Palinurus: Engaging Political Philosophy

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Carol C. Gould: Socialism and Democracy



I. Introduction


Perhaps the leading problem for both political practice and political theory today is the relation between democracy and socialism. The problem in practice is that both Western democratic societies and contemporary socialist societies fail in different ways to provide the conditions for full individual freedom and meaningful social cooperation. Thus contemporary socialist societies, both in Eastern Europe and in the Third World, are undemocratic in that they fail to protect individual civil liberties, such as freedom of expression and association, and political rights, such as the right to choose one’s political representatives freely and the equal right to stand for office. Furthermore, while such societies attempt to introduce cooperation as a principle of economic and social life, yet they exhibit serious domination in the form of extensive bureaucracy, state control, the repression of individual differences, and personal and psychological domination. On the other hand, Western democratic societies, while they protect individual civil liberties and political rights to a significant degree, nonetheless are not fully democratic in that they do not permit effective political participation by the poor, disadvantaged minorities, and even by the working people who comprise the large majority of the population. This results from the distortion of the political process by the power of wealth and lobbying by special interest groups. Such societies are also not fully democratic in that social and economic life outside the political sphere are characterized by economic exploitation, special privilege, and forms of personal domination. Furthermore, Western democratic societies fail to take seriously the principle of social cooperation as a condition for full human freedom.


Correlative to these defects in practice are defects in the respective political theories of socialism and liberal democracy. Socialist theory, in its development, places emphasis on the social whole and on the state as the articulator of the needs of the whole and disregards the importance of individuality and of individual rights. Furthermore, in its stress on economic production, socialist theory fails to take into account the significance of the social and political dimensions as spheres of human cooperation and self-development. By contrast, liberal democratic theory places emphasis on individual freedom and individual rights and disregards the importance of social cooperation and community as a condition for the full development of this individual freedom. Moreover, liberal theory takes democracy as pertaining to political life alone and not also as applying to social and economic life.


Thus socialism and liberal democracy, both in practice and in theory, are faulty and stress one of the principles of social and political reality – namely, either individuality or social cooperation – at the expense of the other. In light of these defects in contemporary political theory, I would like to propose a new theoretical framework which brings the values of individual freedom and social cooperation to bear on each other in a coherent way. Such a theory would also suggest concrete forms in which these values could be realized in economic, social, and political life. In terms of this framework it will become clear that socialism and democracy, on a certain interpretation, are not only not incompatible with each other, but in fact entail each other.


Such an understanding that socialism and democracy are essentially related may be seen to gain support from an examination of the root meanings of the terms. In its original connotation, democracy meant self-rule by the people through a process of co-determination. Furthermore, at least in modern political theory, the concept of democracy was closely tied to that of individual freedom, in that political democracy was seen as the mode in which the equal individual liberty of the citizens could be preserved. Similarly, in its original connotation, socialism meant the control by the people over their own activities in economic, social and political life, through a process of social cooperation and co-determination. Here, too, the concept of socialism is closely connected to that of freedom, in the sense of freedom from domination and exploitation and in the sense that socialism is supposed to provide an equality of condition which would permit all individuals to develop themselves freely. Hence, both democracy and socialism in their root meanings involve the ideas of self-rule and co-determination as conditions for freedom. This connection between the concepts of democracy and socialism needs to be reclaimed. However, such a synthesis cannot remain at the abstract level of the original meanings of the terms. Rather, what is required is a new theoretical framework which would provide a philosophical foundation for the intimate relation between individuality and community or social cooperation, as well as the proposal of some concrete ways in which such a synthesis might occur. In this paper, I can only give a sketch of these philosophical ideas and a few concrete proposals as to how they could be realized.


II. Philosophical foundation for a reconstructed democratic theory


If political theory is to satisfy the requirements which are set forth above, namely, to give an adequate account of individual freedom and social cooperation and of the relation between them, then the fundamental philosophical concepts and the normative grounds should be clarified at the outset. I would propose that the fundamental value which a system of social relations ought to serve is that of freedom, taken in the sense of the freedom of individuals to realize themselves. This value is posited in the nature of human activity itself. Such activity is purposive, not only as involving the realization of particular purposes or intentions, but as a striving toward the fuller development of the individual and of his or her capacities. This sense of freedom may be characterized as positive freedom or freedom to realize or develop oneself. Yet the realization of the purposes of an individual requires social interaction as its condition. That is, particular forms of social relations are necessary for the expression and development of human purposes and capacities. In addition, various material conditions also serve as necessary conditions for individual self-realization. Together, such social and material conditions may be characterized as the objective conditions for such self-development or human freedom. Thus, freedom requires access to these objective conditions. Such availability of conditions is part of what is connoted by the term ‘’positive” in the idea of positive freedom. Thus on this view, freedom connotes more than free choice as a capacity; it involves the freedom to realize oneself through acting with others and by transforming the material means to suit one’s purposes or ends. Yet this sense of freedom presupposes free choice as a universal feature of human activity. Such free choice is implicit in the structure of human activity as a process of fulfilling purposes. This feature of human activity constitutes the capacity for freedom as self-development. However, self-development or self-realization does not follow from this capacity alone, since it requires the availability of conditions in terms of which one’s purposes can be fulfilled.


Since every human being equally possesses such a capacity for freedom inasmuch as they are human, no individual has more of a right to the exercise of this capacity than any other. That is to say, they have an equal right to self-development. But, as I have said, self-development requires access to objective conditions, both social and material. Therefore, the equal right to self-realization implies an equal right of access to such conditions [1]. Such an equal right to self-realization constitutes the value of equal positive freedom which is a cornerstone of the new democratic theory.


However, inasmuch as positive freedom presupposes that one exercise free choice, such positive freedom presupposes an absence of constraint on the free choice of agents. This means absence of constraint by other agents or by the state. Such absence of constraint, or “freedom from,” has been characterized in classical liberal theory as negative freedom. Thus equal positive freedom has as its presupposition equal negative freedom. Such negative freedom includes the basic liberties, namely individual civil liberties and political rights. Thus on this theory too, each individual has a right to the full realization of these basic liberties compatible with a like right on the part of each of the others. Thus the liberal rights such as freedom of speech, press, association, etc., as well as the political rights of citizenship are seen to be crucial elements in the theory of positive freedom. It may be seen that such liberties and rights are among the social conditions for freedom as self-development. Beyond this, the theory of positive freedom implies that each individual has a right to the fullest self-realization compatible with a like right on the part of the others. It therefore follows that no individual has a right to dominate or exploit any other. Each individual has the right to freedom from domination and exploitation. On this theory, therefore, the idea of negative freedom extends beyond the sphere of civil liberties and political rights and includes the right to absence of constraint in the domains of social and economic life.


Before proceeding to draw further normative conclusions from the concept of equal positive freedom, it may be useful to elaborate further the conception of social relations which pertains to this view. Social relations may be considered under two heads. The first consists of social relations among agents engaged in a common project. In such social activity, the individuals have a common purpose and share an understanding both of this end and of the means to its achievement. Their cooperation thus becomes a condition for achieving this common end. Such social activity may also serve as a way in which an individual achieves self-development, for example by the exercise or improvement of a skill, by the production of something of use to the individual, or by the satisfaction gained in the social interaction itself. The second type of social relations are those in which two or more agents act with respect to each other in order to satisfy ends which are different for each agent. Such social relations range from those in which each individual uses the other reciprocally as an instrument for the achievement of his or her own ends to those forms of the relation in which each acts so as to enhance the freedom and development of the other. This entire class of social relations may be called that of reciprocity. In general, a reciprocal social relation is one in which each agent acts with respect to the other on the basis of a shared understanding and a free agreement, to the effect that the actions of one with respect to the other are equivalent to the actions of the other with respect to the first. Thus, reciprocal social relations range from those which are merely instrumental to those which one may characterize as fully mutual. In this relation of mutuality, each individual in the relation consciously recognizes the other as free and as capable of self-realization, each acts to enhance the other’s self-realization on the basis of a consideration of the other’s needs and the individuals take such mutual enhancement as a conscious aim. Reciprocity in this full sense is a social condition for positive freedom, in that for each individual to develop him or herself most fully, he or she requires the fullest self-development on the part of the others.


Thus it can be seen that positive freedom as self-realization has two aspects: the activity of the agent and the conditions for this activity. Since individuals require social relations for their self-development, both in the form of social activity directed toward a common purpose and reciprocal interpersonal relations, the freedom of their activity requires their control not only over their own individual action, but also their control over their common or social action. However, since the concept of equal positive freedom entails that each individual has an equal right to such self-control, it follows from this concept that each individual has an equal right to participate in the co-determination of the social activities in which they are engaged. This may be called the principle of democracy, and it serves as a norm for the achievement of equal positive freedom. With respect to those social relations which are interpersonal and not institutional, the principle implies a mutual determination on the part of the individuals involved, so that none dominates or controls the activity of the others. In institutional social relations, e.g., in politics, the principle implies an equal right to democratically decide with others how such institutions are to be organized and how they are to function.


An important consequence of this view is that democratic decision-making must be extended beyond the political sphere to which classical political theory had assigned it. From the principle presented here, it follows that individuals have a right to co-determine all social decisions that affect them, whether these are in the domain of politics, economics, culture, or social or community life more generally.


A second principle follows from the concept of equal positive freedom. It concerns the objective conditions of action, both material and social. It will be recalled that positive freedom requires the availability of conditions for the actions of an individual or a group of individuals, in order that their purposes may be achieved. We have also seen that equal positive freedom implies an equal right to the social and material conditions of action and further that freedom defined as self-development involves control over the conditions required for realizing one’s purposes in activity. But I would argue that control over the conditions or means of activity is the meaning of property and this includes both social and material conditions. Therefore, there is an equal right to such property. This gives rise to what we may call the principle of property right. Namely, individuals have an equal right to means of subsistence and personal means for their own self-realization, which belong to them as their personal or private property; and they have an equal right to control the material and social conditions or means of their common activity, which take the form of social property. The first aspect of this property right, namely the right to personal property, connotes that each has a right to means of subsistence and to the conditions of their own self-expression compatible with a like right on the part of the others. The second aspect, namely the right to social property, connotes that all those who engage in a common productive activity or joint project have an equal right to control the conditions, that is, to co-determine their use and function. It therefore excludes the possibility that only some of those engaged in the activity would control it to the exclusion of others or that any external agents not engaged in the activity would be in control of it. Thus this second aspect of the principle of property rules out domination and exploitation in productive life and in social activity, just as the first aspect rules out domination in personal relations. Thus the principle excludes private ownership of social means of production, and it also excludes control by others over the means or conditions which individuals need for their individual or social activity.


It may be seen that this principle of property right entails conclusions about decision-making concerning the means of social production which are similar to the consequences of the first principle concerning the right of democratic participation in social decisions. Thus the principle of social property entails the right to control with others the means of a common productive activity and thus to participate equally in decision-making concerning such social production. Thus democratic decision-making is required both in economic production and in social and political activity.


From the analysis of the philosophical foundations thus far, it is clear that the concepts of democracy and socialism, on a certain interpretation, entail each other. For the principle of democracy states that each individual has an equal right to participate in the co-determination of all social activities in which he or she is engaged. As we have seen, this includes not only the sphere of political decision-making, but also decisions in economic, social and cultural life as well. But such co-determination or common control over social activity in these spheres, if it is to be meaningful, requires also co-determination or common control over the conditions for this activity. For if control over the conditions of such activity belong to others, then the democracy involved in control over the activity would remain severely limited. But the common control over the conditions by those engaged in the activity is precisely what I designated as social property, which is one of the fundamental aspects of socialism. Conversely, the principle of social property was seen to involve common control over the social and material conditions of social production by means of democratic participation in decision-making concerning the use of such means. But this is a mode of democratic decision-making concerning the means which is closely related to the principle of democracy.


The equal right to participate in social decisions concerning both the activity and the means, as I have discussed it earlier, also has implications for the form and nature of the democratic process. Specifically, it implies that where feasible, the form of democratic decision-making should be participatory. For where such participation is feasible and an individual is excluded from such participation, then others are making decisions for that individual and violating the equal right which he or she has to co-determine these decisions. Furthermore, a participatory rather than a representative process is the most direct and surest way of taking into account each individual’s choices. In addition, participation serves to develop the range of choices which an individual has, as well as the individual’s capacities to deal with diverse situations. In this sense, also, it is a means for the fuller development of an individual’s freedom. The realization of equal rights in social decision-making thus requires the extension and development of participatory processes. However, such processes of direct participation clearly cannot be instituted in all contexts, as for example in large-scale and centralized policy-making in government, industry, and cultural affairs. Here, what is required is an adequate system of representation founded on participation at the lower levels. Such participation and representation would not only characterize the political sphere but would also apply to decisions in economic, social and cultural life as well. In these various spheres, each would have an equal right to be represented and to serve as a representative. Furthermore, the representatives or delegates would be held accountable to those whom they represent by regular elections and regular consultations with those whom they represent, as well as by being subject to recall.


Among the social conditions necessary for the realization of positive freedom is not only equality but also what I have called reciprocity and mutuality. Reciprocity as I discussed it earlier characterizes a social relation in which agents or groups of agents freely take each other’s actions to be equivalent. It may be seen that the democratic process in social decision-making embodies this relation of reciprocity. In the process of co-determination, each individual takes the others as having equal rights to participate in the decision. In this sense, each takes the relation to the other to be equivalent. But beyond this, a democratic process may come to encourage the development of mutual social relations among individuals, in which each recognizes the other’s rights to self-realization and each acts to enhance the other’s agency. In the process of participatory decision-making which aims at a common agreement, people would most likely learn to take each other’s needs and purposes into account and would learn to respect differences among themselves. Furthermore, in the course of such interactions, they would create a richer mutual environment of ideas, options and practices which would in turn enhance the possibilities of self-realization for each of them.


The philosophical foundations for the theory of democracy which I have sketched here may be seen to imply a distinctive conception of the basic entities and relations which constitute social reality. Such a conception of the nature of social reality may be characterized as a social ontology. In the social ontology which underlies this theory, the basic entities are individuals-in-relations, or social individuals. Such individuals in relations constitute social institutions and society as a whole through their various interactions. The social relations among these individuals may be regarded as internal in the sense that these individuals are essentially changed through their interactions with each other. Yet, since these individuals are agents, they fundamentally constitute or change these social relations by their choices. Thus this view contrasts with the ontology presupposed by the classical liberal theories of democracy which takes as its basic entities isolated individuals who relate to other individuals only in external relations and on the basis of self-interest. Yet the view here shares with the liberal conception an emphasis on individuals as free agents who act to realize their purposes. Furthermore, the ontology implied by the view I have proposed contrasts with socialist views as they have developed inasmuch as most of these views regard individuals as being who they are by virtue of their place within the totality or social whole and do not see social relations and the social whole as constituted by agents who are fundamentally free. Yet the ontology presented here shares with the socialist view an emphasis on the internality of social relations.


III. The new democracy – Some concrete proposals


The theoretical model of democracy and the value of equal positive freedom on which it is based need to be interpreted in terms of concrete social and institutional forms which would serve to realize them. The general political, economic and social forms which I will propose here seem to me to be required by the principles which I have discussed, although particular details of these forms may vary. In the formulation of these concrete proposals, I am concerned not only with the realization of these principles and values, but also with the feasibility of the institutional forms. In particular, it is important that they be suitable for large, complex societies and not serve simply as suggestions for small social experiments.


There are several general remarks which may be made before turning to the specific proposals. First, it follows from the theory that all the institutions of society – social, economic, political and cultural – should be democratized. Furthermore, the legitimation of the functioning of such institutions on the grounds of equal positive freedom requires the fullest degree of participatory decision-making feasible. Also, the institutions should be designed so that the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres each function separately, although they bear on each other. Such a separation contributes to the preservation of balance among these spheres, and to the prevention of any monolithic control of the society as a whole. It also contributes to diversity in the options for democratic participation and individual self-development. Finally, democracy in these institutional contexts has to be founded on reciprocity and mutuality in interpersonal relations. It is not sufficient to propose changes in objective institutional structures without at the same time recognizing the importance of changes in relations among people.


The first set of concrete proposals concerns the economic sphere. The four points I will deal with here are workers’ self-management, the market, planning and regulatory functions, and the distribution of income. One of the most decisive features of the proposed social structure is the democratic management of economic activity by the workers themselves. This would be in the form of ownership, control and management of each firm by those who work there [2]. Such worker self-management means that the workers in a given firm jointly determine the planning and production for the firm, and the work process (including allocation of work, rates of production, hours of work and work discipline). They also decide on the distribution of the firm’s income, including reinvestment in production, depreciation costs and the division of wages to be paid among themselves. In addition, the workers control the sale of their firm’s products. The capital of the firm is the workers’ joint or social property, which is to say that they have the legal rights to possess, use, manage or alienate this property.


Such workers‘ self-management does not entail that all the workers decide on every feature of the production and sale of their products. They may well decide to appoint directors or managers of various aspects of the firm’s activities. However, such delegation of powers and functions rests entirely upon the democratic decision of the workers. This democratic decision-making should involve the direct and immediate participation by the workers up through as many levels of the firm’s activities as is feasible.


It may be seen that these forms of democratic and participatory control by the workers of their own economic activity are required by the principle of equal positive freedom. For, as will be recalled, such equal positive freedom implies each individual’s right to control the conditions of his or her activity, and thus it implies the right to co-determine those common activities in which an individual is engaged, as well as the conditions for such activity. Therefore, the workers’ activity as well as the objective conditions of this activity, namely the means of production, must be under their own control. This requirement is realized in workers’ self-management, as I have described it.


The second major feature of the proposed economic structure is the market. Firms are free to buy and sell to other firms, institutions, or to individual consumers. The market therefore determines prices and serves as an instrument for adjusting supply and demand. Thus, the market functions as the locus for the exchange of commodities. However, unlike the capitalist market, what is excluded here is the market between capital and labor. Rather, the workers’ incomes are determined by their own division of the net revenue or profits of the firm among themselves.


In terms of the values and principles discussed earlier, the virtues of such a market scheme are three: First, it preserves the freedom of workers to determine what to produce and the freedom of consumers to determine what, and from whom, to buy. In the market, the firms relate to each other and to individual consumers as free and equal exchangers. Second, the market is an efficient means of reflecting the needs and wants of consumers and of adjusting supply to meet the effective demand. Third, the market fosters variety in what is produced because it expresses the multiplicity of wants and it leaves producers free to satisfy them. In all these respects, the market is superior to a centralized planning scheme in which decisions are made from the top down, as they are in many contemporary socialist countries. Such centralized planning removes the autonomy of the workers in determining production, is often inefficient, and fails to provide variety because the planning bureaucracies tend to be insensitive to differentiated demands and cumbersome in adjusting supply to demand [3]. However, in claiming that the market is well-suited to realize the principles, I do not mean to imply that it is the only system that could satisfy these principles. But the market form is already available and well-developed and requires no third party to intervene between producers and consumers, or to validate their choices.


The third feature of the proposed economic structure is that there should be planning and market-regulatory commissions. The planning commissions would affect the direction of production in the economy indirectly, by making funds available for new investment to existing or prospective worker-managed firms. The commissions would derive these funds from taxation of the social capital of firms. They would operate regionally where possible, though some national planning would be necessary.


All of these commissions would be political bodies in the sense that they would be made up of elected representatives of the people. They would not be chosen as representatives of the workers in the firms, but rather by the workers in general, in their capacity as citizens, who would presumably be in a better position to make decisions in the interests of society as a whole. The unit to be represented on the planning commissions will, therefore, be a political unit at the most local levels possible, rather than an economic unit (e.g., a firm or an industry).


The market-regulatory commissions will function to see to it that the market is free of abuses, such as price-fixing, monopolistic practices, violations of contract, or deceptive advertising or merchandising practices. Thus, these commissions are not intended to control the market, but to permit it to operate fairly and effectively. Like the planning commissions, the market-regulatory commissions will also be democratically elected entities representing the public.


Both the planning commissions and the market-regulatory commissions are necessary to correct malfunctions of the economy and to help it to meet social needs. Thus, although worker self-managed firms together with the market are seen as the principal moving force and adjustment mechanism, respectively, of the economy, nonetheless, these cannot be expected to meet all needs optimally, or may sometimes meet them in a haphazard or distorted way. The commissions, in representing the general social interest, are thus balancing and corrective mechanisms, and can also foster innovation to meet important social and economic needs.


The fourth feature of the proposed scheme concerns the principles and mode of distribution of income. It combines elements of the two well-known principles of distribution according to work and distribution according to needs. The scheme excludes deriving income from investment or from exploitation of the work of others.


Most generally, income will be distributed by the workers in each firm, by a process of participatory democratic decision in which they determine the allocation of the net revenue of that firm among themselves. Since this is an autonomous democratic procedure, the principle that they use for distributing income is up to them. However, since the amount of net revenue to be distributed among the workers in a firm depends in part on their work, the principle of distribution of income is to this degree a principle of distribution according to work.


In terms of the principle of equal positive freedom, the justification of such democratic allocation of income follows from the requirement for common control over the activity of production. I take such activity to include not only the conception and process of production, but also its product. Therefore, each worker has an equal right to control the common product of his or her work, and therefore also an equal right to co-determine the distribution of the income from that work.


This principle is complemented by the principle of distribution according to need in important areas of social and economic life. Thus, every individual is assured of free access to education and health-care according to their needs. In the case of education, this should be taken to include the provision of higher education to all those who want it. A principle of need should also be in effect with regard to subsistence needs which should be available to all regardless of their work. With respect to those unable to work because of age or illness, or those who are unemployed, this would mean that they should be provided with incomes approximating the average of those who work. With respect to those (hopefully few) who refuse to work, this principle would mean the provision of minimal subsistence needs. The principle of distribution according to need may also require that the state guarantee a minimum income for those who work, which would provide not merely means of subsistence but also means of self-development.


It may be seen that this combination of principles of distribution according to work and need is required by the value of equal positive freedom as discussed above, at least under the conditions of scarcity. This value was seen to imply not only the equal right to control over the work activity, but also the right of each individual to the means of subsistence and the conditions for self-realization, compatible with a like right on the part of each of the others. This latter aspect of the principle excludes exploitation of some by others, or some profiting from the work of others, in two senses: it excludes the accumulation and control of capital by those who have not produced it; and it also excludes parasitism, in the sense of those unwilling to work benefiting from the labor of others. Yet, because of the supreme value of human life, the principle of equal positive freedom implies that everyone has a right to the means of subsistence. These interpretations of the second part of the principle of equal positive freedom, combined with the first part which asserts the equal right of everyone to control their activity, seem to me to yield the principles of distribution sketched above.


Just as democracy is necessary in the economic sphere, so too is it necessary in the organization and relations of social and cultural life. I therefore turn to the question of how the social and cultural institutions and activities of society may be democratized. These institutions and activities include educational institutions such as schools and universities; cultural institutions such as museums and various arts organizations and activities; health services, including hospitals, community health organizations, etc.; welfare organizations; scientific institutions; sports; the media, e.g. newspapers, radio, T.V.; religious organizations; and charitable organizations. There would also be a wide variety of voluntary associations of individuals organized to pursue their various social and cultural interests. One may also include under the general heading of social and cultural life, the family and other child-raising and living arrangements.


With respect to the funding of these institutions, one would expect that some would operate wholly within the market, some would be publicly funded, some funded by firms, some privately funded, and many, perhaps most, would derive their funds from a mixture of these sources. It seems to me that in social and cultural affairs, such a proliferation of funding sources is important. Thus, for example, it would be good if the arts were funded from a multiplicity of sources, in order to preserve diversity and to prevent any control by the state, as well as to prevent the subservience of the arts to market fashions or requirements.


Here, as in the economic sphere, the institutions should be self-managing, and for the same reason: namely, to provide the conditions for the individuals’ self-development by participating in the control of their own social activity. Thus, each such institution will have a managing board made up of those who work there or those who are involved in the range of that institution’s activities. More specifically, where the social or cultural institutions operate in the market and are therefore subject directly to considerations of what consumers want, it is sufficient to have the board made up of the workers in the institution, who together decide upon the policy and activities of that institution. Where the institutions are partly or wholly exempt from market function, and depend largely on public funds, it would seem appropriate to include on the board not only those who work in the institution but also representatives of those who benefit from or use the institution, as well as representatives from the public at large, or the state [4]. In addition, there are those institutions which have to take into account the needs of consumers in a way which is more direct than a market permits, even though such institutions may function in the market. In such cases, the managing boards should have representatives of the users, in addition to those who work in the institution. Examples of this latter type of institution would be privately funded universities or hospitals which would operate in addition to those publicly funded ones that provide free education and health benefits.


In social and cultural institutions as in economic ones, self-management should be understood to operate in a participatory way. That is to say, the workers in such institutions, as well as representatives of those who use them or take part in their activities, have a right to participate in formulating policy and procedures. This is not to say that everyone should participate in deciding on all aspects of the institution’s operation. Rather, all have a right to decide general matters of policy, as well as to make decisions concerning those areas directly related to their functions. Furthermore, decisions which require special expertise in order to make competent judgements should be reserved to those who are certifiably competent to make such judgements. An example of this requirement of expertise would obviously be medical or surgical judgements.


The democratization of social and cultural institutions has to be understood as founded upon greater mutuality in interpersonal relations. That is, changes in the institutions can be fully effective only if people at the same time generally relate to each other as equals and with respect for each other’s individuality. The reason for this is that the very process of participatory democratic decision making which is required for the functioning of these institutions, if the principle of equal positive freedom is to be realized, entails that each participant treat the others as fully equal, and that they respect the differences among themselves. Such participation at the institutional level would very likely be undermined by lack of reciprocity in interpersonal relations, and would not endure for very long without such reciprocity. Conversely, the achievement of full mutuality in personal relations requires some changes in institutions, as well as the introduction of new institutions. Among the important inter-personal relations are male-female relations. Greater equality and mutuality here seem to me to require not only the elimination of domination, but also greater freedom to introduce new forms of child-raising, as well as new forms of living arrangements. In addition, in order to achieve women’s equality at work, which would be one of the foundations of their equality more generally, extensive day-care facilities would be necessary. These proposals for the democratization of social and cultural life, together with economic democracy, bear upon the democratization of the political sphere to which I now turn.


The political sphere has traditionally been the domain in which democracy has been thought to apply. Democracy in this sphere has connoted forms of political representation, popular elections, and the protection of civil and political rights of individuals, among other features. Such features are also important in my proposed structure. Thus, a crucial aspect of democracy is the constitutional protection of equal civil liberties or basic freedoms (such as freedom of speech, press, association, etc.) as well as equal political rights (such as the right to vote, to be elected, etc.).


The principle of the separation and balance of powers is also of great importance, both among the various functions of government, as well as among the levels of government. Thus, the division of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial functions of government, together with a system of checks and balances, helps to prevent any one of these branches of government from dominating the others. A similar check on the over-centralization of power is provided by the division of political decision-making into various levels, e.g., local, state, regional, national. In addition, the separation of the political sphere itself from the economic sphere is also important in preventing the excessive concentration of power in either of these spheres. Furthermore, the universal right to vote, periodic free elections and a system of representation are important features of the proposed political democracy. As is clear, these are already features of modern political states. Yet, even with such features, these states are not fully democratic. This is in part because their political democracy is undermined by the lack of democracy in the economic and social spheres. Thus, the power of concentrated wealth can be used to influence the political process in its own interests. Or again, economic and social alienation may lead to feelings of political powerlessness and to voter apathy, leaving the process of governing without genuine popular support. The democratization of economic and social life in the structure proposed here should contribute to the elimination of alienation and of the distortion of the political process by the power of money. The proposed structure would therefore permit the fuller realization of these forms of political democracy.


However, the achievement of political democracy in these senses is not yet sufficient for the full democratization of the political sphere. It will be recalled that such full democracy is required by the principle of equal positive freedom. The crucial additional feature which is necessary is the development of participatory forms in political life. Such participatory decision-making is characterized by direct and immediate involvement in the process of decision-making by the individuals concerned. Thus, in this process, the authority of the individuals is not delegated to some representative, but is exercised directly by them. Further, all the individuals have a right to engage in the discussion, and they co-determine the outcome by their vote, according to appropriate rules which they have adopted.


Such participatory democracy can only be effected if there are local political institutions which have the power to decide local issues. This requires the introduction of non-party political organizations at the neighbourhood or community level which would themselves be part of the structure of government. These local political units would not merely delegate authority or choose representatives to higher bodies, but would themselves have the power to decide on a wide range of local issues. For example, they could make decisions regarding local public educational institutions, neighborhood housing, recreation facilities, etc. One possible model for such neighbourhood political organizations is the Town Meeting form, found in smaller communities in New England and elsewhere, in which all the residents of the community have an equal right to participate in discussion and decision-making concerning the community.


A system of representation is necessary at higher levels of government. However, it is possible to introduce a greater degree of participation at those levels than exists in present forms of representative democracy, where participation is usually limited to voting for representatives. First of all, the process by which candidates for political office are nominated or selected can itself be democratized by being removed from the control of small political cliques or powerful economic interests. Where such electoral processes take place, as they most often do, within political parties, this requires that the party structures themselves be made more participatory.


A second way of increasing participation at higher levels of government is by assuring greater responsiveness of representatives through clear, well-structured and feasible mechanisms of referendum and recall. In the case of recall, a political constituency can choose to remove its representative from office, outside of the ordinary electoral procedures, if they judge that such a representative has failed in his or her function or has betrayed their trust. In a referendum, the possibility exists for a direct decision by the electorate, bypassing the usual means of decision by representatives. Other means of involving the larger public in political decision-making at higher levels are the use of new electronic technology to make possible two-way consultations of constituents with their representatives, and to permit the public to play an active role in formulating some of the issues to be considered by the legislature. Moreover, efforts can be made to involve a greater number of people in actively testifying at or participating in committee hearings, which may be made accessible to a larger public either by electronic means or by being held regionally.


A crucial condition for the possibility of participation in government is that the public have access to knowledge concerning the proceedings and activities of government. This involves not only the openness of proceedings to the public, but also access to the background information relevant to government policy-decisions, as well as the responsibility of representatives to inform their constituents fully.


A major role in the dissemination of information about government is played by the communications media. They also play a role in both interpreting and shaping public opinion. On the present proposal, where the media would not be dominated by powerful business interests, they could be expected to inform the public and to interpret public opinion more objectively. In addition, in order to permit access to a diversity of opinion, it would be useful to encourage smaller and independent media organizations, through public subsidies if necessary.


The substitute for popular participation in government today is often lobbying by powerful groups who attempt to influence political representatives through massive campaigns supported by vast funds. Though lobbying has been a means of representing a plurality of interests to central government, it has become largely a means dominated by big business to serve its own ends. In the proposed model, because such concentrations of wealth and power would not exist, the political process would not be likely to be undermined in this way. The more legitimate function of representing a plurality of diverse interests to the central government would remain.


A final condition for greater participation is obviously the sort of education which generates critical and politically responsible people. Reciprocally, as has often been noted, the practice of participation itself has an educative effect; people become self-active, critically aware, and learn to make political judgments and decisions in the course of these interactions [5].


These proposals concerning the concrete structures and practices of economic, social and political life are intended as realizations of the values and principles discussed earlier, namely, the value of equal positive freedom and the principles of democracy and of property right. My attempt was to synthesize the best features of liberal democracy on the one hand, and of socialism on the other, both in the theoretical system which I presented and in the specific proposals which I have discussed. However, I do not see this as a combination of presently existing forms of democracy and socialism, or of presently available theories. Rather, it seems to me that a start has to be made which, though it draws on both these traditions, introduces a decisively new foundation for social theory, namely, one which takes fully seriously both the values of individual freedom and of social cooperation.




1. C. B. Macpherson presents a similar view concerning the equal right of access to what he calls „the means of labor,“ and also stresses the value of positive freedom and self-development. See his Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Oxford, 1973), especially chapters 1, 3, 5 and 6. However, there are important differences between the theory presented here and his. Among these are differences concerning the interpretation of self-development, the meaning of property, the importance given to social relations, and the scope and nature of participatory democracy. For a further discussion of these and other differences, see my “Contemporary Legal Conceptions of Property and their Implications for Democracy” (Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXXVII, No. 11, November, 1980) and my “Freedom, Reciprocity and Democracy” (unpublished manuscript).


2. Similar proposals for workers’ self-management have been made by a number of other authors, among them M. Marković, “New Legal Relations for New Social Institutions,” in Proceedings of the IVR World Congress, 1975, and “Philosophical Foundations of the Idea of Self-Management,” in B. Horvat et al, ed., Self-Managing Socialism, (New York, 1975), pp. 327-350; C. Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Eng., 1970); R. Selucky, Marxism, Socialism, Freedom (New York, 1979); D. Schweickart, “Should Rawls be a Socialist? A Comparison of his Ideal Capitalism with Worker-Controlled Socialism,” in Social Theory and Practice, vol. 5, no. 1 (Fall, 1978), pp. 1-27; J. Vanek, The General Theory of Labor-Managed Market Economies, (Ithaca: N.Y., 1977); P. Rosanvallon, l’Age de l’autogestion? (Paris, 1978).


Although my proposal is similar in many respects to these, yet it differs from each of them in important ways. Thus, for example, although my proposal shares with Markovic’s an emphasis on participatory democracy in all spheres of social life, it differs from his in keeping the political and economic spheres separate from each other. Again, my proposal has in common with Selucky’s an emphasis on the role of the market, on political democracy, and on the importance of the protection of individual rights. Yet my view, while holding that the market is important, does not regard it as the most decisive factor, as his does. Moreover, unlike him, I stress the need for the further democratization of the political sphere in addition to the economic sphere. Although my proposals are similar to Schweickart’s in basic features of worker control, market and democracy, my differences with him concern his insufficient emphasis on democratizing the political sphere, and what seems to me an overextended planning function of the state, inasmuch as on his view it controls virtually all new investment, and dispenses it through a general plan. Furthermore, as will be seen, my proposal differs from several of those above in that it regards the social means of production as the common property of the workers in each firm rather than as belonging to society as a whole. However, some large-scale social means of production, e.g., utilities and railroads, and some natural resources should be owned by society as a whole.


3. On the import or usefulness of the market, cf Selucký, op. cit., esp. Chapter 5; and Schweickart, op. cit.


4. A similar point is made by Selucký, op. cit., p. 182.


5. On this point, see J. S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, C. Pateman, op. cit., and C. B. Macpherson, Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, esp. chapters 3 and 5.



First published in Praxis International, (1:1) April 1981.