Tag Archives: classical republicanism

Republicanism and FOSS

Self-governance is one of the core principles of classical republicanism. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is closely related to the idea of self-governance and hence classical republicans should promote its use. The opposite of FOSS is proprietary software. Continue reading Republicanism and FOSS

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Sport vouchers

Classical republicanism is build on a few basic concepts, on of these concepts is vita activa [1]. Vita activa is Latin for active life, but what is active life in a classical republican sense? First of all for classical republicans an active citizen is someone who is active in the public domain. Second an active works together with others to further the common good (res publica).

For centuries small city states with only a few thousand citizens, have been the ideal of classical republicans. Because of its limited size, a city-state would allow all its citizens to participate in politics. In larger political structures ( such as nation states or empires) its more difficult for individual citizens to participate in the political system. We see that in larger political structures a shift from self-governance to bureaucracy.

Since a return to small city states seems to unlikely in the modern world [2], classical republicans face the question whether we have a way to pursue the vita activa even in larger political structures. We believe that there is a way.

Voluntary associations are essentially miniature republics. Voluntary associations differ from other organizations in that VAs are run by their members: the members of the association appoint its board and can dismiss them. Even more importantly, in most voluntary associations activities are organized by their members. Voluntary associations are established to serve a certain purpose. It is this purpose that unites the members, as they usually join the VA because the support this cause. For these reasons voluntary associations are a good occasion for people to pursue the vita activa, and really active citizens can be active in multiple associations.

Citizens who are active in public life, are essential for the survival of a free and democratic society. Private citizens with experience in voluntary associations form a counter-force against career bureaucrats. Also publicly active citizens will be more interested in public affairs. Apathy is lethal for any free and democratic society.

If we want to promote active citizenship, we should stimulate people to join voluntary associations. But that is easily said. The difficult question is how we can stimulate people to join VAs? It is important that people should be familiar with voluntary associations from a very young age. It seems to be a hard task to seduce children to join a VA.

In order to stimulate children to join voluntary associations we propose the introduction of sport vouchers. A substantial portion of all voluntary associations are sport clubs. Most people who join a sport club do that in first place because they want to practice some sport (it’s hard to play football or hockey alone), while being a member of a VA is only of secondary importance. That is, however, no big deal, because once they are a member, they might become more enthusiast about being in a VA.

How will sport vouchers work? The idea is that all children will be able to join a sport club, regardless of their parent’s ability to pay membership fees. Instead the government will pay the fees for youth members. Our system has two important features: first children will be free to decide which sport they will do and at which club, and secondly the government will pay the fees to the sport associations directly rather than to the parents. The latter rule is meant to prevent parents from embezzling this money. Consequently signing up your child for a sport club will be free. Important to ad, is in our proposal the government will not only cover youth membership fees, but also the purchase of personal equipment (hockey sticks, shoes, clothing and so on).

It is essential that children are free to choose the sport they like most, because coercion to do a particular sport will have an adverse effect. How would children now what sport they will like most? One suggestion is to organize regular “sport fairs” at which children can try different sports.

Due to our commitment to secularism, we propose that only secular sport clubs (i.e. clubs which are not based on a certain religion) can participate in this program. Also clubs which discriminate against certain groups of people, will be excluded from the program.

[1] Other concepts are self-government, mixed government, the separation of the public and private domain.

[2] Space settlements could, however, cause a revival of classic city states.

Hollande and the separation of the public and the private sphere

French president Hollande has certainly become the subject of a controversy surrounding his affair with another woman than his then-current romantic partner. In line with France’s republican culture, this affair did not cause any uproar among the citizens of the French Republic. In sharp contrast with similar events in the UK or the USA, where the private life of politicians is less protected from the public eye.

The reason why the French don’t bother much about the private life of their president, has to be sought in the strong role republican thought plays in French political culture. Hence we have to understand what republicanism is.

The word Republic is derived from the Latin phrase Res Publica which can be translated into English as the public interest.  Res means thing or interest, and the English word public comes from publica, the English term commonwealth has a similar structure as res publica. Hence a republic is a system of government which promotes the public interest and consequently a state which only serves the interest of the government or a privileged part of the population is by definition not a republic.

A theme central to classical republicanism is the distinction between the public and the private sphere, a concept which dates back to Aristotle. In the private sphere (res privata) the individual is sovereign, and in the public realm sovereignty is shared by the members of the community. In less abstract terms one’s household belongs to the private sphere, and is under the full authority of the individual; whilst the things outside the households belong to public sphere and are under the shared authority of the community.

For classical republicans the government has no business in what citizens do in their private spheres, since the proper function of the government is to maintain the public sphere. Only if actions in the private sphere do violate the rights of others or endanger the public realm, the government is allowed to interfere in the private realm and only to the extent as is necessary to protect people’s rights and the public sphere. Any other intrusion of the government in the private realm is, in the eyes of classical republicans, a kind usurpation.

Since in classical republicanism the government is supposed to represent and serve the public, we can substitute the word government with public in the analysis of the previous paragraph. Hence we can conclude that according to classical republicanism the public has no interest to interfere with one’s private life.

Space Settlements and Education part 1

Introduction

Since at least the time of Plato classical republicans have placed high emphasis on the importance of education. For classical republicans the main purpose of education is the cultivation of the virtues which are required to be a citizen. Citizenship in a republican sense means active citizenship, hence the republican way of life is called vita activa (Latin for active life).

This emphasis on active citizenship as the central purpose of education, has consequences for the curriculum used in education. The Ancient Greeks as well the Romans put great importance on the acquiring skills in logic and rhetoric. Together with grammar (the understanding of language, the classical definition is broader than the modern one), these subjects forms the trivium. These subjects were (and still are) considered to be essential for participation in politics. Recall the in Athens citizens were supposed to show up at the popular assembly.

After the completion of the trivium, the curriculum was continued with the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. In classical antiquity algebra was not well-developed, and was only introduced as a separate discipline in Europe after the renaissance. The subjects of the quadrivium were considered more advanced than the trivium, and the latter could be seen as primary education and the former as secondary education. We will return to this later on.

With the decline of republicanism and its subsequent replacement with consumerism, the primary purpose of education also shifted. Nowadays the curriculum is based on the perceived needs of the “economy”, or more often on what students and their parents believe to be “useful” for their prospective careers. For instance many schools are now replacing classical languages such as Latin with Chinese, because there’s a wide-spread believe that this language is more relevant in today’s world.

This attention for the economic relevance of school curricula is not without merit, but in most countries it’s taken at the cost of the civic function of schools. Ideally the curriculum should serve both these civic and the economic objectives. After all an adequate preparation to one’s professional career is a necessary condition for financial independence, which is in turn a fundamental condition for freedom in a republican sense.

Due to the very importance of education, classical republicans have stressed from ancient times that education is a public affair and hence that the community as a whole is responsible for the proper education of its members. Consequently the role of parents in a republican educational system is limited, and parental preferences should in no way obstruct the primary purpose of education: the forming of virtuous citizens. Any parent or other person who seeks to obstruct this function of education, should be tried for high treason in a republican society.

Since times immemorial autocrats and enemies of freedom have abused education to indoctrinate the youth. Republicans abhor this abuse, instead the young should be trained in critical thinking in order to resists demagogues and apologists of authoritarianism. A republican society cannot tolerate those who want to replace education with indoctrination of any kind.

In this series we will discuss the basic outline of the educational system of republican space settlements. In part 2 we will discuss the structure of primary and second education, and in part 3 we will discuss tertiary education.

Constitutional issues: Unicameralism or bicameralism?

This is the second part of our series on constitutional arrangements of space governments. In a previous post we discussed the topic of elections versus random selection of politicians. In this post we will look at the issue of unicameralism or bicameralism.

Virtually all modern political systems have an institution known as parliament. This institute has multiple functions, which might vary from country to country, but generally these are: representing the citizens of the state, the creation of laws and as check to the executive.

Because of the first function, most parliaments are elected by its citizens or have at least one elected chamber. According to democratic theory, the representative function of parliament, entails it to exercise legislative power. The third power is actually a reminder of ancient, classical republican thought, which we will discuss in future post about classical republicanism and the separation of powers.

In this post, and for that matter in all our future posts, we will discard of the fiction that parliament represents its citizens. Therefore we will treat parliament primarily as a legislative body.

In many countries parliament consists of either one or two chambers. Parliaments with three chambers have existed in the past, but are nowadays obsolete. Arguments for tricameralism are usually similar to those in favour of bicameralism, so we will not discuss such system in this post.

Historically bicameralism has been defended by republicans, whilst democrats were in favour of unicameralism. (NB. the terms republican and democrat does not refer here to the US parties of the same names, instead these terms are used here accordingly to 18th century political theory.)

Republican political thought has traditionally be concerned with the corrupting nature of political power. As remedy against the abuse of power by governments, republican believe in mixed government or in more modern language, checks and balances. By having several competing political actors, the possibility of abuse of power by a single actor would be reduced, but not eliminated.

On the other hands, democrats are arguing from concepts such as popular sovereignty and the unity and indivisibility of the nation. Therefore, democrats argue, having a multicameral parliament is unnatural, since in a bicameral parliaments the two houses might disagree with each other and only one of them could be truly reflect the public opinion. And if the two houses would always agree with each other, such arrangement would be superfluous.

Unfortunately, in our days the distinction between republicans and democrats has severely eroded to the point that people will use these terms interchangeably. Therefore other arguments have been introduced in the debate between unicameralism and bicameralism.

In line with the idea of checks and balances, proponents of bicameralism in both federations and unitary states argue that a second chamber, which is often either appointed or elected indirectly, as a chamber of reflection. In some countries, such as the UK,  the upper house is merely an advisory body, whilst in other countries, such as the Netherlands, the upper house has absolute veto on all legislation.

Bicameralists argue that in parliamentary systems of government (in which the executive depends on the support of at least one of the chambers of parliament) there can only be a real separation of powers, if there is a second parliamentary chamber. Since in a parliamentary system the executive usually is supported by a majority of MPs, the separation between the legislative and executive branches of government is only theoretical. The solution for this problem is therefore, to have two chambers of parliament.

Unicameralists might, on the other hand, argue that a bicameral parliament is inefficient and/or undemocratic. This because a bill has to be discussed in both houses, before it could be passed.

Further unicameralists could argue that there other methods of ensuring checks and balances. One way could be the direct election of the president or prime-minister, which would enhance the separation of powers.

Also constitutional review can provide an alternative check, in this case the court system or a special constitutional council could exercise as check. The difference between a constitutional court and a second chamber, is that the former is apolitical (in that it only looks whether a law violates the constitution) and that it only reviews laws on request (of citizens or specified government institutions).

Some more democratically minded proponents of unicameralism, argue that referendums are a way of ensuring checks and balances in government. This would also eliminate the concern that a second chamber is undemocratic (because it is elected indirectly or is appointed).

A special case for bicameralism is made in federations. Virtually all current federations have a bicameral parliament. Federalism is based on the idea of shared sovereignty of the states and the federal government, both receive their authority from their respective citizens. Therefore one chamber is directly elected by the citizens of the federation, whilst the other chamber represents the states and is often indirectly elected.

However, the specifics of legislatures in several federation vary widely. In some federations have weak bicameralism (one house dominates the other), whilst others have strong bicameralism (both houses exert equal power). But one should also consider that in different federations, the distribution of power between the states and the federal government also varies. Some federations are highly centralized, that they are only distinct from unitary states on paper.

In some federations, such as Germany, the chamber representing the states can only vote on legislation which affects the authority of the states. On matter which belong to the exclusive authority of the federal government, are only voted on in the chamber which represents the federation. We believe that this is the proper method to be followed in federations of space settlements.

The discussion about bicameralism, is not only about whether there should one or two houses of parliament, but also what roles these houses should have. Only in few countries both houses have equal powers, in most bicameral systems the (directly) elected house has the most powers, whilst the other chamber is limited to scrutiny of the executive and proposed legislation.

Weak bicameralism is often used as a compromise between unicameralists, who wants no second chamber, and bicameralists, who often favour a stronger version of bicameralism. On the other hand strong bicameralism is often associated with political gridlock, but it also forces politicians to make political comprises. This reduce the effects of political extremism.

The 21-hour-work week

The New Economics Foundation has proposed to shorten the work week to 21 hours. The proponents of this plan make several arguments in favour of it, we will discuss a few of those in this post. The remaining arguments are related to terrestrial issues such as environmental problems, because these are of less importance for a space-based society we will leave them out here.

The proposers of the 21-hour work week, see their plan as a (partial) solution for the following problems:

A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life. (New Economics Foundation).

The problems most relevant of this list which are most relevant for us, are: unemployment, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, lack of time to care for each other and enjoying life.

But before we continue our discussion of the arguments in favour of a 21-hour work week, we need to address to most fundamental objection against it. One might argue that such short work week is simply too short for maintaining the economy. This objection has a simple rebuttal: because of technological progress, the productivity of workers has been increased significantly, and this development is likely to continue in the near future. If the productivity per worker increases, working hours can be decreased whilst the total productivity remains the same. Further automation might eliminate the need for human employees at some point in the (distant) future.

A different but related objection is that a 21-hour work week provides workers simply not enough income to live from. However, the people from the New Economics Foundation suggest to increase hourly wages by such amount that all workers, even with a 21-hour work week, have a living wage. Instead we propose to introduce a basic income guarantee, which ensures that every person has a sufficient income to live from, regardless of whether they are employed or not.

By reducing the work week from, say, 42 hours to 21 hours, one new job position becomes available. Some countries, such as Spain for instance, has such levels of unemployment, that a reduction of the working week might be the only way to increase job opportunities. Though in the early stages of space colonization underemployment would be a bigger concern, we have to realize that in later stages, when space population will grow, an increasing number of people will seek a job. Therefore a 21-hour work week would be an elegant method to keep unemployment levels low.

Increasing human well-being is our primary aim, by creating a new and better society. How would a reduction in working hours enhance well-being? Nowadays, many people have to make long hours, just to survive. By doing so their health is often heavily compromised. Further they have only little time for their friends and family. By reducing working hours, while ensuring a sufficient income, well-being will be promoted.

The New Economics Foundation discusses the topic of inequality mainly in terms of gender-relations. Their argument is that by reducing the work week, gender relation will become more balanced. In most modern families, it is still the woman who does most of the housework and child care. A 21-hour work week for both partners will enable them to combine their work and their family more equally: since men will work less they can spend more time in their children, whilst women have to spend less time with this and can work more hours. As a classical liberal organization, we place great importance on gender-equality and if a 21-hour work week will promote this goal, we will embrace it.

The 21-hour work week will improve the quality of family life, since parents have to work less and can spend more time with their children. A leading cause of (youth) crime is the absence of parental care, children who have no or little contact with their parents often drop out from school and turn into crime. The more time parents can invest in their offspring, the more successful their children will be in life; to the benefit of society as a whole.

Another argument in favour of shorter work weeks, is that if people have to work less, they can spend more time to community life. The central idea of classical republicanism is the civic virtue. A person has civic virtue if he or she is publicly spirited, and strongly related to civic virtue is the idea of the vita activa: the devotion of life to the common good. The Latin phrase Res Publica means the public interest, a republican government is therefore a government devoted to the promotion of the common good.

Classical republicans, such as Hannah Arendt, put great emphasize on active citizenship, i.e. the active participation of citizens in public affairs. For most people this would mean enrolment in neighbourhood activities, however people can only participate in public affairs if they have enough time to do so. Therefore republicans should support the introduction of a 21-hour work week.

A work week of 24 hours gives three 7-hour workdays (or seven 3-hour weeks). The concept of the 7-hour workday isn’t new, and has been proposed by many person, including Theodor Herzl, who also proposed the following system:

There will t fourteen hours of labor, work being done in shifts of three and a half hours. The organization of all this will be military in character; there will be commands, promotions and pensions, the means by which these pensions are provided being explained further on.

A sound man can do a great deal of concentrated work in three and a half hours. After an interval of the same length of time — which he will devote to rest, to his family and to his education under guidance — he will be quite fresh for work again. Such labor can do wonders. The seven-hour day thus implies fourteen hours of joint labor — more than that cannot be put into a day. (Herzl, 1896).

Except for the military character of Herzl’s method, this idea would be great. It would allow businesses to be open from 8.00 to 22.00 (local time), but also allows to work at the time they are most productive. Some people are more active in the evening hours, whilst others will prefer to work in the early hours.

On the need for a secular, liberal and humanist Republic

In this post we will defend the case for the establishment of a secular, liberal and humanist Republic. We believe the establishment of such state is necessary, but it is almost impossible to create such state on earth.

What is secularism?

First we should explain what secularism is. Unlike what some religious motivated demagogues pretend, secularism is not about prohibiting religion in all aspects of life. The real meaning of secularism is the separation of religion and politics. Secularists believes that religion is a matter for one’s own conscience, whilst politics is about public affairs.

What is liberalism?

Classical liberalism is the tradition within political philosophy which advocates a limited government, especially by imposing constitutional restrictions on the scope of permitted governmental actions. Individual liberty is restricted only by the liberty of other persons.

What is humanism?

Humanism is the world view that humans and humanity are the cornerstone of both society and ethics. Human life is not a mean but an end in itself, therefore both society and ethics should be based on their dedication to human dignity. Humanism can be either religious or secular.

Why a secular liberal and humanist Republic?

Currently there are no states in the world that enshrines the principles of secularism, liberalism and humanism. Many societies have religious inspired laws or are giving a special status to religion. Even in nominal secular societies, such the USA, religious groups are able to influence public policy even if they are an minority.

In order to protect the legacy of the Enlightenment, it is necessary that secular, liberal humanists will unite to form a new society, which explicitly based on these values. Once such society is established all immigrants and public officials has to sign a pledge to uphold these values.

Adam Smith on the functions of government

Lagrangian Republican Association promotes the establishment of independent and sovereign republic, which is based on the principles classical republicanism and classical liberalism. With classical liberalism we mean the tradition in political theory based on the works of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. In this post I will discuss Smith’s vision on the proper functions of government. Continue reading Adam Smith on the functions of government