Some notes on emergent democracy

I’m working on an emergent democracy book outline with Jon Lebkowsky. Here are some notes on the introductory chapter about the meaning of, and criteria for, democracy. Any thoughts are welcome — please comment!

key points for e-demo discussion:

  • Access
  • Education
  • Goals (e.g., “What is the good?”)
  • Tools

Describe the features of tools in terms of their “democratic character.”

David Held, Models of Democracy, Second Edition:

  • Who are considered “the people”?
  • What kind of participation is envisaged for them?
  • What conditions are assumed to be conducive to participation?
  • Can the disincentives and incentives, or costs and benefits, of participation be equal?

  • How broadly or narrowly is the scope of rule to be construed? Or, what is the appropriate field of democratic activity?

  • If ‘rule’ is to cover ‘the political’ what is meant by this? Does it cover: (a) law and order? (b) relations between states? (c) the economy? (d) the domestic or private sphere?

  • Must the rule of the people be obeyed? What is the place of obligation and dissent?

  • What roles are permitted for those are are avowedly and actively ‘non-participants’?
  • What what circumstances, if any, are democracies entitled to resort to coercion against some of their own people or against those outside the sphere of legitimate rule?

The idea is a balance of representative efficiency, which frees people from day-to-day governing so that society can develop many competencies, and total accountability.

Greeks governors were paid to ensure there was no cost associated with participating in the democratic life of the state.

Held points to the fact that “free citizen” meant something new when compared to slaves, on whose back Athenian prosperity was created.

Democratic activity, like “new work” in Jane Jacobs’ “The Economy of Cities,” can be additive or conservative. Adding new work based on the recognition of complexity that can be resolved by specialized work is counter-emergent if the recognition of complexity comes only from the top, down. A working democracy pushes new policy upward, from many local solutions, to provide standards of conduct, but not a single solution.

There are many issues and many majorities in a plural society. It is a mistake to think of a monolithic majority in a democracy. If there is one, it is an oligarchy, timocracy, etc.

Is the point of constitution to ensure the best rule or that the worst cannot? The balance lies in education, as an uninformed people can only hope to keep the scoundrels out of office.

Temporary factions, rather than permanent parties, is a sign of a healthy pluralistic political environment.

Arguments about money in politics is not simply a matter of decrying the potential control exerted by the wealthy and corporations, it is a convenient rhetoric for the wealthy, who can claim that, having succeeded beyond the norm they “cannot be bought,” when in fact they’ve already been sold.

Amartya Sen, Development As Freedom, p. 81: “The real issue is whether we can use some criteria that would have greater public support, for evaluative purposes, than the crude indicators often recommended on allegedly technical grounds, such as real-income measures. This is central for the evaluative basis of public policy.” In other words, the point of establishing public policy is not to achieve perfect scientific objectivity, rather it is to find the goals society as a whole can share and support, in which individual citizens of all types and origins can feel they should rightfully invest in together.

Sen talks about social policy debates being inherently messy. Jane Jacobs, in The Economy of Cities, talks about the inefficiency that makes cities hotbeds of innovation — there is a lot of overlapping effort that results in the discovery of new solutions. It isn’t clean and scientific.

Democracy, even if it is highly dependent on tools, will always be best when it is messy.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

2 thoughts on “Some notes on emergent democracy”

  1. That’s the rub,I think. We live in a society where there’s emphasis on leaders suggesting always that there are clear definable answers that will “fix the problem/issue”.

    Even while they are double-speaking about the evolution of a great and free society, the announcements of the next new policy or initiative pander to the desire to not have to engage with the real messiness of an active democracy.

    Nor are citizens encouraged to engage in this in a real way – rather they are encouraged to consume more and not think critically about the path the plutocrats are building.

    Thank goodness for the ‘Net, and for blogging and other forms of still relatively open and uncensored communications.

    What would the acceptance that social policy debate is inherently messy actually look like in the US ?

  2. Emergent democracy notes

    Mitch Ratcliffe is working with Jon Lebkowski on an Emergent Democracy book project for O’Reailly: RatcliffeBlog — Mitch’s Open Notebook: Some notes on emergent democracy…

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