Defrosting Democracy

In the wake of the economic crisis, Iceland’s economy was utterly decimated and proverbially screwed by the remainder of the Eurozone. Unlike its Mediterranean counterparts who bowed to German financial autocracy and appointed unelected technocrats, Iceland saw what may be remembered as the most successful democratic resurgence to come out of the global recession, now in its 5th year. We might remember that in an Athenian democracy, it was not majority rule but rule-by-lottery which was seen as the quintessence of equality; Iceland has shown the world the potential of such initiatives in its newly newly-drafted constitution. Transparency, cooperation, and the commons have been the focus of Iceland’s resurgence; quite a far cry from the questionable behind-closed-doors deals which have inundated the remainder of Europe.

What is perhaps most significant is the actual reforms drafted in the document: citizens are endowed with the power to initiate legislation, and the country’s natural resources are held in common by its citizens. These reforms are fairly monumental in advancing the ideal of an open, democratic society: washed away like hot-spring mineral deposits is the barrier between legislation and the voters, who (ideally) bring it about. Direct democracy appears to be the only true form of democracy; and though a Jedi never deals in absolutes, it sure seems like any deviation is for the worse. The notion of the commons, hailed by everyone from the Piraten Partei to David Graeber as the solution to the problem or property, is the answer to systematic corporate destruction of ecosystems. Especially important in Iceland’s situation, mineral deposits and geothermal energy hide below the bleak rocky surface.

Iceland is, however, a small country; at 321,000 people, it can support a political system which might prove untenable in a country one hundred times its size. It may be, however, that the situation of Iceland can serve to show the world that the system currently being employed to save Europe is neither justified nor necessary. There are alternatives, and the global community is opening up to them.