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Talking Democracy on Talking History

I recently appeared on the Irish Radio show “Talking History.” I was part of a discussion of democracy with Paul Cartledge, the esteemed classicist; Roslyn Fuller, whose work has been discussed on this blog; and Iain Walker, from New Democracy in Australia. Much discussion of Athens and sortition. The show can be heard here:


The Demarchy Manifesto


Many kleroterians are bound to be disappointed in my new book The Demarchy Manifesto, due to be release from Imprint Academic on March 1, because it makes no proposals for replacing voting in favour of sortition in existing institutions, but only in the new voluntary institutions I propose. I believe it is necessary to start this way, since it is extremely difficult to persuade people to give up their vote, but they are prepared to consider sortition where it gives them access to a chance of participating that they do not at present have. This is just an instance of a general pattern in the way that the presentation of options makes a great difference to the evaluations people make of alternatives. You might like to look at this article in the US edition of The Conversation for February 6.

The book suggests that we can snatch the initiative in discussing and formulating public policy from the political parties and produce proposals that they have to accept on pain of voter backlash. I think that there is just a chance that my proposals would consolidate the middle ground whereas the existing procedures encourage the extremes. More fundamentally I aim to move attention from “who gets what” to the sort of public goods that we all can take pride in.

An excerpt from the Introduction to the book:

What I call ‘demarchy’ is primarily a process of transferring the initiative in formulating policy options from political parties to councils representative of the people most directly affected by those policies. The task of those councils would be to distil from public discussion the most acceptable policy in a particular matter. It would be up to voters to insist that the politicians heed them. There is no question of constitutional change, no new parties or new laws, no call for a mass conversion of opinion, but a suggestion about how to initiate a change in accepted practice, starting with actions that may seem of little significance in the big picture, but are still justified by their specific purposes. My focus is on how policy is produced and adopted. I am not concerned with questions about the philosophical basis of state power, or human rights, or crime and punishment. The precise forms these things take in practice are a matter of conventions, which I do not propose to challenge. There is already much debate about these matters. I am concerned about what I see as a more important, but neglected, question.

I begin by concentrating on how to establish some new practices and initiatives in policy formation, empowering those most affected to take the initiative in formulating what they want. It is no advantage to have a choice of products if none of those on offer meets your requirements. The best situation is to be able to say exactly what you want and commission specialists to supply it. Or is that analogy anachronistic and inappropriate in the era of mass production and distribution? I try to analyse our unique problems. My ultimate aim is to transform our political culture. I intend to show how different practices of policy formation are appropriate to different problems at every level from the local to the global and how they might come to be accepted.

Democratising Deliberation: Parliamentarism, Deliberative Democracy and Lotteries

This article [PDF], by Anthoula Malkopoulou, is a commentary on the work of political theorist Kari Palonen on parliamentarianism. In response to recent scepticism, Palonen’s support for the ‘classical paradigm of elected Members of Parliament looks outdated and insufficiently responsive to the challenge of rising inequalities’:

On one hand, sceptics point to the inherent aristocratic or elitist character of elections, embodied in the perceived superiority of representatives compared to the represented (Manin 1997, 134–149). This is sustained not only by century-long anarchist polemics against bourgeois parliamentary democracy, or populist shaming of political corruption, but also by legitimate i.e. republican concerns about election engineering or illegitimate political lobbying. On the other hand, many scholars are worried by the growing social inequalities enabled by the predominance of economic liberalism since the 1980s (Rosanvallon 2013). These are often exacerbated by corresponding inequalities in political influence that further benefit the wealthy and socially advantaged classes (Hill 2013; Malkopoulou 2014). In this respect, legitimising the current system of parliamentary government and providing its apology sounds far too elitist and self-defeating.
In response to such scepticism, Kari has showed some interest in opening his parliamentary model of deliberation to new modes of inclusion . . . his ideal-typical democratic innovations include the practice of rotation, election of singular representatives who are not linked to political parties, and recently, support for the random choice of representatives (Palonen 2014, 345). This turn is linked to the dissociation of random selection from Habermasian consensus and its support by klerotarians as a device that is independent of the process of deliberation (Stone, Delannoi and Dowlen 2013).


Charlie Douglass: Guaranteeing gender equality

A post by Charlie Douglass.

Democracy we are told is government by the people. What if many of the people aren’t involved? What if some have a much stronger voice than others?

If a government is to act on behalf of people of every colour, gender, age, and wealth status, then we must either rely on politicians ignoring self-interest completely, or find a way in which a house of parliament can have its members chosen very differently to today. Bias matters because today our parliaments under-represent many groups. Women are under-represented and although some change is happening, the change is slow. Why should the men who are already there be the ones who decide how fast the change is? Why is there so little effort to represent people from below the poverty line?

If you could draw equal representation from across society into a house of parliament, then self-interest matters much less. If a parliament was half female, half male, and contained people from every type of wealth status, then many really important issues would see quick and effective change. Poverty has the attention of many of us, but without power not much is changing. When there is a vote which gives voice to all, then the bias of media barons and political donations can be put in the trash-can where it belongs.

In many countries politics has two houses of government, and the proposal here is to replace the one is which the nation’s leader does not stand. In the USA, France and Australia this is the Senate. In the UK this is the House of Lords, and in Germany it is The Bundesrat. After two terms perhaps this new senate could replace both houses, or the second house could be replaced by sortition also – forming two houses.

#LordsReform – Let the People Decide

From the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/lords_reform_let_the_people_decide

Sortition certainly sounds good to us – but how do we get from here to there?

#LordsReform Let the People Decide

The Sortition Foundation has released a Draft Strategy Document outlining some ideas. The first campaign proposal is a call for a Citizens’ Parliament on House of Lords Reform (http://www.citizensparliament.uk/). The campaign, to be officially launched later this year, will call on the UK government to constitute and empower a 650-member, random though representative sample of ordinary citizens to consider, research, deliberate on, and then make a House of Lords Reform proposal, to then be put to a national referendum. You can already sign the open letter calling for a Citizens’ Parliament on Lords Reform.


Populism and Kleristocracy

A recent exchange on this forum included the following claims:

TA: The early Populists have been much misunderstood and caricatured, including by Hofstadter. If “populist” is to be defined non-arbitrarily, its meaning is a leader whose policy positions for the most part agree with those of the vast majority of the population. Bernie Sanders is a populist, Trump is not.

TB: I’ve been a personal friend and political ally of Sanders for over 40 years, and I agree that the “populist” label fits Sanders based on the historic use of the term dating back to the People’s Party. However, I think the term has been so over-used (and misused) by the mass media that it isn’t particularly useful any more. Any independent-minded politician, whether a leftist charismatic visionary, a demagogue, or proto-fascist is assigned the label.

According to Cas Mudde, most people use populism as a Kampfbegriff (battle cry) to defame a political opponent. The term is in fact just as applicable to politicians and political parties on the left and the right, Trump and Sanders, Front National and Podemos. In an article for Open Democracy Mudde claims that

populism is best defined as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté general (general will) of the people.


The representativity of a random sample: the need for mandatory participation

The unexpected Conservative majority in the 2015 UK general election has led to considerable agonising in the polling industry. Why were the polls — which consistently predicted a hung parliament, or even a Labour victory — so wrong? A polling industry enquiry has come to some interim conclusions, here paraphrased by the BBC political editor, Laura Kuennsberg:

Pollsters didn’t ask enough of the right people how they planned to vote. Proportionately they asked too many likely Labour voters, and not enough likely Conservatives.

Nobody is suggesting that this bias was intentional — it was the accidental by-product of the polling methodology which, rather than drawing a random sample and then knocking on doors (the gold standard, but very expensive), relied heavily on telephone and online surveys. The problem with phone surveys, according to Martin Boon from ICM, is that out of 30,000 random numbers only around generally 2,000 agree to participate. This sample is anything but representative:

Adam Drummond, from Opinium, suggested that the people who agreed to be interviewed were so politically enthusiastic that the would even vote in elections for the European Parliament. . . This seems like a Groucho Marx problem — people answering the phone and agreeing to answer questions about their political opinions automatically means that they are too politically engaged to be representative.

Online polling is even worse:

Online polls are answered by a database of volunteers who have signed up to be on a panel and who the company knows a lot about. When the company is commissioned to do a poll it can be sure that the people it is asking have the same features as the whole population in — for example, the proportion of men and women, or the age profile or income distribution.

However what stratified sampling does not do is to control for the level of political engagement, so

The online polls came out with much the same inaccuracies as the phone ones. Does people’s willingness to be on a panel automatically make them unrepresentative?



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