Tag Archives: citizens

Democracy Is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens – Eric Liu – Politics – The Atlantic

12 May

Though not written as such, this excellent article is a brief for Transitioning and Politicking, for the connection between the local and the global.

The work of democratic life — solving shared problems, shaping plans, pushing for change, making grievances heard — has become ever more professionalized over the last generation. Money has gained outsize and self-compounding power in elections. A welter of lobbyists, regulators, consultants, bankrollers, wonks-for-hire, and “smart-ALECs” has crowded amateurs out of the daily work of self-government at every level. Bodies like the library board are the exception.

What we need today are more citizen citizens. Both the left and the right are coming to see this. It is the thread that connects the anti-elite 99 percent movement with the anti-elite Tea Party. It also animates an emerging web of civic-minded techies who want to “hack” citizenship and government.

Why is government in America so hack-worthy now? There is a giant literature on how interest groups have captured our politics, with touchstones texts by Mancur Olson, Jonathan Rauch, and Francis Fukuyama. The message of these studies is depressingly simple: democratic institutions tend toward what Rauch calls “demosclerosis” — encrustation by a million little constituencies who clog the arteries of government and make it impossible for the state to move or adapt.

This tendency operates in an accelerating feedback loop. When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues. Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking. They anticipate that engagement is futile, and their prediction fulfills itself.

And just HOW do we become citizen citizens?

The work of democratic life — solving shared problems, shaping plans, pushing for change, making grievances heard — has become ever more professionalized over the last generation. Money has gained outsize and self-compounding power in elections. A welter of lobbyists, regulators, consultants, bankrollers, wonks-for-hire, and “smart-ALECs” has crowded amateurs out of the daily work of self-government at every level. Bodies like the library board are the exception.

What we need today are more citizen citizens. Both the left and the right are coming to see this. It is the thread that connects the anti-elite 99 percent movement with the anti-elite Tea Party. It also animates an emerging web of civic-minded techies who want to “hack” citizenship and government.

Why is government in America so hack-worthy now? There is a giant literature on how interest groups have captured our politics, with touchstones texts by Mancur Olson, Jonathan Rauch, and Francis Fukuyama. The message of these studies is depressingly simple: democratic institutions tend toward what Rauch calls “demosclerosis” — encrustation by a million little constituencies who clog the arteries of government and make it impossible for the state to move or adapt.

This tendency operates in an accelerating feedback loop. When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues. Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking. They anticipate that engagement is futile, and their prediction fulfills itself.

Second, we need to radically refocus on the local. When…

Third, think in terms of challenges rather than orders….

Fourth, create platforms where citizen citizens can actively serve….

via Democracy Is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens – Eric Liu – Politics – The Atlantic.

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