Eight Proposed Rules for Sustaining Democratic Autonomy and Local Resilience in Public “Council System” Meetings:

1. You are here only as citizens in your capacity as individual human persons; that plus the facts of your natality—that we are all born into this world—and your mortality—that we shall all die within a span of roughly 100 years—are the unique sources of our moral and political equality, on which the Constitutional notion of equality before the law rests; the only equality that could possibly matter since there is no other. (This reflects the truism that attributes such as talent, wealth, intelligence, education, class, good looks, physical strength, and social status are not evenly distributed across any population. This state of affairs is in fact the reason that equality before the law is enshrined as a principle of justice.) —In other words: leave all other qualifications (for example, income, profession, social status, accomplishments, etc.) at the door. All that is required is your humanity, your thinking, feeling, and ability to judge.

2. A moderator will be chosen by acclamation. If there is general agreement, the same moderator may be chosen for an indefinite period; otherwise, a new moderator will be chosen each time by acclamation.

3. Freedom is only possible among equals; it is created in a space where citizens come together to openly discuss, share opinions and form collective judgments for the purpose of joint action.

4. The political passions or virtues are: courage, the pursuit of public happiness, the taste of public freedom, an ambition that strives for excellence regardless not only of social status and administrative office but even of achievement and congratulation. To these I would add impartiality, empathy, compassion, personal honesty, trustworthiness, and a sense of justice or fairness. These are the key virtues and passions participants should eagerly strive to recognize among their peers in the course of open discussion and opinion formation.

5. No speech-making or filibustering is allowed; any appearance of such will be shut down by the moderator and, if necessary, the speech-maker ejected for the duration of the meeting. The moderator will treat flagrant or repeated violations of these rules as grounds for expulsion from the meeting.

6. Respect for others: do not interrupt another speaker. Hear them out, and then respond.

7. Address the issue under discussion; stay on point.

8. Only a single issue may be addressed at each meeting. If a single meeting goes on for too long a time without an issue being decided or resolved, it may be “tabled” to be taken up and resolved at the next meeting. The shared space of freedom ceases to exist when the group disbands. *Note: I propose that the very first order of business at these council meetings should be to discuss and ratify these eight principles, modifying them as necessary by unanimous vote.

Obviously, not all citizens will accede to these rules; those who cannot have no business seeking political office or in governance. “However, this exclusion from politics should not be derogatory, since a political élite is by no means identical with a social or cultural or professional élite. The exclusion, moreover, would not depend upon an outside body; if those who belong are self-chosen, those who do not belong are self-excluded.” We can hardly do better than elect those who “care for more than their private happiness and are concerned about the state of the world” and who “would have the right to be heard in the conduct of the business of the republic.”

Photo by alexander bracken on Unsplash

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