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Ehud Shapiro ( email@example.com) is the
incumbent of the Harry Weinrebe Chair of Computer
Science and Biology, Department of Computer Science
and Applied Math, Weizmann Institute of Science,
The author thanks Ofir Raz, Amos On, Luca Cardelli,
Jeffrey Sachs, Stan Letovsky, Yaniv Erlich, Benny Daon,
Shani Gershi, Nimrod Talmon, Ariel Procaccia, Liav
Orgad, and Raffaele Marchetti for discussions and helpful
comments and Michal Golan-Mashiach and Ouri Poupko
for their help.
Copyright held by author.
Shapiro observes that “many democracies transform into oligarchies, plutocracies, or even kleptocracies” because
they are dominated by “the rich, the
powerful, and the connected.” Beyond
that there are is little analysis of the
problems that could help us see the
benefits of his prescriptions. His support for e-democracy seemingly rests on
the Internet’s near-magical properties.
In building a case for an “Internet revolution of democracy” he asserts “the
pressing need” for it and states there
exists “apparent clear ability of the Internet to deliver it.” A variety of other
critical questions are begged by the
presumption that e-democracy is necessary—even inevitable.
The big problems we face including
lack of government leadership, media
freedom, and critical civic education,
are problems that technology alone
condemnation, temporary gag, and
fines. As suspension or, worse, expul-
sion, violate the basic civil right to
vote, it may be considered too extreme.
Imagine a future in which a person is
a member of multiple e-democracies,
which have a joint judicial system. A
temporarily limit on participation in
all these democracies simultaneously,
analogous to jail time in the real world,
may be severe indeed. But for such a
punishment to be effective, account-
ability must be ensured: it is not suffi-
cient that the offending digital identity
be truthful; it has to be unique and per-
sistent, lest the offender sheds the pun-
ishment by abandoning one identity in
favor of another.
7. Hysteresis: Democracy’s forefathers did not foresee the immediacy
with which the general will can be ascertained on the Internet. Eventually, the
general will must prevail lest we violate
sovereignty. But it should go through
reasonable checks and balances until it
does, lest mob dynamics prevail. To this
end we enlist hysteresis, a characteristic
of systems in which the output is not an
immediate function of the input.
While a multiyear election cycle confers natural hysteresis on earthly democracies, e-democracies require hysteresis
to be engineered, so that swings in peo-
Won’t Save Democracy.
Democracy Will Save Democracy
Increased technology is not the
solution to the fundamental issue
of declining democratic culture.
DEMOCRACY IS RADICAL. It ex- ists when people are involved in their own governance: par- ticipating in public problem- solving and checking power.
It entails awesome responsibilities
that citizens don’t always embrace. But
shirking these responsibilities invites
catastrophe: decisions would be made
by the most powerful to enrich the few
at the expense of the many and the natural environment. Also, as the trend persisted, the ability for citizens to engage
wisely and effectively would degrade.
ple’s opinions may not immediately result in decisions that accommodate such
swings. Examples include minimal periods for proposal making and deliberation; minimal endorsements for proposals to be considered; minimal quorum
for a decision to be binding; and special
majority needed for certain actions, for
example, change of constitution.
It is my opinion that representative democracies are in dire straits because of
their failure to uphold core democratic
values, notably equality and transparency, and that e-democracy may offer
the only feasible remedy. I have derived
requirements for the foundations of e-democracy from the 1789 French
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen. The next urgent step is to build
such foundations so the desperately
needed Internet revolution of earthly
democracies would commence.
1. Anttiroiko, A.-V. Building strong e-democracy: The
role of technology in developing democracy for the
information age. Commun. ACM 46, 9 (Sept. 2003),
2. Camenisch, J. and Lysyanskaya, A. An efficient
system for non-transferable anonymous credentials
with optional anonymity revocation. Advances in
Cryptology—EUROCR YPT 2001 (2001).
3. Create a Democracy contract in Ethereum, 2017;
4. Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen;
More obstacles to engagement would
be erected by those who make the decisions. And so on in a downward spiral.
I agree with Ehud Shapiro’s statement in his “Point” column, “
Foundations of e-Democracy,” that democracy
worldwide is threatened and degraded.
Many countries are becoming less democratic and citizens around the world
are losing confidence in democracy. 5
I disagree, however, with many of his
prescriptions including the assertion
that “e-democracy may offer the only
feasible remedy.” Declining democratic
culture—not lack of technology—is the
best indicator for declining democratic
participation. When people see governance as irrelevant and unresponsive,
they become cynical and withdrawn
and the general ability to help address
shared challenges withers. Moving the
mechanics of democracy to the Internet
ignores these core realities.