Chapter Eight: The Democratic Process as an Open-Ended System in Political Life
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111 8 The Democratic Process as an Open-Ended System in Political Life In Western Europe and North America, democracy has become in recent centuries the most common form of political government because in principle it guarantees the rights of individual citizens against various forms of tyranny and oppression. Likewise, when in various parts of the world a totalitarian regime is overthrown, the notion of a democratic system of government is regularly set forth by reformers as the ideal toward which to aspire in setting up a new regime. One need only think of the overthrow of totalitarian regimes in the former Soviet Union in the twentieth century and the current unrest in traditionally one-man or one-party governments in the Middle East and in the Far East. But is democracy in the end wishful thinking, something more often discussed in theory than achieved in practice? Or does it have legitimation in the very structure of physical reality such that one can appeal to it as the most “natural” form of human government, even if in practice it is not always effectively implemented? It will be the purpose of this chapter to argue that the second alternative is, or at least should be, the case. I will also contend, however, that until recent centuries this was not the case, since the bias of educated people in Western society and elsewhere in the world was toward monarchical or at least aristocratic forms of government based, in part, upon implicit antecedent philosophical convictions about the underlying nature of reality. Hence, what is currently needed to reinforce the practical conviction that democracy is indeed the most suitable form of government for human beings is a metaphysical conceptuality that will effectively challenge the older thought pattern that inclined one unconsciously toward monarchical or aristocratic forms of government. 112  Part Two: Systems Thinking in the Social Sciences Fortunately, work in this direction has already been done by Colin Gunton in his book The One, the Three and the Many. 1 Therein he argues that the “pathos of the modern condition” is due in large measure to the uncritical acceptance of an outdated understanding of the relationship between the One and the Many, ultimately derivative from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, whereby the One (or, in any case, the Few) are entitled to hegemony over the Many. Even modern efforts to displace the One in favor of the Many have resulted in new forms of totalitarianism since a new paradigm for the relationship of the One and the Many that should favor more democratic forms of government is not yet in place within contemporary Western culture. 2 His solution is to have recourse to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity among the early Greek fathers of the church as a mutual indwelling or perichoresis of the three divine persons so as to constitute the reality of one God. While I share with Gunton the belief that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity when understood as a community of divine persons has enormous value for this new understanding of the relationship of the One and the Many, I also believe that one need not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity to deal with the strictly philosophical issue of a change of paradigm for one’s basic understanding of the relationship between the One and the Many and its importance for legitimating the move toward more democratic forms of government in modern life. Accordingly, I will first review Gunton’s critique of the classical understanding of the relationship between the One and the Many with attention to the negative effects that this habitual thought pattern has had on Western governments. Afterward, I will make clear how my own rethinking of the notion of “society” in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead could provide theoretical justification for the new, more democratically conceived understanding of the One and the Many, which Gunton claims is indispensable for remedying the “pathos of the modern condition.” Not a reconceived doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, but a philosophical claim based upon a rethinking of Whitehead’s notion of society will be the centerpiece of my argument that democracy is the most “natural” form of government for human beings since, at least in principle, it corresponds more closely to the nature of reality. Gunton begins his analysis of the ills of Western civilization with the pre-Socratic philosophers, notably Heraclitus and Parmenides, whose views on Ultimate Reality are polar opposites: 1. Colin...


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Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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