Practical Democracy: Concept

Practical Democracy springs from the knowledge that some people are better advocates of the public interest than others. In Beyond Adversary Democracy[12], Jane Mansbridge, speaking of a small community in Vermont, says 1:

When interests are similar, citizens do not need equal power to protect their individual interests; they only need to persuade their wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens to spend their time solving town problems in the best interests of everyone.

The fundamental challenge of democracy is to find those "wisest, cleverest, most virtuous, and most experienced citizens" and empower them as our representatives. PD does that by giving every member of the electorate the right to be a candidate and the ability to influence the selection process, while ensuring that no individual or group has an advantage over others.

PD makes no attempt to alter the structure of government. We have the venues for resolving adversarial issues in our legislatures and councils. However, since the solutions that flow from those assemblies cannot be better than the people who craft them, PD lets the electorate select the individuals they believe will resolve adversarial issues in the public interest.

Peoples' interests change over time. To achieve satisfaction, these changing attitudes must be given voice and reflected in the results of each election. The PD process lets particular interests attract supporters to their cause and elevate their most effective advocates during each electoral cycle. Advocates of those interests can proclaim their ideas and encourage discussion of their concepts. Some will be accepted, in whole or in part, as they are shown to be in the common interest of the community.

Most people expect their elected officials to represent their interests. The difficulty is that communities are made up of diverse interests and the relations between those interests can be contentious. Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view, from the people's perspective. That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests.

Democracy's dilemma is to find those individuals whose self-interest encourages them to seek advancement and whose commitment to the public interest makes them acceptable to their peers. Such persons cannot be identified by partisan groups seeking to advance their own interests. They can only be identified by the people themselves.

  • 1. , Jane J. Mansbridge, The University of Chicago Press, 1980 Beyond Adversary Democracy, p. 88