A paper for the COVICO panel, APSA Conference, San Francisco, 3:30 pm, 31 August 2001
ABSTRACT: The theoretical basis for democratic governance has been anachronistic for some time, but the accelerated pace of globalization makes the need for a paradigm shift more acute than ever before. The accelerated flow of people around the world, facilitated and informed by the World Wide Web and new technologies, means that increasingly dispersed minority communities exist in all countries, and citizens of all states living in diaspora want to retain contacts and a political presence in their homeland. In addition to representing the sedentary residents of electoral districts, therefore, we must find ways to represent widely dispersed communities, at home and abroad, in the formal structures of representative government.
Democratic theory has, traditionally, presupposed a settled population living within well-defined boundaries. Citizens, as in the Athenian prototype, were landowners whose farms provided a miniature image of the state. They had no place in their scheme for merchants and traders, viewed as useful but marginal members of the polity who were not eligible for citizenship. . Extensive urbanization, population growth, and imperial conquests changed all that. Direct democracy became impossible except in some localities. To the degree that democratic values prevailed, they had to be institutionalized through some form of representative government. Power was transferred from individual citizens to their elect representatives, primarily in legislative assembly authorized to make policy decisions on their behalf, and to choose the officials who would exercise executive authority – sometimes, exceptionally, citizens also directly elect their executive officers. We still adhere to this model: all voters are expected to have a home address and to form communities within bounded districts where their interests converge enough to provide consensual support for decisions made by a majority of their representatives. Minorities are expected to be in sufficient consensus with governing majorities to accept their decisions and cooperate in their implementation.
The model, of course, was never fully effective, even in countries fully committed to constitutional democracy. Some citizens are always prevented from voting and others fail to vote. Those who are excluded may be non-citizens, oppressed minorities, the young, women, the insane and the criminal, especially the poor and uneducated. Wealth and money have always conferred advantages on oligarchies even when democratic norms were well approximated. Democracies that created empires did not extend the right to be represented to their conquered subjects. Again, one can find exceptions, but the generalization seems correct: representative government, even at its best, approximated but rarely achieved all the goals set by its exponents.
In many countries, by contrast, democratic governance was never even approximated. The idea of electing representatives from sedentary agriculturally based communities never could be applied to nomadic communities based on animal husbandry. Primary relationships based on kinship have generated clan or tribal forms of organization that persist and make the individualistic principles of representative government largely inapplicable. Moreover, although agriculture has spread around the world, so has desertification, and large areas of the world's surface are now inhabitable only by nomads. As experience in quite a few countries demonstrates (Somalia is a prize example) it is extremely difficult to integrate nomads into political systems based on the voting rights of individual citizens -- they simply lack a fixed place to define their identity. What do they put on their calling cards?
Nevertheless, under the growing impact of globalization, more and more countries look to democratic institutions to find a way to organize themselves, hoping it will not only bring domestic peace and prosperity but also enhance their status in world affairs and increase their prospects for help from richer and more powerful countries. At the same time, the traditional institutions of representative governance are being tested – the new realities impose limitations and generate problems that can no longer be solved by means of long-established practices. Among these new problems, one that is particularly pressing arises from the increased mobility of peoples. Refugees from genocide and oppression mingle with business men, engineers, scholars and sportsmen and tourists as world travelers. States see their citizens living abroad as a responsibility and a resource – diasporans look to their homelands for support and protection, and want to influence government that affect their status and work. Immigrants settle as dispersed minorities and face a host of problems that dominant minorities are reluctant to understand or help them solve.
In today's world, traditional nomadism has been vastly augmented by globalization. The number of quasi-nomads has hugely accelerated.(1) Even when these travelers retain a home address, they spend so much of their time on the road -- or in the air -- traveling from place to place and following a peripatetic life-style that their local community attachments grow weaker. In addition to the effects of life-style changes, we must recognize the gigantic impact of accelerated migrations. No doubt, some immigrants live happily dispersed in many hostlands, but others also remain attached to their homeland while living abroad in diaspora. Moreover, modern societies are increasingly multi-ethnic as people move about seeking economic opportunities and pleasing environments -- neighbors are no longer "kith and kin" but strangers who happen to live near other strangers. Migrants and peripatetics both tend to share stronger bonds of affinity with people living far from home than they do with strangers living in a neighboring house, apartment or room. The INTERNET, telephones and, increasingly, cell phones plus the ubiquitous mass media now permit "virtual communities" to live in cyberspace and to experience far greater solidarity with fellow "glocals" wherever they may live (or move) than they do with strangers living next door. True parochial "locals" have virtually disappeared in much of the world – more and more people identify with dispersed communities that may reach around the world.
Democratic theory has yet to accommodate to these ecological changes. We still rely mainly on representative assemblies chosen by settled neighbors to make our political decisions. Although I see no alternative to this pattern as foundational for the basic political organs of modern governance, I believe a new pattern is needed to supplement it, one that would reflect the complementary needs of mobile populations whose basic solidarity hinges on shared values and interests even though their members live far apart. Can we find any models for new constitutional mechanisms that will enable dispersed global communities and marginalized minorities to find a voice in the political processes of democratic governance?
To visualize the kind of additional assembly that could represent the interests of dispersed communities it may be useful to consider what is happening today in the United Kingdom. There the old House of Lords has been sufficiently discredited to enable reformers to propose its replacement by a New Second Chamber (NSC) that would, in fact, represent unrepresented communities, both at home and abroad. Most if not all the hereditary Lords have already been relieved of their HOL memberships, and a Royal Commission was established to study this question. It produced a report that has already planned a new kind of representative assembly whose members can speak for communities and regions that are not represented in the existing House of Commons. Barry Gills of Newcastle University, United Kingdom, and I have collaborated to prepare a paper -- a href="http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/lords.htm -- commenting on the Commission's proposals and urging consideration of a much stronger formula.
As now planned, an Appointments Commission (AC) will co-opt individuals to represent the communities they select. Barry and I think this is arbitrary and unlikely to succeed because the communities that need representation in government are unlikely to support someone selected ex cathedra. Instead, therefore, we recommend that members of interested communities should be invited to form associations and nominate candidates for appointment to the NSC. The prospect of having a member seated in the NSC will, we think, provide a sufficient incentive for the many fragmented ethnic communities to come together for this purpose. We also argue that Britons living in diaspora are also unrepresented in the British government and have a legitimate interest in its decisions which also affect their lives wherever they may be living. For those living far from London, it is relevant to note that the Internet can now also make participation in the deliberations of an assembly feasible for those who live abroad. Just as distance education now brings teachers and students together in cyberspace, so legislators may how work together as cyber cohorts. Both debating and voting at a distance is now feasible. The considerations involved are complex, but some of them are spelled out in the paper mentioned above.
As for the transferability of the British NSC concept to other countries, let us think about several possibilities, starting with the American case. In the U.S., the Senate was originally imagined as a chamber to represent states -- members were to be appointed by each state's governor or legislature. Thus the Senate originally represented the principle of group rights on the premise that each state had distinctive interests over and above those of their citizens who could vote, as individuals, for members of the House of Representatives. Subsequently, of course, the popular election of Senators became institutionalized and the original intention to create a bi-cameral legislature with two quite different chambers was lost. What we now have in the Senate is virtually a redundant body with the misfortune that the representation of individuals is highly inequitable: senators from Hawaii, Nevada or Rhode Island have an equal voice with senators from New York, California, or Texas, although they represent far fewer individuals.
As a result of this inequity and other complaints, there are growing demands for Senate reform demands that could well escalate in coming years. Such demands might well be strengthened if there were a viable alternative to scrapping the body. There are enough supporters of bi-cameralism to make it almost impossible to destroy the body -- but there might be enough support for reform to make it feasible to replace the existing Senate with a new second chamber. Such a body could be constituted along lines proposed for the NSC in the UK. It would retain the original intention of the Founders to represent "group rights" but the groups would no longer be limited to the states -- instead, they could include many dispersed American communities that now have no voice in the House of Representatives. Above all, dispersed minorities that now have no voice in Congress might be authorized to create national associations entitled to nominate members of the American NSC.
Group representation should also include the indigenous peoples (“American Indians”) who already exercise the right of self-government as distinct nations. Although the status of Hawaiians has yet to be recognized, they should be given a voice. All the overseas possessions and condominiums of the United States, including Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and Micronesia, could be represented. Moreover, Americans in diaspora should also be permitted to nominate members of the reformed "Senate." They already have the right to vote as absentees in local elections, but this is pretty meaningless if they are really living abroad and not just visiting. It would be much more interesting and useful for them to be authorized to vote on matters that concern them as Americans in diaspora -- they are affected much more by policies made in Washington than by those made in their original home districts.
The rights and duties of the NSC should be distinguished clearly from those of the House of Representatives. Its role should be clearly differentiated. The HR should be given more power to make decisions without the need for concurrent support by the Senate. Instead, as with the British HOL, the Senate might have the authority to review and delay action by the HR, but not to block its decisions. In exchange for surrendering this authority, the NSC could be given full authority to deal with inter-communal problems. It would become the champion of minority rights and civil liberties. It would make autonomy within the U.S. – nations within a nation – more than just a slogan. The HR would not legislate for people enjoying self-governance in autonomous regions, but relations between all self-governing entities in the U.S. would be subject to supervision by the NSC.
This may be just a dream, and surely if the idea were to be taken seriously, it could be developed as a way to make constitutional democracy in the U.S. more realistic and relevant to the changing world environment.
I will not try to specify parallels in other countries, but they surely exist. In Japan, for example, the growing number of non-Japanese who are needed as employees but lack any voice in that country's political system is a cause for alarm. The paper by Imtiaz Hussain for our panel highlights North Americans living in Mexico and Mexicans in the U.S. as important unrepresented communities in these neighboring countries. Similar situations exist in many other countries where "guest" workers and “corporate nomads” abound as politically unrepresented communities. How can they gain the political representation they need in order to cope with their problems in a way that is fair and realistic?
Does the proposed British formula offer any basis for solving this problem in other countries? Bi-cameralism is widespread in constitutional democracies, and it will surely be established in many countries making the transition to democracy from authoritarian rule. Although local solidarities prevail everywhere and justify continuing support for a popular first chamber whose members are elected by voters who are long-term residents of an electoral district, the effects of globalization are ubiquitous and cumulative. Increasingly, residents in every country belong to minority communities that are not represented in the assemblies elected by sedentary majorities. Even when they are citizens, they may be viewed as transient minorities who fail to register properly – they belong to voiceless unrepresented communities. When they do vote, they often find their concerns are overlooked because they belong to a small local group. If their community could be organized nationally they would constitute a substantial block of voters. But no mechanism exists to grant recognition to such national dispersed communities.
A possible mechanism to give them status and a real voice in national policy-making may be found in the way a second legislative chamber is organized. Apart from the British example, which is still taking shape, are there counterparts in other countries? One example that may be worth attention in this connection is that of the Canadian Senate. Under the terms of the British North America Act, 1867, Parliament empowered the Governor-General to appoint senators on a long-term basis. The idea was to create something like the British House of Lords, though without it aristocratic basis and, of course, something resembling the U.S. Senate. To be eligible for appointment as a Senator, someone had to be a Canadian citizen, at least 30 years of age, who owned $4,000 of equity in land in a province; had a personal net worth of $4,000; and a resident of the province they were to represent. Originally they were given lifetime appointments but in1965 Parliament introduced mandatory retirement at age 75, based upon the model for judges. Although it was not part of the formula, Senators today do come from many different ethnic backgrounds and religions. Canada's aboriginal First Nations and Black communities are represented in the Senate, as are Canadians of Arab, Greek, Italian, Jewish, Ukrainian and other origins. .
The Governor-General must now be a Canadian citizen appointed from London on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. Both geographic and partisan identities are officially taken into account, but dispersed ethnic communities are not formally represented. In practice, however, a number of members are actively associated with such communities. There are now two Inuit, two Metis, and two North American Indians – see: http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/key/Aboriginal.asp?Hist=N&Source=sen
Among the Metis is Thelma Chalifoux from Alberta, listed as a member of the Metia Nation: she chairs the Aboriginal Committee of the Senate. This Committee was first created in December 1989 and has a mandate to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. In March 1990 the Committee received an order of reference to study the relations between the aboriginal peoples and the Government of Canada. See: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/Committee_SenHome.asp?Language=E&Parl=37&Ses=1&comm_id=1
As for other minorities, Marisa Ferretti Barth from Quebec speaks for 68 Italian-speaking seniors clubs, and a variety of other ethnic organization – she is a member of the Human Rights Committee. Sheila Finestone from Quebec is active in an extensive network of Jewish organizations. No doubt other names could be added, but there is no formal recognition of representation for dispersed ethnic minorities. An alphabetical list of Senators with some biographical information about each of them can be found at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/senmemb/senate/isenator.asp?Language=E No doubt careful study of this data would reveal the identity of others who do, in fact, speak for dispersed minorities. The point is that, in fact, various dispersed minority communities are represented in the membership of the Canadian Senate, even though this is not a prescribed criterion.
As for its functions, the Senate in Canada resembles the House of Lords in that it exercises a secondary moderating influence and must approve all legislation based on acts of the popularly elected House of Commons. According to Senator Finestone who has her own Home Page, At the Quebec Conference of 1864, the Canadian founders of Confederation worked out a blueprint for the Constitution of the new country. They agreed to model our legislatures along the lines of Westminster in Great Britain, but adapted to Canadian society… The Senate was to be, in the words of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, a place of "sober second thought".
As for its present status, Feinstone writes: Today, Canada's Senate consists of 104 senators from a wide variety of backgrounds and from every province and territory. Its membership is about one-third the size of the House of Commons, and it operates at about one-fifth of the cost. Senators consult in their home provinces and throughout Canada and then gather in order to make their contribution to Canada's governance. In many respects, therefore, the Senate in Canada works along lines analogous to those of the UK House of Lords. It appears also, in fact, to be responsive to the concerns of at least some of Canada’s dispersed minority communities. In both cases, however, the possibility and desirability of enhancing its real Representativeness is not yet realized.
Information about virtually all national parliaments can be found at the Parliamentary On-Line site, maintained by the Inter-Parliamentary Union: http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/parlinesearch.asp The Web Sites for Parliaments are also easily available at: http://www.ipu.org/english/parlweb.htm#i. This is a service offered directly by the IPU. It is not possible here to discuss any more countries, but a survey of existing regimes will show that although many of them do have bi-cameral systems, and they are often influenced by the British and American models, they do not make a sharp distinction between the functions of the two bodies, nor have they enabled dispersed groups that lack the political status of a sub-state to be represented.
Apart from resident minority communities, an increasingly important consideration involves the status and problems of citizens living abroad. Diasporans from every country now live widely dispersed throughout the world. Moreover, modern technology now enables those who wish to remain in close contact with their homelands to do so. They also have many reasons for wanting to have a voice in its political decision-making processes. Diasporans already play an important role in the politics and economy of many countries, but they usually lack any institutional mechanisms for aggregating their interests and seeking political support for relevant public policies. No doubt in the past logistical problems of communication and transportation impeded effective involvement by diasporans in the politics of their home countries and reinforced the pressures that led most of them to assimilate to the hostlands in which they lived and, often enough, to become naturalized citizens. The new technologies associated with the Internet reinforce the possibility of air travel, telecommunications, and global media services that now enable far-flung communities to participate meaningfully in their homeland’s democratic institutions. Sadly, most states have responded very slowly to this possibility, offering few facilities for expatriates to participate in a meaningful way, whether by absentee ballots or other methods, in the political life of the home country.
Paradoxically, however, states often seek the economic and political support of their diasporans as a resource for foreign policy, and they are likely to come to the aid of citizens living abroad when they run into serious trouble in their hostlands. Since the Internet now enables globally scattered communities to work together without ever leaving the places where they live, they should be able to organize themselves for political participation. Increasingly, dispersed diasporan communities have posed Web Sites that enable them to keep well informed about developments at home and the problems they share in diaspora. Hyperlinks to many sites now maintained by diasporan communities on a global basis can be found at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/sites.htm#glocal
Having a vigorous second chamber able to speak for unrepresented communities both at home and abroad deserves serious study. New constitutional mechanisms are needed to supplement the established assemblies that now represent sedentary majorities residing in electoral districts. It seems only just and fair that unrepresented communities, both at home and abroad, should be empowered to seek justice for themselves and participate meaningfully in the conduct of public affairs. The most promising institutional device for this purpose may well be a consultative second chamber in every democratic state’s legislature. It would supplement the localized majority-based framework of conventional democratic theory by adding a counterpart body able to represented dispersed communities, both at home and abroad. By this means a new democratic design could be institutionalized that responds appropriately to the contemporary challenge of globalization.
1. On a personal note, I view myself as a global nomad -- a term used by members of Global Nomad International who describe themselves in these terms: It is often assumed that people come from a single cultural tradition. Global nomads, who are one subgroup of the broader group of third culture kids, (which includes children of immigrants, refugees, expatriates etc.), are people whose individual experiences include many cultures, and may as a result feel they have no culture, and appear to have no defined culture of their own. Yet interestingly we're finding out that there is a culture among people with this background, with valuable experience, insight, values and skills to share with a world struggling to manage diversity peacefully. For details see the Global Nomads Virtual Village, at http://www.gnvv.org .
Unfortunately, global nomad also has another meaning: the personnel of transnational corporations who circle the globe for business reasons. Both concepts are important but I can claim membership only in the first!