| Democracy, Autonomy, Idiosyncrasy & Freedoms |


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As a way of making a strong connectivity between Ecological and Psychological interests we are opening up this third area focused upon the fundamental issue of constructive participation. Arising out of the constructivist approach, the notion of participation is one which underlines the freedoms of individuals to create their own ways of being constructively constitutive of their own living environment. Bateson has pointed out that the minimum unit for survival and evolution is an organism + its environment - both evolve together in a coherent drift of reciprocal facilitation. Looking at either the individual or their environment [as if separable one from the other] is an erroneous way of understanding our human experiencing with all its possible complications, dilemmas and paradoxical contradictions. We must hold firmly to the perception of the jointness of the person-in-the-medium. The issue of jointness is central to the democratisation of human relationships both in the workplace and in our spaces of interpersonal intimacies. To begin looking at the issues involved let us read this quote from Anthony Giddens focused on a definition of democracy -


The Meaning of Democracy

First of all it might be worth considering what democracy means, or can mean, in its orthodox sense. ... If the various approaches to political democracy be compared, as David Held has shown, most have certain elements in common. They are concerned to secure 'free and equal relations' between individuals in such a way as to promote certain outcomes.

1. The creation of circumstances in which people can develop their potentialities and express their diverse qualities. A key objective here is that each individual should respect others' capabilities as well as their ability to learn and enhance their aptitudes.
2. Protection from the arbitrary use of political authority and coercive power. This presumes that decisions can in some sense be negotiated by those they affect, even if they are taken on behalf of a majority by a minority.
3. The involvement of individuals in determining the conditions of their association. The presumption in this case is that individuals accept the authentic and reasoned character of others' judgements.
4. Expansion of the economic opportunity to develop available resources - including here the assumption that when individuals are relieved of the burdens of physical need they are best able to achieve their aims.

The idea of autonomy links these various aspirations. Autonomy means the capacity of individuals to be self-reflective and self-determining: 'to deliberate, judge, choose and act upon different possible courses of action'. Clearly, autonomy in this sense could not be developed while political rights and obligations were closely tied to tradition and fixed prerogatives of property. Once these were dissolved, however, a movement towards autonomy became both possible and seen to be necessary. An overwhelming concern with how individuals might best determine and regulate the conditions of their association is characteristic of virtually all interpretations of modern democracy. The aspirations that compose the tendency towards autonomy can be summarised as a general principle, the 'principle of autonomy'.

Individuals should be free and equal in the determination of the conditions of their own lives; that is, they should enjoy equal rights [and, accordingly, equal obligations] in the specification of the framework which generates and limits the opportunities available to them, so long as they do not deploy this framework to negate the rights of others. [David Held - Models of Democracy, Cambridge: Polity, 1986]

Democracy hence implies not just the right to free and equal self-development, but also the constitutional limitation of [distributive] power. The 'liberty of the strong' must be restrained, but this is not a denial of all authority - or it only becomes so in the case of anarchism. Authority is justifiable to the degree that it recognises the principle of autonomy; in other words, to the extent to which defensible reasons can be given as to why compliance enhances autonomy, either now or in the future. Constitutional authority can be understood as an implicit contract which has the same form as conditions of association explicitly negotiated between equals.

It is no good proposing a principle of autonomy without saying something about the conditions of its realisation. What are those conditions? One is that there must be equality in influencing the outcomes in decision-making - in the political sphere this is usually sought after by the 'one person one vote' rule. The expressed preferences of each individual must have equal ranking, subject in certain instances to qualifications made necessary by the existence of justified authority. There must also be effective participation; the means must be provided for individuals to make their voices heard.

A forum for open debate has to be provided. Democracy means discussion, the chance for the 'force of the better argument' to count as against other means of determining decisions [of which the most important are policy decisions]. A democratic order provides institutional arrangements for mediation, negotiation and the reaching of compromises where necessary. The conduct of open discussion is itself a means of democratic education: participation in debate with others can lead to the emergence of a more enlightened citizenry. In some part such a consequence stems from a broadening of the individual's cognitive horizons. But it also derives from an acknowledgement of legitimate diversity - that is, pluralism - and from emotional education. A politically educated contributor to dialogue is able to channel her or his emotions in a positive way: to reason from conviction rather than engage in ill thought through polemics or emotional diatribes.

Public accountability is a further basic characteristic of a democratic polity. In any political system decisions must often be taken on behalf of others. Public debate is normally only possible in relation to certain issues or at particular junctures. Decisions taken, or policies forged, however, must be open to public scrutiny should the need arise. Accountability can never be continuous and therefore stands in tandem with trust. Trust, which comes from accountability and openness, and also protects them, is a thread running through the whole of the democratic political order. It is a crucial component of political legitimacy.

Institutionalising the principle of autonomy means specifying rights and obligations, which have to be substantive, not just formal. Rights specify the privileges which come with membership of the polity but they also indicate the duties which individuals have vis a vis each other and the political order itself. Rights are essentially forms of empowerment; they are enabling devices. Duties specify the price that has to be paid for the rights accorded. In a democratic polity, rights and duties are negotiated, and can never be simply assumed - in this respect they differ decisively from, for example, the medieval droit de seigneur or other rights established simply by virtue of an individual's social position. Rights and duties thus have to be made a focus of continual reflexive attention.

Democracy, it should be emphasised, does not necessitate sameness, as its critics have often asserted. It is not the enemy of pluralism. Rather, as suggested above, the principle of autonomy encourages difference - although it insists that difference should not be penalised. Democracy is an enemy of privilege, where privilege is defined as the holding of rights or possessions to which access is not fair and equal for all members of the community. A democratic order does not imply a generic process of 'levelling down', but instead provides for the elaboration of individuality.

Ideals are not reality. How far any concrete political order could develop such a framework is problematic. In this sense there are utopian elements in these ideas. On the other hand, it could also be argued that the characteristic trend of development of modern societies is towards their realisation. The quality of utopianism, in other words, is balanced by a clear component of realism.

- from Anthony Giddens. [1992]. The Transformation of Intimacy. p.p. 184 - 188. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Many of the issues mentioned by Anthony Giddens in the commentary above, include -

1. The arbitrary use of political authority and coercive power
2. The involvement of individuals in determining the conditions of their association
3. Attempts to expand the economic opportunities to develop available resources
4. How Political rights and obligations are still closely tied to tradition and fixed prerogatives of property
5. How powerful economic interests deploy aspects of a 'democratic' framework to negate the rights of others
6. That the 'liberty of the strong' must be restrained to prevent abuses
7. That trust - the thread running through the whole of the democratic political order as a crucial component of political legitimacy - is seen by many young people today to be in extremely short supply in relation to their political leaders.
8. The importance of rights as forms of empowerment - of the necessity to establish them as enabling devices
9. The view of democracy as an enemy of privilege, where privilege is defined as the holding of rights or possessions to which access is not fair and equal for all members of the community



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