Today’s Solutions: November 29, 2021

Mary Parker Follett was a progressive management consultant. In 1918, she published The New State, in which she applied her holistic world view to politics. At that time, women had the right to vote in only a handful of countries. A lot has changed, but her analysis of the crucial role of individual citizens in a democracy remains as relevant as ever. 

No government will be successful, no government will endure, which does not rest on the individual. Up to the present moment we have never seen the individual. Yet the search for him has been the whole long striving of our Anglo-Saxon history. We sought him through the method of representation and failed to find him. We sought to reach him by extending the suffrage to every man and then to every woman and yet he eludes us. Direct government now seeks the individual; but as we have not found him by sending more men to the ballot box, so we shall not find him by sending men more often to the ballot box.
Are our constitutional conventions to sit and congratulate themselves on their progressive ideas while they are condemning us to a new form of our old particularism? The ballot box! How completely that has failed men, how completely it will fail women. Direct government as at present generally understood is a mere phantom of democracy. Democracy is not a sum in addition. Democracy is not brute numbers; it is a genuine union of true individuals.
How is that genuine union to be attained, how is the true individual to be discovered? The party has always ignored him; it wants merely a crowd, a preponderance of votes. The early reform associations had the same aim. Both wanted voters, not men. It makes little difference whether we follow the boss or follow the good government associations, this is all herd life – “following the lead” – democracy means a wholly different kind of existence. To follow means to murder the individual, means to kill the only force in the world which can make the Perfect Society – democracy depends upon the creative power of every man.
We find the true man only through group organization. The potentialities of the individual remain potentialities until they are released by group life. Man discovers his true nature, gains his true freedom only through the group. Group organization must be the new method of politics because the modes by which the individual can be brought forth and made effective are the modes of practical politics.
Group organization releases us from the domination of mere numbers. Thus democracy transcends time and space; it can never be understood except as a spiritual force. Majority rule rests on numbers; democracy rests on the well-grounded assumption that society is neither a collection of units nor an organism but a network of human relations. Democracy is not worked out at the polling booths; it is the bringing forth of a genuine collective will, one to which every single being must contribute the whole of his complex life, as one which every single being must express the whole of at one point. Thus the essence of democracy is creating. Many men despise politics because they see that politics manipulate, but make nothing. If politics are to be the highest activity of man, as they should be, they must be clearly understood as creative.
Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, nor absorbed. Anarchy means unorganized, unrelated difference; coordinated, unified difference belongs to our ideal of a perfect social order. We don’t want to avoid our adversary but to “agree with him quickly”; we must, however, learn the technique of agreeing. As long as we think of difference as that which divides us, we shall dislike it; when we think of it as that which unites us, we shall cherish it. Instead of shutting out what is different, we should welcome it because it is different and through its difference will make a richer content of life. The ignoring of differences is the most fatal mistake in politics or industry or international life: every difference that is swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society; every difference which is ignored feeds on society and eventually corrupts it.
Heterogeneity, not homogeneity, I repeat, makes unity. Indeed as we go from groups of the lower types to groups of the higher types, we go from those with many resemblances to those with more and more striking differences.
Give your difference, welcome my difference, unify all difference in the larger whole—such is the law of growth. The unifying of difference is the eternal process of life—the creative synthesis, the highest act of creation. The implications of this conception when we come to define democracy are profound.
I may seem to overemphasize difference as difference. Difference as difference is non-existent. There is only difference which carries within itself the power of unifying. It is this latent power which we must forever and ever call forth. Difference in itself is not a vital force, but what accompanies it is – the unifying spirit.
Really the object of every associating with others, of every conversation with friends, in fact, should be to try to bring out a bigger thought than any one alone could contribute.
– Mary Parker Follett

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