ABC of Liquid Democracy
The term liquid democracy is unfamiliar for most humans at the moment. One easy way to explain its meaning is that liquid democracy is a mix between representative (indirect, parliamentary) democracy and direct (referendums, popular vote) democracy.
Therefore, liquid democracy is an idea that individuals should be able to constantly engage in conversation and decision-making process. This includes the process of voting on different topics via different delegates (representatives) depending on the issue and policy area.
In this text, my ambition was to explain the meaning of liquid democracy by focusing on its functional aspects, characteristics and segments.
Liquid democracy is still not existing at any larger representative level as a nation or city. Instead, liquid democracy is at the moment very “subcultural” and applied with decentralised networks and communities. However, one should not think that liquid democracy is about transforming democratic decision-making from sub-level to higher levels because one primary function of liquid democracy is to enable peaceful and cooperative relations, especially on local and decentralised levels. Thereby, individuals and others can delegate their votes within organisations and communities that are more flexible, decentralised, interoperational comparing to older organisations like companies, political parties and interest movements.
Community, complexity, and cooperation
At the moment, liquid democracy enables decision-making within different communities, cooperatives and social platforms as in the cryptocurrency sphere. Compared to representative (parliamentary) democracy, liquid democracy is more community-oriented and emphasises decision-making at local levels. While competition is one of the keywords of representative democracy, liquid democracy emphasises cooperation, co-creation, and “cooperative competition”. Within the representative democracy model, political parties compete for citizens’ votes by campaigning, debating, advertising, getting funding, etc. In liquid democracy, the idea is that individuals should cooperate and aspire to co-create optimal, complex and sustainable solutions.
Decentralised, delegation and deliberative
Instead of voting only for political parties or independent political candidates, the case of liquid democracy is that voters can delegate their votes both to individuals and organisations depending on topics and policies. Representative democracy is often validly criticised for not being deliberative enough so that people can have more time to focus on discussions and hear each other’s arguments before making a decision. Therefore, deliberative democracy, among other things based on the function of “citizen lobbies” consisting of temporary lobbies made up of proportionality and randomly selected citizens as in relation to age and gender, is often presented even as a general alternative to representative democracy. Deliberative aspects are already included within the concept of liquid democracy, where individuals can delegate their votes to different communities, networks and organisations that can represent them.
Compared to representative democracy that functions in accordance with “one person, one vote” where politicians (representatives) are elected for a limited mandate as, during fours years, the case in liquid democracy is that individuals can have “one vote per topic”. Thereby, voting on different topics as for example, on an annual basis, allows the voter to be liquid during the voting process by being able to vote concerning a number of topics or policy areas that are recognised as relevant. Also, liquid democracy enables voters to change and withdraw their votes if they feel unsatisfied with their representatives compared to a representative democracy where voters cannot perform such function and have to wait until the next general elections to vote again.
The development of representative democracy during the 19th century was, among other things, based on developments such as urbanisation, mass-media production and social organisation within political parties. Liquid democracy is influenced by different developments such as post-industrialism, digitalisation, decentralisation, machine learning, social platforms and networks. This means that the further development of liquid democracy will be based on aspects as cryptocurrencies, decentralised applications and autonomous organisations (Dapps and DAOs), social platforms similar to Facebook and Twitter, digital communities. Also, vital parts of democracy in the future may become robots, AI and even cyborgs who can be used and included within democratic procedures.
Older ideas of (representative) democracy from the 19th and 20th century are “national” and historically connected to nation-states and nation-building processes. In the case of liquid democracy, it is not limited to national or country levels of decision-making because liquid democracy can and should function both locally and globally at the same time. This is particularly important because global problems and challenges regarding climate change, terrorism and artificial intelligence need to be addressed with “glocal” solutions and institutions.
One idea within liquid democracy is to “mobilise knowledge”. This aspect is connected to the cooperative focus and function of the liquid demoracy. When it comes to knowledge, theories behind liquid democracy are stating that while representative democracy means that political parties are more selective and opportunistic with using knowledge, liquid democracy can involve more people in a conversation process. This means especially that liquid democracy can involve more individuals who are experts and researchers. Also, this goes against the populist myth that a population is divided into “elites and people” since, in liquid democracy, almost all adult individuals can participate.
One key feature within liquid-democratic theorising is the idea of going beyond or “transcending” liberal (constitutional) democracy but by including vital features of liberal democratic constitutionalism such as civic freedoms, human rights, separation of powers and the rule of law. This is in order to enable peaceful and meaningful cooperation between humans. One has to keep in mind that majoritarian decisions are not automatically democratic since majoritarian decisions and opinions can also lead to the abolishment of democracy, crimes against humanity and political tribalism. Since liquid democracy goes hand in hand with overall decentralisation development, aspects as smart contracts and AI will be applied in order to maintain the rule of law as a politically independent institution and system. After all, ideas such as cosmopolitan or world citizenship also are touching liquid democracy since one of its functions is the unification of the world, humanity and our global civilisation.
In order to participate in liquid democracy, every human needs to have some kind of digital identification and access to the Internet. One idea is that liquid democracy can and should operate on the basis of self-sovereign identification where humans can own their identifications via the Self-sovereign (SSI) system as via blockchain. With SSI, no human has to be illegal, stateless, or without papers since we can have both local and global IDs and citizenships. While representative democracy was historically developed on ideas as national citizenship, identity and sovereignty the liquid democratic idea is that future democracy should be based on federalised, multilayer and “glocal” citizenships, identifications and sovereignty aspects depending on topics and policy areas in relation to local-global interactions and functions.
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