PANGS: The incubation of demogarchy

September 05 by Demogarchy

Now Reading

PANGS: The incubation of demogarchy


n 1984 my country, South Africa, was ruled by an all-powerful Party that reckoned some people were citizens and other people were not.

Formerly pretty conventional, this approach was now out of order. We were hot favourite candidate for World’s Chief Skunk.

I wrote an article suggesting the way out was not hard: arrange politics so that ordinary people actually held the power that democracy supposed them to hold.

That thought proceeded into (plenty of) maturing in the dark. At the hands of my new minders Carel Nolte and Matt Beckett it stands up to ask, insistently now: “Do you want life getting more civilised all the time, or do you want bombs and refugees on your screen and seven locks on your front door?

Carel demands an “inventory”, all 32 years of writing on the subject. On the one hand that feels horribly egotistical. On the other it is quite right. This is the real proposal for the real next rung up the ascent of humankind. Hardly anybody sees that straight off.

Straight off they say “never saw such rubbish in my life”. The seeing of the light requires a sinking into the theme. If, good reader, the history helps you with that, hooray. If not, cyberworld does not begrudge the space.

To the person who does intrigued — hey, I appreciate you! — I’d recommend you read “Mildred’s Day” first. You should find that alongside. That is just ten or so pages, trying to tell you in shorthand that major power-spreading is far from the chaotic anarchy that people tend to assume.  But saying that in ten pages is bound to leave questionmarks, sometimes rather large. So then you might go to the end of this history (the thread you are in now) to the short book Demogarchy, which fleshes a fair bit out in some 150 pages. You want still more fleshing? Go back a bit further, to Themba’s Head, about the same size. A real glutton? Still further back is the 500 pages of Magenta.  The point is: start with the latest.

Thanks to Carel for kicking me into doing this. If it shows even one person that there’s something real on the go, it’s worth it.


The start of the start was the launch of Frontline magazine in December 1979. Here is the first editorial:

Frontline Magazine 1979.

As you see, this was hardly Kill Maim Burn stuff, but it was saying that to be an “us” meant that each of us was the same equal citizen. Hm, this was touchy.

Fast-forward, to use a phrase from that time, to May 1984. Two letters appeared in Frontline:

May 1984 


There you have it. Two reasonable-sounding guys wanting to say “of course we are anti-apartheid but that doesn’t mean irresponsibly giving black people the same rights as us”. I searched at length and in vain for a punchy and helpful reply, ending blandly promising to address it in June.

I don’t want to think of how long June was delayed, but finally, here it came, with the seed of the only ever suggestion that the answer to the clash between the immovable rock saying “no common citizenship” and the irresistible force saying “wholly common citizenship” was not a point between those two positions. It was going beyond, far beyond, the outside position, to a citizenship magnified beyond any existing request or expectation.

Exhibit C, “To Find a Future”…9pp

That ran to a quarter of the edition’s editorial content and became the first of a beehive of nails in Frontline’s coffin. I don’t now know when I realised I was drowning my eldest child, Frontline, under the weight of its brother, the Real Rule of the people. I do know I was never wholly sorry.

Frontline was intended to be a Spectator or a New Yorker, with certain variations that included self-conscious insistence on a “nonracial” identity. (Which had meaning in a time that every periodical was either “black” or “white”). A 12,000 word flight of fantasy into an imaginary political dispensation was already a breach of editorial sanity. Making it a chronic disease was suicide.

But it was a Sydney Carton suicide, it had a purpose. The prospect of a peaceful way out of apartheid was widely assumed to be nil. I believed that going further than the much demanded one-man-one- vote, going into one person one strong vote, turned that to 100%. How could my magazine confine itself to mere stuff that readers actually wanted to read?

That first article at least elicited some responses. Not all spontaneous exactly; I nagged and twisted arms. Here they are:

The case for (and mainly against) democracy


I now breach instructions to defend sanity. Matt and Carel want the whole 32 years of buildup, and, yes, I understand that an occasional person may be drawn into the theme by the buildup. But from June 1984 until Frontline’s 1991 expiry, there were dozens of references. In a big bundle they’d be truly impassable, plus embarrassing, me wheedling responses out of politicians and commentators only to wrap them on the knuckles for getting it wrong.

So take here an extract from my 2010 memoir Radical Middle, and we’ll move on.

Extract From Radical Middle- Salesman

“Moving on” takes us to Book One, Permanent Peace.

It’s right that Matt and Carel take Real People’s Rule seriously. In time to come, something like this will be the operating system of politics, not necessarily with any trace to my stuff but in the sense that it will use the stabilising power of the non-political people to squelch the rows of the ideologues.

We return to Radical Middle for a (conveniently electronic) note on Permanent Peace’s birth:

Note on the birth of permanent Peace


Permanent Peace

Scanned electronic copy.

Three years after Permanent Peace, September 1988, The Fallacy of Heroes entered the world. Here is useful Radical Middle’s account

Fallacy of Heroes summary

I don’t now know how and where Fallacy actually advanced on PP. I’m encouraged that Carmatt think it might plant seeds in the mind of someone somewhere. It is here.

Fallacy of Heroes

Scanned PDF uploaded however- Needs to be re-scanned

FW De Klerk letter.  and K, Tambo letter, still to be found

After Fallacy came a long pause; the great national love-in, reconciliation and restart. The Real Rule theme hovered on a perimeter of my mind while the building of the new nation went swimmingly and I enjoyed Real Life, having lots of fun on TV and writing several books, mainly paid portray-me-as-you- see-me books of which at least 3½ came unstuck when the payer thought I had eyesight problems. Meantime, the Mandela honeymoon passed and the emigration rate in my world was back in the stratosphere and future-confidence was back down with the sharks’ bellybuttons.

I did a novel – Magenta, 500 pages of it, a storytale designed to push Real Rule and coming quite widely short against the view that the message and the tale were not easy stable mates.


Magenta appeared in 2008. By 2009 it was all too clearly not creating breakthrough. Back to the overused drawing board and up came Themba’s Head, Themba having been the Magenta character with the job of setting out Real Rule. Themba’s Head is short and I believe readable, and I like it. If you are thinking “there’s something in this ultra-democracy stuff, but I’m not sure what,” you can read Themba’s Head before the bath goes cold.

 Themba’s Head 

From 2010 to 2014, movement took place. It was stunning movement as far as I was concerned but unfortunately invisible anywhere else. There was scarcely a day that I did not see some added element, might be a tiny element, to what I was trying to say. I wrote more than a million words, I suspect much more that went into to mountains of drafts at the side of my desk.

It may well have been wiser to get what existed to a broader audience, for example by wondering why I was hearing nothing about those 850 copies, but for good or ill I felt I was on something like a home run stop and in 2014 up came Demogarchy.


Demogarchy is hardly longer than Themba’s Head but to my mind way more cogent. It still didn’t get out the starter’s gate, though. There’s a funny thing about a printed book. The instant the author picks it up it reads differently to the thing he/she has known so well on the screen. It may read better, it may read worse, and you may be not sure. Demogarchy, I was sure. It read better.


Exhibit 0. 8 short versions. All electronic.

Then in July 2016 Carel and Matt signed up and/or were press-ganged into becoming demogarchy’s battering ram. Thanks to them and congratulations on their far sight and the fine site it is about to lead to. Thanks also for suggesting light relief in Trekking-type articles that have nothing to do with political systems. On condition that an astute human eye sifts out what is boring, wrong wrong or old, a lifetime supply should turn up here.

Exhibit P Hundreds of “fun” articles to use as the site’s managers require

Second last word. Kindly excuse me that you go through numerous appellations before you come to the terms “demogarchy” and “Real Peoples Rule”, themselves swappable. For me developing what it takes to make politics always work, is what counts. Call it whatever you’d like.

Last word: all of this is history, I appreciate. Where right over there on the home page you are getting the September 2016 crystallisation in few and short words. You may say this padding is indulgent. I reply that experience shows the drastically new as a thing that the human instinct rejects. If you genuinely ask the question whether it’s possible to have permanently peaceful politics and generally contented people, I believe that dipping into this background stuff will help your mind and soul reach the convincing answer “Yes”.

Thanks. Have fun. I like you already, just for getting here. Denis


Mildred’s Day

Prelude I live in two nations, on the same terrain. Pavement Nation is the people I meet day-to-day. (“Sidewalk Nation”, some would call it). It is openhearted, warm, accepting and doesn't care that I come from a once oppressive minority. Instead, when my pale mouth manages a “thank you” or “have a good day” in any of the Pavement’s nine vernaculars, there are gasps and cheers as if for an Olympian feat. Then there’s Policy Nation, headlines and big names,...


PANGS: The incubation of demogarchy

In 1984 my country, South Africa, was ruled by an all-powerful Party that reckoned some people were citizens and other people were not. Formerly pretty conventional, this approach was now out of order. We were hot favourite candidate for World’s Chief Skunk. I wrote an article suggesting the way out was not hard: arrange politics so that ordinary people actually held the power that democracy supposed them to hold. That thought proceeded into (plenty of) maturing in the...