Consensus has a long and varied history.
Consensus is not a new idea, but has been tested and proven around the world. Non-hierarchical societies have existed on the American continent for hundreds of years. Before 1600, five nations – the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca – formed the Haudenosaunee Confederation, which worked on a consensual basis and is still in existence today. Each nation within the confederacy selects individuals to represent them at confederacy meetings. Issues are discussed until all are in agreement on a common course of action. Never would the majority force their will upon the minority. Similarly no one could force a warrior to go to war against their better judgement.
A second example of consensus-based organization is the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The Muscogee have the oldest political institutions in North America, with a recorded history going back beyond 400 years. If consensus on a major issue could not be achieved to everyones satisfaction, people were free to move and set up their own community with the support – not the enmity – of the town they were leaving. This is in stark contrast to political organization today, where the states need to control its citizens makes it virtually impossible for individuals disagreeing with general policy to just go and do their own thing.
Consensus cannot only be found in the indigenous societies around the world but also throughout European history. Many medieval institutions, such as guilds, town councils, the influential Hanseatic League and the governing bodies of countries (German and Polish Imperial Courts) required unity. Within the co- operative movement many housing co-ops and businesses are using consensus successfully, including making difficult financial and management decisions.
Many activists working for peace, the environment, and social justice regard consensus as essential to their work. They believe that the methods for achieving change need to match their goals and visions of a free, non-violent, egalitarian society. Consensus is also a way of building community, trust, a sense of security and mutual support – important in times of stress and emergency.