Das Liquid Democracy and the German Pirate Pary

Amelia_G sez, "The German Pirate Party is working out its platform online, transparently. One key concept is 'das Liquid Democracy,' intended to be a flowing interface between direct and indirect democracy. You can delegate your vote to someone who will represent you, but you can withdraw your vote from that person at any time without waiting for new elections."


  1. “das”? Really? A definite article is inappropriate for that phrase, but if you were insistent on using one, it’d be “die”. Democracy is female in German, you see :-p

    1. Yeah, but grammatical gender in German is just weird. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; even English words we adapt get some gender based on what “feels right”, not necessarily what “makes sense” (as if language making sense even makes sense). Examples: Das Aussehen, but der Look. Die Aktualisierung, but das Update. Das Halb-Rohr, but die Halfpipe. Die Schoßoberfläche, but der Laptop. I’m getting silly, of course, but I hope you see my point.

      I agree that it would be “die flüssige Demokratie”, but since “Liquid Democracy” is a technical term, one could be excused for saying “das Liquid Democracy” by implicitly appending a neuter word like System, Vorgehen (method), or Konzept.

      All that said, I think Cory was just trying to be cute.

      1. The Pirates themselves are using “Die Liquid Democracy”, as can easily be seen by looking at the Wiki article linked to.  “Diese Seite widmet sich einem allgemeinen Konzept der ‘Liquid Democracy” –> der being the genitive form of “die”. If they thought of the term as male or neutral, grammatically, they’d say “des Liquid Democracy”.

      2. Guys, Guys! I love arguing about proper grammar as much as every other German (*cough*GrammarNazi*cough*), but it’s the message that counts!

        LD is a wonderful thing that could help revolutionize the world of politics, if we can iron out it’s quirks (i.e. no secret votes).

        1. Not necessarily in a McLuhanite universe. The medium is the message. Really? Fucking hilarious. But he got away with it.

      3. Aktualisierung: Thats a gerund, based on “aktualisieren”. I think those are virtually always feminine. 

        Your other examples are about loan words. 

        der Laptop – because Laptop-[Rechner]    der Rechner, der Computer

        die Halfpipe – die Pipeline. Also „die Pfeife“ 

        der Look – a short hard word, thus male. See also Der Frack, der Truck

    2. The article “das” sounds extremely German to American ears.  It is often used in a sprocksts-like comical way.  I believe Karl Marx started this American cultural meme about Germans. 
      To further confuse the uninitiated, from the linked page:   der ‘Liquid Democracy’

      I wonder why they didn’t name it “Flüssige Demokratie”.  Too heavy metal?

      1. I’ll tell you why they didn’t give it a German name: English sounds cooler (to us, anyway). Or maybe they didn’t invent the term and took it from somewhere else?

        Oh, and “Flüssige Demokratie” would be the sissiest heavy metal name ever. Maybe “Stahldemokratie”. Maybe.

        1. “Flüssige Demokratie” reminds too much of Vodka.

          The main problem is, that nobody wants to link something flexible (i.e. a liquid) to such a hard and unyielding (*cough*) thing as democracy.

    3.  Die Flüssige Demokratie (liquid democracy) but “das Liquid” as in “that”-System.

      If you talk about the democracy, it’s “die”, but if you talk about the server+GUI etc. it is “das”.

  2. please remove the ‘das’, it is grammatically wrong and involuntarily hilarious. if you must, use ‘die’. German is hard!

  3. WOW that’s really great!  I’ve been devving something of my own that sounds 95% the same, I’ve been calling it “dynamic republic” (.org, nothing there yet, but hey)

  4. C’mon, it’s a german platform, so it _has_ to be “Das”. We all know about Das Boot, Das Keyboard und Das Merkel..

    On the other hand, isn’t this rather old news? Liquid Democracy isn’t something entirely new for the german pirate party, but rather in use for well over a year by now. Email me Cory, then I’ll tell you all about the hilarity you get when you want to combine privacy, voting and transparency.

  5. I’ve been advocating the same with the tag “referenda by proxy”

    You nominate an MP as your proxy, and that doesn’t have to be your constituency MP. 

    You can change your proxy at any time. 

    All it takes is one MP to set up a website where you can cast your vote directly on a act of parliament, and he or she will pass on the vote. Now I see this as quite an important website and the first MP to do it will become very influencial. 

    The website could also allow votes such as pro green, pro NHS, high tax as your stance, and the acts get categorised accordingly, if you don’t want to vote on particular acts. 

    MPs who are caught acting badly, would quickly lose their proxies rendering them impotent. 

    You don’t have to wait 5 years to get a change in policy.

    You don’t get to vote for the Lib dems and their “no tuition fees” to find that is what they go ahead and do. 

    You don’t get to vote for a party that doesn’t tell you about tax rises. The hidden manifesto promise. 

    It’s cheap. In the UK voter registration is 100 million a year. 20 million to record a nomination on top. Abolish the Lords, and you then have a saving of around the 50 million a year mark.

    Currently the voters have no responsibility because we weren’t asked. Politicians are responsible. 

    Move to referenda by proxy, and the voters are responsible. So if they want more spending, they have to include the tax rise to pay for it. Makes it hard to get it passed. 

    MPs votes need to be communicated back to the voter. For example, see the site “they work for you”

    There is only one issue I can see. What to do when an MP dies?  Perhaps each MP can nominate their deputy.

  6. Liquid democracy, reminds me of “trust agility” as defined by the Convergence project for SSL certificate validation. No central and distant authority, as each user can choose its own trusted parties for validation, retaining the ability to revoke the trust at every moment, for whatever reason.


  7. I’ve been playing around with this idea for years as an alternative parliamentary model.  Some refinements:
    – You get to redelegate votes.  e.g. I can delegate a vote to a friend whose judgement I respect; she in turn does some more research and delegates her vote to someone who is even more active politically, who in turn delegates his vote to someone who actually votes on every issue, etc.  You can change your delegation at any time.
    – If the running average of votes delegated to you hits a certain level, you acquire political privileges, e.g. at a certain level, you gain the right to introduce legislation; at another level, you receive a stipend.  This allows people to continue to position themselves as professional politicians (albeit vastly more accountable ones, and without the need to fit into a one-size-fits-all party/constituency structure).
    – You can delegate votes on different categories of policy to different people, e.g. All financial votes go to A, anything on drugs goes to B, everything else goes to C, except when I really care about something, when I might choose to exercise my vote directly.  The categorisation is done by third parties, e.g. you might choose to run the categorisation service run by the Guardian newspaper, or by the Conservative party.

    1. It’s interesting how this (and other suggestions) differs from the regional basis of most politics. The assumption I suppose is that communication and representation works best on a small scale, campaigning door-to-door. That might’ve been true in the past, but the Internet has changed things.

      The problem with this system is likely to be the very thing it’s aimed towards, though: flexibility. If you give up your job to do politics full-time, it leaves you in a state when you lose your stipend next week due to shifting allegiances. And then when you’ve gone out job hunting but get your stipend back the week after.

      It’s also bad for the person who campaigns, loses, and tries to give it up; he goes back to his day job, but then a grassroots campaign reignites support for him. Does he give up his job to help the people he promised to help, or cop out?

      A “liquid democracy”, in short, will be very chaotic and fraught with difficult decisions. Would that be better or worse? I have no idea.

      1. I think it needn’t be that unstable.  By basing the provision of a stipend on a longish running average (say, over the last 6 or 12 months), politicians would have roughly the same kind of “job” security that they have now (at least they’d have the same kind of job security as a politician in a properly contested seat).  The stipend could be phased in too, so it starts as expenses, then there’s a part-time rate, etc. so a gradual loss of support would result in a gradual loss of earnings.  

        Incidentally, it still allows people to continue to work on a geographical basis.  If there’s an important local issue, there’s nothing to stop you from knocking on your neighbours doors and asking for their vote-delegation.  What’s nice is that you can also campaign within the new non-geographic localities like those created by internet communities.  

      2.  If anyone ever tries such a system, and it happens in practice that full-time politicians randomly and frequently lose their shirts, then there will be fewer full-time politicians. Maybe people will take extended leave from jobs to become full-time temporarily. Maybe we’ll have more part-time politicians who remain employed and engaged with the rest of the population. Maybe more direct democracy would obviate much of the need for professional politicians. The only real question is: would it be an improvment? Are the problems it presents less bad than the ones it solves?

    2. Actually, this is how the tool used within the german Pirate Party works. Every issue is placed into a category ranging from “privacy”, “health”, “interior”, etcpp. Then you can set delegations for each of these categories, and these delegates can in turn transfer their votes.

      On the various polls, you see who votes, who uses delegate votes and so on. You can also exempt specific issues from a delegation and cast your own vote, or set a different delegation for them.

      The hotly debated topics within the Party are the issues of accountability, privacy and transparency though: There is a deep mistrust of voting machines, so the programmers elected to make all votes open, instead of allowing secret votes. So not only the system knows who voted for what, but everyone else can know too! Not just a few say that this is indeed very important, as well as allowing accountability on who voted for what in the past.

      For tricky subjects, this is of course… debateable. Not everyone might be willing to let it widely know that he voted for the institution of legal human-giraffe partnerships. So people can participate under a pseudonym. As soon as that pseudonym gets linked to their real identity, anonymity is thrown out of the window. 

      Lastly: Being a delegate doesn’t convey you any extra power (except the fact that your vote might be worth much more due to the delegations you exert). Everyone is allowed to introduce new topics to be voted on, and before the actual voting, there is a phase where others can introduce variations on the proposed issue, which get polled at the same time if enough people like them.

      1. That’s interesting.  

        There are lots of details that ought to change dependent on the forum.  In a inherently political organisation like the pirate party, it makes sense for anyone to be able to introduce topics, in a larger democracy, you’d want to control that.   Similarly, for an organisation composed of people with a roughly common purpose, a central categorisation authority is probably fine; a governmental democracy probably requires people to be able to choose who does the categorisation for them.  

        Voter privacy is an interesting topic.  I think that some of the fear of voting machines could be assuaged by a good open-source implementation, but there’s still the difficulty of balancing voter anonymity against the need to see how your delegate voted.

        Incidentally, as well as the obvious uses in governmental democracies, political parties and trade unions, I reckon that this would be a great way to introduce more democracy into publicly traded companies.  

        1. Why would we want to control who can introduce issues?

          As long as there is a quorum on how many people need to vote on an issue before the vote becomes official and “in effect”, I see only the possible problem of too much noise – which can be alleviated by the introduction of peer review for example: Don’t make the new issue visible to everyone on the master list, unless it has the support of X other people.

          But you are right, scaling these things up can introduce completely new problems.

  8. Wouldn’t that just result in a horribly reactive government that had to bow to public whims? Isn’t that exactly why most Western democracies have two houses, to shield them from the rashness of the masses?

    I might be fundamentally misunderstanding the system proposed, but it looks to me like a completely unstable model that would ironically be totally gridlocked rather than fluid.

    1. “Isn’t that exactly why most Western democracies have two houses, to shield them from the rashness of the masses?”

      And that has worked out…how? The “rashness of the masses” has been supplanted by the long term plans of the lobbyists.
      Just look at the U.S. Senate!

      1. Yeah man there are a LOT of problems with the US political system, the senate is gridlocked (but really, is that a fault of your system, or an accurate representation of public sentiment?) That doesn’t mean this would be a terrific idea instead, and I gather it’s not being proposed as one, even though I got that idea from a couple of posts.

        Imagine 9/11 with this system in place. You would have deployed nukes on 9/14, and I don’t even know where.

    2. It couldn’t possibly work for states anyway, since it only works non-anonymously on the internet, violating all of the rules for proper voting. But it’s great for parties and the like, because you would want a political party to be fast and reactive to its base, (also you don’t care about anonymous voting because people are vocal about their position anyway and there’s no threat of persecution) one of the key points of the German pirates being that the other parties are too attached to their old structures to keep up with the pace of change. (actually the German pirates use it anonymously because a handful of trolls want to hang on to their numerous accounts, which is the reason the system isn’t actually in serious use, since it violates the “one person one vote/account” rule. Candidates and things that matter are still decided by people showing up physically at conventions and raising their hands LIKE ANIMALS)

      1. not quite true actually. There are various instances in use, and those I participate in have only semi-anonymous accounts where it is verified that each party member has only one active account at a time. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told.)

  9. well Rob that IS a valid point, but not one I think that can’t be worked on.  IE a law would need x amount of month in debate and refinement before being allowed to pass, and for a statute of limitation for each law itself, upon which it can be up for re-review.  For example, some tax laws and such might need 4 years before enough evidence can be collected to prove it’s worth or not….

  10. just the fact that the pirate party and indeed many boingers have had this same idea kicking around our collective heads, means that this is indeed a good idea… so the biq question for me is is it best to try to combine resources, or continue with an independant platform?
    building on what Jolly orc has said, there ought to be an option for real name or pseudonym or entirely anon for each item, in deference to privacy (oops my boss saw ryonryon upvoting decriminalising canibis, or bringing personal experience into sexual harassment law changes.. isnt that awkward now) O hahah he said all that already :)

    See so a lot of us are on the same page.  The question is what are we going to do about it?

    1. true anonymity creates lots of problems for making a voting system tamper-proof though.

      As to the “what are we going to do about it”: Vote for your local pirate party! :) And if you’re a developer, head to http://liquidfeedback.org/open-source/

    2.  The main problem is, that it’s a very binary decision – at least in a system where everyone has legislative powers (and not just the power to elect somebody to legislate form them, as it is now).

      Either you have full anonymity (and thus unaccountability) or you have full publicity. Everything in between (i.e. making it possible to openly declare or publicise your voting behaviour in order to make yourself transparent) just leads to a quasi-transparent system.

      In Germany (especially in eastern Germany) there are strong reservations against that. And they are well-reasoned, too. For instance, in the GDR everyone that opted to vote in a voting booth was marked as a an enemy of the regime. Because when you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear, right? (Sounds familliar?)
      That’s why you HAVE to vote in secret nowadays. And it’s also illegal to declare political affiliations or say who you voted for/will vote for inside of and in the immediate surroundings of a voting locale.

      So yeah, there are LOTS of good historical reasons to have strong secrecy in the voting process.

      And if you bring strong secrecy for the masses and easy access for a privileged few (the administrators) together…well, hilarity ensues. It’s the same reason we (the Pirate Party, in this instance) strongly distrust voting computers.

      So…lot of work to do.

  11. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; even English words we adapt get some gender based on what “feels right”, not necessarily what “makes sense

    There are lots of reasons to German gender.

    For example, das Madchen. Why neuter for someone that is obviously feminine? One argument might be that they are not sexually active and therefore not to be counted as feminine. However the reason is far simpler. All nouns ending in -chen are neuter. That’s the rule. Being German, there are lots of rules, rather than an absence of rules. It’s English that by and large lacks lots or rules, or rather an authority on what is right or wrong. No Acadamy Francais, no Duden.

    A really good book on the whole subject of categorisation is “Women Fire and other dangerous things” by Lakof. Why gender has evolved in language. Also if you program an Object Oriented language its very interesting. 

    The last point about German.

    die Band, der Band, das Band. All different meanings, distinguished by gender. 

    Compare that with English where you can’t tell without the context.

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