Belgiorno-Nettis: Forget democracy, we need a new way to govern

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis writes in The Age against elections. Here is an excerpt:

[S]uggesting elections are the problem is tantamount to sacrilege. In all the theatre of our media-driven, political drama, we’ve lost sight of the original and true genius of democratia: the jury. Today, we worship a seducer and an impostor – “a poll dancer” – twisting and teasing, writhing and squeezing.

In 2005, James Spigelman, the then chief justice of NSW, had this to say about elections and the jury: “The jury is a profoundly democratic and egalitarian institution. Selection by lot has two distinct advantages. First, it operates on the principle that all persons to be selected are fundamentally equal and that, in the relevant circumstances, it is invidious to say that one person is more qualified than another. Secondly, selection by lot prevents corruption of the system.”

With the help of research colleagues, we have been investigating better models of government: all based on the jury. The jury, in our view, is more representative, more deliberative and, surprisingly, more effective. We’ve done several projects that prove this over the last few years.

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20 Responses

  1. Coincidence, I made a related, tho different, argument yesterday on openDemocracy: Campaign finance reform would not do much: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ahmed-r-teleb/campaign-finance-reform-would-be-wasted-effort

  2. Hmmm, a jury model is interesting. I would see certain problems though:
    – There is little to no accountability for ones actions – as there is no chance to be re-elected
    – Given the preposterous verdicts in terms of damages juries regularly hand down in U.S. courts, I am sceptical as to their ability to handle other people’s money – especially considering my first point …

  3. A quote from an early Kleroterian:
    “Politics must be vitalized by a new method. Representative government, party organization, majority rule, with all their excrescences, are deadwood. In their stead must appear…nonpartisan groups for the begetting, the bringing into being, of common ideas, common purpose and the collective will.” Mary Parker Follett, The New State, 1918

  4. people say a lot of things and have many opinions – many of them have nothing to do with reality, no matter how famous they are.

  5. @HH check the sources of the info about preposterous jury verdicts. There’s a lot of exaggeration and blatant business group PR re juries.

    At any rate, jury model is quite generic, and minipublics can take quite a variety of forms and procedures. That, IMHO, is in essence the biggest issue (and where there’s the most divergence) on this blog: what form and what procedure for what purpose.

  6. @HH, war, you were not the intended audience of the quote, and it is to show that thinking beyond elections has been going on for over a century in the modern era. A quote is rarely an argument.

  7. @Teleb
    sure, did not want to offend. There is certainly a lot more to juries than what we see in the courts today (especially as juries in courts can hand out large verdicts in the safe assumption that any excesses will be curbed by the higher courts)

    Also, now living in Switzerland – there is a lot to be said for a democracy as it is here that asks voters a lot more regularly for their opinion (and has a lot of information and discussion before the polls)

    That does not prevent them from sometimes making decisions with very difficult outcomes (as could recently be witnessed regarding the immigration poll), but so far Switzerland has worked very well with it

  8. >At any rate, jury model is quite generic, and minipublics can take quite a variety of forms and procedures. That, IMHO, is in essence the biggest issue (and where there’s the most divergence) on this blog: what form and what procedure for what purpose.

    Exactly, and the critical issue, for a democracy, is how a government is authorised. Personally I don’t see how a rational person could withhold consent from a replicated jury decision, as it would remain the same irrespective of whether she participated in person (not so if different juries returned different verdicts, because how would she know which decision she is deemed to consent to?). And that presupposes a very tightly constrained procedure, leaving the warm and fuzzy stuff for non-representative bodies, even though that may result in impoverished epistemic outcomes.

    I do think we need to reserve the term “minipublic” for representative bodies, in which case it’s not the case that they can take a variety of forms and procedures (without destroying their statistical mandate). I suppose the only way it might be true is if you assume that rather than being statistically average at the aggregate level, the body is primarily made up of “average” persons (the so-called 99%), but that involves some very strong sociological presuppositions that would be hard to defend in diverse multicultural societies.

  9. It seems that you are advocating an “iterative” model?

    W r t terminology, I would say “minipublic” for the representative kind and “citizen panel” for the more generic kind. There was an exchange on the Participedia FB page about the confusion of terminology–which gets messy when some, like Deliberative Poll and Citizen Jury, are apparently trademarked.

    @Keith, thoughts on the openD article? I invoked Ober and McCormick to talk about Council and Tribunes, my message: reformists should focus on empowering the many rather than silencing elites.

  10. The term “mini-public” was first used by Archon Fung to refer to a jury for policy determination. I believe it was derived from Robert Dahl’s description of a “mini-populous”.

    The problem with all of this argument about terminology is that little of it is exciting the public. Some Americans hope that the term “civic renewal” will help re-launch the push for processes of public deliberation and active citizenship in policy formation.

    I applaud Luca for trying to push the discussion into the public sphere.

    It is a shame that the Age inserted a picture that has nothing to do with a jury. Looks like a meeting of a public service or academic staff union. It shows them voting, which is not central to the operation of mini-publics. This is an example of how mainstream media is just getting in the way.

    Using the jury metaphor is useful because an explanation of paradigm change must necessarily start with something that is familiar to people. But the typical operation of a citizens’ jury (or any other participatory panel for budgeting, for example) must immediately be differentiated from the trial jury. For example, recruitment must ensure diversity and inclusion (either by larger number or stratified random selection) and the process must be facilitated so all voices are properly heard. It should also be demonstrated how participants learn and deliberate about the policy issues and options to generate recommendations that are worthy of public consent.

    (Disclosure: I have met Luca and my PhD research about public deliberation was partially funded by New Democracy)

  11. Ahmed,

    >@Keith, thoughts on the openD article? I invoked Ober and McCormick to talk about Council and Tribunes, my message: reformists should focus on empowering the many rather than silencing elites.

    Interesting article and I agree with the above strategy, but I’m less sceptical about limits on political contributions. In the UK most of the money goes to the parties (rather than the candidates), election expenses are tightly controlled and there is no political TV advertising. There is no evidence that the party that wins the election has spent the most money on the campaign. It would be hard to write a Gilens-style paper based on UK political practice.

  12. Ron:

    >For example, recruitment must ensure diversity and inclusion (either by larger number or stratified random selection) and the process must be facilitated so all voices are properly heard.

    Agree with the former, but not the latter, as the Habermasian deliberative model adversely affects the ongoing representativity of the mini-public — all voices may be heard, but some will be more persuasive than others, not due to a lack of rationality but on account of differences in perceived status and rhetorical skills. The only deliberative model that is compatible with ongoing representativity is Fishkin’s Rousseau-inspired model of silent deliberation followed by secret voting. The only reason for jury-room deliberation in a criminal trial is the need for unanimity, but simple majorities are sufficient for an Athenian-style minipublic.

  13. Keith, it is strange to me that you should discredit facilitated deliberation (which Fishkin’s model is not), and insist on the necessity of voting to ascertain consent. I recommend to you that you attend and observe a well-run citizens’ jury or similar deliberative process and witness how well it works.

  14. Ron

    I’m sure it works very well in terms of the participants’ sense of well-being and inclusion and may well lead to epistemically-optimal outcomes, but my concern is how to establish a descriptively-representative legislature that will attract the consent of the overwhelming majority who will be disenfranchised by the switch from election to sortition. In order to consent to a process that I did not participate in it’s necessary to demonstrate that my personal presence/absence would not affect the decision outcome, and this would require that any number of different samples of the same population should return the same decision (within an acceptable margin of error). This would suggest the meagre form of deliberation offered by the Deliberative Poll — balanced (plenary) advocacy followed by silent deliberation and voting. To my mind even Fishkin’s small-group sessions introduce an unacceptable element of variation. I know this is anathema to Habermasians but the consent of the governed has to take priority over the epistemic quality of the debate.

    Bear in mind Manin’s (1997) claim that election replaced sortition on account of the natural right theory of consent that prevailed at the end of the eighteenth century. This sets the bar very high in terms of what would be permissible for a descriptively-representative assembly. The statistical mandate only applies at the aggregate level (counting votes) and this rules out individual speech acts a priori.

  15. Keith, you are coming at this from a realist stance that presumes the existence of one final solution that could be predicted at the outset if only we had enough information. But the practice of public deliberation follows a pragmatist orientation that sets out to figure out what will work across differences in the community. It is not a device for measuring predisposed attitudes, but a method for people to collaborate with facilitative guidance to co-create solutions. Like I wrote, you really should observe a CJ to see them in action, and look beyond theory.

    Also, the sort of problems tackled in public deliberation tend to result in solution “packages” that address various facets of the problem and various audiences. Public deliberation starts from an acceptance that the policy landscape is complex and easily-computed outcomes are usually contrived and controversial (or else there wouldn’t be a problem to solve).

    If a cohort of dedicated individuals, mindful of the salient needs and aspirations of a community and its stakeholders, can recommend a solution set that promises to work for most people, then that should be the end of it. If another cohort in a similar situation provides an alternative solution that would also appear to work, then great! It is not like one is wrong and one is right.

  16. >Keith, you are coming at this from a realist stance that presumes the existence of one final solution that could be predicted at the outset if only we had enough information.

    Not so, I’m coming at it from the Hobbesian stance (and Hobbes was a nominalist). Hobbes’s concern was how is it possible to authorise a government in such a way that we can all consent to be bound by its actions? This is an issue that Jim Fishkin addresses in a section of his last book devoted to “consent by proxy”. The epistemic considerations that you mention pale into insignificance in comparison. Democracy may or may not lead to wise outcomes but democratic norms are the ones that we have to live by, hence my focus on those who are EXCLUDED from the deliberative process. Deliberative “democrats” focus on the internal procedural norms but assume that representativity is ensured by the random selection process. Not so, if individual speech acts are involved (as required by Habermasian theory), hence my reluctance to use the phrase “minipublic” in the context of anything other than a jury-style assembly. A Habermasian assembly may be a representative minipublic at the outset, but once people start talking its just a random bunch of people and each one will be different. How can people who don’t attend in person be deemed to consent to the decisions they make, if each one is different? If you employ an archaic 1-vs-99% sociology of class interests this may make sense, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard in diverse multicultural states.

  17. >How can people who don’t attend in person be deemed to consent to the decisions they make, if each one is different?

    With each exchange, it becomes more apparent that we are worlds apart in worldview.

    For example, deliberationists don’t treat a mini-public as a gaggle of individuals, but as a small group who commit to a common purpose. It is this commitment that differentiates them from “just a random bunch of people.” They are not competing, they are co-constructing. They don’t have to be an atomic fractal of the community. It just makes it easier for them to find solutions that will work when they have direct exposure to all the salient positions.

    I read back in our exchange, and I realise you are seeking to elevate the CJ to a legislative body. It was never designed for that, and that’s not what Luca wants either. Either its recommendations require authority to implement, or they go to referendum.

    I don’t know, but I’ll bet the online editor at The Age deleted the word “representative” before “government” in the article title. Luca doesn’t want to get rid of politicians, he wants to change what they do. He wants them to be stewards of public trust rather than the oligarchs that the current systems in Australia, US, UK, etc inevitably turn them into.

  18. >I read back in our exchange, and I realise you are seeking to elevate the CJ to a legislative body.

    Yes, that makes clear the difference in our perspectives — the words “forget democracy” in the title of the piece did suggest that the article was concerned with legislative bodies. (I don’t see what difference the excision of the word “representative” makes, government/democracy is all about making and implementing laws.) Many people on this blog — Yoram and Terry being prime examples — do seek to replace elected representatives with deliberative assemblies in which individual randomly-selected persons (generally mis-described as “delegates”) assume all, or most, of the functions currently performed by elected representatives. This has often struck me as an example of what Gilbert Ryle referred to as a category error, as there can be no such creature as a single “statistical representative” (although a body of people can “describe” a larger population at the aggregate level).

    PS a small group of volunteers “assembled for a common purpose” is what the Hobbesian theorist Michael Oakeshott referred to as an enterprise association. States, however, are compulsory civic associations, so a microcosm of such an entity has to respect the compulsory nature of this mode of association, in which consent to the law is the prime concern. Both realists and pragmatists would prefer the laws to be good laws, but nominalists like Hobbes, Oakeshott (and myself) are mostly concerned with the problem of consent. Modern political theory — whether liberal or deliberative — has no real interest in consent, the only thing that appears to matter being social justice (“good” laws, in liberal parlance). Whenever I introduce the notion of consent it gives rise to a combination of sniggers, yawns and exasperation.

  19. >sniggers, yawns and exasperation

    Only useful discussion, thanks :-)

  20. PS The reason that political theorists ignore the problem of consent is because their concern is “to formulate, explain, justify and order normative principles [social justice, rights, equality, freedom/autonomy etc] that are designed to function as the appropriate measure or standard against which political institutions and practices are to be judged” (Horton, 2009, p.17). Deliberative democracy is part of this agenda as it is a way of achieving social justice through the inclusion of marginalised voices. “The underlying concern is above all to explain how political coercion can be justified in a context of extensive moral disagreement and cultural diversity” (ibid.). As the formulation of these principles are in the hands of political theorists, the actual consent of the governed is of little concern. To deliberative theorists like Rawls and Cohen (for example) the (hypothetical) consent of reasonable people (ie East Coast liberals) is all that is required; indeed Rawls’s residual concern for practical considerations such as “feasibility” and “stability” draw strong criticism from pure normative theorists like Brian Barry (1995).

    In sum democratic theory has been hijacked to serve other (normative) purposes.

    Horton, John (2009), Political Leadership and Contemporary Liberal Theory, Political Leadership in Liberal and Democratic Theory, ed Femia, Koroseyi and Slomp.

    Barry, Brian (1995), John Rawls and the Search for Stability, Ethics 105, pp. 874-915.

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