A keen observer of the spirit of our age and the way in which political processes are moving beneath the surface cannot doubt that representative democracy as practiced in the West will be replaced by a modern form of direct democracy.
The demonstrations going on now in Greece, Spain and many other places merely show the start of this process.
Writers often have a sense of what may happen before the event, and the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano who attended recent demonstration of “Indignants” in Barcelona and Madrid proclaimed that this world is pregnant with another, different world, a world however which will demand much work, particularly from the young.
You can see a video of him here: Eduardo Galeano Video
A recent interview between philosopher Stefan Molyneux and trends-forecaster Gerald Celente also highlighted the coming introduction of real democracy now:
The only questions which remain are when such a direct democracy will replace representative democracy, which country will be the first to implement it and what will it look like once it is in place.
No-one really knows the answer to any of these questions, but bearing in mind the enormous changes that such a shift will bring with it then an attempt at giving these answers is essential.
Only a profound crisis can precipitate such a change, and there can be no doubt that the world is approaching such a crisis in particular in the most developed nations, such as the peripheral countries of Europe and the United States.
This current crisis is one where citizens are questioning the competence of their leaders and indeed the validity of the system of choosing a government every few years. The financial crises of the US dollar and Euro in particular, show clearly how corporate and banking interests have taken control of democratically-elected governments and make national sovereignty virtually meaningless. Indeed, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said recently that it is inevitable that Greece will lose some of their sovereignty.
Observing the speed with which these crises are developing, I would think that the beginnings of real direct democracy will be visible, and installed in a western nation before the end of 2012.
Spain and Greece are currently the leading contenders for holding the honour of being the first countries to implement real direct democracy, although with such major historical events once can never be sure. We can recall that Marx and Engels were convinced that England would be the first country to adopt communism – and not such a backward and underdeveloped country such as Russia was in 1917.
Seeing that the demonstrators have often more of an international rather than a national identity - will we see the first stirrings of a new European Union being governed by real direct democracy?
Will this eventually lead to a global movement towards direct democracy? – Stranger things have happened.
How will a modern real direct democracy function?
Well, no-one really knows, but ancient Athenian democracy of 2,500 years ago may give us a clue.
The key element of Athenian direct democracy was that of personal responsibility – something which is systemically lacking in representative democracies. Every male adult citizen (excluding foreigners and slaves) was able to take part in the political process, and to put forward ideas or suggestions to be carried out. If a suggestion was implemented and later shown to be wrong or damaging – then the initiator had to face the judgment of the courts – which was swift – normally a day or so.
Political power was vested in the Assembly (Ekklesia) which met regularly in the open, and citizens attended by right when they chose, although it was a considered a duty to do so.
In addition there was a Council – which carried out the will of the Assembly, and the courts – which dealt with a legal system based on full citizen’s rights.
A modern version could therefore replicate the Assemby in an online forum-like system with the ability of participants to propose measures or projects and with an immediate voting-system included. Access to the system could also be by mobile-phone for those without computers.
All power will reside in the Assembly, while sub-groups will spontaneously arise which will concern themselves with the implementation of the decisions made by the Assembly. These groups will however need to be flexible, arising and disappearing as the need arises and they will be open to anyone who wishes to take part. The work of the groups will be completely transparent, because these groups with their information and results will always need to return to the online system.
The online system will always be the “state memory” and will act as a form of openness, transparency and thus accountability.
There is also a crucial final element to the functioning of a direct democracy – and that is a new type of financial system – which is just as well because the world is currently witnessing not only the death of representative democracy but at the same time the death of the financial system as it is presently construed.
The next blog entry will detail possible models of financial systems which would fit together with direct democracy.