Organizations embody institutions. Elites govern organizations. Their role in organizations gives them influence on institutional transformation and change. A small organization may consist solely of elites. An organization of five is unlikely to differentiate between the elites and the wider membership.

Small companies have a hierarchy. But every person in the organization has significant influence and a personal relationship with the owner. Contrast this relationship with a Fortune 500 corporation. The distance between the CEO and an entry-level employee is vast. The organizational distance may consist of multiple layers within the company. The employee is constrained within the expectations of the corporate institution, but their role has little influence on the evolution of the institution or their organization.

This is a failure to incorporate people into institutions. This failure leads to alienation. Alienation is either organizational or institutional. Organizational alienation exists when a person lacks influence within their organization. I distinguish organizations from institutions when they are a part of a larger institutional framework. For instance, the corporation is an institution, but an individual corporation is an organization. There is a framework for behavior within corporations that extends beyond any one company. Some of the rules are laws and legally binding while others are simply customs or traditions.

A person may represent an organizational elite but lack any influence on the institution. A small company has little influence on the institutional framework of the corporation. On the other hand, the CEO of Walmart has significant influence on the institution of the corporation. Some organizations embody the institution. For example, the office of the Presidency is an institution on its own.

The problem of alienation is influential as we transition to a discussion of institutions we have traditionally labeled “political.” The state embodies the entire nation into a single institution. There is a fundamental problem of influence because power is naturally dispersed amongst so many people. “Political” elites are in positions to influence and affect public policy in ways an average citizen cannot.

Democracy is designed to engage the entire population in the decision-making process through elections, free expression and other means of communication and participation. But it does not eliminate the fundamental alienation of nonelites. The distance between the state and the general population is too much to overcome. While the average citizen is a part of the state, the state is in effect an “other.” Its policies are imposed on the people. Its laws govern the people.

Democracy faces a fundamental crisis of legitimacy because it derives its legitimation from the consent of the governed. Yet the winner of elections is based on a plurality of the people. A significant percent of the people voted against their leaders. And a significant percent of the people may oppose the policies of their leaders. This problem is compounded because policies are established through coalitions. The compromises of elites may alienate their base from the policies of the state.

This begins to establish the Democracy Paradox. A democracy is based on the consent of the governed, yet consent depends on both the winners and losers of elections. Democracy must find ways to incorporate the entire populace into the political process despite the natural alienation of citizens from the state.

jmk, carmel, indiana, democracyparadoxblog@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s