Democratic people the world over today are transforming the politics of the land to answer basic needs. Harold Lasswell’s (1936) definition of politics in his book, “In Politics: Who Gets What, When, How can still be applied today. For Lasswell, “politics is who gets what, when, and how.” His focus was on the political elites as the key providers of the ‘What’ in politics. By meeting the WHAT we mean basic needs, we can pick the physiological needs discussed by Maslow to mean food and water, sufficient rest, clothing and shelter, overall health, and reproduction. The critique of politics as elite guided made Abraham Kaplan, in Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry (1950), to broaden the definition of politics to include key analytic categories such as the person, personality, group. Inspired by Abraham Kaplan, the Catholic Church has modified the understanding of basic needs to mean Life and Dignity of the Human Person.There is the call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, preferential option for the poor, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, care for God’s Creation. The general Catholic Church position on the dignity of the human person is that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. The social teaching places people at the centre of every aspect of human development. Every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is to enhance the life and dignity of the human person. Then secondly, if human dignity must be upheld then the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers are equally paramount. The Church’s position on this is that the economy must serve people, benefit the people and improve the livelihoods of the people especially now that the world experiences the pandemic. The Church sees Work as more than just making a living or survival but also a form of the continuity of that collaboration in being part of God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected, for instance, the right to productive works, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
However, the general public the world over is getting frustrated and tired of being travelled into political arrangements that do not help answer their basic needs. People (demos) want to be democratic in sharing resources, meeting needs, serving the interests of all and being sure that power belongs to them. When I read and hear the spread of the emerging mood of nationalism across the globe, it is because people are demanding on their leaders to meet their basic needs. New studies are emerging which critique the traditional interpretation of politics, democracy and governance.
There are three arguments l advance to answer these frustrations.
First, the old political arrangement of the popular party forming government to meet basic needs is being rejected. This is led by the Marxian theorists who still think politics is controlled by the ruling class, the elites, thus suffocating the interests of those at the grassroots. Those below the ladder elect the elites through representative democracy to answer their needs, but resentment and frustration is growing towards the linear (vertical) practice of democracy where these elected elites are perceived not meeting the basic needs of the people who elected them, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, the thought that a good democracy should be more participatory horizontally does not work because even in this horizontal model of the practice of politics and democracy falls short of good governance principles. Transparency, accountability, taking responsibility, participation by all people and observing rights are wanting. It is very easy for the political elite to hijack the agenda of the community to decide on key policies by leaving the electorate out. Thirdly, I propose a circular democracy model to help meet the basic needs of the community. I argue that the people should organise themselves without political interference and having their own local needs answered by themselves by looking for competence among them to guide the delivery of services.
The theoretical understanding
In trying to make sense of what I shared on the best way to approach politics, we shall now look at the Linear democracy which uses phrases like top-down or bottom-up, rising in a linear format, from high to low or low to high. In this understanding, we bring in vertical and horizontal democracy. Vertical and horizontal principles have been deployed in the past under different circumstances, although neither of them can be linked in a definitive way to one particular movement or political strategy. The opposite is the same. It does not mean that when the grassroots leaders ascend to the throne they become democratic. Evidence shows that when grassroots leaders assume power (form a government and have president, prime ministers) they tend to be authoritarian fighting against the same people they wanted to elevate higher. There are many examples across the world where popular grassroots leaders ascended to power and used their position to deny the electorate; they were fighting for basic needs. Africa, Asia, America, Europe has such people. It forces people to demand a new type of leadership that gives them the WHAT of politics.
As a theory framing
The vertical and horizontal democracy could be understood in forms of power, interests, needs, resources and taking positions within the political system. The vertical interpretation of power is defined as a process where people are shared among different levels of government, state, unions, political parties and local political representations. Power flow is vertical, topdown and less top-down. Even if bottom-up, it has channels of command. The public to control how power is shared is very bureaucratic and less effective. It is like the analogy of the rich man and the poor. The rich man eats and when satisfied the crumbs could reach the poor below the table. This is the key critique of vertical democracy. The needy, the poor, he ordinary people may not get the services they want to meet basic needs. The horizontal democracy is where the division of power is shared among the organs of government, legislature, executive and judiciary to make sure the government functions to the needs of the public. The horizontal model of democracy expects the participation of different networks to play a role in this arrangement. The division of power helps to solve conflicts and provide public goods. The general understanding is such networks, if well synchronised reflect modern, horizontal patterns of organization with power, control and coercion. But there is a critique as to which model works better to meet these basic needs of the people.
The key theoretical framing looks at the vertical movements which are in line with the Marxist tradition, favouring party lines linked to state-based models of social change that reduce antagonism to class struggle, horizontal movements follow a community-based model for social change. Adam Hayes, while discussing Conflict theory triggered by the vertical democracy, reviewed by Brian Barnier (2020) the Head of Analytics at Value Bridge Advisors and professor at the Colin Powell School at City University of New York, suggests new democratic order created by people themselves taking actions that control of their own lives through constant struggles, rather than in a revolutionary event. David Harvey, follows this understanding of Marx, by suggesting that it is possible to distinguish three economic and political paradigms, which also correspond to the three volumes of the Capital. Reading from, A Companion to Marx’s Capital: The Complete Edition, by David Harvey (2018), we understand these three theoretical paradigms in critiquing the vertical and horizontal democracy.
Harvey presents the first paradigm in relation to mass production and large factories. Most countries today are still driven by socialist and communist parties-era ideals that went against the verticality of production lines, mobilising the masses to confront capitalists with a workers’ vanguard. Harvey assumes that by going against the vertical structures the paradigm shift should make people be in control of the processes of production. However, in representative democracy, the people rule (mob) can only be effective where they are coordinated, organised and with good representation to counter control by the government and the state.
In the second paradigm, Harvey presents a model characterized by the increasing importance of the sphere of reproduction for the expansion of market economies. The struggles move outside the factory and in favour of horizontal alliances. Movements and autonomous formations fight for a new set of objectives such as against racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, the destruction of the environment and colonialism. However, the assumption needs to guide how horizontal alliances can be the vanguarded for meeting the basic needs of ordinary people. For most people, the delivery of services in any democracy is where people are directly the beneficiaries in the spirit of anthropocentrism.
Harvey adds the third paradigm to guide the theoretical thinking by invoking on finance capital and the redistribution of realised value in the second paradigm. The ordinary people are not worried about the system or the organizational structure to ascertain the delivery of services. They just want to meet basic needs. During the pandemic, there have been increased struggles over employment, rent, wages, movement, crossing borders for better opportunities and protection. Rent, because gentrification denies the demands for social housing; wages, because the job market is transformed by new technologies; borders, because new forms of colonialism, bad investment by multinationals and climate change are displacing large parts of the global population. Given the current circumstances, how can radical subjects respond today to these transformations? This question can only be explored in the light of Chico Mendes, a symbol of local community resistance to exploitation by the government, unions, and political parties. Chico Mendes was an international figure respected s the champion of the Amazon, who was assassinated 1988. His resistance and death influenced the Rio’92 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Our recommendation now is to argue for a people-centred circular democracy. Circular democracy is presented as radical and transformational. It means social relations are becoming the ends and not the means of democratic politics. Harvey joins many other scholars to argue for Circular democracy by maintaining a relevant anchorage in the everyday practices of people, the function of political institutions then changes. If circular democracy is well understood it can help improve both the quality of social relations and democratic experience by involving people in the decisions that affect them. The Catholic Church has introduced the small Christian communities (SCC) as a good example of circular democracy. The only critique is whether ordinary people and elites make reference to hierarchy rather than to the circular organizational structure of the community to answer the basic needs of their faithful.
We argue that circular democracy is pragmatic and transformative because it changes and transforms the democracy of bureaucracy towards a democracy of people led problem-solving. Paolo Freire (1974) in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed focuses on people solving model as more transformative. A circular democracy responds to the localized social emergency by providing access to public services, through solidarity-networks, reduction of costs and removal of bureaucratic barriers. A good example here is Tangaza University College, a constituent college of Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA, Nairobi), which runs the University Mtaani model. This simply translates, University in informal settlements where people learn to deal with waste, safe water distribution, drainage, countering radicalization leading to extremism and terrorism.Circular democracy has also introduced a circular economy by the so-called platform capitalism or the gig economy. Harvey adds that circularity represents a tactical horizon that can confront the re-appearance of institutionalised racism and the precaritization of life in the spaces where they appear. Therefore, during a pandemic negative nationalism could be engineered by this model of circular democracy. People can tend to forget networks, collaborations built over time, building bridges models of Pope Francis (2016), where the art of reaching out to all humanity generates a synergy of support, answering basic needs of all and bringing about the desired large global family of transformers.
In conclusion, if politics is who gets what, when, how in the book, “In Politics: Who Gets What, When, How” (1936), then the people cannot leave that mandate to the political elites as the key providers of the ‘What’. The ordinary people must at the forefront in meeting basic needs like food and water, sufficient rest, clothing and shelter, overall health, and reproduction require an angel of social justice too. The church adds the enhancement of basic needs to include the life and dignity of the human person. We have argued that the linear (vertical model of democracy) and horizontal democracy tend to dominate the distribution of the ‘what’ to citizens. The challenge recognized is the Weberian bureaucratic system without clear avenues if good governance, may not be transformative enough. Circular democracy has been identified as a good model that is people-oriented, truly in the ubuntu philosophy, the African social-political systems and emerging as anti-Marxist school model. Marxist class model of finding alternatives in people led organised structures has also been seen as being taken over by an elite, educated lot without much grassroots engagement. However, if circular democracy can come out as a new avenue to thought there is bound to be a transformative approach to politics, democracy and governance from the Freirian self-reflection to evaluate how the basic needs are inclusively distributed across every person.