Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plato, Power and Corruption

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 30, Mashiyyat 04, 167 BE

In Panorthosia, Comenius put great stock in the Biblical admonitions not to "respect persons" and to "call no man master." (Matt 23:10) Corruption, in Comenius' view, is an inevitable consequence of disobeying the divine commands not only to call nobody master but also to "seek and ye shall find," never to delegate one's own obligation to search and serve to anyone else. He built the entire structure of Panorthosia on this egalitarian imperative, which he considered to be of the essence of faith. Before continuing with our discussion of Comenius, I want to explore this crucial issue of power and corruption further. Since it is discussed in detail in Plato's Laws, I will concentrate upon that work in particular.


Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to invest too much in any one individual or elite. The most familiar caveat is Lord Acton's saying that, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Acton thus linked power with corruption after observing a Vatican counsel, but it applies to any concentrated knowledge, influence or power. The sad history of charismatic dictators and authoritarian regimes shows how dangerous inordinate power is when concentrated inordinately into one person, one profession, class or any other homogeneous group.

In his final work, the Laws, Plato holds that power is a good if and only if it is an outcome of wisdom. We call someone a good person if he or she maintains good relationships; this ability to be good to others is the same thing for an individual that we call wisdom in the state. "One needs to reflect that wisdom and friendship, when stated to be the aim in view, are not really different aims, but identical..." (Laws, 693c, R.G. Bury, tr.) Wisdom, then, is when society has a sense of due proportion; and that can only come out of temperance and moderation, which allow us to see holistically the entirety of life.

Power corrupts, therefore, not because it is bad in itself but because it can distort vision, break a just balance and destroy the natural order. Power needs to be given in prescribed doses that are small and diffuse enough that imperfect human beings can bear under it. He writes,

"If we disregard due proportion by giving anything what is too much for it, too much canvass to a boat, too much nutriment to a body, too much authority to a soul, the consequence is always shipwreck; rankness runs in the one case to disease, in the other to presumption, and its issue is crime." (Plato, Laws, 691c, Collected Writings, p. 1286)

Plato's comparison of political corruption to inappropriate technology and to overeating is highly significant in view of recent trends. Obesity is the emblematic illness of the past half century. It has spread to a large proportion of the population. In many nations, both wealthy and poor, a majority are now clinically overweight. Similarly, our technology, powered as it is by burning hydrocarbons, could not be further from due proportion. It became known to experts and leaders in the late 1980's that this combustion was causing global warming, but that knowledge seems only to have accelerated our dependency upon what Plato calls a sailing ship with far to large a sail. This "rankness" in our bodies and our technology clearly is a result of the third factor that Plato mentions here, giving too much authority to the soul. Later in the Laws, Plato explains how the fall of individuals is writ in larger letters in the decline of the state.

"... if he be possessed of absolute and irresponsible power, he will never remain firm in his principles or persist in regarding the public good as primary in the state, and the private good as secondary. Human nature will be always drawing him into avarice and selfishness, avoiding pain and pursuing Pleasure without any reason, and will bring these to the front, obscuring the juster and better; and so working darkness in his soul will at last fill with evils both him and the whole city." (Plato, Laws, Book 9)

The question then arises: how can we devise a government that does not allow anyone -- or any segment of society -- to possess "absolute and irresponsible power"? Comenius' answer was to establish an entire new philosophy designed to remove the dissension and divisions that sicken and weaken most of the body politic.

"Therefore the new philosophy will have as its new ultimate goal the reconciliation of disagreements by discovering, establishing, and bringing to light true ideas of everything, and by referring every particular thing to these, elements of agreement and disagreement should be readily revealed, so pointing the way of return to agreement." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 5, p. 176)

In order to do this, he set up a new division of labour in both leadership and "followership." He envisioned a set of three institutions -- instead of the monolithic political structures we now have -- that are designed from the ground up to prevent absolutism, to be responsible yet as local, non-centralized and non-specialized as possible. Next time we will look at them in more detail.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Making Reform Universal

John Amos Comenius was a progressive and an idealist, but not a utopian dreamer. He was aware that a better society can only come from better individuals. As an innovative educator, he had seen with his own eyes the power that good teaching has to improve each generation over the one before it. Comenius advocated raising young children to be curious, first-hand investigators of the world around them. As they grow older, they should be encouraged to become fully balanced individuals, not overly studious nor excessively athletic, neither fanatical in expressing faith nor extreme in their political leanings. Cruelty and compulsion are to be avoided, for freedom is the mind's reason for being.


"For the mind was made to be free (it will not and cannot be compelled in any way without being destroyed), and to preserve a balance with that of its neighbour which is equally free in all respects. This balance takes us back to the saying of Christ 'Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you',' or negatively 'Do not unto others that which ye would not have them do unto you.' This is the keynote of God's law affecting morals, commerce, and the rights of all nationalities." (Panorthosia, Ch. 12, para 5, pp. 187-188)

Comenius' emphasis on the Golden Rule as the basic unit for teaching universal morality has been strengthened by modern scholarship, which has uncovered instances of the Golden Rule, phrased both positively and negatively, in every major religious tradition.

Comenius advocated teaching girls along with boys, and poor children alongside the rich. Both policies were controversial at the time. Although universal education is accepted now in prosperous countries (indeed this is the main reason they are wealthy and powerful in the first place), it is far from fully implemented on a global level.

Like any good teacher, Comenius himself embodied the qualities he taught. As mentioned last time, he himself achieved distinction in all three of the fields of endeavour that he sought in Panorthosia to introduce into governance. He was an experienced leader and peace negotiator, a renowned educational reformer who wrote a school curriculum for Sweden, an advocate of the new science -- his ideas helped inspire what later became the Royal Society -- and a leader of his religious community, the Moravian Brotherhood.

During his long career he straddled all three of what he considered to be the three great pillars of peace and the three sources of human potential: politics, science (or natural philosophy, as it was called at the time) and religion. This is a reflection of our three basic human responsibilities, our duty to self, to God and to our fellow man. He calls upon each of us to answer in our own lives and in our own way, each of these three callings, science, religion and the politics of peace.

A Renaissance Man's Plan

Panorthosia goes into great detail on how to strike this balance in our work, as family members, as believers, as supporters of our local community and of humankind. In the first chapter it says,

"My purpose is to enable men to see God and serve Him so that His Kingdom exists on earth as it is in heaven... Then the light and peace would return to the world, which would work like an elaborate clock with all its components well-connected, well balanced and functioning together for a common purpose. Every man in creation would return to the image of God within him (1 Colossians 1, 26-29) and similarly every family group, every state and church, and finally the entire world." (Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 13, 15, p. 50)

Perhaps surprisingly, it is only in the final two chapters of a twenty-six chapter book that Panorthosia details the organization of his suggested world government.

I believe that Panorthosia should be studied carefully by anyone who aspires to world citizenship. Although it is a difficult work with many meanderings, it is impossible to read it and not be changed, and not to find in it hope for the future of humanity. My own book series, Cosmopolis Earth, is a humble attempt to respond creatively to the many possibilities opened up by Comenius' revolutionary masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

On Universal Reform


If the majority of citizens in the world want a world government, only one question remains: what kind of government should it be? Is it enough to strengthen the United Nations by making it more democratic? Or, does it make more sense to start with completely new institutions and new ways of choosing their members? Should there be a world senate as well as a world parliament? And perhaps most importantly, who should make all of these decisions?

churchill by karsh

We noted before that Winston Churchill, the man who suggested the name "United Nations," disliked how it was eventually organized. He called it a "Babel" and preferred instead that there be intermediary institutions to thresh out regional issues before they entered the world stage. Several years after the U.N. had formed in San Francisco, Churchill wrote,

"I have always held the view that the foundation of a World Instrument should be sought on a regional basis. Most of the principal regions suggest themselves -- the United States, United Europe, the British Commonwealth and Empire, the Soviet Union, South America. Others are more difficult at present to define -- like the Asian group or groups, or the African group -- but could be developed with study. But the object would be to have many issues of fierce local controversy thrashed out in the Regional Council, which would then send three or four representatives to the Supreme Body, choosing men of the greatest eminence. This would make a Supreme Group of thirty or forty world statesmen, each responsible not only for representing his own region, but for dealing with world causes, and primarily the prevention of war." (Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1953, p. 610)

It is not well known that something very similar to this eminently sensible arrangement had been set out in detail almost three hundred years before by John Amos Comenius in his posthumous work, Universal Reform, or Panorthosia. Here, Comenius suggested that a constitutional convention be held among representatives of every continent -- in fact, Panorthosia was written to be the conference handout for that gathering. Afterwards a permanent world capital city would be chosen either in Rome or London. Elections for the world government would take place every ten years.

He even foresaw the need for a world governing body to be based upon principles of what we now call democracy, power sharing and de-centralization. Indeed, Comenius' model is superior to the regional arrangement favoured by Churchill, which lumped sovereign nations in with geographically disparate organizations like the British Empire and Commonwealth. A strictly continental division would save travel costs and allow for a more reasonable balance between regional integrity and representation by population.

Even so, it would seem to make sense today for India and China, in view of their exceptionally large populations, to be considered "continents" equal in voting power to the geographical continents. A world government based on Comenius' proposal, then, would have seven or eight standing continental parliaments who meet every decade to choose from among themselves representatives at a world gathering where the world government would be established.

Comenian governance has other unique features as well. As we shall see, Comenius also proposed a sort of division of labour among three governing institutions, one each for science, religion and politics. This tripartite functioning is not restricted to one level of society, it extends from the individual's own struggles for balance -- life is a triathlon where we must excel in learning, in working and in the aspect of eternity -- right on up to the struggle for peace at the world level.

As soon as I came across the Panorthosia I was convinced that here is the most insightful and appealing plan for a world government conceivable. It could only have been written when it was, just before the great divorce of the so-called Enlightenment, where human aspirations in science and religion were split, leaving a monolithic state to feed upon the spoils. Nothing else comes close to this work of genius of the first order. It does for political science what Copernicus did for how we understand our place in the heavens. Whereas Copernicus proved that the earth revolves around the sun, Comenius shows that world order revolves not around any ideological system but the balance, moderation and universality achieved by a well-rounded individual.

comenius close up

Comenius and Panorthosia

Comenius was one of the founding thinkers of the Royal Society, which remains one of the leading lights of science. He was also a bishop in the Moravian Brotherhood, a church that was persecuted and exiled during the bloody wars of the Reformation. By profession, Comenius was a teacher and school principal, and a prolific author of over 150 books. His ideas about early childhood education anticipated Rousseau, and his educational theories and technique for teaching foreign languages are still taught to student teachers today.

Late in life Comenius was shocked to learn that England and Holland had gone to war with one another. The two most tolerant and freethinking nations, both of which had welcomed Comenius and protected his church from persecution, were at one another's throats! This was as surprising as it was for many in the 20th Century when Germany, perhaps the most cultured and civilized nation in the world, dragged the world into global war, not once but twice. In spite of ill health, Comenius spoke to the peace negotiators, pointing out that first-hand experience with the devastation of war had taught him that the motivation for going to war is selfish, its methods foolish and brutal and its results self-defeating.

His bitter failure to persuade the negotiators to halt the war set Comenius thinking about how we could end wars once and for all. Fighting failing health, Comenius wrote his final work, Panorthosia, on his deathbed. In it, he conceived of what the title says, universal reform, change not restricted to one human interest, but to everything that upholds peace; that is, not just politics but religion and science as well. Reform should not just be of individuals, groups and international relations, it should work on all three at once, starting by agreeing upon a common language, religion and educational system. Such a comprehensive approach would end the flagrant greed and other vices that that lead to to conflict and war.

Panorthosia had a peculiar and perilous publishing history. Comenius completed the manuscript and as his last wish charged his son to have it published. His son only managed to deposit one copy of the book in the library of an obscure monastery. Some think that Gottfried Leibniz was one of the few who came across it and that it influenced his thinking about world federalism. Panorthosia was rediscovered in the 1930's and translated from Latin into Czech. It gained enough influence to inspire the founders of UNESCO. They recognized its contribution by having selections translated into English and published as part of the memorial volume commemorating the organization's formation in the 1950's. Not until the 1990's was Panorthosia as a whole translated and published in English.

This Month's Philosopher's Cafe

cafe october

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cosmopolis Earth

Here is the latest outline of what has grown into a three volume work called Cosmopolis Earth:

Cosmopolis Earth; A World Without Borders


Volume One:

Citizens Beyond Borders; Comenius and the Cosmopolitan Condition


Volume Two:

Buildings Beyond Borders; The Infrastructure of the Cosmopolis


Volume Three:

Elections Beyond Borders; Democracy Unbound



The good news is that I am almost finished the first volume; it should be ready for submission or self publishing (I am leaning towards the latter) in around a month's time.

Here is the latest draft of the first chapter.


The Will of the Majority

Our survival is threatened by a long list of disasters, including war, poverty, air pollution, global warming, environmental degradation, loss of species diversity and ocean acidification; oceanographers are telling us that the latter may be the most dire threat of all. Life on earth depends largely upon oxygen generated by plankton, whose shells are being dissolved; most of the world's biomass is now known to consist of viruses and bacteria in the ocean, whose nature and interactions are unknown.

As I write, climate talks are all but stalled. Decades of negotiations among almost two hundred sovereign states resulted in international treaties, but nothing decisive enough to reverse climate degradation. Even when declarations and resolutions are honoured, which they tend not to be, they are watered down and all but meaningless. And none of this would avert acidification, which has sneaked up on us unawares.

One reason that we freeze in the face of environmental Armageddon is that the entire structure of world institutions was designed from the start to block international resolution. The United Nations is highly problematic, as even its founders recognized. The General Assembly is little more than a sounding board for diplomatic representatives of national governments. It is no parliament. The Security Council was designed to accommodate the demand of Stalin for a veto; as a result, it has executive functions, but no mandate to act independently as a real government. Strong nations dominate weak ones, while the will of the majority, the people of the world, is ignored. In his history of the events surrounding the foundation of the UN, Winston Churchill wrote that he would have had an intermediate, regional institution to thresh out area disputes before they enter the world forum.

"What we have now is not effective for that outstanding purpose. The summoning of all nations, great and small, powerful or powerless, on even terms to the central body may be compared with the organization of an army without any division between the High Command and the divisional and brigade commanders. All are invited to the headquarters. Babel, tempered by skilful lobbying, is all that has resulted up to the present. But we must persevere." (Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1953, p. 610)

Fifty years after Churchill wrote this criticism, the number of member states had increased to almost two hundred, but still the will to reform the U.N. could still not be summoned up. Great powers routinely bypass what Churchill called the "Babel" of the United Nations, and arrive at decisions in secret, behind fences and brigades of security personnel, in select groups like NATO, the G8 and the G20.

Without a single, coherent, just and open authority at the center, all we can only look forward to is more dithering and despair. We can either sit back and wait to see which threat gets us first, or we can work together to erase the artificial lines drawn all over the globe that are the ultimate cause of the threats looming in the environment. To form a strong, just government for all of humanity would be one thing that we all can do to ensure that we have a fighting chance of survival. Only a global government founded upon democratic principles, especially that of representation by population, would have a strong enough mandate to permit it to address all of the many threats to our survival at once.

The simplest way to do that would be to give citizens of the world a vote in the membership of the U.N. Unfortunately, the wealthy few are vehemently opposed. The mass media which they own and control see to it that as little attention as possible is paid to the United Nations and other global institutions. The need to reform it into a world government is rarely discussed. But the question is unavoidable. The tragic irony is that most of the world agrees with this idea. International opinion polls indicate that the majority of the world's population would welcome a democratic United Nations. One global polling institution reports that,

"There is strong international support for various approaches for making the UN more democratically representative. Large majorities around the world favor direct elections of their country's UN representative to the General Assembly, a new UN parliament with directly elected representatives, and giving non-governmental actors a formal role in the United Nations."

The people of the world have sound reasoning on their side. The pollsters point out that their choice "appears to be derived from a perceived need for collective action to deal with global problems and from a belief in the efficiencies of collective action."

News of this opinion poll should have been given banner headlines around the world. Its implications could not be more far-reaching. Now anyone who believes in democracy must by that very fact be a world federalist. World government is what most of the human race wants and democracy demands that we go beyond borders, that we expunge the artificial barriers that divide and conquer us all. Nationality is imaginary; the nation state is obsolete on a planet where life is connected by global natural systems.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Lawmaker’s Game of Catchup

The Freeman's Physician

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 23, 'Izzat 13, 167 BE

Reward and Punishment

In Ancient Athens there were two kinds of doctor, it seems, one for slaves and one for freemen. Slaves were treated by other slaves who had gained experience working for trained physicians. These slaves acted as field medics, quickly handing out remedies to patients who had no choice but to take the cure. A physician, by contrast, got to know his patients personally and the disease was diagnosed took the time to explain what it was and why the treatment was necessary. Plato compared these two types of doctor to those who write and apply the law. Then as now, laws were conceived and enforced not as physicians who are treating freemen but in the cursory, arbitrary manner of a slave doctor.

"...none of our legislators would seem ever to have remarked that they rely wholly on one instrument in their work, whereas there are two available, so far as the mass's lack of education will permit, persuasion and compulsion. Authority is never tempered in their lawmaking with persuasion; they work by compulsion unalloyed." (Laws 722c, Collected Dialogues, p. 1312)

Somehow, lawmakers need to pay a great deal more attention to persuasion. We need not only law enforcement, but law recruitment. In order to do this, Plato held, an ordered state engages citizens in such a way that the why's and wherefores of ethics and legal issues become popular topics of conversation. This was also part of the Law of Moses, whose words were to be spoken of "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deut 6:7, WEB)

We need to provide long explanations of the laws, which Plato called "preambles" to the law. This activity would make the law more like a freeman's physician, who is anxious to see to it that every cure is as pleasant and enthusiastically accepted as possible.

Unfortunately, the gap between "free" medicine and forensics has broadened since Plato's time. Medicine is permeated with science and the latest technology, and doctors are now being trained as "partners" in healing for patients plugged into the vast knowledge base of the Internet. Meanwhile, the electronic game industry has grown to be more profitable than sports, movies and live theatre combined. Its designers are ever more adept at introducing incentives into their games, to the point where a large proportion of the population is all but addicted to gaming. Advertisers are slowly adapting some of the rewards pioneered by games, but legislators remain untouched and oblivious.

Parliamentarians need to listen to Plato and learn to make the law more effective and popular. They can lure the most persuasive hawkers from the advertising industry; recruit the best minds in academia in order to make the legal system act more like the freeman's physician.

As in so many other areas, Comenius's ideas were closer to the ideal envisioned by Plato. In Panorthosia he postulated that as citizens become adept in providing rewards on the local level, especially within strengthened family households, the reward deficit will become intolerable, if only because children are so prominent there.

"Everything should be arranged truly and substantially not by speculation or contemplation, but by deeds and actions, so that our new Political System is not simply a shadow or Idea, but a living Body, held together so firmly by the bonds of law and justice, rewards and punishments, that it is a pleasure to do what is holy and honourable, and a dreadful offence to commit evil ... and therefore all things return to Unity as much as possible." (Panorthosia, Ch. 12, para 7, pp. 188-189)

In China there is an official called the "neighbourhood helper," often a retired grandparent, who acts as a guidance counselor and a buffer between officialdom and a prescribed neighbourhood, such as a block of homes or a floor in an apartment building. In the cosmopolitan condition these helpers might be adapted into a trade or profession in their own right. They can act as buffers, reducing friction among cultural groups and between minorities and the police. These groups already are being brought into closer contact with each another; we can expect that in the close quarters of the cosmopolitan condition the need for local helpers will become more intense. If the neighbourhood helper is trained to be a cross between a teacher and a police officer on his beat, friendships could be built up and conversations directed in such a way that wrongdoing is avoided before it takes place.

Research into traffic behaviour has shown that massive slowdowns and jams can be avoided by mixing in a small number of drivers practicing specific habits, such as maintaining a certain distance from the vehicle ahead. When this new factor is introduced into the mix, traffic flows much more smoothly and regularly. Analogously, a neighbourhood helper might promote affection for rules and laws simply by directing informal conversations in subtle ways. Well trained helpers could influence a populace to practice the compliance, discipline and respect for order that now is possible only in a totalitarian state. At the same time, they could promote the free expression and creativity that are rarely applied even in places that place a high value on liberty. In this way the law would help us, in Comenius' words, return to Unity.

The main tool in the hands of the neighbourhood helper is what we will be calling the escutcheon. This we will discuss in more detail next time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ARE Esperanto meeting in Upper New York State

I, Marie and the kids are planning on attending the Esperanto gathering at Silver Bay resort next month. Here is some more information about the meeting, supplied by another attendee. I am planning on giving a short talk about the book I am writing, in Esperanto.

Esperantists from Montreal, Rochester, Boston and New York City have chosen Silver Bay (YMCA) near Ticonderoga, New York as a central regional meeting place for several years.

A handful of foreign-born Esperantists (not US or Canadian) are usually present.  The official event is a 3 day happening during the weekend of US Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving Day. This year it is the 9-11th of October.

Prior to this location over one hundred esperantists visited  a similar meetings at Okemo Mountain Lodge in Ludlow Vermont for numerous years.

A variety of lectures occur. Reviews of international Esperanto events usually occur. Sporting events and dance have also occured. Nature walks regularly occur. The working language is Esperanto.

Esperanto is popular on the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Esperanto was created in 1887 to be an easy, neutral language between nations and is affective in over a thousand local clubs, regional, national and international conventions with several thousand annual participants. Estimates of numbers of Esperanto speaker vary and go as high as two million world-wide. This author has met several thousand while visiting  34 countries and living abroad for 16 years.

Neil Blonstein, New York City

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Comenius, Openness and Fiscal Transparency

Faith and Fiscal Transparency

We have been examining the roots in spirituality of two principles of good governance on the local level, subsidiarity and fiscal transparency. However, as our technology becomes more sophisticated the twin principles are showing up there as well. As the Wikipedia article on subsidiarity points out, computer programming increasingly makes use of a kind of subsidiarity.

"The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, management, military (Mission Command) and, metaphorically, in the distribution of software module responsibilities in object-oriented programming (according to the Information expert design guideline)." (<>)

Object-oriented programming languages use certain conventions and standards that keep high level instructions from getting lost in the jungle of details in the machine-level architectures that carry them out.

The Importance of Being Transparent

The other twin principle is fiscal transparency, that is, having "glass pockets," which assures that everybody, starting with local taxpayers, knows exactly how their money is being spent. Studies have shown that humans are naturally more averse to loss than they hope for future gain. Therefore, if everybody knows exactly how local representatives are spending their money, there will be fewer junkets, boondoggles and other gross waste of funds that tend to arise in centralized structures.

This principle has always been an essential part of science, and with the rise of the internet it is spreading into technology. When the Internet had hardly begun the open systems movement, led by the Open Frontiers Foundation, devised rules for reconciling legitimate property rights with open, communitarian sharing. Large numbers of volunteer experts now write "open systems" software, the best known of which is the Linux operating system. The idea of publishing non-proprietary formulas for products has spread from there to unexpected products like chocolate bars, beers, soft drinks and gourmet coffee.

These idealistic volunteers believe that holding knowledge and discoveries back from the world stifles the freedom that is essential to prosperity, free markets and creative discovery in science. They are suspicious of the trade secrets, the non-disclosure agreements and centrist leanings of state capitalism and oversize corporations. 

Openness, by contrast, is part of the same sense of community and shared interest that led in pioneer days to barn raisings and quilting bees. The difference now is that helpers need not gather at the same place and time in order to work together to build something. The Internet permits volunteers work efficiently together at any time of day, from anywhere on the planet.

Comenius and "Forbid them not"

John Amos Comenius, who lived a century before Adam Smith, traced the lesson of freedom and openness back to an incident in the life of Jesus. His disciples came to him and protested that others were using his name to perform miracles. "Forbid them not," was his reply. (Mark 9:38) When there are competitors there is no need to oppose, since "ye shall know them by their fruits." Those who are not against us are for us. Such tolerance, openness and tentative reservation of judgment has since become a core value of both science and, in economics, the free enterprise system. Comenius thought that the "forbid them not" principle means that we should break up all monopolies, oligopolies and closed systems, be they in religion, the labour market or wherever else.

"The early Christians condemned Monotheletes for heresy; today no-one should play the part of a Monopolist. Everything should be common property except insofar as is necessary to preserve order and avoid confusion between parties. The same rule should be observed in the church and in schools. In Mark IX, 38, the disciples say 'We saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us, and we forbade him.' This should be a living example for modern disciples ... who do not allow the teaching and practice of their doctrines except by their own members and their own colleagues, regarding them as workmen of the same tribe. But although this seems a wise order of things (in politics, religion, and also education), yet it has turned into tyranny, and therefore the tribes in Belgium wisely rejected it. It should also be abolished in the church and all over the world. Every kind of work within reason should be open to all, and the state should profit, no matter who undertakes it. The works should testify whether anything is reasonably and profitably undertaken." (Ch. 24, pp. 105-106)

Nor is this emphasis on openness exclusive to Christianity among the world's religions. The Qur'an, for instance, teaches that enlightenment stands above left and right, East or West, right brain or left brain. God's light shines out on its own; it benefits all, without ownership by human beings.

"Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not --  light upon light --  Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things." (Q24:35, Shakir)

Transparent Faith

It is important to keep in mind the religious foundations of these twin principles, for no doubt they demand a great deal more faith on everybody's part, especially those in central, "senior" institutions. Subsidiarity means that income sources -- taxes for government and profits for companies -- are indirect; funds pass through several middlemen before coming into their hands. Transparency prevents the confidential schemes and private arrangements that are commonplace in the present system. Since everybody knows how funds are spent, now and in the future, decision making, especially at first, will tend to be slow, complex, closely negotiated process.

Subsidiarity gives local governments latitude to spend tax revenue as they please before passing it on to higher governments. Won't this reward irresponsibility? If junior governments collect income taxes and only when local needs are covered pass on the remainder, what is to prevent them from withholding payment completely? What is to stop localities from spending tax money on junkets, leaving nothing for higher levels of government?

The same hard questions apply for owners and managers of corporations. In a cosmopolitan economy, would not cooperatives be less efficient? Would a democratic workplace, where workers are allowed to elect their own bosses, reduce their ability to make difficult choices? Would profit sharing schemes blur the line between owners, managers and employees?

These are all legitimate worries. As we shall see, the answer is the recapitulating decade plan, and its three-way partnership among science, religion and politics, put forward by John Amos Comenius. Only this is likely to prepare future citizens to bear the challenges and responsibilities that principles like these demand.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Singer and Acting Locally

Subsidiarity and Global Thinking

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 17, 'Izzat 07, 167 BE

The great moral imperative of our time is to unite the human race under one law and one government. Any other ethical discussion is, by comparison, mere hairsplitting, a distracting waste of time. Prominent ethical philosopher Peter Singer, one of the founders of the animal rights movement, is one of the few members of his profession to follow up on Aristotle's argument that politics is born of ethics and not the other way around, and to understand that the implication of this constitutes the primary moral imperative of our time. Singer has remarkable courage and clear sightedness, and carries his arguments where few other leaders of thought dare go. Although some of his conclusions are daring to the point of shocking, I cannot but admire his uncompromising stance on the need to grow an ethical backbone for globalization.

In his book "One World" Singer argues that each of us has an incontrovertible moral duty to set aside a percentage of our income, however small, to raise the poorest humans on earth out of their destitution, which is both dire and life threatening. He calculates that it would take negligible sacrifice on the part of the rich once and for all to put an end to human misery around the world.

He points out that we use the word "charity" too lightly. We blithely lump a fund raiser for an extension to the local country club in with real charities, like Unicef's Save the Children fund, which save lives that otherwise would be wasted. He argues that our moral duty to save a life is not diluted by distance. This duty is undiminished, even if the life in danger happens to be located on the other side of the planet. However, he points out, such personal charity is only likely do real good if it takes place in the context of a stable world order.

We need not leap headlong into globalism, Singer points out. Instead we can add onto it a moral dimension. We can "accept the diminishing significance of national boundaries and take a pragmatic, step-by-step approach to greater global governance." (Singer, Peter, One World, The Ethics of Globalization, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002, p. 200) It should be possible to do this if we take it step-by-step, starting by establishing, monitoring and regulating core labor and environmental standards.

"If these standards are developed and accepted, they would not be much use without a global body to check that they are being adhered to, and to allow other countries to impose trade sanctions against goods that are not produced in conformity with the standards. Since the WTO (World Trade Organization) seems eager to pass this task over to the ILO (International Labor Organization), we might see that organization significantly strengthened. Something similar could happen with environmental standards. It is even possible to imagine a United Nations Economic and Social Security Council that would take charge of the task of eliminating global poverty, and would be voted the resources to do it." (Id.)

How centralized a world government would have to be is not clear. However, the success, wealth and stability of the world's parliamentary democracies demonstrate that it is hardly inevitable that a strong world government will degrade into global tyranny.

Another nightmare scenario is that the world government would breed a massive, plodding and inefficient central bureaucracy. This can be averted, Singer says, by the same thorough, systematic approach, by holding global elections, by rule of law and by applying the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity would see to it that decisions always are made at the lowest level capable of dealing with the problem. This principle is being actively applied by the European Union. If it proves to be successful there "it is not impossible that it might work for the world." Subsidiarity, then, is the centripetal force that counterbalances the centrifugal force of global federalism. It is what makes sense of the saying, "Think globally, act locally."


Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Roots of Subsidiarity

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 14, 'Izzat 04, 167 BE

The word "subsidiary" means to help, to perform an auxiliary function. As such, it is part of the principle of need or service already discussed. As a principle of federalism, subsidiarity is defined as "devolving decisions to the lowest practical level;" it was formalized in the tenth amendment of the American constitution, popularized by the Catholic Church and is now being extended and applied largely by the European Community. For the popes it is "a social doctrine that all social bodies exist for the sake of the individual so that what individuals are able to do, society should not take over, and what small societies can do, larger societies should not take over." (<>) Although the word was not used, the idea of subsidiarity goes back as far as you want to look. In his seminal book on the nature of freedom, J.S. Mill suggested that robust local activity in diverse organizations acts as ballast for democracy,

"Without these habits and powers, a free constitution can neither be worked nor preserved, as is exemplified by the too-often transitory nature of political freedom in countries where it does not rest upon a sufficient basis of local liberties. The management of purely local business by the localities, and of the great enterprises of industry by the union of those who voluntarily supply the pecuniary means, is further recommended by all the advantages which have been set forth in this Essay as belonging to individuality of development, and diversity of modes of action." (J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 181)

The role of higher level institutions, Mill goes on to point out, is not to take over local operations but to broker their experience. Ideally, local activity is a creative investigation using the experimental method. Mistakes are made, but this leads to wisdom and experience. Without senior institutions, however, local experiments would take place in a vacuum and lose their value. Parochialism sets in and hard lessons learned in one place are lost to everywhere else.

"Government operations tend to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of experience. What the State can usefully do, is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own." (On Liberty, 181)

In view of the strides with social networking made on the Internet, extending and improving this brokering function of governance is becoming one of the great frontiers of human progress.

As a principle of governance, subsidiarity goes much further back than a few centuries. It started in Biblical times. Soon after Moses had freed his people from Egypt and led them into the wilderness, his son-in-law and former boss, Jethro, visited their encampment. Observing how Moses worked, Jethro advised him not to deal with every plaintiff but to delegate to "commanders of thousands," of hundreds and tens.

"Let them judge the people at all times. It shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves. So shall it be easier for you, and they shall share the load with you." (Ex 18:22, WEB)

Moses took Jethro's advice. He had higher-ups resolve the quandaries of those below them, with himself at the bottom, working only on the toughest, broadest problem solving. In its most basic form, then, subsidiarity is when a leader is wise enough to delegate not just work but also authority. Only when a sub-commander finds a matter problematic does the boss step in to help him deal with it.

Yet this story has broader implications than just good advice to managers. For one thing, even a prophet of God was willing to take advice from an experienced leader. But most importantly, it was only after Jethro's upside-down service hierarchy had been set up that the Ten Commandments were sent down to Moses. That way, subsidiarity became the groundwork for rule of law. When law rules and not personalities, power is no longer an absolute but a "shared load." This contrasts with the tyrant, who does the reverse; he subjects all under him directly to his whim, leaving nothing to the discretion of others.

The most ancient and still the best paradigm for subsidiarity comes from observing the unity in diversity in our own body, a metaphor known as the "body politic." We know a great deal more about human physiology today and it is increasingly apparent how apt its methods for understanding how to organize society. We know that every cell in the body has the same code in its nucleus made up of a double helix known as DNA. No matter what its specialized function may be, each cell is united with to every other cell in the body by this identical genome within. In the embryo tissue starts off as generalist stem cells, and gradually specializes according to where it happens to be in the body at the time. In other words, the units of the body are totally equal to one another. There is no aristocracy or meritocracy in biology. The better cells are not sorted out and sent to the brain, while incompetent ones are banished to the anus. Organs grow out of the creative subsidiarity that Mill described, from cells working in a local context, responding creatively to needs in their immediate surroundings.

Christian teaching points out several other operating principles derived from the body politic. The parable of the talents points to a duty of individuals to develop their latent capacities to the fullest extent possible. Similarly, the saying, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off," points to the complement of subsidiarity, the principle that higher order requirements take priority over mundane utility. Even enlightenment comes second to life itself, since "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." That is not to say that enlightenment is unimportant though. Quite the reverse, since the eye is the "lamp of the body," and, as the parable of the lamp and the bushel stresses, its light must fill our whole being.

"No man, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar, nor under a basket, but on the stand, that they which enter in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light ..." (Luke 11:33-36, WEB)

More on subsidiarity tomorrow...

Monday, September 13, 2010

More Flora Tristan

From the Rise of Women to Storehouses

By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 13, 'Izzat 03, 167 BE

Another revision of a late chapter in the "Comenius and the Cosmopolitan Condition" section of Citizens without Borders.

In this section we established that good government on a world scale will be the outcome of a holistic view of self and humanity. This vision of Homo Universalis takes us in three directions, one, enlightened service, two, expressions of faith and three, participation in the polity. As John Comenius pointed out, citizens and groups can support one another through three institutions based upon these three, one each for science, religion and politics. Using standard PIM software, borderless citizens can coordinate activity within a repeating service decade and election cycle for these institutions. Once everyone participates in this, we will grasp our due proportions as human beings -- which is just how Plato defined wisdom. Wisdom permits us to apply principle without qualm or compromise. We have discussed three world principles so far, those of counsel, harm and need.

Equality of the Sexes

Last time, we broached another universal principle, the equality of women. As women rise to prominence in every region, society will gain the capacity to balance personal and social, local and global control, and manual and theoretical work. Flora Tristan raised an issue rarely mentioned even in feminist circles today, that of reparations to women for centuries of suppression and exploitation. She came up with a sensible way to spend the vast compensation funds owed to women, that is, to found in every locality an institution that she called the Worker's Union, and to erect in prominent places physical buildings to house that institution, which she called Worker's Palaces.

These palaces would showcase the equality of women vocationally, by allowing girls to learn in equal numbers with boys, as well as industrially -- that is, by subjecting housework to the economies of scale that even in the 19th Century were commonplace in industry. The palaces would also provide social services at the most local level possible -- a principle called subsidiarity that we shall discuss in greater detail shortly. Sources of funding would come from all levels of society, and from the palaces themselves. The palaces would include schools whose goal is to introduce every child, poor or rich, to skilled manual labour. Using the latest in educational theory, they would take on the ambitious goal of providing no fewer than two manual trades for each student,

"As for vocational training, each child would choose the trade he feels the most suited for. Besides all the other work, he would have to do, upon leaving the palace he will have to be a competent worker in at least two trades." (Worker's Union, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1983, p. 122)

Although well established in adult education, the idea that children should be allowed to choose their own course of studies is rarely countenanced by mainstream schools, even today. Another reform she envisions is profit sharing. This is rare enough even for adults outside of Europe (where cooperative companies are among the largest employers, especially in Holland and Spain), but Tristan suggests that it be used to motivate the vocational activity of children at the earliest age possible.

"In order for him to become interested in work, as of the age of ten the child will be eligible to share in the profits produced by the work in the establishment. This amount will increase every year until his departure at the age of eighteen. Half will be given to him as a trousseau made in the establishment and the other half in money." (Worker's Union, p. 122)

Outside boarders from rich families would study along with the orphans and pupils from poor families, and, between the ages of six and ten, would also be paid from their share of the profits of their work. She also suggested that the palaces maintain a steady flow of adults from diverse backgrounds, so that young people will not grow up parochial or prejudiced as a result of having friends and acquaintances from a single mould.

The Twin Principles

The rise of women to equality, aided by the social services provided by Worker's Palaces, will endow the home, the neighbourhood, the block and the village with much more power and prominence than we can imagine in our time, an age when the centers of power for most people exist far away, over the horizon. As mentioned, wisdom will be possible, capacity will increase and the principles mentioned before will be applied, as well as two new ones, the twin principles of local governance known as subsidiarity and fiscal transparency. These Jane Jacobs set out in her final book, Dark Age Ahead.

"Subsidiarity is the principle that government works best -- most responsibly and responsively -- when it is closest to the people it serves and the needs it addresses. Fiscal accountability is the principle that institutions collecting and disbursing taxes work most responsibly when they are transparent to those providing the money." (Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, Random House, New York, 2004, 103)

As Jacobs points out, localizing principles are far from new. They arose in the cities and towns of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and enabled European civilization to take the ascendant for many centuries. According to Jacobs, they saved civilization from the dark ages, while ignoring them puts us in danger of another dark age.
Jacobs' twin principles of fiscal accountability and subsidiarity are so important, both individually and in combination, that before describing the outward physical conditions of the Cosmopolis, I should go into them in more detail.

Fiscal Transparency and Neighbourhood Storehouses

Fiscal transparency is the key to keeping local governance from the corruption that is endemic today. Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. This is even more true of so-called "hot money." As the song says, evil grows in the dark; blocking budgets from view invites wrongdoing. "Offshore" or "flight" money funds crime and skims trillions of dollars directly off the budgets of corporations and governments alike. Funds are laundered for organized crime, the illegal drug market, tax evaders and so forth. Meanwhile, open books are closing as secrecy and "black budgets" become increasingly widespread, especially in the richest and most corrupt nations. At the same time, the centralized bureaucracies of the monolithic state in effect bribe the populace into quiescence with welfare and other payments. This creates a mentality of dependency on the local level, in spite of the fact that all wealth, by definition, is generated from services performed on the local level.

The banking industry with its "private clients" is so heavily complicit in this and other types of skulduggery that it would be appropriate for reformers to oust them from the table completely. We can re-introduce fiscal transparency at a stroke by replacing large, centralized banking institutions with community-owned "storehouses." Here everybody has a right to a bank account, and has to use it, at least for local transactions.

These local storehouses, perhaps a part of the Worker's Palace, will take on most banking functions, and even devise their own local currencies, all rooted in local needs. As semi-public institutions, they will be responsible solely to the people, both locals and the entire human race. As such, they are required by law to have "glass pockets," or open bookkeeping methods, and everyone working there is accountable to a democratically elected leadership. As the story of Joseph in the Bible illustrates, these local financial institutions offer stability by storing up the windfall profits of good times and re-distributing them during down cycles. In order to work well, though, these storehouses need to function on the most local level possible. This leads us to the other twin principle, subsidiarity.

next time: Subsidiarity