Before reading this post, please have a look at Michael Pascoe's opinion piece, Timid governments bow to populism. I actually disagree quite strongly with some aspects of the Pascoe argument, but it sets a context for this post.
In a comment on Saturday Morning Musings - things European via Higgs Boson, Indonesia & other matters, Winton Bates asked regular commenter kvd what he thought of monitory democracy. kvd responded:
Hi Winton - I would have to think long and hard about that.
I'm presently quite depressed by what I see being reported as to the crumbling of what I've always regarded as the bedrock of democracy: integrity, prudential management, a fine civil service, and an honourable judicial, press and banking system.
Now I see parliament foregoing its legislative responsibility, a press (the traditional press) being dishonoured by its current practitioners, our High Court decisions analysed as to personalities rather than judicial reasoning, etc. etc.
Possibly it was always a mixture of the good and not so good, but now our view is informed constantly by many new sources and opinion makers - some of them too loud, too partisan. The mechanics are more transparent but with that has gone a measure of our respect for the institutions and placeholders.
I think open monitoring and questioning is ok - except it can lead to always performing, never planning - but I dread the thought of our current democracy going down the path towards participatory democracy, for instance such as Getup! claims to be. Sometimes you need a government prepared to make and hold to tough decisions, and I don't think the constant daily questioning and second-guessing assists in that.
I hadn't heard of the concept of monitory democracy before.
Winton explains it in What implications does 'monitory democracy' have for the survival of democratic institutions?. The idea comes from Australian political scientist Professor John Keane. Keane argues that from the middle of the 20th Century representative democracy began to transform into monitory democracy – a new historical form described by ‘the rapid growth of many different kinds of extra-parliamentary, power-scrutinising mechanisms’. He looks at the matter from its impact on public policy. He also discusses what me might call loosely the imperfections and imbalances in the scrutinising mechanisms. Monitory democracy is of itself imperfect.
Michael Pascoe does not use the same term as Professor Keane, but the examples he provides fit the Keane model. I said that I objected to aspects of the Pascoe piece. It's really his emphasis on the adverse effects of populism, his equation of it with mindless bending to public opinion, that annoyed me. I am a populist in political tradition, but that is not the same as blind majoritarianism.
Like Professor Keane, Michael Pascoe looks at it in terms of the relationship between state and people, at the impact on the way Government works. I have a similar focus, but come perhaps to a different position.
To my mind, the effect of monitory democracy is ever greater monitoring and control by the state over individual action in the name of risk avoidance. The state becomes the monitor over individual and collective behaviour setting controls dictated by the ever shifting perception of majority popular opinion. It doesn't matter whether those controls work or not, it doesn't matter what the costs might be, the key thing is to be seen to be doing something.
I am not a libertarian. Total freedom doesn't work. Yet the end result of what we do now is a mess.
I really like the phrase monitory democracy because it captures what is happening, monitoring by the state in response to our monitoring of the state.
I always acknowledge when I have been trumped! In this case, both Winton and I in fact! Our long standing blogging colleague Neil Whitfield drew my attention to two posts he wrote over two years ago on Professor Keane's views. They are: