While munching at Subway this afternoon (given the content that follows, I ought to lie and say that I was at Subber), I read the following article:
This is not a good time for political parties, especially those with traditional orientations. Gone are the times in the older democracies when one could count on two major parties – one social democratic, the other more to the right of center – dominating the political scene.
[b]The very structure of society has come to be shaky. There are no social groups on which lasting organizations can be built. People are, in a sense, socially homeless. This means that their interests vary as situations change. It also means that they no longer find a political home in parties, but react to situations, to vague moods, and above all to appeals to sentiments, if not resentments.
This is the condition in which populists thrive.[/b]
These populists promise solutions that dispense with the habits and norms of moderation, notably with centrist democratic policies and an internationalism that seeks to promote peace and prosperity. One sometimes wonders whether we are experiencing not so much the end of history as the end of enlightened history, perhaps of the enlightenment itself.
Beyond that, populist episodes are signs of an underlying instability that neither serves national progress nor contributes to international order. Austria paid a price for its Haider interlude, and France did not exactly benefit from the runoff between President Jacques Chirac and Le Pen in the last presidential election.
Is there a remedy? Political parties have had a bad press in recent years, and there are good reasons for this. Still, they do fulfill a useful function by bundling interests and issues, thereby providing an element of stability in the political system.
Existing parties urgently need to recapture the support of citizens. To succeed requires programmatic clarity, organizational honesty, and an understanding of the concerns of societies that have lost their traditional structures. Those structures are gone forever, but a liberal-democratic order cannot succeed through situational politics built on popular resentments. It requires a sense of the medium term and a commitment to rational debate of issues, for one tradition that can be revived – that of enlightened thinking – is the most important of all.[/quote]
Much in that piece struck me as silly, or weak, but the core of the argument is sound and significant: traditional political parties are failing, and activists are becoming more narrowly focused (those who have a focus).
Whatever; nothing new. I filed the story away, continued listening to an audio book (generously provided by some Swedish friends) on my iPod (the real deal), and went on my merry way.
But just now, I came across the following article:
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Last Jan. 1, almost on a whim, 35-year-old IT manager Rickard Falkvinge got into politics.
Concerned about the reach of copyright and patent law, Falkvinge erected a web page with a sign-up form for a radical new pro-piracy party to compete in Sweden’s parliamentary system. He didn’t know if anyone would care, but the next day the national media picked it up, and two days later international media started calling.
The site was flooded with new members – enough for the nascent movement to sail past the requirements for participation in the national election. Falkvinge now faced a decision: stay with his nice job and let the whole thing quietly sink, or quit and become a campaigning politician. He chose to become the leader of Sweden’s newest and fastest-growing political party: Piratpartiet, or the Pirate Party.
In March, game show contestant Petter Nilsson won the politically themed Top Candidates show by delivering speeches supporting file sharing, and committing to donating 20 percent of his $30,000 winning to the Pirate Bay. A cultural minister from a southern Sweden municipality admitted in June to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that he downloaded music on a daily basis, and called for more adults to “come out of the file-sharing closet.” Last May’s raid on the Pirate Bay sparked street protests and cyberattacks on government websites.
But it was the spike in the Pirate Party’s numbers after the raid that might have the most lasting consequences for Sweden. Membership shot past the nation’s Green Party, which holds 17 seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament. There’s no guarantee that membership will translate into votes, but the pirates have raised enough funds to print 3 million ballots for next month’s election, and they have enough volunteers to get them out to all the polling places.
This week, the Pirate Party broke out its own version of a chicken in every pot when it endorsed a low-cost, encrypted anonymizing service offered by a Swedish communications company called Relakks. For 5 euros a month, a portion of which goes to the party, anyone can share files or communicate from a Relakks IP address in Sweden, potentially complicating efforts to track downloaders. The party endorsement generated enough interest to cause performance issues on the new service.[/quote]
At first blush, I like it. I like it a lot. But thinking more deeply about it, I’m less certain.
By inclination, I’m:
a ‘big-picture’ guy. I don’t appreciate micro-, or boutique, political issues as much as I do issues with a broader impact. Identity politics of specific groups don’t appeal so much as particular issues, but as establishing or refining general principles, I can’t get enough;
more concerned with substantive issues than banner waving or pissing contests;
interested in the equitable distributions of goods;
on the side of the less powerful.
So, a substantive issue such as the living wage campaign in Chicago is something that I could really get behind. It’s got all the elements: 1. macro-economics, 2. would make a substantial difference in lives of workers, 3. redistributes from Walmart Corp. to it’s employees, 4. obviously a minimum wage statute qualifies.
The piracy issue is significant, in that 1. file-sharing is pretty common across society, and involves intellectual property rights, 3. is all about distribution, 4. duh. At first glance, I’m not sure whether or not it’s a substantive issue. Sure, there’s billions of dollars at stake, and retail distributors are likely to take a bite in the ass, but I’m just not going to get worked up over an extra couple hundred-million profit at the top end, nor the horse ‘n’ buggy business model at the bottom. Not, that is, until the tensions spawn political, economic, and societal innovations like the Creative Commons or open sources movements. That kind of innovation when it come to harnessing creative energies… it’s worth breaking a few eggs to make that omlette. And the offspring of such movements, might, just maybe, have the potential to make a greater, broader, impact than the living wage campaign.
Right: two questions.
Do you support the old school idea of fixed sets of coherent political programs, or picking off issues a la carte?
If you were to organize, join, or support a boutique political movement–something targeting only a very narrowly defined issue–what would it be, and why?