We Need Two New Enlightenments



“Every revolution has been preceded by an intense labor of criticism.”  — Antonio Gramsci



The American Revolution was preceded by the Enlightenment, a period of writing about democracy and increased cultural exchange in general.  It wouldn’t shock me if we were in the middle of such another stirring currently, a general increase in social awareness facilitated by a massive increase in the communications infrastructure.  The Internet is the new printing press; everything I’m saying is obvious.

One of the two Enlightenments we need is economic, and I know for a fact that this one is underway.  Marx is flying off the shelves.  Mass sentiment has changed – the dramatic increase of favorability to socialism has proven to possess staying power, at least for now.

This is not to say that this sentiment is yet organized into a political party or even an organization, despite six years of opportunity since the Recession smacking us in the face repeatedly.

So if we have this one new Enlightenment, why do we need another?  And why does it have to be distinct?  Why can’t it just sort of merge into the other one?



What’s going to put the final nail in the coffin of the existing state’s legitimacy is not economic grievances alone.  They will create tremendous pressure, but we will continually face the question – if you’re not being represented, why don’t you just elect someone who aligns to your views?  Overturning the government doesn’t seem legitimate unless it’s the very form of government itself that is at issue, and we offer a new form of government in its place with which the public has been familiarized.

Electing socialists is not socialism (though it can be a great part of the movement to expand society’s socialist faction, and socialism’s legitimacy).  Socialism is when the people have the power in their hands directly.

We can’t dissolve Congress (the ultimate goal) until we have a model that can replace Congress.  (It doesn’t have to already exist, as in immediate dual power – we just need a model to propose.)

If socialism is a redistribution of wealth within the same bureaucratic drudgery to which Americans are accustomed, it will not be inspiring enough.  They have to know that the applecart will be overturned at every level.

Furthermore, we have to be inclusive of non-socialists on this, even libertarian-capitalists.  We have to establish a distinct movement for new forms of government so that it takes off among the entire American public (hell, why not internationally?).  Millennials are divided on economics, but quite united in favor of increased liberty and democracy.  We need this movement to be its own thing, precisely so it can act as a real force rather than just as a socialist puppet — precisely so it can strengthen the socialist movement in turn.

We need this distinct, bipartisan effort to increase the palpable gulf between the people and the government, precisely so we can magnify the palpable gulf between workers and capital, as a pair of parallel, mutually-reinforcing antagonisms, and synthesize the two distinct-but-related movements into a movement that simultaneously clinches a victory against both capital and its state.



As I’ve said elsewhere, we can’t indulge the usual Marxist preference of waiting until after the revolution to draw blueprints, because the revolution won’t even succeed unless people see that radicals have real ideas about new social structures which they can examine and get comfortable with.

This revolution has actually begun, but it’s off to a really rough start.  The first experiment was the dreaded consensus-style decision-making of the Occupy movement.

This revolution of new governmental structures will need to synthesize liberation with pragmatism, something we have yet failed to do.  As we imagine new structures, they will have to lean away from consensus super-majority, and toward majority rule; away from pure chaotic spontaneity, and toward a formal, structured, non-hierarchical system; away from obsessing with getting everyone into one big circle, and toward giving a vote to everyone no matter where they are.  (The last part is the difference between participatory democracy and direct democracy.)

There are three main areas where creativity and imagination are needed: direct democracy, bureaucracy, and police.

Direct Democracy

The main innovations of direct democracy are simply initiative and referendum themselves.  We would need to create a structure that makes direct democracy practical, feasible, and immune to hot-headed immediate decisions made hastily by rapidly-shifting waves in public opinion; the Swiss model of voting four times a year could make sense.

Of course, as we move toward such systems, there are compromises on the way.  We can start by dramatically opening up the representative democracy system, by imposing term limits on representatives, or by subjecting them to the possibility of immediate recall.  We could synthesize direct democracy with elements of participatory democracy, such as town hall meetings, community councils, or workers’ councils.  Liquid democracy allows people to either vote themselves, or choose any consenting person to vote for them – possibly a politician, possibly just someone they know and respect politically.  


While for socialists, state bureaucracy may be a necessary evil far superior to private ownership, it’s still our duty to find ways to reduce, democratize, and counteract the phenomenon.  Bureaucracy is the key mechanism for governments which operate without the consent of the people, whether they be outright dictatorships or “representative democracies.”  The definition of a bureaucracy is a top-down chain of command of administrators which manages people and/or resources.  It is therefore fundamentally against everything we believe in.

Some reduction of bureaucracy may not be possible or preferable until socialism.  After all, if the public sector is doing work, we want them to be paid for that work.  The idea of it being done by volunteers or rotating staff is nice, but some of it requires skill.  Most citizens won’t be able to partake in rotating community duties because of their work situation, and overall, public-sector work is still work, and deserves to be paid.  However, the actions of bureaucracies could still be subjected to oversight by participatory forms like town hall meetings or community councils, or subjected to direct-democratic forms like a municipal vote.  They could still have worker self-management instead of administrative management.  The creativity and imagination does not stop here; we need everyone to brainstorm alternative possibilities.


One area of government which must be civilianized and de-professionalized immediately is the police.  Creating a separate body of armed men for enforcement on the public has turned out to be a disaster, with the police acting as a hostile, alien force to the people imposed from above and from outside.  If we believe in government of, for, and by the people, the police are the pure embodiment of government at least by an external force, as well as for and of someone other than ourselves, as well.

We need alternative community policing methods, but they must be formalized and legalized, or they will neither inspire universal respect and legitimacy (necessary for a safe, stable structure) and they will not be able to be implemented immediately, even under the current system, which is what we absolutely need.  There are three ways to do this.

  1. Universalization/civilianization/deprofessionalization: declare every citizen as law enforcement. Obviously we would all need some kind of formalized training of how to apprehend illegal situations, and how to judge using force in a dangerous situation.  This training is completely possible, though some expert opinion might be required as to what should be in it.  However, one weakness of the “everyone is a cop” model is diffusion of responsibility.  When something is everyone’s job, often nobody steps up, because everyone is waiting to see if anyone will step up, and then it’s too late.
  1. Volunteers. This, too, is flawed, because the people attracted to volunteer law enforcement may be just as bullyish and reactionary as the people who sign up to work in it full-time.  There is also the issue that only the people who have time to do it will do it.
  2. The last option, my favorite, is rotating duty, like jury duty. You get tapped to temporarily work as law enforcement, and paid for your time served.  Then your time is up and someone else takes it.  It could be staggered as to work around people’s work schedules, and could be almost a privilege or income supplement for retired people or for unemployed Millennial youth.

Ultimately, I think the real solution is a combination of all the above models.  In oppressed communities, volunteer security might be best, because you have plenty of unemployed people (unfortunately) to take up the task.  And to balance things out, no matter who is designated as law enforcement, it should be a task that all citizens are allowed and trained to undertake, even if there is someone else on duty.  This counteracts the volunteers or rotating duty turning into a separate, alien body of armed persons, but having specified law enforcement overcomes diffusion of responsibility.

Finally rather than calling these people “police,” it’s possible to call them “safety patrol,” and to encourage them to first apprehend illegal situations by using words, persuasion, and moral pressure rather than immediately resorting to arrest or force.  People are much more likely to treat each other well when ultimately we’re all neighbors and any unnecessarily brutal or cold-hearted law enforcement action will harm your reputation as a friend and a local.  Of course we still need specialists in things like forensic investigations, but these could be more like research professionals than enforcement staff.  Where replacing the police is not yet attainable, we can demand shoulder cameras – in one town, police personnel cameras reduced complaints against police by 88%.

My word is not the last word.  Do your own imagining.  Another world is possible!  – but we have to design it first.  Let’s get to it.

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