Note: The following is an excerpt from my paper, “Are the American people rejecting democracy at the local level?”
HOA-Land — the failure to democratize
Will the acceptance of authoritarian private local governments in the US result in a weakening of democracy in America, and destroy “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?
“Democratization” describes the processes underlying “the emergence, the deepening, and survival of democracy” in a society. Democratization is also concerned with the forces that affect the sustainability of a democracy. And that’s the issue before us: Has the First American Experiment with representative democracy succumbed to the “emergence and acceptance of a quiet innovation in housing,” the Second American Experiment? This New America of HOA-Land?[i]
In his “Theories of Democratization”,[ii] Christian Welzel presents a case well applicable to HOA societies. Welzel believes that, “Democratization is sustainable to the extent to which it advances in response to pressures from within a society.” It appears that HOA-Land dwellers feel no need to pressure for change, just like Mayer discovered with his interviews after WW II.
People power is institutionalized through civic freedoms that entitle people to govern their lives, allowing them to follow their personal preferences in governing their private lives and to make their political preferences count in governing public life.
Since democracy is about people power, it originates in conditions that place resources of power in the hands of wider parts of the populace, such that authorities cannot access these resources without making concessions to their beholders. But when rulers gain access to a source of revenue they can bring under their control without anyone’s consent, they have the means to finance tools of coercion.
The above amply defines the dynamics of political machines and power cliques that operate, more or less, within all HOAs from benevolent dictatorships to rogue boards. And with respect to voting as the sole indicator of a democracy, it is well known that HOAs are woefully deficient in fair and just elections, with no “fair elections” laws in effect. Welzel goes on to say,
Many new democracies have successfully installed competitive electoral regimes but their elites are corrupt and lack a commitment to the rule of law that is needed to enforce the civic freedoms that define democracy. These deficiencies render democracy ineffective. The installation of electoral democracy can be triggered by external forces and incentives. But whether electoral democracy becomes effective in respecting and protecting people’s civic freedoms depends on domestic factors. Democracies have become effective only where the masses put the elites under pressure to respect their freedoms.
Once again we are told that there’s a need for pressure from within, from those living in HOAs, to uphold their Constitutional protections. Even if state governments decide to enforce constitutional protections and the equal application of state laws, it remains with the HOA-Land residents to defend our system of government. Welzel reaffirms this essential requirement, “It is only when people come to find appeal in the freedoms that define democracy that they begin to consider dictatorial powers as illegitimate.”
Welzel offers a path to victory to stop this erosion of democracy within America that is highly applicable to the social movement for HOA reforms.
As social movement research has shown, powerful mass movements do not simply emerge from growing resources among the population. Social movements must be inspired by a common cause that motivates their supporters to take costly and risky actions. This requires ideological ‘frames’ that create meaning and grant legitimacy to a common cause so that people follow it with inner conviction.
This is why values are important. To advance democracy, people have not only to be capable to struggle for its advancement; they also have to be willing to do so. And for this to happen, they must value the freedoms that define democracy. This is not always a given, and is subject to changes in the process of value transformation.
And what about our elected officials?
However, although Welzel writes that “elites [those in power, the cliques] concede democracy even in the absence of mass pressures”, it is only “when these elites depend on the will of external powers and when these powers are pushing for democracy.” But, with respect to HOA regimes, Americans cannot accept this state of affairs by state legislatures, especially not with respect to these fundamental issues of democratic governance — the very soul of this country. The absence of legislative support, sua sponte (on their own), for HOA reforms throughout the country is inexcusable!
[ii] “Theories of Democratization”, Christian Welzel, Democratization, Christian W. Haerpfer, ed. (Oxford University Press USA 2009).