Acknowledging the Fragility of Democratic Institutions (and embracing the challenge)
by Keith Taylor
“What Happened to the Berkeley Co-op” is a fantastic complement to Lin Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons,” particularly complementing Chapter 5 on institutional failure. Ralph Nader’s comment in the prologue points at the tension -and dare I say the danger- of using deep participatory democratic processes as the primary guidepost for turnaround:
“A cooperative has to wrestle with the paradoxes of its principles when it is in economic difficulties. There are calls, not for centralization,” [as we might see in governmental or nonprofit bodies] “but for greater democratic control and participation by the members to save or revive the cooperatives. There are demands by competing factions…” “If there is too much member voice and rights, the community, that is the cooperative, becomes subordinated, anemic and paralyzed.”
These two books point to the need to create structure and channels to keep the chatter laser focused (lest they become white noise), so as to process the diversity of voices into productive outcomes. Democracy is not the problem! But democracy without a vision, planning, and structure is not a solution either (and is pure naïveté), and may pave the way for a tyranny by the few.