The Revolution We Need

Chapter 2. The Revolution We Need

Where there is no vision, the people perish
(Proberbs 29:18)

Revolutions come together around a common vision. No vision, no revolution. People come to revolution with all sorts of causes and concerns. What brings them together is the conviction that their concerns cannot be addressed as long as the present political system stands – and an attractive, plausible vision of what should replace it.

The vision need not be particularly elaborate or precise. People will invest it with their own concerns, their own aspirations and hopes. But the vision must present a clear alternative to the present order and steps to a better future. The residents of El Alto, Bolivia, the indigenous slums outside La Paz, organized in neighborhood assemblies around access to water. But they mobilized massively to end the disastrous presidency of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and support a candidate of indigenous background, Evo Morales, who promised a new constitution, crafted by popular assemblies and respecting the rights and culture of the indigenous majority of their country.

We hear conflicting assessments of Americans’ capacity for revolt. On the one hand are the celebrations of the plethora of organizations and mobilizations around all sorts of causes, the awakening of consciousness about the evils of our corporate-dominated political system and disastrous public policies. On the other hand, we sometimes look like a nation of sheep, standing by while banks enriched with public funds foreclose on millions of home owners, sitting on the sidelines while Congress saps the will for reform of our broken health care system, and passive as the Obama administration ratchets up the war in Afghanistan.

The reality is that we have plenty of organizational capacity and no lack of consciousness about the corruption of our economic and political system. What we lack is an attractive, plausible vision of what could possibly replace the current disorder. Sure, there are all sorts of particular proposals out there for specific reforms, from campaign finance reform and Instant Runoff Voting to single-payer health care. But we have little in the way of strategic vision except forlorn calls for “a massive social movement” to make the President do what he’s shown no inclination to do. This book presents a vision and shows how to make it real.

The Revolution We Need

The first American revolution succeeded in being a revolution in liberty precisely because it did not reach far. It was a political revolution, a grand experiment in a form of government that had rarely been seen since the fall of the Roman Republic. It was not a social revolution, like most of the twentieth century revolutions. It did not challenge the social order or the economic bases of established power. The exceptions proved the rule: Loyalists who fled to Canada could have their properties confiscated; absentee English landlords lost their authority to make good on their holdings without a hearing in an American court.

Americans won their liberties. At least white, propertied males did. And they did so without the advent of a new tyranny, as in so many of the social revolutions of the twentieth century. Nor did the first American Revolution degenerate into desperate internecine strife, as the French Revolution would do just a few years later. That would come later, in a Civil War that left scars still visible.

One of the central arguments of this book is that the revolution we need must likewise be a revolution in liberty, a political revolution, a bold new attempt to ground government in the will of the people. That is the revolution we need in order to address our social and economic problems, wrest control over our government and its foreign policy, and advance our aspirations for a better world. It is also the only revolution that is likely to succeed.

The first American revolution claimed popular sovereignty as its founding principle, but its fabled consent of the governed was never meant as a recipe for democracy. We the people would consent if governed fairly, and that meant fairly represented. As we saw in the first chapter, the design hammered out by James Madison, John Adams, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and the others was never meant to be democratic. They were founding a republic, not, they pointedly insisted, a democracy. They took measures to insure that the interests of the states, their own political playgrounds, were protected – the Senate was the states’ organ, where all states were and are equally represented; Senators were chosen by state legislatures ad were to be the aristocrats of American politics. But, above all, they made sure that no mere popular majority could direct policy. No, indeed, the idea was to balance faction against faction and make genuine majority rule difficult. It is no accident – and certainly not a perversion of the intent of the founders – that Congress today regularly ignores the will of the majority, whether we’re talking about withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan or universal health insurance.

We need another American revolution because we need democracy now, and our institutions are fundamentally incompatible with genuine democracy. We need a political revolution, a deliberately limited revolution, because we need and want the political liberty to address our problems – our imperial crimes, our disfunctional economy, our crumbling social welfare system, our broken environment – collectively, deliberatively, democratically. As a people we have no ready, agreed-upon formulas for remedying these ills and addressing our aspirations, nor should we want formulas imposed on us by some revolutionary elite that would subvert democracy itself. Before we can address our collective problems, we need political institutions that will enable us to develop answers we can agree upon through genuine democratic processes. The revolution we need is a second revolution in liberty, this time a democratic one.

What sorts of institutions would give us the ability to confront these problems – that would give us real power over the corporations that pervert our politics and wreak havoc in the environment, over the national security apparatus that has us constantly embroiled in foreign adventures, over the financial elite who have hollowed out our economy in speculative gaming? What sort of government are we fighting for?

Where to start? Political institutions that permit elites to run rampant over popular demands and marginalize popular participation are the first targets of any revolution that will truly alter how we do things. We will have to start by radically reworking the “scheme of representation” that allows political elites to bargain away popular choices with scant accountability.

All sorts of reforms to the present system have been proposed, some of them tried. Term limits seemed to promise relief from entrenched incumbents but ends in making representatives even less accountable to the public. Campaign finance reform might have promise, but only if it limited campaign spending for all candidates to public funding, a reform not likely to see the light of day. Fair access to the media might make sense if it didn’t hinge on every candidate’s ability to pay. These and other reforms fail because they do not address the core of the problem, which is the system of representation itself.

First, representatives have few incentives to bow to public opinion on the larger issues. Public opinion is rarely mobilized long enough to make a representative pay in the next election Nor is it frequently organized enough to mount a rival candidacy. In a democracy representatives have to be accountable, and that means the people must have unimpeded power to recall them.

Second, representatives depend for their support not just on the occasional public vote of confidence but more profoundly on two means for winning that support: campaign contributions and local organizational endorsements, including, of course, support from party militants. In return, they are required to deliver the goods. At base, in other words, American politics today is every bit as much a patronage system as it was in the days of Ulysses S. Grant. We might eliminate the campaign contributions – especially the big ones – by campaign finance reform, as David Sirota proposes, that won’t end the power of lobbyists with money to spend. And it won’t eliminate the need to deliver the goods to local supporters, from the city arts council to highway contractors to the county employees association. This might not be such a bad thing if it didn’t mean that our local representative inevitably has to bargain on behalf of his or her supporters with other representatives and the party leadership. And if party leadership declares your goodies contingent on votes the leadership deems useful, then your representative will just have to tow the line, whether leadership declares single payer off the table or an increase in defense spending untouchable.

A genuinely democratic system cannot be based on patronage. It must be based on local, democratic decision making on matters of public interest. On matters of local interest, that means that how tax dollars get spent must be left in local hands, and most local tax dollars should stay home. On matters of national interest, it means that a community’s “representative” must be charged with voting the public conscience, not allowed to bargain away his or her constituents’ position in return for goodies (or campaign contributions). In all sorts of ways (to be discussed in more detail when we get to Chapter 8, The Revolution in Power), Congressional rules and practices will have to be revolutionized to break patterns of patronage and betrayal that have characterized American legislative decision making from the beginning. Eliminate the 60 member majority rule to close debate in the Senate. Abolish the ability of committee chairs, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority leader to decide what amendment or bill comes up for debate. End the practice of accepting unrelated “riders” and amendments into legislation and spending bills. Above all, take seriously constitutional restrictions on the scope of legislative action, leaving to states and localities the disposition of most tax funds.

But the Next American Revolution needs to go beyond these reforms and general ideas to construct new institutions that enshrine democratic principles in place of the discredited republican ones we have been living with. That means constitutional change – constitutional conventions, in fact, at both state and national levels (about which more later). And it means thinking creatively about our options, drawing on experience elsewhere where needed to construct a more responsive and democratic system.

Almost two hundred years ago, in the midst of a second democratic upsurge as elites proved they were intent of using the institutions of the new republic to enrich themselves and promote their vision of national glory, Thomas Jefferson looked to the New England town meetings for inspiration in democratizing Virginia’s oligarchic political. Every county, Jefferson thought, should be divided into self-governing wards, “pure and elementary republics,” with their own justices of the peace, constable, school, and militia company, each responsible for local poor relief, public roads, jury selection, and all voting. “By thus ‘constituting the people, in their wards, a regularly organized power,’ he thought, they would be enabled ‘to crush, regularly and peaceably, the usurpations of their unfaithful agents’.”1. We needn’t look to Brazil’s experiments in “participatory budgeting” for examples of democratic governance at the local level. We have our own examples in the New England town meetings, as Jefferson did, still functioning and never, to our knowledge, responsible for the death of any new Socrates, whatever Madison may have predicted. We start with those, then turn to examples from elsewhere for inspiration.

New Institutions for a Democratic Revolution

We will not achieve the change we need without a different sort of legislator and different terms of election to the legislature. The Next American Revolution will have to restore local democracy. That doesn’t mean electing representatives, as Madison and his friends understood the term. Yesterday I filled out my ballot for the latest electoral exercise. On it were candidates for local and county college school boards and the board of the local fire district, alongside a controversial ballot measure. I was voting because of the ballot initiative. I didn’t know any of the candidates. They had not offered candidate’s statements, nor had they campaigned. And even when candidates campaign actively, few voters know them, understand how they got to be candidates, or have any very good idea what they’re up to in running for office. This is local democracy, American style. It doesn’t amount to much, nor is it particularly democratic.

Local democracy means something akin to New England town meetings. Where these survive, citizens sit down together and deliberate on matters of public concern on a regular basis, making public policy and directing public officials to carry it out. Not everyone attends, but everyone knows that if they want a problem addressed they had better show up, and if they want a say in local affairs town meeting provides the main avenue. Town meetings are not immune to the sorts of elite manipulations that characterize other sorts of local governance across the country, but they are the surest democratic means to hold it at bay and punish it when it become egregious. Federal interventions and the courts have limited power to do this, and they are destructive of local, democratic process even when they intervene successfully.

Town meetings are the prevailing form of government in most of New England today and many communities in Minnesota. They are also common in Switzerland, where 90% of municipalities are governed by town meetings. In some of these cases, the town meeting has extensive powers over legislation and the budget. But even in Vermont, where town meetings are particularly vigorous, their powers have been whittled away by the state. Schools have been consolidated and incorporated into unwieldy unified school districts, whose powers are strictly circumscribed by state legislation. Roads, which used to be kept up by the towns, have come under control of the state department of transportation. Power over local taxation and financial management have been whittled away by the state government.

As the authors of a plan to rebuild Vermont’s once vibrant democracy argue, “Town meeting’s oxygen is the capacity of townspeople to do what they damn well please. It does not need pure oxygen. But when the flow of decision-making power has been turned down to a whisper, town meeting will drift off to sleep and die.”2 That sentence pretty much describes the death of democracy in the United States generally. To the degree that power over real decisions rests in the hands of elected elites, whether at city council or in the national Congress, people lose interest, “drift off to sleep,” and find other diversions. The few that remain, the tiny “politically active” population are either active participants in the games politicians play or deeply frustrated.

Genuine citizenship – and real power over the decisions that affect one’s life – comes with active participation in decision-making. But that is difficult to achieve except at the proper scale. Frank Bryan’s study of the New England town meeting today shows that the larger the community, the smaller the proportion of people who participate in town meeting.3 Towns of 500 and fewer achieved from twenty-five to (rarely) seventy-five percent attendance; towns over 1,000 hover between eight and sixteen percent participation.

People seem to claim a stake first and foremost in their immediate communities, neighborhoods, the smallest of the small towns. If we’re going to regain control over our politics, we will have to start at this level. But that will mean empowering these small units in a variety of ways. Attempts to create officially sanctioned neighborhood associations in some of our larger cities have had limited success. Few people attended, and few citizens generally thought the association contributed much to local life.4 Few of these efforts gave the associations real power; they were advisory bodies, and City Hall could take their advice or leave it. An indifferent City Hall left association members angry and frustrated, and participation came to look less and less worthwhile.

What follows is not meant as a prescription for the constitutional revolution we need. It is meant to stimulate the imagination and start a conversation. Because we have labored too long under the illusion that “there is no alternative,” what Margaret Thatcher, referring to unbridled capitalist globalization, called TINA. There is an alternative; there are lots of them. Some are in place already, from New England to Bolivia to Switzerland. We need to craft one that is appropriate to our own culture and instincts and that, above all, closes the door to the sort of insulated “scheme of representation” that has bred our current corruption. So take the following as some markers on the road, some signposts towards constitutional revolution. Because when the time comes we will have to work out our destiny not according to some blueprint, but imaginatively, creatively and collectively.

Creating a Democratic Unites States: Some Examples and Provocations

A renewed democracy has to start with local assemblies with real power over affairs close to home. In many parts of the United States today, even small cities lack power over local zoning. They may have responsibility for the upkeep of roads but no real power over how they’re configured. School districts engulf whole counties, with local power over neighborhood schools a thing of the past. Libraries and parks are managed at the county level, as well, along with a welter of community services, all dependent on state and federal funding and governed by volumes of rules and requirements devised elsewhere. Local revenues may stem from property taxes, enshrining inequalities in levels of community services. Or, as in California, they may be tied to local sales taxes, setting up competition between cities and unincorporated areas on their borders that can lead to unwanted and uncontrolled development. In all respects, local residents have little say beyond casting a vote in an occasional election or putting in their two-cents worth in the brief public discussion allowed at board and council meetings. Turn-out in both venues is abysmally low, and why not? Citizens have little hope of effective control or real contribution to the decision-making process.

Progressives may find themselves profoundly uneasy with an effort to restore significant power to localities. They have sought for years to hedge states and localities with all sorts of well-intentioned laws and regulations, from civil rights legislation to environmental impact reports. Often such measures were needed to break the power of entrenched local elites over local decision making. Whether blatantly racist or just home-town real estate interests, such elites used local politics to further their own interests at most everyone else’s expense. But this is just the sort of elite control that small-scale democracy can manage to curb.

Local democracies can err, no doubt, and they can tyrannize local minorities. Basic constitutional restrictions and guidelines – not complex, bureaucratically administered regulations – should hedge against egregious error and rank injustice. And small communities can see the effects of their errors up close and vote to correct their own mistakes. That, after all, is the virtue of democracy. Nothing is set in stone except the rules of the game that ensure a fair voice and vote for all.

What sorts of things might local democracies control? Education, for one, particularly at the primary school level. All the evidence suggests that the “big is better” philosophy of the last half-century is a disaster educationally. Small, intimate settings are the ones where students learn best, according to their own individual dispositions and needs. But to make this work, local schooling would have to be freed from the elaborate and expensive building codes, personnel policies, and “expert” driven (in reality, highly politicized) content requirements that the current system has generated. Local communities – parents – will have to see to the health and safety of their own children, determine who is qualified to care for them, and oversee their education. Can we trust parents with these powers? Given the current alternatives, it’s an experiment worth trying.

The authors of The Vermont Papers have proposed a layered system of government rooted in townships and similarly sized neighborhood assemblies in larger towns and cities. The smaller units, where face-to-face democracy is most feasible, would have powers where people’s immediate interests are at stake. The wider the impact of a policy decision or problem, though, the larger the governmental unit involved. As they put it:

The approach in favor today is to give neighborhoods an advisory role on everything (from leash laws to thermonuclear war) but to entrust them with nothing completely. People in cities understand that a neighborhood should not have final say on where a landfill should be located. What they don’t understand (quite correctly) is why they should not have control over the education of their children or the care of their elderly.5

And what about that landfill? Should people just have no say over whether a toxic dump or a strip bar should be located next door?6 Effective democracy would mean that those neighborhood assemblies have real say in decisions at the next level. Spokespeople (not free agent “representatives”) might be elected, one for every two or three hundred people, by town meetings and neighborhood assemblies to the next level of government, the city or borough (in especially large cities) or, in suburban and rural settings, some workable geographic unit, as Bryan and McClaughry suggest. Most counties are not workable geographic units. Divide them up. Above all, give effective power to the resulting assemblies, who would hire and fire administrators and elect a smaller council to oversee local government between assembly meetings.

The same principles should apply at succeeding levels. Representatives (“spokespeople”) should be elected from the lower level assemblies and remain answerable to those assemblies right up to the state legislature. Thus, representatives would be chosen, not in anonymous and scattered polling places, but in public assemblies featuring ample debate and public deliberation. They would be charged with reflecting the sense of the meetings they represent, and they should be recallable on short notice. Even at the Congressional level, where representatives will still have to represent constituencies making up several of today’s counties (though we could double the number of congress people and still have a workable Congress), candidates should be vetted in town meetings and recallable by majority vote of the population voting in such meetings.

The judiciary, too, would be decentralized and democratized in a new constitutional order. Local judges would be elected regularly, their decisions overseen by a citizen’s judicial review board, as Bryan and McClaughry suggest. No judge would enjoin life-time tenure, and all would be elected officials. State level courts can play a role in adjudicating disputes between jurisdictions and between citizens and their governments. But they should be a last resort in a system in which local democracy prevails. A version of the Supreme Court might be necessary, but with justices selected for relatively short terms by democratically accountable legislatures, not appointed by a largely unaccountable executive.

Local funding and powers of taxation are certainly local business, appropriately overseen by the people themselves. But inequalities between localities would abound, if townships and neighborhoods were left to themselves. The solution is not a repetition of the present system of federal and state hand-outs, closely tied to specific projects and requirements, but an equitable sharing of state and federal revenue across the localities. Each locality (town meeting or neighborhood assembly) would decide how to utilize their share, as would assemblies at the next level of government. Citizen assemblies would distribute the funds among agencies and non-profits and set the rules, not rule-makers in Washington.

Our federal system would have to be thoroughly overhauled to reflect its new, democratic intentions. One example of a successful, decentralized republic with strong democratic elements is Switzerland. With its three basic levels of government, communities, cantons, and federal, it resembles our own. But government services are radically decentralized in Switzerland, and citizens have means of influencing federal legislation and even changing the constitution not available in the United States. Government at each level is financed by an income tax, so that communities and cantons remain independent of the federal government for funding the most basic functions of government. Local government is not relegated to imposing a regressive sales tax or politically charged property tax to pay for local services.

While most Swiss cantons are now governed by elected parliaments, equivalent to our state legislatures, two preserve the ancient citizen assembly as the central legislative body, and similar assemblies can be found at district and community levels. The role of the federal government is strictly limited, and cantons and communities have extensive powers – hence Switzerland is regarded as a “confederation” rather than an American-style federation. But even in the area of defense, where the federal government has paramount importance, the country’s military is dependent upon cantonal militias for its decentralized system of the sort of homeland defense our mis-named Defense Department couldn’t imagine.7

Swiss citizens have the power of referendum and initiative at each level, and a petition with 100,000 signers is sufficient to put a constitutional amendment before the voters. Popular initiatives may do mischief, as the recent vote forbidding construction of minarets on the country’s few mosques illustrates, but they also make possible an active citizenship; and the sorts of manipulations of the process common in the United States can be avoided by requiring, as the Swiss do, that initiatives be reviewed and modified by a legislative body before being put to the vote. Simple, legally clear proposals would have to be required, along with the necessary signatures.

Switzerland has a bicameral legislative body, like ours, with one chamber representing the cantons but elected through popular elections and not strictly answerable to cantonal authorities. Germany, however, has a second chamber that is in no danger of parading as a Hamiltonian aristocracy of legislative power, as our Senate does, but whose specific mandate is to look after the interests of the several German states and chief municipalities. While the popularly elected Bundestag is considered the true legislature of Germany, the Bundesrat, made up of representatives appointed by state governments, must pass on any legislation affecting the areas over which the states have powers. In the German system, there can be no “unfunded mandates” foisted on states and their taxpayers by the national legislature. But the arrangement also means that members of the Bundesrat have much less power to obstruct pressing national legislation than does our Senate. A federal system, especially one committed to decentralizing power to levels where democratic rule prevails, needs to have this sort of balance of powers.

What it doesn’t need is the figure of the elected king, whether at national or state levels. This will be hard for many to swallow, no doubt. As David Sirota commented during the 2008 campaign, presidentialism is America’s only truly universal religion. But presidents and governors as autocratic powers in their own right will have to go. Let the people in their townships, a judicial system restrained by popular mandate, and perhaps a Senate like the German Bundesrat provide our “checks and balances,” but not a solitary figure at the helm of the state. We have ample evidence of the dangers of such an institution, and there is no reason we should put up with it further. The figure of the president, whose express powers according to the Constitution of 1789 were mostly administrative, was after all a compromise between those like Hamilton who favored a monarchy and those who wanted strictly limited executive power. Since the Civil War we have had more and more of a monarchy, and the institution ill suits a democratic system of government.

Our chief executives will henceforth have to settle for mainly administrative powers, held strictly in check by the power of assemblies ultimately answerable to town meetings.8 And, again, Switzerland suggests how it might be done. There seven Federal Councillors elected by parliament serve as the chief executive, rotating the figure of “president” among themselves in order to have someone to facilitate meetings. Even the ceremonial functions of the presidency, like greeting foreign dignitaries, are carried out by the seven together. No cult of personality, no arrogation of powers, no action, in fact, not answerable to parliament.

A Modern State We Can Live With

The restructuring of the political system on democratic lines is essential to enabling us to address our problems. It will also enable us to restructure the American state. Americans have always demanded a degree of local autonomy. We built a federal system precisely to preserve local liberties and political institutions. Even if that system was marred by the efforts of local, above all state, elites to maintain institutions that protected their interests and powers, it laid the groundwork for systems of local governance that have contributed to the vitality of our political life, at least at the local level. But the encroaching powers of the federal government, justified since the Civil War by war and the threat of war and abetted by progressive efforts to use government constructively, have hedged and reduced local and state powers in myriad ways.

In restructuring the American state, we can take some clues from the Europeans, who have incorporated the principle of “subsidiarity” into the design of their union. Though difficult to implement in practice and often violated in the European Union, the idea is that decision making and action should be left to the level most competent to deal with an issue. That might mean, for instance, that public health regulation should be left to the township, except where it affects, say, goods shipped to other localities. Instead of federally mandated guidelines for a “certified kitchen” in every restaurant and bakery, we might have local assemblies determining what sorts of precautions make sense (basic cleanliness, for example) and what don’t (tons of stainless steel equipment, for example). Instead of state regulators deciding (as they do in California) what is a permissible farmers’ market, townships would work out their own agreements with vendors (as they do in many states). Instead of federal legislators deciding upon a “minimum wage,” we might have township assemblies constitutionally obliged to determine a “living wage” for all within the township. Instead of state and federal governments dictating curricula and texts to schools and teachers, we might decide that education belongs in the hands of families, not governments, and provide ample funds to enable families to honor their children’s “right to education” in ways they see fit.

As this last example demonstrates, such measures undermine a good many of the assumptions on which progressives and conservatives have debated the issues. Both progressives and conservatives assume that education has to serve public goals, so the state can intervene freely to see to it that students get whatever it is that parties to the debate hold dearest. But conservatives have recently been happy to restrict their interventions to public education and have even sought to enable parents a degree of choice about what sort of mandatory schooling they would like their children to submit to. The point here is not that conservatives have been inconsistent and progressives consistent, or conservatives right on one part of the debate and progressives wrong, but that subsidiarity challenges basic assumptions in much of our public policy making, and we will have to struggle to make it work.

Such struggles don’t require experts and advocacy groups and complex formulas posing as policy; they require citizens to make up their minds and vote to try out one or another approach and see how it fits. We may decide that health care is a constitutionally protected right, to be paid for out of public funds. But states and even smaller bodies might experiment with ways to insure everyone is provided the health care he or she needs and wants, handling costs, public vs. private delivery of services, and questions of shoddy practices in different ways. Some experiments will need revision, but that is the virtue of democracy. In a democracy every question can be revisited.

Little of what we have outlined here can take place without constitutional change. Indeed, one of the first goals of the Next American Revolution will to be to convene constitutional conventions at state and national levels to construct institutions worthy of a democracy. But that will require winning electoral battles across the country, transforming state and federal legislatures in the process (see Chapter 7). And that, in turn, will demand a long, hard campaign to change the way we think about politics.

But we don’t have to wait for constitutional transformation. In fact, part of getting there will demand that we take matters into our own hands, creating local assemblies apart from city and county councils to deliberate and decide on controversial issues and demand of elected authorities that they act on our decisions. Such efforts will have to be broad-based (see Chapter 5) and will eventually link with others elsewhere to create similar assemblies at state level. It’s likely that constitutional change can come at the state level first, replacing current systems of city and county and state government with ones based on local assemblies and genuine democratic accountability. How we get to this point and come to control enough power at the national level to force change is the subject of Chapters 3 through 7. In Chapter 8 we look at what a revolutionary Congress specifically will have to do to dismantle the permanent government and strangle Wall Street’s and “K” Street’s hold on public policy making. Chapter 9 looks back, to consider what the revolution will look like for all of us at the local level and how local and particular concerns can be addressed as we keep our eyes on the prize, the democratic transformation of American society. Finally, in Chapter 10 we’ll look at how a democratic revolution can help us deal with the issues that bedevil us today.

1Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 115.

2Frank Bryan and John McClaughry, The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green, 1989), p. 54.

3Frank M. Bryan, Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2004).

4Jeffrey M. Berry, Kent E. Portney, and Ken Thompson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1993).

5Bryan and McClaughry, p. 116. The authors propose a variety of innovative ways in which localities might take over welfare functions, with the possibility of integrating the poor, elderly and needy more deeply in the community.

6Michael once lived in Bryan, Texas, where the absence of zoning laws meant that a local fraternity was able to acquire one of the only charming mansions in town for a pittance after the owners of the property across the lane struck oil and installed a pump a couple hundred feet in front of the main entrance.

7During Israel’s abortive 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli and U.S. defense officials alike were astounded at the ability of Hezbollah militants to hold Israel’s war machine at bay. What both armies lacked was an understanding of “defense,” because the military doctrines of both states are concerned exclusively with what the U.S. military calls “forward projection,” i.e., the notion that the best defense is an offense. The Next American Revolution will have to send senior officers to study at the feet of the Swiss and Swedes as we reconstruct defense policy along sensible lines.

8Parliamentary systems have this power, of course, over prime ministers and their cabinets. But existing parliamentary systems, like our own presidential one, are republican, not genuinely democratic, and parliament, accordingly, is only answerable to the people when it faces election, which occurs in the British version only when parliament or the prime minister chooses to hold one.


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