Open Democracy and Digital Technologies

Paper by Hélène Landemore: “…looks at the connection between democratic theory and technological constraints, and argues for renovating our paradigm of democracy to make the most of the technological opportunities offered by the digital revolution. The most attractive normative theory of democracy currently available—Habermas’ model of a two-track deliberative sphere—is, for all its merits, a self-avowed rationalization of representative democracy, a system born in the 18th century under different epistemological, conceptual, and technological constraints. In this
paper I show the limits of this model and defend instead an alternative paradigm of democracy I call “open democracy,” in which digital technologies are assumed to make it possible to transcend a number of dichotomies, including that between ordinary citizens and democratic representatives.

Rather than just imagining a digitized version or extension of existing institutions and practices—representative democracy as we know it—I thus take the opportunities offered by the digital revolution (its technological “affordances,” in the jargon) to envision new democratic institutions and means of democratic empowerment, some of which are illustrated in the vignette with which this paper started. In other words, rather that start from what is— our electoral democracies, I start from what democracy could mean, if we reinvented it more or less from scratch today with the help of digital technologies.

The first section lays out the problems with and limits of our current practice and theory of democracy.

The second section traces these problems to conceptual design flaws partially induced by 18th century conceptual, epistemological, and technological constraints.

Section three lays out an alternative theory of democracy I call “open democracy,” which avoids some of these design flaws, and introduces the institutional features of this new paradigm that are specifically enabled by digital technologies: deliberation and democratic representation….(More)”.