Meta-Democracy

Will Franks
Dec 17, 2019 · 4 min read

Using democracy to improve democracy.

Meta-democracy (or Super-democracy) is when democratic decision making is applied to the task of evolving better democratic decision making.

This would set up something unprecedented in history: a positive feedback loop geared towards the evolution of increasingly effective, intelligent and fair processes of democratic decision making.

The reason democracy works is the same reason science does: it allows for ideas and claims to be intersubjectively scrutinised and checked.”[1] So too, then: our democracy itself, and ideas and claims around it, must be scrutinised and checked. We should be constantly analysing and asking: is democracy working? How do we measure and assess whether it’s working?

This is a future attractor point that we are on the brink of realising. In the UK, the pioneering UpToUs campaign is calling for a citizens’ assembly on democratic reform. Similarly, the Unlock Democracy campaign is calling for the use of an inclusive democratic process to draw up a UK constitution, which would establish new regulations for a fairer and more decentralised democracy. I’m sure other great experiments are happening worldwide — do comment if you know of any.

From Nordic Ideology, by Hanzi Freinacht: “If you become super-democratic (no manipulation, only healthy discourse, taking others’ perspectives, improving communication processes, getting the best possible science, representing the wider and more complex common good, etc.), you also automatically challenge democracy in its current party-political representative form and gravitate towards holistic and deliberative forms.”

Meta-democracy would means the continual development and enrichment of existing democracy by way of “delimited experimentation, systematic evaluation, ongoing discussions about the criteria for evaluating ‘better democracy’ ”.

What might those criteria be? Measures of better democracy (also from [1]):

  • better decision making
  • greater collective intelligence
  • public ownership of decisions
  • compliance to rules and regulations
  • efficacy
  • transparency
  • degree of inclusivity

The state should become active in supporting meta-democracy through democratic experiments in participatory and deliberative democracy.

In the UK we have the government-led Innovation in Democracy Programme: Trialling the involvement of citizens in decision-making at local government level through innovative models of deliberative democracy. That’s great, but it was a government-led initiative. If 100 regular citizens were convened to democratically plan and assess these trials, and how to move them forward, we’d be looking at meta-democracy.

And what if those 100 citizens — or at least civil servants — were a permanent feature of government? Freinacht calls for a Ministry of Democratization, a “hub in a larger de-centralized multiplicity of ongoing democratic experiments”, investigating “new forms of elections within delineated decision processes (different ballot systems etc.), new forms of citizen feedback, new ways of enriching the representative system with subcategories of direct votes, participation and deliberation.”

We need “institutional experimentation”, now more than ever. Especially since the climate crisis is a crisis of democracy.

“ “Modern” democracies, founded centuries ago, are unable to deal with the complexities of the metamodern, postindustrial, digitised, transnational and ecological world. The key self-organisational flows occur on a much higher level of complexity than our understandings — and democracies — can handle.”

So we need to develop our democracy to produce decisions and plans of a higher complexity. We can achieve that development with meta-democracy.

Deep social and political problems cannot be healed without a functional democracy — and we can only build that democracy with a functional democracy. In negative terms: we can’t build a functioning democracy without a functioning democracy. So where do we start? At the bottom level: grassroots, community — the level of the everyday citizen. You and me. We can launch local democracy initiatives, which might be as simple as a democratic town assembly to make decisions on local matters. This gives hundreds of people an embodied experience of real participatory democracy, and the delegates from the assemblies can run as independent candidates in local council elections. And they’ll probably win, as few people vote in these elections. This way-too-easy model for reclaiming local politics is called Flatpack Democracy (and more broadly, New Municipalism) and is spreading round the globe.

We can easily do meta-democracy at this local level— analysing what is working, and what isn’t in the dynamics and decision making of our local assemblies. This would make our local democracy more effective, intelligent and functional. The root activity here is meta-conversations.

By joining national campaigns and running our own local assemblies, we — the people of the UK — can start a bottom-up movement of support for top-down democratic change (like the UpToUs and Unlock Democracy campaigns — local action is great here as we need local MP’s to back them). Then, if such a campaign was successful, we’d have succesfully implemented meta-democracy at the state-level. Once in place, the research of meta-democracy initiatives/institutions could be fed “back down” to improve local democracy processes (which in turn can feed “back up” to inform the process of state-level democracy). Loop the loop.

Let us end with the point of democracy: “that there is a process of free and sufficiently systematised truth-seeking and dialogue going on for small groups to be able to prove the rest of us wrong again and again, so that values and opinions and laws can evolve and adapt.” Applied to democracy itself, this process can take us towards ever more effective, functional and intelligent self-governance.

References

  1. Hanzi Freinacht, Nordic Ideology, Metamoderna Press (2019). Credit to this source for the idea of super-democracy and all quotes in italics.

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