Lennox Research Unit on Randomcracy

Materiali angloamericani sulla superfluità delle elezioni e dei politici professionisti nella società dell'informazione.
La soluzione Randomcratica: una nuova Polis sovrana dei supercittadini scelti dal sorteggio.

Aprile 2000


Che le società avanzate si tengano ancora un congegno politico concepito nel sec. XVIII è un enigma, un'apoteosi irrazionale. Andiamo su Marte, creiamo la vita in laboratorio, moltiplichiamo incessantemente la ricchezza ma affidiamo il governo di tutto ai furfanti espressi dalle elezioni e dai partiti. Ma nel 1999 sono nati quasi 30 milioni di siti Internet. Tra non molti anni gli Stati Uniti passeranno -nel bene come nel male- alla democrazia elettronica: il Web non per delegare la rappresentanza agli impostori della politica full time, ma per deliberare. Questo Pericle elettronico: dossier sulla tecnodemocrazia selettiva è nella Parte Prima e Seconda una raccolta di estratti, nell'originale inglese, dalla stampa di idee, soprattutto americana: anche gli avversari ammettono che la tecnologia demolirà la democrazia delle urne, dei partiti e delle carriere a vita. La Terza e Quarta Parte è una bozza di progetto della Polis elettronica, elaborata in Canada e a Milano dalla Research Unit on Randomcracy. Ne è coordinatore Antonio Massimo Calderazzi ( Hanno dato contributi significativi Piero Colonna di Paliano ( e Gabriele Stecchi (
Stampato nell'aprile 2000 da Tipografia Gazzaniga, Milano.
Il Pericle elettronico è venduto esclusivamente online (la versione pubblicata nel presente sito è priva delle immagini che sono parte integrante del documento).


Hal Berghel, professor, Univ.of Arkansas “Communications of the ACM”, Oct.1996

The Internet revolution has the ability to change the nature of political communication from internal, organizational, and private -as it is now- to external, constituent-based and public. One-way political pronouncements might evolve into two-way political dialogs. Democracy may never be the same again. However, there is the possibility that politicians will eventually come to understand that the potential of the Web resides in interactivity and in the possibility of greater individual participation in the political process. There are several opportunities in this regard which shouldn’t be overlooked. The weakness of modern participatory democracy is that it isn’t very participatory. Active participation requires time, energy, commitment and, most of all, the belief that participation is likely to have some beneficial outcome. This last point must not be overlooked as now nearly half of the U.S. citizens fail to vote in national elections, for they believe they have little to gain or lose in the outcome. Over time participatory democracy has degenerated into rule-by-influential-minority. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and the Web can help reverse the trend because it can eliminate many of the obstacles between the citizen and participation in the political process. The social costs of participating in digital democracy are low.


The New Face of Politics in the Information Age by 6 Authors/”The New Democrat”, May-June 1996

The Internet is changing politics

The Internet’s position today is similar to that of the telephone before the 1940s. Few Americans had phones then because, after all, what good could a telephone be when there was no one else to call? Eventually, telephone ownership reached a critical mass and the medium became a prerequisite of modern communications. The Internet is now approaching that level. Even in its infancy, the impact of this new medium has drawn comparisons with that of radio, television, even the printing press. It is changing our lives at work, school, and home. And soon, it will fundamentally change the way politics is conducted in America -maybe even the very nature of our democracy. The Internet has four distinct advantages over the other mass media that now dominate politics. ** Preliminary research suggests that the average Internet user is even more focused on and engaged with the content before him or her than the average reader. In politics, this means candidates and elected officials can now get almost instant feedback from constituents, allowing democracy of a more participatory nature than at any time since the ancient Greeks. ** Advertising in the traditional mass media is extremely expensive. That’s why most candidates spend the bulk of their time not meeting with voters or thinking about policy but raising money. Compared with other media, the Internet is essentially free. Its advent may mean that candidates will spend less time chasing dollars and more time focusing on issues. ** Think back in time to the small groups that changed history with the power of their ideas -America’s founding fathers, for example, or the Marxists who overthrew czarist Russia. Now imagine what might have happened if they could have broadcast their political messages instantly around the world with the press of a button. ** Finally, the Internet offers a full multimedia experience. Through the combination of text, images, sound, and video, candidates and advocacy groups can “reach out and touch” the public in ways Ma Bell never imagined. Change is under way: although the Internet is still a few years away from some of these innovations, it is already changing politics profoundly. Many Americans are now completely divorced from the daily activities of their political parties (assuming they even belong to one). But what if your party could communicate directly with you, weekly or even daily? The Internet will change the way that elections work . It may make political communication easier and less expensive. It may also exacerbate those aspects of politics, such as negative advertising, that most Americans find objectionable. We Americans need to think about how we can harness this powerful new tool to improve our democracy.


by David Rothkopf - “Journal of International Affairs”, Columbia University, Spring 1998

For the United States, the ability to remain the world’s leader will depend on its ability to recognize the changes transforming the nature of power in the new world environment, and adapt to them. The Realpolitik of tomorrow is Cyberpolitik Realpolitik in the days of Bismarck was a comparatively simple game, albeit one that was swathed in intrigue and subplots. There were five powers of consequence in the world. Ally with two others, thought Bismarck, and the possibility of competing coalitions was forestalled. The Realpolitik of the new era is Cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power. The nature of this revolution in information technologies demands a recognition that change has become one of the few constants and that we must accept that literally and figuratively we live in a metastate, a changing of polity and a time of flux. The revolution empowers individuals and elites. It breaks down hierarchies and creates new power structures. It is the best tool for democrats and the best weapon for demagogues. New information technologies have transformed politics. In America, Ross Perot demonstrated the ability of an individual without any traditional apparatus to take his case to the American people. Thanks to the explosion of the Internet and computer-assisted approaches such as fax-casting and E-mail, it is now possible for individual or very small groups of people to form the kind of networks once enjoyed only by political parties or large organizations such as labor unions. Such groups are effectively disintermediated -candidates and advocates for special interests take their message directly to voters or other small organizations who might pass it on. Perot spoke of taking the concept a little farther to electronic town halls, live meetings in which he as president could constantly take the pulse of the American people. In some ways, this approach has been approximated by the current dependency of the White House on constant polling. Thanks to new technologies, such developments, as well as the coming likelihood of interactive links to virtually all American homes through cable Internet and other services, have given rise to speculation about return to “pure” democracy -direct electronic plebiscites that give authority to make major decisions back to the people on a year-round basis rather than just come election time. Fortunately, the United States is not only the world’s most powerful nation, but alone among all the nations of the world retains that leadership into this new age. If the world is now a borderless global economy, it is driven by American-made information products and services and funded by capital that is created in greater volume by and for Americans than anywhere else. If states are giving way to non-state actors, the most powerful among those corporations, NGOs and other entities are based in the United States. Americans invented the concept of information dominance and have the greatest global reach. Even as we acknowledge the challenges of this new era, the United States can also safely recognize that the country is certainly the once and future power of the Information Age.


by Jonathan B. Sallet, Chief Policy Counsel, MCI Communications Corp., at the Twelfth Aspen Institute Conference, 11 August, 1997.

Our founders very consciously created a republic, not a pure democracy. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison pointed to two ways in which a republic is distinguishable from a democracy: first, in a republic government is delegated to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; and second, a republic may be extended over a greater number of citizens and a broader expanse of land. Madison believed that the sheer size and geographic scope of the United States -even when the country consisted of just the 13 colonies- would make it difficult for sudden majorities to overwhelm the rights of a minority. Why? Because in the 18th and early 19th centuries information traveled slowly. When Thomas Jefferson was president, the journey from his home, Monticello, to the White House was an arduous trip on horseback that consumed three days. Perhaps the limits of technology seemed so obvious that Madison felt no need to acknowledge them...but...he was implicitly relying on the state of technology as a countermajoritarian protection, not -as we so often think of it today- as a force for democratization. Because he thought it would take so long for information to travel from Massachusetts to Virginia or Georgia. The cyber equivalent of the Greek city-state The Internet might very well erase the last structural vestiges of Madison’s counter majoritarian protections and remake the United States as a kind of cyber equivalent of the Greek city-state. With the Internet we can have an instant plebiscite on any topic at any time: gun control; abortion; the death penalty. Maybe that’ll work. But what about fiscal policy? Would there be any value in having a referendum every morning on whether the Prime Interest Rate should be raised or lowered a quarter of a percent? And what will this this do to the idea of leadership? Some of the implications of this are explored more fully in Elections in Cyberspace: Toward a New Era in American Politics, published by the Aspen Institute. It was once widely believed that technology would be the handmaiden of totalitarianism, enabling governments to tighten their power over the individual. That’s the theme of George Orwell’s 1984. Today we understand that technology doesn’t prop up tyrants, it knocks the props from under tyrants...and they come crashing down.


by Dan Johnson “Futurist”, January 1999

The Internet has enormous potential to strengthen democratic practices, according to a Rutgers University study, “The State of Electronically Enhanced Democracy”. But establishing genuine political discourse on the Web may be difficult. “The Web reflects little use that can be called civic or political at all, and where political and civic use occurs it is only rarely democratic in a strong, interactive, participatory sense” writes Beniamin A. Barber, director of Rutgers University Walt Whitman Center. In general, the Internet is being defined not by its civic or political content, but by merchandising and entertainment, much like television. At the same time, the Rutgers researchers cite qualities of the Internet that support the future realization of its democratic potential. It is free from the intrusion and monitoring of the government. It is interactive, fast, and cheap for users once they are connected. Moreover, the Internet naturally facilitates more communication among citizens than traditional mass media such as radio and television. Politicians and political parties have been slow to react to the Internet’s potential, according to Lee Magness, president of, a network of political Web sites. Magness anticipates a rapid rise in Net advertising and candidate Web sites as politicians begin to recognize that some voters rely more on the Internet than television and radio for information. And online political activity will increase as a computer-savvy younger generation grows up and logs on to learn more about candidates- and send them e-mail.


by Wallys W. Conhaim “Link-Up”, Sept./Oct. 1996

We still can’t expect online communities to mirror the many opportunities for citizen participation in the political process that exist in the offline world. Yet an online infrastructure for accessing political information and candidates, for discussing issues, and for taking care of the nuts and bolts of the electoral process is taking shape. There are a growing number of places online where your opinion can be counted. A recent survey by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that Web users participate in elections more than the general population. People studying the relationship between democracy and the online media, however, are seeing the Net as more than an opportunity to replicate existing structures in a new venue. They see it as a way to revolutionize the political process -as it is already revolutionizing other institutions, such as business. David Lytel, a former White House advisor on new media, describes our era as “one that is rich in the technology of communications but poor in the way media are used in our social and political communications”. He speaks of the lack of engagement of most citizens in the political process, the dominance and power of television, and media use of opinion polling to “legitimize their position as representatives of the popular will”. Lytel foresees a crumbling of this “broadcast regime” and its replacement by what he calls “the interactive regime” based in part on the emergence of new media, and in part on changes in citizen behavior. This new interactive system, in which receivers of messages can also be senders and “mass” audiences are fragmented, will have different rules and “a different dynamics by which power would be both accumulated and exercised”. Lytel believes we are less than a generation away from the Internet being as broadly accessible as the telephone. Others are also working toward getting the new media to facilitate democratic processes. Efforts are under way by such organizations as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Benton Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Center for Civic Networking. Minnesota E-Democracy One statewide organization that is not waiting to see how things shake out is Minnesota E-Democracy, a relatively new nonprofit organization. It has forged ahead to develop new models for citizen participation based on Internet access. The purpose is to involve Minnesota citizens in constructive discussion of issues and candidates and to help them to make informed choices. The project has thus created an “online civic space” that many competing civic interests can use and is well on its way toward stimulating a critical mass of online citizen participation in the region. Even in the normal early summer lull, the Minnesota E-Democracy Web site alone received more than 500 separate viewings a day. Fifty people posted items on the discussion list that was circulated to 300 people. Minnesota E-Democracy has already drawn the attention of those studying citizen participation worldwide. Scott Aikens, founder and current manager of the E-Debates portion of the program, also a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, England, believes a new public is already beginning to emerge that does not share the passive psychology of todays’s mass audience. He believes this public is motivated and capable of bringing about a “democratic revival”. Together, according to Aikens, these groups make up a new class: the “information elite”. This emerging new public, Aikens writes in “The Democratization of Systems of Public Opinion Formation”, “will have a strong self interest in revitalizing democratic ideas; will seek to hold representative officers accountable; and will be motivated to secure the construction of new political machinery so as to secure a democratic procedure for decisionmaking into the 21st century”. Minnesota E-Democracy is the first of several worthwhile efforts that demonstrate how technology can serve the public interest.


the Direct Democracy Center/on Internet

Voter apathy has reduced the elections of representatives, senators, even the president to less than 25% of registered voters. When all eligible voters are taken into account, the numbers are embarassingly less that 15%. Why? Because people are resigned to a feeling of helplessness. Their votes don't matter. Our representatives have become elected bureaucrats. They do what they want and hold the people in contempt. If our republic, our democracy and our Constitution have given us anything, it is the right of passage to quality freedom, real liberty and a better life for ourselves and our posterity. However, government has become so arrogant, independent and overwhelming, we simply won't get it without real democracy. With direct democracy, voter apathy will vanish. People participating in their future will take place. Direct democracy. What better place to begin, than here on the Internet! Direct democracy is the people controlling government directly through our nonpartisan elected representatives and deciding all matters of taxation and major public policy. The technology exists for us to have direct democracy by establishing voting networks of interactive electronic devices connected to the voters’ homes. * Do we have democracy in America? Absolutely not. In fact, what we do have is people by the government, usually through partisan representatives elected by special interests, power and money. Partisan politics and government have seized powers far beyond those granted by the Constitution and assumed the role of being parents to the people. * Representative democracy has failed. Over the 220 years of our history, democracy has been eroded to the point where the people have literally nothing to say about government. Partisan political powers, pre-selected candidates, special interests and the money behind them have completely undermined democracy. And the media has taken a dangerously complicit role in doing the same thing. The presidency has assumed the role of monarch and has circumvented Congress in declaring wars. The Congress has become an aristocracy, abused its power to tax and spend, and has accumulated massive debt upon the people. * The Republican and Democratic Parties betrayed their heritage. By definition, said parties are supposed to believe in government by the people in which the sovereign power is widely vested in the people. Obviously, they do not believe it. All they believe in, is partisan power at any cost, and none of it has anything to do with the will of the people. Why else would we be in this mess? Partisan politics have destroyed the social and economic fabric of America. We must reject all political party affiliations and register as independent voters! * The people are necessary, but held in contempt. We the people are only necessary because we're the consumers of government, giant corporate powers and the media. Those powers consume us with overwhelming propaganda and pander to us, only because we pay the way for them. We're important, only to the extent that we'll buy what they're selling, with taxes, cash or credit. * Direct democracy will control government and corporate powers. Direct democracy will give the people direct control over government and corporate greed by controlling public policy. With direct democracy, the people will control the present and future. We can begin on the Internet, and finish with an amendment to the Constitution, establishing direct democracy. The amendment should contain elements like these: 1. Establish direct democracy with secure interactive voting networks to every voter's home. 2. The voters will be fully and truthfully informed by elected leaders (not politicians as we know them) who serve at the absolute will of the people. 3. The voters will decide all significant matters of government, taxation and public policy. 4. Eliminate politicians, partisan politics and all the money, demagogues and campaign corruption that goes along with it. Conduct all campaigns and elections over the voting networks. The first and last time direct democracy happened was in Athens, about 2500 years ago. It worked perfectly for 200 years, until the wars of demagogues, kings and rulers took over. In the fifth century BC direct democracy was born in Athens, and it was the people who made it happen. Fifty years later, Pericles led direct democracy and Athens into the greatest civilization the world has ever known. Remarkable similitarities exist between Athens, before Pericles, and the current struggles with democracy in America. We must find our Pericles who will lead us to the greatness every citizen can work for and realize. Only we can do that with direct democracy. * We need leaders, not politicians. Politicians have evolved into a dirty word. Representative democracy created that dirty word because the Constitution caused the people to relinquish too much power. That power turned our elected representatives into politicians corrupted by the system. We need the leaders who will evolve out of the direct democracy revolution, and they will come as sure as Pericles did in that fragile democracy of 25 centuries ago in Athens.


Some would like a high tech version of Athenian Democracy by Kevin Phillips/TIME, 1995

Technology, whose image has suffered under a century's worth of dictators, Orwellian novels and a long cold war, is becoming a key to the revitalization of U.S. politics. The stakes are enormous. The science needed to effect this revolutionary transition is at hand; it's the nation's psychology that lags. Americans are still exorcising political ghosts and brooding about runamuck populism through electronic plebiscites dominated by talk-show hosts and TV cartoons. But a gradual, successive infusion of new technology into 21th century politics should serve to build confidence among skeptics. The mood of the nation is ripe. Last year survey takers reported that U.S. computer owners listed politics online as one of their highest priorities. History and political science suggest that voters are more discerning than the critics of "hyperdemocracy" (themselves often élites fearful of displacement) have been warning. "On most major issues we've dealt with in the past 50 years", pollster George Gallup Sr. noted in 1984, "the public was more likely to be right -based on the judgment of history- than the legislatures or Congress". Putting politics online North America has 19 million computer users online vs. 6,400,000 in all of Europe, 920,000 in Asia and 107,000 in Central and South America. At some point four to six years hence, the U.S. will become a testing ground: the first nation where most organizations and large portions of the upper and middle classes have individual online capacity. Creating virtual Washington Ross Perot has already urged national town meetings; a group in Pennsylvania is talking about voters advising Washington via an Electronic Congress; and nostalgia is growing for a high-tech update of Athenian democracy or of Norman Rockwellian townspeople gathered around a cast-iron stove in rural Vermont. In a TIME poll last September, Americans favoured establishing a national referendum by an overwhelming 76% to 19%. Similar sentiments are visible in other English-speaking nations that also share America's history of representative rather than direct democracy. Technology makes it so easy that by the year 2000 Americans will probably have a chance to vote on a carefully limited group of major national issue. By 2020 success may well have enlarged the scope of citizen decision-making. The question for the next century is less whether the Republican-Democratic party system will weaken, than: how much more direct democracy, more parties or both? Because this interaction with technology could change American politics so much, the cynic can fairly ask: is it only 20 or 25 years away? The answer is: maybe less.


"The Economist" (leader), June 17th, 1995)

Between the extremes of what technology might do to politics lies some fascinating new territory, well worth exploring. The great electronic leap forward of the 1990s is clearly going to make it harder for the machinery of democracy to remain in its present steam-engine stage. For the past couple of centuries democracy has meant a system by which the people vote every few years to elect a handful of representatives, who take all important decisions. For two reasons, this sort of democracy may no longer be sufficient. Something more direct may have to be attempted: decisions by vote of the whole people. Reason number one is that the gap between ordinary people and parliamentarians is far narrower. This is probably the chief explanation of why politicians are currently in such bad odour in so much of the democratic world. Ordinary people are now in a better position to examine what their representatives are up to, and wonder whether it is really a good idea to let such a collection to do so much of the business of politics. The second reason for taking a serious look at direct democracy is that it may be better than the parliamentary sort at coping with one of the chief weaknesses of late-20th-century democracy: lobbying. Lobbying goes wrong when special interests use their money to cross the lines between persuading politicians and buying them. When the lobbyist faces an entire electorate, bribery and vote-buying are virtually impossible. Nobody has enough money. Done with care, direct democracy works. And that, after all, is the way the logic of the 20th century points. If democrats have spent much of the century telling fascists and communists that they ought to trust the people, can democrats now tell the people themselves that this trust operates only once every few years?" Why elected representatives at all? Democracy may have become a standard form of government around the world, but it is one that still leaves many people dissatisfied. If enthusiasm for democracy is to be sustained, ways may have to be found to make individuals feel more involved. Now the technology of communication is undergoing revolutionary change.The Internet has opened up vast new possibilities. Such changes will inevitably affect the nature of political debate. Might they improve, even save, democracy? The question has been much discussed, mainly in the United States. There enthusiasts such as Alvin and Heidi Toffler are keen on what they call 'semi-direct democracy'. They have long been chums of Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House of Representatives and a fellow techno-enthusiast. Last year (vice president) Al Gore spoke of "forging a new Athenian age of democracy". In Britain Demos, a left-of-center think tank with considerable influence over Tony Blair, explored related ideas. When the public view can be tested so frequently and easily, another question arises: why have elected representatives at all? If individual voters can pose questions and offer views, will representative democracy prove to be merely intermediate technology, a bridge between the direct voting of ancient Greece and the electronic voting of modern California? In one sense, such transition is already under way."


by Brian Beedham/THE ECONOMIST, 11 Sept.1993

The difference between today' politics and the politics of the coming century is likely to be a change in what people mean by "democracy": to be precise, a radical change in the process by which the democratic idea is put into practice. This overdue change is a shift from "representative democracy" to "direct democracy". In most places democracy is in a condition of arrested development. In the intervals between elections it is representatives who take all the decisions. This is not what ancient Athenians meant by democracy. There are three reasons for thinking that this is going to change. One is the growing inadequacy of representative democracy. The removal of the ideological component has changed the agenda of politics, in a way that has a worrying consequence. What is left of the agenda of politics is pretty humdrum. It is therefore ideal ground for that freebooter of the modern political world -the lobbyist. He now commands more money than he ever did before. In the new agenda of politics, where so much depends upon decisions of detail, the power of the lobbyist can produce striking results. It will at times be, literally, corrupting. But even when it is not as bad as that it will make representative democracy seem increasingly inadequate. The voter, already irritated at having so little control over his representatives between elections, will be even angrier when he discovers how much influence the special-interest propagandists are now able to wield over those representatives. The result is not hard to guess. The voter is liable to conclude that direct democracy is better than representative democracy. This conclusion will be reinforced by the second reason for thinking there is going to be a change in the way democracy works. This is that there is no longer so much difference, in wealth or education, between voters and their elected representatives. Just one example. A hundred years ago fewer than 2% of Americans aged between 18 and 24 went to university; now more than a quarter do. People are better equipped for direct democracy. And then the third reason for believing that change in on the way is that the disappearance of ideology weakens the chief source of opposition to the new sort of democracy -the political parties, who have most to lose from changing to a different system. Of course it will take time for the ordinary voter to use his judgment responsibly. But a look at Switzerland, the country with the most systematic experience at direct democracy, suggests that the change presents no insuperable difficulty. Opponents of direct democracy argue that the ordinary voter should not be asked to decide about matters which either (a) have a large emotional content or (b) are too intellectually complex, especially if the complexity is of the financial sort. For both of those purposes, they say, the elected representatives can be trusted to do the job better. In fact, the Swiss experience contradicts this cynicism. Several examples make the point. Direct democracy can deal with complex matters responsibly, even when they affect the voter's pocket. Direct democracy sharpens the ordinary man's sense of political responsibility.


by Charles Krauthammer/ TIME July 13, 1992

Ross Perot is a one-man band. The fact that one man alone could have such a meteoric rise begs explanation. Yes, the country is disgusted with Washington gridlock. Yes, both parties have put up maddening mediocrities. Yes, America lionizes tycoons and is occasionally seized with the belief that they -Henry Ford, assorted Rockefellers, most recently Lee Iacocca- can save the country. And yes, Perot has $100 million to blow. But the Perot phenomenon signifies something larger, deeper. It signifies a geological change in American politics: the growing obsolescence of the great institutions -the political parties, the Establishment media; the Congress- that have traditionally stood between the governors and the governed. The traditional way to achieve and wield power in America is to tame or charme or capture these institutions. Perot's genius was to realize that for the first time in history, technology makes it possible to bypass them. Win or lose, knowing or not, Perot is the harbinger of a new era of direct democracy. Perot promise to bypass Congress and go directly to the American people in the "electronic town hall". It is here, says Perot, that the American people will, in direct communication with the leader, solve those knotty problems that have eluded a clumsy, corrupt Congress. Coming two-way TV technology will one day make it possible for Perot's town hall to be more than a glorified national talk show. It could be a place where, as in the original New England town hall, people don't just talk, but vote. For bombing Baghdad, press 1… For continued sanctions, press 2. For punting until next week's show, press 3. In 1789 the Founders contrived a deliberately cumbersome political system to make sure that popular passions were filtered before they could explode into national action. Over the next two centuries, party and press evolved as additional filters between rulers and ruled. Now, announces the Perot phenomenon, these filters face technological obsolescence. A century ago you needed party rallies and precinct captains. In the age of satellites, you don't. Little wonder that the parties are moribund, that party affiliations is so brittle, that congressional candidates are now political entrepreneurs beholden to no one. Big media? The democratization of communications, from CNN to MTV to C-SPAN, means that these dinosaurs can now be bypassed. Congress? A fen of stagnant waters, a den of special interests. To the town hall! Of course the electronic town hall, like the other trappings of direct techno-democracy, is an illusion. A New England town hall works because the town is small. Mass electronic communication is really one-way communication, top-down. It is precisely because direct democracy is such a manipulatable sham that every two-bit Mussolini adopts it as his own. The Duce and the people. No need for the messy stuff in between. Not for nothing did the Founders abhor direct democracy. They knew it to be a highway to tiranny. The American experiment has always been an experiment in democratic indirectness. The people do not get instant gratification for their political wants. They have them filtered first. The passing of these filtering institutions may be inevitable, but it is no cause for celebration. The parties, Big Media and Congress are, Lord knows, unwieldy, obtrusive and often offensive. But they're all we've got. Until we find something else to stand between us and the maximum leader, we should be loath to throw them away.


by Peter Huber (fellow, The Manhattan Institute), Forbes, July 20, 1992

Television democracy is not new, but telephone democracy is. Whether you like Ross Perot or hate him, take a good look at how he's running his campaign. For better or for worse, technology is transforming the face of democracy. (Some opinion makers) don't like this trend. They prefer that rulers maintain some distance from the people: they want "leadership", not government by referendum. But they have it wrong. To start with, the very idea of "government by referendum" is an illusion. Even issue-by-issue voting will never eliminate the need for leadership, at least not when people have to make multiple choices involving varied preferences. Government will always play a decisive role -in deciding just which questions are put to the electorate and in what order. Where is this sort of thing going to lead in the longer term? The mass media will rapidly lose the vast political power they have exercised for so long. The networked society will be shaped by the accumulation of individual decisions to meet or stay apart, to buy or sell, to speak or to remain silent. Small wonder that the established media moguls and more that a few confortably entrenched politicians are not happy about any of this. The people who did best in tv democracy are likely to do worst under the glare of the telephone. This medium of two-way communication is far more honest than television, the medium of one-way broadcast. Our politicians are going to grow more polite and their voices are going to grow smaller.
ROSS PEROT'S IDEA by Christopher Georges/ Washington Monthly, June 1993 In the political realm we are creeping ever closer towards a direct, let-the-majority-decide democracy. That drift towards direct democracy, while certainly part of a larger movement, is currently led by Ross Perot. Of course, populist yearnings among the American people have been as common as House scandals. But today, three forces have converged to make direct democracy a viable, even appealing, option. For one, the public's frustration with government -and with Congress in particular- has reached new heights: 80 percent of those surveyed earlier this year in a Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, said that the "country needs to make major changes in the way government works". At the same time, the public is more eager than ever to give the government a piece of his mind. Just ask the White House operators, who on a busy day during the Reagan years might have fielded 5,000 calls, but in 1993 are busy with 40,000 a day. Finally, factor in the most recent and significant development: the flourishing of technological tools that will allow anyone with a TV, a phone line and a few minutes to spare to vote on any issue, any time. This technology is expected to be on line by the time we elect our next president, and the public apparently has few reservations about using it. All which helps explain the rise of a populist like Perot, who can preach with complete credibility, as he did during the campaign, that "we can show everybody in Congress what the voters want, and we'll be programming (Congress). That's the way it's supposed to be." What most advocates of teledemocracy preach is that empowering the people with a direct vote in policy-making is the surest cure for the two great plagues of our representative system: it is strangled by special interests, and it moves at a glacial pace. Teledemocrats figure that if only we turned the levers of power over to the people, well, we'd fix all that. For one, the people, by going over the heads of Congress, could quickly eliminate the tiresome, time-consuming political haggling and, say, decide to outlaw fat cat political contributions at 10, and, if we felt so inclined, approve stricter gun laws tomorrow at noon. And at the same time, in a single stroke, we'd wipe out the clout of the nasty special interests. That's because the people cannot be bought, making the lobbying by the monied interests irrelevant. Or is it? As we take our first timid steps towards Perot's push-button utopia, it's worth pausing to consider what we might forfeit in the process. Despite the rethoric of populists, the evidence is that the closer we get to direct democracy, the more we disempower the common man, and at the same time enhance -or at the very least keep intact- the muscle of the monied interests. And while teledemocracy, no doubt, can short-circuit the haggling that throttles Congress and jump start our chronically gridlocked process, that much maligned horse trading may, in fact, be more valuable than any legislation it holds up. While Perot is in front on the referendum bandwagon, other high profile politicians such as Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan, Richard Gephardt and Phil Gramm have all supported the idea. But with or without Clinton, or even Perot, most Americans will soon be hooked into our leadership through the already-under-construction data superhighway. The nation's largest cable company, Tele-Communications, Inc., sharply accelerated the race to link the nation by unveiling a plan to lay fiber optic cable through 400 communities by 1996. The cyberprize they're chasing is the edge in the two-way fiber optic cable communications market, which will not only allow users, through their TV sets, to respond instantly to commercials, order food, conduct bank transactions and pay bills, but vote -or at least instantaneously voice an opinion- by picking up your book-sized interactive box and letting your fingers do the voting. That's no hype dream. In fact, such a system is already in place in several cities . Interactive Network in Mountainview, California, for example, which has linked more than 3,000 homes, held instant votes immediately after Clinton's State of the Union address (4 minutes after the speech was completed, 71% of the viewers punched in that they supported the Clinton plan). And while televoting is just one of several two-way TV applications companies are pursuing, more than half a dozen organizations are aiming to put the new fiber optic technology to use for national on-line voting. The Markel Foundation and the Aspen Institute, as well as independent academics such as Amitai Etzioni and the Univ. of Texas's James Fishkin, are examining ways to put the new technology to work. Here is, however, the larger question that the push-button technology brings: whether to push. If, as teledemocrats claim, majoritarian government is the magic bullet that will at long last make our government the true servant of the common man, why not? Several decades of experience in direct democracy at the state level -namely state initiatives and referenda- provide a clue. California in particular offers a useful model, where citizens have voted on more ballot initiatives - 200 plus since 1912- than anywhere in the nation. In fact, no society since ancient Greece has sustained such a long history of direct democracy. But not even Homer could mythologize the success of majoritarian government in California and other states, especially with regard to the clout of the monied interests.


"Business Week", April 13, 1992

The notion of a nationwide network for participatory democracy goes back to 1955, when psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society of "a true House of Commons", where citizens would vote on issues "with the help of technical devices we have today". In 1982, futurist Alvin Toffler wrote that such a system would "strike a devastating blow at the special-interest groups and lobbies who infest the corridors of most parliaments". Some towns already hold electronic meetings as a regular part of government. In Alaska, state representatives hold massive telephone conferences for the public to voice complaints and offer ideas. And in Santa Monica, Calif. residents debate policy and talk to town leaders using personal computers stationed in homes and libraries. Perhaps the ideal system for the masses is interactive cable Tv, which would let citizens watch and take part in policymaking from their living rooms. When Congress is deciding whether to raise taxes, the proposal could be aired on a "democracy channel" where viewers could vote via remote control. In the early 1980s, when WarnerAmex Satellite tested such a system, it found that 10 times more citizens participated than attended town meetings. Until such systems are widespread, Perot says, his Administration would have the citizenry register opinions over the phone through 800 numbers. But the very thought of instant politics and direct democracy raises questions: Would votes on issues be binding or just advisory? Who would decide what issues get voted on? Wouldn't it be harder that ever for Congress to stand up for what's right, rather than what's popular?


by James S. Fishkin, professor, U.of Texas "The American Prospect", 1992

American politics is suffering from an attraction to direct democracy. Symptoms of this attraction include the proliferation of referenda, particularly in the western states, and the credibility given to presidential candidate H. Ross Perot's during the 1992 campaign to introduce “electronic town halls” in which television viewers would call in votes on current policy issues. The talk shows or town meeting ideals hold out the promise of even more radical departures from conventional political coverage. This was the basic idea behind Perot's proposal for the “electronic town hall”. This kind of electronic town hall has two fundamental defects -it is neither representative nor deliberative. Is there some way of getting over the problem of effectively motivating ordinary citizens to acquire political information and deliberate about it? Some recent experiments, in both the U.S. and Britain, suggest a new way of combining television and survey research. In five different British elections, Granada television took a random sample of 500 citizens from a benchmark constituency in northern England. The Granada 500 was a statistical representative sample that was also prepared on the issues. It took no votes but offered a new kind of forum for questioning the candidates, forcing them to confront issues of direct relevance to ordinary citizens. The Jefferson Institute in Minnesota has been experimenting with “citizens' juries” that question candidates and deliberate about their positions. However, juries of 18 people cannot be statistically representative of the entire population, as a full-scale random sample would be. Both the citizens' jury and Granada 500 use randomly chosen citizens who are given the opportunity to deliberate about public policy. These elements are both included in my own proposal for a "deliberative opinion poll" at the start of the primary season on national television. I propose a full-scale national random sample of 600 people gathered to a single site where they can question the presidential candidates in person or on television. The result of such "deliberative poll" at the start of the primary season would receive enough coverage to play a major role in launching candidacies and issue.


An electronic town meeting could work. Is it a good idea? by Philip Elmer-Dewitt/"TIME" June 8, 1992

The concept of teledemocracy as envisioned by Perot has a certain gut appeal. To voters fed up with the paralysis of Congress and the special interest outrages that characterize politics as usual, the idea that the citizenry might bypass all the musty machinery of representative democracy and directly influence the government seems enormously attractive. But strange things happen when people communicate electronically, some of which do not bode well for teledemocracy. Anybody who has spent much time on the national bulletin-board systems knows that people on these networks are more likely to express anger or enhusiasm than they would in normal conversation. It takes time to present all sides of a complex issue fairly, and the answers depend on how and when the questions are posed. In the ideal electronic forum, a problem like balancing the budget or reforming health care should be raised and thoroughly debated by many people over a period of weeks. If people are asked to make snap judgments, the risk of demagoguery is great. It was Hitler, after all, who pioneered the electronic referendum, using radio broadcasts to drum up votes for plebiscites supporting his rise to power. The Founding Fathers concluded that people were too easily swayed by passion to be entrusted with direct democracy. The government they fashioned was not a national town meeting but a representative democracy, in which lawmaking power is entrusted to elected officials and constrained by a system of checks and balances to ensure that decisions are not too easily made. The very thing that disgruntled citizens decry in representative democracy -namely that often leads to paralysis and a tendency to cater to narrow interest groups- are also the source of its strength. Checks and balances guard against popular whims and demagoguery while protecting minority groups from tyranny by the majority. It may be inevitable that the U.S. will eventually adopt some forms of electronic government; American politics is already dominated by video sound bites and computerized polls. But the challenge to the nation will be to use the new technology to support representative democracy, not subvert it.


Tomorrow's Electronic Electorate by James H. Snider, fellow, Northwestern Univ. "The Futurist", Sept.-Oct. 1994

Over the next 20 years, information technology may change more that it has over the last 200 years. If so, we can expect major changes in the democratic system of government. Aristotle argued in the fourth century B.C. that democracy could not work in a country larger than a small city-state such as Athens. After the birth of the United States -a huge democracy by historical standards- such arguments were discredited. But as evidence mounts that America's democratic system is moving farther away from the democratic ideal, it is easy to wonder if the pre-modern thinkers weren't on to something. According to a widely quoted study from the Kettering Foundation entitled Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street America, "Americans are both frustrated and downright angry about the state of the current political system. (They) do no believe they are living in a democracy now. They don't believe that "We the people" actually rule. What is more, people do not believe this system is able to solve the pressing problems they face". Perhaps the early political thinkers simply got the maximum democratic size wrong. Instead of it being 5,000, or 20,000, or even 100,000, maybe it was 250 million. Convinced that large scale democracy was impossible, the early political thinkers surely would have had little trouble identifying at least part of America's main governmental problem -its growing size and complexity. In 1831, there were only 11,491 federal employees; today there are millions. As government grows larger and more complex, it is harder to keep it accountable. The fundamental approach might be to use new information technology to trascend the inherent historic limitations of democracy. In moving from today's Industrial Age democracy to tomorrow's Information Age democracy, both direct and mediated ways can and should be enhanced. Citizens in action An important new form of mediated democracy facilitated by new information technology has average citizens, not specialized information agents, doing the mediation. This approach entails bringing together a random sample of voters to deliberate on issues and candidates. They, in affect, do the hard work of democracy that the rest of us don't have the time or motivation to do. Curiously, this is a form of mediated democracy widely used in ancient Athens more than 2,000 years ago and has continued, in a vastly restricted fashion, in the American jury system. New information technology facilitates its expansion in historically new ways. Many variations on this idea have been proposed. In one of the three 1992 presidential debates, the Gallup Poll randomly selected 200 American to serve as the audience. In the 1992 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, a small, random group of citizens were convened as a citizen jury to interview and evaluate the candidates. A more rigorous form of citizen-mediated democracy has been proposed by political scientist Jim Fishkin in his book Democracy and Deliberation. In what Fishkin calls a "deliberative opinion poll", a scientifically representative microcosm of American citizens deliberates on issues and candidates with the purpose of finding out what the public would think if it had the motivation and resources for informed decision making. If we accept the assumption of modern polling techniques that a group as small as 500 people can be an accurate barometer of the public sentiment, then such an approach preserves the essence of the democratic ideal while substantially solving the problem of the individual voter's low motivation and inadequate resources. Members of the sample would know that their voice has disproportionate weight (maybe by as much as 500,000 Americans) and that they are getting otherwise inconceivable access to special resources, such as one-on-one contact with candidates and leading experts.


"Atlantic", Oct.1992

The idea of technologically enhanced "town meetings" has been around at least since Buckminster Fuller proposed it a generation ago. And it is not likely to go away just because Ross Perot dropped out of the presidential race. The idea deserves serious examination, because if the 1992 election campaign has taught us anything, it is that most Americans feel alienated from national politics as currently practiced, and there is need to find ways to reinvolve them. Simply changing the cast of characters may not do the trick. Public-opinion polls show a deep sense of disaffection that reaches well beyond the candidate themselves. There are long established precedents for the idea of adding some elements of direct democracy to our representative government. Twenty-three states currently grant their citizens the right to pass directly on items of legislation and even to modify state constitutions by putting amendments on a ballot (California leads the pack). In addition, numerous measures, such as school bonds and public-works funding, are regularly decided on by referenda.


Peter Huber/"Forbes", Dec.2, 1996

Telecommunication companies now offer voters the ultimate shopping experience: shopping for better government. Your computer and your telephone enable you to choose what you like. The idea of choosing government is not, of course, new. What has changed is the ease and convenience. In the past you had to vote with your feet. Now you can vote with your modem, too. By far the most effective way to vote against new government spending is to buy some other government's bonds. This kind of balloting is in fact conducted continually -by banks, pension funds and mutual funds. By dispatching its capital elsewhere, the electorate can almost instantly depress the economy and thus the government's tax revenues. Technology has also rendered completely obsolete the very idea that government authorities can control morality and culture. Politicians may still give speeches about these things, but everyone knows the talk is just reactionary twaddle. Competition improves the quality of everyhing else; it will improve the qualiy of government, too. Most politicians are pragmatists. They'll grasp that they have to deliver a good service at an attractive price -or lose market share to the competition. Bill Clinton understands this; he learned that the bond market runs the most powerful polls at all. He ran as a budget conservative. As managers, workers and consumers, we buy government in much the same way we buy shoes. Not through bribes or political action committees or anything like that -we buy it by paying taxes and complying with the laws. But when shopping in one government's mall gets too expensive or inconvenient, we shop in another's. So the old political carnival is over. The old game of big promises on election day, soon forgotten in the enjoyment of power, is over.


A Conference Report/ Columbia University, 1992 Alfred C.Sikes, chairman, Federal Communications Commission

The United States has the chance to lead the world in developing an information-based consumer economy. We have the chance to use the explosion of information technologies to literally transform our society. We can better understand the challenges and opportunities of technology if we focus on two dimensions of the information revolution. The first dimension is the idea of empowerment achieved though communications. The second one, closely related to the first, is the concept of democratization. With some 30 million PCs and better than half the work force working with computers, we're rapidly becoming a computer-literate society. In commercial terms, we're approaching critical mass, if we haven't achieved it already. The same factors that caused industry to adapt should cause American society to do so as well. In just a few years we should see a democratization of this potential and the empowerment of the American people, i.e. the true transformation of our society.