Agile Democracy: principles for the age of Monitory Democracy

A gift from heaven – democracy by parachute –
by the Japanese cartoonist Kato Etsuro, 1946

[from Wikipedia:]
The term monitory democracy is introduced in Keane's The Life and Death of Democracy (2009). It claims that from around 1945 democracy entered a new historical phase. 
In the age of ‘monitory democracy’, the language and ideals and institutions of democracy undergo many changes. 
For the first time in its history, democracy has grown familiar to people living within most regions of the earth, regardless of their language, nationality, religion or civilization. 
This process of ‘indigenisation’ helps explain why, again for the first time, there is an explosion of many different understandings of democracy (for many people, especially in poorer countries, it becomes synonymous with justice, electricity, sanitation and other public goods); and why there are references to ‘global democracy’ and much talk of democracy as a universal ideal. 

In the age of monitory democracy, less obviously, there are indications that the theory and practice of democracy are mutating, that its significance is changing because its institutions are being stretched into areas of life in which democracy in any form was previously excluded, or played only a limited role.

Once seen as the rule of the people, by the people and for the people, democracy is viewed more pragmatically, as a vital weapon for guaranteeing political equality against concentrations of publicly unaccountable power. That is what monitory democracy means: the ongoing public scrutiny and public control of decision makers, whether they operate in the field of government or inter-governmental institutions, or within so-called non-governmental or civil society organisations, such as businesses, trade unions, sports associations and charities.

In the age of monitory democracy, in contrast to the earlier eras of assembly democracy and representative democracy in territorial state form, many new mechanisms are mixed and combined with new ways of publicly monitoring and controlling the exercise of power. 
Representative forms of government do not simply wither, or disappear. Elections remain important and representative democracy within the framework of territorial states often survives, and in some countries it even thrives, sometimes (as in Mongolia, Taiwan and South Africa) for the first time ever. 
Efforts to renew representative government are commonplace, as in the civic involvement and clean-up schemes (machizukuri) in Japanese cities such as Yokohama and Kawasaki during the past several decades. But, for a variety of reasons that are related to public pressure and the need to reduce corruption and the abuse of power, conventional representative forms of democracy are coming to be supplemented (and hence complicated) by a variety of democratic innovations that are applied to organisations underneath and beyond governments. 
Others include public integrity mechanisms, congresses, blogging and other new forms of media scrutiny, as well as cross-border parliaments and open methods of co-ordination, of the kind practiced in the European Union. 
These inventions are unique to the age of monitory democracy, and they fundamentally alter both the political geometry and dynamics of democracy. Democracy becomes nothing less but much more than electoral democracy. 
According to Keane, although its future is by no means guaranteed, monitory democracy is the most intricate, complex and dynamic form of democracy, a type of post-electoral democracy that has long-term consequences and disorientating effects upon political parties, parliaments, politicians and governments. 

He concludes that in the age of public monitoring of power, democracy can no longer be seen as a done deal, or as already achieved. Monitory democracy is an unfinished experiment that both thrives on imperfection and requires fresh ways of thinking about democracy’s virtues and its imperfections and failures.

John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, London, Simon and Schuster, 2009; translations available.


The simple primitive hierarchical structure of representative democracy is fostering unaccountable power and elites corruption. There is a needed transition toward the networked, horizontal, agile political structure for the XXI c. 

In resonance with the needs of the advanced form of monitory democracy, we have proposed the principles of the Manifesto for Agile Democracy as a framework to help the people to assess if a political system (or an initiative to improve it partly) guarantee political equality against concentrations of publicly unaccountable power. It is not only a concern of monitoring by the people, or transparency, but to avoid that the public policies could be written or modified by representatives. They can only vote for or against the submitted text.

Obviously the current representatives could think the people is not able to write these texts "because they have no expertise", but obviously they are fully wrong.

Agile Democracy is also about educating the people in the same time, for a practical purpose. It is the best guarantee of political equality and stability we can imagine. This is most scary for some people in power, and that's why they will never accept Agile Democracy. But the question is not about what the people in power is afraid of: it is about what the people and the civil society really WANT and how they empower themselves.


Huxley and the Agile Democracy

You've surely read Brave New World, but do you know about Brave New World Revisited published 27 years later? Here is how this content is related to the Agile Democracy (special mention to Michael Krieger).

"Under a dictatorship the Big Business, made possible by advancing technology and the consequent ruin of Little Business, is controlled by the State -that is to say, by a small group of party leaders and the soldiers, policemen and civil servants who carry out their orders. 
It is in the social sphere, in the realm of politics and economics, that the Will to Order becomes really dangerous. Here the theoretical reduction of unmanageable multiplicity to comprehensible unity becomes the practical reduction of human diversity to subhuman uniformity, of freedom to servitude. 
In politics the equivalent of a fully developed scientific theory or philosophical system is a totalitarian dictatorship. 
In economics, the equivalent of a beautifully composed work of art is the smoothly running factory in which the workers are perfectly adjusted to the machines. 
The Will to Order can make tyrants out of those who merely aspire to clear up a mess. The beauty of tidiness is used as a justification for despotism.

Organization is indispensable; for liberty arises and has meaning only within a self-regulating community of freely cooperating individuals. But, though indispensable, organization can also be fatal. Too much organization transforms men and women into automata, suffocates the creative spirit and abolishes the very possibility of freedom.
However hard they try, men cannot create a social organism, they can only create an organization. In the process of trying to create an organism they will merely create a totalitarian despotism.
Given a fair chance, human beings can govern themselves, and govern themselves better, though perhaps with less mechanical efficiency, than they can be governed by “authorities independent of their will”. Given a fair chance, I repeat; for the fair chance is an indispensable prerequisite. No people that passes abruptly from a state of subservience under the rule of a despot to the completely unfamiliar state of political independence can be said to have a fair chance of making democratic institutions work.
“[Political] parties,” we were told in 1956 by the editor of a leading business journal, “will merchandize their candidates and issues by the same methods that business had developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals and planned repetition"…The political merchandisers appeal only to the weakness of voters, never to their potential strength. They make no attempt to educate the masses into becoming fit for self-government, they are content merely to manipulate and exploit them.
Freedom is therefore a great good, tolerance a great virtue and regimentation a great misfortune.

The genetic standardization of individuals is still impossible; but Big Government and Big Business already posses, or will very soon possess, all the techniques for mind-manipulation described in Brave New World, along with others of which I was too unimaginative to dream. Lacking the ability to impose genetic uniformity upon embryos, the rulers of tomorrow’s over-populated and over-organized world will try to impose social and cultural uniformity upon adults and their children. To achieve this end, the will (unless prevented) make use of all the mind-manipulating techniques at their disposal and will not hesitate to reinforce these methods of non-rational persuasion by economic coercion and threats of physical violence. If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided, we must begin without delay to educate ourselves and of children for freedom and self-government.
Under the relentless thrust of accelerating over-population and increasing over-organization, and by means of ever more effective methods of mind-manipulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms —elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest— will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slogans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial —but Democracy and freedom in a strictly Pickwickian sense. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of soldiers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.

Or take the right to vote. In principle, it is a great privilege. In practice, as recent history has repeatedly shown, the right to vote, by itself, is no guarantee of liberty.Therefore, if you wish to avoid dictatorship by referendum, break up modern society’s merely functional collectives into self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups, capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government."

(A. Huxley, 1894 – 1963 ; Brave New World Revisited, 1958)

In short: the Manifesto for Agile Democracy is an innovative proposition for such self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups.


Le peuple assemblé

"... la défiance à l’égard du politique (et non pas de LA politique) n’a jamais été aussi forte avec 87 % des personnes interrogées jugeant que les responsables politiques ne se préoccupent peu ou pas du tout de leur avis (+ 6 points);

la figure du maire se redresse depuis 2010, inspirant majoritairement confiance (61 %); 

mais, et c’est le plus grave pour la cohésion sociale et les élections à venir, les Français estimaient en 2009 à 50 % que la démocratie fonctionnait. Aujourd’hui, ils ne sont plus que 30 %; 

quand 69 % - en hausse de 21 points - jugent que la démocratie ne fonctionne plus."

Source: Les Echos

Bien davantage qu'une autre politique, ce sondage montre que les Français recherchent confusément une autre façon de se gouverner, une autre façon de créer entre eux et pour eux un liant démocratique. 
Le malaise provient du fait c'est seuls un nombre infime d'élus ont compris que c'était leur devoir de les aider dans ce nouveau sens, dans la redéfinition de leur propre rôle d'acteur politique.
C'est ce malaise croissant qu'exploitent à bon compte les politiciens et démagogues. 

C'est ce qui justifie notre engagement pour l'esprit du peuple assemblé.


Démocratie : histoire d'un malentendu

Pour Francis Dupuis-Déri (dont nous avions mentionné la notion d'agoraphobie politique dans cet article récent de Conscience Sociale), la démocratie n'est pas celle que l'on croit et son histoire est encore plus méconnue. Détestée et ridiculisée pendant des siècles par les élites, la démocratie était vue comme le pire des régimes pendant des générations en Occident. Dans son livre "Démocratie. Histoire politique d'un mot" (Lux éditeur, 2013), le professeur au Département de science politique de l'UQAM conclut avec fracas : le Canada n'est pas une démocratie et ne l'a jamais été.

Il nous résume sa recherche historique dans cet entretien:

On pourra tracer un parallèle à partir de l'origine de la pensée qui m'a conduit à publier le Manifeste pour le Développement Agile de la Démocratie fin 2011.

Et on écoutera aussi cette interview de Chouard et le débat avec Rocard exactement sur ce thème.