Participatory and Workplace Democracy: A Theoretical Development in Critique of Liberalism

Participatory and Workplace Democracy: A Theoretical Development in Critique of Liberalism

Participatory and Workplace Democracy: A Theoretical Development in Critique of Liberalism

Participatory and Workplace Democracy: A Theoretical Development in Critique of Liberalism


"The times demand action and reaction, but not despair," contends Ronald M. Mason in this soundly constructed argument that all should have more control over their lives and that this control should be exercised not only in the home and during hours of leisure but in the workplace as well.

Mason indicts liberalism, theoretically an ally of democracy, as the chief culprit in depriving us of a voice in the workplace, the place where most of us spend nearly a third of our days. The problem is that classical liberalism divides life into two spheres: the social and the political. Life, liberty, and property- everything, in fact, that the human being values- fall into the social orb. Therefore liberalism champions the social sphere, scorns the political. To the liberal, the political sphere is sordid, a thing to be avoided except by those few governmental representatives we elect to protect life, liberty, and property.

Yet the political constitutes a major portion of our lives, and, according to Mason, it is at the level of the workplace that we can acquire the habits of participation that will carry over into our community lives as well. He demonstrates that people who participate in decision making in the workplace are likely to enter the governmental arena. Participation creates involvement; nonparticipation breeds apathy. Thus, Mason argues, democratic participation in the workplace benefits both the individual and the community.


Good times seldom inspire theorists to write. There is nothing unusual in claiming that the United States is troubled by disorder, but contemporary problems seem so severe, we could be on the brink of truly hard times. The situation symbolically is captured by the Chrysler Corporation teetering on the edge of complete collapse. The times demand action and reaction, but not despair. They demand new views and new alternatives derived from them. Thus hope is symbolized by innovative forms of representation and ownership within the Chrysler Corporation.

This book is part of the search for new views and alternatives. It attempts to escape the confining views of the past, to look anew at life in the United States, and to recommend ways that we can pursue improvement. Though not polemical, this book does attempt to be persuasive by arguing that life in the United States can be improved by making more democratic the various communities of which we are a part. This is its central contention. In an effort to identify fully the processes through which humans develop and the changes in human communities that are necessary for people to develop, this work must confront the major factor that limits our ability to envision better worlds -- our dominant system of thought, liberalism. It is difficult to move beyond liberalism, for so much of our vocabulary, including what is political, is derived from liberalism. Since so much of our society is built on liberal principles, a critique of liberalism is often a critique of our society, and that is not always easy. Moreover, liberalism makes it appear that all that is not liberal is by definition totalitarian. This false impression is difficult to surmount.

Nevertheless, once the classical liberal conceptualizations in the tradition of John Locke are abandoned, it is possible to construct a viable version of democracy as a participatory form of community rule. Such a view of democracy would be distinctively different from the classical liberal formulation of democracy, which is representative civil government in which the interests, especially the property interests, of citizens are protected. It would stress the involvement of men and women in making community decisions that affect their daily lives. Unlike liberal democracy, which directs attention to the state, par-

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