Friday, January 19, 2007 — Schools for Democracy

We have all com­plained about the lack of decent can­di­dates to vote for, in elec­tions. Yet noth­ing com­pels us to con­stant­ly elect sleazy and incom­pe­tent peo­ple to pub­lic office. Every com­mu­ni­ty has tal­ent­ed, hon­ourable, and uncor­rupt­ible peo­ple. It is the struc­ture and cus­tom­ary oper­a­tion of polit­i­cal par­ties that ensure that such peo­ple nev­er enter pol­i­tics.

So what is the solu­tion for peo­ple who want to see reform and progress in their com­mu­ni­ties (whether local, region­al, or nation­al)? I think the solu­tion is a school. What if there was a School of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pub­lic Ser­vice? It’s pur­pose would be to pre­pare peo­ple to run for pub­lic office. We expect some­one who runs a hydro-elec­tric plant to study civ­il engi­neer­ing, we expect a car­pen­ter to study car­pen­try. Why should we not expect any­one who presents them­self as a can­di­date for polit­i­cal office to have stud­ied it? This is not the same thing as study­ing “Polit­i­cal Sci­ence”. We would expect a seri­ous can­di­date for pub­lic office to study phi­los­o­phy, eco­nom­ics, man­age­ment, envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, urbanol­o­gy, his­to­ry, soci­ol­o­gy, law, human rights and moral phi­los­o­phy, among oth­er things, specif­i­cal­ly as they relate to hold­ing pub­lic office. If there was a school which offered a degree of Mas­ter of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pub­lic Ser­vice, and its cours­es where observ­ably rig­or­ous and pro­gres­sive, I would cer­tain­ly look on any inde­pen­dent can­di­date who held that degree with enough respect to con­sid­er vot­ing for them. If any par­ty went out of its way to select can­di­dates who held such degrees, I would be inclined to take its plat­form seri­ous­ly. I would be even more inclined to vote for some­one who could demon­strate that they did not enter pol­i­tics from busi­ness, or law prac­tices that obvi­ous­ly incline them to bend to spe­cial inter­ests or to seek finan­cial gain through their office.

Most social change gets rolling when there are schools that teach it. A school teach­ing mod­ern demo­c­ra­t­ic reform in such a way as to train peo­ple for pub­lic office could influ­ence soci­ety for the bet­ter. Grad­u­ates could first enter local pol­i­tics, then grad­u­al­ly dis­place the exist­ing pat­tern of can­di­dates in high­er and high­er lev­els. Not only should such an insti­tu­tion pull togeth­er the most advanced and pro­gres­sive ideas, but it should be found­ed and financed in some grass-roots, dif­fuse, and demo­c­ra­t­ic way, so that there is no shad­ow of doubt that it remains out­side the influ­ence of pow­er­ful elites. It’s stu­dents should be select­ed, from the begin­ning, with the under­stand­ing that they are not pur­su­ing a polit­i­cal career for their own enrich­ment, or to advance the agen­da of some priv­i­leged seg­ment of soci­ety, but to delib­er­ate on leg­is­la­tion for the pub­lic good. There are many peo­ple in the world who have no dif­fi­cul­ty doing this. It is a mat­ter of per­son­al char­ac­ter. It would be the job of such a school to select peo­ple of such char­ac­ter, arm them with the knowl­edge and intel­lec­tu­al dis­ci­pline they need, and then put them into the polit­i­cal are­na.
It goes with­out say­ing that such a school should offer full schol­ar­ships to promis­ing stu­dents in the remotest and most dis­ad­van­taged places of the world. The his­to­ry and tech­niques of suc­cess­ful demo­c­ra­t­ic rev­o­lu­tion and reform would be an essen­tial part of the cur­ricu­lum.

Elite uni­ver­si­ties, mil­i­tary schools, and busi­ness schools spread many of the anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic ideas that have bru­tal­ized and exploit­ed us. It is time we turned the tide, and used edu­ca­tion for pro­gres­sive ends.

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