DIRECT DEMOCRACY — THE ONLY WAY OF THE STATE IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
As is well known, books have their own destiny, and a meeting with a book — like a meeting with a person — can influence the human fate, can draw attention to the issues and problems that previously were somewhere on the far periphery of interests or were of purely theoretical interest.
This book, which exceptionally peaked my interest, is the book of the former ruling Prince of Liechtenstein, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II, «The State in the Third Millennium». Published in both Russian and Ukrainian, the book immediately attracts the attention of the reader. This is a book written by a subtle and wise author — the monarch and the «convinced democrat» (as he characterizes himself).
The modern world is changeable, and change affects all aspects of our lives. One of the fundamental questions that interests politicians, scientists, and concerned citizens: «What should a state be like in the third millennium?»
For our country, which is going through difficult times, this question is far from being of theoretical interest only. After all, Ukraine still cannot overcome systemic problems in state administration, curb corruption, or create an independent and effective judicial system. The level of citizens’ trust in state institutions is catastrophically low.
Therefore, in search of solutions to our problems, it is very useful for us to turn to the assessments and reflections of people who have had positive experiences in government and who demonstrate the best qualities of a modern politician. Such is the author of this book — HSH Prince HansAdam II — a Prince, a dignified aristocratic, a thinker, a financier, and both a connoisseur and patron of the arts. At the same time, he is a consistent and committed advocate of the values and practices of democracy.
It was very useful for me — taking into account the prospects for the formation of our Ukrainian Institute of Direct Democracy — to turn to the thoughts and recommendations of one of the former ruling monarchs in Europe. Liechtenstein (along with Switzerland) is an example of a state with the most developed and efficient mechanisms of direct democracy. Despite usually being viewed as one of the so-called «micro states», the principality of Liechtenstein demonstrates to us a useful and instructive experience in the functioning of what is referred to as direct democracy.
It should be noted that the tools and forms of direct participation (referendums, popular assemblies, consultative polls, etc.) prove their effectiveness in the most diverse political forms — and the monarchy is not an exception. Unfortunately, at the same time, our democratic state, with all of its formal attributes, cannot claim that even elementary forms of direct democracy are implemented nor have they become a part of our everyday life.
It is important that the author of the book is not just an armchair theoretician but an actual practitioner who has been directly involved in making his State’s history. He is a political figure who directly applies the results of his scientific reasoning — without the bureaucratic obstacles, which invariably arise when attempting to introduce academic models into the actual practical application of these principles.
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II also had the opportunity to familiarize himself and critically evaluate the experience of statebuilding and management in many countries of the world, personally communicating with the greatest statesmen of our time.
In his book, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II stresses that he had the opportunity to observe the state in different roles: as the head of state, as a politician who needs to win a referendum in conditions of direct democracy, as a businessman who does his business not only in his own country, but also on other continents, and as an amateur historian. Such a multidimensional combination of experiences is truly phenomenal. The Prince plays a rare role in our time — the role of an enlightened monarch and an intellectual on the throne.
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II (his full name is Johannes Adam Ferdinand Alois Josef Maria Marko d’Aviano Pius von und zu Liechtenstein), was born in 1945 in Zurich (Switzerland) and ascended to the throne in November 1989, following the death of his father, HSH Prince Franz Joseph II.
Having received an excellent education, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II did several internships in London and Spanish banks, and then took an active part in the development of the family business and the management of the family’s assets.
Since 1972, the reigning Prince, and HSH Prince HansAdam II’s father, entrusted him with the task of managing both the finances and the properties of the Princely family. Since childhood, HSH Prince HansAdam II has shown an increased academic interest in both the humanities (history and archeology), as well as in physics. However, the post-war difficulties in the world and the loss of a significant portion of the Princely House’s properties forced the young man to turn his attention to studying business and public administration. In these difficult fields he was able to show himself successful.
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II almost single handily managed to turn the Princely household into a prosperous and stable financial corporation, and the entire population of the Principality directly or indirectly works for this corporation (and also, of course, for itself!). Today the country is a confirmation of the expression that «Small is beautiful» (the area of the Principality of Liechtenstein is 160 sq. km — a little less than the area, for example, of the city of Odessa (162 sq. km), and the population corresponds approximately to our Zhmerinka or Chuguev).
According to Forbes, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II is the richest monarch in Europe. The country is among the world leaders in terms of per capita GDP. The principality itself, thanks to the activities of HSH Prince Hans-Adam II, has become one of the world’s leading financial centers, within which thrives a highly developed high-precision industry, a pharmaceutical industry, winemaking, etc.
An athlete, a collector of works of art, an intellectual interested in the problems of the political development of the world and Europe, the Prince furthered the family traditions and from 2004 he transferred the day-to-day management functions of the State to his son, HSH Hereditary Prince Alois, devoting himself entirely to the science in the field of public administration and the arts.
Liechtenstein adopted its first Constitution in 1862. Since 1921, the Principality, having adopted a new wording of the basic law, finally took the form of a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The Liechtenstein Constitution envisages that the Prince is the Head of State and is endowed with a wide range of powers in both domestic and foreign policy. Of interest is the financial status of the Prince and the Princely House — the Princely family is financially independent and lives on the income received from its own business. However, for the implementation of his representative functions, the Prince is provided with the appropriate income from the State budget, which is made available to a large extent from the tax deductions of the revenues on the Prince’s taxed income and assets.
The Prince, during his reign, proved to be a consistent and active reformer. So, it is somewhat ironic that this small alpine state was one of the last European states, where the equality of the voting rights of both men and women was not secured for most of the twentieth century. Women did not have the right to participate in elections and referendums until 1984, when the Prince carried out a reform that ensured gender equality in this matter. HSH Prince Hans-Adam II also took a firm stand on the question of Liechtenstein joining the United Nations. Overcoming traditional Alpine isolationism, the Prince managed to convince the population of his country to support Liechtenstein’s accession to the U.N. in 1990. Even during this time, the Prince rightly believes that even such small and neutral countries such as Liechtenstein can and should contribute to the cause of peace and international cooperation.
A phenomenal and an unprecedented development for the history of constitutionalism and its forms of government in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in Europe is the result of the 2003 referendum, which significantly expanded the administrative powers of the Prince. During this period, as a system of deterrence, a rule was adopted prohibiting the Prince to use his veto powers in case the Parliament decided to change the form of government to a republican one. Thus, the example of Liechtenstein refutes the assumption that the monarchical form of government has exhausted itself in the 21st century.
In 2012, the Prince’s opponents initiated the campaign for a referendum on limiting the Prince’s powers, which lasted for almost a year. However, 76 % of the the subjects confirmed their desire to see the throne of the monarch accompanied by extended powers (at that time already HSH Hereditary Prince Alois).
HSH Prince Hans-Adam ІІ, in the spirit of his conception of the Corporate State, calls this form of political regime «a successful 300-year partnership between the people and the Princely House» (in fact, this partnership dates back even more than four centuries). Figuratively speaking, a conservative shift had occurred in Liechtenstein (some are even inclined to call it a «conservative revolution»), which has ensured the victory of the royalist forces in its modern sense.
On the official website of the Princely House in October 2009, HSH Prince HansAdam II noted the following: «Most people believe that small states and monarchies belong to the past. But I disagree with that.»
This statement was made in connection with the upcoming book «The State in the Third Millennium», with which the Prince was going to commemorate his 65th birthday, as a defining culmination of his governmental, political and research activities. The book was published in 2009 — in the Russian translation in Russia — in 2012.
The book immediately caught my attention — after the first reading I began to re-read it, literally studying it paragraph by paragraph. Of course, I was primarily interested in various aspects of direct democracy — especially through the prism of the prospects for the development of relevant institutions in Ukraine (referendums, mechanisms for recalling people’s representatives, as well as e-democracy).
In his book, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II set out his constitutional and legal views on the problems of state governance, the role of the state and issues of democracy.
However, with a certain hidden irony, the Prince defines the genre of his book as a «collection of recipes» regarding the solution of various problems concerning the structure of civil society. Thus, it is not the speculative constructs of an idle aristocrat that appear before the reader, but quite pragmatic — and practically implementable — approaches to how to make the lives of people safer and happier.
Obviously, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II, is a supporter of the concept of the discursive forms of democracy, as can be seen in his interview with the Die Weltwoche, (Swiss edition of February 11, 2010). In particular, the Prince stated the following: «Democracy can lead to the dictatorship of the majority, which is not always right, the opinion of the minority is not at all taken into account. Almost all democracies, with the exception of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, are indirect and are very weak forms of democracy. Why is the political unification of Europe not functioning properly? Because we are very different. The United States was created as a result of a war, and went through a Civil War. I hope this will not happen in Europe. I also believe that time will prove the fallacy of the Union. It will give some advantages, but it will also lead to big problems.»1
Thus, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II belongs not only to the Euro-skeptics, but also to the supporters of new forms of the understanding of democracy, in particular — deliberative democracy.
Paraphrasing a famous expression of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II, in his book, emphasizes that the years of government and diplomatic work convinced him of the correctness of the following thesis: «do not ask what a citizen can do for a State, but ask what a State can do for a citizen better than any other organization.»2
Thus, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II perceives the State as a kind of corporation, designed primarily to meet the needs of its members — citizens of the country. It is impossible not to agree with this conclusion, especially now, when Ukraine faces the most complicated political, legal, moral and intellectual task of determining ways of further developing, understanding the goal-setting foundations of government, etc.
How did it happen that Ukraine despite so many years of its independent existence has not been able yet to create a comfortable, convenient, modern, acceptable environment for the life of its citizens? Over the years, we all have realized how fragile statehood is and how easily a State can be lost. However, the events of 2013–2019 have shown us the strength and possibilities of Civil Society, the potential of civil solidarity and the impact of direct action. There has been a real revolution in the mass consciousness regarding the assessment of the role of the State and its purpose and the role and responsibility of the State apparatus to its citizens.
Generally speaking, without denying the State as an important social institution, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II proposes a different look at the functionality of the State. The author emphasizes the impossibility of stateless forms of organization of society, since the inviolability of property is possible only when guaranteed by the rule of law, and only the State can ensure the rule of law. It is necessary not to «liquidate» the State in the third millennium, but to look at it in a new way — as a «state-company» (namely a service company), where all citizens are shareholders. The management of such a «joint-stock company» is carried out through the forms of direct or indirect democracy. Thus, direct democracy is understood as one of the cornerstones of the construction and functioning of the State.
Discussing the forms of the administrative-territorial structure of the State, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II shares his experience, stating that both socialism and nationalism are the worst forms of political government. Not taking into account the requirements of national minorities, the State is doomed to destruction. So, citing as an example the demise of the AustroHungarian Habsburg Empire, the Prince points out that «sustainable democracy and political decentralization are the obvious solutions to the problems» for States with a highly heterogeneous population.
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II repeatedly returns, in his work, to the issue of self-determination — linking it not to the self-determination of nations and peoples that we have grown accustomed to, but to the possibilities of self-determination of territorial entities (communities, communes, etc.). Such self-determination is possible within national States, without posing threat to their territorial integrity and stability. «For the people to exist freely and happily, it is necessary not to destroy large States, but to convince them of the need for political decentralization in order to bring democratic principles and the principle of self-determination to their smallest administrative units, namely local communities, such as: village or city» — maintains the Prince. Thus, in the view of HSH Prince Hans-Adam II, the right to self-determination belongs not only to the peoples, in the ethnic sense of the term, but also to the administrative-territorial units.
The problem is highly relevant given the importance for us of real decentralization and the strengthening the role and powers of the regions and local communities. It is precisely the movement in this direction that will guarantee that Eastern and Western Ukraine will continue to live within the framework of one State — as it was throughout centuries?
As HSH Prince Hans-Adam II points out, by direct forms of democracy, the will of the people (and individual groups) regarding secession, narrow or broad autonomy, federation, confederation, decentralization can be taken into account with due regard for minority interests. Realization and obligatory taking into account of such will reduces confrontation, and is conducive to the search for a consensus, search for the means to get united on the mutually acceptable conditions.
The Prince is an insightful and constructive critic of political forms generated by history, by presenting to the reader a large-scale panorama of the metamorphosis of power, beginning with the Stone Age (!). Some of his judgments about the historical processes might seem speculative, but this does not diminish the value of the practical recommendations (and cautions) contained in the book. The author pays special attention to the centuries that created the contemporary world as we know it, today. The author notes the disastrous consequences of the influence of State forms of nationalism and socialism, stating that the «ideological machine of States» tend to use the quasi-religious emotional element of nationalism (Stalinism, Nazism, etc.).
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II is quite categorical in his negative assessments of traditional (representative) democracy, which is increasingly displacing the forms of direct democracy. The Prince calls representative democracy a «weak form» of democracy, since it is very difficult for the uninitiated population to find out where the real centers of power and responsibility are concentrated.
The Prince correctly observes that genuine democracy cannot be built only from top to the bottom. It is more important that it is being built from the bottom up, especially in large States. Local communities transfer upward those powers that cannot be exercised at the local level (the principle of subsidiarity). In our conditions (we are talking about Ukraine and other post-Soviet states), despite having many years of discussions about decentralization of management and budgets nothing changes: territorial communities exist only on paper, citizens remain aloof from the actual mechanisms of the participation in State affairs and from solving local problems.
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II proceeds from the fundamental belief that the State should serve the people, and not vice versa. It this idea that lies at the basis of the ideal he offers — the transformation of States into corporations or companies that provide services to mankind.
At the same time, the State is viewed by the Prince as a joint-stock company. The election is seems as a meeting of shareholders, where participants express their support (or rejection) to the management team, while tax policy, to him, is the distribution of profits and dividends. Through all the chapters of the book, HSH Prince Hans-Adam II uses this metaphor — he compares the State to an airline company, to McDonald’s, and then to the joint-stock company, emphasizing that consumers should have the right to choose one company or another and the right to change management. The Prince proposes to replace the total bureaucratic monopoly of a traditional State (and traditional representative democracy) with the type of company that is most suitable for comparison with the state — namely, a private monopoly, which not only establishes the rules, but is also a player and an arbitrator. Only a strong direct democracy and the termination of the State’s monopoly, in the opinion of the Prince, will transform the State of the third millennium into a company that provides services to its people.
Skepticism of HSH Prince Hans-Adam II regarding representative (traditional) democracy is based upon, in addition to the arguments already known to the science of constitutional law, on such arguments as the possibility of «buying votes» in representative democracies. What is meant by this is an inclination of politicians taking part in the elections to provide part of the voters with tax or social benefits and other preferences in order to get their votes. At this juncture, it is impossible not to recall our Ukrainian vicissitudes with the assignment of profitable status and the provision of benefits?
The Prince, being an economist, notes also another negative aspect of traditional representative democracy — the possibility (and temptation) for the current government to go into debt: since the burden of returning financial debts does not fall on the current politicians, but on the subsequent generations. There is always a risk that current politicians might turn on the money printing presses, or resort to taking out new loans. Regrettably, this situation is too well known to us in Ukraine with its multi-billion debts …
HSH Prince Hans-Adam II notes that traditional representative democracies increasingly complicate their legal systems by adopting countless regulations. The state becomes unable to protect citizens in the conditions created by an overcomplicated legal system, which ultimately turns into a «facade that one day can collapse.»
In order to avoid such an outcome, the Prince insists that the state is obliged to delegate the part of its functions to small communities, private business and other entities that are not bound by the conventions of the intricacies of national legislation.
At the same time, the State as a service company is obliged to use simple, clear and comprehensible for the common citizens legal language.
A careful and thorough acquaintance with the book written by a remarkable author will enrich experienced politicians and specialists in the field of politics and public administration. In our opinion — and this is important! — the book should attract the attention of citizens who are interested in expanding their participation in the affairs of both the local community and the State as a whole. The work of HSH Prince Hans-Adam II is a weighty argument in favor of the development of all forms of direct democracy in Ukraine.
1 – Quoted from: Чухонкин А. Ю. Государство в третьем тысячелетии // Царский Вестник. — 2010. — № 29.
2 – Ханс-Адам II. Государство в третьем тысячелетии. — М. ; Берлин : Инфотропи Медиа, 2012. — С. 2.