From September 11th to September 12th, 2015, the Berggruen Institute Philosophy and Culture Center assembled a great group of thinkers to discuss issues related to post-party governance. The Berggruen Institute believes that this topic is very timely and necessary.
Among the participants are: Professor Tongdong BAI from Fudan University; Professor Daniel Bell from Tsinghua University who is also the director of Berggruen Institute Philosophy and Culture Center; Professor Frank Fukuyama from Stanford University; Nathan Gardels who is the editor-in-chief for TheWorldPost; Professor Margaret Levi who is the Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University; Professor Stephen Macedo from Princeton University; Mario Monti who served as the Prime Minister of Italy; Professor Hui WANG from Tsinghua University; Professor Yang YAO from Peking University; and Professor Yongnian ZHENG from National University of Singapore.
The issue: Multiparty political systems seemed to have functioned quite well during the industrial era when large socio-economic blocs (labor, capital) were able to form mass parties, engage citizen participation and forge a governing consensus. As societies, in the West in particular, have grown more plural with a proliferation of interests fortified by social networks, multiparty democracies are increasingly becoming dysfunctional and prone to gridlock.
It is therefore a good historical moment to examine whether a post-party political system with robust non-partisan mediating practices and institutions might offer a better way of governing.
Thesis: Greater participation will require more robust non-partisan mediating institutions. Political awakenings everywhere, combined with the participatory power of social networks, will create more contending interests and social actors than ever before. That will require, in turn, stronger non-partisan, de-politicized mediating practices and institutions to sort out the tradeoffs for the long-term common good among proliferating and empowered parties focused on their particular interests; in other words, the deliberative function of reasoned discourse joined with a legitimate decision-making mechanism.
Institutional Design: Is there the possibility of political innovation through a hybrid mix of direct democracy, representative democracy and de-politicized meritocracy in which delegation of power can add more knowledge and a long-term horizon to democratic decision making in complex societies while at the same time remaining accountable?
The workshop examined the issue from four angles:
- The causes of dysfunction and gridlock in today’s multiparty democracies;
- The historical debates over whether parties — factions — are inimical to good governance (US Founding Fathers/Madison; Gramsci/Marx/Lenin on one-party systems; Confucian sources on non-party meritocratic governance);
- The historical lessons of non-party governance as well as one-party continuous rule (Chinese history before and after revolution; Singapore’s PAP, Japan’s LDP and Sweden’s SDP all ruled for long periods without interruption and built prosperous egalitarian societies);
- What might a non-party or post-party system that also has robust feedback and consent loops look like in terms of institutional design?
Process: We have invited participants among whom there is a clear correspondence of ideas as a basis for discussion. Each participant submitted their own informal reflections on these topics ahead of the actual workshop.
The workshop was held to enrich each participant’s own thinking on the subject for their own ongoing work. A summary report on the discussion has been composed by Nathan Gardels, editor-in-chief for TheWorldPost, and is attached below:
Though participants often seemed to be talking past each other from within separate discourses rooted in different semantic groundings, in the end, in my view, a common understanding could be said to have emerged. These are the points I have taken away in my interpretation of the discussion. – Nathan Gardels, Sr. Advisor, Berggruen Institute
1. A decisive political impulse is necessary to set the purposeful direction of society through government. The contest over this path is what is properly called Politics.
2. That course can be set by a Modern Prince who is decider. In the case of China, as Zheng Yongnian argued, “the Party is an organizational form of the Emperorship system” that is open to adaptation in order to perpetuate its power. The decisive political actor can be one-party with internal competition as in China, or a multi-party system where worldviews and sets of interests compete with each other for power.
(Levi, Macedo, Fukuyama) Strong and large parties can act as aggregators of disparate interest into a common core of consensus – a “community of fate” that binds large populations and can animate and moblilize political action; weak parties end up fragmenting the capacity for consensus and lead to gridlock. Margaret Levi raised the notion that, with parties, voters are “socio-tropic” — endorsing a worldview beyond their own immediate self-interest. An open question is whether societies today are so de-massifying and fragmenting that no stable and overarching interests are capable of binding large constituencies, which combine and disassemble depending on the cross cutting issue (i.e. enviromentalists against immigration; labor unions against climate change action) and the constituencies they elicit out of the body politic.
3. As Frank Fukuyama pointed out, the American system of presidential power (where initiating action comes from the independently elected executive) combined with Madisonian checks and balances tends to decay toward gridlock when different parties hold the Congress and the White House. There are too many “veto points” in the system captured by organized special interests that can frustrate the common good, including through judicial challenges when policies are already legislated (i.e. Obamacare).
In a parliamentary system in which executive and legislature are aligned by winning a majority in elections, gridlock is less likely. As Mario Monti noted from his own experience in Europe, parliamentary systems are better able to form “grand coalitions” of competing parties to “reduce the net cost to their political fortunes” of making tough structural reforms that generate adverse popular reaction. There was further discussion about scale – that presidential systems may be more necessary to achieve political decisiveness in large countries, as the case of India illustrates (with its ineffective parliamentary system.)
4. To mitigate and counterbalance the tendency of short-term fixes that are responsive to the immediate concerns of voter constituencies or special interests at the expense of the long-term and common good, deliberative, mediating institutions and practices need to be established that create a buffer – or filter – against the populist impulses of partial interests seeking to gain and maintain power.
As the American Founding Fathers understood in their design of a constitution that mixed representative democracy, indirect democracy and delegated authority (division of powers among branches, the electoral college, indirectly elected Senate, Supreme Court) government by the people needs to be checked by government for the people through institutions that “enlarge the public view” and “cool the immediate passions of popular electorate.” (Stephen Macedo)
Such “non-partisan” or as Yao Yang puts it, “disinterested institutions” – in the sense that they are designed to ensure that no one factional or partial interest can dominate — are necessarily procedural in nature and have no substantive content since “the common good” is a moving target defined in different ways at different times by different constituencies.
[The semantic squabbles concerned how to properly name what was being proposed – post-party politics? Post-partisan government? Multi-partisan? Depoliticized democracy? Meritocratic? Technocratic? Disinterested?]
In China, the Party itself, with 88 million members, is the world’s largest consensus formation apparatus that — ideally through intra-party democracy, constant consultation with stakeholders and balancing partial interests against the whole — plays this “disinterested” role as an “encompassing organization.” In the Chinese system, policies change to adapt to new realities, but parties don’t. The main aim of Xi Jinping’s protracted anti-corruption campaign is to save the party from capture by organized special interests and return it to its “disinterested role.”
5. Whether the Party’s “community of fate” narrative “disinterestedly” reflects the interests of the Chinese people as a whole depends on both the degree of internal democratic competition over political direction and an open and inclusive adaptability to the demands of society.
Such a system can be considered legitimate, in the absence of one person one vote multiparty elections, if it nonetheless has robust feedback mechanisms. All Chinese participants in the workshop favored more free expression and freedom of association than presently allowed in China.
6. According to Wang Hui, one consequence of the “lack of Politics” since 1989 in China is that the political direction the “Party-state” has set of a technocratically administered export and investment led growth has excluded other alternative paths. Coming to the same point from the opposite direction, Zheng Yongnian similarly sees the transformation of the “Party-state” into a “State-Party” – an administrative apparatus of an already decided political narrative. In this new constellation, the State and Party are not always in agreement at the top levels, though at the lowest levels beneath the cities, the Party and township or administrative leaders are for all practical purposes one unit.
7. Paradoxically, this de-politicized Communist Party narrative, as Wang Hui sees it, has left out the “working class” and only very lately incorporated an environmental dimension. What China thus needs, is more Politicization as a course correction.
8. The opposite, as noted above in Mario Monti’s case, could be said for addressing fiscal, sovereign debt and long-term structural changes in those Western democracies paralyzed by partisanship– there needs to be more “de-politicization”.
9. Finally, this is the point: Decisive political majorities, however aggregated, are necessary to launch the policy directions that shape society: Politicization.
Shaping those impulses into responsible long-term policies that take into account all interests in society and not only partial interests must involve disinterested deliberation, which in turn fashions the decision options that translate the political impulse into policy. Depoliticization.
Robust feedback on the impacts of those policies as they roll out are essential for course correction as necessary; again Politicization – either through intra-party competition within one party or multiparty contestation or other robust forms of consultation.
10. Institutional design should aim to establish institutions and practices that foster this constant equilibrium between politicization and “disinterested government.”
Bai Tongdong and Daniel Bell presented a vision of such an equilibrium. Bai has suggested a system, universally applicable, that combines exams for an upper meritocratic house and elections for a lower advisory house and is thus not determined by a one person one vote arrangement. Bell believes that the Chinese system — with meritocracy at the top, democracy at the bottom, and experimentation in between — is highly context bound and not applicable in countries without a long tradition of political meritocracy and argues that in any horizontal model of democracy and meritocracy at the central level, the elected house will inevitably be invested with more legitimacy and marginalize the upper house. He further suggests improving vertical democratic meritocracy in practice and a popular referendum as a vote of confidence in the model.” Like Bell, Zheng Yongnian and Yao Yang both propose an internal evolution of the Party toward “democratic elements” of more intra-party political competition and consultation as well as more freedom of expression and association. Wang Hui calls for re-politicization of the Party that gives greater expression to the “universal interests” of working class and environmental constituencies. Like Mario Monti with his idea of “grand coalitions”, aside from noting the superiority of parliamentary democracies over presidential systems, Frank Fukuyama suggests several procedural, regulatory and statutory tweaks that weaken the “veto points” in American democracy. In a case study of institutional design for California, Gardels and Berggruen propose a hybrid of an indirect, stepped-system of elections for the assembly and executive, which in turn delegates deliberative, long-term policy formulation to an appointed body of the expert and experienced that constitute an upper house. In turn the proposed policies of that body of delegated authority must be subjected to either the legislature for a vote, or to the electorate through the state’s direct democracy initiative process.