Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | December 4, 2009

Evolution of Democracy, Part IV

In the first three parts of this essay, I discussed the nature of social organization in Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups and how environmental changes and the increase in group size affected social structure and governance in the Neolithic Age and beyond.    As social groups increased in size, social regulation changed from egalitarian, participatory “governance,” which kept the power of leaders in check, to situations in which “leveling down mechanisms” could no longer prevent power from being concentrated in the hands of an elite leader or leaders.

In modern times, as Shultziner points out:

Democratic mass elections are modern forms of a leveling-down mechanism by which unsatisfied rank and file can replace their leaders. Elections also reflect a social mechanism of reaching a consensus similar to the ones in foraging bands. And, elections are an acknowledgment in the importance of legitimacy. Almost all regimes in the world today employ elections or referendums in order to exhibit popular consent to their rule. Authoritarian and non-liberal regimes are no exception. Iran, for instance, is far from being a liberal democracy for ultimate political power is vested with an unelected religious clique; yet, elections are being held in Iran and real competition between parties and ideas exists. Interestingly, 120 out of 192 countries held democratic elections in 2000. This implies that the heritage of ancient egalitarianism is very strong and it shapes social practices and institutions not in liberal democracies alone.

Thus, we may legitimately ask: If egalitarianism has been bred into humankind, then what is the future of “participatory democracy?” What form will it take as the 21st century proceeds at literally breakneck speed to a political destiny only dimly perceived?  The exponential development of technology, with its potential for connecting every member of the human race, is arguably the key factor that will determine the future of governance in a global society.  We may ask with some degree of trepidation:  Will democracy devolve into a “One World Government” run by a small oligarchy?  Or will it evolve into a new synergistic form of governance, quite unlike the old, grammar school type of majority-rule democracy, i.e., a “World Governance” that is not under the control of a few, but operates within a nexus of a multiplicity of interdependent groups or organizations all linked for a common purpose.  To decide between these alternative scenarios, we need first to examine the difference between “government” and “governance.”  Then, perhaps, we can see more clearly in what direction the planetary society appears to be hurtling.

The Difference Between Government and Governance

 I shall use the term, “governance” essentially in the sense described by Elizabeth Meehan in a paper (2003) entitled, “From Government to Governance, Civic Participation and ‘New Politics’: The Context of Potential Opportunities for the Better Representation of Women.”  Meehan, an Irish writer from Belfast,  asks rhetorically, “What is governance?”  and, then, and attempts to answer this question.

The notion is hard to pin down, but it does seem accepted that a number of forces have converged so as to change the nature of what it means to govern: forces such as globalization…Europeanization…pressures on the traditional welfare state, and new political cultures in which traditional methods of delivering the services of the welfare state are no longer regarded as ‘empowering’. It is also accepted that there is a discernible difference between government and governance. This is not to say that governance is displacing government; merely that the two forms of activity coexist [Emphasis added].

Analysts of governance focus on a range of new arrangements and practices. These include the fragmentation or sharing of public power amongst different tiers of regulation such as the European Union (EU), state governments and sub-state governments. Secondly, they point to other arrangements encouraging policies to be formulated and implemented away from the centre; the ‘hollowing out’ of the state through the ‘agentization’ of government and the privatization of the provision of utilities and services [citation in original]. Thirdly, analysts note an increasing reliance on partnerships, networks and novel forms of consultation or dialogue that are at the heart of ‘Third Way’ thinking about policy design and delivery.

Governance is usually defined by contrasting it with what is thought of as the traditional pattern of public power in which authority is centralized and exercised hierarchically [or, pyramidally (Editor)]often called the ‘command and control’ model [Emphasis added].  Here, Prime Ministers dominate other ministers, ministers dominate civil servants, and central government dominates local government [citation in original].

Conversely, analysts of governance [see]…power as dispersed and relational and argue that governance arises from a lack of capacity on the part of governments, acting alone, to effect desired changes. Instead, public power manifests itself through increasingly blurred boundaries between different tiers of government, the public and private, and between the state and civil society….[According to this view] it cannot now be taken for granted that the loci of effective political power are national governments.  Instead, ‘effective power is shared, bartered and struggled over by diverse forces and agencies at national, regional and global levels’. It is being ‘repositioned’ and, to some extent, ‘transformed by the growing importance of other less territorially based power systems’.

Meehan goes on to make a very important point.

…it should be noted that one classical view of civil society is that it is epitomized by self-organizing networks that are independent of government–sometimes even a countervailing force (McLaverty, 2002: 304). Other analysts of civil society see it and the state as interactive, with disputed implications for democracy [Emphasis added].

Thus, according to Meehan, the idea of “governing” changes from…

…acting through vertical chains of command and accountability in a hierarchy of institutions to becom[ing] a facilitator or regulator of what goes on in [society]… in order to try to solve problems [Emphasis added]. Governance means ‘collective problem solving in the public realm’ [citations in original].

In my view, the distinction between “government” and “governance” boils down to the fact that “government” typically is used to refer to a “State,” i.e., a “what.”  In contrast, “governance” refers to a process of social organization and control, i.e., a “how.”  Thus, it should be rather obvious that one can have governance in a social group without the necessity for there being a State (government).  Thus “governance” refers to a general process, whereas “government” refers to the implementation of a specific kind of process by a State.  In this sense, to govern, then, is to organize and control social activities, be they within the jurisdiction of a State or within the purview of a company or other non-governmental organization.

Meehan cites several authors in explicating how the terms “governance” and “government” differ.   To make her points clear in the context of the foregoing definitions which I offered, I shall refer to the specific process of a State as “governing” and the process of non-state organizations as “governance.” 

What, then, characterizes the role of the State in governing?  The State is construed to be the ultimate “Authority” within a geographical region.  Stefan Molyneux defines a government (State) as “a group of individuals within a geographical area who retain the monopolistic, moral and legal right to initiate force.”  Alternatively, what characterizes the role of non-State organizations in governance?  Non-governmental organizations tend more likely than not to be concerned with activation, regulation, or facilitation of social activities.

With regard to dominant mode of functioning, “governing” is characterized by the pursuit of a common, state-defined, “national interest.”  In contrast, “governance” is concerned with coordinating and harmonizing the varied interests of group members.

What are the primary patterns of interaction under the governing mode and the governance mode?  The former is characterized by a “command and control,” and in most States today, it is based on majority rule.  The latter depends on multilateral negotiations to develop policies.

 Individuality and its Relationship to the Whole

We may justifiably ask: If egalitarianism is wired-in at birth as a result of evolutionary processes operating over millions of years, why then did we as a species develop into societies that so frequently have gone to war and have been governed by strong, dominant leaders who often dictate policy for members of their social or national groups?  I suggest that an answer may lie in the apparent parallelism between the development of the psychological organization of the individual  (individuation) and the development of the social organization of groups of individuals.  In addition to egalitarian tendencies within groups, there appears to be a strong evolutionary push toward individuality that competes with the purposes of social groups.

The human newborn is, ostensibly, without any sense of individuality.  For quite a long time after birth, the infant remains connected with the mother by “a psychological umbilical cord,” immersed in what psychologists call “psychological symbiosis.” Erich Fromm has written brilliantly about the individuation process that occurs as the child eventually begins to sense, as her brain develops, that she is separate from her mother.  This is a world shaking realization, which we see routinely manifested in what has come to be known as the “terrible twos” when the child says, “No” to everything.  She has learned that this little word has enormous power in manipulating her world.  She can get all kinds of interesting reactions from adults around her when she voices her “No.”  

However, as Fromm astutely observes, this burgeoning sense of separateness can also be very terrifying to some children and there is a desire to return to that symbiotic oneness with the mother.  Fromm says there is an urge to “Escape from Freedom,” which is the title of his marvelous and most famous book written in 1941.  The child can pursue a number of avenues or “mechanisms of escape,” including automaton conformity and sado-masochism.  Both of these two mechanisms can lead to the development of a tendency to submit to the dictates of an authoritarian leader. 

However, I would suggest that separateness and individuality are only frightening because Fromm is talking about a child growing up in a society in which the extended family of early humankind has almost disappeared in favor of the modern, nuclear family with all of its inherent social isolation and lack of support. 

It would seem that a child born into an early, egalitarian, hunter-gatherer group of 25 members, or so, probably did not go through such individuation, that is to say, if Julian Jaynes is correct.  Jaynes argues that the capacity for individual self consciousness did not exist at that time.   Individuality was, ostensibly, unnecessary, in fact, it was counterproductive to the group purpose of insuring survival.  Yet, as we observe the development of early humankind, we see an inexorable march toward individuality and all of the resulting conflicts between strong individuals competing for dominance. 

We see the same development in societies as we do in individuals.  The individual starts out submerged in a larger whole, then develops individuality, and if he reconnects with the larger whole in a positive way instead of escaping from his freedom, then individuality becomes integrated as part of the larger whole of society.  Likewise, groups started out with all members participating in the social order with more or less equal access.  Later, with the development of strong leadership in tribes and then nation states, the individual escaped from the freedom of individuality into submission to authority.  Now, in the 21st century, we are seeing a process developing on a global scale which appears to be quite similar to the positive reconnection of the individual with the larger whole of his society.  All over the world, we see groups of people attempting to integrate themselves within a global whole.  Some fear this as a potential return to the autocratic horrors of the past.  Others see an entire new and promising vista.  How we resolve the pessimistic and the optimistic views will be crucial in determining the future.  But, it appears to me that Life is impelling us in the direction of a new cooperativeness and interconnection, not to a development of the mega-authoritarianism of Orwell’s “Big Brother.”  However, the question remains whether the evolution of humankind will get shunted off the main path into an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

There is another perspective to consider which may shed some light on the development of individuality and its exaggerated perversion in the 20th century domination of the masses that occurred on a grander scale than in all of recorded history.  This different slant is to be found in the role of the human need for “recognition” as discussed by Shultziner. 

A Human Need for Recognition?

Shultziner points out that it is import to look beyond exogenous (environmental) factors in order to understand how democratic forms of government came into being.  He calls attention to the endogenous (psychobiological) factors which are involved in the development of democratic governance.

Transitions to democracy, modern and ancient, are not a result of environmental factors alone. A change in environmental conditions would not lead to the replacement of regimes, and leveling-down mechanisms would not lead to more egalitarian social structures, if human beings were not predisposed to react to environments in certain ways.

He goes on to say:

It is clear, then, that we must examine human nature (or endogenous factors) to seek a candidate for a psychological adaptive predisposition which can illuminate the generic historical course toward democracy. Democracies did not “just happen” in different places and at different times; something brought them into being. To my understanding, the proximate underlying factor which gives history its generic (sic) course is the psychological predisposition of the pursuit of recognition [Emphasis added].

Is there a human need for recognition that is just as strongly wired-in at birth as the egalitarian tendency that characterizes groups?  If so, then this would seem to be a outgrowth of the tendency toward individuation and a convenient measure of the tendency toward self assertion.  What do social psychological and genetic research have to say on this issue?

Democracy and the Striving for Recognition

To provide a foundation for his theory of the development of democracy, Shultziner links the striving for “recognition” to the social psychological research on self esteem.

Pursuit of positive self-esteem is a psychological motivation to achieve, maintain or defend one’s positive evaluation of oneself, a motivation not to lose a sense of positive self-worth. The motivation to achieve positive self-esteem is crystallized through acts that are meant to attain and maintain recognition from others. This main characteristic of the self-esteem phenomenon can be referred to as a search, a quest, or a pursuit of recognition [Emphasis added]….The level of self-esteem is defined by the contingencies [rewarding events] one subjectively deems as important to one’s life and not by objective criteria [citations in original].  In that sense, contingencies of self-esteem are not constant: they can, and usually do, change or alternate in their importance in the course of one’s life.

Some people’s contingencies [rewarding events]  for positive self-esteem are in individualistic terms such as successes in academic competence, athletics, physical appearance, god’s love, power and self-reliance [citation in original]; others’ self-esteem may depend on political and communitarian aspects such as adhering to community values for reasons of social acceptance, fulfilling and promulgating personal moral convictions, or pursuing public apology for recognition in perceived historical wrongs. People’s contingencies of self-esteem [rewarding events]  may vary but the psychological phenomenon itself is universal [citation in original]. The implications of these characteristics of self-esteem to politics are significant. People may define the way their regime treats them as a contingency[rewarding event]  of self-esteem. People may admire their royalties, kingships or religious sages (as people still do in many parts of the world) and regard their existence as important to their positive self-esteem; or, people may come to perceive certain regimes as despotic and detrimental to their positive self-esteem like they have in the past. Despotic regimes, however, cannot easily convince their populace that they are not despotic. And, once a regime is perceived as despotic (regardless of how enlightened it intends to be) it will be regarded as an obstacle to one’s positive self-esteem or even as an outright humiliation to one’s worth and dignity. This psychological predisposition to regain and defend positive self-esteem will motivate people to limit or dethrone the despotic regime by employing leveling-down mechanisms such as protests, elections or violent revolutions [citation in original].

Regimes around the world, democratic and non-democratic, are aware of the salience of being perceived as recognizing and respecting their citizens, and hence most regimes make an effort to be seen as speaking in the ‘name of the people’, as elected by the people, or at least as not disrespecting the worth and dignity of their populace. Citizens, on the other hand, can be quite sensitive to the way their regime treats them or to the policies their regime implements. Certain policies may be seen as lacking recognition or as misrecognizing people’s worth.

Shultziner proceeds to “present evidence to support the claim that the pursuit of recognition is a universal and central characteristic of human nature” and that “that perceptions of recognition or non-recognition shape politics.”

Self-esteem and pursuit of recognition are the most studied phenomena in social psychology. Although disagreements among contemporary theorists who specialize in the self-esteem phenomenon exist, one agreed fact does seem salient: almost all scholars agree that the pursuit of recognition is a pervasive characteristic of human behavior. Even those who content [sic – contest] the idea that pursuit of positive self-esteem is a psychological need and those who object that the pursuit of recognition is positive and healthy admit that in actual fact people do constantly pursue positive self-esteem in various ways, to various degrees and in healthy and unhealthy ways [citations in original].  Moreover, there is an agreement among social psychologists that positive self-esteem is a useful buffer against anxiety and that it brings about many other psychological benefits to the individual, and that the pursuit of recognition is a concept with useful explanatory power [citations in original].

What is undecided among students of self-esteem, though, is not if people pursue recognition, but rather why people do and whether the pursuit of positive self esteem is a universal human need, and whether it is a healthy pursuit or not [citation in original].

Shultziner goes on to say, regarding the human pursuit of recognition:

The universality of this phenomenon and its unique manifestations in different cultures have already been documented in a number of studies [citations in original].  Peculiarly then, social psychologists debate the theoretical origins of this phenomenon and not whether the pursuit of recognition is empirically a central behavioral characteristic of human beings.

In Part V of this essay, I shall discuss Shultziner’s review of evidence from genetic research and self-esteem and how these data illuminate “the innateness of the pursuit of recognition in an even more decisive way.”  Then, in the final installment (Part VI), I shall sum up the argument for an evolutionary perspective of the development of modern forms of democracy, including representative democracy as institutionalized in the U.S. Constitution.



  1. The following is a site that links to this blog.

    It is called: “World Governance: A New World Order or World Synocracy?”

  2. […] of Democracy, Part V In Part IV of this essay, I reviewed Shultziner’s conceptualization of self-esteem, as manifested in the […]

  3. […] the discussion of the seemingly universal human need for recognition pointed out by Shultziner in a previous essay on this blog.  He states that in his experience, all people […]

  4. […] operation of the company.  This meets the human need for recognition, which appears, as noted in a previous post to be universal.  Thus, all employees are rewarded for working for a common […]

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