Maurice Williamson is happy to be identified as the politician who believes that the internet is a force for eroding the nation-state.
“The nation-state is eroding already,” says the National Party’s IT spokesman, pointing to the increasing legal and regulatory uniformity among the members of the European Community as an example.
“You can’t practically control your citizens [within the boundaries of national laws] if they have access to borderless transactions.”
In an internet-enabled world, where online trade is becoming “more valuable than the stuff that goes on ships”, the law that applies to such transactions will have to be increasingly international, he says.
The nation-state is a very modern concept, he points out. It is a step on the way from tribal and feudal systems, is only two or three centuries old, and it will not survive much longer.
Williamson also has faith that the internet will facilitate a more participatory democracy. He lets drop a hint that binding citizens’ referenda on a restricted range of topics could be a feature of New Zealand under a National government.
Many New Zealand politicians keenly watch the polls conducted on the websites of some daily newspapers on topical questions, Williamson says, and discuss the significance of the way public opinion appears to be trending -— albeit that such polls are operating from a small self-selected sample.
At present internet use is disproportionately concentrated among the financially better off and more highly qualified sectors of the population, Williamson acknowledges. But as it becomes more affordable and widely adopted, so the community of internet users will become more typical of the population as a whole and more valid as a genuine expression of the popular will, he says.