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Civil democracy brochure
Civil democracy brochure

How climate change, migration and populism relate to Christianity — and what we can do.

It seems that we are currently in a vicious circle: migration is driven by climate change, among other things, but it also feeds populism. This in turn makes it even more difficult to take action against climate change.

Climate change, migration, and populism as linked problems
Climate change, migration, and populism as linked problems

How do we get out of this vicious circle?

But “How do we get out?” is a phrase aiming for action. And in order to be able to act, one must engage in cause-and-effect relationships and, in order not to overburden oneself with them, select some from the large number of such causal relations: You have to think in terms of models.

This text presents such a model. We see Europe characterized by a social structure that organised people into groups. It has been very successful, but it undermines the foundations of its own success and challenges us to rethink.

  • In the first part we describe the model of why Europe has just emerged this way and how enormously successful it was.
  • Secondly, why are the foundations of this success no longer given today? What problems follow?
  • The third part describes the resulting concept of Civil Democracy.
  • Finally, what needs to be taken into account when implementing these measures? What can we do today?

The model

Civil Democracy is based on the thesis that we can learn a lot about European history if we imagine European society in a “groups under roofs” model.
People are organised in groups, each person is a member of exactly one group, but the groups accept higher institutions.

European vs unspecific network structure
European vs unspecific network structure

Here, exemplary network structures are shown, the left one in such a “Groups under roofs” structure and the right one in a general structure formed by chance and geography.

Both are equal in number of dots representing individuals and dashes representing relationships between individuals. But the structure is different.
The second, right one is much more efficient, because individuals are connected with each other by shorter bridges on average, information can flow much faster in this sense.

But the left structure is easier to grasp, and it also has advantages when it comes to making joint decisions – because in this case the two groups can simply determine representatives, and they can find a decision more easily than if the whole group has to be included in the second model.

How did this structure arise?

To understand that, it‘s helpful, to go back in history, until the Constantinian turn – or even to the beginning in the history of mankind.

Overview graph history
Overview graph history

The first almost 300,000 years since the beginnings of man were marked by freedom and shared responsibility in hunter-gatherer societies; it was only about 10,000 years ago that agriculture began and soon with it domination, but then also civilisation and scripture.

Karl Jaspers coined the concept of ‘axial age‘ for the period that begins about 3000 years ago and attempts to process this first wave of media availability in various models of institutions. Jaspers thought it had ended 200 B.C., but in general institutionalist terms it is only concluded with the emergence of Islam.

An attempt of this time is the Roman Empire, which exists in two different versions for about 1000 years, but in the end proves to be unsustainable. And when the Roman Empire collapses, it leaves the Roman roads uniting Europe.

With them it leaves behind a continent which, in contrast to China, is still far too harsh to be permanently under central military control, but which is now communicatively connected and needs an institutional system, to secure that many small principalities with their hierarchies can exist more or less peacefully side by side.

This system is provided by Christianity.

It offers with the separation of church and state two institution systems existing next to each other. One of them dominates the all-embracing, i.e. “Catholic” written communication. The other has the regionally limited sphere of political power for itself.

Both benefit from defining individuals by emphasizing faith in their respective loyalties – in other words, getting them to fit into groups under roofs.
This had a number of impressive consequences.

The success of the European model

City autonomy and city freedom

Some centuries after the spread of Christianity, people in European cities developed the ability to unite in their neighbourhoods or as craftsmen in guilds and to achieve self-government and urban freedom together in a negotiation process. Although the economic structure of European cities was about the same as in Islamic or Chinese cities, the cultural “groups under roofs” imprint allowed an autonomy and freedom that was unique in the world.

The European ascent

The structure of Europe in autonomous groups created competition for innovation.

  • Territorial sovereigns, for example, found it worthwhile in competition to grant resourceful thinkers spiritual freedoms, thus laying the foundation for modern science.
  • And in the beginning overseas trade, Europeans were ahead of the pack because in the “groups under roofs” culture they could establish companies that were not tied to individuals or families and brought together the most committed individuals in the long term and could thus, for example, build larger ships than their Islamic or Chinese competitors.

Without this original cultural difference, all the consequential advantages that later resulted from slavery, colonialism, or modern production concentrations would not have developed, or would not have developed in favor of Europe.

The group organization of Europe was so productive that the ratio of wealth between the West and the rest of the world shifted from an equality in the year 1000 to 1:6 in 1999.

West vs rest relation per-capita income
West vs rest relation per-capita income

But that amount prosperity creates individualization and ends the structure in groups.

The major upheavals in Europe since industrialisation and the upheavals outside Europe nowadays can be traced back to the fact that increasing prosperity is changing the way we deal with each other.

In poor societies, if something works people are happy and keep it forever, because they cannot afford to try otherwise. In rich societies one can try everything – that is the change from tradition to rationality.

And when in poor societies information is needed, it makes sense that the individual with the highest status goes and gets it, while in rich societies all individual gather information and evaluate it together – that is the change from authority to deliberation.

The two-stage nature of European modernity

The group structure of Europe leads to a specific two-tieredness of European modernity. Both the change from tradition to rationality and the change from authority to deliberation are defined by actors, i.e. they apply equally to organisations and individuals.

In the course of the growth process, the point of time is first reached when it is worth moving from tradition and authority to rationality and deliberation in the interaction of organizations.

Between 1789 and 1949, therefore, institutions were established in Europe that established rationality and deliberation at the macro level of society, while within organisations, i.e. in families, parties, schools and companies, everything was still very traditional and hierarchical.

These are the institutions of industrial society, in politics competitive parties on the meso level and democracy on the macro level – but also, for example, romantic love or wage negotiations by non-revolutionary trade unions.

The significance of the year 1968 lies in the fact that with increasing prosperity, for the first time the best educated young people revolted and demanded not to be forced into hierarchical groups any more, but to be able to become themselves. Since this year we have had 50 years of individualization, and network researchers as Granovetter and Burt have shown how worthwhile it is to cultivate cross-group relationships. But relationships are not easy to exploit, they also change us.
We have all become more individualistic. That‘s a good thing.
But it is also the end of the successful European model, as it had been.


The current institutions are essentially based on partitioning group affiliations.

For example, industrial society education is based on the professional concept. As the evolution of welfare recipients shows, an increasing number of people are unable to cope alone and without institutional support with the ongoing challenges of making the right lifelong learning choices. But that‘s another matter.

Here we look at the consequences for political decisions.

  • Firstly, the legitimacy of the political system suffers because individualized voters may feel a little represented by each party, but since the political system requires a clear classification, they will do so and almost everyone will be disappointed – not because the parties have become worse, but because the parties from their individualized constituencies face increasingly contradictory demands.
Individualism and decreasing legitimacy
Individualism and decreasing legitimacy
  • Second, this leads to neglect of important issues, because the parties make life easier for themselves if they only address issues that fit each other and the needs of their core constituency.
  • Thirdly, the tendency towards polarisation that already results from this is reinforced by the fact that parties also need active members who keep the shop running on a voluntary basis. As long as identities are based on groups, they come from the whole group, but if individualization leads to identities being fluid, then only members with relatively radical positions will be exciting enough to do this work, and the party‘s position will shift accordingly.
  • Fourthly, generally less relevant information is exchanged between voters and politicians.

These four problems we are now actually observing in the very different areas of the world problems mentioned above.

With climate change one can clearly see how in the maze of UN conferences the bundling of relevant information is lost. In fact, there should be an environmental side and an economic side facing each other with clear fronts; then it would be much quicker for world citizens to see where they have to change their behaviour. Instead, in each of the 193 UN member nations the same aggregation process is repeated and enriched with nation-state noise – a miracle in fact that at least something has come of it. But Switzerland has a representation of the entire people since 1848 in addition to the Council of States; something like that would also be timely for the UN.
In summary of the first three points, populism can be described as a polarized answer to unresolved questions under the sign of diminishing legitimacy of previous actors.
Of course, the fear of the “Islamization of the West” also contains a component that has nothing at all to do with real Muslims, but is fear of the actual turning away from the “groups under roofs” model.
A major role in migration is played by the fact that processes of diminishing legitimacy, neglect of issues and polarisation, which are relatively new issues in Western countries, have been a constant companion since democratisation in countries without the cultural imprint of the “groups under roofs” model. No wonder that migratory pressure is the result.

Can we do better?

In order to understand how to get out of these problems, we need to look at the institutionalized object in which political peer pressure comes directly to light: the ballot paper on which we make one mark every four years.

With this one mark we are represented by a representative.

This makes sense because, although basic democracy is the correct normative form of democracy, every human being also has a private life and few people want to spend so much time and energy that they can form their own well-founded opinion on all topics. As in other aspects of life, it makes sense to find actors you can trust and ask them to do something for you.

However, there is no systematic reason for polics, where joint decisions are concerned, to force voters to trust just one single actor. And there is certainly no reason to force voters in such cases to trust and represent themselves, where they have formed a clear opinion.

Instead of trusting only one party, there are very many actors in political life who form profiles and are willing to seek trust for them. And instead of being incapacitated with trust for most upcoming decisions, you can combine both.
These two sentences address the principles that characterise the concept of civil democracy:

Actors openness and meta-freedom of choice, which are made possible by flexible trust storage:

  • Actor openess means that each actor, means each organization and each individual, can participate in the competition for trust and that the voters can distribute their trust into any number of actors and in any distribution.

This allows NGOs and other specialized organizations to be included in political responsibility. They are a great success story because they can build a clearer and more trustworthy profile by focusing on coherent isues. But because the existing institutions always demand a complete portfolio of answers, so far they have been pushed into the opacity and lobbying.
For NGOs, Civil Democracy is a great opportunity to make a real and responsible difference. Inasmuch as some of them have established themselves comfortably in their previous irresponsibility, it presents a challenge for them at the same time.

  • Meta-decision freedom means that, in principle, every decision is accessible for direct democratic decision making, and at the meta-level every citizen decides for every decision themselves whether he or she wishes to decide it or to be represented.

One may compare it to a diet where you may give the decision what you eat to a guidebook, but in case of doubt you are happy to take it back. Meta-decision freedom combines direct and representative democracy and thus the normative power of the former with the stability of the later.

  • Flexible trust storage is the necessary base for both: They become possible based on the fact that the ballot paper is replaced by a flexible trust storage that can be changed at any time.

You can organize it by storing it in the citizen‘s office and going there, or you can do it with an app on the smartphone, if the technical and social conditions allow it.

In any case, Civil Democracy offers a stable, decision-oriented solution for decisions taken by citizens that needs no longer the groupings of historical European societies.

How can you imagine that?

Meta-decision freedom leads to voters acting in two directions.
On the one hand, the most effective way of decision-making is direct democracy, in which voters directly evaluate the options available for decision.

This evaluation is expressed in the fact that the one vote they have is divided among the options; the most valued option for a decision contains the largest part of the vote, the least valued receives nothing at all. But in the event that the individually most beloved option is no longer included in the final vote, some trust should also be transferred to other options so that the individual relative assessment between them becomes clear.

In order to make life easier for oneself, the voter (2) simultaneously transfers trust to political actors (organisations and individuals). Because they disclose their evaluations, we speak of Open Actors.

The Open Actors evaluate options (3) in the same way as the direct-democratic voter would.

Civil democracy flow model
Civil democracy flow model

Again, a vote is divided, whereby all actors for whom trust is entered are given the same weight; in the second step, however, this can be weighted differently as desired.

These indirect evaluations already make life easier for those voters who like to vote directly. Because they do not receive the options available for a decision unstructured, but in the order of the indirect evaluation.

You can adapt these as you like, for example by sliding your fingers to the top or second highest position in a smartphone app as shown in Fig. 7b Option C.
For voters who have adjusted their scores in this way, the result is included in the counting process as a counted score.

For voters who prefer to be represented rather than to form their own opinion and enter it, the indirect evaluation by their Open Actors is counted. This may be less pronounced than a direct decision could be, but in any case the position of inactive citizens is not neglected.

For counting, complete preference expressions are available for all voters, which contain not only complete rankings, but also relative preference intensities: If option A contains 75% support, option B 20% and option C 5%, but option A is the first to drop out in the final vote, then this support is extrapolated to 80% for B and 20% for C. In this way, most paradoxes of electoral system literature are avoided.

Illustrative screen shots
Illustrative screen shots

At the same time, it is always clear what the Open Actors have done with the trust they have been entrusted with, so that they have to take responsibility for their decisions in this respect. This gives voters a clear picture.

Dangers and strategies

The introduction of civil democratic decision-making is not only cool. It also faces dangers. These dangers can be overcome, but only if clearly addressed.

On the one hand, it is clear that Civil Democracy will in any case become a target of attacks that will try to undermine confidence in performance and, above all, undistortedness.

However, it also has a great advantage over conventional voting. By inserting the ballot into the ballot box, the ballot breaks the connection between voter and election, so that once distortions have been successfully introduced into the system, they can no longer be corrected.

This is different in the civil democratic system. If voters record their electoral records, each individual rating can be checked and, if necessary, corrected in the event of suspicion of influence.

However, this presupposes a more rational relationship to the secrecy of the election. This is useful to allow voters to enter their actual ratings undistortedly. They must be aware, however, that in what will hopefully be a rare case, it would be a necessary civic duty to disclose the assessments entered, and a civil democratic system needs a control force for such cases, which is actually normatively only committed to the undistorted nature of the system.

(Re-)democratisation and assumption of responsibility

The second danger exists even if the system is functioning correctly. Every democracy needs legal boundaries to avoid the danger of unsustainable herd dynamics.

In particular, people who have no experience of their own successful democratic responsibility are susceptible to being ensnared by unscrupulous elites with unsustainable appropriative policy proposals that conceal real problems and promise simple solutions on the backs of third parties.
The NSDAP‘s successes with voters and elites in 1932/33 are the most powerful example of this, but the successes of Slobodan Milosevic or Jose Bolsonaro also follow this pattern, as does the anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab region. The large presence of trolls in online discussions makes it clear that even in developed democracies, parts of the population have lost their sense of democratic responsibility in two decades of decreasing party legitimacy.

But we can learn from the past.

As a lesson, the acceptance of the associated responsibility expressed through the explicit support of a civilian-democratic declaration of responsibility must be demanded as a condition for participation in civilian-democratic decisions.

This is associated with the acceptance of reality and the acceptance of the other. Acceptance of one‘s own limits and thus of the control of Open Actors and options, which can be withdrawn from circulation as incompatible with socially sustainable values by means of a suitable structure, must be included in any case.


When it comes to democracy, thinking only at the national level of one‘s own country is far too short-sighted.

In fact, this will only be the case late. But there are many applications from the level of small organizations like parishes to the global level, where 8 billion world citizens can only be democratically involved through Civil Democracy.

Let‘s take a closer look at a few examples:

  • Service-publique radio: Public service broadcasting is only one particularly visible example for organizations that face increased responsiveness requirements and are hardly able to meet them with conventional means.
    Wherever stakeholders can be clearly defined and communicatively reached, Civil Democracy is an effective way of making decisions with the participation of stakeholders.
  • Democracy beyond Europe: In many non-European societies, the clash of the Eurocentric conception of democracy with structurally (of course not value-based) more individualistic social structures has caused the problems of lack of legitimacy, the neglect of relevant issues, polarization and generally the low flow of information between citizens and elites to fall back into the institutional reality of pseudodemocracy or open autocracy. Nevertheless, growth processes are progressing that make societies more complex and therefore more efficient democratic institutions all the more necessary.
  • Democracy within the party: Inner-party decision-making processes generally run through the group structure of territorial delegation processes. Efforts to involve the members either fail or remain unsatisfactory because they are not integrated into this normal structure of inner-party representation. Here, Civil Democracy offers both stable and responsive alternatives.

Global sustainability as a core project

As a systemic solution, civil democracy includes various actors. Decision-makers, citizens and open actors must adapt to them.
A single start-up strategy therefore proceeded slowly. A lighthouse project – and thus a social movement – is always needed. This cannot be started through small projects such as the application in church congregations or for the occupation of broadcasting councils.

The initial project should be in an area described by

  • pressing problems with a great need for better solutions,
  • little competition with other decision-making institutions,
  • high visibility.

These three criteria are currently met, and especially after the “heat years” of 2017-19, by decision-making on climate issues.

Especially among the current decision-makers, the UN General Assembly and the UN Special Conferences, there is a great awareness that alternatives that would bring more legitimacy, more solution competence and more visibility for the problems of climate change should rather be supported than hindered.

We will implement such a project in the next few years – even if we start with only a few thousand voters and a handful of NGOs as open actors, it is a beacon project from which the transferability of the civil democratic system to smaller application projects such as cities, public media or intra-party decision making will result by itself.

And at the moment when the first party overcomes its crisis of legitimacy by using Civil Democracy as a decision-making mechanism within the party, its application at the (sub-)nation-state level is no longer far off.

Europe’s group structure has triumphed to death. Civil democracy is necessary to prevent the failure of modernity.

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