National vs City-Based Democracy

By Ryan Hodnett - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56194784

There are some interesting but at the same time disturbing developments in politics around the world at the moment. This is mainly driven by the fact that people no longer trust their traditional politicians and authorities.

The traditional differences between socialist (workers) and liberal (business/professionals) parties have been turned upside down. The liberals are now more conservative, with a strong following among the working classes, while the socialist workers parties are more progressive and are followed by more educated, socially engaged and environmentally conscious people. In between there is a large group of between 20% – 30% of the population who are totally fed up with party politics as well as the ruling elite; they are, therefore, an easy target for the populists.

Polarisation between the various groups has led to echo chambers whereby people within each group often only listen to the messages they like to hear. This leads to the disconcerting result that, among some of the populists and conservatives, reason is often thrown out of the window and knowledge is being disregarded – lies and deception are regularly becoming the new truth for many of these people. Demagogues leading these groups spread fake news, but they are unquestioned and adored by their followers. Very worrying indeed.

On a national level, we see that in many countries, party politics is placed above the national interest, and decisions are often made against the national interest because of this. Could this be a sign of desperation as the traditional support bases are dwindling?

It is clear – in my opinion – that structural changes are needed in order to restore democracy at the national level of many governments in what we still hope to call democratic countries.

It would be good for those politicians to look back at the origins of democracy in the ancient Greek city of Athens. Politicians were elected by their own peers (yes I know, only men of Greek birth) for one year. And, at the end of the period, they selected the worst politician who was then expelled for ten years from the city.

I would love to be able to select a few of today’s politicians for that punishment.

Of course, this Greek system was far from ideal and wouldn’t work in our society, but, nevertheless, it is worthwhile to look back on it. As there are no indications that structural changes will be made by those in charge of ultra-right oriented national governments, I have often argued that a bottom-up approach might be a more realistic solution.

In general, we don’t see the same attack on democratic policies, institutions, reason and knowledge at community and city levels. In reality, this is where the people are, and, despite national politics, they accept climate change and support actions to mitigate this; they support renewable energy; they welcome migrants and refugees; and in general terms, they help each other in creating liveable communities. There is also much better communication between people, making it possible in many cases to avoid the sharp confrontations that take place between the national politicians.

For example, it is interesting to look at how cities such as Barcelona and Quebec are addressing these issues as there are/have been very sharp divisions at a local level. After a long period, it looks like Quebec has come out of its crisis in much better shape, and in Barcelona we have a mayor whose sole focus for her smart city is the people.

So, rather than being led by technology changes, these cities are totally concentrated on the wellbeing of their local citizens. Of course, one doesn’t exclude the other, but it will be fascinating to follow those two cities in coming years.

Global Seven News

Paul Budde

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