A More Doable Alternative to Volek’s “Tiered Democracy”

Stephen Yearwood
4 min readJan 23, 2024

simpler, faster: a change to the existing political system, not a new system

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Many people are of the opinion that democracy needs some kind of reboot. Most of those people focus on how elections are constructed and how votes get counted within the existing political system.

To his eternal credit, Dave Volek has come up with a proposal for a new and different democratic political system. It would replace the legislative and executive institutions that now exist in any democratic nation with a tiered system of councils that would exist in a geographical arrangement from the local neighborhood to the national level. It is integral to his proposal, as I understand it, that political parties would no longer exist. Other than political speech, everything related to the political process — the process of effecting choices for the community as a whole — would be located in that system of councils.

I like Volek’s idea. I have encouraged people to read about it.

Volek himself acknowledges that it would take a long time to effect that change. That is to my mind the only bad thing about his idea. Those councils would be formed initially as a kind of shadow government, where people would seriously consider the issues of the day and develop policies and programs to address them until they were in the position to undertake actual governance. (My understanding is that councils anywhere could undertake governance for any geopolitical entity as they developed the capacity to do that, building from scattered localities to a coherent national system.)

To my mind, the two biggest problems democracy faces are a dearth of opportunities for impactful participation in the political process and the existence of multiple, competing political parties.

In any democracy citizens are free to express their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions and they have the rights to vote, run for office, (peaceably) assemble, and petition the government. Yet, extremely few people are in a position as an individual to have an impact on the outcomes of the political process. Much of that is due to the influence of money: rich people and the representative of large corporations are invited into the inner sanctum of the political process; for anyone else, the only way to impact directly political outcomes is to be one of the handful elected to public office. The informal but very real constraints on achieving that (many having to do with money) are well-known to all. (Working as a ‘senior aide’ to an elected official is another way to have some influence, but aides are hired based on conformity with the attitudes and goals of their employers.)

For most people, to get elected to public office requires first becoming a member of a political party. Political parties also serve many other functions in the political process, many of them positive. They are a conduit for participating in the political process in ways that do go beyond expressing opinions and voting for whoever happens to be on the ballot.

Still, unless a person is one of the few people with influence on the choices the party opts to seek to effect, that level of participation does not amount to much more than anything any other citizen can do. Moreover, political parties have negative impacts on the political process that can easily exceed their positive impacts. They are sources of friction, internally and among parties, that is added to the already fraught process of effecting choices for any community as a whole. The party as a thing can become more important to members of it than the interests of the community are.

My alternative to both the existing state of any democratic political system and Volek’s alternative system is to establish, at least at the national level (though it could be extended into intermediate and local levels of government), a single political party. I do understand that single parties have been associated with authoritarian, even totalitarian regimes.

This would not be that. Any adult citizen old enough to vote could join it. Membership would be formal (not just claiming to be a member, but signing a document), but free. Citizens could join and quit the party an unlimited number of times. No one could be expelled from it, period.

As a party, it would have only one official function: to provide candidates for the publicly elected offices that now exist. More than one candidate could and surely would be nominated for any office. The form of elections, their structure and functioning, would be something separate from the party, in the same way that elections to offices (as opposed to nominating elections) are separate from political parties at present.

The heart of this idea is ‘caucuses’.

Caucuses would nominate candidates for elective offices.

A caucus would be a formally organized working group within the party.

A caucus could be any size, though a caucus would have to be of some minimum size to nominate a candidate for any office.

A caucus could be organized around any issue, idea, goal, cause, etc.

Unlike political parties, a person could be a member of as many caucuses as would have him or her as a member.

A caucus would have its own rules for membership (and expulsion) — so, though a member of the party, a person could possibly find oneself unable to join any caucus within it.

To be clear, a person would have to be a member of the party to be a member of a caucus (though a caucus would be free to nominate for office someone who was in the party but not in that caucus).

Caucuses would also serve other functions, similar to what political parties do now, such as drawing people and attention to different approaches to political issues, and even drafting specific proposals for programs and policies.

This is an idea in progress. Conceptual contributions are encouraged.

for more about my ideas related to this proposal: “A Suggestion” (here in Medium, but not behind the paywall)

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Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice