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= A principle underlying systems of organisation that asserts that everyone has the right to make and act on decisions about things that affect them and that no one else has the right to take that away from them.


By John Talbut at

"Panocracy contrasts with democracy in that democracy, rule by the people, is based on the idea that there is an entity, the people, which has a common point of view. In democratic systems it is generally held that the view of the majority represents the view of the whole and minorities may have little influence. Panocracy recognises that there are as many points of view as there are individuals and each point of view is equally important.

There are versions of democracy such as deep democracy or participatory democracy that recognise and attempt to correct the limitations of democracy. Some of these involve elements of panocratic working.

Panocracy is an opposite of anarchy, rule or government by no one. Again, though, there are anarchists who see anarchy as being about the rights of the individual and who favour something akin to panocracy.

It is the fundamental right of every human being to act at all times in their own self-interest. This is not a right that is given people, it is the inherent right of each of us.

Acting in our own self-interest is not just the same as being selfish. Selfishness often refers to a child like need to have something, regardless of whether it is in the person's self-interest to have it. However, the charge of selfishness is often used to teach people not act in their own self-interest. "You are being selfish" often means, "You are not doing what I want you to".

Events will flow from whatever we choose to do and the choices we make will have some effect on those events. Acting in our own self interests means making choices which may lead to events, including other people acting in ways, that are in our interests. Usually it will be in our interests to have peaceful and co-operative relationships with others. This is often referred to as enlightened self-interest.

Most people do not recognise that they have the right to act in their own self interest and so give it up or fail to assert it. Most forms of human organisation have acted to coerce people into giving up their right in order that they will submit to the will of authority.

This coercion has been at work throughout people's lives so that submissiveness and dependency are deeply rooted in most people. Even those who rebel do so in response to authority."


The Panocratic critique of democracy

John Talbut:

"There are three major problems with democracy, both as an idea and in the ways in which it is practised:

1.It treats numbers of people as having a single will 2.It is a deceit: people are led to think that they have a voice in decisions that are made on their behalf when in reality they often have little or none. 3.The received wisdom that ?democracy is a good thing? discourages critiquing the principle of democracy, the ways in which it is applied and the search for alternatives.

The fatal flaw in democracy is the concept of demos, or the people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promotes democracy in these terms:

"The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections ...."

The problem is that there is no such thing as the will of the people. A million different people have a million different wills.

The job of distilling these wills into one single will inevitably leads to an adversarial process. ?The will of the people? has come to be synonymous with ?the will of the majority? or more accurately ?the proposal that can get the most votes?. When there are more than two proposals or candidates representing proposals it frequently become ?the propsal that gets the biggest minority?.

Democratic processes tend not to allow for: dissent alternatives to be pursued in parallel the losers to constrain the majority problem solving.

The losers depend on the benevolence of the winners for any influence and frequently this is not forthcoming, as in ?you must abide by the will of the majority?. The processes tend to encourage dogma such as privatisation or choice rather than any proper analysis of problems and development of solutions.

The history of democracy has been the history of groups or individuals competing for the mantle of representing ?the will of the people?. At its best this involves people being given a choice between sets of proposals or manifestos each of which will be a compromise between the wishes or wills of its proponents. Hardly anyone would be satisfied with all elements of the complete package. More often the choice has been distorted through combinations of manipulation, coercion and bribery, including their modern forms of media manipulation, tax breaks and pork barrel politics.

The result is, and always has been, to coerce people into giving up their power to the same sort of people who would rule under any system. Crucially it also enables the rulers to deny responsibility for their decisions on the grounds that they are ?the will of the people?. We rarely hear politicians saying ?I decided that ...? or ?I believe that this is the best option?. A classic example in the UK recently is government ministers telling parliament and the House of Lords that they must not vote against proposals for a national identity database ?because it was in the Labour Party's manifesto?. There is no hint of ?we coerced the Labour Party into putting it in the manifesto?.

Though to all intents he is a dictator, Robert Mugabe was elected by democratic processes leading him to claim recently (,,2-11-1662_1885507,00.html) "My people say I am right in the things I do and that's what I listen to."

Autocracy is in effect more honest than democracy. At least it is clear who is responsible.

The great deceit is that democracy gives people a voice and that there is nothing better. Why does the USA want to impose democracy on other countries when its agenda is clearly imperialist? Assuming, that is, that they do want to impose western style democracy rather than simply destabilising countries in a process of divide and rule. What comes with the package is massive corporate influence, control of the media and USA cultural imperialism. In other words, the USA should be able to manipulate the ?will of the people? to elect governments that will do the USA's bidding.

The deceit relies on the apparently unassailable assertion that democracy is a ?good thing?. So, if the USA and its allies do whatever they think necessary to impose democracy on a country, that has to be all right. The UK government is democratically elected, so it is all right if they take away human rights that have been fought for for hundreds of years.

Readers of OpenDemocracy will be well aware of these failings and there have been various initiatives to try to overcome some of them. Direct democracy gives people more opportunities to take part in decision making but it still ends up with voting for competing proposals. Various forms of proportional voting have been explored in order to try to ensure that policies have the support of a clear majority or that representatives represent the true balance of opinion in an electorate. Whilst these are some improvement they do not overcome the fundamental flaws of democracy and at worst they give credence to the idea that any democracy is ?a good thing?.

What, I suggest, people want or think they are getting with democracy is the opportunity to influence whichever they want of the decisions that affect them. Probably the nearest that anything called democracy comes to achieving this is Participatory Democracy. The problem here is that it is not really democracy because it moves away from the will of the people to taking account of different wills. By so calling it, however, it still lends credibility to the idea of democracy.

If what you have is a horse then you do not call it a modified zebra. What has been missing is a word for a truly participatory system of government and organisation that clearly indicates what it is as distinct from democracy.

It is for this reason that I proposed some years ago the use of the word panocracy. Pan meaning everyone so panocracy is rule by everyone. The core principle is that:

No one has the right to make a decision on behalf of another unless that person has given their specific and explicit consent.

The key words are ?on behalf of? and the issue is responsibility. Everyone is acknowledged to be responsible for their own actions and decisions. Panocracy does not require revolutionary changes to the ways in which we go about things, though no doubt it would lead to the evolution of new systems and ways of governing and organising. What it does imply is a fundamental shift of power. Government by coercion is no longer tenable, government has to be by consent.

Parliamentary panocracy is entirely possible and the ways in which it goes about its business would have many similarities with any other parliamentary system. The important differences would start with the members of parliament being personally responsible for the decisions they make. In other words they could no longer fall back on manifesto commitments nor claim to be speaking on behalf of their constituents (as opposed to arguing for what they personally believe is in the interests of their constituents). MPs would no longer be representatives but appointees selected to do their best for the government of the country and the interests of their constituents.

Implicit in panocracy is the right to dissent if I do not agree with decisions that are made that affect me, especially if I was not part of the process (even if I had opportunities and chose not to be part of it). If I carry my dissent into action I may well face some sanction, parliament will still make laws that provide sanctions for those who disobey them. But woe betide parliament that makes laws in spite of significant opposition, especially if people feel that they have not been properly involved. In other words, parliament would need overwhelming consent for its actions.

At an opposite end of the scale of organisation, groups can organise in ways that are based on panocratic principles. This can mean that there is no fixed organisational structure. Of course, without organising nothing happens but the organisation in such groups is ad-hoc, temporary and task centred. If members of the group perceive a need, say, for a newsletter, those who wish to organise to meet the need do so in whatever way suits them. Such organisations will tend to be peer networks of people or groups who subscribe to some common aim or set of principles. Membership of the network flows from being committed to an aim or principles rather that subscribing to some form of organisation.

One outcome of this way of organising is the possibility of pursuing different solutions to problems or meeting perceived needs. For instance a group can have several newsletters. They may compete or they may meet different needs. Experiences with different approaches gives information about what works how. Different groups of members who may be considering mutually incompatible approaches are constrained by being responsible for their actions. They cannot get some sort of majority to vote for their proposal and relieve them of their responsibility.

Where groups feel the need to make some sort of collective decision making, for instance the organisation of an event or a community organising maintenance of a building, then panocracy is practical and a considerable improvement on alternatives such as consensus. Panocracy does not require unanimity, even of consent, except that everyone needs to agree that their view or need has been adequately heard and acknowledged. There is a responsibility on everyone to aim to ensure that all needs and points of view may be aired and valued and each individual, either alone or along with others, may take whatever course they decide in the light of this information.

The process of gathering supports panocratic decision making. Using gathering, anyone involved in a discussion can start a gather whenever they think it might be helpful. A gather is a summary of all the different needs and opinions on the issue. If anyone thinks that the gather is inaccurate or insufficient they may re-gather. The important rule is that a re-gather has to be a complete gather, not just a correction to the previous gather. Others can continue to re-gather until everyone feels that the latest gather is good enough.

The result of this process is that everyone acknowledges all the different points of view. A gather may amount to a decision, for example ?Several members are proposing to do X and everyone else is content for them to do so?. It also allows for ?Some members want to do X, others want to do Y and the rest do not mind what happens.? If it is obvious that X and Y are compatible then, again, there is a decision. In other cases, a gather indicates the need for further discussion or problem solving but it will be in the light of the issues having been mapped out.

Another outcome that is possible is for action in the face of dissent. A minority may act in opposition to a majority or vice versa, but if they do so they do so having heard the views of the whole group and they take responsibility for their actions. A minority does not need to accede to a majority view, nor can they block action in the way that may happen in consensus decision making.

These are some illustrations of the ways in which panocracy can work. In practice panocracy supports problem solving approaches and a meta problem is how to organise and act in ways that acknowledge everyone's right to take part in the decisions that affect them.

Many of the objections to panocracy are likely to be rooted in our being brought up to believe in democratic decision making. Getting away from this means people taking more of their own power. There is likely to be an interplay between panocracy having an empowering effect and people acting in ways that are more panocratic as they become more self empowered .

It is not surprising that one organisation that often uses panocratic methods is Co-Counselling International ( ) as it is a peer network whose members focus is on working on their own self development. Interestingly, however, the open source communities who develop computer software and facilities such as Wikipedia and whose participants one would not expect to be involved in self development, function in many ways panocratically.

There are many things wrong with the ways in which we humans conduct ourselves in the world. We are not unaware of this nor short of ideas about what to do that would be better. Yet we continue to make decisions, individually and collectively, that are blatantly not in our self interests. I believe that democracy plays a crucial role in encouraging this behaviour. If we are to make any significant progress towards a better world, one of the essential things we will need to do is to move towards more panocratic ways of working and leave democracy behind.

I have set out a Manifesto for Panocracy ( ) as a basis for a panocratic network of people who support this idea. I invite anyone who who would see themselves as part of the network to contribute to the promotion of panocracy and the development of panocratic methods in whatever way they think may help." (source: panocracy mailing list 20/6/06)

More Information

Panocratic decision-making processes are described here at