Posted by: Alan D. Price, PhD | January 31, 2010

Synocracy: The Novalia Model, Part III

In Part II of this essay, I considered the Sociocracy (Dynamic Self-Governance) model that has been so successfully applied in the business environment.  I also noted some of the difficulties proponents have encountered in applying the model to governance of existing political structures.  In this part, I shall suggest that the difficulties have arisen because of the attempt to superimpose the dynamics of the model on pre-existing structures within which the citizens are not bound by shared aims or concerns.  By and large, the citizens of cities and towns do not know each other and thus are totally unaware as to whether or not they share any common goals.

History of Sociocracy

“The idea of a sociocracy, a self-governing society, dates from the early nineteenth century”  when the French philosopher, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), often believed to be the founder of the science of sociology, advocated a type of society based on a balance of the scientific method and humanism.  Yet, despite the fact that “Comte’s thinking was highly influential on Western European thought, his [concept of] sociocracy was never more than an idea,” until…

 The concept was picked up again by a renowned American sociologist, Frank Lester Ward (1843–1913) in the late nineteenth century. Ward extolled the virtues of the “self-made individual” and the importance of universal and life-long education. He felt that these should be the basis of an ideal society, a sociocracy.

While the ideals of Comte and Ward are in alignment with contemporary sociocratic thinking, one aspect is not. They both advocated a central body of scientists that would in Comte’s case be the government and in Ward’s, advise the government. Establishing such a [scientific] body was, of course, impossible and in the end would not be self-governance. While a democracy based on majority rule also had the failings of power brokering, it still held more potential than sysems making autocratic decisions.

The creation of a real sociocracy required both inclusive decision-making and a non-autocratic structure. In 1926, Kees Boeke (1884–1966), an internationally known Dutch peace-activist and educator, began developing a set of principles that did just that — created an organization based on the equivalence of all particpants and consensus decision-making. Just before WW II, Boeke started a school in The Netherlands where he began experimenting with consensus in what soon became a community of 400 students and teachers. Boeke’s sociocracy was based on three fundamental rules.

  1. “First, the interests of all members must be considered, the individual bowing to the interests of the whole.”
  2. “Second, no action can be taken if there are no solutions found that everyone can accept.”
  3. “Third, all members must be ready to act according to these unanimous decisions.”

Boeke pointed out that there were many groups functioning by soliciting common agreement rather than voting and that if such a group voted, it would be an indication that the group was not functioning well. Many communities today still function using these same principles. Intentional communities use consensus almost exclusively. But most are small, religiously devoted, or purely social organizations. Consensus as Boeke used it, requires a high level of trust and frequent meetings to discuss and share concerns and solutions. Most organizations are much too diverse to depend on unanimity as a basis for agreement. All their members do not meet together on a regular basis and many never have personal contact. As a broadly applicable method of governing, sociocracy needed further development.

I shall leave it to the reader to pursue this further development that was brought about in the 1970s by one of Boeke’s students, Gerard Endenburg.   Suffice it to say that Endenburg developed principles for the application of sociocracy to the business environment.

In a sociocratic organization…four principles are used to form a governance structure that [includes] all its members. Everyone has a direct voice….

  1. Consent governs policy decision-making. Consent means there are no argued and paramount objections to a proposed decision.
  2. Circles are the primary governance unit. Circles are semi-autonomous…[as well as] self-organizing. Within their domain, they make policy decisions; set aims; delegate the functions of leading, doing, and measuring to their own members; and maintain their own memory system and program of ongoing development.
  3. Circles are connected by a double-link consisting of the functional leader elected by the next higher circle, and two or more representatives elected by the circle, all of whom participate fully in both circles.
  4. People are elected to functions and tasks by consent after open discussion. [Emphasis added above.]

Adapting Sociocracy to the Social Environment

A business has a pre-existing organizational structure with pre-defined organizational goals, which employees may or may not fully embrace.  When sociocracy is instituted in the business, everyone has a direct voice and thus shares in determining the day to day 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 goal.

Such organizational structure does not typically exist in social and political groups, which are generally organized from the top down and do not solicit equal participation of all members.  As noted in the foregoing post, to try to superimpose the principles of sociocracy on the functioning of a town or city, is to solicit failure, because the citizens generally do not know each other and may only, coincidentally, share common goals.

Thus, it seems necessary to create a Dynamic Self-Governance structure from scratch by drawing the citizens of the community together to achieve a common purpose.  Thus, the structure of the social organization must be extra-political, although its goals may be very much political in nature.  This latter thought resonates with the words of Professor John Keane who has written about “monitory democracy” as “a new historical type of democracy…defined by the rapid growth of many different kinds of extra-parliamentary, power-scrutinising mechanisms.”  Keane states: 

There is a need for a fundamental revision of the way we think about democracy in our times.  An epochal transformation has been taking place in the contours and dynamics of representative democracy.  From roughly the mid twentieth century representative democracy began to morph into a new historical form of ‘post-representative’ democracy. 

Keane continues:

In consequence, the whole architecture of self-government is changing. The central grip of elections, political parties and parliaments on the lives of citizens is weakening. Democracy is coming to mean more than elections, although nothing less. Within and outside states, independent monitors of power begin to have tangible effects. By putting politicians, parties and elected governments permanently on their toes, they complicate their lives, question their authority and force them to change their agendas.

The Tea Party Movement is one such “monitory” group on the U.S. political scene.  It was a movement originated by the “Ron Paul Revolution” in the 2008 primary election campaign and later co-opted by many rank and file Republicans in 2009.  This movement was very instrumental, it appears, in the recent Massachusetts senatorial election where Scott Brown won the senate seat held for decades by Ted Kennedy after being down by double digits in the polls shortly before the election.

However, social organizations can, obviously, come into being for more than political reasons.  They can arise to fulfill basic human needs for connectedness as I have discussed previously in regard to artificial extended families.  Is it conceivable that such family groups could double back on themselves and serve purposes that are normally regarded as the provinces of governments and private charities?  I am referring here to addressing the issues of poverty and healthcare in a society.  Typically, the ideological Left has advocated for the provision of government services, while the ideological Right has resorted to advocating that individuals and private enterprise provide for the less fortunate through charitable donations.  There can be no better illustration of the propensity for private individuals, including many big-name celebrities, to open their hearts and their pocketbooks than the recent disaster in Haiti.   But, why should it take a calamity of grotesque proportions like Haiti or Katrina to motivate such private giving?  Why do we not tap into this human tendency to support others in time of need when the conditions are oppressive but not so dire?  One simple answer is that, as the size of government has grown, so has the tendency for the “bystander intervention effect” to dominate social conscience.  It is clear that the degree to which we believe that others will step in and help determines our individual willingness to help.  In other words, we have come to expect the government to dispense not only foreign aid, but domestic aid as well.  Another far more important reason, however, is that we have never reduced the tax burden on individuals sufficiently, or “incentivized” supporting others adequately, to bring about non-governmental solutions to major social problems.

In Part IV of this essay, I explore a way in which the model of Novalian artificial extended families could guide the way to extricating ourselves from the incredible financial morass in which we find ourselves as a nation.



  1. My friend Alan Price,i must tell you that we are very happy today because we have been able to download parts one to three of your meditation on synocracy.
    We shall give our self some time to share the value contents therein.
    We believe that the younger generation will profit from the prophetic contents of your writings.
    Remain Blessed

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