A Social History of Decision Making
You can apply the Wedecide model without sharing or even knowing our view on how everything developed. But if you want to understand why we think Civil democracy is something grand, share our short view on the social history of making collective decisions.
In a perspective that spans 200 years, the huge social changes of current years are comparable to the changes which shook European societies about between 1848 and 1949. Modernization, i.e. the impact of growth and increased information availability, changes how human interact. Things become decidable as resources and information allow to deviate from tradition, the norm of keeping everything that works. And decisions become democratic or “deliberative” as resources and information allow everyone to contribute an own productive view to common decisions.
The specialty of Europe and its culture of Western Christianity was the support of level differentiation that allowed for organizations under common institutional roofs. It built on clear-cut group affiliations as a norm. It allowed to have groups behaving as unitary actors while tieing the resources of group members. The whole European process from the 19th century to the final establishment of industrial society in the late 1940s, including the two World Wars, established a productive institutional setting that rested on such clear-cut affiliations.
From 1968 onwards, clear-cut group affiliations have faded in the West. They have never been present outside of the Western European tradition, making non-European societies more individualized (in the structural understanding of Georg Simmel) than golden age industrial society in the West. And that makes representative democracy as we know it indeed an eurocentric concept that did not work very well elsewhere.
But that does not at all mean that democracy in general would be a eurocentric concept. Freedom and the participation in collective decisions is tied to both ends of human history: At its end, resources and information allow everyone to contribute own productive views to common decisions, globally. And that is what humans are meant to, since at the other end of mankind’s history, the necessity to contribute own insights and bear common responsibility applied to our common ancestors that grazed prehistoric grasslands. Our biological human hardware was shaped in ten thousand and more generations of freedom and responsibility in prehistoric clans. Status at that time was not even differentiated by gender; the only meaningful distinction was by age, between irresponsible children and responsible adults.
Only when the productivity of grain was discovered and the first ore melted, some humans realized that swords allowed them to control large groups, making them knights and kings and doing the decisions alone, leaving their subjects in the irresponsible and unfree positions that earlier had been the position of kids only.
In a first long period of change that has been called “axial age” (a term coined by Karl Jaspers, although we have a somehow differing view) and that lasted from about 1000 BCE to about 800 CE, societies created institutions to cope with communication and transportation on a first level. In these about 1800 years, the current world religions got their shape and created rituals and theories that gave overarching meaning to kings and peasants alike.
The whole current period of change since the 19th century is comparable to this axial age. In it, the institutional and social setting of Europe played a special role. Western Christianity was only one among several religious systems and the one that constituted itself by allowing for organizations under common institutional roofs, built on clear-cut group affiliations, as stated above. This feature allowed to populate Europe, to develop competitive and innovation-seeking states, and to have guild and city autonomy. Finally, it developed representative democracy when the interdepence of industrial society and the increased availability of resources and information made democracy a must-have, “the worst form of government besides all other who have been tried”, as Winston Churchill quipped in 1943.
Freedom is hence on both ends of the spectrum of growth and hence interdependence. The difference is civility, the fact that some norms and facts have to be known and understood in mutual exchange.
One of these norms and facts is that of responsibility. Western societies experienced a series of violence starting with terrorism and ending with the two World Wars and the Holocaust that arose from not knowing popular responsibility. It made democratizing populations vulnerable to the seduction of elites that appealed on their cognitive laziness by propagating politics of symbolic and real appropriation.
And that is a general mechanism: In the 2010s, the only nations in the world that are democratic and not too small and do not have a past of own violence, are Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, with current dynamics in these societies making it possble that they learned their lessons from the bad example of others, but the worse option being still possible.
Based on these mechanisms, we see it as necessary that civil democracy open actors are monitored to control for politics that do not rest on finding common improvements but on appropriation in symbolic and violent forms beyond the boundaries of adequate redistribution. Responsible and open societies learn, but some costs of learning are too high.