Yes it’s a very cute comment. But, as Nancy Rosenblum puts it, Michels’ mistake was to ignore the effect of the competition for votes between political oligarchies. Do you deny that there is any difference in the policy proposals of Clinton and Trump, albeit at this stage of the electoral process more akin to rhetorical gestures? Does Clinton seek to ban all Muslim immigrants and is Trump advocating gun control? Granted that American presidents struggle to implement their policy proposals when in office, especially when faced with a hostile Congress, this is more an observation on the US Constitution than “electoralism” per se. In the UK the policy of the Conservative government is different in many respects from the previous Conservative/Liberal coalition, so yes, there is a choice and denying it makes this forum look shrill and dogmatic, if not just plain silly.
If there is no difference between the two candidates, then how do you explain voter loyalty and the remarkable stability of electoral districts. If, as you claim, all politicians betray voter preferences, then how do you explain the incumbency advantage — why do voters not just throw the rascal out and give the other guy a chance? The lack of difference hypothesis would anticipate a far more volatile political system, as has been the case (for example) in recent decades in the UK, where hitherto “safe” seats now swing wildly. The study of elections is an empirical undertaking that has little time for the dogmatic statements made in this post.
Of course there’s a difference between the two parties and between individual candidates. If there weren’t, the plutocrats’ game would not work; it would never fool anyone. Good cop, bad cop. Lunatic Godzilla (Trump) vs. Corporate Vixen (Clinton). In general there are indeed substantive differences between Republicans and Democrats on some social issues as well as stylistic differences on others. Pit bulls and poodles are not identical. Each breed has its ardent partisans. But both are still dogs. There’s no mistaking either for humans. The people are the people. If and when they rule you have democracy. When a small group of puppet politicians–no matter which of them, with their distinct characteristics–governs on behalf of the ruling class (safeguarding its wealth and power) you have oligarchy and the virtual enslavement of the people. The latter is the case in today’s system; thus there is no REAL choice (i.e. the people’s exercise of their sovereign freedom and power) in this system’s elections. (See democracyfortheUSA.org.)
>the plutocrats’ game . . . Good cop, bad cop. Lunatic Godzilla (Trump) vs. Corporate Vixen (Clinton).
That would require collusion between both parties and would in effect be a conspiracy against the people, but the facts suggest otherwise. Trump is loathed by the Republican grandees and draws all his support from a significant proportion of “the people”. The only plausible conspiracy that would fit the facts is that Trump is being financed by the Democratic party, in order that Clinton competes with a candidate who is unlikely to secure a majority of all electors. It will be interesting to see how many Democrats vote for Trump in the open primaries. But this would be a simple partisan matter, and has nothing to do with the sort of conspiracy that you are suggesting.
>Pit bulls and poodles are not identical. Each breed has its ardent partisans. But both are still dogs. There’s no mistaking either for humans. The people are the people.
This analogy suggests an essentialist dichotomy between the grandi and the popolo as opposed to the structural factors carefully described by Andre in his analysis. And of course different species are defined by their inability to inter-breed. So how do you explain that one of the richest people in the US is Mark Zuckerberg (son of a dentist). At what point did he cross the species divide? Or are dentists members of the (bourgeois) “ruling class”?
>When a small group of puppet politicians–no matter which of them, with their distinct characteristics–governs on behalf of the ruling class (safeguarding its wealth and power) you have oligarchy and the virtual enslavement of the people.
So who is pulling the strings of the “puppet” called Donald Trump? My impression is that he is largely self-funding and driven entirely by his own ego. Your statement appears to be derived from the corpus of Marx and Engels and I’m frankly embarrassed that the serious study of sortition is being undermined by dogmatic appeals to archaic political anthropology.
(a) I’m not suggesting collusion or conspiracy, and none is necessary. I’m describing the workings of a political system wherein certain participants naturally perform certain broad, Establishment-serving functions.
(b) The two sets of persons I’m talking about are quite separable: politicians on the one hand and the citizenry on the other. Neither the political class nor the high elite are CLOSED groupings, yet they are nonetheless distinct from common folk.
(c) Most politicians are not (initially) of the highest economic stratum. They are bought and paid for–hence “puppets.” Some, however, like Trump (who most certainly is not a true populist!), are veritable plutocrats themselves, so they need not dissimulate to perform their elite-serving function; they can reliably represent the ruling class by just being themselves, even if in any given case the particular representative is not the collective elite’s ideal choice.
(d) My thinking does not at all derive from Marxism or any other “dogma”; it stands on its own. In any event, it can hardly be denied that Marx’s analysis of the liberal-representative state was in some ways quite perceptive.
(e) We must avoid getting so caught up in the trees of electoralism that we fail to recognize the forest for what it is: OLIGARCHY. The plutocrats are counting on our being distracted and thereby duped.
“‘Democracy is not to be found in the parties but between the parties’. E.A. Schattschneider, Party Government, p. 60.”
Most posters on this blog could stand to read Party Government.
“Neither the political class nor the high elite are CLOSED groupings, yet they are nonetheless distinct from common folk.”
Lawyers are plainly distinct from the “common folk.” Do they not generally represent their clients to the best of their ability? It is frequently assumed on this blog that politicians will act in their own interests even when those interests clash with the interests of those they depend on to remain in office. But this is far from established. In a well-functioning electoral democracy the great bulk of the divergence between the people and policy is probably the result of practical issues. A parliament can’t very well vote to “reduce income inequality,” for example. It can only enact changes in policy. Any change in policy has a list of pros and cons.
A well-functioning electoral democracy is not an oligarchy. Electoral democracy, like everything else, has a list of pros and cons. People on this blog have a tendency to turn elections into scapegoats for everything wrong with the status quo. Every subgroup has its scapegoat. On electoral reform blogs it’s FPTP. On right-wing blogs it’s the liberals and the foreigners. On left-wing blogs it’s the conservatives and the rich. Here it’s elections. Same deal.
Lawyers are not the same type of “representatives” (a loose and problematic term) as political officeholders. Ideally lawyers are your advocates, legal experts in your corner whom you can dismiss at will. They serve you personally and you directly supervise their work on your behalf. In contrast, voters hand over autonomous, life-and-death, frankly God-like power to their REMOTE, UNACCOUNTABLE political representatives, especially at the national level. And even lawyers are notorious for dragging out cases for the sake of their own pecuniary benefit. The fundamental problem with the representative system is that NO ONE can adequately represent you in a permanent, all-encompassing (as opposed to brief, case-by-case) capacity. Either you along with your fellow citizens collectively rule your lives and your society or some small clique rules you. Representative government is plainly the latter situation, i.e. oligarchy–rule by the few, elected or not. Elections are not a mere scapegoat. They are the operative essence of the current system. “Electoral democracy” is in fact a contradiction in terms, like “free serfdom.” In a democracy the people vote on laws and measures, not on the deciders of laws and measures. They themselves are the deciders.
I’m glad you have reverted to the measured discourse style of your PhD thesis on this topic, rather than the polemical sloganising encouraged by the simplistic graphics that led to this exchange. If we want to make progress in this field then we need to engage seriously with all others with less manichaean views than our own.
>it can hardly be denied that Marx’s analysis of the liberal-representative state was in some ways quite perceptive.
Absolutely. Marx’s analysis of the state in the pre-democratic era was spot on, but the “liberal-representative state” is not the same now as it was in the middle of the nineteenth century.
>Trump (who most certainly is not a true populist!)
Your own (excellent) chapter on the Progressive Era makes the link between populism and the progressive reforms. But I think your focus on the revulsion of the reformers to machine politics and plutocratic influence underplays the Puritan origins of the progressive mindset — as Richard Hofstadter pointed out in The Age of Reform it was the same generation/mindset that wanted to bring about direct popular rule and circumvent representative democracy that imposed Prohibition on the country and proposed to make the world safe for democracy. What you’re really saying about Trump is not that he isn’t a populist, but that you disapprove of his ignorant and xenophobic views (shared by a goodly proportion of your fellow citizens). The same could be said regarding your views on the “Establishment” — to progressives like yourself this is simply the ongoing domination of the plutocracy whereas to conservatives like me (and, I suspect, the silent majority) it is simply the settled habit of tradition. Unfortunately the progressives have all the best tunes and their trumpets are usually louder than Trump’s (pun intended).
>Lawyers are not the same type of “representatives” (a loose and problematic term) as political officeholders.
That’s right, political officeholders have a dual role — as advisers and as decision makers — that’s why Naomi and myself campaign for the strict separation of the two functions, restricting elections to the selection of advisers, with decision-making quarantined to a stochastic sample of all citizens. In addition to reading Schattschneider’s Party Government, commentators on this blog should read Pitkin’s Concept of Representation in order to better understand the distinction between descriptive and active representation. The two forms of representation require two mechanisms, stochation for the former and election/direct initiative for the latter. If not there is a real danger of replacing oligarchy with klerarchy/aleocracy.
>In a democracy the people vote on laws and measures, not on the deciders of laws and measures. They themselves are the deciders.
Agree with your emphasis on direct decision-making by the people — either en masse (as in 5th century Athenian democracy) or via a stochastic sample (4th century). The controversial issue is how best to formulate policy proposals, in the Athenian demokratia this was always a minority elite function and the challenge is how best to establish expert and accountable policy advocacy in large modern states. Naomi focuses on election, whereas my focus has been on direct-democratic initiative supplemented by public votation. In practice I think we will need a combination of the two.
“Either you along with your fellow citizens collectively rule your lives and your society or some small clique rules you. Representative government is plainly the latter situation,”
Interestingly enough, so is government by lottery winners. In theory the statistical representivity of the sampling should limit the degree of divergence between the sampling and the general public to what the statistical margin of error inherent in statistical samplings allows for. Likewise in theory the revocable delegation of power to parties and politicians in elections should limit the degree of divergence between the politicians and the general public to what agency loss inherent in any delegation of power allows for.
In practice both modes of democracy allow (or will allow) for a non-negligible degree of divergence from the general public. But they should diverge in different ways, allowing us to optimize the overall system by the artful combination of both methods.
I myself do not advocate government by lottery winners. In the system I envision the lot would be used to select only the executive, similar to the Athenian Council of 500. The superior, sovereign legislature would be the entire citizen body, not any subset of the people–analogous to the Athenian Assembly, with the necessary modifications. We lay this system out in detail on our website, democracyfortheUSA, in the page “The Idea.”
As for representative government, its elections have proven to be so woeful as a safeguard against the divergence you speak of that they are nothing less than a travesty and a farce of epic proportions, useful only to the ruling class.
The Athenian council was a collective secretariat for the assembly, not the ancient equivalent of the modern executive branch. The Athenians found the assembly as a law-making institution to be wanting, leading to the 4th-century transfer of lawmaking powers to large randomly-selected juries, the template for many of the modern proposals for sortition. This coincided with the increased use of election for important executive offices. If you are citing ancient provenance for modern proposals you need to be a little careful.
>elections have proven to be so woeful as a safeguard against the divergence you speak of
Naomi and I are proposing a complex mix of election, sortition and direct democracy. To reject election tout court is throwing the baby out with the bathwater as it is a useful form of representative advocacy in large complex states. But, as Madison observed, it doesn’t work well when elected representatives combine advocacy with a judgment role.
Plenty to comment on, but I will limit to three points…
1. Ted, any system based on mass participation of all who wish in all decisions will inevitably be biased through self-selection since nobody has time (nor motivation) to learn about issues and participate in the countless number of decisions needing to be made. These leaves special interests in control. Smaller accurately representative (scientific sample) subsets of the citizenry given time, motivation, and resources will make better decisions.
2. Naomi and Keith, The psychological factors of election must be appreciated. Those who SEEK power are different than the general population in many ways. Those with power, or from elite backgrounds will make different decisions than the population as a whole would (if able to study and motivated to participate). Many studies have shown that those in elite circumstances with power (e.g. Yale law school students) do not value equality as much as the general population, tend to be less ethical, and be more selfish (regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats). When this homogeneous group (even from opposing parties) gets into power through elections they are not capable of accurately representing the general population (whether in making final decisions, or drafting proposals), even if that is the goal they genuinely believe they are pursuing.
3. Keith, As for Madison’s assessment, one point he made is rarely quoted, but shows he understood the inherent problem of elections. In a 1787 essay setting forth the failings of the Articles of Confederation, entitled “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” Madison presented this troubling dynamic of elective representation:
“Representative appointments are sought from 3 motives. 1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent. Hence the candidates who feel them, particularly, the second, are most industrious, and most successful in pursuing their object: and forming often a majority in the legislative Councils, with interested views, contrary to the interest, and views, of their Constituents, join in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former. A succeeding election it might be supposed, would displace the offenders, and repair the mischief. But how easily are base and selfish measures, masked by pretexts of public good and apparent expediency? How frequently will a repetition of the same arts and industry which succeeded in the first instance, again prevail on the unwary to misplace their confidence?” [http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch5s16.html]
Terry: >When this homogeneous group (even from opposing parties) gets into power through elections they are not capable of accurately representing the general population (whether in making final decisions, or drafting proposals)
Agree completely with the former (final decisions) but I don’t think you allow sufficiently for the feedback loop in a mixed constitution in which election is confined to a proposal/advocacy role. Advocates will be motivated to make proposals that will be amenable to the allotted decision makers on the “I’ll divide and you choose” principle, otherwise they will be unsuccessful (their proposal will be voted down). Bear in mind that my proposal also allows for direct-democratic initiative, so if elected politicians fail to bring in egalitarian policy proposals, then direct-democratic initiatives would be more likely to gain support from a stochastic sample of a population that wants greater equality (although I’m sceptical regarding the accuracy of surveys and experiments involving no real-world consequences to the participants). This doesn’t appear to be a solution that Madison entertained, although it is an ancient republican principle and (I believe) Madison was aware of Harrington’s Oceana.
> The superior, sovereign legislature would be the entire citizen body, not any subset of the people–analogous to the Athenian Assembly
This would give the modern elite disproportional power to affect policy by swaying uninformed and unconsidered public opinion – in the same way the rhetors used the Assembly to influence public policy in Athens.
Keith, neither the U.S. nor the British Constitutions have fundamentally changed in the past 200 years; the basic institutions and processes have remained essentially the same (expansion of citizenship is not structurally significant). Concomitantly, Marx’s elementary criticism of the representative system has remained accurate to the present day.
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.
I don’t see any need for elections at all in a democracy, and I have devised a system devoid of them. In general, I believe that simplicity and elegance are much to be preferred over complexity in political systems.
The degree and importance of the changes in the Athenian democracy from the 5th to the 4th centuries is disputed among ancient historians. I favor the minimalist view. In any case, we today are free to choose, for adoption or modification and for our own purposes, any historical set of institutions that we wish, and I for one prefer the simple, classical 4th century Athenian model.
tbouricius, the decisions to be made in a democracy are not countless. The executive council selects a limited number of major proposals to submit to the citizenry, as was the case in Athens. In any event, democracy certainly entails greater participation, and therefore greater time and effort, on the part of the citizenry as compared to oligarchy. This is to be expected. When something is your business and not someone else’s, you will of course be (and want to be) more involved in running it. As for “good” and “bad” decisions, democracy is premised on the people exercising their freedom through majority-rule decision-making. Period. (It ultimately requires a subjectivist philosophy.)
First, it is essential to appreciate the logic of “rational ignorance” ( when a vast number of people get a vote on a decision, each individual vote is so insignificant that it is irrational to spend time learning about the subject matter. But also, just the sheer number of public policy decisions is far to vast for any citizen to weigh in on more than a tiny fraction of them…decisions occur at the national, state, regional, municipal and neighborhood levels (many thousands per year affect me). If the executive council decides NOT to submit a decision to the assemblies, do they delegate those decisions to elite bureaucrats, or make them themselves? If 1% of public policy decisions that affect me end up being submitted to assemblies that I am allowed to attend, am I expected to attend meetings every night, or spend hours every day reading proposals and pro-con arguments online? It just isn’t practical to expect many people to participate in more than a handful of the hundreds of decisions needed per week. And even if citizens decided they wanted to, they couldn’t hold a regular job AND spend any significant amount of time learning the pros and cons of more than a few proposals, let alone help craft proposals.
Delegation of public policy decisions to SOME sort of subset of citizens (I prefer random, frequently rotated) is the ONLY practical way for a democracy to function without elite domination, because the bulk of the citizenry WILL NOT and CANNOT participate in more than a tiny fraction of needed decisions… and if all decisions ARE open to any who wish, the subset who DO participate will be very unrepresentative of the general population, and those assemblies wikll be dominated by special interests.
Crucial in your comment is “power” versus “influence.” There will always be leaders, in democracy no less than under any other type of government. And leaders very naturally and by definition have greater influence in society than lesser folk. People are not and will never be equal in the sense of having identical abilities. The beauty of a democracy like Athens is that DECISION-MAKING POWER is equally distributed. Here you do have absolute equality, guaranteed by the legislative institution, wherein laws and policies are truly determined by one person-one vote, majority wins. There is a world of difference between (1) choosing between policy A proposed by person X and policy B proposed by person Y, and (2) choosing between person X or Y to implement policy A or B or any other damned thing they please regardless of your wishes!
In “my” system, there are executive councils at each level of government. In addition to a national council there are councils for every state, area (city/county), and community. And each council would supervise a subservient bureaucracy not unlike those existing today. These people would all be paid government employees whose job it is to implement the MAJOR decisions arrived at by the general citizenry in their assemblies, where the agenda would be kept manageable by the councils that prepared them. Innumerable secondary “decisions” would be handled by the army of government personnel, leaving to the citizens only broad policy questions. Also, the people would no doubt arrange their economy so that they would be much better paid and be able to enjoy and put to good use the vastly greater leisure long promised them as a reward for increased productivity. Finally, they would probably pay themselves for attending assemblies as was done in Athens.
>Those who SEEK power are different than the general population in many ways.
The competitors in a marketplace of goods are out to enrich themselves. They’re often extremely powerful. Yet healthy competition in a well-moderated framework is the surest way of ensuring quality products at a reasonable price. The fact that the people who want to win election may well be in it for themselves is only significant if the marketplace of political policies is not healthy. Those who provide a better product (in the eyes of their customers) will prevail in time. I acknowledge the potential for collusion. Any system with an non-negligible threshold for entry has the potential for collusion. If the threshold for entry is minimized we move closer to the ideal market model. A great thing about depriving the elected officials of any sort of voting power is that we no longer have to consider fragmentation issues. We can have two dozen (or more) serious competitors winning political market share and framing policies in different ways with no harmful consequences as far as I can see.
You point out you don’t want to invest loads of time into learning about the details of policies that come up for a vote. Sometimes I worry placing decision-making power in the hands of an allotted subset of the population will remove what little incentive people have to educate themselves at present. Most people spend at least a little bit of time considering the major issues before voting, if only out of a sense of civic duty. This added up over decades is a non-negligible amount of public engagement. Even if it is more burdensome, maybe it’s not the end of the world to have the most important and controversial subset of proposals go for a general vote every year or so.
> There will always be leaders, in democracy no less than under any other type of government.
If by leaders you refer to people who promote certain ideas effectively by making informed and considered arguments, then sure. If you mean people who have superior resources – wealth, status, control of mass media channels – and use them to influence public opinion, then no – this kind of leadership is antithetical to democracy.
> Here you do have absolute equality, guaranteed by the legislative institution, wherein laws and policies are truly determined by one person-one vote, majority wins.
Having the formal power to vote for or against proposals is useless without the understanding of the issue at hand. It is even of less use if all the proposals considered are written by members of an elite group and therefore cover only the small part of the space of policy alternatives which serves the interests of that elite.
Ted >: neither the U.S. nor the British Constitutions have fundamentally changed in the past 200 years; the basic institutions and processes have remained essentially the same . . . Marx’s elementary criticism of the representative system has remained accurate to the present day.
The hard distinction between structure and content is untenable from an empirical political science perspective: factors like the extension of the franchise, the growth of competitive political parties (answerable to electors rather than party dignitaries), universal education, reduction in absolute poverty and the implementation of social-democratic policies by all political parties have had a profound effect. In addition there have been widespread cultural changes, including the decline of deference, the growth of multicultural pluralism, a highly intrusive and critical media and a culture of human rights and entitlement. As a consequence the New Left has shifted its focus to cultural criticism, but you appear to be stuck in a structuralist time warp!
>Bernie Sanders is a populist, Trump is not.
Just like your puritan forebears, the Progressives, you define populism as policies you agree with, everything else is rabble-rousing.
>simplicity and elegance are much to be preferred over complexity in political systems. . . I favour the minimalist view.
You are confusing aesthetics with politics — the messy business of dealing with the tangled complexity of human affairs. Your role model appears to be Rousseau (seasoned with a soupçon of Marx and Keynes), who argued that every citizen should participate in the sovereign decision-making body, leaving all minor matters to a delegated executive. But J-J acknowledged that his ideal system was doomed to fail in societies much bigger, pluralistic or consumerist than the tiny, simple and cohesive society of Corsica in the middle of the 18th century, so what chance is there in huge consumerist multicultural megastates, especially given the absence of republican unity and civic patriotism. The pursuit of Rousseau-inspired simplicity leads, in practice, to the Terror and the Killing Fields, however pure the intentions of the Incorruptible Legislator. As for minimalism, see my earlier citation from Dahl’s After the Revolution.
>we today are free to choose, for adoption or modification and for our own purposes, any historical set of institutions that we wish.
Yes, but then if we want to be Tomb Raiders we are under a concomitant obligation to honour the experience of those who put the institutions into practice. Although you may “prefer the simple, classical [5th] century Athenian model”, the Athenians didn’t like it very much as it led to bankruptcy, military defeat and bloody oligarchy, that’s why they introduced the turn of the century reforms. History and political science are empirical disciplines and we need to learn from past mistakes, not just cherry-pick the bits and pieces that appeal to our own minimalist aesthetic sensibilities.
>Also, the people would no doubt arrange their economy so that they would be much better paid and be able to enjoy and put to good use the vastly greater leisure long promised them as a reward for increased productivity.
Yes that was Keynes’s fervent belief in an essay written 100 years ago. No doubt the reason his vision has not come true was his unwillingness to slay the capitalist Behemoth (as he realised the frequently maligned beast was in fact a golden goose).
>It is even of less use if all the proposals considered are written by members of an elite group and therefore cover only the small part of the space of policy alternatives which serves the interests of that elite.
I guess there’s no hope for the illiterate under sortition or any other system. They can’t write their own proposals and the literate elite surely don’t want more competition for jobs, no?
Yoram, the broad “elite”–the upper strata taken together from upper middle class on up, as opposed to, say, the billionaire class–is fairly large and diverse and includes numerous progressives. You cannot seriously be saying that the opportunity for common folk to vote on sensible policies propounded by the likes of Bernie Sanders is “useless”?! (Please note that I’m not talking about voting for Sanders within representative oligarchy, but rather voting on the policies themselves.) Do you also REALLY believe that less well educated people don’t recognize and appreciate progressive policies (like universal health care) when they see them, regardless of the source?
Keith, I made it very clear that I was in fact talking about political, structural fundamentals, and this is a perfectly legitimate focus. Others can study culture all they want.
Please read more carefully: I defined populism specifically and objectively, and I stand by my valuation of Sanders vs. Trump vis-a-vis populism (something well known among serious political observers). You did not provide contrary evidence and I’m sure there is little to none.
I am not more than passingly familiar with Rousseau (whom I was never all that impressed with when I first read him even if I concurred with some of his ideas), much less am I a disciple of his. In any case, I have designed an expanded version of the simple Athenian democracy specifically for our megastate reality. “Republican unity and civic patriotism” will be the consequence–they are not the prerequisites–of the implementation of a modern democracy.
It is questionable at best if or to what degree Athens’ constitution was the cause of its problems (see, for instance, my treatment of the Assembly’s actions in The Racket and the Answer). I argue that in fact the democracy was viable and strong throughout. Except perhaps for the limited citizenship (something easily adjustable in principle), it was not inherently faulty. Athens’ difficulties, examined judiciously, certainly are not such as to dissuade the commited democrat from persisting in his or her adherence to the idea of democracy.
Ted: > I defined populism specifically and objectively
Sorry, I missed that, please repost. Your repeated references to Bernie Sanders and progressivism sounds more than a little partisan to someone of a conservative disposition like myself.
>“Republican unity and civic patriotism” will be the consequence–they are not the prerequisites–of the implementation of a modern democracy.
Goodness me, that is an optimistic claim. It strikes me that Naomi’s appeal to the moral psychology of Mandeville and Smith is a more realistic take on modern liberty. By all means hope for the best, but it’s generally prudent to plan for the worst.
I am unsure why the upper middle class is relevant here. It is the 1% that control the media and therefore would have disproportional influence on the proposition process. To me there is little difference between mass voting for elite candidates and mass voting for specific policy proposals produced by members of the elite (based on information controlled by the elite).
(BTW, I think hoping that the upper middle class would represent the interests of the majority in society is unrealistic.)
And what about their customers? In a highly competitive media market like the UK, the newspapers that sell well are those that cater for the preferences of their readers. Unfortunately for Ted’s thesis, liberal-left newspapers (Guardian, Independent, Mirror etc) are generally low circulation, hence my questioning of the association between populism and the progressive cause.
>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.
If that were true then Sanders would be a shoo-in for the Democratic party nomination. The currency of primaries is votes, not dollars, so both party activists and primary voters are motivated to put forward a candidate whose views agree with the vast majority of the population, as he would win the election. Generally speaking party activists are more polarised than the average voter — the UK Labour party recently elected a leader who’s views are not entirely dissimilar to those of Bernie Sanders and the prediction is that he has not got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a general election as these views are at some remove from those of the vast majority of the population.
>I think I’ll sign off for now. I believe we have gotten our points across well enough to make our respective positions fairly clear.
That’s disappointing. I view this forum as an opportunity to enlarge and refine my views rather than just participating in some form of intellectual pugilism. It’s ironic that the very people who advocate non-partisan deliberation choose to withdraw when the going gets tough. I would like to salute, in particular, Terry and Naomi, who I believe are also seeking to refine and enlarge their views and would encourage others to participate in the same spirit of intellectual exploration. This is particularly commendable in Terry’s case, given his own political provenance.
Keith wrote about Sanders and Ted’s designation of him as a populist:
>”If that were true then Sanders would be a shoo-in for the Democratic party nomination. ”
Keith, do you really believe that the primary election system selects the candidate whose ideas most closely match those of the general population (or the population of party supporters) rather than candidates with the most resources, connections to wealth and power, and effective media presentation (both paid and “earned” media)? If elections actually succeeded in selecting winners who matched the wishes (whether rationally ignorant or well-informed) of the general population, there would be no need for looking at alternative democratic tools such as sortition. However, as a matter of absolute fact, elections RARELY select such candidates,
I have no expert knowledge of the presidential primary system, but I’m very doubtful about Ted’s claim that Sanders (unlike Trump) is “a leader whose policy positions for the most part agree with those of the vast majority of the population”. This strikes me as a partisan statement in that “progressive” policies are defined as populist, whereas right-wing alternatives are just rabble-rousing. Democratic theory would suggest that any candidate whose policies matched the preferences of the vast majority of the population would be something of an asset for the political party in question. The reason that the UK Parliamentary Labour Party was dismayed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader is that he is unlikely to win a general election as his policies disagree for the most part with the preferences of the vast majority of the population, not because his proposals go against the interests of party bigwigs (in any sense other than that they will lose their seats). Blairism, Clintonism, The Third Way and other forms of triangulation are generally seen as an attempt to align policies with the preferences of the vast majority of the population and Corbyn is the antithesis of Blairism. I would imagine that Sanders falls into a similar category.
>If elections actually succeeded in selecting winners who matched the wishes (whether rationally ignorant or well-informed) of the general population, there would be no need for looking at alternative democratic tools such as sortition.
The problem is that even if we all want the same goals there are different ways of getting there. Those of us who argue the case for markets as against state provision (including healthcare) do so because we genuinely believe that competition is the most efficient mechanism. Some people believe that the role of the criminal justice system is to punish offenders in order to encourager les autres whereas others believe that it should be to reform them. The difficulty in agreeing on these matters is why we have invented democratic politics, and discovering the preferences of the vast majority of the population is a difficult task in polarised and pluralistic societies such as the US. We all agree that sortition can only help in this respect; where we differ is over the claim that “electoralism” delivers the preferences of the ruling class as opposed to those of the vast majority of citizens. This (Marxist) analysis may have been true 150 years ago, not so given the highly competitive nature of modern electoral politics.
But my main concern is that this forum is being seen as somewhere for participants to “make their position clear”. Speaking personally I don’t have a fixed “position” to “get across”, I’m simply engaging in a collegial discussion as to how to use sortition as a tool to improve the quality of democratic governance. The last thing that I would want to do is sign off (or boycott the thread) as soon as my prejudices are challenged. This is a worrying sign for those who would advocate sortition-based deliberative democracy as a way to overcome the evils of electoralism.
The reason populists don’t necessarily, or even often, win elections is that representative/party politics is not actually geared for majority rule in the sense of the veritable rule of the broad masses. The high elite invariably manages to get its way through the system precisely because of its essentially undemocratic nature–despite its beguiling facade and the relentless propaganda to the contrary. It is therefore (bringing us back around to the graphic that prompted this thread) a cardinal mistake for democrats to play the game in hopes of winning anything more than endurable concessions from the real operators behind the scenes.
I am departing the thread not because of any supposed rough going but because I simply feel I have talked enough for the moment, as happens inevitably with participants in any conversation–and I merely wanted to let you all know so as not to appear impolite if I did not respond to any further comments.
If that is true then how do you explain the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon? Needless to say I’m unimpressed by Marxoid slogans like “the veritable rule of the broad masses”.
>I simply feel I have talked enough for the moment
Might I then recommend to you Andy Dobson’s recent book Listening for Democracy? Deliberative democracy will only work if we all take lessons in listening to differing voices and adjusting our own “position” as necessary. As the erstwhile author of The Party’s Over this is the path that I’ve tried to follow as I now consider this work to be embarrassingly simple-minded, and this is partly as a consequence of exchanges that have taken place on this forum.
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.
>Any independent-minded politician, whether a leftist charismatic visionary, a demagogue, or proto-fascist is assigned the label.
The fact that you only attribute positive valance to leftist politicians confirms my suspicion that the term “populist” is being used in a partisan way on this forum. It reminds me of the attempts by the left to deny the epithet “anarchist” to anyone other than their own (i.e. excluding the libertarian right).
>The high elite . . . the real operators behind the scenes
Who exactly are these people in the Jeremy Corbyn case? The received wisdom is that they are political activists drawn primarily from the hard left. Do they qualify as members of the “high elite”? And (at the other end of the spectrum) who is pulling Trump’s strings? My impression is that he’s motivated almost entirely by egoism. If this is the case then the standard Pareto/Mosca/Michels ruling class theorem that underwrites this thread is a long way past its sell-by date.
Keith, since you asked, specifically and twice, I will answer (very probably for the last time, since we cannot resolve everything all at once). Most candidates are pretty much outright, pliant tools of elite patrons, some have some ability and demonstrate a modicum of independence, and then a few–usually from the left but possibly from the right–are outliers, NOT controlled, who are actually attempting to represent the people or some constituency as against the Establishment. Since the latter usually don’t make it far into the electoral contest because of its very nature, the problem, from the elite’s perspective, is almost always well contained. But when a truly dangerous politician slips through and rises to the very top (JFK and RFK are the prime American examples–review the history if you have any doubt), the operators, using the tools of government ready to hand and the power granted them by the system, take the drastic but logical step of physically eliminating these troublesome tribunes of the people.
Even more elementally than this, the “operators”–from their graves–are in the final analysis (in the American case) the Founders who deliberately and ingeniously installed the oligarchy in the first place in 1787.
In sum, there is most definitely a ruling class, it is not us, and we are blind not to see it.
> the drastic but logical step of physically eliminating these troublesome tribunes of the people.
So it was the “Establishment” that fired the shots from the Dallas book depository? Most people view the commentators on this forum as crackpots and you’ve certainly provided them with some additional ammunition! What, pray, are your views on 9/11?
PS, my understanding of JFK was that he was a regular machine politician rather than a “truly dangerous” radical.
I understand that some 42 groups and 214 persons, including the CIA, the Mafia, Lyndon Johnson, Fidel Castro and the KGB, either acting alone or combined, have been implicated in JFK’s assassination by various conspiracy theories. Which of these is the one that you refer to as the “Establishment”? Your starry-eyed portrayal of the truly dangerous radical owes more to Camelot legend than sober historical analysis. If JFK had not been assassinated his administration would not be viewed any more positively than those of LBJ or even RMN. So your outliers and exceptions to standard (and antediluvian) Mosca/Pareto/Michels elite theory are not just partisan they are also largely mythical. If we are going to make any serious progress in this field our discussion needs to take an empirical turn, and abjure slogans like “high elite”, “Establishment” [your capitalisation], “the people”, “the system”, “the operators”, “the broad masses”, or even for that matter empirical/evaluative hybrids like “oligarchy”, “democracy” and “progressive”.
Does anyone else buy this JFK/RFK conspiracy theory? To Ted it’s just the understanding that “electoralism” is a conspiracy by the “Establishment” against the “broad masses” taken to its “logical” conclusion. Both conspiracy theories strike me as paranoid and harmful to our mission to introduce sortition into our political system. I’d love to hear what the other 425 followers of this blog think.