DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 1

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES
Part One: Contextualizing Democracy
Presented by Glen-Rhodes at the 2013 World Fair

Introduction For the past few years, NationStates has been experiencing a meta renaissance. Many authors have quickly been development a school of thought we might as well call NationStates critical theory. Through seminal works like Unlimited et al.’s Proper Francoist Thought and Unibot’s The Polysemes of

Nativeness, our understanding of NationStates as a political simulation has been enriched beyond
measure. However, even though many works on military gameplay, nativism, and even in EuroSoviet’s series on democracy, no works approach the issue of democracy from a typological and foundational mode of analysis. In his article on democracy in the Game-Created Regions, boldly titled The Fake Democracy of

NationStates, Douria claims that, at the highest rungs of power in the Gameplay community, “[we
have] an oligarchy run by a pseudo democracy.”1 While there are legitimate concerns about the centralization of power in NationStates’ Game-Created Regions, the oligarchy model is too simple. To understand how power is distributed in democratic regions, we have to change the way we think about democracy. In this essay, I will define what I believe to be the two models of democracy at work in NationStates, and why the common conception of democracy as representative is wrong. I will then address the most common challenges to effective democratic governance. Democracy in Context Modern think-pieces on democratic governance in NationStates assume a meso- to macrolevel of analysis – the geopolitics of military gameplay, overarching theories of power and ideology, grand manifestos on the undergirding philosophies of NationStates. What has been missing in these intellectual exercises is the proper contextualization of real-world theories into NationStates. In other words, while award-winning pieces in the Naivetry Reference Library are interesting to read, there is often a lack of direct applicability to how people actually play the game. So what better place to start this essay than establishing context?

1

See The Fake Democracy of NationStates in the Naivetry Reference Library: http://s4.zetaboards.com/UDL/topic/9961344/1/

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 2 As a rhetorical exercise, people treat democracy in NationStates as if it was a perfect parallel to American or European democratic systems. When discussing the purpose of democratic governance, practitioners and intellectuals alike have a tendency to adopt the theories of representational democracy they learned in high school (and, for some of our older residents, university). While representation is a good rhetorical device, the truth is that no democratic system in NationStates is actually representative. There are no sub-regional territories from which people are elected to represent the interests of those territories in a national or federal government. Representational democracy is not possible until the advent of inter-regional governance, which is beyond the grasps of the current generation of players, even if they preferred it in the first place.

Representative Democracy isn’t dead – it was never alive in the first place.
I posit that democracy in NationStates currently comes in two forms.2 The first is delegative democracy. Under this system of democracy, individuals are given the opportunity to actively engage in governance, or remain passive and delegate authority to others. In most democratic regions, legislatures are made up of a group of self-selected individuals, through either universal membership for all citizens (self-selection occurring when one becomes a citizen) or application into the legislature through elections, selections, or open-access applications.3 Regardless of the membership system employed by democratic regions, one universal aspect is that not all citizens are required to participate actively in regional governance. These passive participants delegate authority to active participants. Under a true representative model, that delegation would require the active participants to act in accordance to the wishes of those who delegated authority to them. However, under the delegative model, active participants act according to their own preferences, have their own agendas, and are answerable only by the re-delegation of authority. Delegates are under no obligation to act contrary to their own interests, but may lose authority if passive participants delegate authority to somebody else. In context of NationStates, when regions hold elections, nominees may run on a platform, but rarely do they feel obligated to represent the interests of those who voted for them. This may sound crude and antithetical to common understandings of democracy in NationStates, but this form of
2

Lest I open myself up for academic attacks, it is true democratic systems in NationStates can come in a variety of forms. In my observations, there are two very prominent forms, but that should not be read as an exclusive statement. 3 For clarity, I define “elections” according to the common understanding of running for a finite number of slots in a legislative body; “selections” as applying for membership and current members voting upon the application; and “open-access applications” as applying for membership w ith the expectation that membership is denied only in extraordinary circumstances.

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 3 democracy is just as effective as, if not more democratic than, representational democracy. Elections occur and delegates are held accountable.

“But the sake of our country lay in the tradition…”4
The second prominent form of democracy in NationStates is guided or managed democracy. Under this system, the confluence of tradition and prolonged periods of lackluster participation have led to a culture of entrenched institutions. Although rhetorically democratic, the political system in managed democracies has been constructed and modified to support an elite group. Managed democracy can be intentional, or it can arise slowly and organically. An important note is required here: managed democracy, while sharing many of same power relationships as non-democratic regimes, differentiates itself from totalitarianism by maintaining some democratic characteristics. Even though the political system is rigged for the elite, decisionmaking within the elite sphere may be democratic, and it is possible, albeit not a regular occurrence, for an outsider to affect policy. Additionally, while barriers to entry are high, it is not unheard of for newcomers to be welcomed, elected, or appointed into the elite. Managed democracies in NationStates outwardly appear to be structured like real-world republican governments. There is often the separation of powers between legislative and executive branches, with a tendency for the executive branch to be stronger than the legislative branch. Unlike totalitarian regimes, managed democracy operates according to a constitution, although the constitution is constructed to support elite institutions. The clearest indicator of managed democracy in NationStates would be some kind of group of regional guardians – a group of long-time members who have a lot of political influence within the region and who tend to dominate an all-encompassing security policy. Unlike a defensive wall of high-Influence5 nations, guardianship groups exercises a considerable amount of autonomous authority and is not generally accountable via elections. Beyond the gaming of institutional structures, the elite’s primary means of maintaining power is the defense of traditionalism. Managed democracies are often sclerotic and hostile to change. Deviations from the status quo are treated as calculated attacks on existing power structures. The entrenched elite use a variety of tools to establish and maintain tradition, ranging from propaganda to purges. Those deviating from the status quo may be challenged in the next election, recalled,

4

Credit for this phrase goes to HEM. I don’t know what the origin is, but the phrase was posted by HEM in the forums of The South Pacific, and I think it fits the section nicely. 5 “Influence,” with a capital I, means the game mechanic called “influence.”

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 4 privately or publicly intimidated into changing their minds, dismissed as a gadfly, accused of subverting the government or supporting foreign agendas, among many other tools in the kit. Other characteristics of managed democracies in NationStates include the following. Not every region that can claim one of these characteristics is a managed democracy, and failure to claim any does not mean a region is not a managed democracy.       A limited pool of regular nominees for high elected offices, particularly executive branch positions and top-level legislative offices. Repetition of electoral victories: the same people winning the same offices, or engaging in regular switch-offs of positions. Non-transparent forum structures and tough criteria for citizenship or nomination to an elected office. Policy-making concentrated in bodies other than legislatures. Infrequent elections and elections with limited turnout. High numbers of unelected government positions.

Challenges to Democracy Although it is hailed as the best form of governance, democracy in NationStates has a long history of instability and impermanence. For democratic regions, it is important to monitor continuously their systems for red flags of a weakening democracy. The largest red flag to watch out for is the centralization of authority. Centralization can come in many forms. Some of the more common forms are discussed below. It is important to note that the existence of these characteristics does not necessarily mean instability exists. However, if multiple indicators are met, we should continue to monitor the situation and approach the democratic system with a more skeptical eye.

Traditionalism
Traditionalism manifests itself most commonly in a group of players that frequently claim to be upholding the historic and long-term values of the region. Sometimes these groups are written into the governing system as a guardianship body, but most of the time traditionalism is upheld through institutionalized hierarchies (certain players are more worthy by virtue of tradition). Those institutions are reinforced through strong consequences for attempting to change the status quo, labeling of non-traditionalists as dangerous or working against regional interests, and other actions that have the effect of discouraging change.

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 5

Strong Executives
Just as in the real world, a strong executive government in NationStates is often correlated with weak democratic institutions. Some regions have strong executives by design, and while selfdetermination should always be respected, it is difficult to argue that a strong executive branch does not result in the centralization of authority. The development of strong executives where they did not previously exist is a serious red flag, as it is usually a marker of an elite group consolidating power within a region.

Secrecy
While not necessarily antithetical to democratic governance, high levels of secrecy are a second-order indicator that something is amiss within a region’s government. It is necessary for security classification schemes to exist, but when those schemes creep into broad expectations that information will be limited to a select few within government, secrecy severely undercuts democracy. Governors are no longer held accountable, and the selective leaking of information can be used to strengthen the governing elite. Additionally, high levels of secrecy indicate distrust for the common citizen that can manifest itself in the adoption of anti-democratic habits.

Multi-regionalism and Cosmopolitanism
First, we must differentiate between multi-regionalism and cosmopolitanism. While the term has eluded a clear definition, I consider cosmopolitanism to be an identity in which a person assigns a higher value on inter-regional cooperation than single-region loyalty. It is similar to Europeanism, where people claim a European identity, but that does not necessarily mean they do not have the interests of France, German, Spain, or Italy in mind. Multi-regionalism, by contrast, is a self-serving ideology (not identity) wherein people maintain voting membership in multiple regions as a means to gain power and influence. Multi-regionalism is by definition a danger to democracy, as it is a dangerous centralization of power across multiple regions. It manifests itself often in regional crossover of government positions, ignoring blatant conflicts of interests. In its most egregious form, multi-regionalists appear in their various regions only when important decisions are being made, and tend to vote in the interests of an outside group. However, combating multi-regionalism can also produce many problems for democratic regions. There is a rich history of witch-hunts and purges under the name of cleansing regions from

DEMOCRACY IN NATIONSTATES 6 outside influences. While a few have been cleanly targeted towards true multi-regionalist activities, many of these purges sweep up cosmopolitans. Additionally, people who maintain membership in non-regional organizations are sometimes accused of working for those organizations above regional interests. So accusations of multi-regionalism can be used a political tool to rid a region of opposition. As such, regions must approach such accusations with healthy skepticism and require solid evidence before proceeding. Conclusion With a proper typology of democratic governance in NationStates, we can hope to understand better its failures and shortcomings. The first step in constructing this typology is abandoning the idea that the default model for democracy is representational democracy. From there, we can build a better model of democratic governance. By recognizing the model of delegative democracy, we can see how it is so easy for a nascent democracy to fall into a guided democracy, or for democracy to cease to exist altogether. The red flags outlined in this essay should be useful for regions to maintain an eye on their internal politics, which is an exercise not always done with much effectiveness. In the future, it would be interesting to create a methodology for ranking regions on democratic governance, similar to how Freedom House does each year. In the second part of this piece, I will create a model democracy and simulate how it handles the challenges outlined in this essay. I will attempt to answer the question raised by part one: Is it possible to create a system inherently capable of combating the centralization of authority?

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