conservative and radical movements throughout the last two centuries can help to explain the nature and causes of continuing conflict both on an international and national scale. The political philosophical foundation of non-Jeffersonian policy on both the left and the right has since comprised various eclectic combinations of tradition, prejudice, voluntarism and historicism, which have assumed messianic form in regard to the totalitarian extremes. The associated methodologies of these approaches share the common failing of being unable to identify and accordingly shape policy regarding the distinction between truths which are self evident and truths which require empirical verification and testing over time.

Marxism comprises the classic example of such policy, both in its disastrously totalitarian form, and also in its reformist illusions regarding the economic determinist conviction that one form of economic organisation must be intrinsically superior to another on a world historical scale without any convincing supporting empirical evidence to this effect. Neomarxism has since sought to moderate and diversify these plainly untenable postulates by hybridising them with a combination of voluntarist and Machiavellian stratagems which also incorporate a further, essentially Freudian, substratum of historicist claims. The Third Way as theorised by Anthony Giddens is the most recent end product of this increasingly diluted 'postmodernist' line of reasoning in regard to the general tasks of policy formulation on the Left. Despite various efforts to 'reconstruct' the ultimately Marxist approach, however, it still fails to distinguish the self evident from the speculative in policy prioritisation. Hence the flagship policy of the Third Way on a Global scale is ‘sustainability,’ incorporating a raft of environmental policies which are upheld with passionate conviction but which are viewed as being far from self evidently correct by the relevant scientific community. Among the array of policy pluralism which predominates on the Left the possibilities of a largely unstated but ubiquitous strain of Marxist-Leninist theory in the socialist tradition should not be entirely overlooked. Russian revolutionary thought has always embraced a virulently Machiavellian vein of strategic insight, exemplified in the legacy of Sergei Nechaev. As A.J.P.Taylor has warned, hidden tactics of coordination between the reformist and revolutionary wings of the socialist tradition were very possibly preserved even during the Great War. Such considerations cannot be wholly dismissed in the context of the war against terrorism.

Given this confusion of thought in regard to Left strategy, the Right have generally felt vindicated in holding fast to the limited advances made by the English and American revolutions, and upholding Burke's conservatism and Hume's scepticism in regard to the possibilities of further radical change. The faith of the Right in conservatism is however neither immune to difference, instability and change nor consistently Jeffersonian in orientation. Contemporary neo-conservatism extends to Fukuyama’s end of history perspective based on Hegelian historicist claims which can only be advanced in sharply opposed distinction to the common sense realist methodology upheld by Jefferson.

Against this background conflict resolution policy on an international scale can incorporate the following tenets.

First, clarification of Jefferson’s common sense realist methodology in regard to the fundamental, constitutional basis of democratic organisation. The practical but radical nature of this methodology has not been understood either on the Left or the Right. The structural basis for long term reconciliation between these opposing ideological perspectives could, given appropriate levels of determination and support at national government level, be developed by such means. Such an institutional foundation could facilitate policy formulation regarding constitutional and democratic change and progress on both a national and international scale and provide invaluable support in the cause of world peace, global disarmament and conflict resolution.

Second, further development of democratic participation beyond the existing parameters of liberal democracy in the direction of Athenian levels of citizen participation, aimed, in particular, at superseding the influence of faction. This approach conforms to Jefferson's aims and can involve the innovative development and use of random selection as a democratic form of election. Election by choice through the party system - what the Greeks would have termed elective aristocracy - was not originally Jeffersonian in conception, and while it has clear advantages in application, the fact remains that it was understood by the founding fathers to be merely the first form and expression of the system Hamilton termed representative democracy. The existence of sortition in the Articles of Confederation is a largely unknown but vitally important historical fact, which demonstrates the wide range of understanding which informed policy makers in these early years.

Representative democracy without sortition is vulnerable to factional influence. Jefferson was keenly aware of the negative influence of faction on the political process, but maintained a pragmatic compromise with those forces who adopted a less than open and honest approach to the new republic, including the freemasons. The rise and decline of the American Antimasonic Party led by Henry Seward, later Lincoln’s secretary of state and by all accounts his better, demonstrates that this question remains a continuing, unresolved issue not only e.g. in the Welsh National Assembly, but also in the USA and on a world scale. Fear of freemasonry and secret factional influence comprised the basis upon which the Second World War was launched, and so must be addressed and incorporated in the tasks of conflict resolution on an international scale.

Jefferson plainly stated his view that Athenian democracy had indicated the direction towards which democratic progress should aspire, and concrete steps to develop and apply the practice of sortition would conform to the requirements of a consistently Jeffersonian approach. In particular, sortition could provide an important democratic form to contain the deleterious influence of factional politics, and strengthen the role of impartial decision making upon a constitutional foundation. This could be of especial importance both in regard to judicial questions and also policy issues which require long term monitoring, deliberation and debate unconstrained by factional influences, e.g. on matters of environmental pollution and industrial democracy.

The international conflict resolution policy outlined above can have application and adaptation to any national situation at any level of government or democratic organisation. The specific conditions pertaining in Iraq suggest the following considerations regarding the task of establishing Community Action Councils.

  1. Islamobolshevism is the central ideological foundation of the Baath party. Conflict resolution policy based on the above postulates would yield positive results by providing a clearly explained basis to meet the aspiration to peaceful democratic progress and a more egalitarian society of Baath party militants and their supporters, while at the same time exposing the flawed theoretical premises of Bolshevik ideology. The separation of faith and reason is an issue which once consistently addressed could empower democratic participants to attain relations of understanding and compromise with secular values. Support for secular progressive values is long established in Iraq both among the middle classes and also the Baath party itself. Once such support is won over to the cause of truly democratic progress, it will provide a more effective, broad foundation upon which to address Islamic extremism itself.
  2. Such policy can also be adapted to the particular circumstances of gender, religious and ethnic difference in ways which can relieve conflict pressures.
  3. Article 201 of the penal code of the Baathist constitution specified the death penalty for 'any person who propagates Zionist or Masonic principles or who joins or advocates membership of Zionist or Masonic institutions.' The conflict resolution policy outlined above directly addresses such issues but on a scientific, world historical and yet consistently Jeffersonian foundation, and so can help alleviate the fears of Baath party militants and their supporters.
  4. Community Action Councils themselves can be elected using Random Selection. This can provide the basis for the development of an infrastructure of support for non-party democratic development aimed at tackling such issues as environmental pollution and economic democracy.
  5. Randomly selected Community Action Councils can serve as a personnel resource for the recruitment of civil servants, police and security institutions, and so facilitate the development of impartial non-party governmental infrastructure, both at local and national levels. This combination of roles can also facilitate the flow of economic resources and income to remote localities.
  6. Community Action Councils staffed by randomly selected representatives would provide a vitally important forum for processes of interethnic, political and even domestic conflict resolution.

© Dr. Keith Nilsen