Josiah Ober – Demopolis: Democracy, Legitimacy, and Civic Education

Josiah Ober – Demopolis: Democracy, Legitimacy, and Civic Education


– I’d like to welcome
everybody to today’s event. The keynote speech, if you know Gunsher, and culmination of Ancient Studies week. Today we’re very lucky to
have Josh Ober with us, who holds the Mitotakis Chair in Classics and Political Sciences at Stanford University and he’s the author of numerous books on
Athenian democracy and on Classical Greece. He’s now working on a project about Democracy before liberalism,
and we’re going to get a foretaste of that in his talk today about Demopolis, legitimacy, civic education and civic involvement. We’re very happy to
have Josh with us today. Before he comes on I just
want to take a minute to tell you that the
sponsors for today’s talk are the Asian Studies Department, the Dresher Center for the Humanities, the Philosophy Department and the Political Science Department. And those of you who are here might be interested in the
next talk in this series. It’s given by Michael Dyson,
professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and
a very well-known radio host on the Black Presidency, which professor Dyson’s going to be exploring the role of race in shaping
Barack Obama’s identity and ground-breaking Presidency, so, it’s gonna be Thursday, October 27th on the seventh floor in the library, we’re now in the Gallery. Without further ado, I
introduce to you Josh Ober. (audience applauding) – Thank you, David and I just want to say what a pleasure it is to be here at University of Maryland in Baltimore to have a chance to talk to you about a project I’ve been working on for about the last year
and a half intensively and for a good many years, trying to do the
preliminary studies for it. And I just want to particularly, I thank David Rosenblum, who has been my friend and
colleague for many years. He was the very first
graduate student I had the privilege of working
with, not as his Director, but as collaborator in Princeton many years ago,
and it’s been a wonderful well, a lot of years now. (audience laughing) Alright, let’s see this is not wanting to do
quite (mumbling) at the. Okay, great. Great, so the general project is called Democracy Before Liberalism,
and is this about the right level of talk, I
don’t need to talk louder? Okay, Democracy Before Liberalism. The idea is is that
contemporary liberalism, and by liberalism, now, I don’t mean the way liberalism is being used in the regular, degraded public
rhetoric of an election year. This is not liberals versus conservatives, this is the tradition
of liberalism that is as a political commitment to
the autonomy of the individual, to inherent and inalienable human rights, to state neutrality and
respect to religion, and to some kind of distributed justice, so this is a philosophical tradition that is really built into the groundwork of many contemporary societies. Basic democracy, a lot claim
is something different, and that is collective and self, collective and limited self
government by citizens. The core idea behind this project is that basic democracy is not the same as liberal democracy. Basic democracy, democracy
before liberalism is not committed to autonomy, to rights, neutrality, to justice. On the other hand, I want to argue that basic democracy is not
majoritarian tyranny, so that’s often the way it’s thought of. When you strip liberalism from democracy, what you get is tyranny of the majority. It’s not that, and it’s potentially a foundation for a liberal democracy, but what it does, I think, for us, is it draws our attention
to a value we can miss, and that’s the value of civic education, I’ll say more about that
at the end of this lecture. Basic democracy before liberalism, in terms of a definition,
is reasonably stable, collective self-government by an extensive and socially diverse body of citizens. That to be stable over time,
a democracy requires rules. It also requires background norms and it requires habitual behaviors, people have to act in a
pretty predictable way based on their obedience to the rules and their internalization of the norms. That’s what it is, what’s it good for? It’s good for citizens and it allows them to live relatively well,
relatively securely without a master, if you
think that’s a good thing, then this is good for you. It’s sustains desirable conditions, or at least conditions
that I think are desirable, of social existence, political liberty, political equality, and civic dignity. Now, one of the payoffs for
us, or at least for us today, where I can only give you
part of this book project. The payoff is that a
theory of basic democracy, because this is going to be
a theoretical undertaking, answers questions about democratic
legitimacy and education, so it helps us answer the question, what would it be required
to have or to sustain a legitimate government that
is really by the people? Democracy is about
collective self-government, that’s government by the people. Well, what does it take to have that? And what is civic
education and why should it be necessary if you’re interested in government by the people? We start with a fundamental,
political question. That’s all background, right,
that’s what we’re aiming at. How can a human community
reliably get the benefits of cooperation among its members, without being ruled by a master, without a tyrant, without
somebody at the top telling everybody what to do? Well, democracy is the
answer to that question, but how does it work and why? And that’s what we’re after. Now, cooperation without a master, without autocracy,
without someone at the top who’s just giving rules
to everybody in some sort of pyramid of authority. It’s quite easy if the
group is small enough. If you have a few dozen people, maybe under 200 people even. This is the way, by the
way, that all humans lived until about 11,000 years ago. We all lived in very small groups, foraging groups,
hunting-gathering societies, and anthropologists tell us,
and I believe they’re right, that all contemporary, or at least recent foraging groups, and
probably all ancient ones, the ones that existed before agriculture, were relatively democratic. They’re not authoritarian,
so the vision of the caveman with the biggest caveman telling all the other cavemen what to do and all the other caveman having to listen to the big caveman because he’s the guy with the biggest club, is false. It’s easy to have
cooperation without autocracy if the group is small
enough, and this is because human groups that are small
enough can monitor one another. As it turns out, humans, when
they live in small groups, foraging groups, don’t like to have just one person running everything, and that’s probably
because it’s inefficient. Because one person running everything can’t know enough to
make the right decisions for that foraging group to survive. That one person doesn’t know all the stuff that you need to know, doesn’t know where all the good routes are,
doesn’t know reliably when do the mammoths
come out of the north. Doesn’t know reliably that we should build this kind of shelter when we’re in this kind of area because the
winds come out of the south. All of the things that the
group can know collectively, the men and the women of
the group can distribute the knowledge, and that add to it, we trust different ones of us to know things about different things we need to survive together,
so one person says, “Well, I’ll just run everything for you,” those groups tend not to survive. Such groups tend to monitor one another, somebody gets too big for his britches, starts telling everybody what to do. People say, “Don’t do that.” And he keeps on doing it, and people say, “You’re really being bad,
we don’t like you anymore.” And he really keeps on
doing it, and people say, “Alright, you’re out.” And he says, “I’m not going out,” and that’s when we get
murders in these societies. These societies can be violent, but they tend to be violent only when somebody is trying to
become an authoritarian, ’cause it doesn’t work
for these societies. So they can watch each other, make sure that people are
doing the right thing, make sure that people
are obeying the rules. But, cooperation without authority is much harder when scale gets big, when you can’t monitor each other. And in fact, when you get really a lot of advantage to somebody at the top giving people orders,
when somebody at the top can in fact, organize a bunch of experts who can decide, for example,
how should we organize the dams that also make
the irrigation system work. Basically, cooperation
gets much easier at scale. It solves the problem of free riding, it solves the problem of
when the society can’t just monitor itself. Some people might think, hey, I get it. What I want is the advantage
of all that cooperation, right, getting my share of the grain or the security or the whatever it is, but I don’t really want to do any work. I don’t really want to harvest and I don’t really want to fight. But, I think I can just sort of hide in the great mass of
people and get my share of security, my share of
the food or whatever it is and people won’t notice. Or I can cheat on the march and I can take a bigger
share of the public goods than is really good for
us all collectively, but after all, I get an advantage from it. The autocrat can solve that by saying, “I’ll keep an eye on things. “(mumbles) obey the rules, I will punish.” You don’t have to monitor each other, the autocrat monitors. It has special police or
people to keep track of things. Autocracy turns out to
work out pretty well for the kinds of societies that emerge after the development of agriculture, when there’s a lot more people. And an autocracy is therefore
historically, very common. It’s the usual way that
societies have been organized throughout human history
until very recently. Athenian history, the
history of Classical Athens and thought experiments, or
it’s supposed to be thought, not though experiment, offers us a way to think of a democratic alternative to autocracy, when societies
have gotten too big to do mutual managing, okay that’s sort of what we’re at. Let’s think about Greeks first. We’ll look at the history
of a particular word, this word, demokratia, or democracy, and then we’ll turn to
the thought experiment. The Greek word, demokratia, means demos plus kratos, that’s its root. People plus power, so that’s unambiguous. But in what sense of each of these terms, both demos and kratos
are complicated terms. In the fifth century, B.C., the people who didn’t like democracy, basically let’s call them
elites or aristoccrats came up with a hostile definition for this new way of doing things that emerges in Athens, had
emerged 50 years before, and they said that what democracy is is the unconstrained domination of many poor people over the wealthy few. They basically said it’s
a majoritarian tyranny, that’s all democracy is. And if we had the power, we the few, the elite, the aristocrats, we would dominate them, as it turns out they dominate us by their many-ness, but that’s all it is, it’s
just a game of domination. But this is the original definition of the inventors of
the term of demokratia. The inventors of the term demokratia thought it would be a
great idea to have a people who rule, or the people have power. We have to try to get at their definition, or the definition of them that was used by later Greek democrats
in the ancient world. This is the, we’re not going through all of this, I promise you. The way to think about it, is that there are really two. Whoopsie daisy, sorry. There are two roots that are used here. Let’s see, here it is. There’s a kratos root, and an Ar-Kay root. There are two sort of
families of Greek words. One of them some use is Ar-Kay, it means basically office, and kratos, as you see, means something like power. And then we can divide by how many people have the office or the power. Is it one or few or many. And then there’s a bunch
of other root terms most of which we’re not
gonna be worrying about. Just if you keep in mind these two core roots, and then the
one, the few and the many. Demokratia is in this kratos group, right, and it’s with many. Let’s think about some of
the other kratos roots. Aristokratia is when excellence, aristea, is the defining
principle of the regime. And likewise timokratia with honor, the defining principle, esokratia, is when equality is
the defining principle. Esokratia is gonna be
especially important to us, so make a mental note of that, because along with some of
these other eso root terms, these equality root terms,
it’s used in antiquity as a synonym for democracy, or demokratia. Here’s a few of these
other eso root terms. Esonomia, equal law,
esogaria, equal public speech, esomonria, equal shares of public goods. All of these eso prefixes
refer to equality in a particular sense of
access in the sense of right or capacity to make
use of something, so, you have esonomia, you have the right or the capacity to make use of law, or esogaria, the right or capacity to make use of public speech, or shares
of public goods and so on. Esokratia, you have that
mental bookmark, right? This is the one that is
quite close to demokratia. Esokratia pertains when
the general principle of the regime is equal, eso, access to the public
good, kratos, of power. Kratos here, is not domination. It’s not monopoly on offices, as the arkay roots were concerned with. But positively, kratos
seems to refer to strength, or enablement, or the
capacity to do things. Esokratia is when those who are equal have the capacity, they have power, they have kratos, they
have power as capacity. Not power as domination, right, have power as capacity to do things. Demokratia, now, by
extrapolation from esokratia, is, we can say, the empowered demos. But empowered in the sense that the demos, the people, have this
capacity to do things. The regime in which citizenship, that’s the demos root,
is the defining principle of the regime, and the inclusive demos, that is, citizens are all residents who can be culturally imagined
as potential citizens, and that in the Greek world
was native, adult men. Right, so those are everybody who could be imaginable as a citizen, right, native adult men. When all imaginable
citizens, the demos gains their collective capacity to effect change in the public realm. That’s what democracy
means in the beginning. It means the people’s
capacity to do things. It means collective
self-governance by the citizens, by the demos. It doesn’t mean domination
of the many over the few, it means the people’s
capacity to do things. But was that self-government? Was that capacity in any way limited? And the answer is yes, especially after a series of legal reforms at the end of the fifth century, B.C.. I’m not worried about
the details of that now. The point is is there were some reforms. The motivation for that
limitation was not liberalism. It wasn’t suddenly people decided that they were concerned
with natural rights or human rights. Rather, they were concerned
with a social equilibrium, they thought their society
was gonna fall apart, if they didn’t find ways to
limit the power of the people, limit their use of the
capacity to do things in ways that would be rule-bound. They recognized that social
equilibrium was necessary for collective security and prosperity. Our society’s gonna fall
apart, it’s gonna be anarchy. We’re gonna be poor and at
the mercy of our enemies. The mature Greek definition
of democracy, then, collective self governance
by all citizens, as in the original definition, but limited by constitutional laws, limited by rules that we make as citizens in order to sustain our security, our prosperity, and our ability
to live without a master, non-tyranny, right, because
that’s the core of it, is that we rule ourselves,
we’re not dominated by somebody at the top of the society. Okay, so that’s the Greeks, right? Now we move to a thought experiment. Sorry for Classicists, that’s probably the really interesting part
is over, for the most part. But those of you who are
interested in political theory and really aren’t that
crazy about Greek philology can now wipe your brow and say, ah, the interesting part
might still be to come. But anyway, why should we even bother with a thought experiment? After all, we figured
out what the original definition is, can’t we just stay there? Well, of course the answer
is that Athens has got a lot of historical baggage. Citizenship is limited to adult males, it’s a slave society. Women excluded, slaves and
very limited enfranchisement. Athens is also very small
compared to modern nation states. A few hundred thousand people, rather than a few hundred million. And so, ancient Athens
can use direct democracy instead of representation. They don’t have to worry about the problems of representation. But with thought experiment allows us to ditch the baggage, right, because it’s a thought experiment we can set it in any imagined context, in any period that we like, and it allows us to scale up. Here it goes. Imagine an ordinary human society that is perfectly diverse
in all kinds of ways. There’s the numbers of people here goes up and then on the horizontal axis, people over on this side
have a very low tolerance for autocracy, and the people over here think autocracy is swell. And the people in the middle
just don’t care very much about autocracy or (mumbling) fine, what’s it to me? They’re just a relatively few people who have zero tolerance, and there are just a very few people who think, that’s absolutely great. But we can then divide this society, and not exactly in the
middle, but on the low side, right and so we cut the society, not even in half, but say
in thirds or something. And then we can jut kick
all these people out of our thought experiment. So, you guys think autocracy is great. This is an experiment
about people who don’t. That’s an initial point, is this is not a normative, it’s not a moral argument that’s for everybody, everywhere. If you just think, I’m happy with having somebody run everything. I like the idea of a king. Or you say tolerant, I
say benevolent dictator. Okay, then you belong over here, and I probly don’t have
a lot to say to you, because this is for people
who actually don’t think that’s that great, but I do want to say that there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s not like these people are crazy. It’s just they are happy with it and we’re dealing with the people who don’t like the idea that somebody can tell them exactly what to
do at the highest level. These are gonna be our group, this is gonna be our founder
group, our citizen group. And we can imagine that
the group is divided. The initial group is divided
for any number of reasons. Maybe there’s been a revolution. Maybe it’s like 1776, for example, and there’s been a big revolution, and some people are going to live in what’s going to become the
United States of America, ’cause they don’t like the idea of kings, and some people are
gonna go live in Canada. The point is these things
actually have happened. Similar things happened in antiquity. Okay, so in our thought experiment, the founding citizens of Demopolis, that is all those
residents of some imagined bounded territory, cultural
imagined as potential citizens. Now we’re not limited to say, this doesn’t have to be native men. If this is the 21st century
that this is happening, there’s no reason that it would be limited to native men, ’cause the cultural imagination of citizenship in the great majority of the world now does not exclude women. Once again, this is why I
do a thought experiment. They have to set these guys, these people, I should
say, male and female, if we’re imagining it is in modernity, have to set rules for the new state, after whatever has caused this division. These founders are diverse socially, some are richer, some are poorer. They’re diverse we can say racially, ethnically, in terms of their values. They disagree on lots of things, it’s not that they’re all
holding hands and saying, “Wow, isn’t it great that
we’re all just the same?” But they do agree on three things. They agree on the three ends for which their state will exist, and that is security,
prosperity and non-tyranny. Recognize those three terms, right, that’s the idea is we’re
getting pretty much the same outcome as what
happens historically in Greece, right, why are we doing this? Lots of possible reason, but we agree on three things that we’re doing. We want to be secure, we
want to be prosperous, we don’t want a tyrant. Okay, what do we mean? As security, that means
not living in fear. We want to live in a
state that’s capable of responding to hostile rivals,
to environmental changes, not threatened by civil
war, persists over time, citizens are meant to be secure against various kinds of threats. Prosperity doesn’t mean
everybody is just loaded and hugely wealthy. It means not living in poverty, not living to the point in which you have to spend all of your time just trying to survive. It means you have the opportunity to pursue projects in your life beyond just surviving,
so that doesn’t require anything like vast wealth. The state is prosperous
enough to collect revenue without impoverishing its residents so it can compete with rival states. And finally, non-tyranny,
we’ve talked about this. This is the beginning
position, not having a master. Not having a master for our state. Doesn’t mean, necessarily that you don’t have a boss at work,
or something like this but it means that you don’t
have a king or a tyrant that is ultimately running
things in your state. No individual and not
faction of individuals can monopolize political power. No fixed hierarchy of political power within the citizen body, right, within those who are the citizens. What does an individual
citizen founder want? Well, founders are
willing to pay some costs to achieve the three ends. They say, alright, they
add some value to me. But they don’t plan to
devote their whole lives to this self-government thing. Each founder wants to do
other things in his life besides being involved in self-government. So if the costs of
self-government get so high that it means you just don’t have any time to do anything,
but your citizen duties, you’re probly gonna say at some point, “Look, okay, I didn’t want a tyrant, “but I see that it’s just too
expensive not to have one.” The costs have to be
reasonable, and the benefits of being a citizen have
to be pretty obvious and pretty substantial
to make up from the time and the costs you’re gonna have to pay as a citizen in order to run yourselves securely and prosperously
without a tyrant. We can think about the
so-called utility functions as the way economists
like to talk about things. It just means what somebody wants. The utility function
of the median founder, the person who’s in the
middle of that distribution, not the guy who hated the tyrant the most and might say, “I’ll give up
anything not to have a tyrant,” but the person who’s sort of in the middle of that distribution once we’ve excluded the
people who like tyranny. Basically what they want is to survive. They do not want to starve to death. Reasonable enough, they
don’t want to be in danger. They want to have state
level security, prosperity and they want to have
non-tyranny, but they also want to have a bunch of
socially valued projects. They want to be able to pursue things that are interesting to themselves. That might be something
that’s individually chosen. You say, “I personally, as an individual, “choose my projects,”
or maybe it’s something your society chooses for you. A very religious person who’s
part of a religious community, you grow up, you didn’t
choose that project, but you value it and it
doesn’t have to do with running the state, it has
to do with the sacred. We want to have time for that, okay, so, you oughta have time for something else other than running government. Some premises that these
founders are making. Rule-making authority, it
is acknowledged as power. These people are engaged in power, this is not without the
necessity of coercion. Rules must be enforced,
but they have to be open to amendment. They’re there for now, but they’re also gonna
bind people in the future unless they’re amended. They aim at legitimacy, which means that at minimum, the general willingness of those bound by the rules to obey. They’re not obeying
just because of fear of having somebody break their heads. They’re obeying for some
other willing reason. And founded by rule-makers is understood as collective action. We have to do it, it is a we, and the we is the citizens. And the demos, the citizens together, can revoke any delegated powers. If we’re imagining this
as a really big society, it may be that, alright,
we have to make some rules, we can’t get hundreds of
millions of us all together into a room and argue it out. We’ll delegate it out, we’ll say, Alright, here are a few hundred people that we think are either representative or very clever, or whatever it may be. We’ll delegate them the authority to make some rules. If we think they’re doing it wrong, we pull ’em back. We always have to be
able to revoke the power of any group who is
given temporary authority to do something in our name together. This revocation becomes
really a key thing. Okay, what are the rules
they’re going to set up? These are just the basic rules. The very, very fundamental rules. The rules that will allow them to make other rules that will deal
with things like justice. That will deal with things like how are we gonna negotiate difference. Very basic rules to allow them to have a society that goes forward. The first is participation. Non-tyranny, is in the technical language of social science, a non-rival, non-excludable public good. It means it’s something like air. That you get it because you’re part of the world of people who share the air. Well, it’s like security, right, if you have security, you, as a member of the society, there’s general security get the advantage of security because you’re just a
member of the society. It’s a public good. Like all public goods, non-tyranny faces the problem of
free-riding and commons tragedy, ’cause if you are a
completely selfish person, then your best play is to get your share of the good, right, that nice, clean air that everybody breathes, or the acceptably clean air
that everybody breathes. But then, do things to your
own advantage on the side, like run a pollution factory that’s really really profitable. It does belch a lot of
pollution into the air, but on the other hand, I can live far enough from the pollution factory and I can breathe the air. Even the guys who live near it can, they’re not dying. Well, not dying very early. Anyway, the idea is that
the tendency is that for people to free-ride on public goods. You end up with things
like commons tragedies. The only way to solve commons tragedies is either having somebody
who enforces the rule. A boss who says, nope, can’t do that. Or we all have to enforce the rules, and this means we all have to participate. We have to create an
institutional structure that allows us to be like those foragers who were all basically
monitoring each other. We all have to participate in the work of self-governance,
because otherwise we’re gonna get somebody
cheating on the margin, fine, I want security but I really don’t want to do my military service. That’s dangerous, it would be better if you guys did the military service. One less guy, oh come on. We’re not gonna be any
less secure, are we? And then the next person is gonna say, “Yeah, well me too. “I want them all to do it,” and then pretty soon,
nobody does their military service, right, because we all have the same incentive. If we don’t all do it, we’re gonna get a cascade of free-riding, so
we’re all gonna have to do it. And what does this mean? It means right away, in our society, we’re gonna have a
requirement for education, because if we’re gonna participate, remember we’re participating
in governing ourselves. We need some education. We don’t want people
participating in self-government who know nothing. We have to pay for education, and we don’t want people who don’t have time to do it. Say, “I just can’t do it. “I would die of starvation
if I don’t do my “12 hours of really hard labor, “or I have to put every time into “some kind of a savings account, “’cause I’m really terrified of being “subject to some kind
of accident or disease “that’s gonna wipe out my family.” We’re gonna have to actually
distribute some wealth, some goods, to all citizens in order to allow them to participate. And we do this before we make any decisions about distributive justice. This isn’t because we’re liberals who believe in equality, it’s because we are anti-tyrants, who believe we all have to participate, or the whole thing’s gonna fall apart. And we’ll have to
participate reasonably well. Well enough so
participation is meaningful. Okay, so the second rule is legislation. We have to be able to make more rules. After we set up these basic rules, we gotta make a bunch of other rules. Lots of things, where do
we build the highways? Who gets drafted, what’s
the marginal tax rate and so on, so in order
to be able to legislate, we need to have political freedom because we have to have
relative efficiency of legislation. Efficiency means we’ve got to get the best ideas out there. We need to actually have a way to take advantage of the
diversity in our community and make that diversity
a genuine advantage because we’re gonna bring all of these different perceptions of the world and knowledge about the world, like the foragers who knew about the roots or the mammoths or whatever. We have to be able to bring that together. And in order to bring that together we need free speech, freedom of assembly, as we deliberate about making rules. And we’re also gonna have
the participation rule that we’ve already set, plus
the desire for non-tyranny means we have to have political equality in making the rules. Because imagine that we say, “Alright, we’re all free
to speak and to assemble, “but one of us is really so much “cleverer than the other, that basically “I should have,” what,
how many people here, say it’s 100. I should have 101 votes and
you all get one vote each. Because I’m just so much
cleverer than the rest of you. We can discuss things but it’s my vote that will determine what we say. And you’re all gonna say what, no hold it, now you’re the tyrant. And we’re in this for non-tyranny. And so if we’re going to participate, we’re going to have voting,
we actually ultimately are gonna have to have
one person, one vote. It’s the only way that it’s not gonna be a few of us are dominating the rest of us. Equality is basically gonna be the only stable way that we can have participation plus non-tyranny go forward. And finally we’re gonna have to have what I call civic dignity. And I’ll talk a little bit more about this as we go forward. The third rule is entrenchment, and that is the idea
that no rule that we make subsequent to making
these three basic rules can violate the ends of
security and prosperity and non-tyranny, which is what got us into this in the first place. We agreed we were gonna try
to make a state like this, so we say, alright, but maybe we’ll decide to make a rule that really impoverishes our state, or makes it insecure, well we’ll just overthrow the citizens’
reason to cooperate, it would precipitate a civil war. And therefore, this restraint, establishes
limits on rulemaking. We can’t make rules if
they’re going to precipitate poverty or insecurity. The citizens that have a
responsibility for rule enforcement, and they have to resist violation of the rules. You can’t allow people
to be proposing the rules that are going to do
this, or passing rules. You’ve got to have common knowledge of the basic rules, and these basic rules have to be pretty clear. We have to have a pretty good sense of what kind of rule
would violate security or violate prosperity, or would introduce a sneaky, backdoor form of tyranny. Okay, those are the basic rules. Those are the three basic rules. Definition of basic democracy then, Demopolis, imagine a
society called Demopolis based on these rules that we’ve just decided we have to make. Collective and limited self-governance by an extensive and diverse citizenry aimed at three ends (beeping). (chuckling)
Sorry. Non-tyranny, security and prosperity. And the Athenian, the
mature Athenian definition, based on our quick review of history is basically the same thing, right, collective self-governance by citizens, limited by constitutional rules in order to sustain non-tyranny,
security and prosperity. That’s the basic takeaway, is we end up in pretty much the same place
in this Demopolis thought experiment as we do with the Greeks, but we’ve gotten rid of the baggage. Okay, so let’s think of what we get then in Demopolis going forward. By their participation in
that initial rulemaking, the founders, the founder citzens affirmatively assented, they didn’t just consent to being ruled. It’s not just consent of the governed. They assented publicly to obey
the rules and pay the costs. And those who refused to
pay the costs of citizen, basically renounced citizenship, and that’s the whole
idea, if you don’t want to participate, the
participation was the first rule. You say, hi, hold it. I didn’t know that was gonna be your rule. Fine, we’re out. You don’t want to be in this society, or you don’t want to be a
citizen in this society. On the other hand, we don’t
want everybody getting out and saying, woah, woah,
that’s all too expensive because then we won’t
have a society that works. And so there’s going to be
some constraint on rulemaking. You’re not gonna be making new rules that drives a whole bunch of people out. Or at least there’s
some constraint on that. But the real question I
want to talk about today is the entry of future citizens, right, so we the original founder citizens all agreed we had these three things that we wanted to pursue, we all agreed that we were gonna set
up these three rules. We assented, those are the rules, yes, we’re gonna do the rules, some kind of a ratification procedure. But how about future citizens. Future citizens weren’t
present at the founding, right, they’re born later, or they come to the
society, they’re immigrants to this society. They haven’t assented, but participation in the original rulemaking to paying costs of democracy, of self-governance. And so, this is where civic
education really comes in. You’re basically in Demopolis, in this imagined society, we need, we, whoever is running it
collectively, that’s us, the people, need to and to design an argument
for future citizens that will justify to them the reasons to prefer a non-tyranny
and security and prosperity and pay the costs of democracy. They’ve got to give them reasons to basically think what we thought, that these are pretty great things and worth paying some costs, right? Because there’s no reason to think that they have that something to start with. The basic value proposition of Demopolis, this is a term that is used
by McKinsey and company for when you’re recruiting
people into a company and you’re trying to
recruit the best people and it’s very competitive, so you create a value proposition, why do you want to come
to Company X, right? The very proposition of Demopolis is that the valuable conditions of life that are produced by
participation in democracy, justifies assenting to obey the rules of the democratic government, and paying the costs of civic participation necessary to sustain democracy. Basically, the value proposition says, this life, right, in which you have less time to spend on
your personal projects, because you have to have
participation duties is at least as good or better than this other life in which you’ve got a boss, but you have some more time to spend time on your personal projects. If people said, no, I want to live there, then we don’t have a
democratic society any longer. There are various ancient
models of civic education we could talk about, Plato
in the Republic, said, “The way citizens need to be educated “is with noble lies.” We couldn’t tell them the truth, they couldn’t understand it. So, we’ll lie in ways that we, the rulers will lie in ways that
will persuade citizens that the rules are best for them. In The Laws, a later work, Plato’s like, well, maybe that noble
lies thing, I don’t know. How ’bout explanations. The rules will come with
these little pre-scripts. Each rule will say, you’re
about to hear a rule, here’s the reason for the rule. And you’ll read the reasons for the rule and you’ll think, Oh,
that’s a good reason, that’s a good rule, I’ll obey that one. Citizens are rationally
persuaded that rules are in their interests. Aristotle in The Politics thought that citizens have natural reasons in line with their natural interests to obey certain rules and values that they’re gonna be
taught in democratic Athens, so this is basically learning
the rules on the job. They internalize the rules by in fact, doing their job as citizens, participating in government. What happens in Demopolis? Well, in Demopolis, we
have active participation. The argument is active participation in democracy is not just a
cost, but it’s a benefit, so this is the idea. Sure, it’s gonna be a cost, you’re gonna have to spend some time together being working on self-government, but it’s also a benefit, because you get valuable conditions of existence. You get freedom, you get equality, we’ve talked about that, but you also get this civic dignity, which we
haven’t talked about much. That is, you get high
standing in your community that is equal to the
high standing of others, and this means you get recognition. You are mutually recognized by your fellow citizens as worthy of being a participant. And you get the immunity,
you get protected from humiliation or infantilization or disrespect, or non-recognition. You actually live a better life, arguably, because you don’t have to worry about people disrespecting you, at least in so far as disrespect would violate your
capacity to participate. And furthermore, the
educators of Demopolis can say, democracy is a of value to you, to each of you, for this reason. Because humans are a
particular kind of being. Socializing, cooperating with others, reasoning and communicating
are basic human capacities. We go through this in detail, but this is what makes us different from all other creatures is this unique capacity to socialize or participate cooperatively with other people in ways that, frankly even our closest primate relatives cannot do. To reason, to use our
cause and effect logic and to communicate to our fellows. This is just what it is to, or what, arguably, non-exclusively constitutes the kind of
being you are as a human. Aristotle would say a political animal, and he does not mean the
kind of political animals that we see snarling at each
other every night at CNN. He means someone who can cooperate, reason, and communicate. And that Aristotle would
say, and I think he’s right, that exercising your capacities, these capacities that you have as a human, is good for you, it allows
you to flourish fully as a human being. But if someone were to say, look, I’ll make your life go great. Except you will never
speak on any public thing to anybody else, never speak. Or I’ll make your life go great, except you will never use your mind in a way that puts causes
together with effects, you’ll never use reason. And you would say, that’s ridiculous. That’s not having a
great life, that’s awful. I think you would say that. The idea is that participating
in self-government, maximizing your chance to flourish by exercising these capacities. It promotes the pro-social use of reason, of thinking about things,
and communication, talking to people about things, at the very highest level. You get to talk about the
things that are most important. The most important rules, the most important things that we have to collectively decide. If this seems a little obscure, think about a cat. I think about cats
’cause I live with a cat. I’ve lived with a cat for a long time, in fact most of my
life, one way or another I’ve lived with a cat, okay, here’s a cat. Now, is that a happy cat
or is that a miserable cat? That’s a happy cat. Now why is that cat so happy? ‘Cause he’s pouncing. And what does a cat
think when it’s pouncing, I think that this is what
I’m implying cats think. Pouncing, pouncing, pouncing, pouncing. I think that at least my
cat seems to think that. This is great, and when I won’t play with him anymore with
that little teaser thing, and he doesn’t have anything to pounce, he just says, aw, so
awful, I want to pounce, you know, and I do it
again, oh, great great. Anyway, that’s what cats like, they like to pounce on this. Is this cat a happy
cat, a flourishing cat? No, and it’s not just because the canary is making an idiot of him. Because he’s saying, well look, I’m kind of a chunky cat,
I’ve got plenty of food. I seem to have some kind of shelter, but no pouncing, life in a
cage is not great for a cat. And it’s not that great for a cat, because the cat doesn’t get to do the things that make a cat a cat, and pouncing is arguably one of the things
that makes a cat a cat. Okay, so, imagining that a human being in his very idealized
Norman Rockwell vision of a citizen, participating
in collective self-government, socially with other people, sort of sexist ’cause it’s old, but. Very homogenized, but anyway you can see what he’s doing is he’s standing up among his fellow humans, and he’s
about to say something. And he’s thought through
the thing for his town, a New England town
meeting, so there he is. Now, a flourishing human who is, basically doing the things that humans do. And is this human, as a sort of who is being denied the
right to communicate, is being isolated somehow
from other people, perhaps is in solitary confinement. Is this person flourishing? The idea is, no. Okay, so conclusions. Demopolis, that is a thought experiment that democracy before
we add in human rights and other pieces of liberalism does not provide for
everything we might want, but it’s also not majoritarian tyranny. It can be limited, in
fact, it must be limited, and could provide a foundation for rights, you could build up a
liberal society or you could build up a communitarian society, or you could build up a religious society on this foundation. Demopolis focuses our attention on the importance of civic education in a legitimate democracy. You’re not gonna be able to legitimate a democracy if you cannot
convince future citizens that it is to their advantage, it is right for them to support the rules and it’s right
for them to support it for rational reasons. Demopolis does in fact create and defends political
freedom, political equality, civic dignity, and it shows us why civic participation is good
for us as human beings. And that’s it, thank you very much. (audience applauding) I don’t know what the norms are, whether I tell ’em I’m happy to have– – (Mumbling) To ask you questions. We’re gonna open up the
floor now for questions if you have any. – [Audience Member] Are
we doing this theory (laughing) of democracy because we no longer have an educated public? – I don’t think we’re
doomed, but I do think that we should think about
it a lot more than we do. – [Audience Member] I do
think about it every day. – Yeah, (laughing) I think that this is, yes, well I think that’s right, and I think that to the
extent that you think that the argument I gave you is a valid one, it’s meant to be a reason
to actually work to promote something like civic education. And civic education, I think, would include, at its basis, the kind of normal things we think of as ordinary, reading, writing. You can’t really participate as a citizen in a modern world if you
don’t have basic skills. But it’s really more than that. On the other hand, I think it’s less than what we often think
about is a civics lesson. Civics lesson is often, well, exactly how many representatives in the House of Representatives, how do you pass a bill through the House of Representatives and the Senate. All of the, can you name the
representatives in your state, or your two senators. We often worry that people
don’t have education ’cause they fail these kinds of tests. And actually I think civic education, it’s nice that people know those things, but I think it’s actually more important that people think about what are the bases of effective social cooperation if it is the case that you
don’t want to have a tyrant. In my ideal civic education,
would in fact include basic education, but it doesn’t collapse because most citizens
don’t know all the details of the government, we just need to know the fundamentals of what
it is we’re doing together. – [Audience Member] Well,
I didn’t even mean that, I meant the first part of
it, reading and writing. – Although, when you think about it this is one good reason to go to Athens. The Athenians did pretty well. They don’t have a society our size, arguably it’s not as complex, but they had to deal with
some very complicated issues and although I think literacy is probly more widespread in Athens
than many people have thought, it’s certainly not as widespread as it is even in the contemporary United States. I worry less about civic education beyond a kind of basic education capacity. I’m worried more about is that people don’t think about what it is that they’re doing as a citizen. They don’t think about
the problem of citizenship as being fundamentally
a problem of cooperation and ultimately of
decision-making with others that sustains these
very basic public goods. – [Audience Member] I
have another question. – Okay. – [Host] Is it a quick one (mumbling)? Is it a followup? – [Audience Member] Yeah,
tyranny of the media. That’s a form of tyranny. – Yeah, it is, but it
doesn’t have to be, right? We live, once again, if you look at Athens they don’t have organized media. How do citizens get their information? They talk to other citizens, right? How do people in 2016
get their information? A lot of people are getting
it by talking to other people, not face to face, but
through social media. Right, and that can be
seen as a terrible problem because people have in
these echo chambers and isolated from reality, but
I think there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea that people get information
from fellow citizens. We just need to, and I think this is the challenge, really,
for the next generation, is to find ways that social media isn’t isolating people from each other, creating a little same thinking groups, that don’t bother to learn anything that challenges their understanding of the world. There’s no reason it has to be that way. Right, so there’s no reason that media, in these organized media sense, that is what I grew up with, you turned on the TV and there was Walter Cronkite telling me how the world is. I kind of like that. And in some ways, God,
it’d be kind of nice to go back to that. But, it doesn’t have to be that. I think that we should
be able to think through or at least we better be
able to think through, ’cause we’re not going back to that, some way in which, peer to peer, mutual communication can actually break through to understanding more. – [Audience Member] I wanted to ask about political participation in democracy. It seems like a lot of the things we were praising about democracy, it’s a good way of pooling knowledge. But I like this thing about exercising our capacities to communicate
and (mumbling) and so. That resonates for me personally because I’m a very participative person, I always like to be
involved, if there’s some problem that needs solving I like to be involved in the solving (mumbling). I definitely have that intuition that this is an exercise
of our basic human capacity which is good, but I don’t know whether I need to exercise any kind
of sovereign authority to it. I don’t know that I need
full political equality. I feel like I could be a
pretty good king’s servant running around doing. There seem to be conditions,
say of basic respect and open communication, a willingness to collect knowledge that could be in communities
that are not democratic, and quite a lot of those
capacities could be exercised. So what do you think the importance of a sovereign authority is? – Right, I avoid the term sovereignty, for particular reasons
that you can understand. I avoid the term autonomy
for the same sort of reasons. I am eager not to tin my heart to that, or pin those to my lapel. But I think it’s actually,
I would hold onto the baseline political equality, at least of vote and the chance to give information when it is relevant, to the relevant solution space, to the relevant problem we’re trying to decide something about. Because it seems to me very difficult to create conditions
without a very benevolent ruling group, who says, well
you don’t have the votes, you know, right, and you’ll only speak when you’re called on. But because we’re really
really really benevolent, we will always call on
you when it is relevant, and we will never ignore the interests that you
may have some sense of that we just are sort of overlooking. I think that it seems to
me difficult to imagine a way in which only some people
have decisioned authority is not a tyranny of some sort and in my world, the people
of my Demopolis world, people reject tyranny of any sort, no matter how benevolent, right, they’re basically saying that
no matter how benevolent, it’s still tyranny. It’s still some people ruling and we don’t accept that. I think that once again, I
snuck in at the very beginning this diversity condition,
that we actually have very different interests,
very different viewpoints. If we were all pretty sure
that we had the same values, and you were sure that
whoever is running things really shared your
values all the way down, then the only time you’d
really need to say something is when you noticed something
that nobody else noticed, but you really wouldn’t
worry about it much. But in a very genuinely diverse society, you can’t assume that, there are gonna be contested votes. Not everything is gonna
be common interest. – [Audience Member] Coming
out of a slightly different thought process of listening to you, is the question of societies
frequently thinking that, we’re a great society now, therefore we will always be a great society. And if I look back at Athens, obviously a very influential
society at its time, with its, let me fast forward 700 years I’m gonna say into the Roman society, (mumbling) and certain
sentences comes to mind, so bread and entertainment,
essentially, right, to keep the masses happy. But you then forward a couple of thousand years and all of a sudden Rome isn’t what it used to be, and now we find ourselves in another society that is one of the most powerful societies. The question that I’m bringing forward, that observation is, at
certain times there’s uncertainty in the society, and then sometimes people
look for a strong leader. And the question I bring out of that is, is democracy inherently a better model than another model? Under certain circumstances, the people will select that
they may take something that they want to be the
cat in the cage, there. Because it seems to be a better situation from where I find myself. Now, I don’t agree with that
model, but I’m just saying, populations in general sometimes
go into these extremes. – Yeah, they certainly do. And there’s various ways to answer this. The first is that this really is meant as what Bernard Williams would
call a local solution, a now and around here
solution for some people who have for reasons that
I don’t need to specify, certain preferences and in this case you’ve got this non-tyranny preference. If you think, coming in, that the best way to live is to have wise and benevolent, or maybe
divinely ordained leader, I have nothing to say to those people, but I think your question’s
a little different from that. It’s that you can start out saying, “We prefer non-tyranny,” but then things change and we may have other reasons to finally say, yeah, now we need to have– – [Audience Member] Move along (mumbling). – We move along that, so, I think there’s nothing that can guarantee that a democratic society that
will be permanently stable. It’s too much to hope for, there’s no form of government, monarchy
isn’t permanently stable, aristocracy isn’t, nothing is. On the other hand, I think we have ways to think about why you
would get transitions away from democracy if you were to tend to these classes and benefits. If you say that we’re in this because we want non-tyranny, but
we also want prosperity and security, if we’re
in a world in which our way of doing things democratically is really compromising our security and or our prosperity, at
a certain point you say the costs are too high. Not everyone’s that person
at the very end of the tail of hates autocracy,
not gonna give up everything just to keep away the tyrant,
and so you’ll get a tyrant. You have to ask yourself,
under what conditions will democracy be unable to answer the needs of security and prosperity, and that gets you to the, what are the conditions that allows
a democracy to do well, and this is what Xenu
was briefly alluding to, but she knows some of
my other work on this is this idea that you
aggregate diverse knowledge in a democracy, because
you have freedom of speech, because you have equality of vote, it’s possible and you
have the right incentives, because you share some values, you see some things are
matters of common interest, like basic security, that in fact, you are willing to share with others, knowledge that is of value to the decisions we have to make together. And if you do that right, if you get the institutions that do it right, you actually can get pretty
extraordinary results and that’s why ultimately Athens does as well as Athens does in a
very competitive environment, because they actually
figure out how to aggregate a lot of information and do it pretty efficiently over time. But once again, if we don’t do that, if those institutions no longer work to aggregate diverse knowledge, if we just get into echo
chambers and ultimately we’re not sharing what we know, we’re gonna lose that advantage, democracy isn’t going
to deliver this kind of knowledge aggregating feature, and then the costs are gonna arguably get higher than they were, so, this is political theory, it’s not a bunch of policy prescriptions. It may point to policy prescriptions, let’s spend more money educating our youth in the basic civic education. But it’s really a way to think about what is it that, would potentially allow a democracy to be robust,
to change over time. What are the things that creates a kind of ossified, sclerotic
tendency of a democracy not to be able respond, and therefore gives people the wrong, but that’s from my personal value position,
the wrong decision that living in a cage is okay. – [Host] We have some questions over here. Gentleman in the red shirt and then the person next to him and then Melissa. – [Audience Member] How does
a society that’s democratic legitimize itself in a world with a lot of other societies that are much larger and much stronger, they
don’t see a democracy as something that’s
proper or should happen? – Yeah, so a democratic society is going to have to, once again, I sort of snuck this in
when I was setting it up. I’m imagining Demopolis as existing in an environment, or an
ecology of other states, some of which are
hostile, and some of which are authoritarian. If Demopolis is just a tiny, little one, all alone, it’s the only one, gosh it would be nice to be a democrat if you’ve got really big,
powerful autocracies right next door, and they decide, we’re going to eat you up. You may well be just eaten right up. On the other hand, if
there are multiple of these democratic societies, if these things have popped up in various times, and even if they’re relatively small,
you may find ways to say, we could actually pool some resources, we could develop federalism, right, we could have ways in which there would be shared kinds of extensive citizenship, even though we keep local citizenship, you create a federal system
that would allow us to do this. This is what happens, of course,
in the American founding, and the American Constitution
is exactly that problem. Great, big, powerful England, little, dinky states, each one of them could be eaten right up, but if we get together, act together, as a United States, we can
in fact hold off the tyrant. Those are these beginnings of thoughts. The other thing is that
if we go to Greek history, we begin to see that
actually democracy turns out to be a kind of virus that
spreads through the ecology. Other people say, actually, look at the guys over there, are getting to run themselves. They don’t have these mean bosses who are putting ’em in cages or whatever. They’re just like me, right, why can’t I be a citizen? We see the tendency, within
the Greek world, anyway, of this way of organizing
to actually spread and become a threat to
the autocratic states. Yeah, there are ways in
which you can model it in which it’s not gonna work. The big autocracy is gonna win, but I think there’s
other ways that you can imagine modeling it in which you’ll have a way in which the big, autocratic states are actually sufficiently worried about those democracies that
they’re gonna have to do things like saying, oh we’re one, too. We’re a democracy, too. Of course, that’s the world we’re in now. Lots of autocrats out there, saying, oh we’re democrats too, really, no, we have citizenship, we have. Democracy in a sense has won, because there are all the autocrats have to claim to be a democracies just at the same time as you might say democracy is at risk of losing, because we may be forgetting how actually to be citizens, and how to have a self-governing state. We’re in a very, very interesting moment in human history. – [Host] You have a question. – [Audience Member] Do you
believe that the United States, now, is still that democracy that the founders once incorporated (mumbling)? – Right, right, right. It’s a deeply complicated question. We’re not the same regime that was established at the
end of the 18th century. Of course, the founders
didn’t initially want to call what they were doing a democracy. Whether it was one or
not is another question. If you go to the federalist papers, and you ask Madison,
he says absolutely not. Democracy is not what we’re
doing, we’re doing Republic. If you go to the preamble
of the Constitution, and you think about the
three great big words at the beginning of the, you know, think about the hand written version of the Constitution, it says in great big
letters, “We the people “do ordain,” and so on. It basically is the Constitution is not. It is what the Constitution
says, the product of Madison and a few guys in
Philadelphia is the product of we the people who ratified it. In that case you say, wow, this is really a democratic document. Given that, the imagination of citizenship and the late 18th century was similar in fact, perhaps
even more restrictive to that than that of Athens. I think you can find
moments in which America looks quite a lot like a basic democracy once you keep in the
imagination of citizenship restraint, so Jacksonian America looks, can be pretty much like a basic democracy. Imperfect in lots of ways,
and of course not liberal. Slave society, women don’t
have rights and so on. But has many of the features
of a basic democracy. As you see, I’m skirting your question, ’cause you said “now,”
(laughing) and so, I think that this one, let us say that I’m very very concerned about American democracy now. I think that it is, we’re painfully close I think to people basically saying,
I really don’t need to be a citizen, that what a citizen is, is simply maybe an expression
just of patriotism, or maybe it’s an expression
of loyalty to a leader. I worry that we are, I don’t know how close to, but being in a position in which, the answer to that question
would be certainly not. But I don’t want to assert that
we’re in that condition yet, because in a sense, if I assert that, the only solution is some kind of a massive and revolutionary change. And that’s a big cost,
massive revolutionary change is a big cost, so I’d rather say, we’re hovering at a point in which you guys were a lot, most of you are a lot younger than I am, should be thinking seriously about living, do you want to live as citizens, reasonably free, reasonable
prosperous society without somebody who is
your boss, and if you do, what are the costs you’re willing to pay? – [Host] Melissa? – [Melissa] This is a more
detail-oriented question, so hopefully it’s not
too anti-climactic, but there was a line in your model, in the thought experiment
that interested me where citizenship seemed to
be a little more flexible than we’re used to
thinking of it as being, and that if people,
citizenship could be revoked if people didn’t fully participate and fully pay the costs. And I was wondering if
you thought that was, and then also I’ll be people who like autocracy leave, which is (mumbling) anyway. I was wondering if you thought that was necessary to the model, given that I know it’s not policy prescriptions, but in our contemporary society, citizenship is pretty inalienable if for no other reason than that you become stateless and
other states don’t want you, so given that, do you think
that flexibility is necessary? – Yeah, and this is where you may say that democracy and liberalism
just do butt heads. Because if my model’s set up right, the participation is in fact necessary, it doesn’t mean you have to
participate all the time, but it does mean, for example, if you get the equivalent of a juror summons, or we imagine in Demopolis, it’s not only a juror summons, there’s,
you’re going to be on the civic council to help think about, I don’t know what,
reorganizing traffic rules or resetting the marginal tax rate, or making some recommendations for your fellow citizens like that. And we need citizens to do that and so the basic idea is, if you say, look, I’m too busy. Got all of these other things to do. I’m just not gonna do that, or I’m gonna do an end run that makes endlessly defer it, then at some point, we’re gonna say, well look actually, everyone else is paying
costs and Melissa isn’t. And you say that at some point, if you’re just not willing to do it, we need to change the deal, we have to change the
nature of your involvement in the society, and so
what I’d imagine is that you would have a potential of being a permanent resident,
whatever, green card holder or something, who would not be a citizen, would not be expected to participate in
the work of self governance. You would enjoy security, you would enjoy the prosperity that is available to you. You wouldn’t simply be expelled from the, because we’re not assuming
you’re in other ways criminal, right, but there would
be burdens put upon you because you’re not a citizen. We’re paying costs, so
there’s gonna have to be some equivalent cost you pay. It might be you pay at
a different tax rate, right, you’re gonna permanently
pay some special taxes that we figure, well that’s
more or less making up for the work the rest of us, or
at least are subject to doing that you just don’t want to do. I think that you could have
a way of basically choosing to not do that stuff, and not thereby become a nobody, an exile, but rather somebody who would in fact be subject to other burdens and you
would at least until you regain your citizenship, ’cause there’s no reason you can’t say, alright, I want to regain my citizenship. I will agree to do my citizen duties. But until then, you’re
not gonna have any say in what the disabilities
you suffer under are. The marginal tax, we might say, okay, it’s now it’s war and we’re gonna set the, we’re gonna double the marginal tax rate on those who aren’t citizens, you don’t have any say in that. There are costs to you, not only in whatever
the current things are, but you don’t have any control about what the conditions, (mumbling) your membership are gonna be. That’s hard, right? This whole thing is also hard in that, and this has come up in, I’ve talked about this
in a couple other places. I think it’s perfectly
plausible to say that instead of just the immigrants who take some kind of citizenship test, and then have to give
an oath of allegiance to the rules, the Constitution,
which you have to do. If you’re an immigrant, and you want to be a citizen in the United States,
you have to take a test, and you have to say on oath. Why should that be only immigrants? Why should the happenstance of being born in this country free
you of that responsibility? And I don’t see any principled
reason that it should. And that, the test can’t
be, and this is where we go back to civics, the test
can’t be so burdensome, we have to really think about that. It’s not a literacy test, it’s not all of the things that exclude various categories of people. It has to be rightly done, but it has to be basically, ultimately a way in which you give
a affirmative assent, you say yes I will, I will be a citizen rather than sort of
passively, well, whatever, I guess I am. And once again, liberals tend to balk at this kind of thing,
but I don’t see why, it seems to be actually
fairer to ask everybody to do the same thing and
to birthright citizenship seems to be an odd conception. It ought to be choice of being a citizen ought to be essential to being a citizen. – I’m going to, this is gonna reflect my
own penchant of thinking. (laughing) The interest of democratic discourse, I’ll put to you an alternative
theory of democracy. I just want your response to it. Let’s go back to your late
paleolithic hunter-gatherer band. You talked about the
importance of having people communicate with one another and monitor one another in
the interest of survival. To use a bit of jargon, you could say that it was important for them to do that because they were buffering
against the risk of failure, right?
– Mhm. – But then you asserted
that with the emergence of agricultural societies,
you have an autocrat who steps in and that’s an efficient way of organizing society with certain scale. But it seems to be efficient
towards the ends of whoever that person of the elite is, which automatically to my mind involves an issue of legitimacy, in other words you have to be able to persuade people that they should give up their local and collective risk buffering,
in the interest of that person, on grounds presumably that that person or that elite group controls knowledge or material resources that are critical to the
survival of everybody. Now, you may be able to do that, but it also means locating those resources in a small space, with
respect to the rest of society means that’s a place very
susceptible to crises, hence the critical resources. And we know historically
that you have these concentration of resources and they meet crises and they fall
apart really rapidly, so is democracy perhaps then, a reaction to the sorts of crises that emerge from, that happen in autocracies, as a way buffering against risk. Why would it then be the question of a personal tendency towards
anti-tyranny versus tyranny or anti-autocracy versus autocracy. And the last comment I’ll make is, it seems to me then
that if you’re going to transmit a value, the civic
education of democracy, you might transmit it as this is not about personal whims, but
psychology more than it is, this is a way of making
sure that society is in fact sustainable in the long run. – Yeah, I think that’s all plausible. The societies that emerge with agriculture, typically gain their legitimacy by what I would say are lies, noble or otherwise. Why should you obey the
Pharaoh or the great king or so on because they
have special relationship to some sort of divine order. And then, why in terms of your rational, what if you’d say, yeah,
but I don’t really buy that, then you obey because you’ll
be punished if you don’t. I think it is the case,
and you just have to look now at sort of depends on
what sort of organizational theory that you like
best, there are certainly organizations that work efficiently
with command and control from the top down, but as you say, very hierarchical command and
control organizations tend to in fact be quite
vulnerable to systemic change, because they’re not very robust, they’re not able to quickly pivot to some different way of doing things, and I think that the
organization of knowledge in a democratic society is in fact one of the strengths of
the democratic society, can actually make big
changes pretty quickly. And so I think that if you think about the Demopolis folks here, over here, the initial ones, I’m perfectly happy that that might be the reason
that a lot of these people (mumbling) then, I like it initially to be diverse reasons rather than shared values, ’cause if they all say, well I believe in freedom
as a value and I believe in equality as a value
and I basically believe in basic human rights as a value, well then we have a society of liberals who are trying to set up a liberal society ’cause they share values. But I think it’s perfectly plausible that they would say, actually I
don’t trust those autocrats to run the society in the
face of the challenges that I bet are coming down the pike in the reasonable
future, so all of that is as it were a strengthening
move that gives reasons to say, that maybe that instead of a normal distribution, a
standard bell shaped curve, maybe if you really
had a sensible society, the curve, the bulge
would be way over here because people would say
there’s lots more reasons that I’m not gonna suggest. – [Audience Member]
Response was started with of course the normal curve. – But yeah, I think the
more people understand about the potential of
democracy as an actual effective organizing system, the less autocracy
seems like a good thing, ’cause I think that’s one of the arguments of autocracy is it won’t
work any other way. You’re in real trouble if there aren’t people at the top who
are organizing things. That’s the only, so that’s Hobbes right, the only solution is to have
some sort of a sovereign. – [Audience Member] A
sovereign. (chuckling) – Oh and I think Abby had her hand up. – [Host] (mumbling) And
then there’s time for one more after that. – [Abby] I guess, in light
of our umbrella collections right now, (mumbling)
Dr. Bailey’s question, what would you say to
somebody who said that they did not want to vote because they didn’t like either candidate. This is a very popular thing
people are saying nowaday, what do you say to that? – Yeah, yeah, I think
that what I would say, and I hope I can do it from this world, rather than just my personal perspective, is that to be a citizen, is to act as an adult, and
to be treated as an adult by your fellow citizens. Infantilization is one of the
basic ways to attack dignity. I think that if you act as an adult it means that you have to
recognize that many times very important decisions are not between the best and the less
good or the very bad, or even between the pretty
good and the pretty lousy. Sometimes your decisions are between what you regard as the pretty
lousy and the really bad. And as an adult, you can say, look, I am willing to take the chance, the risk of going into that really bad situation because I want to register a protest. But you have to think about
what kind of protest that is. You want to really make
that a real protest, and a protest that says if
we’re in the really bad, where the really bad is pretty awful, people are getting really hurt by it, you’re still gonna say, but
I registered my protest, and I’m willing to have
people suffer that way in order to feel good about my conscience or to awaken you to the
importance of the protest. I think those are pretty
high stakes, right, and I think you have to
ask yourself when does a choice not to participate or to register a protest vote of some sort, when is it actually not
doing your civic duty? When is it just simply, I
feel better about myself, and I like to feel good about myself. That’s not the work of a citizen. The work of a citizen is what do we need. There’s lots of things you
should do to feel better about yourself, that big black box. You shouldn’t be doing
everything about that. – [Host] (mumbling) You had a question? – [Audience Member] Why
is it, throughout history, autocracy and democracy seem to be a cycle shifting back and forth? – Yeah, I think this is
the ways to think about it is that democracy is really
hard to get to work at scale. And I think autocracy is relatively easier to make work at scale, at
least for a while, right? So that the basic autocratic plan is you get one person at the top gives orders to 10 people, who
gives orders to 100 people. It’s infinitely scalable, right, if everybody takes their orders and delivers their orders and even with principle agent problems and so on, it can work pretty well, especially if everybody says,
well, the guy at the top after all is sort of divine and you wouldn’t want to cross him,
because the world might end. It’s really hard to get a
democracy to work at scale. You have to solve these
problems of collective action. You have to develop
institutions that really do allow people to share knowledge, that you have to create
these bright line rules that people really do know together. You have to create civic education so people really do believe
that their fellow citizens are not a bunch of morons, to use inappropriate language. And I think that we could see that the foragers had it figured out, sort of naturally. The Athenians then get
this breakthrough thing. Hey, here’s a bunch of strange
ideas about institutions, but we’re gonna take a shot here. It’s really a crisis moment for them, and it turns out that
they get it right enough so that it really works well, and then it spreads
through the Greek ecology and everyone says, wow, in a society up to a few hundred thousand people, this really, we can do it, it actually allows us to get up to the size of the Roman empire and we don’t know how to do it anymore. Direct democracy isn’t gonna work, we need a whole set of new institutions and in the meantime, the
autocrats are saying, we’ve got this hierarchy
thing and it works just fine. I think that that’s really the thing, that at every time you
scale, you really create new challenges that need to be addressed by both social technologies
and in some cases by actual communications technologies. If communication is part of
that basic human package, we have to find ways that
we have to communicate across vastly larger numbers,
and greater distances. We’ve got that kind of technology around, but we don’t know how to build it into the right kind of institutional frameworks so it really gets the job done. I think that’s it. Autocracy is always there as a default of command and control, works just fine at any scale you want. Every time we try to
build up the next scale, we have to reinvent democracy, at least the institutional
structures of democracy. But the whole argument
here is it’s predicated on the same baseline assumption that a collective self-governance
requires these commitments to citizens, to one another, to do things as citizens. – [Host] I think I’m going to call an end to the questions session. We have a reception
that we need to get to, but I’d like everybody
to join me in thanking professor Ober for a fantastic– – Thank you all, thank you all. You’ve been really, extremely helpful. (applauding)

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