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Chapter Four: Autocracy and Democracy

Section 3: Criteria


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 Tibetan Dance performed by the Academy of Chinese Performing Arts. Julia Lan shown during 1996 dress rehearsal.



Chris Argyris (Intervention Theory and Method) addressed the factors for organizational competence. His focus appears to be business organizations, but the principles discussed are easily generalized. Actually, it is the organizational psychologists who give the greatest impetus to the notion that "democracy is inevitable". (The phrase in quotes is, not coincidentally, the title of a chapter in The Temporary Society by Warren Bennis and Phillip Slater, which foreshadows some of the themes of this paper.)



The core activities of any system are (1) to achieve its objectives, (2) to maintain its internal environment, and (3) to adapt to, and maintain control over, the relevant external environment. How well the system accomplishes these core activities over time and under different conditions is an indication of its competence. (Argyris, Intervention Theory and Method, p. 36)



Roger Fisher in his monograph on international law, Points of Choice, identifies three goals in the game of nations:



Thus, the critical and pre-critical of the world of international politics can usefully be considered a game, not because it is being played for fun, but because it involves a limited number of players, because it is structured according to more or less explicit rules, because there are patterns of behavior, and because the interests of each nation, being a blend of shared and opposing concerns, are comparable to those of a player in a game.



Victory refers to winning a dispute. However, victory may be too costly if it means decreasing one's ability to win in the future. Thus, the second goal in any dispute is to emerge with more power to influence outcomes in future disputes. The third goal, peace, means maintaining and improving the (international legal) supersystem so that the laws that allow for the orderly exercise of power remain stable.



Where Argyris is concerned with environments in general, Fisher is more concerned with the competitive aspects of the international arena. Synthesizing the two approaches, we can generate a valid set of general criteria for evaluating nations and other social systems.



Argyris' second core activity is maintaining the internal environment. This is related to the stability criteria for pragmatic utopias established in chapter one. In chapter two, we discussed transformations, and how they related the notions of maintenance and growth. From this, one can derive a first criterion for evaluating a system -- the extent to which it can maintain and improve its own internal environment.



Fisher's first goal is victory, and this is clearly the competitive aspect of Argyris" first core activity, achieving objectives. The likelihood of achieving objectives depends on the power of the system to influence its environment. So our second criterion is the "power" of the system.



Power is to some extent a function of the quality of the internal environment, but it is more directly a result of one's position within a supersystem. The law plays a crucial role in determining the positions from which and the processes whereby power is exercised:



Legitimacy and lawful authority are key components of political power. The critical difference between the effective power of a president and that of an ex-president usually lies in their legal status. (Points of Choice, p. 12)



Thus, a third criteria for systems is the extent to which they can position themselves effectively within the relevant supersystem. (For nations, this means the world, particularly the international legal system.)



The fourth criterion is the extent to which the system can maintain and improve the supersystem. Influential nations, of course, want to maintain the system that legitimates their power. All nations will want to change the rules so that they have better access to positions of influence. However, selfish changes by influential nations may backfire since there would then be less reason for other nations to preserve the system. Therefore, improving the system means making it fair enough so that other nations will also have a stake in preserving the system. This criterion corresponds to Fisher's goal of peace.



 These four criteria are related in a causal hierarchy. One strives to maintain and improve the supersystem so that one can maintain and improve one's position within the system, so that one can maintain and increase one's power, so that one can maintain and improve one's internal environment. An improved internal environment, in turn, makes all the other objectives more achievable, so there is a cyclical quality to the system of criteria.







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