…and then Machiavelli suggested opengov and radical transparency

Alex Schellong and I wrote down a longer conversation we have been having over the years and published it in the Harvard International Review:

The evolution of modern society is marked by continuous rise of government size, obligations and market interactions. According to Juergen Habermas, the expansion of the state into more and more private affairs led to a slow demise of the public debates over ideas and conflicts—the expression varying with context, history, and technology. Citizen-government interaction is reduced to election periods, interest groups and media-spin.

However, there was opposition to this development. Henry David Thoreau argued in his essay “Civil Disobedience” in the late 18th century, “government is best which governs least.” It implies a government reduced to the minimum in size accountable to its people. Because American government in the 18th century was already on its way to assemble the contrary, Thoreau suggested that if as many people as possible join peaceful protests, their actions would “clog the machinery of the state”, eventually leading to change. However, he did not succeed. And over the next 200 years, the state developed as the most successful organization form, an “imagined community” that structured the lives of most people on this planet. Today, however, with the advent of new network-based social platforms, Thoreau might have been more successful with his attempt to let his voice be heard and activate others for his cause.

In the 21st Century the ‘network’ has transcended the academic context and entered the wider field of the political discourse. Policy networks, networked governance, peer production, massive collaboration, open government, and radical transparency have become part of our political vocabulary that we rely on to legitimize why and how we act collectively. With web technologies and social media, such as interchangeable data-formats, wikis, transparency, and social networking, network society has become part of the mainstream global public policy discourse.

The early 21st Century evoke a Machiavellian time—a time when new technologies and new forms of thinking and governance emerged. So, if we are living in times of transformative change, where Internet technologies and an understanding of society as a network of inclusive, some-how like-minded, outcome-oriented, collaborators emerges we need to ask, what the logic of network society is, to be able to explain our world and predict future developments. Dave Clark, one of the original architects of the Internet, argued in 1971: We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code…

Read more on Macchiavelli 2.0 – Fundamentals of Network Society at the Harvard International Review.

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of “Machiavelli.net”. Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

01. March 2010 by Philipp
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