Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Conclusion Summary

The Citizen State

“… For who can yet believe, though after loss,
That all these puissant legions, whose exile
Hath emptied heaven, shall fail to re-ascend,
Self-raised, and re-possess their native seat?...”

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine in 1776, as thirteen British colonies were becoming thirteen independent states. It was a time of crisis for the early Americans but also a time for critical thinking and experimentation in government. Were Paine alive today he might be uttering similar thoughts. Americans are once again in a state of crisis. Citizenship has dwindled to the point of disappearing. War has become a way of life. The global economy based on speculation, exploitation of resources both human and natural is teetering on the edge of total collapse. The quality of air, water and soil has deteriorated. Species are disappearing from the planet on a daily basis. 

If one considers the consequences for the ecology, if one allows for the fact that by the end of the century, at present rates of economic expansion and consumption of fossil fuels, oil might have disappeared as a natural resource, then one realizes that both the economy and society need to undergo a fundamental restructuring based on different premises. Life will be less materialistic. Life will be simpler and richer. Community life will be revitalized. Small and local is where we are headed. 

As the oligarchy withers the government that replaces it will be closer to a citizen-state than anything we have seen in a long time. In Iceland where the banks bankrupted the country and citizens were expected to pay off the debt, there were protests and a change in government. Icelanders decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the Internet. The constituent’s meetings were streamed on-line, and citizens were able to send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it took shape. This is democracy at work. When government indifference to the needs of its citizens reaches an extreme, acquiescence is no longer an option.