The WikiLeaks intelligence documents have started appearing in the papers. There’s no earth-shattering revelation, yet this disclosure to the public is extremely important because it brings to light our two alternative conceptions of democracy. In the classic idea of democracy, the one you learn at school and the one reflected in the structure of electoral institutions, participatory democracy is the ideal and representation is merely a device to make democracy practical at large scale. In classic democracy, the public is at all times the source of authority and arbiter of decisions. Openness is essential, and the role of the media is to keep the representatives in line with the wishes of the public. In classic democracy there is no question that the information recently released by WikiLeaks should be routinely open. While that might make the work of government at times inconvenient, this type of democracy is the safest and least oppressive form of government we have so far discovered.
The alternative view of democracy, now prevalent de facto, is the democracy of the management firm. The state is governed like a large public firm. Political parties are management consultancies bidding for contracts to run the firm for a number of years. Elections are the general meeting, where citizens vote one share but large investors (businesses) vote according to their share of the economy. The role of the media, if it’s not the firm’s own newsletter, is to carry advertising. In this kind of democracy, the management firm, once hired, is allowed and expected to work behind closed doors. Their performance is judged only by aggregates, such as economic growth. Citizens are certainly not routinely informed, and have no say unless some investor lobby (large business interest) feels that the management performs poorly and calls for an early general meeting. If that is the democracy we have, WikiLeaks is wholly irresponsible and out of place.
Which type of democracy do you think we should have?