There has been much focus recently on the failings of democracy. Certainly, contemporary political developments have highlighted some of its weaknesses, such as the tyranny of the majority (in which minority views and agendas are repressed in a form of mob rule); an ignorant electorate (where voters know nothing about, or can’t understand, the issues); a tendency towards populism (the electorate are manipulated by exaggerated, misleading or false narratives, often focusing on a demonized elite or other group representing the enemy of ‘the people’, combined with bogus promises of change and empowerment); the susceptibility to electoral bribery (with candidates offering more and more policies that benefit specific elements of the electorate regardless of their unsustainability or damage caused to other constituencies); and short-termism (whereby the sole aim of politicians is to attain power with no concern for mid- or long-term stability and prosperity). Of course, these deficiencies are not mutually exclusive but overlap and interact.
The current crisis of democracy, which is conspicuous and much debated across the western world, is generally being considered nothing more than a reminder of democracy’s inherent limitations rather than the basis for a more fundamental argument against it. This interpretation echoes Winston Churchill’s well-known observation that, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” There seems little appetite to rethink liberal democracy but simply an urgency to protect it from nefarious influence and safeguard it from its own vulnerabilities.
However, my own interpretation of events is far more critical, recognizing these recently highlighted shortcomings of democracy as further proof that democracy as we know it has outlived its usefulness and needs to be reshaped and recalibrated. This is not so much because of populism, media manipulation and the ignorance and gullibility of the electorate, although all of these are important, but because we are entering a cultural, social and political era based on the ascendancy of the individual rather than the group. The fundamental problem with democracy is majority rule and the consequent repression of those in the minority. It now seems unfair and unsustainable to impose the group’s will on individuals with different beliefs, opinions and ideals.
Human history is the history of liberation. It has been, and is, the continuous struggle of people to seek freedom from domination and to be liberated from rule by others. The human spirit in this regard is indomitable and will always find a way to strive for emancipation, whether from tribal leaders, feudal lords, absolute monarchs, colonial masters, fascist dictators, socialist despots or, as in this case, majoritarian rule.
Notwithstanding the few hundred years it has taken to develop into its current form, democracy is merely the latest staging-post on the journey towards freedom. It has undoubtedly proven an effective and worthy vehicle for human emancipation; it is responsible for much freer and fairer societies across the globe. However, the inexorable push for more and more liberty has continued apace and we are now entering the next stage of human emancipation with the emphasis being on the individual.
The past twenty years has celebrated and emboldened the self, ushering in a new era of individualism. With this mind, democracy has hit its limits of liberation by being bound to the collective. The idea of the collective controlling the individual appears antiquated, crude and repressive. One is compelled to ask whether having the majority enforcing its will on the minority is the best form of political rule. Why should the majority decide how much tax I pay; what my taxes pay for; what drugs I can take; whether I can choose to have an abortion; whether I can be a European citizen; what value I put on specific public goods; and what, and in whose name, conflicts are undertaken? Although a noble alternative to, and often the savior from, oligarchy, majority rule has imposed a new, if much milder, form of tyranny.
To be clear, I am certainly not the first person to identify this problem with democracy. Henry David Thoreau, for example, argued that no person should be able to rule or be ruled by others without their express consent. Yet never before have there been such glaring flaws in democracy coupled with the technological potential to address the faults and move to a better version of politics in which each person is able to pursue their political preferences without being stymied by others. This new form of governance is called solocracy: rule by the self.
In solocracy, various political decisions can be mandated on a personal basis. At a micro-level, the individual should be able to decide for themselves issues that predominantly impact no-one else but themselves and their families, such as with abortion or drug-taking. On a more macro level, the individual can decide how much tax they want to pay; what state services they choose to support; and what foreign policies they are willing to subsidize. Indeed, the individual should be able to withdraw their support for government policy, both financially and politically, at the press of a button. This goes beyond direct democracy into the realms of instant empowerment. With modern technology it should be feasible.
Solocracy thus becomes the ultimate expression of sovereignty. What is sovereignty if not the ability to make one’s own decisions and fashion one’s own future free from the hindrances and opinions of others? If Brexiteers feel that sharing decision-making with other European citizens is an affront to sovereignty then the same principle surely applies to the Scot and the Englishman, or someone from Newcastle and another from London, or from north Newcastle and south Newcastle. We will always find differences between people, and in politics these distinctions are often predicated on the notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’; North Carolinians impacting New Yorkers, Californians affecting Oklahomans, and vice versa. In solocracy, such divisions become less significant because the ‘them’ will have less influence over ‘us’.
From this perspective, solocracy is not merely an assault on majority rule but also a challenge to the nation state and its complete control over the individual. It seems increasingly outdated that an individual must be defined, contained and subjugated by a single nation. With ever-increasing levels of travel, migration, cultural diffusion, online communication and virtual communities, we are entering an age where an individual often belongs to a variety of different communities, such as those based on family, religion, ethnicity, heritage, or even simply personal interests and hobbies. This reality harks back to medieval Europe where the individual shared their allegiance between family, church and state, and sovereignty was not monopolized by any one institution. Indeed, nations appear less and less like a like-minded collective willing to surrender themselves and their sovereignty to the group than a disparate and unrelated set of communities, cultures and individuals with diverse and contradictory social and political outlooks who happen to live in the same territorial unit. Solocracy is designed to reflect and empower that diversity. Nations should accept this new reality and begin shifting away from a one-size-fits-all political system to a more diverse and atomized form of governance.
Admittedly, whilst the nation state retains its monopoly over social organization, legitimacy, violence and the individual then there must remain an element of majoritarian democracy to set the foundational rules within each state (that not only defines and delineates state power but guarantees the individual their rights as well as protection from violence, injustice and misfortune; the social contract is not redundant). These rules would need defining within each community but would most likely include issues such as criminal law, planning and zoning regulations, environmental protection, welfare provision and key components of foreign policy.
However, beneath this structural umbrella the individual should be free to pursue their own political agenda as far as possible. Such a form of governance will inevitably be messy and complicated initially, and there will undoubtedly be problems with budgeting and services when the support for policies and various state-funded activities will be volatile and ever-changing. Yet the reward in terms of individual sovereignty will be significant.
Undeniably, solocracy is at a rudimentary, theoretical stage and its eventual form remains uncertain. Therefore, this essay must be understood as nothing more than the presentation of a vision and the start of a conversation. One thing is certain, however, human emancipation and the quest for personal freedom will be incomplete until every individual can control and dictate their own lives through self-rule, free from the constraints of others. Solocracy is governance for the next generations.