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European Visions for the Knowledge Age

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European Visions for the Knowledge Age

A Quest for New Horizons in the Information Society

Paul T Kidd (Ed)
ISBN 978-1-901864-08-3 (Paperback)
Price: See buy on-line link



Chapter 12
Towards Democracy without Politics?
Ignace Snellen
There is a fundamental divide: it lies between the function of politics and that of democracy. When speaking about democratic politics this fundamental chasm is often forgotten; in a democracy, politics and democracy are usually seen as two sides of the same coin. But they are not.
Until recently, the fundamental divide was disguised in the cloak of the general interest, for which particular interests would have to retreat. However, information and communications technology applications in the public domain, which inform citizens about the real circumstances, make this disguise, increasingly futile. There are an ever-increasing number of technologies that facilitate this. Databases deliver statistical information on which evidence based policies are founded and allow analyses of the circumstances from every possible angle. Group decision technologies, such as, for example, information systems containing geographic related information, and computer generated representations of reality, enable citizens and their representative interest organisations to participate in planning discussions, and to structure those discussions. Tracing and tracking technologies make it possible to maintain an overview of the activities and performances of public services and authorities. Desktop technologies facilitate the instant organisation and mobilisation of large segments of the populati-on. Network technologies provide access to information, services, people and technologies.
The freedom of information is ever expanding, not only with respect to governmental information, but also to information about private actors such as enterprises. Large numbers of people, and their capabilities, can be reached at the same time in a cost-effective way. The use of email, chat rooms, electronic dialogue systems, instant polling and referenda, all accelerate the dissemination of opinions and insights. Together these information and communications technology applications support a shift from representative democracy to consultative democracy and a drift away from traditional policymaking.
In this chapter an attempt will be made to explain why, in a society where information and communications technology applications are deployed to the full, the practices of politics, even parliamentary politics, in the perception of citizens, are increasingly irreconcilable with the fundamental principles on which a democracy is based. The contention is that in an information society, the conflict between the principles of democracy and the practices of politics will become increasingly visible, because the division of pleasures and pains among citizens is becoming increasingly transparent. Transparency makes legitimising an unequal division of pleasures and pains in circumstances of equal claims, the essence of politics, and guarding the integrity of the polity, increasingly problematic. The irreconcilability between democracy and politics will lead, at least in the sectors of society where pleasures and pains are distributed, to democracy without politics. Politicians will become marginal. Their role will be partly taken over by non-elected officials and the judiciary, and partly relegated by civil society (participatory civil society).
To substantiate these contentions, the principles of democracy will be confronted with the basic character of politics, and a distinction will be made between politicians' perception of the nature of politics and the perception held by many citizens. Against this background, examples from the United States and The Netherlands are highlighted, which point in the direction of a democracy without politics.


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