Our society spends a lot of time talking about democracy but rarely defines it. While the term comes from the Greek words ‘demos’ (people) and ‘kratos’ (power,) many political scientists have abandoned it due to widespread misuse and instead use the term polyarchy, which means ‘many rule.’ It was convincingly inserted into the academic lexicon by the the political scientist Robert Dahl in his 1971 book ‘Polyarchy.’
Dahl proposes that all political systems can be places on a graph with two axis: competitiveness and inclusiveness. Competitiveness asks who can compete for political office. Inclusiveness asks the extent to which people can determine who represents them. We can apply the concept of ‘polyarchy’ to by asking these questions of two different political systems, those of America and Israel.
America has a two party system which makes it less competitive than Israel, which has a dozens of popular parties which enable more people with more diverse perspectives to compete. America allows a larger percentage of it’s citizens to vote than Israel does, so America is a more inclusive state.
Dahl’s definition of polyarchy is good, but it’s not complete. His theory doesn’t account for the most powerful force in politics: information distribution. Those who control access to information have tremendous political power because they can amplify certain elements within society and silence others.
Openness (transparency and accessibility) addresses the issue of information distribution. In a state with positive openness, information flows between government and society in an efficient manner that facilitates public participation in political processes. In a state with negative transparency, misinformation flows between government and society, enabling a secretive ruling class to exploit the general public.
By adding openness to Dalh’s polyarchy graph as the third dimension, the possibility of a relationship between competitiveness and inclusiveness arises within the newly created 3D space. This relationship manifests itself in the graph z=x^3 + y^3. In this graph, a positively transparent society appears in the top left area of the plane while a negatively transparent society appears in the bottom right area one.
Let’s see what this relationship reveals:
- A society that is inclusive but not competitive has a negative transparency because a lot of people are supporting a poor selection of leaders, making the construction of false realities essential to convince people the situation is acceptable. Ex. the Soviet Union had a vast propaganda machine while the highly competitive.
- A society that is competitive but not inclusive is highly transparent because each included individual receives an unusually high return on his or her ability to select good leadership leaders. Ex. 19th century America had a very active, highly decentralized news and information distribution sector (newspapers).
- A society that is both competitive and inclusive would be extremely open because so many citizens would be have both the ability select from a diverse set of potential candidates, leading to mass participation in the political process. Ex. Austria has five major political parties and the highest voter turnout in the world (minus nations that make voting compulsory, and Malta, which is tiny.)
We’re in the early stages of ‘participatory’ politics as new tools (ex. OpenCongress) are enable the public to increase transparency and accessibility of information to levels impossible before the advent of networked technologies. A tremendous increase in government transparency seems to be imminent. If we turned our 3D graph into a 4D animation, we’d be able to track different societies paths towards more participatory political processes.
We need a common, quantitative understanding of political imperative so our government’s can create purposeful foreign policies that encourage competitiveness, inclusiveness and openness. A simple way for national governments to advance a foreign policy based on quantitative principle would be to raise tariffs with closed nations and lower tariffs with closed ones.