Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is this an ideology yet?

I've always thought that the sociology of politics - the associations and backgrounds of the people who are politically active and influential - is more relevant than a lot of political theorists are prepared to admit. And I wonder if an important development in the sociology of politics is being overlooked at the moment?

Writing on 'The Liberty of Thought and Discussion', John Stuart Mill made what is, I hope, a fairly uncontroversial claim by today's standards. Mill argued that the a vibrant free market of ideas, uninhibited by excessive censorship, was a public good by anyone's standards. That the more people wrote, thought, argued, debated, and so on, the better.

The collaborative authorship of the Internet has given a new impetus to this idea. Whatever people said about e-commerce removing a lot of the inflexibility that impeded the development of the free market in goods and services, it would be a great deal easier to argue that this is true in the market for ideas. So we have Open Source development and the Open Rights Movement. We have Wikinomics. We have The Wisdom of Crowds, The Long Tail and all sorts of other fashionable nonsense interesting new ideas.

We have a demand for more transparency in policymaking and governance - a demand that I think could do with more examination than it gets among advocates of web-influenced democratic renewal. The demands for a more direct democracy are getting gradually less crude and are beginning to become more worth a look. Ideas like particpatory budgeting and crowdsourcing policy for example.

Regulars here will know that I'm on the small-c conservative end of these discussions. But the question I'd like to ask is this: Are these ideas now beginning to coalesce into something that you could begin to call an ideology? There is no question that the Internet offers new possibilities to transform the way that democracy works, and that many of these approaches will undoubtedly be finessed into something that is good, coherent and usable in a reasonably short time-frame.

But this seems to be something that cuts across political boundaries. Daniel Finkelstein is engaged in this discussion, for instance. And though he sits fairly firmly on the centre-right of British politics, I find him to be a more interesting commentator than most others in the MSM - mainly because he gets this stuff. The same could be said - up to a point - about Bryan Appleyard.

Is there an identifiable body of developing thought that is being led by bloggers and the writers who are engaged in this particular space? Is anyone taking it seriously? Has someone written a book about this that I've missed?

And if someone hasn't already come up with a name for it - or should I say us, has anyone got any suggestions?

And do people who use Twitter have a near-religious belief in interactivity? Are those who don't misguided - even to the point of a modern-day heresy? Do we have a duty to convert them? Or should we just burn them at the stake?


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