[EM] The structuring of power and the composition of norms by communicative assent

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Fri Jan 23 09:01:54 PST 2009

> > Oddly, the preceding design need not be altered.  It remains
> > essential.  All we need is to add a separate, primary voting
> > system, ...

Juho Laatu wrote:

> I didn't yet quite understand what
> parts of the old system are kept and
> what will be replaced with the new
> system.

All is kept, nothing is replaced or altered.  There is only the
addition of a new primary system in the public sphere - no formal
connection to government, or to political parties.

> > with these counter-features:
> > 
> >   a) continuous results, with shifting votes
> Maybe mostly positive, but also
> something negative.

Hopefully the negative parts are corrected in the synergy with the
government's voting systems (?).
> >   b) peer-to-peer voting, with no pre-selected candidates
> You may need also some approval from
> the citizens to become candidates.
> (Or alternatively you could allow them
> to indicate if they will not accept
> the role of a proxy.)

Candidature is a consequence of receiving a vote.  There is no formal
effect aside from receiving the vote.  It's like you're standing on
the street corner, and somebody says, "Hey, I know you.  You're Juho
Laatu.  I think you'd make a great City Councillor!"

So the person says, and there is no way to prevent it.  And others may
start to agree with him.  You cannot stop people from proclaiming you
as a *primary* candidate, and hoping to see your name on the ballot,
come the next general election.  (But you are under no obligation to
stand for election, as a *general* candidate.)
> >   c) open ballot
> What was the reason why you consider
> open vote to be a requirement? (or a 
> "counter-feature")

I read your other post.  I understand you are asking about the
necessity of open voting at the periphery, among plain voters.

You've been asking this question from the beginning, and it's been
difficult for me to answer definitively.  Now I see there's a big
white space in the theory, where the answer should fit.  I don't have
the whole of it covered yet (been thinking about it, the last couple
of days) but here's a sketch of it:

There's difference when we speak in public, with an aim to mutual
understanding or consensus.  We are forced to take the view of the
others to whom we are speaking.  We are forced to be self-critical in
anticipation of their challenges, to prepare ourselves to reasons for
what we say, to back up the claims we make.  There is a theory that
ties these various types of claims to to various types of speech acts,
and it's called formal pragmatics.^[TCA1]

This has been tied to autonomy, rational agency and responsibility, to
the effect that only a public speaker in this social context is an
autonomous individual, a rational and responsible actor.^[1]

A public vote is the formalization of a speech act, and is covered by
these theories.  The opinion of a private individual that is expressed
as a public vote has a claim to truth, legitimacy and sincerity that a
private opinion (not so expressed) has not.

There is a connection between communicative reason (in these public
utterances) and the rationalization of modern society.  The
rationalization of modern society is its division into specialized
spheres and subsystems - like public sphere, private sphere, economic
system, and administration system - that spin according to their own
internal logics, and interrelate across interfaces.  This correlates
with our rationalization of voting systems, splitting them into
separate systems of the public sphere (on one hand) and administrative
system (on other) - each specialized for its place and purpose, and in
communication with the other.  So we modernize voting.

There is a connection between human reason (how we moderns think and
speak) and the rationalization of modern society.  I do not understand
it well enough, but there's a sense in which the universality of
communicative action (its inclusion of others, and raising of validity
claims) can bind together the fragmented pieces of modern society.
It's the last "glue" that's left to us moderns.  Both the
fragmentation and the glue are enhanced by the addition of public
voting.  It separates out two voting systems (public and private) that
work better when kept apart (but in communication).  It also helps to
separate the public sphere from the other parts of society, while
simultaneously binding it to them.  So we make modern society even
more modern - ultra modern.

There is a sense too in which this might further the critical theory
of society.  That type of theory is supposed to be both diagnostic of
problems, and to propose remedies, but it tends to be weak on remedies
these days.^[2] And it's traditional in critical theory that the
remedy is in the evil - the spear of modernity must heal the wound of

There is also the consideration that this type of public voting may be
applied to a text that is broadly cultural, and yet has normative
potential.  What would it mean, for instance, if people were to begin
voting on utopian visions of society?  Is that another way to glue
society together (science, art, politics, etc.) and steer the whole
with a sense of purpose.  Nobody has ever thought along these lines,
so far as I know.  But there are hints in Segal.^[4]

(If above can be redacted, it would put real flesh on the theory.)
> >   d) voting on laws, too
> I read this as allowing individual
> voters to vote directly too, without
> any proxies between them and the
> decisions (on laws and on anything).

They can vote directly, but they will usually prefer to vote via the
proxies (delegates).  The effect is the same (because votes are
shiftable), but it's easier to vote for/communicate with a delegate.

A home owner hears of a proposed bylaw for property taxes.  She knows
nothing else about it, but she knows enough to cast a vote for her tax
accountant.  Later, she looks to see where that vote ends up - which
*variant* of the proposed bylaw it has cascaded to.  She asks
questions of her tax accountant, and maybe thinks of shifting her
vote, depending on the answers she receives.
> Quite OK but I have some concerns
> on what will happen in the tax
> raise questions. It is possible that
> the society would spend more than
> save.

Mistakes are possible.  The pilot may turn the rudder too far.  He
will have to notice his mistake, and correct it.  This is not easy
with private voting, as private opinion is easily selfish.  But it's
hard for public opinion to be selfish - so theory tells us.

Gross errors may be blocked by the control system.  Council may pause
for a long time if residents reach consensus on eliminating property
taxes entirely.  The Mayor will try to reason with them, explaining
how garbage collection will stop, policing will be hampered, and
protection racketeers will fill the vacuum...

[TCA1] Jürgen Habermas.  1981.  The Theory of Communicative Action.
       Volume 1.  Reason and Rationalization of Society.  Translated
       by Thomas McCarthy, 1984.  Beacon Hill, Boston.

[TCA2] Jürgen Habermas.  1981.  The Theory of Communicative Action.
       Volume 2.  Lifeworld and System: a Critique of Functionalist
       Reason.  Translated by Thomas McCarthy, 1987.  Beacon Hill,

   [1] Kenneth Baines.  2007.  Freedom as autonomy.  The Oxford
       Handbook of Continental Philosophy.  Edited by Brian Leiter and
       Michael Rosen.  Oxford University Press. p. 578-580.

   [2] James Gordon Finlayson.  2007.  Political, moral and critical
       theory: on the practical philosophy of the Frankfurt School.
       The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy.  Edited by Brian
       Leiter and Michael Rosen.  Oxford University Press.

   [3] From the Trojan Cypria, and Wagner's Parsifal.  Above p. 648.

   [4] Howard P. Segal.  2005.  Technological Utopianism in American
       Culture.  Twentieth Anniversary Edition. Syracuse University

Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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