Blocking Progress
Consensus Decision Making In The Anti-Nuclear Movement

Ryan, Howard
Publisher:  The Overthrow Cluster of the Livermore Action Group, Berkeley, USA
Year Published:  1983
Pages:  16pp   Price:  $1.25     Dewey:  323.40973
Resource Type:  Pamphlet
Cx Number:  CX6187

Howard Ryan maintains that consensus is wrong in principle and in practice: "The problem is not so much that individuals are being irresponsible or somehow abusing the consensus process. The problem lies in giving individuals that kind of power in the first place. Consensus turns majority rule into minority rule. That's not democracy."

According to Ryan, "voting and consensus can both involve forms of coercion, i.e. forcing one party to accept the decision of another. The difference is that with voting the will of the majority holds sway, while under consensus an individual or minority wields the power through exercise of the block or veto. Consensus proponents have ignored how preventing people from doing as they wish can be no less coercive than forcing them to do as they do not wish. Also, there are often limited options available so that, when a person blocks, if the larger group wants to do anything at all it is forced to go the way of the blocker. It's worth noting that the block need not actually take place for this coercion to happen. People working together over time get to know where others in the organization stand and who is prepared to hold resolutely against certain types of decisions. In consensus groups, people frequently make concessions or agree to things they are not really comfortable with but realize the decision would otherwise be blocked and the group immobilized... There is a whole undercurrent of power plays and manipulations using consensus. Similar things go on with voting but there isn't that strong drive to cover up disagreement with a superficial unity. Nor does voting give individuals or small minorities the right to force their will on the larger group. Far from alleviatiating abuses of power or encouraging equality, consensus allows individuals to abuse power to no end."

See also: One Vote for Democracy

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