Consent to a democracy

Countries with democratic governments and win popular elections can experience uprisings to challenge that government.   These uprisings are significant to make convincing news coverage: clearly a lot of people are upset and even supportive of a some form of change.  It is not clear that these groups represent a majority.   Even at the peak of the uprisings, the popularly elected government would likely win another election.  The reason is that despite the photogenic crowds, there are sufficient more who are not protesting and among the protesters there is no common group or ideal that can win a majority vote.

The model of a democratic government that I am somewhat familiar with (the US Constitutional Government), both in its text and our experience over two centuries demonstrates a democratic republic form of democratic elections of representatives into multiple competing branches.  Our constitution was written in a very different time defined by a territory of virtually no significant relevance in global politics, by framers in a pre-industrial economy roughly split by agrarian and mercantile economies, and who recently experienced a failure of a previous government among largely politically independent but economically dependent states.

In the initial adoption of the constitution and in the process of amendments, there is a clear understanding of a different concept of consent that needs to be broader than the popular elections.  The ratification of the constitution and any amendments required a consent by a super majority (2/3 or 3/4 of votes) instead of a simple majority.  A super-majority can only be reached by a coalition of competing factions agreeing to tolerate each other’s differences.  All factions agree to compete within the constraints of the government.

This consent was won once to allow the government to start.  But that result could have been prevented by a significant non-unified minority.  That minority may not have any shared values except the refusal to grant consent to the new government.

The framers understood the concept of a need for super majority consent to get things started and to amend the constitution.  However, they left out any effective way to have future generations re-commit their consent to the government.  The government machinery can continue to run with periodic democratic voting of representatives without any requirement to confirm continued super-majority consent.

The government has no means to measure the collective consent of the population and so this becomes a hidden variable that can be a problem.  Elections can be won by a majority of votes, but governments can crumble from a sizable minority that actively withholds their consent through protests and strikes.

The risk of such protests in this country is minimal, but this assumption of continued super-majority consent may be contributing to places that are experiencing the protests that are demanding new governments.  These government are often modeled on some variation of the same ideals that shape our constitution in that there was no periodic asking of the people whether they consent.  The government is surprised that the protests occur at all and even more so that they protests could be so strong and enduring.

It may help to have an additional measure for general consent built into the government.  A periodic referendum to determine whether a super-majority accepts that their opposition shares their basic values for governance.  This idea was defined for the initial adoption of the US constitution.  This constitution earned the consent of a super-majority of the states who are far removed from current realities of technologies, economies, and government commitments.  Now that we accept more democratic approach of votes of people instead of states, do we know today that the super-majority consents to government no matter which of the major parties controls the government?

Today, voter turn-outs are less than a super-majority of eligible voters.  Even among active voters, there appear on both sides a large subgroup who do not accept to the rule of their opposition.  Many in both of the two major parties do not tolerate the agenda of their opposition.  At the same time, there are laws that are not enforced because so many people refuse to follow them.

I doubt 3/4 of eligible voters would positively grant their consent to the current government if asked.  If the constitution had a mechanism for periodic reconfirmation of super-majority consent, then it could institute compromises in a structured peaceful atmosphere.  The alternative approach assumes immunity to destabilizing protests such as those occurring in many parts of the world. 


One thought on “Consent to a democracy

  1. Pingback: Alternative democracies | kenneumeister

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