Council of Europe - Lýðræði
Í dag lauk í Strasbourg vel heppnaðri ráðstefnu um lýðræðismál. Skráðir ráðstefnugestir voru um tvö þúsund talsins en ráðstefnuhaldið fór að verulegu leyti fór fram í málstofum. Sumar þeirra voru fjölmennar, allt að tvö hundruð manns eins og þeirri sem ég tók þátt í með framlagi en hún fjallaði um beint lýðræði.
Hér má sjá hverjir höfðu framsögu:
Ég hélt því fram í mínu máli að lýðræði og þar með talið beint lýrððæði byggði á grundvallarrétti fremur en að skynsemsirök lægju þar að baki. Fulltrúalýðræði væri hins vegar praktísk lausn, sem kæmi til með að þoka fyrir beinu lýðræði eftir því sem tæknin opnaði okkur möguleika til þess að koma því við.
Ég hafði í fórum mínum eftirfarandi texta en hafði hann aðeins til hliðsjónar því ég ákvað að flytja mál mitt blaðalaust til að geta stytt það haldið mig innan tilsettra marka. En hugsunin er í textanum og læt ég hann því fylgja:    

Direct Democracy and the Political Parties

It is a complicated issue we are discussing. It is however first and foremost the technical side of it which is complicated. In my mind the principles are clear:  Namely that you and I and all of us  - not as members of a party or group - but as individual citizens have the right to have a direct say on how our lives are organized. It is of crucial importance that the principles be clear since they are bound to have a bearing on the conclusions we reach.

In my mind this ought not be a question of pragmatism. In other words the question should not be if direct democracy was better or worse for individuals or society at large - but a question of right. And as I see it the principles are the same irrespective of the form democracy takes, whether it be direct democracy or representative government. The right is ours as individuals.

 Throughout the ages, however, the tendency has been to approach the question from a utiltarian, empirical point of view, where the general conclusion has been that democracy is good for society.
Thus 2500 years ago the Greek historian Thukydites, through the words of Pericles, the worrior/philosopher, argued that the advantages of Athens over Sparta were the advantages of democracy over autocracy, the superiority of an open society over a closed one.

As society progressed, and we moved into the modern era, democracy became to be presented as a right. And the question in our time is wether direct democracy should be seen in that light; as a right of the voter to withdraw at any time or under certain circumstances the mandate normally given to elected representatives and take the deciosion-making power into his/her own hands (and here the technical qusetion is to find out under which circumstances this is possible or feasibile). After all representatives are in their position only for practical purposes since citizens either do not have the time, or the technical means to exercise their democratic right on every issue

Even if we take for granted the claim that democratic representation is an individual right, the political debate is still, to a great extent, dominated by pragmatist reasoning. Supporters of direct democracy try to convince us - like Thucydides 2500 years ago - that the more democratic a society is, the better, the more just and stronger it is.  Opponents say that the danger is that direct democracy produces opportunism, populist politics or even fascism.  Thus the two Napoleons, the first and the third, had their imperial autocratic power endorsed through public participation; through plebicite. And, furthermore, the public debate preceding a referendum, it is claimed, often deviates from the question at heart and tends to resolve around unrelated issues. A referendum on the European Union, for example, may become an expression of xenophobia.

Similarly, many defenders of the welfare system warn that if in direct democracy you can vote on taxes you may destroy the economic foundation of the welfare system since people will tend to vote selfishly not the least when their own taxes are being decided on.  Experience, by the way, tells us something different .

But even if this was the case, if taxes were voted down to the detriment of the welfare system and  if society became more xenophobic through plebiscite, we would have to look that reality in the eye and fight such tendencies by other means than taking away from people a right, which categorically belongs to them.

At this point, however, questions arise. Does the individual´s right apply to policy making or decision making - or both?  Of course, decisions often have to do with policy, not necessarily end results.  I would have thought that we need some formal structure on policy formulations.  Therefore, it may be argued that recent developments have not yet made political parties obsolete.  However, it is likely that the political party as a rigid authoritarian apparatus, soon will belong to the past, since more and more decisions of importance will be decided in a popular vote. The political party must adjust to this new reality if it is to survive. It must become more flexible and open and less rigid and authoritarian than most political parties are.

But if we make elected representatives always stand on their toes in on-line policy making processes, the danger may arise that the elected representative ceases to see himself/herself as a proponent of certain points of view and ideals that he or she is ready to fight for and even stand or fall by, and begins to interpret the political function solely as that of an intermediary conveying the ideas of others.

But then again the boundary between policy making and decision making may not always be very clear.  A decision may often be reached by discussion and consultation or as part of deliberation. A referendum or election may, on the other hand, often be divisive in society.  If decisions can be reached by a democratic consultative process, that is, of course, a positive thing.

This in turn also helps us avoid some of the ills of a society dominated by consumption in its various guises. In our daily lives most of us are consumers of commodities. In the political arena this applies also when it comes to policy making and political ideas. This will not satisfy the 21st century! People will not be content to be mere onlookers and "consumers" of other people´s decisions. They will want to take a more active part and become "producers" - producers of ideas. Here direct and on-line democracy is not only an auxiliary mechanism but can be a force for a greater common good.