September 26th, 2011
10:00 AM ET

Fed up with politics? Join the "Pirate Party"

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

This past week, New York might have seemed to be the center of the world. But the political story that struck me came not from the corridors of the United Nations but thousands of miles away in the city-state of Berlin, Germany. You might have heard about the group called "The Pirate Party" that has burst on to Germany's political scene. The Economist magazine jokingly writes that it sounds like a party whose name was dreamed up at Octoberfest, Germany's annual beer festival.

Actually, its ideology centers around internet freedom. Its members are tech-savvy youngsters who wear hooded sweatshirts, throw cool parties and play up their group's name with pirate boats. But don't let the cool facade fool you. They won 9 percent of the vote in Berlin's parliamentary elections. That puts them well ahead of the laissez-faire Free Democratic Party, a long-established party and part of Angela Merkel's established coalition. So what is going on?

Well, it turns out their movement was founded in Sweden five years ago with a focus on copyright and patent law. It has since spread to a number of European countries and even the United States. But the German offshoot is broadening its focus and says it is about bringing politics back to the people.

"Liquid feedback" is a phrase that struck a chord. It's designed to empower citizens to use quick polls on the internet to shape how their representatives vote on a given issue. You might think the last thing we need is more political pandering, but the Pirate Party is one more manifestation of the despair of the average citizen with government and large institutions more generally.

A new World Economic Forum poll of experts from a range of fields finds that less than 10 percent have confidence in the state of global governance. If you put the same question to the world's unemployed youth, you'd probably get an even more depressing response.

We've all heard so much about the Arab Spring this year, but there is a malaise that's affecting the already democratized world, as well. People feel disillusioned, disconnected, disenfranchised. From the anti-corruption movement in India to similar protests that are now brewing in Brazil; from an outbreak of anger and rioting in London to demonstrations over a lack of housing in Jerusalem. These protests are all local, but they are all about a similar set of frustrations. Governments around the world need to take notice and respond. India's prime minister, for example, has posted the tax returns of his entire cabinet on the Internet (although many commentators look at the documents of some famously corrupt ministers as evidence of how cleverly they have hidden their wealth). Brazil's president has fired five ministers this year on charges of theft. The United Kingdom has announced it will make government openness criteria when choosing, which nations to give aid. And the Obama Administration has an open government initiative to increase transparency.

But these are small steps and they're unlikely to address a basic mismatch. On one hand, you have the aspirations of the young and new technologies that are empowering them - the world of the Internet and Google and Facebook. These people are used to a world of transparency, individual empowerment and immediacy. On the other hand, you have government - big, bureaucratic, hierarchical and secretive. This tension will persist, and the split between the world of open and closed will probably keep showing up in various ways, in various countries around the globe.

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    The Pirate Party is no doubt a phenomenon. In 2009 it won two of Sweden's eighteen seats at the European Parliament. The success failed to repeat itself in the parliamentary elections in Sweden last year.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:27 am | Reply
  2. Evn

    Great idea. The U.S. sorely needs alternatives to its two party system that all too often is based on choices between dwiddle dee and dwidle dumb and the continuation of power and wealth being consolidated by the wealthiest 5% of the population. It's no wonder that the disparity between have not and have in the U.S. is the largest amoung the developed world, and our two party system has produced the best politicians money can buy.

    September 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  3. RMc

    American political landscape long overdue for a 3rd party.

    September 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  4. William James

    We, already has a party.It's name Socialist party.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:54 am | Reply
  5. Travis McCrea

    I was the promotions officer for the United States Pirate Party, the problem is that US election laws require that a party becomes recognized in each state independently (there are 50 republican parties and 50 democrat parties) and some states have insanely difficult requirements to even get ballot access Pirate Party Oklahoma is facing that issue right now with 30K required signatures JUST TO BE RECOGNIZED. What the United States needs is a federalized election system and proportional representation.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:07 am | Reply
  6. Gonzo

    Thank you, Fareed, this is a great article! I watched it with great pleasure. Indeed, people feel disenfrenchised, simply because there is no transparency and govts and foundations don't listen to them. There is no feedback.
    But the most scary thing is that not even the biggest charities are not transparent and don't listen to the people, so the people can't really trust them. Are the charities spending or wasting money on the poor? They don't care for most basic questions.
    UN, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,, Habitat for Humanity – all these organizations should talk to the people. Why they don't listen to the people and to their questions and ideas? Why they don't encourage the people to come with reliable ideas to improve the world? If they want to help the poor, then why they don't listen to the people?

    Fareed, I beg you, can you ask your viewers to send e-mails at least to United Nations to ask them to create a web forum? A web forum is the most fundamental step in order to create a real feedback, or "liquid feedback". People should be allowed to ask questions, and the foundation should answer to the most popular questions.
    United Nations should be invaded with millions of e-mails asking them to create a web forum. Pretty please, ask your viewers to ask such a basic thing from UN !

    September 28, 2011 at 1:07 am | Reply
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    September 28, 2011 at 2:57 am | Reply
    • Really?

      How did this get past the moderators?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  8. sean libcon.

    libertarian party would get followers if certain news editors gave us a fair pictoral in a paper.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  9. Roger Bass

    I was frankly surprised that your impeccable insight into solutions to world problems bypassed the obvious in your analysis of food price hikes and agricultural shortages. It is smple math that more mouths than available food will exacerbate the problem. But you made no mention of population control (see I'd say that zipper locks, vasectomies (yes I had one), dialogue with Catholics, etc. are inexpensive channels toward increased sanity. Obviously dialogue with the food industry is hopeless. Roger Bass

    October 16, 2011 at 10:52 am | Reply
  10. Stakh

    "On one hand, you have the aspirations of the young and new technologies that are empowering them – the world of the Internet and Google and Facebook. These people are used to a world of transparency[...]"
    If they are using Google and Facebook, they are certainly not used to a world of transparency...

    March 1, 2016 at 11:49 am | Reply

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