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When Digital Hordes Attack

April 4, 2012

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Sebastian Pfeffer in The European Magazine:

In politics, you want the masses behind you, not in front of you. Whoever is able to move the masses, holds power. With the recent electoral successes of the pirate party in Germany (which cannot be separated from fresh ideas about political participation), a discussion has arisen about the supposed “popular masses” on the internet. The only problem: They don’t exist.

After being almost obliterated in recent regional elections, the Secretary-General of the German liberal party FDP took to the microphone to condemn the new-found competition. He argued that the pirate party’s understanding of politics would be “determined by the tyranny of the masses”. (…)

Two world views collide. One of them regards the masses as threatening to politics. From a historical perspective, that is not necessarily a dumb assessment. Often, massive political participation meant revolution. More often than not, the drunken joy of revolutionary change was followed by a painful hangover.

According to the other world view, popular participation implies hope. One of the founding ideas of democracy is that everyone should be free to participate in politics. In ancient Athens, citizens assembled, discussed, and then decided their common affairs collectively. In modern societies, it’s impossible to bring everyone together in front of the national parliament. But the mechanisms of the internet make it at least less impossible. This is the intellectual origin of the pirate party: A virtual Athens for the 21st century. (More)

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