Help stopping climate change by focusing the power of us world citizens and our civil society actors

We need to do democracy better. And we will! 

My name is Hanno Scholtz, I am an economist, Ph.D. in political science, and Privatdozent (senior lecturer) in sociology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. And today I ask you to support starting a new concept called Civil democracy by donating to a Kickstarter campaign. But first see, what for, and why.

After decades of research and personal experience I am convinced that we will be able to stop climate change, and do much more to make the world a better place. 

But we need a change. We need institutions that allow us to focus on solving problems, instead of distracting from them. Here they are. (The new institutions.)

The concept

Democracy makes collective decisions, ranking competing options based on individuals’ interests. It needs to solve an overwhelm problem: we lack time and resources to rank options for everything that needs to be decided, and hence need to use trust in political actors who are willing to do that and represent us.

But we can be much more flexible than the ballot that forces us to mark one actor to rank options for all upcoming decisions over years!

Improving representation
Civil democracy improves representation

Civil democracy’s trust screen is the ICT-improved new form of the ballot. It allows to enter and differentiate trust in thousands of political actors, be they civil society organisations, parties, local subor­ganizations of both, individual politicians, or simply individuals having an opinion in questions they want to share.

Civil democracy’s participation screen is the ICT-improved new form of direct democracy. We do not have to boil down questions to just two options, leaving out the best options and those who are able to allow for compromise. The participation screen shows options based on trusted actors’ rankings.

Civil democracy improves participation
Civil democracy improves participation
  • You can inspect any ranking, with relating arguments, and change the position of options with drag and drop, creating own personal votes easier then in traditional direct democracy.
  • And if you do not want to bother, you are still represented. That way we are sure that less relevant questions are not decided by tiny engaged minorities but in a balanced way between them the others’ represented interests. 

Thus, Civil democracy combines the stability of representative and the legitimacy of direct democracy, while improving both.

The story behind

This concept, and the strategy to make it real, are results of a long way. 

Back in 1996, I started a political science Ph.D. thesis. 

It asked, Don’t we lose a lot of information about peoples’ thoughts and opinions if we base democratic politics just on one mark on the ballot every some years? Couldn’t we do better?

I came out with an alternative system (and the title 😀). But I did not know: Do we really need that? And if so, why exactly? After all, in Germany the one mark on the ballot had not worked well in the 1920s and 1930s with disastrous results, but later it had worked rather well in the 1950s to 1980s. What had been different? 

Luckily, I got into sociology, and into Switzerland. 

Sociology allowed me to understand why the one mark on the ballot worked well in Western societies in the 1950s to 1980s – but why it does not work that well any more in many Western societies, and why it worked not very well elsewhere, neither in most non-Western societies nor on the global level when it comes to stopping climate change.

My sociological analysis went back many centuries. Do you know about medieval cities? A thousand years ago, towns and cities worldwide had all about the same functions. But those in Western Europe where the only ones where people organized in guilds, created city councils representing these guilds, and threw out gentry. 

The council of Augsburg gets power over the city in 1367
The council of Augsburg gets power over the city in 1367

This worked because European culture allowed to organize individuals in what I call groups under roofs: non-overlapping groups under shared institutional roofs. There are other societies that derived somewhat comparable ‘groups under roofs’ traditions from completely different backgrounds, but there are few. 

But for half a century, this old model has ceased to exist even in its former heartlands. In 1968, young people in Western societies demanded to be themselves, not obedient group members and role fulfillers anymore. They did so for good reasons, but they started a process that has later been accelerated by media technologies and globalizations and ended the ability of the one vote on the ballot to create good problem solutions and sustainable legitimacy. 

Demonstrations in 1968 (here in Berlin, some 300m from where I grew up; photo: Ludwig Binder)
Demonstrations in 1968 (here in Berlin, some 300m from where I grew up; photo: Ludwig Binder)

Just Switzerland, the country I came to in 2001, is different. Not at all perfect, but stable, and working well. It allows for split votes, thereby giving incentives for compromise orientation among politicians. And it applies direct democracy: Everyone is able to step into responsibilty, and even though that not everyone is able to fully understand every decision detail, everyone is needed to get into the responsibility mindet. 

Civil democracy applies these two learnings: 

  •  We have to be flexible in whom we entrust with representing us, being aware that there are many political actors out there that have good and compelling arguments. 
  • And we have to take responsibility, be it by investing the time to participate, or by accepting to be represented. 

The big WHY

For twenty years now, each day I open the newspaper I see aspects of the crisis of the understanding of democracy as the one mark on the ballot. But this crisis can end. 

  •  Civil democracy suits modern societies with their media, globalization and individualization, where conventional democracy with the one mark on the ballot has led to many crises – see the United States, Italy, or Great Britain, and other examples.
  •  Civil democracy avoids Eurocentrism as inherent of conventional democracy: organizing people into non-overlapping groups under common institutional roofs is specific to the (Western) European tradition (plus Japan and partly India). The same structural problems with conventional democracy that Western societies have only recently developed have always existed in most societies of the global South.
  •  Civil democracy allows for legitimate global decision-making because there are globally active civil society actors with far greater coherence than supranational parties is and a global public sphere is possible.

All these relations are explained in detail in my book Reclaim Responsibility with Civil democracy: How to empower ourselves to save the climate, stengthen democracy, and end violence, that will be launched within this project. 

The three main (out of five) books that prepare Civil democracy: Ph.D. dissertation, sociological thesis, and the current Reclaim Responsibility book
The three main (out of five) books that prepare Civil democracy: Ph.D. dissertation, sociological thesis, and the current Reclaim Responsibility book

The insight that traditional democracy demands an old-European group society leads to understanding that (at least large parts of) all crises we currently face are a result of this misfit. Hence, Civil democracy is the only basis for

  • a timely solution to global problems, including stopping climate change,
  • a pending fourth wave of democracy, and
  • an end to the ongoing crisis of Western democracies.

The power of this idea is what made me personally accept not to have a traditional career (Privatdozent is a fancy title, but I am practically unemployed), and get all money I could from selling an inherited real estate and borrowing from my life insurance, to build this platform and show that we can do better. Of an investment sum of about 46.000€, I could afford 40k. Now for the last meters (or 13%), I need your help to buy my new book and the other perks to give Civil democracy the chance it deserves. 

The strategy

I have discussed Civil democracy with many people. Many of them answered: “This is utopian. Politicians will never give up their power.” 

I disagree. In the 1990s, I worked in one large German party, and met both there and in other parties many even high-ranking politicians that impressed me as honestly aiming for what they saw as better for their country. Of course, narrow minds and narcissists exist, and the number of narcissists increases a bit on the way from bottom to top. But very few have the dumbness to accept destroying institutions for power. And there are mechanisms that allow for the peaceful implementation of Civil democracy. 

As the necessary first step, we need to show that Civil democracy works, and that it works better than what we see right now. 

From that on, implementation can start. I compare the recent crisis with that of Europe’s early 20th century: Both become visible with successful terror attacks in 1914 and 2001. After that, the first lasted for 35 years, what would now mean until 2036. Our present 2022 relates to 1935, when men like F. D. Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Popper (and, lesser known, women like Joan Robinson) outlined the contours of the new. The crisis is far from being over, but now is the time to innovate. 

Yet another obstacle: No one wants to be the guinea pig. In 2017 and 2018, I had a number of high-ranking talks that all ended with our conversation partners interestedly asking “Sounds great. Where is your showcase?” We had to respond “Ahem. You would be the showcase”, and the conversation was over. “Thanks, and come back if you have a showcase!” 

But it is not possible to build a nice university prototype. First because Civil democracy defies scholarly categories, what blocked access to funding or resourceful positions: Social scientists study what is and not what could be, and engineers (who infected me with their mindset in one engineering year early in my studies) love solving problems, but are not eager of complex social (even historical) dynamics. 

And second because Civil democracy involves a change of mindset: We all know that parties and politicians are no longer able to fulfill their responsibility. But someone has to. There is no other candidate apart from us and our civil society. But this is a change in self-concept, and not (or only with an effort unavailable due to lacking resources) done in experiment. 

Then came fall 2018, Greta Thunberg sitting in front of the Swedish parliament, and everyone becoming aware that the one case where even those who are in charge are not happy with the current situation is the case of climate negotiations. 

Climate rally, 2019 (photo: Robin Erino)
Climate rally, 2019 (photo: Robin Erino)

Therefore, our first application will be to coordinate efforts to press for more resolute climate policies at the upcoming climate conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh. In the last 20 years, all climate conferences have seen representatives of civil society organizations. But they always lacked a democratic mandate. That hugely inhibited their power. On one hand directly, as noone could exactly say how many world citizens backed their position. But even more so since they lacked efficient mechanisms to decide on common positions. Such an efficient mechanism to define common positions as the responsible will of world citizens is provided by Civil democracy. 

The plan

The project’s designer Dinesh Subramaniam and the programming team in Toronto and Islamabad have already started to work on creating a Civil democracy platform website. When this Kickstarter project succeeds (or we are able to get the remaining needed sum otherwise funded), the Civil democracy platform will launch on either Sep 29 or Oct 6, 2022.

It is clear that we will be far from covering world population as a whole up to the next climate conference. The COP27 will take place from Nov 7 to 18, this year, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Even with the most viral spread, over only four or five weeks we can be happy to represent some tens of thousands, in the best of worlds maybe hundreds of thousands of world citizens, just a tiny fraction of world population as a whole, and maybe some thousands of civil society actors. That is far from having a complete picture of world society. 

But it will be enough to show the potential, and to show that something very important has changed. It will be enough to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel of crisis, irresponsibilty, blaming others (or politicians), and rampant authoritarianism.

From this first showcase, we will go ahead. We will broaden the base of representing world citizens and global civil society. And we will find other application cases where Civil democracy can demonstrate its potential to lead to better decisions, stronger social integration, and more consensus and legitimacy. 

The social movement for Civil democracy starts in September, 2022, with these steps:

1. We launch the Civil democratic networking platform of civil society organizations and their suppporters.

2. We create policy proposals, elect representatives and demonstrate how Civil democracy creates consensus, unity, innovation, problem solutions, and legitimacy.

3. We exert pressure on traditional decision-making processes, towards institutional integration.

Much more is to be found in my upcoming book Reclaim Responsibility with Civil democracy: How to empower ourselves to save the climate, stengthen democracy, and end violence, that is part of the perks of the project. 

The promise

In the long run, this project belongs to you. Civil democracy is so important that it cannot be steered under the maxims of profit maximization. Sometimes on weekends, I walk from my home to the former home of Gottlieb Duttweiler who in the 1920s founded the largest Swiss retail business and later gave it to its customers as a cooperative. I will do the same. Currently, Civil democracy is set up as a individual proprietorship. But we will set up a foundation under Swiss law as soon as possible and define a clear plan for transferring control from me personally to the voters and civil society organizations who use it. As the general strategy, this is a long run project. But the course is clear.

Further steps

We have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to support this project. (I already spent the 40k I could achieve, but about 15 percent of the initial demand are still missing.) If we reach more than the initial goal of 6.000€, these are the plans ahead:

  • If we reach a total of 11.000€ and more, we will be able to have high-quality offset printing for the book.
  • If we reach 22.000€ and more, we will get a native app additional to the responsive web platform that is currently coded. 
  • If we reach 33.000€ and more, we will set up a foundation under Swiss law to secure the long run functioning of Civil democracy. 
  • If we reach 44.000€ and more, we will be able to send an own delegation to Sharm El Sheikh, with a smoothly working organization in the background and independent of the civil society organizations that are already there.
  • If we reach 66.000€ or more, we will include the full SaaS functionality that allows you to use Civil democracy in your community or town, without the manual administration from our side that limits the current “Civil democracy in your organization” perk. (But give us some more time for this.)

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