Imagine a world without nation states, governments or politics; a world in which everybody fends for themselves (and for those nearby). This is how nature functions, and it seems that, left to itself, it is doing a pretty good job. Why can’t we just follow its example and live without politics too? After all, life has survived and thrived for many millennia without it. The reason why we cannot do so becomes clear if we look around us. We see people in clothes, houses, cars, roads, schools, hospitals, etc. Try to live without any of these things – go to a forest naked and see how long you would last (or want to live like that). For better or worse, we already do many things that are not natural, and there is no way back. Our abilities to think, talk and create made us a highly successful (and dangerous) species on this planet. But, what does this have to do with government? We can think for ourselves, so why do we need governance? The thing is, where we are now is not just the result of individual thinking. Our capacity for thought and language has enabled an enormous level of cooperation. Everything that we take for granted – from the flush toilet to our meals, from being able to walk or drive safely to work to the internet – depends on the contributions and complex cooperation of millions of people, hardly any of whom we have ever met, and who have mostly never met each other. Even in an ideal world and with ideal people, it would be difficult to have everybody contribute in the right way, to the right degree, and at the right time, without some sort of coordination. And this is far from an ideal world, and we are far from ideal people. To enable optimal conditions for the level of organisation and synchronisation needed, some provisions – such as a shared infrastructure and shared laws and regulations – are required – which is why states and governments are necessary in human society. They are also required to defend their nation from external threats such as invasions or pandemics, and to keep internal threats under control. The latter may come from gangs and other criminals, and also from the wealthy elite that have become too powerful – both groups tend to get out of control if not kept in check, and only the state can be sufficiently strong to do this. Understandably, very few would argue for abandoning political organisation altogether. The real question is, what sort of political system is best suited for the present level of social complexity?
Evolving Political Governance
Unlike in the economy, there is no one political model at present that dominates the world. We have dictatorships such as that in North Korea, despotic regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia, de facto theocracy in Iran, communism in Cuba, a mandarinate meritocracy in China, and various kinds of indirect democracies: mainly presidential in countries like the US and Russia where executive power largely rests with an elected individual, parliamentary systems in which executive power is the collective responsibility of the government, and many other variations. However, democratic principles in many democracies have been eroded or are under threat. For example, the US is sliding, to all intents and purposes, into an unofficial plutocracy (see below). In the UK, a former leader of an influential party (Nigel Farage) called for armed uprising and a serving general stated that he did not rule out an army mutiny (the Ministry of Defence distanced itself from the remark, but refused to carry out an enquiry). Many democracies (such as Russia) are only so in name. It looks like we are approaching the end of politics as we know it. This can go one of two ways: we can backslide into some form of totalitarianism that seemingly offers greater security and stability, or we can use the present situation as an opportunity to evolve politics into something better. To do so, we need to consider with cool heads which system has the best chance to secure the stability and development of society. This would require first examining the advantages and disadvantages of the existing systems. Of course, it would be impossible to consider all of them, but the huge variety can be grouped into a manageable number of categories: totalitarianism, authoritarianism, indirect democracy, direct democracy, and libertarianism / anarchism. We can safely eliminate the extremes as they are really dead-ends, as repeatedly shown in theory and practice. Totalitarianism can be eliminated on the ground that it suppresses the agency of citizens, one of the defining attributes of what it means to be human. On the other hand, libertarianism and anarchy (which come from different ends of the political spectrum, but share an ideal of a stateless society) can be excluded as unrealistic for the reasons already mentioned, or subsumed into direct democracy. So, we are left with three categories: authoritarianism, indirect democracy and direct democracy. Let’s consider their strengths and limitations.
Authoritarianism can be broadly defined as a political system in which a specific set of unelected officials possess the authority of the state. Authoritarian systems are different from totalitarian ones, as they allow various degrees of individual freedom.
Churchill’s famous quote, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”, is not only witty, but arguably true, except for one option that he probably did not consider: the synthesis of what is useful in various systems and the exclusion of what is not (the latter only being possible if aspects of other systems can replace them).
Meritocracy here may subsume geniocracy (a system of governance where creativity, innovation, intelligence and wisdom are required from those who govern) and noocracy (government of a ‘wise collective’). It is proposed that this component of governance can take the form of a Constitutional Council consisting of a relatively small number of members (in comparison to other components).
Indirect or representative democracy usually consists of the legislature (e.g. the parliament, congress, assembly, etc.) and the executive (the government including its leader, who is usually called the president or the prime minister). There is no reason why this structure, with some reasonable modifications, cannot be maintained.