Is Open Source a democracy?

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helen cohen lafsar's picture

Why Obama has started to get more critics? is it for all presidents? see more..

Hope not

enedene's picture

Democracy is all about making average decisions. I don't know is it democracy, but I certainty hope it's not.
People that are competent for one field should make decisions in that particular area, and the same goes for other fields.
The rest of us can participate by making suggestions and making choices. For example, I like Debian, but I don't agree on their politics about non-free flash and property drivers, so I use Ubuntu. I can, of course make a suggestion to Debian developers to be more pragmatic and certainty most of us would take my side since most Linux users use Ubuntu and non-free flash, but they are the ones that should make that decision. So people that agree with them will also have a choice.
If we all voted for what we want, there would be no diversity at all and the product would have an average look, functionality, etc.

Democracy is one of the worst possible political systems it destroys the genius.


badninja's picture

Unfortunately 99% of the time the genius is not the one who has the power!

communism and democracy are different topics

Anonymous's picture

Communism originates from old industries, where things becomes less after being taken away. On the extreme condition, it turns into fascism. The internet is different, more users more valuable. So does open source projects thrived with boom of internet. Even as a communist state citizen, I don't think free software fall into capitalism or communism category.
Democracy runs on laws, and technology innovations, which is always the solution to new problems. Some state have limitations on realizing it, the ruling class actually never work on practical problems any more, they can make really bad decisions. I will regard democracy as free speech and even more. Then a system under which when you say something out in public assemble correct or not, which doesn't contains classified secret, you are not threatened with death penalty is already democratic enough. You can email open source project all kinds of ideas, everyone know it, and no one kills you!

Wrong question

HF's picture

This is not a "Yes" or "No" question.


Mackenzie's picture

It's a Do-ocracy

The question is ambigous.

JigDancer2020's picture

Depends on the project. Most are Feudal socialist republics.
The Debian project is mostly a democracy.
However, most projects are run by benevalent dictators, which are propped up by feudal corporate sponsorship. IE: Ubuntu.

I'm pretty sure this has been well understood and spoken about since at least October of 1998.

I think a political structure is inaaccurate, open source software itself, bears more resemblance to a biological organism. Darwinism easily applies. What works thrives, what doesn't quietly fades away.

Open source software is more like a virus, or bacteria, in that it can survive outside the host.
Think of how much code has outlived it's owners, and it is still in use.
Even in closed source projects. One need only look at the EULA of most closed source products. Specifically Windows, and MacOS.

in a democracy, you have the

Anonymous's picture

in a democracy, you have the choice. But what options you can choose from is another thing

"democracy" isnt democracy

Anonymous's picture

The "democratic" societies of the west are less and less democratic, with more and more of a political class who manipulate and use the masses to get elected. People are less and less involved and have less and less of a say, open source on the other hand is the other way around.

It is not.

Hegemon_8's picture

Just look at today's democratic countries, does the Linux Community looks like that? Is there really any government that represents the people of its own country in the way people would want? I don't think so. Democracy isn't bad or good, as well as the other political options, its just what people will do with that. Its like knife, its just a knife, until someone will try to slice the bread or stab someone.
"Democracy isn't good political system, but people didn't figured out anything better"
So IMHO its better to stay away from labels and tags like that.

A participatiocracy

Stu's picture

Everyone has the equal opportunity of participation, if not the equal potential.

equal opportunity does not a

Anonymous's picture

equal opportunity does not a democracy make. cooperative anarchy or constitutional anarchy is closer to where open source is, but democracy would be the best fit if you tried to force it into an actual legitimate government style

The fact that it is by the

Theophilus's picture

The fact that it is by the people, from the people and for the people suggest it is closer to a Democracy than not. Ideally that is what a democracy is supposed to be. When compared to politics, lobbyist agendas, big business influence and corruption that is often labeled a democracy then we have a problem.


stijnlei's picture

someone compared it to communism. to me this makes a little sense.

most of the democracies on this planet have a free market economy.
a free market economy can be described by the Three P's: property, property and euhm... property (very funny indeed).

communism is so different because property doesn't really exist; i mean, everything belongs to everybody and nobody at the same time: everything is shared.

with FOSS the code is also shared, nobody really owns it and everybody is allowed to use it.
The licences make sure that the principles are kept and prevent the system to turn stalinistic.

i would conclude that the software production is anarchistic and the licence is communist

ps: you could describe a family as a small communist system, parents choose it but children are born into it and if they don't behave, they are sent to working camps = schools ;-)

No. It is anarchy.

Anampaiseanta's picture

No. It is anarchy

No. Open source is not a democracy. Democracy is a situation the 51 % of a group controls the other 49 %.(Or in the case of American "democracy" when 2% of the group control 51% or more of the vote.)

That is not Linux or open source. Open source is more comparable to anarchy. You can collaborate with others or do something by yourself for yourself. There is always an option to participate. There is always mutual consent.

Lets not even talk about congress defying the source code...........

It's not a democracy and that's a good thing!

polymath's picture

Look to any political democracy and ask your self "Would that process produce good code?" 'nuf said.

"I would say more of a

Anonymous's picture

"I would say more of a benevolent dictatorship than a Democracy"

You don't really know free-software! Whem in this world a dictatorship (evem a benevolent one) do allow "forks"?

I would say more of a benevolent dictatorship than a Democracy

PatrickDickey's picture

In a Democracy, you get to vote on either the issue or the people who will decide on the issue in your name (representative democracy).

In Open Source, you may suggest and vote on an issue (bug fix, feature, patch, etc) but in the end a small group of people (or one person) actually decides whether the issue gets implemented. Thus, it's more of a benevolent dictatorship.

Granted if the majority of the 'voters' want the issue to pass, it will. Because the "dictator" knows that if he doesn't bend to the will of the people, they will move on to another project that will bend to their will (or just fork his project in their direction). But, ultimately it's STILL a dictatorship, because he can (and in some cases does) choose not to follow the majority.

Have a great day:)

an open source PROJECT is a

stijnlei's picture

an open source PROJECT is a dictatorship, not open source itself. because as you mention yourself: people can always move on to another project (and even take all the code).
so there's something like anarchy on a macro-level and something like dictatorship on a micro-level. membership is voluntary and the dictatorship only exists because all the members of a project agree with it. otherwise the dictator will become very lonely ('ronery' as kim jung il would say).

i really love this discussion by the way

"I would say more of a

Anonymous's picture

"I would say more of a benevolent dictatorship than a Democracy"

You don't really know free-software! When in this world a dictatorship (evem a benevolent one) does allow "forks"?

They're just called "coups"

Anonymous's picture

They're just called "coups" in politics.

Just to clarify

PatrickDickey's picture

This is my post, but I hadn't registered when I sent it.

Have a great day:)

Open Source is NOT a democracy

SMosoi's picture

If Open Source was a democracy we users could vote what remains or not in a program or if a program could continue. The Open Source Comunity is more than a democracy ... is a kind of anarchy with rules ....

Democracy Is Not Freedom

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Democracy Is Not Freedom

Is it a Democracy??? Too closed question...

Andre Esteves's picture

It can be a democracy if the creator, patch selector, decision maker works in a democracy. There is nothing in FLOSS that forces you to abide by a public vote.

Now.. The 4 basic GNU freedoms must be maintained and protected or else it is not FLOSS code...

It can be said that the 4 GNU Freedoms guard your freedom from lock-down and garantee your right to initiative.

The rest is up to you. You have the choice to listen to others and work in a community wich is can be built to be fair and respectfull of its members.

FLOSS is just a beginning. The rest is up to you.

FOSS is a form of democracy

Don Stokes's picture

Users vote with their decision to adopt an application. If the application is not well accepted, it remains below the radar. On the other hand, if an application is great, it gets a lot of downloads and attention.

Meritocracy & Democracy

Lopo Lencastre de Almeida's picture

Open Source is a Meritocracy; those that work most have the most voice.

It is also a Democracy hence mantainers are usually elected by his/her pairs.

yeahhh.. but..

Andre Esteves's picture

Sometimes a bug is a feature and vice-versa... You can be slave to necessity and THAT is surely not meritocracy...

The very fact that there

Anonymous's picture

The very fact that there exists so many distros and the word free is commonly used means it is a democracy to an extent.

No one asked me...

Anonymous's picture

When decisions are made that affect us all the community is not polled, neither the community of developers nor the community of users. For instance: how is it that the efforts of an international Open Source community can be appropriated for the use of the U.S. military without so much as a nod in our direction.

I, for one, think we need a new Open Source license that prohibits military use of Open Source code.

Wouldn't that violate the FSF Freedoms though?

PatrickDickey's picture

After all, the freedoms that were the foundation of the FSF and GPL (as I understand them) are

1. Everyone has the right to use the application.
2. Everyone has the right to see, modify, and use the source code.
3. Everyone has the right to redistribute the source code and resulting applications.
4. Everyone has the right to distribute any modifications they make to the source code or applications.

If the Military is using the open source applications internally (not distributing it to other militaries or other outside parties) then they can do so--and they do NOT have to acknowledge it publicly. Just like you have no idea how many open source applications I'm using right now and I have no idea how many you're using.

However, if they are distributing the open source applications in binary form (outside of what would be considered "internal use") than they're in violation of the GPL (if it's licensed under that).

So, NO there shouldn't be a separate license prohibiting military use. Otherwise, we could make a license prohibiting use by people who post threads with the subject of "no one asked me" (since I have no other method of singling you out, that was the method I used). In other words, it's a slippery slope. Create a license that restricts the freedom of one person (or group of people) and it's easy to slide down to where no one has the freedoms at all.

Have a great day:)

Not untill we Bridge the Digital Divide

Crisostomo Ibarra's picture

No Open Source is not a democracy. Not primarily due to any fault of its own, but due to the fact that there is inequitable access to it -- and to technology in general. The poor (the majority of the world) -- be they from the third world, or the many living in poverty in the first -- are unable to access the institution of open source to the same degree as those of us from the more privileged classes (much in the same way they're unable to access the more formal political institutions more commonly associated with the term "democracy").

In my professional opinion (as a community organizer and as someone who works in public service), I think the systems of accountability that do exist in the FOSS movement are generally more democratic -- once you're able to access them -- than most of the political institutions of my own country (the USA); hence my own personal enthusiasm for open source.

Is Open Source more democratic than proprietary software development, vis-a-via Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc. ? Most definitely, practically by definition. Open Source is definitely more open to involving those who it effects, be they end-users, developers, companies, the community or the general public.

FOSS==Democracy? Not at all

fest3er8's picture

Is Open Source the same as, or equivalent to, democracy? Not at all. Not by a long chalk.

Were it democratic, a simple majority would dictate to the few producers what they would produce, how they would produce it, when they would do so, where they would publish it, and so on. Were it democratic, all software would look like and behave like MS products, because the vast majority of computer users use Winders. In reality, OSS producers decide the what, when, where, why and how of producing software. Market vs. bazaar doesn't really fit either, because most people neither buy nor sell FOSS.

[Cue Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Old Woman scene. "'Elp! 'Elp! I'm bein' repressed!" "'E must be a king. ... 'E ain't got shi' all over 'im."]

It may be more like a curious amalgam of anarchy and autonomous collectivism. It is akin to an autonomous collective, where people work together for the mutual benefit of all, but each also works for herself. It is akin to anarchy, for it is where:

  • no laws regulate what will be produced,
  • no laws regulate what may not be produced,
  • no laws regulate the merchantability of the products,
  • no one has to produce anything in particular, and
  • one can produce something that no one else wants

When groups of people get together to work on an OSS project, organizational processes and procedures can be democratic in nature, but it's about as likely that there will be an autocratic ruler who has reserved the 'final say' to himself, especially if there is a business or corporation fronting the OSS effort.

Perhaps OSS should be viewed as a 'natural resource' like air, sunshine, soil, water, et al—there for the using, there for anyone to reaps its benefits—with the added benefit that no one can corner the market.

It is a democracy

LiXiang's picture

And a better one than what we, well part of us, anyway, reside under, like anarchy.

Anyone can modify FOSS. The fact that not everybody has the knowledge/skills to do so is irrelevant. Knowledge and skill can be learned if you really want to.

Before anyone retorts that in a (political) democracy (almost) anyone can vote and has the ability to do so, I'll say that it is because we get the (minimum) necessary knowledge which is needed for the task. We vote because we know what is the use of our ballot, and because we know (or think we know, some times) what candidate X will do with it.

in FOSS, even if you are the sole user of your particular piece of software, you can make it, whereas you cannot decide to run your own country.

Democracy doesn't equal vote. It's much more than that. It means "power to the people". Vote is only the current means to exert that power, with lots of limitations.

Completely untrue. Not every

Anonymous's picture

Completely untrue. Not every voice is heard, only those who shout the loudest and have the most cutting comments. Politics just as much (if not more so) as technical excellence determine what goes in the kernel, for example, and the kernel developer pool is composed of egotistical personalities who are the gatekeepers.

If you don't think I'm right, try submitting a patch to the kernel when you're an "unknown".

May be you can't submit a

Anonymous's picture

May be you can't submit a patch to kernel when you're an "unknown". But I'm sure you can be a president of United States. No, you can't be, no one will vote for you because you are "unknown".
Democracy is stupid word. Open source is more democracy than Democratic Republic North Korea.
Excuse my English. I use Linux on my native language - it's democracy. For me and other people in my country is not easy to use Windows with our language. May be it's English speakers dictatorship.
I hope you understand me.

this is a people problem,

LiXiang's picture

and does not make my point untrue.

As it is supposed to work, FOSS is as I describe it, a democracy.

As it actually works is another thing entirely. And on that point, you're dead on.

I never intended to imply every voice was actually heard, my apologies if that wasn't clear.

1) FLOSS; 2) No; 3) It doesn't matter

Anonymous's picture

First, a complaint to the webmistress: I can't find a field in the comments to identify myself. And, judging by the number of "Anonymous"es that are posting, the problem is not particular to my browser or environment.

So, allow me to identify myself in the body of the post: El Perro Loco, long time reader and fan of LM.

Well, to my points:

1) I suppose that by "Open Source" you mean FOSS. That's what I'll take it to mean here.

2) No, FOSS is not a democracy. Not all developers or development managers or "leaders" listen to what the "audience" says and go their own way - for better or worse.

3) Finally, if doesn't matter that FOSS is not a democracy. Democracy is only necessary when different factions *have* to live together. In software space they don't (thankfully). One can always change Linux distributions, go to one of several other alternative OSs, make their own version of things, do whatever they please, be free. Democracy is just a palliative for the absence of true freedom and liberty. Coexistence is only necessary in the physical space, and ideas float way above that physical space.

I should also add that if you

Webmistress's picture

I should also add that if you want to guarantee the availability of your name you should register and login.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

Sorry about that. That was

Webmistress's picture

Sorry about that. That was not intentional, and was only a problem on polls. Fixed now.

What's LM?

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit


El Perro Loco's picture


LM = Linux Magazine. But

Anonymous's picture

LM = Linux Magazine. But apparently also a LJ fan. Same difference I guess ;-)

Aaaargh! Caught red-handed! :-)

El Perro Loco's picture

Yes, yes, I confess! I also read "that other one"!
But I like you guys better! :-)
But that's just because of my love of FOSS / Linux...
(Dammit, Freud!)

Busted! It's ok as long as

Webmistress's picture

Busted! It's ok as long as you like us better. ;)

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

I failed to provide a permalink earlier

jonfhancock's picture

I linked to the blog homepage earlier, but I failed to provide a permalink to the poll that asks the correct question:

In a conflict, should open source developers listen to their users, or rely on their 'better judgement'?

It's better than democracy

Anonymous's picture

It works even better: to decide is to create, and only the creative contributers are to ones to be asked what to do next.

Ubuntu is not democracy

Anonymous's picture

but it should be after the stupid gui changes Mark made. Does he think he's
Steve Jobs-the dictator ?

please, pay attention...

Anonymous's picture

As the world is free, shouldn't knowledge be too?

Linux is libertarian.

Anonymous's picture

In Linux, we can roll our own, switch software and hardware in and out as we choose, and do what we want to do. Linux is actually very libertarian. If you don't like what someone has decided has decided to do with a distro, DIY! And no one can stop you or say, "That's not allowed!"


colindean's picture

I have the liberty to take the software and do with it as a please, with restrictions which only preserve the claim of (intellectual) property rights of the author. Sounds good to me!