Review: Extreme Democracy

On: September 16, 2007
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About Fleur Dujardin
Fleur Dujardin is a master student of New Media at the University of Amsterdam. She has a bachelor degree in Marketing Management and a bachelor degree in Media & Culture with an expertise in televisionstudies.

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Politics is always changing as society incorporates new technology for disseminating information and connecting people’ (6)

Extreme democracy is a political philosophy of the information era that puts people in charge of the entire political process. It suggests a deliberative process that places total confidence in the people, opening the policy-making to many centres of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized around local, national and international issues. (58 – 59). It’s clearly that the authors recognised a change in politics. Not only in the way people express their minds about certain issues but also in the way that political campaigning has changed over the past few years. According to Jon Lebkowsky and Mitch Ratcliffe blogging has become a popular form of online discourse because of its ability to contribute to the discussion of issues in the public sphere throughout the world. They provide a new approach to democratic expression uncontrollable by local authorities. Divided in four sections, their book Extreme Democracy contains a collection of papers about new technology and politics.
A good example is the socialistic view, of James F. Moore in ‘The Second Superpower rears its Beautiful Head’ inspired by the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. According to Moore there is an emerging group of activists online who challenges the first superpower (the United States). He believes that if this second superpower works together they can enforce their will on a government.

‘When the United States opts to avoid or undermine international institutions, the second superpower can harass and embarrass it with demonstrations and public education campaigns. The second superpower can put pressure on politicians around the world to stiffen their resolve to confront the US government in any ways possible.’ (45)

I not only believe this is an unrealistic view, but also undermines the current democracy. Besides, the idea that the second superpower can work together is an utopian idea. Opinions are usually scattered and by giving the second superpower more influence on the first, there is going to be a third superpower who challenges the second and so on. The article ‘Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality’ by Clay Shirky supports this idea. According to Shirky there is a certain inequality among the weblogs.

‘A small number gets all the attention, but the majority gets none. He continues with the idea that any tendency towards agreement in diverse and free systems can create power law distributions.'(53)

So the more powerful the second superpower gets there must be a third superpower to challenge them.

Most of the articles are written around the Howard Dean campaign and are still relevant to date. An example is the article ‘Exiting Deanspace’ by Clay Shirky. This article is written after the failing of Dean’s campaign. He argues how it was possible that Dean as front-runner was actually an illusion. The fact that everyone thought he was going to do well but as he says:

‘the bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well’ (240).

With this insightful article Shirky points out that the campaign was a movement because of the revolutionary way he used the internet for this. But that does not necessarily mean that you get the right amount of voters, in spite of the support he received on the internet.

Most of the articles found in the book are coherent, but the last section of the book ‘activist technology’ stands on itself basically. This part is completely devoted to the use of new campaign tools. Especially the last article written by Adina Levin, in which he describes all possible internet campaign tools. It is more an instruction guide how to launch an effective campaign than an insightful article.
Nevertheless this book contains a variety of articles about technology and their influence on politics, and although the cases are dated, the content is still relevant today.

Lebkowsky, Jon. Mitch Ratcliffe. Extreme Democracy. http://extremedemocracy.com/

2 Responses to “Review: Extreme Democracy”
  • September 16, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Right about the last section. At one point we were going to put pieces like Adina’s in an appendix; that might’ve made more sense.

    I’m beginning to think that the book is more meaningful now, with some distance, than it was when we created it.

    Thanks for the review!

  • September 17, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Interesting review!

    While reading the review I was thinking that maybe Dean’s internet oriented campaign might have been too early?

    I think the current presidential race is very interesting in the same respect that a new medium could be making a difference like TV did in the past. When I see the amount of money Obama is able to collect by using the web, he is able to reach out to so many people! I think web 2.0 might do the same for Obama as it did for Kennedy back in the days.

    Look at his website and see for yourself:
    http://www.barackobama.com

    Notice all the web 2.0 icons, is this a little bit over the top ??

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