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You can blame Stabs for this post. When he wrote all about TEST alliance’s trials and travails with Internet democracy in EVE I pretty much had to write a mini essay in his comments thread because, as any of my friends or family will tell you, once I get going on politics it’s hard to shut me up. And it didn’t stop there – once I had a chance to sleep things over I had more thoughts on the subject, which were applicable to game guilds in general and not just EVE. Hence, I brought my comment over here for a polish and expansion.

First of all – there’s the hoary old quote from Winston Churchill about democracy being “the worst form of government, apart from all of the others”. Democracy keeps people engaged because they feel they have a stake rather than just being ordered about, and it lets people replace bad leaders without having all the mess and fuss of a revolution. The cost of that is a certain amount of inertia and friction, but that might be better than a well-oiled machine that your Master And God drives off a cliff. However, guild members have an alternative to replacing their leadership in their current guild… \gquit. In the real world, if you don’t like the way your country is run, it’s not that easy to leave it and join another one. You only get masses of refugees if something is seriously messed up within a country. In most MMOs, the barriers to movement are a lot lower, so voting with your feet becomes a viable alternative to changing leadership in your current guild.

Secondly – representative democracy (as practiced in the modern Western world) is not the same thing as participatory democracy (as practiced in ancient Athens). Representative democracies let the people pick their leaders on a regular basis, and then let those leaders make the decisions until it’s time to replace the leader or renew their mandate. Participatory democracies let the electorate as a whole make the call on each and every decision. The reason Rome (representative democracy) put together an empire and Athens (participatory democracy) didn’t is that participatory democracies really suck at having a coherent strategy for anything beyond the immediate term. A guild that wants to achieve anything more than “let’s hang out together” needs to pick and empower leaders rather than put every decision up to popular vote. However, some decisions SHOULD be made by the guild as a whole because they all need to be engaged – for example, whether to merge with another guild. Real world representative democracies hold referenda on important issues too. The trick is identifying which issues are important enough.

Thirdly – the “campaign commander” thing TEST are considering has been tried before. Go look up the original meaning of the word “dictator”. The Roman Republic would hand wide-ranging powers to one man to be supreme leader for the duration of an emergency. It actually worked the first few times. The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire because guys like Julius Caesar and his rivals and successors (and one or two guys before him, to be fair) weren’t so keen on handing the power back once they’ve got it. Lesson for guilds should be perfectly clear here – if you don’t want to make someone el presidente for life, be damn careful who you hand all the power to.

Fourthly – the benefits of Western civilisation are arguably down to the rule of law more than directly to democracy. Democracy is probably the best guarantee of the rule of law, however. The problem with applying this to EVE is that I don’t think that any corporation or the personalities in it are stable enough to genuinely support the rule of law. Frankly, that goes double for most guilds I’ve ever seen in any other game.

Fifth and final – democracy is all about letting the people at large have their hands on the levers of power, or at least letting them choose who has their hands on the levers. Simply having votes is not democracy. The Soviet Union had regular elections, which the Communist party won by a landslide, because only they could take part. That’s not democracy. Likewise, Iran has a system of vetting all political candidates so only those approved of by the people already in power can gain power. That’s not democracy either. On the other hand, democracy is not about sharing the wealth equally – that’s egalitarianism and is a whole different kettle of fish. Every time I hear someone arguing for a particular loot distribution system because it’s more ‘democratic’ I want to punch their face.

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