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    Highlights of the ICANNWatch Archive
    (June 1999 - March 2001)

    Membership Issues Geeks and Greeks
    posted by michael on Tuesday June 12 2001, @11:34AM

    ICANNWatch editor Jon Weinberg, who has a day job as a law professor, has written a very useful and interesting paper entitled Geeks and Greeks (.pdf file). The paper has two intertwined excellences. First, it provides a very nice short history of recent ICANN maneuvers regarding the at-large - something you could give an interested citizen or a thorough journalist looking for a quick introduction to the subject. It also shows, more quickly and clearly than anything I've yet read, exactly how ICANN differs from a true technical body. All this, however, is only background for the paper's zany and fascinating excursion into Greek philosophy. What would Aristotle, a notorious non-democrat, have to say about ICANN's system of representation?

    Here's Professor Weinberg's explanation for using an Aristotelian approach rather than one based on a more modern political philosopher:
    Aristotle's thinking was not rights-based. He cared little for arguments based on abstract principle. Rather, his political philosophy was essentially instrumental: what governance structures would yield the best outcomes for the community? That instrumental approach deflects one objection that might otherwise be made to considering political philosophy in this context: Political philosophy is inappropriate here, one can argue, because it exalts questions of freedom and rights that are simply inapposite in the context of Internet governance. But Aristotle was not especially interested in abstract rights; he was interested in understanding which forms of government work best. The concern for devising systems that work, I think, is common just about everyone involved with ICANN.

    More importantly, Aristotle was no raving democrat. He strongly defended slavery; believed that the rich, the nobly born and the virtuous had legitimate claims to play a greater role in the state; and considered public-spirited monarchy to be an appropriate form of government. If I were to select the philosophy of a radical egalitarian as a guide to ICANN's structure, the results would be predictable. But Aristotle was not such a thinker. If even his philosophy supports the conclusion that ICANN directors should be elected by a global membership, well, perhaps that tells us something.

    You may, as I do, find it odd to see a suggestion that when Ira Magaziner set out the broad outlines for an only partly democratic ICANN he was thinking like an Aristotelian, but Prof. Weinberg argues that this sort of mixed government is consistent with the vision set out in Aristotle's Politics, as it allows elites to check the mass. But, even an Aristotelian vision, Prof. Weinberg concludes, does not support the elimination or even subjugation of the mass voice from fundamentally political decision-making.

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