Down the ages humans have invented only two ways of running things:
Do what I say, or else!
The consent of the governed
In the first case – the dominant model for most of human history – the ruler’s authority and legitimacy come from the simple fact of force. Take Macbeth. Macbeth kills the king and becomes king. Macduff kills Macbeth and becomes king. That’s how Scotland at that point in its history is run.
Kings. Queens. Popes. Tsars. Emperors. Dictators. All of them have ruled because they ruled. Only in very rare cases has the wider populace been given any say in choosing the ruler. For two centuries Poland experimented with a strange system that allowed the massed nobility to elect the king. Thousands of Polish nobles came together to choose the next monarch, a complicated (and often violent) process. Outside powers of course sought to influence the process in their favour. Prussia, Russia and Austria eventually ended this boring jockeying for influence within Poland by simply abolishing Poland, carving up its territory between them.
The American Revolution introduced a completely different idea: Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
What? Why the governed having a say in the rules that govern them? Isn’t that a bit radical. Or even … unwise?
It’s scarcely surprising that it is taking months for the British government to take the plunge and launch the EU Treaties’ Article 50 procedure triggering the negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union. What then happens is no less uncertain. Some of the detailed haggling may take far longer than the two years laid down by Article 50. Maybe decades.
Amidst all the arguing there will be noisy jostling for position between the European Commission, the European Parliament and member state governments over who decides the final shape of the deal and its ‘tone.’ While all that drags on, a small group of leaders from the UK with the EU Bigs (Germany and France with Italy, Spain, Netherlands and Poland) will strike the strategic deal on one side of a piece of paper.
However, not all Bosnians identify themselves as either Bosniac, Serb or Croat, so another constitutional community category called ‘Others’ was invented. The constitution did not allow anyone identified as an Other to run for the Presidency in either Entity. This meant that the constitutional provisions for electing the Presidency were at odds with other constitutional provisions proscribing discrimination based on ethnicity. In other words, the BH constitution agreed at Dayton had the rare distinction of being unconstitutional.
This issue goes right to the heart of the country’s identity: who decides what that identity is, and who decides who decides? Twenty-two years after the Dayton agreement led to a generous investment in peace by the international community, the country is hopelessly bogged down in bad-tempered bickering.
Or reforming the UN Security Council:
Is the UNSC’s composition fair? No. Those rules reflect the very different world order when the UN was set up after World War II. But is it any less unfair that in the UN General Assembly India, with over one billion people, has the same voting weight as (say) Brunei with only some 400,000 people?
It’s easy enough to complain about the way decisions are taken in the UN system. What’s next to impossible is to find a formula for changing it that all (including the currently privileged five UNSC permanent members themselves) will accept.
Because here the Permanent Five decide who decides. And why should they vote their own power away?
Haha they won’t!
Who decides who decides? It’s a Hierarchy of Norms things