Towards the end of the 20th century political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared it was The End of History and that Western liberal representative democracy had triumphed as the final form of human government.
Now as we get deeper into the 21st century that old sense of stability is a distant memory. Democracy as we know it is in turmoil. Populism is on the rise. From Trump to Brexit anti-establishment feelings are winning elections. Worrying signs of democracy’s demise can be heard even amongst the young with many feeling benign dictatorship would produce better results than democratic elections.
At the same time our planet is facing huge upheaval as climate change threatens our very continued existence, the majority live in economic uncertainty and war and mass migration are destabilizing populations everywhere. Meantime there is little conviction anywhere that our current political systems are equipped to deal with these problems.
The 21st century world is one of deep complexity in which intermeshed crises cannot be solved by linear thinking and top down solutions imposed by a distant political class are creating mistrust and apathy. It’s a time in which ordinary citizens have to step up to a new level of empowerment and to collectively take responsibility for the world around us.
However when the extent of most people’s participation is to tick a box on a ballot sheet every once in a while, in this system real political inclusion is neither encouraged nor enabled. In contrast to this the internet and the ease of connection through social media is enabling unprecedented levels of active engagement in so many other areas of life.
So democratic systems can be brought into the 21st century by meeting complexity with complexity. It is time to bring our human diversity online as an asset in which multiple perspectives and stakeholders can contribute to the formulation of collectively wise proposals for policy and governance.
As society becomes more complex it is no longer fitting to have to vote for one-size-fits-all political parties and manifestos. We don’t have to conform to the straightjackets of left or right wing thinking. By using deliberative democracy principles like citizens juries and assemblies issues can be worked on by randomly selected “ordinary citizens.”
Including people to work on the issues of governance provides a transformative education of what it means to be a responsible citizen rather than a passive consumer. Experts don’t have to decide everything, they can be accessible, “on tap,” to inform spaces of citizen deliberation, rather than being “on top.” This inclusive democracy can then be augmented by opening such citizens assemblies out to wider public scrutiny via online viewing or larger public meetings.
These are not idealistic and impossible ideas. Concrete projects are taking place all over the world to develop such new processes and systems of democracy and many are having a great deal of success as viable alternatives.
So as to amplify and promote some of these positive alternatives to our current broken representative systems of governance I (the author of this article) created the Reinventing Democracy YouTube channel. This is where I’ve been interviewing the pioneers in more participative forms of democracy built on principles of dialogue, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
There is a grassroots movement which is working to include the voices of the whole cross section of society in collective decision-making. This is work at the cutting edge of upgrading our democracies to be fit for purpose.
To find out more about a whole plethora of projects and experiments in new democracy here are a few websites to peruse:
Wise Democracy Pattern Language
The Sortition Foundation
New Democracy Foundation
Real Democracy Now Podcast
In 1880s the American visionary and poet Walt Whitman wrote these words:
I cannot too often repeat that Democracy is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened, notwithstanding the resonance and the many angry tempests out of which its syllables have come, from pen or tongue. It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten because that history has yet to be enacted.
Perhaps in this 21st century it’s time for humanity to mature and awaken this sleeping giant of democracy!
One way to contribute to upgrading democracy!
I am involved in initiatives such as the Wise Democracy Project, the Campaign for a Citizen led Constitutional Convention, Connecting Kings Cross. This work tends to take place outside of traditional employment opportunities so if you’re inspired to bring your energy in the form of financial support to this upgrading of democracy (or simply to share) visit Andy’s Reinventing Democracy fund.
Andy Paice is London based Coach, Facilitator and Mindfulness trainer. The focus of his work/play is facilitating and catalysing new ways of working and living that are fit for the realities of the 21st century. One of his major passions is the creation of participatory democracy initiatives and amplifying awareness of new politics through the
Reinventing Democracy YouTube channel . He teaches Mindfulness in community and corporate settings and facilitates community meetings. Andy is passionate about authentic human connection and the emerging collaborative commons paradigm. Prior to these activities he lived and practised as a monastic in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in France from 1998-2007 where he accomplished a traditional three-year group meditation retreat. In his spare time he enjoys Contact Improvisation dancing, eating curry and running From Me to We a meetup group he created. You can check out his website www.andypaice.net and follow him on Twitter @andypaice