Sam Ghandchiسام قندچيBallot Initiatives and Iran

Sam Ghandchi

قانونگذاری با رأی مستقیم و ایران


In Modern times, most democratic societies adopted representational democracy, which simply put, means that people elect their representatives, and those representatives form the parliament and create laws for nations. In other words, parliament in the Modern times has been almost equivalent to the legislative branch of government.
Only a few occasions like referenda of France had been by popular vote (i.e. non-parliamentary but at the same time legislative). But for the most part, democracy in the Modern times has been *representative* democracy. Even in Iran, in the past, Majles ShorAyeh Melli of 1906, with all its peculiarities, was a parliament and during IRI, the Majles ShorAyeh EslAmi in Iran, with all its peculiarities, is a parliament.
In the last two decades, a new political form of legislative power has developed in the West, especially in the US, and especially in California. This new form of law-making is called politics of ballot-initiative, at the state and local level. For a good historical overview, please see initiatives and referenda section of "Megatrends" by John Naisbitt (pages 181 to 190 ).
What is the use of ballot-initiatives? Well, people directly get a chance to vote for the laws they want to see. Currently only 3% of popular signature is is needed to put an initiative on ballots in California. Also currently in the US, this form of law-making is available only for local and state governments, but some people are working to make it possible for national initiatives as well. The initiatives range from banning smoking in restaurants to putting a ceiling on taxes.
I was thinking of some Propositions that could be worthwhile for a ballot-initiative in Iran, to see what people really vote for rather than speculating on what the people want:
Proposition 100: To separate state and religion in Iran. Yes()No().
Proposition 101: Women be allowed not to wear hejab. Yes()No().
Proposition 102: Change Iran to a federal republic. Yes () No().
Proposition 103: Abolish death penalty in Iran. Yes() No().
Proposition 104: Abolish conscription (sarbAzi) and only have a professional army. Yes () No().

B. What is Modern Democracy?

It is not only the political theory and practice that has advanced and new thoughts such as the above have been achieved in the last 50 years, even the basic philosophy of science has drastically changed which I have discussed in my paper entitled "Philosophy of Science in 20th Century". In my paper, I have shown how the epistemology of objective knowledge proposed by Karl Popper has an impact in the way one can see the world and understand it. His falsification theory is used by many scientists and also the contending subjective theory of Thomas Kuhn is useful for some other areas of knowledge such as the topic of shifting paradigms.

In light of practical changes such as the ballot initiatives and the theoretical works of philosopher Karl Popper, let's examine the critical issue of democracy which is a central practical topic of political movement in Iran today.

Modern democracies and Open Society are not defined by the question of *what* (i.e. who rules), but rather it is the question of *how* the state rules that makes the difference.

Today the Western governments are called democracies. The Greek meant rule of people when they talked of democracy. But in reality it is not the rule of “who”, the benevolence of ruling individual, caste or class which has mattered, whenever there has been a democracy or its lack of. For example, in the Modern Times, the Communists cared the most about the issue of rule of “who”, and in their search for the best to rule, they discovered the proletariat, and thus they talked of rule of the workers, the class which was the majority of the industrial society, and regardless of how Communist representation mechanism worked, even when that majority supported them, it was obvious that it did not usher in freedom.

One of the first people who theoretically explained this problem was Karl Popper in his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” around the time of WWII, where he showed that modern democracy was not about *who* rules, but it is about *how* a state rules. In other words, the mechanism of checks and balances is the crux of what separates a modern democracy from a dictatorship. More search for finding *who* is the best to rule, the attempt from Plato to Marx, is a futile endeavor to achieve an ideal government. Whether the rule of Philosopher-kings of Plato and Khomeini, or Marx’s representatives of the proletariat, the result is the same tyranny, if the *how* of state control, lacks extensive checks and balances.

The above is an important issue to understand when one reviews modern democracies. Even the rule of law, which is so central to modern democracies, because of protecting individuals from all other rules, is effective to the end of democracy, only when it is in the context of full checks and balances, instituted between the various branches of government. The following interesting point about the U.S. Supreme Court by Bertrand Russell exemplifies the above regarding checks and balances:

"The country where Locke's principle of the division of powers has found its fullest application is the United States, where the President and Congress are wholly independent of each other, and the Supreme Court is independent of both. Inadvertently, the Constitution made the Supreme Court a branch of the legislature, since nothing is a law if the Supreme Court says it is not. The fact that its powers are nominally only interpretative in reality increases those powers, since it makes it difficult to criticize what are supposed to be purely legal decisions. It says a very great deal for the political sagacity of Americans that this Constitution has only once led to armed conflict.-Bertrand Russell-History of Western Philosophy"

Karl Popper in his later works on democracy emphasizes the issue of the government being able to be removed without bloodshed, reminding us of Communist and Nazi governments that could not be removed, even with bloodshed, in contrast to Nixon’s government in the U.S., that was removed by impeachment without bloodshed. In short, regardless of the ones making the laws of the state in representational democracies, people are able to be the judge and even remove the government.

And of course, focused on Western states, Popper does not refer as much to religious states that have been basically gone in the West for centuries. So the authority of civil society over religious order is a given in the West at this time. For countries like Iran, creating various modern institutions of civil society and their authority in the law of the land are currently live debates and action issues.
This is why democracy is so much emphasized by the popular movement, as the encounter of people’s rule versus God’s rule, in popular jargon, but one should go a step further and note that people's rule to be a modern democracy means that civil society should be developed in contrast to "God's rule" and for civil society to be an open society, it is about the *how* question, and that a secular state is a modern democracy depending on how far it goes in implementing checks and balances.

Marx in Europe lived in an era when the opposition to despotism cared a lot for liberal democracy and especially in his early works, he defended liberal parliamentary system. But supporting dictatorship of the proletariat defeated his support of liberal democracy in the Communist creed that Marx left behind. True that only in works like "Critique of the Gotha Program", Marx emphasized the dictatorship of the proletariat and Kautsky and Engels did not push that side of Marxian theory after Marx's death, and only Lenin picked it up and made it the main trend of Marxism. Nonetheless this was part of the Marxist ideological empire from the beginning in the Holy Family, where the proletariat is depicted as the savior of humanity, because it had nothing to lose but its shackles, and was supposed to open the door of classless communist society. Times have passed the world of  introducing another ideological empire (which thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper realized well, and treated their own philosophies of logical atomism and objective knowledge, as reasonable discourse, rather than an ideological creed).

So in a way an icon like Marx shares the fault of yet bringing another *closed* society to the world, to the point of defeating the *open* society. It took over 100 years for the world  to discard most of the Communist *closed* societies and get back to a state where most of the Earth sides with Open Society again.

Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher


Nov 28, 2004


This article is from Chapters 14 of the new edition of Futurist Iran book

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