This article was published in the Summer 1995 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
 
Dialogue
 
Electronic Democracy and the Prospects
for a Free Nation
 
by Richard O. Hammer and Philip E. Jacobson

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(to Phil Jacobson's reply)

Richard Hammer: In our Forum on 29 April, Phil Jacobson presented his thesis that the American polity is now undergoing revolution, both fundamental and peaceful. (See his article in Formulations, Vol. II, No. 3 (Spring 1995).) He implies, if I am not mistaken, that the effort of the Free Nation Foundation, to foster cohesion of a breakaway free nation, is unnecessary.

I appreciate Phil's insights because they show me things in a new light. But I am naturally reluctant to discard my existing assumptions. In this letter I will attempt to assimilate Phil's message, and then to state questions which remain for me.

Phil says that modern talk shows have effective veto power over legislatures, that legislatures do not dare do something which will meet aggressive opposition on talk shows. Thus, the public need to halt passage of new, damaging, legislation has circumvented the legislatures by finding effective expression on talk shows. I think I see this.

What remains a problem, in my conception, is the need for formation of order. If government would just plain disappear then we believers in spontaneous order would expect to see emerge, through a sometimes bumpy process, an order more satisfactory than any which could be forced by state. But while government maintains an existing array of barriers to the emergence of spontaneous order we may see a great deal of decay and violence in those realms in which spontaneous order continues to be effectively outlawed by government.

Example one: potholes in streets. If government fails to mend a pothole in its street in front of my house, and if I fix it with my own money and then try to recoup by charging small tolls, I expect the government, absent when the pothole needed mending, will reappear to crush my attempt to recoup my expenses.

Example two: prosecution of sociopaths. If, in a galaxy far away, government agents, either inept or evil, cause the death of a compound-full of people, and then if other citizens seek enquiry through existing government channels but find these channels hopelessly closed, then, frustration finding no civil release, anger may mount to dangerous levels.

Generally, where government purports to fill a need, whether mending holes in streets or healing wounds in social fabric, but fails and worse erects barriers to others who attempt to fill the need we may expect needs to go unmet, we may expect decay or violence.

This is my question to Phil. While talk shows may cripple the efforts of legislatures to impose new folly, I see them doing little to either: dismantle existing government-run barriers to the spontaneous order; or implant confidence in civil, spontaneous-order, solutions.

Thus where Phil sees good in the crippling of one institution, I see danger of a French-Revolution-style propagating front of hatred, with few knowing whom exactly to blame, and with the bud of spontaneous order, slow growing and fragile, repeatedly trampled underfoot.

 
(back to start of Rich Hammer's remarks)

Phil Jacobson: I agree with Rich's observation that my comments on the "changing of the guard" do not fully describe the formation of a new social order. But Rich's pessimism is unwarranted. The essay was not written to discourage readers about the breakdown of the old system, but to lay a foundation for mapping opportunities in the new one.

Rich says, "Phil .... implies ... that the effort of the Free Nation Foundation, to foster cohesion of a breakaway free nation, is unnecessary." FNF's Statement of Purpose speaks of its "developing clear and believable descriptions of ... voluntary institutions," which I had hoped to do in my essay. The Statement does not call for breakaway as the only scenario. Still, I believe that the voluntary institutions we propose will have world-wide significance, and that they will be copied in many locations, regardless of where they are first tried. Further, to the extent that voluntary association is allowed to the people of the world, their reorganization will inevitably involve all degrees of "breakaway."

Rich is concerned with "order." This is not a question of more or less order. The real question is "are things going to get better or worse?" Rich says, "where Phil sees good in the crippling of one institution, I see danger of a French-Revolution-style propagating front of hatred." I see good not in the crippling of the old, but in the emergence of the new. Individuals are finding it easier to learn about the sources of their frustrations. New outlets for political concerns are emerging. For most persons, more opportunities to voice frustrations and to coordinate with others will lessen tensions.

Rich worries about potholes and sociopaths. There are already potholes and sociopaths both have plagued civilizations for centuries. The kind of sociopathic violence Rich referred to is fueled by abusive government. It is caused by too much legalistic "order" and not enough grass roots "order." A new libertarian alliance of "liberals" and "conservatives" is reaching out through the talk shows to oppose the President's proposed "anti-terrorist" legislation (which would aggravate the problem). I think it is an example of the new system at work, and that it is succeeding in reducing tensions.

Regarding potholes I see no immediate progress. It is possible that there are communities where this is considered a high priority for talk shows which focus on local problems. But there is no perceived national "pothole crisis" so the topic isn't being discussed in all arenas the way sociopathic violence is. The old system has not broken down with respect to pothole repair. If it does, local activists will bring the topic up within the new system.

The new political system, Electronic Democracy, is still emerging. It will require a redefinition of the concept of a political party one which is appropriate to the electric media of today rather than to the paper-and-horseback communication systems of the 18th and 19th centuries. It will probably be very fluid, resembling what we now call a "movement" or "interest" with few formal elements, and a cohesion based on electronic communication. It will probably not involve office-seeking organizations seeking to control old paper-based contracts. FNF should explore and encourage this new institution not fear it.

This "revolution" may happen more slowly than most political revolutions more like the "Scientific Revolution" or the "Industrial Revolution" than the French Revolution. It took decades, from the time of the First American Revolution until the first few elections under the new Constitution, for the first stable political party system to form in the United States. It took even longer in Europe. In parts of the "Third World" it has yet to happen and it may not, as Electronic Democracy may reach those places before Representative Democracy does.

Meanwhile, let's watch for clues on how Electronic Democracy will work. Let's also think carefully about who the friends of an Electronic free nation are. Which constituencies will want all human relations to be voluntary? We need to make allies of them whenever and wherever we find them, but especially when we can transcend the traditional left-right political divisions which characterize the old regime. That is the best protection against a climate of hatred. D

  (back to start of  Phil Jacobson's reply)   (back to start of Rich Hammer's remarks)
 

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