Citizens’ Juries: Taken for Fools?

Following the rejection of the Icelandic citizens’ jury’s conclusions on constitutional reform, it is disappointing to report that much the same has happened in Ireland:

[T]he people who were involved really cared about this thing and did everything they could to make it a model for new ways of thinking about democracy in the 21st century. There was a glimmer of hope that some kind of dignity was being restored to the political process. Instead all it’s really done is to polish up the sign on the gates of institutional democracy: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The process showed that, given half a chance, citizens are not cynical and want to engage positively with their State. It also showed that that State, given half a chance, will make them feel like fools for wasting their time.

You can read the full article here: Fintan O’Toole: How hopes raised by the Constitutional Convention were dashed.

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7 Responses

  1. A couple of the online comments on the article:

    >When I voted in 2011 I voted for a government to govern and not to abdicate responsibility to a bunch of unrepresentative self selecting busy bodies. The Constitutional convention was an affront to our representative democracy. It should never have happened and its findings should be buried.

    >The Constitutional Convention was completely unrepresentative; a bunch of busy body lefties with nothing better to do. I voted for professional politicians – not for the running of the country to be outsourced to a bunch of of people with no mandate. Just like “Social Partnership” which usurped the normal running of the country this convention should be consigned to the scrapheap.

    Whether or not it was a cynical exercise on the part of the politicians, this certainly indicates the need for jury-style representativity with any kind of experiment in sortition. I’m also sceptical about the value of randomly-selected citizens making proposals on matters that are a long way removed from their everyday experience. If there is any truth in these two (alarmingly similar) comments, the convention would appear to have been an invitation for policy-making by self-selecting political activists.

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  2. I think this is a demonstration of what should be obvious:

    (1) Established forces will not relinquish any of their power willingly. Any democratic gains will have to be won by sustained and organized action,

    (2) A major part of the democratic struggle has to be the development of a clear plan for what the democratic objectives are. Those objectives must be much more ambitious than some sort of an advisory allotted constitutional convention. The establishment of a high powered permanent allotted body must be a component of any meaningful democratic reform agenda.

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  3. Yoram,

    >Those objectives must be much more ambitious than some sort of an advisory allotted constitutional convention. The establishment of a high powered permanent allotted body must be a component of any meaningful democratic reform agenda.

    That makes one “must” for each sentence. Given that you have always argued that all democratic decisions have to be made by a representative allotted body, what right do you (YG) have to pre-empt the process? If the allotted constitutional council chose not to propose the establishment of a high-powered permanent allotted body, would it be the victim of false consciousness? It would appear that the revolutionary vanguard is just as wary of relinquishing power as the established forces.

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  4. Yoram,

    To put it slightly differently, I imagine you would approve of a randomly-selected constitutional convention, so long as there were no constraints on its deliberation and a guarantee that the outcome would be implemented. And presumably you would accept the verdict, irrespective of what the convention decided to implement, so long as there was no public referendum (as this would let the elites in by the back door). As the selection mechanism for the convention was allotment and as the “delegates” had an omnipotent mandate, no doubt this would enable them to evaluate this as an option for a permanent legislative assembly (without the need for “sustained and organised action” by a revolutionary vanguard).

    But shat would happen if you had, say, six conventions all deliberating in private? What if they came to different decisions — which one would be taken to be the settled will of the masses?

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  5. Any one decision can at best reflect the informed and considered public opinion at a single point in time. Therefore, a [hypothetical] decision by an allotted constitutional convention against a permanent allotted legislative chamber would have to be revisited regularly. Thus, the allotted constitutional convention would itself have to become a permanent body.

    As for the multiple body scenario arriving at different decisions:

    If the cause of this is that there are different options (possibly very many) which garner about equal support, then implementing any of those would be good.

    If, on the other hand, the cause is that the different bodies arrive at very different opinions then I would suspect that there is something wrong with the decision-making process and would try to understand what it is that makes those bodies disagree.

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  6. Yoram,

    >a [hypothetical] decision by an allotted constitutional convention against a permanent allotted legislative chamber would have to be revisited regularly.

    This reminds me of the requirement by some EU governments that their citizens should keep voting on the EU constitution until they come up with the right answer (the only difference being that this is is now at the insistence of the kleristocracy rather than the “established forces”). The inclusion of the word “hypothetical” would suggest that you think this an unlikely outcome, no doubt on account of the opening assumption of Yoram’s Syllogism (every adult is the best judge of her own interest). Constitutional conventions are generally ad hoc temporary bodies as permanent revolution is not generally conducive to good governance.

    >If, on the other hand, the cause is that the different bodies arrive at very different opinions then I would suspect that there is something wrong with the decision-making process and would try to understand what it is that makes those bodies disagree.

    I fully agree, it would be great if (say) the New Democracy Foundation were to conduct such an experiment. My hunch is that each body would come up with very different conclusions and that the chances of a body advocating Pure Sortition are practically nonexistent. But this is an empirical matter, so we need to do the necessary experiments in order to find what factors militate against consistency.

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  7. > we need to do the necessary experiments in order to find what factors militate against consistency.

    Suggestion: run experiments with youth parliaments!

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