Monday, May 15, 2006

Legitimate government

When I blogged about reorganising society from the bottom up, my main purpose in advocating a continuous process of devolution to progressively smaller communities was that in a highly devolved society it becomes relatively easy and cost-free to escape from tyranny to a better jurisdiction. But during my recent researches, I came across a philosophical justification for it too.

In his Restoring the Lost Constitution, Randy Barnett sets out what he believes to be the circumstances in which a government can bind its citizens in conscience as well as in fact. Essentially he argues that popular sovereignty as proclaimed in the US ("We the People") is a fiction since a constitution enacted 200 years ago and ratified by the states, rather than individuals, cannot bind today's citizens. Nor can any modern state bind its citizens in conscience since these states are too large to obtain unanimous consent.

He suggests therefore that by devolving power to much smaller units, unanimous consent can be reached and therefore true legitimacy can be obtained.

Now I have no idea how far the process of devolution I advocate could continue before the administrative units became too small, but if the process itself is in fact making government progressively more legitimate then this would suggest a relatively longer process. Only when the units became too small to support the functions they required (eg policing) would the brakes be applied.

One problem that this would throw up though is that if the administrative units become very small then representation in national government becomes tricky. I had envisaged each community sending a representative to the national legislature where they would act as a check on the centralising tendencies of the national government. But if these communities are very small this is clearly impractical. I'm almost tempted to bring back another idea I blogged on in a very throw-away fashion some months ago, which is to have a virtual House of Lords - basically a blog and a poll open to legislators only. Then you can have many more legislators because you no longer need them to assemble in one place.

It's an idea anyway. Thoughts anyone?