The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, Takis Fotopoulos (2005)

Chapter 15:

The other elements of Inclusive Democracy


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Democracy in the social realm


The satisfaction of the above conditions for political and economic democracy would represent the re-conquering of the political and economic realms by the public realm, that is, the reconquering of a true social individuality, the creation of the conditions of freedom and self-determination, both at the political and the economic levels. However, political and economic power are not the only forms of power and therefore political and economic democracy do not, by themselves, secure an inclusive democracy. In other words, an inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless it extends to the broader social realm to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution which constitutes an element of this realm.


Historically, various forms of democracy in the social realm were introduced, particularly during this century, usually in periods of revolutionary activity. However, these forms of democracy not only were short-lived but seldom extended beyond the workplace (e.g. Hungarian workers’ councils[1] in 1956) and the education institution (e.g. Paris student assemblies in 1968).


A crucial issue that arises with respect to democracy in the social realm refers to relations in the household. Women’s social and economic status has been enhanced this century, as a result of the expanding labour needs of the growth economy on the one hand and the activity of women’s movements on the other. Still, gender relations at the household level are mostly hierarchical, especially in the South where most of the world population lives. However, although the household shares with the public realm a fundamental common characteristic, inequality and power relations, the household has always been classified in the private realm. Therefore, the problem that arises here is how the “democratisation” of the household may be achieved.


One possible solution is the dissolution of the household/public realm divide. Thus, some feminist writers, particularly of the eco-feminist variety, glorify the oikos and its values as a substitute for the polis and its politics, something that, as Janet Biehl observes, “can easily be read as an attempt to dissolve the political into the domestic, the civil into the familial, the public into the private”.[2] At the other end, some Marxist feminists[3] attempt to remove the public/private dualism by dissolving all private space into a singular public, a socialised or fraternal state sphere.  However, as Val Plumwood points out, the feminists who argue for the elimination of household privacy are today a minority although most feminists stress the way in which the concept of household privacy has been misused to put beyond challenge the subordination of women.[4] Another possible solution is, taking for granted that the household belongs to the private realm, to “democratise” it in the sense that household relationships  should take on the characteristics of democratic relationships, and that the household should take  a form which  is consistent with the freedom of all its members.[5]


To my mind, the issue is not the dissolution of the private/public realm divide. The real issue is how, maintaining and enhancing the autonomy of the two realms, such institutional arrangements are adopted that introduce democracy at the household and the social realm in general (workplace, educational establishment etcetera) and at the same time enhance the institutional arrangements of political and economic democracy. In fact, an effective democracy is inconceivable unless free time is equally distributed among all citizens, and this condition can never be satisfied as long as the present hierarchical conditions in the household, the workplace and elsewhere continue. Furthermore, democracy in the social realm, particularly in the household, is impossible, unless such institutional arrangements are introduced which recognise the character of the household as a needs-satisfier and integrate the care and services provided within its framework into  the general scheme of needs satisfaction.


Ecological Democracy


The final question that arises with respect to the conception of an inclusive democracy refers to the issue of how we may envisage an environmentally-friendly institutional framework that would not serve as the basis of a Nature-dominating ideology. Some critics of inclusive democracy misconceive the issue as if it was about the guarantees that an inclusive democracy might offer in ensuring a better relationship of society to nature than the alternative systems of the market economy, or socialist statism. A well known eco-socialist, for instance, asserted a few years ago that “the «required» ecological consensus among ecotopia’s inhabitants might not be ensured merely by establishing an Athenian democracy where all are educated and rational”.[6] This is a clear misconception of what democracy is about because, if we see it as a process of social self-institution where there is no divinely or “objectively” defined code of human conduct, such guarantees are by definition ruled out. Therefore, the replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework of inclusive democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between the natural and social worlds. The sufficient condition refers to the citizens’ level of ecological consciousness. Still, the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that will follow the institution of an inclusive democracy, combined with the decisive role that paedeia will play in an environmentally-friendly institutional framework, could reasonably be expected to lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature.


In other words, a democratic ecological problematique cannot go beyond the institutional preconditions that offer the best hope for a better human relationship to Nature. However, there are strong grounds to believe that the relationship between an inclusive democracy and Nature would be much more harmonious than could ever be achieved in a market economy, or one based on socialist statism. The factors supporting this view refer to all three elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic and social.


At the political level, there are grounds for believing that the creation of a public space will by itself have a very significant effect in reducing the appeal of materialism. This is because the public space will provide a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates. The realisation of what it means to be human could reasonably be expected to throw us back toward Nature. Thus, as Kerry H. Whiteside points out:

Political participation is not just a means to advance a Green agenda. Nor is it simply a potentially fulfilling activity that would remain available in a world less given to material consumption. A community that takes pride in collective deliberation fosters a way of life that limits the appeal of labour and work (...) a world in which labour is seen as only one part of a meaningful life will find consumption less tempting.[7]

Also, at the economic level, it is not accidental that, historically, the process of destroying the environment en masse has coincided with the process of marketisation of the economy. In other words, the emergence of the market economy and of the consequent growth economy had crucial repercussions on the society-Nature relationship and led to the rise of the growth ideology as the dominant social paradigm. Thus, an “instrumentalist” view of Nature became dominant, in which Nature was seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power. If we assume that only a confederal society could secure an inclusive democracy today, it would be reasonable to assume further that once the market economy is replaced by a democratically run confederal economy, the grow-or-die dynamics of the former will be replaced by the new social dynamic of the latter: a dynamic aiming at the satisfaction of demos’ needs and not at growth per se. If the satisfaction of demotic needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the “needs” that the market creates, and if the link between economy and society is restored, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature will continue conditioning human behaviour.


Finally, democracy in the broader social realm could also be reasonably expected to be environmentally-friendly. The phasing out of patriarchal relations in the household and hierarchical relations in general should create a new ethos of non-domination which would engulf both First Nature and Second Nature. In other words, the creation of democratic conditions in the social realm should be a decisive step in the creation of the sufficient condition for a harmonious nature-society relationship.


But, apart from the above political and economic factors, an ecological factor is involved here, which strongly supports the belief in a harmonious democracy-Nature relationship: the “localist” character of a confederal society might also be expected to enhance its environmentally-friendly character. Thus, as Martin Khor of the Third World Network argues, “local control, while not necessarily sufficient for environmental protection, is necessary, whereas, under state control, the environment necessarily suffers.”[8] The necessity of local control becomes obvious if we take into account the fact that the environment itself is local. Therefore, local control makes collective management of the commons more effective because of the higher visibility of the commons resources and behaviour toward them, feedback on the effect of regulations etc.


Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume —and the evidence about the remarkable success of local communities in safeguarding their environments is overwhelming[9]— that when people rely directly on their natural surroundings for their livelihood, they will develop an intimate knowledge of those surroundings, which will necessarily affect positively their behaviour towards them. However, the precondition for local control of the environment to be successful is that the demos depends on its natural surroundings for its long-term livelihood and that it therefore has a direct interest in protecting it ―another reason why an ecological society is impossible without economic democracy.


In conclusion, the present ecological crisis is basically susceptible to two solutions: one solution presupposes radical decentralisation. Thus, the economic effectiveness of the renewable forms of energy (solar, wind, etc.) depends crucially on the organisation of social and economic life in smaller units. This solution however has already been marginalized by the internationalised market economy —precisely because it is not compatible with today’s concentration of economic, political and social power— and alternative solutions[10] presupposing the present centralisation are advanced, which do not necessitate any radical changes in the market/growth economy.


A democratic conception of citizenship


After this discussion of the fundamental components of an inclusive democracy, we are now in a position to summarise the conditions necessary for democracy and their implications for a new conception of citizenship. Democracy is incompatible with any form of a closed system of ideas or dogmas, at the ideological level and with any concentration of power, at the institutional level. So, democracy is founded on a self-reflective choice and on institutional arrangements which secure the equal sharing of political, economic and social power. But, as it was stated above, these are just necessary conditions for democracy. The sufficient condition so that democracy will not degenerate into some kind of “demago-cracy”, where the demos is manipulated by a new breed of professional politicians, is crucially determined by the citizens’ level of democratic consciousness which, in turn, is conditioned by paedeia.   


Historically, the above conditions for democracy have never been satisfied fully. We already saw why the Athenian democracy was only a partial democracy. Similarly, the “people’s  democracies” that collapsed about a decade ago did not satisfy any of the above conditions, although they represented a better spreading of economic power (in terms of income and wealth) than liberal “democracies”. Finally, today’s representative “democracies”, also, do not basically satisfy the above conditions, although it may be argued that they meet the ideological condition in the sense that they are not rooted on any divine and mystical dogmas, or  “laws” about social change.


In conclusion, the above conditions for democracy imply a new conception of citizenship: economic, political, social and cultural. Thus:

  • political citizenship involves new political structures and the return to the classical conception of politics (direct democracy).

  • economic citizenship involves new economic structures of demotic ownership and control of economic resources (economic democracy).

  • social citizenship involves self-management structures at the workplace, democracy in the household and new welfare structures where all basic needs (to be democratically determined) are met. Finally,

  • cultural citizenship involves new democratic structures of dissemination and control of information and culture (mass media, art, etc.), which allow every member of the demos to take part in the process and at the same time develop his/her intellectual and cultural potential.

Although this sense of citizenship implies a sense of political community, which, defined geographically as a demos, is the fundamental unit of political, economic and social life, still, it is assumed that it interlocks with various other communities (cultural, professional, ideological, etc.). Therefore, the demos and citizenship arrangements do not rule out cultural differences or other differences based on gender, age, ethnicity and so on but simply provide the public space where such differences can be expressed. Furthermore, these arrangements institutionalise various safety valves that aim to rule out the marginalisation of such differences by the majority. What therefore unites people in a confederation of demoi, is not some set of common values, imposed by a nationalist ideology, a religious dogma, a mystical belief, or an “objective” interpretation of natural or social “evolution”, but the democratic institutions and practices, which have been set up by citizens themselves.


It is obvious that the above new conception of citizenship has very little in common with the liberal and socialist definitions of citizenship which are linked to the liberal and socialist conceptions of human rights respectively. Thus, for the liberals, the citizen is simply the individual bearer of certain freedoms and political rights recognised by law which, supposedly, secure equal distribution of political power. Also, for the socialists, the citizen is the bearer not only of political rights and freedoms but, also, of some social and economic rights, whereas for Marxists the citizenship is realised with the collective ownership of the means of production. Finally, the definition of citizenship here is not related to the current social-democratic discourse on the subject, which, in effect, focuses on the institutional conditions for the creation of an internationalised market economy “with a human face”. The proposal for instance for a redefinition of citizenship within the framework of a “stakeholder capitalism”[11] belongs to this category. This proposal involves an “active” citizenship, where citizens have “stakes” in companies, the market economy and society in general and managers have to take into account these stakes in the running of the businesses and social institutions they are in charge of.


The conception of citizenship adopted here, which could be called a democratic conception, is based on our definition of inclusive democracy and presupposes a “participatory” conception of active citizenship, like the one implied by the work of Hannah Arendt.[12] In this conception, “political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself; one does not engage in political action simply to promote one’s welfare but to realise the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality, justice, solidarity, courage and excellence”.[13] It is therefore obvious that this conception of citizenship is qualitatively different from the liberal and social-democratic conceptions which adopt an “instrumentalist” view of citizenship, i.e. a view which implies that citizenship entitles citizens with certain rights that they can exercise as means to the end of individual welfare.




[1] Andy Anderson, Hungary 56 (London: Solidarity, 1964).

[2] Janet Biehl, Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1991), p. 140.

[3] Pat Brewer, Feminism and Socialism: Putting the Pieces Together (Sydney: New Course, 1992).

[4] Val Plumwood, “Feminism, Privacy and Radical Democracy”, Anarchist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Autumn 1995), p. 107.

[5] Ibid., p. 111.

[6] David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism, p. 324.

[7] Kerry H. Whiteside, “Hannah Arendt and Ecological Politics,” Environmental Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter 1994), p. 355.

[8] M. Khor, presentation at World Rainforest Movement (1 March 1992), New York, quoted in The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No. 4 (July-Aug. 1992).

[9] For evidence, see The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No. 4 (July-Aug. 1992).

[10] See, for instance, the programme for the “International Thermonuclear Reactor”, which, to be commercially viable has to be produced from vast stations providing massive centralised power [J. Vidal, The Guardian (16 Nov. 1991)].

[11] See Hutton, The State We’re In.

[12] Maurizio Passerin d’ Entreves, “Hannah Arendt and the Idea of Citizenship” in Dimensions of Radical Democracy, pp. 145-68.

[13] Ibid., p. 154.