You can’t see it until you see it. And once you see it, you can’t not see it!
Last fall, Dr. Warren Kinston wrote a note on Democracy at the request of some of the dissident leaders in Thailand, where he has a home and spends about a quarter of his year. This is a rough draft, but he has allowed me to post it here for our benefit: Democracy and its Difficulties by Warren Kinston (draft)
The article has much to tick off conservatives and liberals (at least in America). Warren’s thinking is always interesting and usually irritating in that it forces me to rethink something I thought I knew which brings up psychological blocks that I have to work through. Which is a key reason why it takes so long to get through his books.
It should help to clarify some of my thinking regarding church organization and democracy. For example, I think this relevant:
Societies do require governments for social order and to protect life, liberty and property. Regulations for fair dealing are required and governments must prevent the spoiling or waste of common resources (the ‘tragedy of the commons’). Safety nets, legal justice system and defence of the realm do need organisation. But, however willingly accepted, Government is a form of institutionalised coercion. So it is not possible to think of democracy without carefully considering the system of government that is being democratically enabled. The best democratic arrangement cannot overcome an ill-designed dysfunctional system of government.
Americans, especially since the attacks of 9/11, have been convinced that democracy would lead to good things. I’m not sure why we did. Hitler was democratically elected before he took control of all offices as dictator, but that was also with wide popular support. Hamas was elected which upset many people.
What system of church governance is being enabled by democracy? Can local groups enhance the knowledge and belief in functional systems of government?
Warren would insist (rightfully, I think) that the key to a strong democracy is strong families. He says:
[T]he basic political unit is the household. If a household is responsibly governed, then society is off to a good start. The implications here are an emphasis on personal responsibility, essential duties, self-reliance, care for others, upholding group needs and the common good, and fostering harmonious relations with other households. A well-functioning family household needs all its members to discharge their responsibilities and express mutual respect. Efforts devoted to educating about parenting, sensitivity to the needs of children, support for families as a whole, and equalizing legal rights of men and women could directly (and amazingly quickly) contribute to effective democratic sentiments in wider society.
The nuclear family is the core group. It is here that we learn many of our most important lessons. Our model of church governance must take this into account.
Image Credit: ADLER typewriter Model n°7 (Frankfurt / Germany). Unknown model date (probably ~1930/40). © Dake. (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Politics has changed from a pastime for the rich to a job for the mediocre, where ensuring a steady income for themselves and their cronies appears to be more important than democracy and improving society. In what seems to be in an unholy alliance with media as they are unable to deliver the critical analysis that Warren does. No wonder that politicians and media are bundled together in the UK and labelled “the chattering classes”.
I agree that the family is the nucleus of any democratic society and that both families and democracy instill values. The fundamental problem with democratic societies in their present configuration is they are synonomous with capitalism and as a consequence free democratic societies are envisaged within an economic paradigm.
The economic influences and the attributes that define capitalism often occur in conflict with nurturing well adjusted children and functional families. The dream of capitalism requires that both parents work, that children are raised predominantly by technology and that people are taught to value things as superior to productive and cooperative human interaction and benevolence.
What we have been experiencing with respect to the economic turmoil occuring on a global scale is the great leveling effect that indicates that the current model for a “free” democratic capitalist existence is unsustainable.
Paul, I don’t know anyone who can deliver the analysis that Warren does. It’s why we like him even though he’s Systemicist. 🙂
Capitalism doesn’t have to involve both parents working, or to value things above interaction and benevolence. The Dutch ancestors would be appalled by what currently passes as their conceptual progeny. But it is the logical conclusion of American capitalism today. As an American, I find it distressing.
There are several groups in America experimenting with different forms. Conservative Evangelicals are home-schooling (which has an odd history), and this requires one parent to be at home. Mormons are rarely two-income families, although the mother and wife is an economic force in creating food, managing a large household (several children) and producing various items in the house. These are not people who would ever say a bad word about Capitalism but would have strong things to say against materialism and technocracy. There are many others from a variety of points in the political and belief landscape. They are a minority, of course: the bulk of America is certainly as you describe, and I take it from your comment, Canada, too.
Capitalism is amoral, which I think is the problem. There is an interesting case that the Corporation, since it’s a “person” under law, is a psychopath. The structures need watching. Life is not just efficiency.
Sadly, your statement against current capitalism could be easily made, with little changes, against the Evangelical megachurch model.
(This comment originally got posted as written by someone else, oddly enough. So let me know if it’s just me or if you have this problem with your comments.)
I have read The Corporation. If corporations show psychopatic behavior it must be because they are allowed to project the dysfunctionalities and greed of the top management. I am puzzled as corporations in Europe do not seem to be showing the same behaviors as in the US. How come? Is it cultural or are there significant differences in corporate law. Could be culture. Plumber Jaques in Europe thinks it natural to pay taxes and live in a fairly solidaric society, whereas Plumber Joe wants his cash himself.
I was actually thinking of the film documentary, which I happened upon through the Netflix service here.
Surely we should create systems that do not rely solely upon the morality of the CEO. European corporations also pay CEOs less, even where productivity and returns are higher. There’s something cultural going on, too, not just something about individuals. You can’t rule out the role of shareholder outcry, and “workers” are a defined group in most European countries. It is less so in America. The different laws also pay a part.
This is related to the issue I’ve been trying to get my head around in the American Evangelical Megachurch. The Strong Head Pastor model that it uses has no way of challenging a psychopath or psychopathic behavior in a head pastor. You need the right structure. For as much as EJ talked about this, he failed to understand how the structures he had did not limit the CEO very well. Mostly because shareholders don’t care about anything other than short-term gains, including if those will drive the company bankrupt.
I think this is related from this month’s Atlantic Monthly on “What the American Founders Got Wrong With the Executive”:
In “A General Theory of Bureaucracy” Elliott wrote about associations and collegiums. Clergy, professors and doctors all belong to a collegiate who determine doctrine, science and practise. Most of them also are employed in a employment hierarchy. A tricky combination to handle.
A church can be seen as a membership association, where the members demand organizational accountability from their leaders, but the spiritual accountability of the clergy is to the wider collegiate.
I belong to two membership associations registered in the US. To my utter amazement I have over the years realized that there is no accountability whatsoever to members. The legal structures allow a cushioning that would not be allowed where I live.
I found the Atlantic Monthly article interesting, it pinpoints how difficult it is to change any statutes regulating governance.
Of course few megachurch leaders are Elmer Gantrys, but I suppose that they are incorporated in such a way that they probably are wide open for abuse and there is nothing congregation members can do.