Taiwan imported a crucial concept from Europe, which is at the core of its current internal conflict. Democracy arose in the Agora of Ancient Greece and has become entrenched in today’s cyberspace, where knowledge can now be shared by all. Yet the wisdom of Plato is not always so easily found.
Hence, with the digital “death of distance,” direct democracy — by ubiquitous and real-time clicking “of the people, by the people…” — has become technically feasible at all levels from local to global.
However, does such direct voting always result in decisions “for the people” — which is the third element of former US president Abraham Lincoln’s democracy? Or would the outcome rather be an ad hoc “tyranny of the majority, as coined by French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, following each and every short-lived shift in popular preference?
Technology has rendered sharing the de facto “norm” on the borderless Internet, where information and knowledge are shared in ways that earlier generations from the time of the enlightened French philosopher Denis Diderot could only dream of. This newly gained incremental transparency of the political sphere likewise increasingly impacts and limits tolerance of traditional top-down governance of claimed representation based on elections every four or so years. Consequently, calls come from the bottom up for more direct democracy.
However, while its technology exists, a legitimate process has not been implemented to make this “normal,” neither upstream toward globally nor downstream toward locally established political strata to deal with societal changes.
The cleft only seems to be widening further between the faster advances of civilization through individualizing technologies and the slower progress of culture by edification toward omnilateral sharing.
Perhaps, one-directional data, information and knowledge do not suffice and more multidimensional networking and wisdom are required to deal with the limits of the assumed abundance of material people still enjoy.
However, where are the politicians and parties that properly function to channel the will of the people into parliamentary debates that enlighten the public in representative democracies? These crucial questions remain the same for civic groups, from the German Einziger Parlamentarische Opposition (APO, extra-parliamentary opposition) of the 1960s to the Sunflower movement.
Norms are necessary to let these groups grow into proper political parties and guarantee their internal democracy and fair funding. If parliamentary systems are to be enhanced while people mature as voters to allow more direct democracy, new parties will have to deal with new issues at all levels of the government.
It was not by accident, but clearly through a causal contribution by the APO that the German parliament — one of the first in Europe — in 1967 started producing legislation to regulate political parties.
By the 1980s, it had developed into a more comprehensive regulatory body than in most other established democracies and significantly helped to integrate new political forces ranging from the environmentalist Greens to the former communists in the East after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Even in Russia, the Duma adopted a party law in 2012, very much in reaction to growing opposition forces outside its official political groups.