Thomas PM Barnett, Rule-Sets, and Democratic Sovereignty

In a recent post on the Thomas PM Barnett Weblog, Tom laments the Irish people voting against the Lisbon Treaty:

It is weird how the EU can let one country decide to run a plebiscite and then kill a treaty.  Better is majority like we did with the Constitution.

(I might add that the Constitution wasn’t adopted by the United States by way of a majority; it required consensus of all thirteen states under the Articles of Confederation.  Tom is correct, however, in that Treaty ratification today requires the consent of the Senate, which is not unanimity.  But I digress…)

Tom’s view seems to fall in line with his views on forms of governance around the world:  In the first of his books he discusses the concept of the Rule Set:

A collection of rules (both formal and informal) that delineates how some activity normally unfolds.

In his post Tom made a comparison between the treaty ratification Rule Sets of two world powers, the US and the EU.  His criticism was that a democratic majority in a given EU member state was able to parry an attempt by the cloistered bureaucratic and political classes of the EU to seize the sovereignty of a nation state, while the other states that made up the EU avoided such referenda to preclude the possibility that (gasp!) the people might like to retain their sovereignty.  Based on this, it would appear that Tom prefers more bureaucratically-acceptable Rule Sets to democratic Rule Sets.  (It is true that the American treaty-ratification Rule Set does not require unanimity in the Senate, but the reality of the Senate being an elected body renders that fact moot.  Few democracies in Europe are remotely as democratic as the Senate, as generally cloistered political parties hold the seats, not elected politicians).

So, on one hand we have a democratic Senate in the US that ratifies treaties.  And on the other we have the EU with its highly-insulated political parties in the business of treaty ratification, with the sole exception being the democracy in Ireland.  Tom seems to disapprove of the will of the  Irish people when it comes to their own sovereignty.

In this is one of my criticisms of Barnett’s thoughts:  Sometimes his Rule Sets are anti-democratic.  Tom seems to prefer only sufficient Rule Sets for the given tasks of governance, but does not seem to care much about the nature of those Rule Sets.  Specifically, are those Rule Sets democratic in nature?

Cross posted at Smitten Eagle.

12 thoughts on “Thomas PM Barnett, Rule-Sets, and Democratic Sovereignty”

  1. I am as skeptical of deomocracy as anyone;people often want what cannot be.But if people don’t want something done to them they are usually right. The EU is an unaccountable Mafia which is wrecking Europe with its thoughtless regulation.

    The go to source is EU Referendum.

  2. “In this is one of my criticisms of Barnett’s thoughts: Sometimes his Rule Sets are anti-democratic.”

    Nicely and truly argued.

    At least Europe deserves its coming storm. The European elite has always hated Americans, Jews, and Capitalism. It has always regarded its own people as serfs. Instead of blue bloods passing on nobility by birth, the current nobility trains in children at the Sorbonne, then claims that positions of power are not inherited.

    Let’s review Europe for last 100 years:

    WWI: fought over the divine right of kings.
    Fifty million dead Kulaks and other anti-socialist elements.
    Twenty-five million dead Jews and other inferiors.
    Fifty million dead in war between the party that wished to create the Jew-free Europe and the party that wish to create the bourgeois-free Europe.
    More Communism and millions more dead.
    The EU.

    And the moral exemplar of Europe–Sweden:

    stayed out of WWI (divine right of kings was okay with the Swedes).

    sold raw materials to Hitler, profiting on the war as some accuse GM of doing (Nazism was okay with them, as long the bodies didn’t wash up on their shore).

    sided the communists against America again and again, finding every flaw (mostly imaginary) in America and none in Russia.

    Europe deserves every evil that befalls it, including the anti-democratic EU. No good will come of Europe as long as it is European. In the choice between the EU and Islam, I urge the Europeans to adopt the devil they don’t know (Islam) because the devil they do know (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, EU) is as bad as it gets.


  3. My question is I thought that is the way the rules were written. All or nothing. If EU wanted to have treaties put in place by a majority the EU rules should have been written to reflect this or a secondary claus created for the case.

    Though I live in the US I would be afraid of any bueracratic body that places 18,000 pages of rules that I don’t understand and may no have the option of fighting or changing what I dislike.. Though my goverment does it all of the time, but at least there is poteintial recourse.

  4. A minor point. I think the note about “majority as we did with the Constitution” refers to the Constitution’s own internal requirement for ratification (9 states, in opposition to the unanimity required by the Articles of Confederation). As it turned out, all 13 states did ratify the Confederation eventually, but that wasn’t required for its adoption.

  5. Tony Z. said, “A minor point.”

    Perhaps. Perhaps not. Bottom line, the number of Rule Sets in the world is increasing, and few of those are democratic in nature. This presents problems for the publics of democratic states, because those publics become trapped by the Rule Sets of unaccountable bureaucrats.

    This is true on both the macro level (WTO, Kyoto, etc…), as well as the micro level (the Transportation Security Administration).

    Barnett seems to care not so much about those Rule Sets so long as they exist. I agree, to a point. But the problem with Rule Sets is that so often they are the product of bureaucracies. And bureaucracies never die. Consequently, the prospects of individual political freedom are decreasing.

  6. Maybe adults should be allowed to review the rules and nullify them,as needed.And also impound back to the treasury money foolishly appropriated. I would define an adult as someone who is not living off the public teat,but who is supporting all the parasites with his useful work. Yes rules are necessary, but I suspect a tiny fraction of what we have would suffice for a well governed society.

    The late Mancur Olson described the problem in “The Rise and Decline of Nations”.

  7. Bureaucratic and autocratic governments can have legitimacy in certain cases. Mindlessly handing power over to the masses is not necessarily a good idea – a drastic assumption in the model of democracy is that people know what outcome would be best, and will vote for that. The unfortunate reality is that they do not, so even if they do vote, they may make the wrong choice for the right reasons, or the right choice for the wrong reasons.

    As for the European Union (I speak as a citizen of the United Kingdom) – the problem with it for many citizens of Europe is not necessarily the acts that seem to take power away from our governments (which in itself is drastically anti-democratic), but how far removed this uber-government is from the common man. And it is not just that they are distant, it is also that they are unaccountable and opaque. While I admit that I do not know a great deal about the Lisbon Treaty

    With Ireland, you also have to understand that the Irish people have fought for their independence from the United Kingdom for centuries. The spectre of the European government will therefore hang heavy over them, especially since Northern Ireland is slowly gaining its own autonomy.

    If a model of government is going to aim to produce the best outcome for its people (which is the ideal government), then it will have to accept the reality that mistakes can and will be made, but these will need to be made with the best intentions at the time. For this, it will have to maximise accountability and transparency.

    So, you can see that democracy isn’t necessary in government, but accountability and transparency. Surely it is not important how the agents of government came to power, but that they use that power in a responsible manner, and can ensure that they do so. This is why checks and balances are in place – the judiciary rule from their offices (the literal meaning of bureaucracy), but separated from the twists and turns of politics, they can often be the voices of reason to those politicians and other officials only interested in slinging mud so that they can remain elected into power.

    That the rule-sets are democratic is not necessary. That they are transparent is.

    – k

    “Even the wise cannot see all ends.”
    – J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings

  8. I appear to have omitted a small bit from my comment.

    “While I admit that I do not know a great deal about the Lisbon Treaty”, I know enough to say that it would be a great thing for we people of Europe, but on first approach appears another in the long succession of documents simply reinforcing the power of European government in, at best, useless ways to European citizens. And that it reinforces the European government is somewhat threatening, in that the distant halls of Brussels gain more power while our directly elected and well-known politicians increasingly defer to somewhat less well-known European officials. (Ask a random sample of British citizens on the street who their local MP and their MEP is, and I almost guarantee you that more will be able to name the former than the latter. I cannot say if the case is the same elsewhere in Europe, but I would be highly surprised if it were not.)

    – k

  9. Kledon-

    Indeed, it is possible for autocracies to have legitimacy. They can even manufacture it through creative use of media (witness the cults of personality in several countries around the world).

    Likewise, it is possible for democratic governments to lack legitimacy, usually because such legitimacy is squandered on unproductive projects, or because that government refused to act when the public demanded action.

    I have no disagreement here.

    Nor do I think that democracy is the alpha and omega of governance, as Tom’s rebuttal implied.

    I only speak of the proliferation of Rule Sets from bureaucratic, opaque, and unaccountable sources. After adopting too many such Rule Sets, governments transition from Democratic Republics to a sort of Regime where the will of the people is still expressed, but ignored. Rules, regulations, and red tape multiply like bacteria in a petri dish. Politics becomes less a duty and avocation by the public, and more of a vocation of technocrats, bureaucrats, and think-tankers.

  10. The smaller point is that the US Constitution does require unaminity on the particular issue at stake in the Lisbon treaty referndum — no state may have its representation reduced without its consent.

    The larger point is that Barnett is comparing apples to oranges. The US Constitution worked because the individual states had already conceded the major point at issue in Europe — that the political units in question had enough commonality to want a larger framework in which to work. The had since inception functioned as self-governing units within the British Empire, which provided the wider framework and important public goods. (Defense, primarily, and an umbrella of trade treaties.) Incidentally, more states of the union had at the time of the Constitutional Convention a longer history of uninterrupted elected constitutional rule than a majority of EU states have today. The experiment with Condfederation proved that it was inadequate to replace the imperial public goods — Congress could not negotiate trade treaties as well as Britain had done, nor deal with predators like the Barbary pirate jihadists, who found American ships easy pickings once deprived of British protection. So there was a consensus on ends — the arguments was over means. There is no consensus on ends in Europe.

    Finally, the Constitution was ratified by the states not by their legislatures — the method used by all in the Lisbon treaty except Ireland — but by special conventions elected on a single-issue basis, essentially a referendum. The more exact analogy would be one in which all states ratified by their legislatures, except for one awkward state (probably New Hampshire) which chose a convention. This didn’t happen. The record is clear — the Constitutional Convention considered ratification by legislatures and specifically rejected the idea.

  11. The US constitution worked because it was for the most part a consolidation of the underlying attitudes of the people, who considered their individual rights their inalienable birth-right as Englishmen. From De Facto to De Jure.

    The European “Union” has no common identity except by contrasting the bunch of them with what they are not. Judeochristean heritage couldn’t appear in the constitution — too controversial. The EU project is a De Jure imposed project that tries to change De Facto local situations. Whenever locals get a chance, they resist the elites. The picture in Eastern and Central Europe is different of course, as they see it as a chance to expand their influence, join the rich club, and gain subsidies to boot.

    Thomas Barnett doesn’t seem to understand that there is no real European Union. He displays the attitude of the European elites. He wishes something into existence and then blames the public for giving signals that reflect reality instead of grandiose elitist schemes.

    Being anti-democratic in itself isn’t a bad thing, if it means less power to elites and more to the individual. Assuming elites already have power and then being anti-democratic is of course a nasty thing, unless the masses tend towards collectivism, as they did in Europe in the early 20th century. Then, elitist aristocracy might be the least worst.

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