We have a Board?
This isn’t satisfactory. Where did the Board come from? Were they delivered on lotus leaves by the angels?
It matters how a government is chosen, as well as how it goes once it has met. I never doubted that our Board was distinguished by patient mutual listening. I never doubted that the meetings were intelligent, compassionate, liberal and full of mutual empathy. Yet so long as we live in the lotus-leaf phase of government, almost everybody is powerless and disenfranchised.
Here is the famous passage by John Dalberg Acton:
I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
The presumption must always be against the holders of power. This means (amongst other things) that a Board which is delivered on lotus leaves by angels with golden wings must be presumed to be unsafe. If board-government is to be the way (and even the Quakers have Meeting for Sufferings), we need a way to choose a Board that lets people have a significant voice.
For a longer discussion by Acton, you might go to:
Elections are better than oligarchy; and it seems to me that Quaker process is better than either. One might imagine that Quaker process is slow. And yet, how often the Quakers have been ready to act years or even generations before the ambient culture.
On democracy, on the place of women, on freedom of speech, on peace, on regulation of prices, on reform of process in the courts, on good practice in banking, on the abolition of slavery, on prison reform, on individual freedom to initiate innovative projects, and on many other issues, the slow Quaker consensual process has run far ahead of the crowd.
The usual kind of Board is a side-growth from an entrepreneurial business culture. It tends to be power-driven, money-driven, status-driven, oligarchic, anti-democratic and static.
Roughly speaking, the usual Board uses elections to get a mandate for an influential few; brings money under the control of those few; gives those few central prominence within the organisation; enables them to use that prominence to establish themselves as people of status in contexts outside the organisation; enables them to make money out of that status; gathers power into a few hands; enables them to control the democratic process; and is governed (as all closed systems tend to be) by a drift towards static self-preservation and the personal interest of the Board members.
There are outstanding Boards, but the structure is inherently a bad one. We can do better.
I would like our community to build a way of working that is broadly Quaker in inspiration; because a historical analysis strongly suggests that consensual working is effective, innovative, diverse and egalitarian; and because these are qualities that I value.
This kind of working needs good constitutional arrangements. It also needs understanding, so that an ethos can grow up. The development of the ethos is the tricky part.