Tag Archives: republicanism

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.

Federalism and Space colonization

In his 1986 article  Philip Bosshardt argued:

We have seen that cultural divergence works against federation. Barring unforseen developments in relativistic physics, settlements will never be in instant communication with each other. Message flow may resemble more the speeds of royal message runners in the Persian and Incan empires, taking minutes if not hours to traverse the distances between settlements. Modern technological societies could scarely function without the ability to shift huge volumes of information nearly instantaneously; without up-to-date information on events in the “provinces,” no ruler of trans-Solar System empires is going to know if his directives are being carried out. And at the other end of the chain of command, local governors will be reluctant to cede power to a ruling body that cannot have very good knowledge of current conditions. (Bosshardt, 1986).

This passage makes it clear that Bosshardt is talking about trans-Solar System federations or empires. The size of the Solar System is simply to large to unite it under one single political entity. However, this is no argument against small and local space federations. In fact, it is likely that many future Space nation will be federal states.

What is federalism?

Like many political terms federalism has different meanings in different situations. In the United States of America, federalism is mostly used for the movement or ideology which favours a stronger position of the national government. But in other countries such as Belgium or Spain, federalism stands for the opposite idea: transferring power from the national government to sub-national governments.

If we say that Republic of Lagrangia endorses federalism, we mean that we favour the creation of a federal state or federation. A federation is a state based on the principle of shared sovereignty: on some issues the federal governments has exclusive authority, whilst other issues belong to the exclusive domain of the states. Typically foreign policy, defense and inter-state relation are under federal authority.

Why does this matter for space settlements?

Because of their nature, Space habitats will be the fundamental political units of Space society. Space settlements are, in a physical sense, closed systems. The residents of a Space habitat can if they wish relocate their territory. A luxury not available to the people of, say, Pennsylvania.

This fact has important consequences for inter-settlement politics. When, for instance, Colorado and Utah have an intense conflict with each other, they are nevertheless forced to deal with each other. If, however, two Space settlements has a similar dispute either habitat can decide to relocate away from the other.

Individual Space settlements enjoy a greater factual sovereignty than US states or even members of the European Union. However, many Space settlements will be rather small, having a population from a few thousand to several hundred thousands. Therefore many settlements will be dependent from each other. For economic reasons, most settlements will specialize in specific goods or services whilst importing other from other settlements.

Regulation required by inter-settlement trade will be among the primary reasons of creating a federation of Space habitats. Further small Space habitats will have difficulties with setting up a proper defense force, by uniting themselves they will be able to manage a proper military. Also by creating a federal government Space people can pursue a more effective foreign policy, especially in relation with terrestrial nations.

One or multiple Space federations?

A single Space federation is impracticable for the reasons given by Philip Bosshardt, the Solar System is simply too big. For these reason alone, there will be multiple federations each in a different part of our Solar System. However, distance is not the only reason for multiple federation.

Since different people have different political ideologies. Therefore different Space settlements will implement different political and social systems. Socialist settlements will most likely prefer to federate with other socialist settlements, whilst libertarian settlements will federate with other libertarians.

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.

Manifesto part 1

Reasons for Space colonization

In this section we will explain why we are in favour of space colonization, and the next section we will also explain why we want to colonize the so-called fourth and fifth Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system rather than colonizing the Moon or Mars. Although many of our arguments are not original, actually most of our main arguments exist since at least the late 1960s, we will present our reasoning from a point of view which is based on classical republicanism and classical liberalism.

Traditional arguments for space colonization are overpopulation and the survival of humanity. Since the world population continues to grow, some people fear that at one time in the (near) future there are too many people. Overpopulation is the situation that there are more people on Earth than our planet can sustain (this is the idea behind the ecological footprint). Believing that birth control programs will not work or will be insufficient, some people believe that therefore a part of our species should be relocated to other planets or to artificial space habitats. The fear for uncontrollable population growth was especially great in the 1970s (see for instance the establishment of the club of Rome). Since then the growth rate of the world population has declined, and many experts now believe that the number of humans will stabilize at nine to ten billion by the year 2100. Of course we cannot predict whether there will be a baby boom somewhere in this century, but it is unlikely that the world population will triple during the next 100 years.

There are several so-called existential risks for humanity, varying from natural to man-made catastrophes. The idea is that in order to guarantee the continued existence of the human race, a part (or even all) of humanity should be relocated into outer space, in the event of a global catastrophe. However some of those potential catastrophes, especially those created by man, can either be averted or their consequences can be reduced. Other potential risks are only a problem in billions of years, which raises the question why we should take action right now, while there are more urgent problems (like the HIV/aids pandemic). Some people, like for instance the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, would argue that humans shouldn’t reproduce in the first place, and therefore such far-into-the-future problems, such like the Sun entering into the red giant stage, are irrelevant. Given that the chance for a global catastrophe which is able to wipe out the human species, to happen within the lifespans of all currently alive people is rather small, we can ask whether we have a moral responsibility to ensure the continued existence of mankind. Different people will answer this question differently.

Traditionally there is also a third reason for space colonization. Although this one is not as popular as the first two, but we believe this third argument is possibly more important. We could call this one the economic argument (we could call the first and second argument the demographic respectively the survivalist argument). As more people are the joining the global middle classes, more people will buy cars, washing machines and other consumer goods. In order to meet this increasing demand, more and more resources are needed. If for example every person on Earth would be able to buy a car, we should switch to, for example, hydrogen cars. But the required fuel cells need a lot of platinum, and everyone knows that platinum is a very rare resource, at least here on Earth. Asteroid mining could easily provide enough platinum for a full-scale hydrogen economy (I will ignore all criticism of the hydrogen economy here, because that is outside the scope of this manifesto). Beside solving issues of resource depletion, asteroid mining can also reduce or eliminate environmental damage caused by terrestrial mining. The reader may point out that asteroid mining is not the same as space colonization. This is true, but asteroid mining without space colonization is practically impossible. Even if we have a nearly completely automated space mining industry, we still need a (small) space based crew in case of some unexpected problems.

However, we believe that the most important reason for space colonization is what we would call the political or utopian argument. Here on Earth civil liberties are under pressure almost everywhere, and since many resources (e.g. food and oil) are increasingly becoming scarce we expect that political freedoms will be even further restrained. Except for a piece of Antarctica known as Marie Byrd Land, almost all land on Earth is claimed by governments. Therefore it is almost impossible to create a new country on Earth without war. Secondly it is hard to impossible to implement large reforms in existing societies, see for example the massive demonstration currently held in many European countries.

Republic of Lagrangia believes that every society, whether on Earth or in Outer Space, should have the right to organize themselves as they see fit. We also believe that every person should have the right to choose in which society he or she wants to live. Therefore we do not believe in forcing existing terrestrial societies to implement the reforms we wish to implement, our only option is to move to Outer Space.

We realise that different people want to live in different kinds of societies, but the beautiful aspect of Space Colonization is that it provide both the space and the resources for a wide variety of societies. Suppose that one group disagrees how some Space community is run, they can simply take their stuff and go to somewhere else to create their own community. No need for violent separation movements and related civil wars.

Peaceful coexistence will be the cornerstone of the relation between Space Nations, people will move to those societies they like most or they will try to create their very own. This kind of freedom does not exist on Earth nowadays.

Review of “Statehood in Space” by Phillip Bosshardt

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com at September 11, 2012

Introduction

On the site of the National Space Society I found the following article of interest. In this posting I will provide some critical comments. The article is about statehood in space, which is our ultimate aim. Since the article is composed of five parts, I will present my comments for each part separately. Continue reading Review of “Statehood in Space” by Phillip Bosshardt