“Direct democracy” and mass politics – part 2

Part 1 is here.

Mass politics

Mass politics is the situation in which political decisions are made by a symmetrical aggregation of the actions of a large number of individuals.

The modern electoral system is an example of a mass political system. In this case, the actions of the individuals are (1) whether to run for office, (2) advocacy, and (3) voting. The political decision made is the selection of the officials.

Another example is the “direct democracy” situation – both in its modern “popular initiative” setup or in the ancient “Athenian Assembly” setup. In this case, the individuals can (1) propose legislation, (2) advocate, and (3) vote, and the decision made is the passing of pieces of public policy.

When the agenda is set externally (by the Ephors in Sparta and to some extent by the Boule in Athens, or by the elected legislature in Oregon System referenda), then the individual actions are limited to advocacy and voting. In some cases (e.g., the Spartan assembly) advocacy by individuals is also explicitly excluded from the process.

Due to the symmetry of its decision making process, mass politics has superficial similarity to democracy – a political system in which political power is distributed equally among the members – since both terms describe situations of equality. The difference is that mass politics is defined in terms of formal equality while democracy is defined in terms of equality of actual political power.
Continue reading