July 19, 2005

Reading List

I have two items on my reading table.

The first is Bernard DeVoto's edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark. (ISBN: 0395859964)

The second is the Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance.

I highly recommend both.

The expedition of Lewis and Clark occurred 200 years ago during the middle of a major political shift caused by the American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic wars.  It was a time relatively early in the shift away from national sovereignty as deriving from a deity and expressed through a monarch to a time when it was believed that nations exist and obtain legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

The Working Group's report seems to mark the end of that shift.

We are today in an era when the concept of the nation-state is changing in as deep and important ways as it did during the century surrounding the expedition of Lewis and Clark.

The WGIG report is a harbinger of the nature of that change.

The era of Lewis and Clark ushered in the idea that governments obtain their legitimacy from the people and that such governments are entirely accountable to those same people.  That was the era of phrases that recognized the humanity that underlies governance and governments - that was the era of stirring phrases such as "When in the Course of human events ..." (US Declaration of Independence) and "We the People of the United States ... establish this Constitution" (US Constitution), and documents such as the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The era of the WGIG Report retreats from the idea that people matter.

Nowhere does the WGIG report even begin to establish that the purpose of governance is to advance the aspirations of people both as individuals and as nations.  Instead the WGIG report designs this new form of governance, and government, on the concept of privileged groups euphemistically called "stakeholders".  (And nowhere does the WGIG report bother to ask who gets the privilege of measuring this "stake" and deciding who or what will be awarded the prized label and right of participation.)

The WGIG report identifies three groups of these "stakeholders": "governments", "private sector", and "civil society".  The community of internet users is ignored by the WGIG report and implicitly leaves you and I to be to nothing more than passive observers and voiceless consumers.

In other words, the WGIG report seems to have swallowed without question the proposition that the worth of a person is not found in his or her character or works but instead is only to be indirectly measured through those corporations and associations who claim to represent that person (whether they actually do or not.)

Accountability in the world of the WGIG is not to the people but to the corporations and associations.  The corporatist theories of the 1930's are revived in the WGIG report.

One might attempt to argue that the WGIG report's inclusion of "governments" is an implicit path through which the concerns of living people are expressed.  However, to the extent that such an argument has validity it also has validity with regard to the concerns of the legal fictions we call corporations and other forms of association.  If you and I obtain sufficient representation in this new world through our national governments then why do not business entities; why do they get their own special seat at the table while you and I are denied?

It would be hyperbole to say that the WGIG report is the end of democratic governance; however it is not too much to recognize that the WGIG report contains nary a bone of democratic principle.

I will have more to say in later notes about the other contents of the WGIG report.  Much is good.  Some is disingenuous and naive.  But on a scale of importance, those matters are almost vanishing small compared to the report's reversion to governance by guild.

Posted by karl at July 19, 2005 12:45 AM