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Saturday, 2 October 2010

15. Hundred Democracy

Not all democratic principles come from the ancient Greeks or from the philosophers of the enlightenment.  Some ideas can be found in the day to day experience of history.

Author: Thomas Moule
One example of such an idea is that of the hundreds.  In a British context the hundreds were political units of roughly one hundred households that came together under the supervision of a hundred 'man' or 'elder' in a recognised place, such as a hill or other local landmark.  Their purpose was to settle questions of administration, law and military organisation.  Originally established by the Saxons, hundreds operated for over a thousand years in Britain in some form or other right up until the nineteenth century.

Here is a description of how they worked in their Anglo Saxon heyday from Aurea Mediocritas:

...households were sub-divided into groups of ten (a tithe) who then selected a representative to attend a “hundred-moot”, where they would meet up every four weeks with the representatives of the other tithes and the king’s financial officers to settle matters of taxation, law and order and legal disputes within the hundred. The representative of the king could offer advice but the decisions were made by the local people.
So how might this apply today?

Well modern style hundred local democracy would replace our current elected representative system and work like this:

  • A mayor would need to be elected for each city, town and other administrative areas (shires)
  • The mayor would be responsibly for allocating every household to a tithe and every tithe to a hundred within the shire
  • Tithes would have the opportunity to select (however they wished) a representative to the hundred and the hundred would also select an elder
  • Most meetings would be small enough to take place in pubs, cafes or homes
  • Shire councils including all of the hundred elders and representatives of national government would decide all matters of policy as needed for the local area

This system is one based on a delegate rather than a Burkean notion of representation - one that has been criticised recently by some.  It also allows flexibility for selection processes in tithes and shires - as long as only one person is selected local custom and practice can apply.  Thus the potential bureaucratic burden of administration and regulation is reduced.

Doubtless there will be problems in the system such as disputed and inactive tithes and hundreds and it will be for the Mayor to address these issues and to be accountable for doing so.

Despite potential difficulties this form of local democracy might nevertheless feel more natural to run that current arrangements - after all it does have a thousand year history.

Update:  Thanks to @cataspanglish for pointing out the Catalan version.


Anonymous said...

Dave - I've always been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon local democracy (maybe I should rephrase that - reading it back makes me sound like some kind of spod). But the model of distributed, highly local decision-making that was adopted in Saxon times to cope with an England that was barely a country, that was difficult to navigate and which was beset by war could well, surprisingly, provide a model for a truly localist system today.

Even the Danelaw had a similar system. In fact the district of Bassetlaw takes it name from an old Danish hundred that operated in that part of the country in the ninth century (I think).

Dave Mckenna said...

Wow - Bassetlaw is essentially anglosaxon local government - how cool is that :-)(here is the proof http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassetlaw_(wapentake))

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