There are few characteristics of the college experience that fascinate me more than the unintentional intersect between classroom topics. I have experienced this relationship before, and it allows for the examination of a singular idea at multiple levels, which in turn leads to the development of unique and open-minded viewpoints. I am currently enrolled in a course titled “Internet Cultures and Politics,” where we analyze the connection between political governance and the web, and the vast effects that the institutions have on each other. (We will return to the significance of this idea shortly)
A few weeks ago, our “American Political Thought” course engaged in a truly invigorating discussion over whether the presence of liberalism (individual independence) or civic republicanism (communal cooperation) would be more advantageous in governing a society. After hours of debate, significant claims were presented to defend each side of the argument, and though no true consensus was agreed upon, one central theme sparked my interest. It seemed that many individuals agreed on the fact that increased political efficacy from the general public would be beneficial, but it was simply not practical to assume that individuals would want to increase their sense of civic republicanism. This point was definitely understandable; with a whopping 318 million American inhabitants, the attempt to politically assemble such an incredibly high number of individuals seems to be an impossible feat, and even if assemblage was possible, it would still be problematic to ensure that all voices were heard.
Our authors of the week, Daniel Kemmis, Benjamin Barber and the “Students for a Democratic Society” all seemed to articulate the infinite benefits of a true civic-republican based society, yet many of the implementation techniques uncovered slight argumentative flaws. When Barber proclaims that “The remedy is not better leaders but better citizens; and we can become better citizens only if we reinvigorate the tradition of strong democracy that focuses on citizenship and civic competence,” it is tough to dispute with his logic, but the actual enactment of this “civic competence” is where the issue seems to occur (Barber 169).
So the question remains, how exactly can Americans increase their sense of civic republicanism?
Though a variety of responses to this inquiry may exist, one particular method seems to stand out above others, particularly in the 21st century. It is at this point that I may clarify my previous discussion on “classroom topic intersection.” An idea that was surprisingly not introduced in our classroom debate was the exceptionally dominant presence of the web in 21st century politics.
The internet ties into the concept of civic republicanism in a plethora of ways. Never before in history have we had the ability to gather millions of individuals simultaneously onto a single platform. According to David Karpf, author of The Moveon Effect, “…the new media environment has enabled a surge in ‘organizing without organizations.’ We no longer need organizations to start a petition, create media content, or find like-minded individuals” (Karpf 3). It is possible that many of the pitfalls of civic republicanism can be remedied by the collaborative component of the worldwide web. Millions of political opinions, strategies, alterations and ideas can be revealed with the click of a button, which is a capability that our society has simply never experienced prior to recent years.
The implementation of civic republicanism through online platforms is not a new concept; a number of websites such as moveon.org, dailykos.com, and change.org have redirected the web to serve as a collaborative political platform, capable of assembling millions of Americans for participation. By taking part in online political organizations, individuals have the ability to gather, discuss, and take action in order to initiate positive reform.
While the web may not be the all-encompassing solution to political uncertainty, if utilized correctly and efficiently, it can certainly allow for increased advocacy and citizen-impact. With a smartphone in the pocket of nearly 61% of all Americans, mass political revolution can begin with the click of a button.
In terms of the societal adoption of civic republicanism, perhaps the internet is indeed the missing link.
Karpf, David. The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
Barber, Benjamin R., and Richard M. Battistoni. Education for Democracy: Citizenship, Community, Service: A Sourcebook for Students and Teachers. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Pub., 1993. Print