In discussing the concept of Civil democracywith civil society organisations, number of frequently asked questions have come up.
1. Question: Isn’t the dissatisfaction with politics an argument against Civil democracy?
Answer: The widespread dissatisfaction comes from the feeling of powerlessness, and this feeling not being able to change anything will change with Civil democracy.
2. Question: Democracy even in it current form is much more than elections.
Answer: Yes, but only for active individuals. For the average citizen, low-threshold opportunities for real participation, as compared to just being consulted without being part of the decision-making process, are very limited.
3. Question: What is the difference to liquid democracy, as used by the Pirate parties?
Answer: The principle is similar, but several important aspects as the involvement of civil society organisations, the ability to have more than one trusted actor, and the direct-democratic correction of proposals are not fully thought-out and implemented in LD. And if you start with one party instead of claiming to make decisions for society as a whole, you restrict the potential of the CD to a certain clientele.
4. Question: Isn’t consensus finding central for democracy? And doesn’t consensus building require groups? Answer: Yes, absolutely correct. More precisely: It requires actors who are able to think up compromise solutions and the willingness to engage in compromise solutions. But “groups” in that regard are necessarily political actors, it is not necessary that their supporters do not have overlaps: Imagine a question in which environmental interests and labor interests clash. An environmentally interested union member could trust and support two groups who in this specific question have fundamentally different views and need to find a compromise that works for both of them.
5. Question: The term “party democracy” is not used in active discourse.
Answer: It is not a new word, with 135’000 Google results and various encyclopedia entries, but yes, it is currently not much in use, its Google results equalling less than 1% of that for “liquid democracy”. It is used to make it clear that the present form of democracy is not the only conceivable one. The most specific term for the predominant form of institutions is “partitioning representation” as that also includes nation-state representation in supra-national institutions, but this is really a term newly coined in the Civil democracy discourse.
6. Question: Division of labour is an important principle, so what is the problem with the division of labour between voters and politicians?
Answer: We completely agress with regards to the general importance of division of labor. Within this division of labor however, the politicians only act as agents on behalf of the citizens as their principals. (Dictatorships tend to justify themselves with this division of labour assuming themselves as the best-knowing agents of their citizens, buut we know better.) The communication between principals and agents however needs meta-decision freedom, and the agents within the division of labour are unfairly limited without actor openness. With regards to meta-decision freedom, the inadequacy of group-based institutions can be compared to a hearing barrier that precludes politicians as agents to hear exactly what the citizens as their principals want, and that precludes the citizens as principals to know themselves exactly what they wanted. In such cases, it can be better that citizens do the job of decision-making themselves, because the communication loss exceeds the efficiency gain. Actor openness simply allows that all possible agents contribute – we see that in terms of global discourse, global CSOs are better able to communicate .
7. Question: Is direct democracy not simply a matter of practice and training?
Answer: It is, but not only. Diverging real interests will always lead to decisions that are so important for some people that they want to participate in direct democracy, and for others “medium unimportant”, i.e. so unimportant that they do not go to the polls, but not unimportant enough that a result unpleasant to them would not cause dissatisfaction with the system afterwards.
8. Question: Is the possibility of co-decision making not again only used by certain interest groups and at certain educational levels?
Answer: Regarding interest groups: (a) I think it would be used by all interest groups in the medium term; (b) through the possibility of direct-democratic assumption of responsibility, even those interests for which there is no lobby have protection. Regarding educational levels: This will probably be the same as with all other forms of democracy. However, CD sets the incentive for groups to pay special attention to supporting people with less capital resources, because they are more likely to remain with the trust once it has been granted.
9. Question: Who wants to have a say in everything anyway? Who has the time to delve that far into issues?
Answer: Nobody, that is exactly our argument! But there is a large area of middle interests, where one is overwhelmed with conventional methods, but would still be able to look through and confirm or, if necessary, change a proposal prepared by the groups of one’s own trust.
10. Question: Why must civil society bear responsibility? Will individual organisations not again represent only particular interests?
Answer: Yes, it is their job to bring in their particular interests! They are required to take responsibility afterwards for the ranking they gave before the decision was made. If they have ignored acceptable compromise solutions a few times beforehand and thereby sabotage them, the anger of the audience will soon lead to a loss of their support as correction mechanism.
11. Question: What happens when astroturfing (the attempt to fake grassroots campaigns) becomes stronger?
Answer: Not much, because it takes time, effort and trustworthyness to build trust. New movements attract some initial interest, but every person asked to spread the word is a potential tester who may research and check the trustworthyness of a movement. Under such a closer view, astroturf is quickly detected.
Special thanks to Fred Miehlert, board member of the Baden-Wuerttemberg branch of the CSO BUND. A list he prepared for the interview with Carolin Ziegler was the first and still remains the most important base for this Q&A list.