Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Democracy in the Internet Age

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 11, 2008

Originally posted on Half an Hour, April 11, 2008.

The structure of democracy as we know it today has evolved from prior forms of government, and in particular, monarchy and autocracy. As a consequence, democracy, as we know it today, is about government. It is about selecting leaders, it is about the divisions of their powers, and it is about establishing order in society.

This is not surprising, for a major motivation of the governed in that era was the establishment of peace and good order. As Hobbes wrote, without government, the lives of the vast lot of men would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Even those of a more liberal bent saw government as a contract among the governed to establish order and limit the rights of the sovereign. It is about imposition, which is why for Rawls the primary principle of government had to be fairness.

The challenge before us in the age of electronic communications will be to live without government. By this I most resolutely do not mean anarchy, nor do I mean the form of governance most recently described as 'libertarian', for these are simply mock-ups that enable those with the greatest wealth or the greatest force to rule. It is not, and should never be, the right of someone to simply impose a regime, or to simply take a person's life, liberty, or possessions.

The form of government that we ought to aspire toward is a form that maximizes each person's capacity to enjoy the most of their lives and liberties, to practice their art or creativity to the greatest of their abilities, and to partake in commerce and association with others in exchanges of mutual value. Such is a form of government where the forms of coercion are at their least, where conditions of want are forms of social ill to be alleviated, and where people live in quiet enjoyment of their lives.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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