Kleristocracy is a term, coined by Jon Roland, for the concentration of political power in sortition-based systems, and has been advocated by a number of commentators on this blog. It’s struck me recently that this has a lot in common with the neoconservative worldview that has led to such disastrous outcomes in (for example) Iraq and Libya and I want to use this post to explore the parallels.
Neoconservatives argue that the goal of foreign policy is the liberation of oppressed nations from tyranny – ideally through their own efforts, if not then with a bit of help from the “forces of freedom” – followed by the institution/imposition of democracy, enabling the self-organising powers of “the people” to operate in an unfettered manner. Kleristocrats also argue that “the people” should be liberated from tyranny (of the rich and powerful) and empowered by “real” democracy – the only difference between kleristocrats and neoconservatives being the use of an alternative balloting method.
Unfortunately “the people”— with a set of common interests or even a “general” will – turns out to be a Marxist construct. In fact, as Hobbes argued, there are only persons, who generally identify with members of their own faction, rather than “the masses”. This is clearly the case in sectarian theocratic regimes, but the inhabitants of modern pluralistic states also share little in common. Rousseau argued that in small cohesive communities like Geneva or Corsica the general will needed to be manufactured; how much more so in the pluralistic conditions of 21st century multiculturalism.
Liberal critics of neoconservatism argue that democracy is only possible as part of a mixed constitution in which the legacy institutions of civil society provide the necessary checks and balances on monolithic political power (elective or otherwise). Civil society develops over a long time and will differ greatly from culture to culture. Moderate advocates of sortition also argue for a mixed constitution involving checks and balances (anathematised by kleristocrats as non-democratic). Hobbesians and Paleoconservatives point out to neoconservatives the need for a strong executive power that is independent of “the people”; moderate advocates of sortition argue that stability and accountability, essential to all successful political systems, cannot result from sortition, hence the need for a multi-institutional approach.
Neoconservatism and kleristocracy share the Enlightenment faith in the rationality of human beings (in the former case, expressed through the sensible use of the ballot box, in the latter via a “discursive” approach to democratic deliberation). Both approaches are equally unconcerned with history or culture and seek to argue their case via an appeal to deductive logic and the assumption that human beings are primarily rational actors. Both groups share a left-wing provenance (neoconservatism being something of an oxymoron) and depict the concerns of their intellectual adversaries with actual human behaviour, culture and history as reactionary. Given the drubbing that neoconservatism has received over the last decade or so, it’s puzzling that kleristocrats are making the same mistake.