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Let’s Not Let the Politicians Play Bits and Bytes!

Let’s Not Let the Politicians Play Bits and Bytes! Who is afraid of the e-social contract, the e-democracy and the e-rule of law?

Before the political elections (about a year or so before), on the day of the vote and a little while after, the citizens remember the values of the Polis: the social contract (a subtle notion), democracy (more declaimed than digested), the rule of law (or the primacy of laws, which become frail when legality does not rhyme with justice). In the rest of the time between electoral cycles, we find ourselves, usually, in the posture of citizens nursing a profound displeasure towards the elected, who either forgo the promises for which we voted, or they deliver precisely the promises we did not vote for. Somehow, in between elections, power becomes something wielded by a few of “us”, as is the case on election day, when a majority of a narrow minority wins the day and decides the collective future. It leads to many people being in hock to the opposition, which is waiting for another turn of the wheel in their favour. This is the curse of the “social contract”, the high priests of the status quo assure us a bit cynically!

“From the Gospels to the social contract, ideas have ruled the world”, said J. Rueff. And, yes, the social contract is an idea. A defining but also a debatable one, which adds a spine to the body of society, the body politic and the body economic. Modern statehood and national economies owe it their fecundity. Either you understand the social contract as elevating men from their otherwise wild and threatening state of nature by entrusting them to an absolute sovereign (T. Hobbes) or to an elected government (J. Locke), or by sheltering them from a corrupting society leading them astray from an idyllic natural society in order to enslave them (J.J. Rousseau), it all comes down to the Weltanschauung. The State turns the competition of savage violence into a “monopoly on legitimate violence” (M. Weber). The same almighty State tacitly and silently robs us of the social contract. Still, both democracy and rule of law depend on it. How could we (re)create this fundamental contract? Through technology?

In a recent article titled The “Industrial Revolutionizing” of the Social Contract: 4.0 Generation Updates and Upgrades (penned by myself and Mihaela Iacob), we speculated on the three scenarios through which the City can welcome back participation of residents through e-means, as an alternative to representation, which is a proxy for the relegitimization of the democratic and rule of law arrangements. The elementary principle here is that only the contract between two different sides represents their will and is opposable to them. The first scenario exposed in that essay is radical and sort of utopian. Via free and accessible digital technologies, the “public will” can be expanded while growing also more flexible, in order to contractually redesign “political units” from the ground up. There would not be any more “hobbled jurisdictions”. They can keep adjusting and actualizing, from an “original unanimity”, which is truly legitimate, unfolding the novel political construct, with its new participants, voting mechanisms, frequency of consultations, granularity of the voted problems etc.

A scenario like this summons the Erinyes of the fracturing and dissolution of the “old world”. This is because the connection and coagulation through cyberspace of new communities, however organic, principled, legal they may be, will not truly resemble the intabulations of the real, physical, territorialized world. Such incompatibilities would lead to “existential threats” to current political entities and to strong responses to cyber-auto-determination/secessionism. Then, a milder second scenario comes: here Parliaments, as lawgiving entities formed by the people’s representatives, would become bodies of administrators of what the people decide on their own to do. By having certain juridical and legal qualifications, the elect will prepare proposals for normative acts that the citizens vote on directly. They will only facilitate a continuous plebiscite. This would digitally correct old pro-representation anti-participation reasons (e.g., the “efficiency” and “education” of the people’s representatives).

Since such a scenario could also not realistically win in the face of the conservatism of the political class, who would not agree to a power-sharing arrangement with those who provided their power as an “electoral loan” (with no right of “reimbursement”!), the breach on this issue would be made through the acceptance by a critical mass of the political spectrum of a compromise solution which would re-empower the electorate when faced with their chosen representatives at least on some occasions. Some furthermore softened third scenario spurs: this requires the stipulation of relatively unrestrictive conditions through which we can obtain a “back to the people” approach, through e-referenda with popular veto power to stop/punish flagrant abuses, which a blunt majority may be tempted to commit. Such a mechanism, facilitated by the penetration of digital services among the population, would warn the elected representatives away from arbitrary decision-making, since they would even risk a recall. Is this... sci-fi? Maybe, though many present deeds were former sci-fi imaginings. 

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The Market For Ideas Association

The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)

Amfiteatru Economic