The book starts with an understanding of the way in which we got into the current problems. Having a problem is having something to do: so it is about the possibilities to shape the world and the decisions that are necessary for doing so. And it is about the „we“, hence the structure of human societies in relation to such decisions. Such decisions are never simply private, but they always influence other people. Thus it plays a role who has how much influence there, spoken in relation to the other: how much power. All big current problems of mankind have to do with power. Understanding how we got there hence needs a short history of power. It forms the first part of this book.
And this history of power presents itself in such a way that it is best told in four chapters that unfold in historical sequence. The „Beginnings of Power“ (chapter 3) lay down some foundations: man’s basic predisposition to freedom and responsibility, the technological distinction between concentrations and more equal distributions of power, the sources of power stemming from physical coercion, from scripture and from differentiation, and the „Axial age” in which institutions were formed everywhere in the Old World to bring the sources of power from physical coercion and from scripture into different equilibria.
Chapter 4 takes a closer look at one of these equilibria, namely the specific form in which power became balanced in Europe. Europe became Europe by developing a very specific structure of society in the early Middle Ages. I call them „groups under roofs“: the structure that evolved in Europe divided people into groups and trained them to fit into these groups on the one hand and to accept higher institutions on the other. The innovation in the third century were the higher-level institutions, but what became specific about the European model in international comparison was that it retained groups in the denser and more densely populated continent that remained largely free of overlap. Mathematicians use the term partitioning here, and this aspect is so important in the current problems that I will continue to use this rather technical term in the following. For more than a thousand years, Christianity played a decisive role in partitioning „groups under roofs“. And by turning them into organisations and creating competition between them, this became a tremendously successful concept that co-founded Europe’s success.
In „The 20th century” (ch. 5) we see how the „groups under roofs” concept emancipated itself from Christianity and, in and after the great modernization crisis of 1914-1945, laid the foundation for the development of those institutions which quite successfully mastered the complexity of the emerging industrial societies. These institutions gave the blueprint for a Eurocentric understanding of modernization that spread sometimes for better, but often for worse, throughout the world. The year 1968 stands symbolically and practically for the fact that finally also in the West itself the society of groups and predetermined positions, with its necessary authoritarian aspects in daily life, was questioned. In between, a half century has passed in which the Western societies became structurally more individualistic, distancing themselves from the partitioning structure of the old Europe and, without noticing it, becoming similar to the rest of the world.
Political institutions, however, are still those that were designed for and fit the partitioning group structure of old Europe. We still vote in elections by assigning ourselves to one and only one partitioning group. And by running or not running for an election, and winning or not winning it, we partition ourselves into either participating or not participating in decision making – while group affiliations and desires to have a say in decisions, have become so diversely distributed for long. If, however, partitioning institutions meet a social structure that is not (or no longer) partitioning, but structurally individualistic, then various „Problems of partitioning representation” arise (ch. 6). We will see how this combination automatically leads to ignorance of issues, to alienation between citizens and politicians, to unfulfilled expectations of representation, to the impression of a democratic deficit, and to polarization – completely independent of participants’ individual morale, simply because the institutions do not fit the structure of society.
For the second part of the book overview which discusses Civil democracy, its applicability, introductory requirements, and implementation strategy, see the next post.
To read more, buy the Civil democracy book (from which this excerpt was taken) or continue on this website.