Debates on Democracy and Political Community: representation, participation and intermediation

Notes from the seminar for the Summer School 2012 of the School of Social and Urban Politics, Government and Public Policy Institute, Barcelona, 3 July 2012.

These are the random notes I took during the #2 Debate on Democracy and Political Community: representation, participation and intermediation, chaired by Fernando Pindado. It started with Quim Brugué, from whom I took many and interesting notes, and then it was my turn to present — you will only find my slides, which, on the other hand, are quite self-explanatory. At the end a very rich debate took place, and I only took some general ideas as I concentrated fully on it.

Between representation and participation: social and political intermediations
Quim Brugué (IGOP)

In politics, there usually is an intermediary, a third party that mediates in negotiations, in conflicts. The commons can be thus seen as a “new” way to get rid of intermediaries, and let the public thing to be ruled in an alternative way. But, is this possible? Can we get rid of mediators?

Ben Said, in Elogio de la política profana, says: if politics is the art of mediation, what is left when we have no politics? If we have no politics, we do have to come up with another way of organising democracies. But participation will not just suffice.

Without intermediaries, micro- and local experiences might work perfectly, but is that scalable to the macro level?

What has the past taught us?

Democracy is the exception. Democracy has only been the norm during a few hundred of years: in the Vth century b.C. during the classical democracy in Ancient Greece, and in the last 200 years of the modern democracy since the Constitution of Philadelphia in 1787. The former one is a democracy without intermediators, and the latter a democracy full of intermediators.

Democracy in Athens was fully against representation: no one was elected to represent anyone as this was non-democratic. Only powerful people could ask to be elected as a representative, thus there was a bias towards power. Representatives were merely executive powers that did what the assembly commanded, and were usually chosen by random methods.

There were no political parties, and there was no interpretation of facts or ideological positioning. Democracy was totally direct and opinion shaping happened during assemblies that used to deliberate for hours. They had slaves that worked for them, which made it easier to participate in politics: only citizens could participate. The citizen acted not on selfishness, but thinking on the common benefit. Aristotle said that a citizen was someone that knew how to rule and how to be ruled upon.

Greek democracy was a strong democracy: it believed that there was a better future if people worked together and had common goals or projects.

Modern or liberal democracies, on the contrary, is a highly intermediated democracy. It is based on a strong non-confidence on one’s peers to rule and be ruled. Liberal democracies are built to protect property and the mass is seen with fear and little capable to deal with public issues. The US Constitution builds a dense mesh of intermediators to separate people from power. Citizens can just glance up power in a blurry image.

The concept of citizenship in liberal democracies is a very individualistic one: people look for themselves and not for the common good, the citizen is absolutely selfish, whenever we become dreamers in common, we are becoming the dictators’ of the others’ dreams. The citizen is more a customer of the State rather than a citizen that takes part of it.

Greek democracy ended up as total failure. Assemblies were crowded out by specialists (demagogues, sophists) that mastered the art of dialogue. But they had not any responsibility on what was decided in the Assembly. Thus, dialogue was killed (and Socrates too…), and worst decisions were taken.

And liberal democracies are increasingly being seen as a total failure too. It is becoming unacceptable for the citizen to be totally alienated from power and decision-making.

Conclusions?

We need intermediation, but we need to bring power closer to the citizen. There is a need for politics. But politics must keep a certain distance from the citizen too, to avoid populism, to try and be objective, to be able to provide answers.

Intermediation is also about deception: neither for you nor for me. It is about finding a middle point. And politics also needs authority, enforcement.

We need politics. But, surely, we also need another kind of politics. One that is strongly based in confidence, and confidence that goes both ways: from the State/politician to the citizen and from the citizen to the representative.

And if the citizenry does want to move towards a more direct democracy (like in Athens) is it absolutely necessary that it has to abandon the position of being a customer, and act more like a citizen, an engaged one that participates eagerly in politics.

Do we need political intermediaries in a Network Society?
Ismael Peña-López (UOC)

[click here to enlarge]

Discussion

Q: what networks? physical vs. “real” –> the example of stay at home mums, crafting communities, rare diseases, etc. which work online and offline.

Guillermo: what about the commons? –> the processes as part of the common wealth

Óscar Rebollo: less knowledge and more interests –> informed voting.

Óscar Rebollo: engagement vs. slacktivism? –> explicitation of interests, aggregation of interests

Óscar Rebollo: technology is not neutral. Are there hidden interests behind technology?Who controls the technology? What is the price for using that much technology?

Q: do we need a new concept of citizen? –> put more responsibility in the citizen; and we do need a new concept of polititian, from maximizing votes to maximizing wellbeing.

Brugué: we are self-satistied of our own digital experiences, while the world keeps getting worse and we remain indifferent to how rulers perform poorly.

Brugué: there is huge intermediation, and it’s called the Network: it is less transparent, less controlled, less engaging into reflection.

Ana: Pedro Ibarra speaks about democracia relacional, to create spaces of contact, of meeting, so that improbable people meet in improbable places and achieve agreement.

Ismael Peña-López: we have to take the habits of:

  • Being digital.
  • Being a citizen, and that an expert can be found anywhere.
  • Being a politician (and a citizen and digital). To “infect” institutions, to turn politicians into “indignants”.

Downloads

logo of Prezi presentation
Prezi slides:
Peña-López, I. (2012). Do we need political intermediaries in a Network Society?. Seminar for the Summer School 2012 of the School of Social and Urban Politics, Government and Public Policy Institute, 3 July 2012.
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Prezi slides:
Peña-López, I. (2012). Do we need political intermediaries in a Network Society?. Seminar for the Summer School 2012 of the School of Social and Urban Politics, Government and Public Policy Institute, 3 July 2012.
logo of Prezi presentation
Presentació Prezi:
Peña-López, I. (2012). Calen els intermediadors polítics en una societat xarxa?. Seminari per l’Escola d’Estiu 2012 a l’Escola de Polítiques Socials i Urbanes, Institut de Govern i Polítiques Públiques, 3 de juliol de 2012.
logo of PDF file
Presentació Prezi:
Peña-López, I. (2012). Calen els intermediadors polítics en una societat xarxa?. Seminari per l’Escola d’Estiu 2012 a l’Escola de Polítiques Socials i Urbanes, Institut de Govern i Polítiques Públiques, 3 de juliol de 2012.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2012) “Debates on Democracy and Political Community: representation, participation and intermediation” In ICTlogy, #106, July 2012. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=3965

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