If I were an optimist I would write the following:
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates is asked “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – who will watch the watchers and ensure the morality of those who govern? It is a question that has pervaded the construction (and dissolution) of governance mechanisms since, notably through the separation of powers between different arms of government. Yet at its heart the question frames the paradox that emerges from this question of governance: how can we ascertain who is corruptible and who is not?
Such questions have long remained sequestered to the realm of academics and philosophers, while government and governance eschewed such existentialism and instead functioned on varying notions of power and influence and the pragmatic realities they permitted. And so evolved the world from the time of Socrates to the not-so-distant past.
That all changed in the latter half of the 20th century with the advent of the Internet. Suddenly the massive information, and subsequently power, asymmetries that accrued to states were liable to be usurped. Governments’ inviolable hold on power and governance suddenly faced a purposeful challenger enabled by technology. For prior to the Internet’s arrival, the engagement of private or non-governmental actors in governance was largely defined by territory, and therein according to the legitimacy granted to these actors by the state. Very real limits existed related to the projection of ideas and the power of social movements. Where foundational change did occur, such as the 1960s civil rights movement or the earlier rise of nationalist movements for decolonization, it was largely a product of the convergence of mass civil protest and intra-class alliances, achieved over periods of years, if not decades.
Thereafter, however, technology has allowed for the democratization of participation in the processes of governance, and a dramatic shift in the temporal sequence of participation and change from years to seconds. Read the rest of this entry »