Tag Archives: Auguste Comte

Sociocracy FAQ

What Is Sociocracy.info?

Sociocracy.info is the first comprehensive website on Sociocracy. It is maintained by me, Sharon Villines, coauthor with John Buck of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy. It contains information on the history, principles, and practices of Sociocracy and a blog to answer questions from readers.

The sister site is A Deeper Democracy where I explore  sociocracy in as a method for better achieving the values and purposes of democracy

Harmony?

Gerard Endenburg developed the modern implementation of sociocratic values. His purpose was  to create a harmonious workplace. He believed that in order to do this members of his company had to be able to consent to their working conditions and to be able to self-organize, to take responsibility for planning and evaluating their work.

The dictionary definitions of harmony are  agreement, accord, harmonious relations, and a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.

In addition to Endenburg’s experience as a student in a sociocratic school noted for being a harmonious environment, he knew that research had shown  groups that work together in harmony are the most productive.

What is governance?

Governance means the way we steer ourselves. The way a boat is governed by the crew to keep the boat afloat and their own needs met as they move toward shore. It’s how we guide ourselves individually and in groups toward a common purpose.

In sociocracy, each person has a place in which they are equally respected and expected to assume leadership and governance responsibilities. They are in charge of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities—of steering themselves in harmony with the whole organization.

What is sociocracy?

Sociocracy is both a social ideal and a governance method. The ideal, developed along with the science of sociology, is an effective society that ensures freedom and equality for all. Unlike democracy, sociocracy is based in science and scientific method as well as social justice.

A “sociocracy” was first defined by French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Comte in 1850 and later popularized by American sociologist Frank Ward in the late 19th century. In 1926, Beatrice “Betty Cadbury Boeke and Cornelius “Kees” Boeke, both Quakers, pacifists, and educators, combined Quaker teachings  with the theories of Comte and Ward to create the first sociocracy in their residential-school community of 400 students and staff in the Netherlands. The school still exists and is still governed sociocratically.

It was a graduate of the Boeke’s school mentioned earlier, Gerard Endenburg who combined the Boekes’ principles with the modern science of cybernetics and best practices in business to create a sociocracy that worked in a highly competitive and complex business,

Endenburg’s purpose was to create in his electrical engineering company, Endenburg Electric, the harmony he had experienced as a student.

Why sociocracy and not democracy?

Sociocracy implements the knowledge of the sciences and the use of scientific method to guide decisions that result in the best solutions for everyone, not just the majority. Its objectives are the same as those of democracy: freedom and equality for all, but its methods ensure that these freedoms will be guaranteed.

In most democratic countries, majority vote is used to elect officials and make laws. In fact, voting is most often cited as proof that a government is democratic. Sociocracy has a set of principles and practices that ensure the effectiveness, Inclusiveness, and accountability that are required to fully implement democratic values.

What is particular to sociocracy?

Sociocracy is based on:

1. The ideal of a society that values equality and freedom for all. It practices transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness. It uses “no objections” as the ideal standard for governance decisions.

2.  Scientific discoveries and methods—measurement and evaluation are used to decide effectiveness and guide corrections. The organizational structure is designed to produce self-organization, resilience, and coherence—the characteristics  of harmonious systems.

Sociocratic principles and practices can be used to organize and govern the day-to-day operations of all organizations, including governments and businesses.

Does anyone do this?

Yes. Sociocracy is used world-wide in multiple kinds of organizations, large and small, business and nonprofit, religious and educational. There are centers in several countries and many consultants teaching and implementing the methods in organizations. Offshoots combining sociocracy with other governance and social  methods and techniques have been developed and taught.

The last frontier is national and local governance.

 

Consensus, Consent, and Objections

Heresy, I know, but I think Holacracy has a good point in using “objections” and not “consent.” Brian says in his Introduction to Holacracy video: “Consent has no place in Holacracy.” We want to hear objections to the proposal.

Restrictions on Consent

One of my criticisms of groups using full-group consensus is that first they commit to one for all, and all for one, then they begin putting restrictions on it. All for one and one for all except when only one person doesn’t consent. Or except when only 10% don’t consent. And that the objection has to be based on group values, which are often non-existent or unclear in respect the policy.
People who consent are never asked for the reasoning behind their consent. What restrictions are placed on consent? What does it mean? Do people explain their reasoning?
The number of restrictions placed on withholding consent proliferate almost as soon as consensus is adopted. Even sociocracy adds  restricts consent to  “paramount and reasoned.” “Reasoned” is logical but “paramount” is in the eye of the beholder. Who ever refused to consent who didn’t think their objection was paramount?

Consent Means No Objections

Holacracy has avoided the ambiguity and contradictions of the words consent and consensus by going straight to the definition that Gerard Endenburg realized would work in a performance-based organization in the first place — “no objections.”
I suggest that it is a historical artifact that the word “consent” exists at all in Endenburg’s implementation. Just as I think it was a historical artifact in Comte’s to think that a panel of sociologists should be, not just advise the government. He was steeped in autocratic his experience of a single ruler or ruling body. In 1850s France, democracy was admired but not all so accepted as practical. It’s cracks were showing even then.
In the 1940s, Boeke clearly meant consensus in the traditional Quaker sense. Everyone had to consent that a proposed action was in the best interests of the whole and all individual interests had to be considered. Even though Endenburg was educated in Boeke’s tradition, he actually stepped outside it in his method by using the logic of the physical sciences, not religion or politics.

The Basis of Objections

Endenburg based his definition of consent on the absence of objections and objections based on a specific criterion — the ability to work (or function) toward the aim if the proposed action took place. Consent is written in Sociocracy (1988) as “consent (no objections).” Since “consent” was the historically accepted word, he naturally used the word “consent.”
And I’m also sure he meant consent in the spirit of being inclusive. In the 1960s and 70s when he was developing his ideas there was a general reaction in the Western World to the exclusiveness and elitism of society. “Objection” was a harder sell with revelations of WWII still emerging. Objections had made no difference. Consent would have been more acceptable.

Origins of Sociocracy

The Origins of the Idea

The origins of sociocracy began in the mid-nineteenth century with French philosopher Auguste Comte who had developed sociology, the study of people in social groups. The root word for both “sociology” and “sociocracy” is the Latin, socius, which means associates or companions. The suffix “-ology” means the “study of” as in archeology, psychology, etc. The suffix “-ocracy” means “to govern,” governance by associates, companions.

Why a Sociocracy?

Following almost a century of political revolutions in which monarchies and aristocracies were overturned or stripped of power, Comte was searching for a rational basis for government. Governance on the basis of inherited rights, personal wealth,  religious dictates, and military power had all proven corruptible and not in the interests of the people.

Comte had developed a philosophy called “positivism” in which knowledge is based on what is known of the natural world, of what could be proven and not what a monarch or the church decreed.  He believed that a society governed by scientists could use scientific method to  decide the best social and economic policies.

Limitations of an Ideal

Sociology remained an ideal, however, because Comte was a philosopher, a theorist. Implementation would need the rhetorical skills of a political critic and an educator.

Next: First Implementation