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Not “Or,” But “And”: The Intricate Link Between Leveraging Polarities and Representative Democracy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Clements
September 3, 2019



Gentle reader, there are various schools of thought which identify the biggest threats to democracy as issues that range from disinformation to citizen apathy. To many of the readers of this work, it may seem that the only way to achieve the unification of polarized concepts would be through an implementation of one concept at the expense of the other. However, I would strongly caution the reader against this notion. A possible answer to our democratic conundrum is that we must abandon or thinking and adopt and thinking in its stead. This piece will argue that the greatest threat to democracy currently in the United States and in developing countries is none other than underdevelopment of socioeconomic infrastructure which can be achieved through leveraging polarities.

 When attempting to identify the basic components of democracy, concepts such as equality, inclusion and access are placed in the forefront of the mind. If, indeed, these concepts are first to rise, there is a great error which has been made. While these are noble concepts, these concepts must be introduced, maintained and protected by successfully leveraging polarity pairs such as freedom and authority, justice and due process, diversity and equality, human rights and communal obligations and participation and representation. The work of Dr. William J. Benet has identified the importance of leveraging polarities as they appear in democratic societies in his Polarities of Democracy Theory. This challenging request falls under the auspices of none under than public administrators, politicians and business owners.

It would behoove those of us in the policy arena to further analyze the components needed for democracy. When performing this task, we will be confronted with some unflattering realities that are imperative for us to acknowledge and to address. The first pair for discussion is that of freedom and authority. In order to safeguard freedoms, it is vital that we understand there is little freedom to be found in the absence of opportunity. With this premise established, we can elucidate the intricate link between authority, freedom and opportunity. Areas of low socioeconomic value face some of the lowest democratic participation.

While there is a plethora of possible reasons for this occurrence, the consequences are less ambiguous. Residing in an area with low socioeconomic value includes limited jobs, consumer options, financial options and having to pay significantly higher prices for products on average. There are voluminous amounts of literature which address the cost increase apparent in low-income neighborhoods. From an authority perspective, the participatory nature of democracy is structured by the power of the people, which is based under the principle of legitimate authority. If elected officials, community leaders and employers faced the legitimate influence of an informed populace, then leveraging the polarity of freedom and authority becomes much clearer than the blurry view between the two currently. When authority is established by the people, true representation can be achieved, and freedom and authority leveraged properly.

The second polarity worth investigation is justice and due process. Despite some of the perilous moments in American history, a noble goal has constantly been for strived. That elusive goal can be found in the finishing lines of this nation’s sacred pledge of allegiance; the final words being, “And justice for all.” To the scholar, the difficulty in substantiating this quote is apparent. As a criminal justice practitioner as well as a policy scholar, it is easy to challenge the notion that justice is undeniably established and secured for all. Instead of utilizing a cynical perspective, the Polarity of Democracy theory addresses this occurrence by leveraging and harnessing the positive natures of both justice and due process while minimizing the negative association of the two. In order to examine either due process or justice, there is an intricate link between the two concepts. By process of deductive reasoning, we would easily discover that if due process requires that the investigation of wrongdoing be fair, equal and following the exact course of law, there is by logical progression evidence of the quality of being fair and reasonable to the accused. This in turn represents a leveraging of the two components which appear as polarized opposites but are actually intertwined together.  

It is very possible for there to be leveraging of polarities in our communities and nations. The theory of Polarities of Democracy is being utilized in a growing number of research studies and the application of this theory to governments of all sizes allows for the strong possibility of generating positive social change. It is my hope that we, public policy and community leaders, reject the draconian components of or thinking and realize the true power of and.

Author: William Clements, Ph.D., is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at higher education institutions. He possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Justice Studies, a Master of Science degree in Forensic Psychology, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Public Policy and Administration. He is also a Fellow at the Institute for Polarities of Democracy. He has served in the field of public service for a total of 12 plus years and is a well-read enthusiast for topics of economics, politics, homeland security, and most of all, public policy. Email: [email protected]

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