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Civil democracy is an improved type of democracy that uses the technology of the 21st century to tackle the challenges of democracy in the 21st century. Its core is the flexible storage of trust that allows every political actor to take responsibility and every voter to decide for every decision whether to express their democratic responsibility in the choice of their representing political actors or in an own direct-democratic participation.

One may say that Civil democracy brings the ballot to the 21st century. The ballot was ingenious in overcoming the grassroots-overstretch problem and enabling large-scale democracy through storing trust. But digital technologies allow, and are necessary, to overcome the ballot’s two rigid boundaries, between politicians and voters, and between voters of different parties. Digitally, trust can be stored so that all political actors can contribute, including specialized civil society organisations, and voters can decide case-by-case to be represented or to participate. We call such a system a Civil democracy. It is the necessary answer to the problem that “we will not solve 21st century problems with 19th century institutions built on 15th century technology.” (Pia Mancini 2014)

The ingenious invention of the ballot enabled large scale democracy by overcoming what I call the “grassroots overstretch” problem: Democracy implies every citizen’s involvement in politics, but daily participation exceeds most peoples’ abilities. Since Plato’s famous prophecy on that subject, history has seen some attempts of democracies trying to involve everyone on everything that went wrong. In some cases, these attempts simply collapsed – a nice recent study shows how Italian socialist workers, who had gained some control over the enterprises they worked in in 1945, “were more concerned with day-to-day survival than with participation [or] self-management”. (Jan de Graaf 2014) In the worse case, they turned into some kind of tyranny because some political actors declared themselves to be representants of those remaining survival concerned and silent, in the absence of institutions that allowed to check and if necessary correct that representation.

The solution was trust turned into representation through storing trust relations in the ballot. A division of labor emerged between politicians and voters, in which politicians were able to concentrate on making political decisions and voters confined themselves to the decision whom of the actors in the first category they would trust most, giving them the permit to making decisions on their behalf.

But the paper ballot is rigid in two ways. The ballot erects rigid boundaries between politicians to make decisions and voters to be doomed to trust. And due to the fact that the number of actors one voter can support is severely limited, it erects rigid boundaries between the supporters of different trusted actors. The one mark on the ballot forces every political actor to have answers to all questions and every voter to take sides and choose one package. These two rigidities are not optimal, in case it is possible to overcome them.

Digital technologies can do better. They offer this option: It is possible to store trust in political actors in a way that is flexible with regards to both aspects named above. Digital technologies allow voters to express their trust in all political actors they deem trustworthy instead of forcing them to choose exactly one package. And digital technologies allow to store and retrieve this trust whenever necessary, enabling voters to decide on a case-by-case basis for which decisions they prefer to be represented and for which they want to participate.

The second aspect allows ordinary citizens to become as involved as they ever want, without losing the stability of representation. The first aspect allows political actors to take responsibility just in the area of their expertise, hence allowing the whole wealth of civil society actors who are very knowledgeable in the specific fields to enter political responsibility. For these two aspects, addressing individuals as cives, the Latin word for co-deciding and co-responsible citizens, and involving civil society organizations into formal responsibility, such a form of democracy is worthy to be called a Civil democracy.

These two rigidities were less of a problem in specific historical situations – that will be addressed in later posts. They are, however, a real problem right now. Many important problems, from the apparent inability to tackle climate change over the instability of many advanced democracies to the blocked perspective of societal modernization in many non-Western societies, rest on the rigidity of the ballot and other forms of what can be called “partitioning representation” because it is based on artificially dividing individuals into non-overlapping groups.

Civil democracy is hence a very powerful concept. It makes hopes come true that have been formulated again and again over the last two and more centuries, and frustrated almost as often. It is demanding, challenging individuals, organisations and societies around the world to change their culture. But it is worth the price, and necessary for our common survival.

To recapitulate:

The ballot’s ingenious invention enabled large scale democracy by overcoming the grassroots-overstretch problem:

  • Democracy implies everyone’s involvement in politics, but daily participation exceeds most peoples’ abilities.
  • The solution is trust turned into represen­ta­tion through storing trust relations.

But the ballot is rigid.

  • The paper ballot erects rigid boundaries between those to make decisions and those to be doomed to trust.
  • It erects rigid boundaries between the supporters of different trusted actors. The one mark on the ballot forces every political actor to have answers to all questions and every voter to take sides and choose one package. .

Digital technologies can do better. They allow to store trust in political actors in a flexible way:

  • Allowing voters to express their trust in all political actors they deem trustworthy,
  • thereby allowing political actors to take responsibility just in the area of their expertise,
  • and allowing voters to decide on a case-by-case basis for which decisions they prefer to be represented and for which they want to participate.

For addressing individuals as co-deciding and co-responsible citizens and involving civil society into formal responsibility, such a form of democracy is worthy to be called a Civil democracy.

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