Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Mechanical and Technical Impossibility of Direct Government by the Masses

IT WAS a Rhenish democrat, Moritz Rittinghausen, who first made a brilliant attempt to give a real basis for direct legislation by the people.1

According to this system the entire population was to be divided into sections, each containing a thousand inhabitants, as was done temporarily for some days in Prussia during the elections of the years 1848 and 1849. The members of each section were to assemble in some prearranged place -- a school, townhall, or other public building -- and to elect a president. Every citizen was to have the right of speech. In this way the intelligence of every individual would be placed at the service of the fatherland. When the discussion was finished, each one would record his vote. The president would transmit the result to the burgomaster, who would notify the higher authorities. The will of the majority would be decisive.

No legislative proposal was to come from above. The government should have no further initiative than to determine that on a given day all the sections should discuss a given argument. Whenever a certain number of the citizens demanded a new law of any kind, or the reform of an existing law, the ministry concerned must invite the people to exercise its sovereignty within a stated time, and to pass for itself the law in question.2 The law takes organic form from the discussion itself. First of all, the president opens the debate upon the principal question. Subsequently subordinate points are discussed. Then comes the vote. That proposition which has

____________________
1
Moritz Rittinghausen, Ueber die Organisation der direkten Gesetzgebung durch das Volk, Social. Demokrat. Schriften, No. 4, Cöln, 1870, p. 10. The merit of having for the first time ventured to put forward practical proposals of this nature for the solution of the social problem unquestionably belongs to Rittinghausen. Victor Considérant, who subsequently resumed the attempt to establish direct popular government upon a wider basis and with a more far-reaching propagandist effect, expressly recognized Rittinghausen as his precursor ( Victor Considérant, La Solution ou Le Gouvernement Direct du Peuple. Librairie Phalanstérienne, Paris, 1850, p. 61).
2
In the American constitution those states only are termed federalist (the name being here used to imply a democratic character) in which the people assemble for such a legislative purpose, whilst the states with representative popular government are called republics.

-63-

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