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By: Jim Dator, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies
Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Based on a keynote presentation to the Fifth General Assembly of The International Parliamentarians’ Association for Information Technology, held in the Finnish Parliament, January 16, 2007.
“Democracy” As A Social Invention
Constitutional representative government, often mistakenly called “democracy”, was one of the greatest inventions of the 18th Century. It rivals other 18th Century inventions such as the sextant, the steam engine, the cotton gin, smallpox vaccination--and the guillotine--all of which changed the world in important ways. But all of them also have been superseded by vastly more powerful inventions, while constitutional representative government persists as a strange relic from the past, in more or less the same form, and certainly on the basis of the same mindset from which it originally emerged .
Almost all other social inventions, such as those in business, transportation, communication, education, and even religion, are vastly different from what they were in the 18th or 19th centuries, but the forms and features of constitutional representative democracy remain essentially unchanged from when certain social philosophers, primarily in England and France, invented the concepts, and then political craftsmen in France and some of the former British colonies in North America first created structures derived from the ideas, and tried them out as a basis for governing a nation.