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One of the main features of voluntary federation as a principle of democratic government is that only egalitarians (those who support equality and mutual aid) can be members of a local assembly and only local assemblies can make the laws that all people in the community must obey. Is this feature consistent with the idea of democracy, or not?


At first it may seem inconsistent. After all, in the United States laws are made by representatives elected by all eligible voters and, except for having to be at least a certain age and having to be a citizen, there is no other restriction on who can vote. Democracy, as we have all been taught in school, means that EVERYBODY can vote because EVERYBODY--rich and poor alike--should have an equal say in determining government laws and policies.


The standard conception of the meaning of democracy is that it is a way for everybody--rich and poor alike--to resolve their differences peaceably with everybody having an equal say. (Whether the method of resolving these differences is by a system of majority-rule or consensus or some hybrid, and whether the method is by electing representatives or direct democracy with town meetings is all secondary to the core, standard, meaning of democracy.)


The problem, as discussed in this article (click here), is that this standard meaning of democracy is based on a big misunderstanding. In real life, when there is a fundamental conflict of values among people in a society (such as whether there should be slavery or not, or whether there should be class inequality or not) then the way the decision is made is always by a contest of force. The side that prevails is the side that brings to bear the greatest force (including violence) or the credible threat of such force against the other side. A fundamental conflict of values is, by definition, a conflict in which neither side will willingly surrender to the other no matter who has a majority or wins the most votes, etc. The question of slavery in the United States was not settled by a vote in Congress, and was only settled by the Civil War's outcome, precisely because neither side would willingly surrender to the other on this question. There was no lack of democratic procedure available to resolve the conflict--there were elections and a fully functioning representative democracy. But the conflict was a fundamental one, and hence the standard meaning of democracy was irrelevant to its resolution.


In the United States today we have extreme class inequality. The conflict between those who want class inequality and those who don't is a fundamental conflict. The minority who want class inequality have prevailed, but not because they won a vote (when was the last time anybody was even able to vote on this question?) and the majority have, simply because they "lost the vote," agreed to accept the outcome of class inequality. On the contrary, the majority who don't want class inequality have accepted it because the minority has brought to bear overwhelming force or the credible threat of force: police attack striking workers if they actually try to block scabs from crossing their picket lines, police drag a fired worker away from the worksite if he or she does not leave willingly, the national guard or the 82nd Airborne Division will, if it should ever be necessary, be ordered to attack working class people who dare to lay claim to own the vast industrial and agricultural property that the rich claim to own,  etc., etc.


The reality, in other words, in the United States today is that only those who support class inequality are permitted to make the laws. Politicians who don't support class inequality are not permitted to enter the legislature in numbers sufficient to pass legislation making class inequality illegal. Big Money is confident that by controlling the mass media and by bankrolling the political parties it can prevent the electoral process from making class inequality illegal, even though most Americans would LOVE it to be illegal.


Democracy, in reality, can only have meaning if it is understood to be a means by which people with shared fundamental values peaceably resolve their conflicts over NON-fundamental disagreements with everyone having an equal say. This is the meaning of democracy that is not based on a misunderstanding.


The democracy that egalitarians need is one that enables us to cooperate in shaping society by our shared egalitarian values of equality and mutual aid. There will, for a certain amount of time at least, be people in society who strongly disagree with these egalitarian values and who will do whatever they can to prevent society from being shaped by them. (Recall that the slave owners after the Civil War continued to fight violently against the Reconstruction laws that gave blacks the right to vote and hold office, and in the end they overturned these laws and made Jim Crow the law in the South.)


There is no good reason to invite the declared enemies of egalitarianism to partake in writing laws that egalitarians (and others) must obey. If, because of a misunderstanding about democracy, we did invite the enemies of egalitarians into the local assemblies, then we would have debates in these assemblies about WHETHER we should shape society by egalitarian values, not HOW. This would open the door to legitimizing the view that we should NOT shape society by egalitarian values. And this in turn would make it easier for the enemies of egalitarians--the proponents of class inequality--to impose on society a fake democracy like the one that we have today--a fake democracy that is actually a dictatorship of the rich.


In practice, very likely in most communities the overt enemies of egalitarian values, if any, would be well known and not allowed membership in the local assembly. All others would be welcome in the assembly. If it became clear that an individual in the assembly was strongly opposed to egalitarian values, however, the egalitarians in the assembly--for the reasons discussed above--would have every right to tell that person to leave the assembly, and this would be perfectly consistent with the principles of  genuine democracy.



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