OneAction NZ

Democracy Co-operative

Rousseau & OneAction

Posted by Rhys Goodwin on May 31, 2021 · 6 mins read

Kia ora folks,

Thank you to all the people who have got behind the TallyUp each month. You can not imagine how much it means to me.

I’ll freely admit that my time to actively promote things has been limited with Uni and Work but as long as you TallyUp – I’ll keep working. For free!

I thought I’d share a few thoughts from my studies. I’ve been reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), an artist and philosopher from Geneva. He had this theory, or at least a thought experiment that goes something like this: humans in a pure state of nature before even language existed were almost perfectly free and equal, and everything we’ve done since has moved us further away from equality and freedom. He thinks the way we do politics has made everything worse, although he does accept that we can’t go back. I find the idea to be pretty whacky with several holes, but it helps Rousseau to come up with some interesting ideas which immediately resonated with me in relation to OneAction.

Before I go further, I do want to stress - OneAction is not working towards a change of political system i.e. our representative democracy as we know it. Evolution, not revolution, is the aim. Everything I ever discuss is intended to occur within the confines of a political party entity under the Electoral Act & Commission. So I’m not proposing constitutional change. In my view that would be trying to run before we can walk.

Anyhow, Rousseau’s view was that each member of the community should retain their share of political power. The whole community would work together to find the things they agree on – what Rousseau calls the “general will”. The government’s job then is just to carry out the “general will”. This is how he describes the outcome:

Now, the sovereign, being formed solely by the individuals who compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; thus the sovereign power need make no guarantee to its subjects, because it is impossible for the body to wish to harm all its members. - Rousseau

The idea is that when political power is spread more evenly across the community, law and government will better serve the people.

It’s a notion of greater equality of political power. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not dreaming about some eutopia where everyone is equal, and everything is rosy. It’s just that we could do a much better job of spreading political power more evenly than we do now. It’s absolutely possible, should enough of us decide to do so.

Another of Rousseau’s points which struck me was this:

Power can perfectly well be transmitted, but not the will. - Rousseau

Isn’t this true under our current stale political party model? We can easily transfer our political power through our vote to a representative, but our will gets distorted.

In a democracy co-op like OneAction, representatives don’t have the burden of having to constantly try and guess what the people want and stress about capturing votes. Instead, they work for the Co-op. The members of the Co-op use their political power (their vote) to put the representative in Parliament, but they don’t abandon their power to the representative. It’s bottom-up by definition.

I don’t want you to think I’m in la la land and that people are all going to magically agree on everything. I don’t think that. Actually, the whole point is that we’ll never be able to agree on a lot of things. So we should spend less energy on the stuff we disagree on and more on trying to uncover and get better at the things we do agree on. If we can soften our hearts a little, we could talk more about what we want and less about who’s right and wrong. We could come together as people with diverse views and discuss things constructively. It’s got to be better than what we’re doing now.

The way our traditional political party model works is crude and adversarial – we lump together all the people with a certain cross section of views and values and call it a party. Then we take several parties and put them in a shouting match against each other. Wouldn’t we generate better ideas by coming together from a wide variety of backgrounds and working together instead of against each other?

The parties (or Co-ops) of the future will be judged on how many different views they bring together and work on, rather than on how many people who think the same can be gathered behind one “brand”.

Yes, it will take a small amount of effort and engagement to build this new kind of party, this co-op – but it will be worth it. It can only move forward if people who like the idea share it.

Next time I might talk about blockchain technology.

kia kaha (be strong, get stuck in, keep going)

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