Inclusive Democracy

Inclusive Democracy

The theoretical project of Inclusive Democracy (ID; as distinguished from the political project which is part of the democratic and autonomy traditions) emerged from the work of political philosopher, former academic and activist Takis Fotopoulos in Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Cassell/Continuum, London/New York, 1997, 401 pp. and was further developed by him and other writers in the journal Democracy & Nature and its successor The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy ISSN 1753-240X, an Electronic journal freely available and published by the 'International Network for Inclusive Democracy'. As Arran Gare writes in a critical assessment of Towards an Inclusive Democracy, “it offers a powerful new interpretation of the history and destructive dynamics of the market and provides an inspiring new vision of the future in place of both neo-liberalism and existing forms of socialism” . Also, as David Freeman stresses, although Fotopoulos’ approach “is not openly anarchism, yet anarchism seems the formal category within which he works, given his commitment to direct democracy, municipalism and abolition of state, money and market economy”.


As Fotopoulos defines inclusive democracy, “it is a new conception of democracy, which, using as a starting point the classical definition of it, expresses democracy in terms of direct political democracy, economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and state planning), as well as democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. In short, inclusive democracy is a form of social organisation which re-integrates society with economy, polity and nature. The concept of inclusive democracy is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions, the classical democratic and the socialist, although it also encompasses radical green, feminist, and liberation movements in the South”.

Starting point of the ID project is that the world, at the beginning of the new millennium, faces a multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, social, cultural and political), which is shown to be caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites. This is interpreted to be the outcome of the establishment, in the last few centuries, of the system of market economy (in the Polanyian sense , Representative democracy and the related forms of hierarchical structure. An inclusive democracy is therefore seen not simply as a utopia, but perhaps as the only way out of the present crisis, as it is founded on the equal distribution of power at all levels.

In this conception of democracy, the public realm includes not just the political realm (the sphere of political decision-taking, the area in which political power is exercised), as is the usual practice of many supporters of the republican or democratic project (Hannah Arendt, Cornelius Castoriadis, Murray Bookchin et al), but also the economic realm (the sphere of economic decision-taking, the area in which economic power is exercised with respect to the broad economic choices that any scarcity society has to make), as well as a ‘social’ realm (the sphere of decision-taking in the workplace, the education place and any other economic or cultural institution which is a constituent element of a democratic society). Furthermore, the public realm could be extended to include the ‘ecological realm’, which may be defined as the sphere of the relations between Society and Nature. Therefore, the public realm, in contrast to the private realm, includes any area of human activity in which decisions can be taken collectively and democratically.

According to these four realms, we may distinguish between four main constituent elements of an inclusive democracy: the political, the economic, ‘democracy in the social realm’ and the ecological. The first three elements form the institutional framework, which aims at the equal distribution of political, economic and social power respectively. In this sense, these elements define a system, which aims at the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Similarly, ecological democracy is defined as the institutional framework, which aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, the system, which aims to reintegrate humans and nature.

Institutional framework

Political or direct democracy

The necessary condition for the establishment of a political democracy involves the creation of appropriate institutions, which secure an equal distribution of political power among all citizens. All political decisions (including those relating to the formation and execution of laws) are taken by the citizen body collectively and without representation. No political decisions are left to the experts, who can only offer their advice to the citizen body which functions as the ultimate decision-taker. Where delegation of authority takes place to segments of the citizen body, in order to carry out specific duties (e.g., to serve as members of popular courts, or of regional and confederal councils, etc.), the delegation is assigned, on principle, by lot, on a rotation basis, and it is always recallable by the citizen body. Furthermore, delegates to regional and confederal bodies should have specific mandates. All residents of a particular geographical area (which today can only take the form of a geographical community), beyond a certain age of maturity --to be defined by the citizen body itself-- and irrespective of gender, race, ethnic or cultural identity, are members of the citizen body and are directly involved in the decision-taking process. Finally, democracy can only be grounded in the conscious choice of its citizens to have individual and collective autonomy and, therefore, cannot be the outcome of any social, economic or natural “laws” or tendencies dialectically leading to it, let alone any divine or mystical dogmas and preconceptions. In this sense, neither representative democracy nor soviet democracy meet the conditions of political democracy and are simply forms of political oligarchy, where political power is concentrated in the hands of various elites, i.e. professional politicians, and party bureaucrats respectively.

The sufficient condition for the reproduction of a political democracy refers to the citizens’ level of democratic consciousness and, as David Gabbard & Karen Appleton point out, “the responsibility of cultivating the democratic consciousness requisite to this conception of citizenship falls to paideia” which involves not simply education but character development and a well-rounded education in knowledge and skills, i.e. the education of the individual as citizen, which alone can give substantive content to the public space.

The basic unit of decision making in an inclusive democracy is the demotic assembly, i.e. the assembly of demos, the citizen body in a given geographical area which may encompass a town and the surrounding villages, or even neighbourhoods of large cities. This is very close to the concept of the ‘urban village’ proposed today by supporters of de-growth economics . However, apart from the decisions to be taken at the local level, there are a lot of important decisions to be taken at the regional or confederal level. This is why, as Serge Latouche observes, the aim of Inclusive Democracy “presupposes a “confederation of demoi” made up of small, homogenous units of around 30,000 people” . Therefore, an inclusive democracy today can only take the form of a confederal democracy that is based on a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies in the various demoi. Their function is thus purely administrative and practical, not a policy-making one, like the function of representatives in representative democracy. Finally, political or direct democracy implies a very different conception of citizenship than the usual liberal and socialist conceptions. In this conception, political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself so that one does not engage in political action simply to promote one’s welfare but to realise the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality and solidarity. This, in contrast to the liberal and social-democratic conceptions which adopt an ‘instrumentalist’ view of citizenship, i.e. a view which implies that citizenship entitles citizens with certain rights that they can exercise as means to the end of individual welfare.

Economic democracy

The ID project introduced a very different conception from the usual one of Economic democracy. According to the ID project, economic democracy is the authority of demos in the economic sphere —which implies the existence of economic equality in the sense of equal distribution of economic power. Therefore, all ‘macro’ economic decisions, namely, decisions concerning the running of the economy as a whole (overall level of production, consumption and investment, amounts of work and leisure implied, technologies to be used, etc.) are taken by the citizen body collectively and without representation. However, "micro" economic decisions at the workplace or the household levels are taken by the individual production or consumption unit through a proposed system of vouchers.

As with the case of direct democracy, economic democracy today is only feasible at the level of the confederated communities. It involves the demotic ownership of the economy (i.e. the means of production belong to each demos), something radically different from both the two main forms of concentration of economic power (capitalist and ‘socialist’ growth economy), as well as from the various types of collectivist capitalism, either of the `workers' control' type, or of the milder versions that social democrats of the post-Keynesian variety suggest. The community (the demos), therefore, becomes the authentic unit of economic life, since economic democracy is not feasible today unless both the ownership and control of productive resources are organised at the community level.

We may identify three preconditions that must be satisfied for economic democracy to be feasible:

• Demotic self-reliance, which is meant in terms of radical decentralisation and self-reliance, rather than of self-sufficiency.

• Demotic ownership of productive resources, a kind of ownership which leads to the politicisation of the economy, the real synthesis of economy and polity. This is so because economic decision making is carried out by the entire community, through the citizens' assemblies, where people take the fundamental macro-economic economic decisions which affect all the community, as citizens, rather than as vocationally oriented groups (e.g. workers, as e.g. in Parecon . At the same time, people at the workplace, apart from participating in the community decisions about the overall planning targets, would also participate as workers (in the above broad sense of vocationally oriented groups) in their respective workplace assemblies, in a process of modifying/implementing the Democratic Plan and in running their own workplace.

• Confederal allocation of resources. Although self-reliance implies that many decisions can be taken at the community level, still a lot remains to be resolved at the regional/national/supra-national level. However, it is delegates (rather than representatives) with specific mandates from the demotic assemblies who are involved in a confederal demotic planning process which, in combination with the proposed system of vouchers, effects the allocation of resources in a confederal inclusive democracy.

A model of economic democracy, as an integral part of an inclusive democracy, is described in Towards An Inclusive Democracy (ch 6), the first book-length description of inclusive democracy. The main characteristic of the proposed model, which also differentiates it from socialist planning models like Parecon, is that it explicitly presupposes a stateless, moneyless and marketless economy that precludes private accumulation of wealth and the institutionalisation of privileges for some sections of society, without having to rely on a mythical post-scarcity state of abundance, or having to sacrifice freedom of choice. The proposed system aims at satisfying the double aim of: a) meeting the basic needs of all citizens -- which requires that basic macro-economic decisions have to be taken democratically and b) securing freedom of choice -- which requires the individual to take important decisions affecting his/her own life (what work to do, what to consume etc.).

The system therefore consists of two basic elements: a planning element that involves the creation of a feedback process of democratic planning between workplace assemblies, demotic assemblies and the confederal assembly and a "market" element that involves the creation of an "artificial market", which will secure a real freedom of choice, without incurring the adverse effects associated with real markets. However, although some have compared the ID system to “a system of work vouchers (really a form of money based on the labour theory of value)” the voucher system proposed is not a money model, since vouchers are issued on a personal basis, so that they cannot be used, like money, as a general medium of exchange and store of wealth. Furthermore the crucial distinction between basic and non-basic needs introduced by the ID model differentiates it from market-based or planning-based models. Thus, following this distinction, the ID model adopts the principle of remuneration ‘according to need’ for basic needs and ‘according to effort’ for non-basic needs. This way, unlike Parecon where the satisfaction of basic needs is left to a few goods declared public and to compassion the ID model is based on the principle that meeting basic needs is a fundamental human right which cannot be denied to anybody, as long as one offers the minimal amount of work required for this.

Democracy in the social realm

An inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless it extends to the broader social realm to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution, which constitutes an element of this realm. The equal distribution of power in these institutions and self-management are secured through the creation of assemblies of the people involved in each place of work or education (workers’ assemblies, student and teachers’ assemblies respectively) who take all important decisions about the functioning of these places, within the framework of the decisions taken by citizens’ demotic assemblies as regards the general aims of production, education and culture respectively. The assemblies are federated at the regional and confederal levels so that the confederal assemblies of workers, teaches, students and so on could be involved in a process of constant interaction with the citizens’ confederal assemblies to define society’s “general interest”.

A crucial issue that arises with respect to democracy in the social realm refers to relations in the household and the question how its ‘democratisation’ may be achieved. One possible solution is the dissolution of the household/public realm divide. Thus, some feminist writers, particularly of the eco-feminist variety, glorify the oikos and its values as a substitute for the polis and its politics, something that can be taken as an attempt to dissolve the public into the private. At the other end, some Marxist feminists attempt to remove the public/private dualism by dissolving all private space into a singular public, a socialised or fraternal state sphere. Another possible solution is, taking for granted that the household belongs to the private realm, to ‘democratise’ it in the sense that household relationships should take on the characteristics of democratic relationships, and that the household should take a form which is consistent with the freedom of all its members.

For the ID project, the issue is not the dissolution of the private/public realm divide. The real issue is how, maintaining and enhancing the autonomy of the two realms, such institutional arrangements are adopted that introduce democracy at the household and the social realm in general (workplace, educational establishment etcetera) and at the same time enhance the institutional arrangements of political and economic democracy. In this sense, an effective democracy is inconceivable unless free time is equally distributed among all citizens, and this condition can never be satisfied as long as the present hierarchical conditions in the household, the workplace and elsewhere continue. Furthermore, democracy in the social realm, particularly in the household, is impossible, unless such institutional arrangements are introduced which recognise the character of the household as a needs-satisfier and integrate the care and services provided within its framework into the general scheme of needs satisfaction.

Ecological democracy

As Steven Best stresses, “in bold contrast to the limitations of the AAM (Animal Advocacy Movement) and all other reformist causes, Takis Fotopoulos advances a broad view of human dynamics and social institutions, their impact on the earth, and the resulting consequences for society itself. Combining anti-capitalist, radical democracy, and ecological concerns in the concept of “ecological democracy,” Fotopoulos defines this notion as “the institutional framework which aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system which aims to reintegrate humans and nature. This implies transcending the present ‘instrumentalist’ view of Nature, in which Nature is seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power.”

Some critics of inclusive democracy wonder what guarantees an inclusive democracy might offer in ensuring a better relationship of society to nature than the alternative systems of the market economy, or socialist statism. A well-known eco-socialist, for instance, pointed out “the ‘required’ ecological consensus among ecotopia’ s inhabitants might not be ensured merely by establishing an Athenian democracy where all are educated and rational” . However, ID supporters counter argue that this criticism represents a clear misconception of what democracy is about because, “if we see it as a process of social self-institution where there is no divinely or ‘objectively’ defined code of human conduct, such guarantees are by definition ruled out. Therefore, the replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework of inclusive democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between the natural and social worlds. The sufficient condition refers to the citizens’ level of ecological consciousness. Still, the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that will follow the institution of an inclusive democracy, combined with the decisive role that paedeia will play in an environmentally-friendly institutional framework, could reasonably be expected to lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature”.

As the ID project maintains, the institutional framework of Inclusive Democracy offers the best hope for a better human relationship to Nature than could ever be achieved in a market economy, or one based on socialist statism. The factors supporting this view refer to all three elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic and social.

Political or direct democracy presupposes a radical decentralisation whilst the ‘localist’ character of a confederal society should enhance its environmentally friendly character. Furthermore, political democracy creates a public space that will by itself have a very significant effect in reducing the appeal of materialism by providing a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates. Economic democracy replaces the grow-or-die dynamics of the market economy with a new social dynamic aiming at the satisfaction of demos’ needs and not at growth per se. If the satisfaction of demotic needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the ‘needs’ that the market creates, and if the link between economy and society is restored, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature will continue conditioning human behaviour. Particularly so, since unlike socialist models which are ‘centralist’, the aim of production in an Inclusive Democracy is not growth but the satisfaction of the basic needs of the community and those non-basic needs for which members of the community express a desire and are willing to work extra for. This implies a different definition of economic efficiency which is given, not on the basis of narrow techno-economic criteria of input minimisation/output maximization as in socialist models like Parecon, but on the basis of criteria securing full coverage of the democratically defined basic needs of all citizens as well as of the non-basic needs they decide to meet --even if this involves a certain amount of ‘inefficiency’ according to the orthodox economics criteria. Finally, democracy in the social realm should be a decisive step in the creation of the sufficient condition for a harmonious nature-society relationship as the phasing out of patriarchal relations in the household and hierarchical relations in general should create a new ethos of non-domination which would engulf both Nature and Society.

See also


External resources

Note that several of the printed resources listed below are also available online.

Online resources

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