Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

What is the difference between consensus and direct democracy?

+1 vote

1 Answer

0 votes
I'd think at least part of it would be that 'direct democracy' entails law, and rulership of individuals by collective decisions, where collective decisions are reached through a predefined and systematised process, to which all participants have consented.  This process can be based on consensus, but it doesn't have to be.  Direct democracy is just democracy without delegates/representatives, it can take place within the framework of a state (eg Switzerland, California), outside it, or alongside it.  Direct democracy requires consensus about how decisions are made but does not require consensus over the decisions themselves.

When we talk about consensus we tend to talk about it as a separate (but often related) process, especially if we're discussing ways of participating in and structuring 'activist' movements and activities (sometimes intended as a proof-of-concept model for some assertion of optimal direct democracy that could replace representative liberal democracy).  We have OWS and it's jazz hands/spirit fingers to thank for that.  In this context consensus is more about negotiating differing views on the participants' immediate activities and trying to manufacture unity in a protest movement.  I suppose you could also say that consensus seeks to submit collective decisions to the rulership of individuals, if you wanted to formulate a neat binary definition of the two terms.
answered Apr 6, 2014 by Yosemite (5,820 points)
edited Apr 6, 2014 by Yosemite
Is that what anarchists desire then? At least most anarchist. I'm sorry I'm still confessed on this. Maybe someone could simplify it for me, please.
I'm trying to figure out how to clarify my jibber-jabber, I'll get back to you here when I've worked out a couple of illustrations.

I hope someone else with quantitively more experience (i have some, but it's not extensive) of consensus-based group decision processes and/or direct democracy chimes in with an answer too, that'd certainly help.
Thanks Yosmite
Here are the promised illustrations:

Direct democracy -

A group of animal rights activists in Hampshire, England discover that the local government is going to conduct a badger cull and after a brief discussion the activists find that they're all in agreement - something must be done to save the badgers.  The group all sit down together and spend a couple of hours debating potential plans of action.  After the proposed ideas have been discussed thoroughly, a leading activist, keenly aware of the badgers' impending doom, suggests that the group vote on the two most discussed ideas - going door-to-door with a petition to stop the cull, or publicly throwing blood on the farmers hired to hunt down the badgers.  No one voices opposition to the suggestion, so they vote - 30% in favor of the petition, 70% in favor of public-blood-throwing-ambushes.  The 30% minority reluctantly agree help out with the blood throwing because they were outvoted.

Consensus -

After the group all agree that something must be done to save the badgers, they sit down and brainstorm some ideas.  After a long a tiresome discussion the group narrows it down to two potential ideas - (the same ones as above).  The problem is that no matter how they approach it, a consensus cannot be negotiated over the two courses of action - there are some activists who just can't abide a petition, and others that just can't abide public blood throwing.  Eventually someone says 'oh fuck it, let's follow the farmers around and when they spot a badger, jump between them and the badger', and at this point everyone's so tired of the endless negotiations that they agree human shielding is a good compromise.

Cynicism aside (sorry, I couldn't resist), the main difference between the two examples is hierarchy - in the first example, while every individual has contributed to the decision-making process, the way that they reach the final decision demands that those with minority opinions submit to the will of the group, which therefore becomes an authority over them.  In the second example, the primary objective is finding a solution which all members of the group support - ie. reaching a consensus.  This is less hierarchal in that no one is forced to do something they don't want to do.

Of course direct democracy and consensus are not mutually exclusive, many people view consensus-based processes of collective decision making as a way of organizing and legitimizing direct democracy. A lot of anarchists prefer consensus to other forms of direct democracy because it's less hierarchal, but some anarchists (myself included) are in principle opposed to consensus, although may well participate on their own terms, on a case-by-case basis.  The problem with consensus is that it can still submit the individual to the will of the group, if it is assumed or demanded that members will not engage in activities - as individuals - that were rejected by the group.
Thanks for the illustrations, I understand this somewhat better now. Seems both direct democracy and consensus have it's pros and cons. On one hand with direct democracy while you're involved in the decision making process   you still run the risk of submitting to  the will of a group. While with consensus you still run into that problem. I hope this won't make anyone mad but it seems ultimately someone submitting their will to someone else.
I'm just saying, if I'm wrong please enlightened me.
consensus does not require that a participant submit to the will of any others. they are free to disengage/dissassociate from the process, and do whatever they like individually (though this may pit them against the rest of the group).

rather, the goal of consensus as i understand it is to get to a point (through discussion, negotiation, argument, etc) where, IF a collective decision is made, then everybody involved in that decision has agreed to it. nobody is submitting to anybody in that case, if everyone is strong enough to speak their mind and stand their ground.

however, many groups that use consensus decision making actually qualify it with variants such as "consensus minus one", where if everybody except one person agrees, then the decision is made despite the lack of 100% consensus. in some situations i can actually see that making sense (in fact i have been involved in situations where it does), but it does leave that one individual out of the decision, so to speak.

make sense?