Decision and Method: For Consensus

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Introduction

Many conflicts arise among those who attach themselves to the term anarchist in regard to the manner by which decisions should be made. On the right, those who identify as anarcho-capitalists, or even as national anarchists, may suggest that decisions should be made by a mandate of some sort, either by a boss, or some sort of tribal leader. On the left, however, those who identify as collectivist anarchists or anarcho-communists will often suggest that decisions should be made by the group as a whole, by some process of participatory or direct-democracy. There are others who find themselves in the libertarian center, such as mutualists and distributists, and who may support alternate forms of decision or organization, such as by consensus and subsidiarity. This essay will analyze the basic forms of decisions, and will propose their proper use. It will suggest consensus as the proper foundation for decisions in group activities.

 Minority-rule and mandates

Minority-rule is often promoted by those who tend toward individualism. Those who tend toward such a leaning are often concerned with issues relating to effort, ability, or merit. Believers in autocratic decision-making often suggest that the decision-maker has been given the power of decisions because he or she is more capable of doing the job, and has thus risen to the top. They suggest that, if one doesn’t like the decision being made, one has the option to simply leave the group. “Get another job if you don’t like the one you have,” or “If you don’t like it here, leave.”

Free association does have a lot of value to it. If everyone were to leave a workplace because they had a particularly sinister boss this would certainly encourage more fair and decent treatment on his or her behalf, and would certainly challenge their merit to the position in the first place. So far, so good; but if one doesn’t like the system of capitalism or nationalism as a whole, one cannot simply opt out of that in the same way. If one has a particularly decent boss, but does not like having a boss in general, switching jobs in a capitalist dynasty does nothing to rid one of that problem, and may even make matters worse. “Go somewhere else,” they’ll say, but there is nowhere else to go.

Those who are serious about minority-rule positions, such as Heathians or the new “anarcho-monarchists,” for instance, may suggest that it is necessary to create a political class that is outside of the interests of both workers and capitalists (such as private community owners or monarchs), and anyone else for that matter. They may suggest that a member from such a class is the most capable of regulating conflicts between competing classes below them, as they are not involved in the interests of either side, but of the nation or community as a whole. While the reasoning here is valid to a certain extent, it suggests a manner in which fighting may be regulated, but it does little to offer a means by which conflict can be decentivized. While it is true that a monarchical or capitalistic society—so long as membership is voluntary and uncoerced—may be anarchistic (that is, lacking a state), this can only be so in the softest of senses. It offers little in the hard sense, beyond free association.[1]

The virtue of mandated decision-making lies in its expediency. A decision that can be made without deliberation is a quickly made decision. However, decisions that are made quickly, and with the perspective of a single person, can be detrimental to the well-being of others, especially when they pertain to large or important issues that affect multiple people.

Mandates, having both virtuous and vicious traits of character, should be relegated to their proper sphere of influence. That is, one should be a mandate over oneself, and over small roles that the group at large condescends to them (and under important restriction), but none other. Any healthy organization will use mandates where they are necessary, but will not extend them too much power.

Majority-rule and democracy

Majority-rule is often promoted by those who tend toward collectivism. Those who tend toward such a leaning are often concerned with issues relating to fairness, equality, and developmental support. Believers in majoritarian decision-making often suggest that majority decision-making is necessary to keep power from developing. They suggest that anyone involved in a process should have a say approximately equal to the process’s effects on them.

Majority-rule decision-making does have a lot to offer in particular circumstances. There may be times when an expedient decision is needed to be made, but a minority preference may be detrimental to the group. Significant spendings in large freely associating organizations is best handled by the group. It is not uncommon for mandates to make decisions benefitting their own pocket books, and majority-rule decision-making puts a cap on such a behavior. Majority-rule, while expedient in many ways, also encourages deliberation. The deliberation allows for an increase in consensus, but it also allows the majority to establish itself as a body against the minority.

While majority-rule may decrease negative effects of a mandate, it shifts the problem to a new dilemma, the domination of majority-interests over those of the minority. Majority-rule lacks in complete consensus, and this means that the majority is free to reign vehemently over the minority. While the “in” group has been increased, from a single individual to a larger body, this “in” group is now much less responsible to the “out” group, which has become the minority. In the case of a monarchy, or employment, there may be a single individual making the choices, but they must be sure not to anger the other participants to a point of unity against them. The majority has little concern for this. After all, the minority may already present themselves as an organized unity. This does little to keep the majority from having its way.

It is true that the majority, in order to maintain itself as such, must appeal to the majority of actors in a situation. In this sense, the majority is accountable to its clientele. In this sense, the majoritarian position can be seen as having some virtue. Where majority-rule is particularly vicious, however, is when it applies force upon those who disagree, or fall outside the norm, or when secession is outlawed. It is vicious when appeals can be made to cultural differences, pitting a larger cultural unit against another. If intrinsic differences, such as cultural and genetic identity, can be rallied around, as they were in fascist Europe, this can be very dangerous indeed, especially if a consensus can be built within the majority unit. Majority-rule may have its role to play in less significant matters and in day-to-day organizing, but it has little to offer in the way of justice and solidarity at the crux of human affairs.

 Representative democracy and republics

In many ways, a republic presents itself as the most virtuous form of government (but government it still is). Republican forms of government attempt to balance the interests of the majority with those of their mandates (either individuals or councils). They offer a bottom-up empowerment of the mandate by way of elections, but also apply a top-down application of decisions, as effected from the mandate to the majority that elected them. This leaves the mandate accountable to some extent to the majority, and the majority accountable to the mandate. If the mandate is not liked by the majority, the majority may impeach them or elect someone else for the next term. If the mandate who is elected does not like a specific behavior or demand of the majority, they may legislate against it.[2]

Republics have found themselves to be the most lasting form of social governance because of their attempts toward balancing interests. Nonetheless, they still come with many problems. For starters, republican forms of government may be stable, but they are stable in regard to maintaining power. Power is displayed by the majority as it selects representatives, and by mandates as they legislate, but there are many who are still left outside of the equation. These are those for whom the very nature of government was created; in order to crush their interests.[3] Government, after all, is the forcing of an opinion (whether majority or minority) onto others. This is its sole role and purpose, a purpose which relies on the belief that the thoughts and feelings of others are something to be stamped out. While republics are the most virtuous form of government, government itself is vicious, lacking in virtue. While it is true that we can appreciate the cunning of a burglar, it no less makes burglary an act of wrong. The same applies to government. Republics, while cunning attempts to maintain power, nonetheless maintain power at the expense, and not the inclusion, of others. Government is the heads, and crime the tails, on the very same coin.

 Consensus and subsidiarity

Consensus-based decision-making— and especially when coupled with an understanding of, and appreciation for, subsidiarity— can also be understood to be a synthesis of majoritarian and minoritarian interests, but while avoiding the pitfalls of government. This is because consensus works toward agreement and the binding and solidarity of groups, but not at the expense of dissident voices or alternative views. Decisions in consensus are never forced onto others, although they may be enforced once they are agreed upon (but hardly ever, if at all, with violence). Minority-rule is private rule and majority-rule is mob rule, but consensus is autonomy and rule by agreement. Consensus is neither majoritarian nor minoritarian. It is better regarded as contractarian.

While majority-rule is coupled with the vote, and mandates with the decree, consensus is understood through the power to block. If an individual does not like the outcome of a decision, they don’t have to agree to it or be bound by the decisions of others. If the decision involves common resources—such as a treasury or possessions of the group of which one is a member— the decision cannot go forward. It is important to remember, however—as many don’t seem to understand—, that lack of consensus on one scale does not keep a decision from occurring on another. For instance, I may suggest a plan of action—say, for instance, spending for libraries— to be taken on the confederal level, but if this plan gets blocked on such a level, this does not mean that lower levels cannot put the plan into action. It simply means that spending does not occur on the scale on which consensus is lacking. This protects minorities, while allowing majorities to function as they would wish.[4] Neither party may take advantage of the other, and each operates at its own expense.

It’s important to note that consensus precedes, but does not preclude, other forms of decision-making. Majority-rule decision-making can very well take place in a consensus-based institution, and mandates may still be elected to boards to carry out day-to-day decisions that the general membership would rather not be burdened with. Nothing stops a member from putting forward a motion, say, like so: “We will paint the building a new color. Since Sally has good taste, and we can generally agree on this, and since the color of paint is not a life-threatening issue, we should save time debating color options, and elect Sally as a mandate to make these decisions on our behalf. She can spend up to $200 on paint.” Whether or not the membership accepts this motion or blocks it is up to the membership, but nothing about consensus precludes people from making such a motion, or from accepting it. Someone may just as well make a motion suggesting, “The color will be picked on April 3rd, at 3pm…” and at a very specific location (physical or virtual), “…by an open committee. Anyone who cares to deliberate on the choice of color, may do so at their own expense.” Of course, if no decision at all can be made, the group cannot move forward. This being a cost to the members of the group, all members are incentivized by material conditions of the environment to allow the group to move forward. That is, if one spends time in a group (and in a society without economic surplus) it is because they are deriving some value from the direction the group is heading. To spend time in a group from which little or no value is derived is to face a consequence, opportunity cost, wasted time. This coupled with the fact that a group relies on the approval of others for their decisions to go forward, suggests that people will not take blocking lightly, and especially when an immediate course of action is needed from which the group (which they participate in due to some perceived benefit) would face consequences from delaying decisions.

Consensus assures that everyone may be involved in decisions to the degree that they are affected and no further. Because those making the decisions are facing the consequences and/or rewards of making or not making the decision, consensus is as expedient as it needs to be. Decisions that are considered “good” are those decisions that satisfy its participants. Wholly “good” decisions satisfy all participants. Wholly “good” decisions will pass consensus with the enthusiasm of the group, while those that may not be agreeable to a minority, may be blocked, or may be allowed to operate as a separate program associated with the group. If a decision is seen to be absolutely necessary, no one can stop another person from acting on such a decision, nor can that individual force their decision onto others. An individual whose motion does not pass consensus has all the right to pursue their proposed course of action with their own resources, or to establish another group. They have no right to force another person into their group, or to use resources that do not belong to them.

Consensus is best coupled with an understanding of subsidiarity and sphere-sovereignty. The proposed method is a sort of “nested consensus” in which smaller units form a confederation together, which in turn may even join a larger confederation. Decisions would be made in a similar manner to direct-democracy, having initiatives and referendums, but would allow for blocks. In order for a motion to be passed on the highest level, it should already have agreement on the smaller scales. That is, initiatives (amount of people needed to sponsor a motion) should be based on consensus in the smaller units. Once consensus is gained on the level of a member or a member-organization, a motion can be put forward to the larger group. In other words, if a person joins a group and the group joins a confederation, the individual should agree with their own idea before they propose it to the group, and the group should have consensus in itself before it proposes a course of action to the other groups in the confederation. If consensus cannot be gained on the smaller scale, there is even less chance for it to succeed on the larger one. Decisions that don’t have consensus in smaller units should not be allowed to bog down discussion on the level of the confederacy.

One would experience such a society as having periodical referendums, in which an organizational bulletin would be posted to the individual including decisions to be made on the most immediate and most distant decisions to be made. This would work by the confederation posting bulletins which include all initiatives on the confederal scale to all of its member organizations, its member organizations collecting those and including them in their own bulletins (which are a collection of initiatives from the organization’s members), and committees doing the same, finally serving them down to the individual. The sortation of referendums (whether confederal decisions will make it on daily, monthly, quarterly, etc. referendums or not) is up for deliberation.

Consensus is very dynamic. Not all good proposals will be accepted right off the bat for their theoretical material alone. At times, a great plan may be blocked because someone doesn’t fully understand it, or feels challenged by it for some reason other than logic, perhaps a personal vendetta against the one proposing the decision. Still, if a good decision is blocked, this does not keep it from ever coming into fruition, it merely keeps shared resources from being used in the proposed manner until a stronger case can be made. Say, for instance, that an individual proposes a health plan that would satisfy needs collective and individual, and which should work according to shear logic alone. The plan is blocked. The individual who made the motion tries to explain to the blocking individual, who appears to be blocking out of reasons of pride or spite. The block remains in place. The owner of the motion takes it upon themself to apply their principles in a smaller way, by starting a mutual health company. As this mutual health company does not rely on the resources of the blocking individual, it is the right of anyone else to create such a company. The company’s principles, which the blocking individual originally found distasteful, are now found to be a great material success. Everyone wants to participate in the new system. This leaves the blocking individual, who was blocking for reasons of pride or spite, hardly any other option but to let go of their pride or their vendetta, and to join the organization. Upon doing so, it must be remembered, the individual must agree to the contract which governs the organization, thereby consenting to it. Consensus has just shifted (and the two organizations can now unify). Tacit demonstration was all that was needed to change an explicit agreement.

 Conclusion

Majority- and minority-rule each have their applications and their limitations. This is resolved to a great extent in representative democracy, which attempts to balance the interests of the individual with that of the collective. Representative democracy, while having a great deal of virtue among those who are included in its power dynamic, retains a vicious element in its coercive properties. Consensus resolves the issue of coercion, while protecting majority and minority interests, through mutual agreement. Consensus is dynamic, including all other forms of decisions which do not rely on coercion. If practiced alongside free association and sphere-sovereignty it can work on all scales, allowing a maximum level of freedom.

[1] See “Complete Anarchy” for more on this topic.

[2] In the system in use in the United States, there is also the Electoral College. Most people believe that they are electing the president directly during elections, but this isn’t so. During elections, one simply elects electors to do their electing for them.

[3] It must also be recognized that just about everyone finds themselves in the minority position on some issues, and in the majority position on others. This leaves just about everyone, to some degree at least, being restricted. The only ones who fall outside of such restriction are those who have state-given privilege, given from the bottom-up in the case of mandate elections, and from the top-down in the case of appointment by public officials, in the way of subsidies, exclusive licenses, and the list goes on. The majority is the power behind the state, but it is rare to find oneself in the majority on every issue.

[4] Some would like to claim that consensus is stifling of majorities, because a block by a single individual can keep a motion from moving forward, but this does not consider the fact that the majority are not restricted from creating all new bodies, and creating new pools of shared resources, to represent their interests. They are simply kept from using resources of the minority to suit their interests.

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