2.4 Governance that is Negotiable

Governance that is negotiable is more likely to be acceptable to the population than rule by decree

In this book the term ‘negotiation’ encompasses many types of interaction between people, on a peer-to-peer basis and with those in positions of authority.  These interactions can take place at every level of governance, using mechanisms which include bargaining, voting, lobbying, consultation, criticism and protest – some of which are referred to informally as exercising ‘people-power’.  These are different ways of exerting influence upon the decision-making process and they can be thought of as having an equivalent effect to participating in a face-to-face negotiation.

Individuals may negotiate in person or they may empower representatives to negotiate on their behalf; the different dimensions of governance vary in the negotiation scenarios that are most used, as will be seen in the following chapters.  Using this broad definition, negotiation is a way of conducting what Amartya Sen called “public reasoning” in his book The Idea of Justice, whereby a society resolves its differences when making “social choices” [pp. 106-11].

Governance that is negotiable is only possible if there is access to negotiation, which is directly connected with freedom of speech – as examined in later chapters in its moral (4.4.6), legal (5.4.5) and political (6.8.3) dimensions.

Negotiation is only acceptable if the participants believe that it is ‘meaningful’.  The meaningfulness of a negotiation can be measured against four indices:

1.  A ‘respectful’ negotiation depends upon people respecting each other as equals, not just indulging in an adversarial trial of strength, and showing what A. C. Grayling described as “Aristotle’s concept of magnanimity” in his article The importance of gentlemanly politicians. If one of the parties to a negotiation feels that it has not been treated with respect, it will be resentful and uncooperative – leading to obstructiveness both during the negotiations and afterwards, in implementing any agreements reached.

2.  It can be categorised as ‘inclusive‘ if all points of view have been represented and if it is conducted so as to achieve mutual advantage: minimising the damaging impact of the concessions made by each party. This is analogous to principles which David Gauthier proposed in the first chapter of his book Morals by Agreement, where he defined “the principle of minimax relative concession” as “the requirement that the greatest concession, measured as a proportion of the conceder’s stake, be as small as possible”, and he also postulated that “No person should be worse off in the initial bargaining position than she would be in a non-social context of no interaction”.  Although he was describing a “hypothetical agreement”, these principles are equally applicable to a real negotiation.

3.  It can be considered ‘balanced’ if none of the parties is powerless and if people’s views are weighted in accordance with the numbers affected and the importance of the issue to them. It contrasts with a coercive or purely majoritarian interaction, where the minority will always be outvoted without its case being considered.

4.  The process of negotiation may be more or less ‘transparent‘. At the most transparent, an individual might personally participate in a process which has a recorded outcome so that, if the individual has had to make concessions, other people’s preferences had been made visible and the criteria for reaching a conclusion were also clearly visible.  At the least transparent, people might have submitted a petition and have received a reply, without having been given any visibility of either the process or the arguments which had been applied.

A negotiation is increasingly ‘meaningful’ as it scores more highly against these four measures.

Negotiations are only necessary if there is an initial difference of opinion.  People rarely change their minds completely, so negotiations usually produce an outcome which incompletely satisfies some or all of the participants.  An outcome will be more acceptable if it is one that the person prefers, rather than one which has had to be accepted reluctantly (as, for example, where a person has voted for the losing candidate in a fair election) but a key assumption in this book is that even an unfavourable outcome is more likely to be seen as acceptable if the negotiation were seen as meaningful.

Even if negotiations had been meaningful, some people might refuse to accept the outcome.  A refusal to negotiate is possible in any dimension of power.  Possible remedies are reviewed at the end of the book (9.6).



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/24b.htm.