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In response to recent scepticism, Palonen’s support for the ‘classical paradigm of elected Members of Parliament looks outdated and insufficiently responsive to the challenge of rising inequalities’: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).


However, Palonen runs the danger of trading one set of elitist selection principles for another:

In any case, regardless of the specific procedure of selecting members of deliberative assemblies, Kari seems committed to engaging only voluntary candidates in such process. Thus, he seems to agree with most deliberative democrats and klerotarians that political competence, rhetorical skill and interest in politics are not distributed equally in society. Even if this is relatively pragmatic and justified to say, taking it as a reason to make participation optional and, subsequently, to exclude the masses from decision-making can be counted as a standpoint that is liberal and elitist, rather than progressive and egalitarian. For voluntarism breeds egoistic power-drives and a political arrogance that lie at the foundation of aristocratic inequality. On the other hand, compulsory participation recognises these pragmatic inequalities, but counts them as a reason for inclusive selection and deliberation as a process of universal education.

Leading Malkopoulou to the following conclusions:

Kari would benefit from engaging with contemporary normative debates as much as deliberative democratic theory would gain from endorsing his work. In particular, it would make sense to address specific questions, such as who should be eligible as candidates for sortition and why; to what extend the principle of all-affected interests applies in such settings; why are political parties problematic today; why the mere opportunity to participate is sufficient and whether it is important to achieve substantive equality of citizens to exert political influence on agenda-setting (through universal compulsion or other measures).

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12 Responses

  1. Like so much democratic theory this discussion focusses on the amount of power that individual people have. Representation is seen as an act of handing over one’s power to another.

    If we are to have a fruitful discussion of what that handing over power involves, we need to ask ourselves just what is the nature of the power in question and what are its legitimate means and objectives.
    Most discussions of power are framed in terms of “who gets what”, the distribution of various advantages to individuals.

    But although all political decisions do affect who gets what, that is not their principal objective. As far as possible the well being must be the result of their own activity and that of the the family and other micro- relationships in various partial communities through which they develop and participate in a host of different activities that give them the means with which to construct a life that is distinctly theirs.

    The proper focus of political activity is the host of public goods that we need for the social ecosystem of our social activities to function fruitfully and allow us to enjoy the opportunities of participating in them. Many of the most important of these public goods, our languages and literatures, forms of aesthetic expression, moral conventions and etiquette are byproducts of people doing their own thing well and trying to share what they are doing with others, but in our increasingly complex and artificial world the preservation and adaptation of many public goods demands specific interventions in the processes that produce them. But that intervention must be justified not in terms of some illusory General good, but for its own sake.

    There is a great danger that citizens of nation-states think of such interventions as needing to be integrated into a deliberately chosen pattern of how we as a community want to live. There are, of course, questions about what we want of the nation-state, but there are very good reasin for keeping it to a very narrow focus of public order and security, resisting the call to use its colossal power to arrive at a forced unanimity on the basis of some simplistic view of our purposes, such as increasing the GDT or promoting equality where that inevitably turns out to mean bureaucratic uniformity.

    The state is so powerful because it enjoys a monopoly of organised legitimate force in its territory. But we need authorities collective organisation and decision making in a host of matters that the market cannot supply, but are urgently needed if we are to enjoy the variety of common goods that constitute the substance of our identities, the means of developing and expressing ourselves. Such authorities are not to be based on power, but on discussion and convention developed through the participation of those involved in each specific kind of activity. Society is an ecosystem that flourishes when each organism and network of organism is free to develop its potential. That is a matter of specific experimentation. I have tried to explain the first steps towards such a social ecosystem in my forthcoming book, The Demarchy Manifesto: for better public policy.

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  2. John

    Kari Palonen’s work is on parliamentarianism and this inevitably means a focus on the democratisation of power at the level of the nation state. That may not be of interest to anarchists/demarchists, nevertheless that’s the nature of his work. Suggest you start a new thread on the topic of your new book to coincide with the world-wide publication date (March 1st).

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  3. “[Palonen] seems to agree with most deliberative democrats and klerotarians that political competence, rhetorical skill and interest in politics are not distributed equally in society.”

    You don’t need to be a deliberative “democrat” or Kleroterian to believe this, it’s just blindingly obvious.

    “Taking [the above] as a reason to make participation optional and, subsequently, to exclude the masses from decision-making can be counted as a standpoint that is liberal and elitist, rather than progressive and egalitarian.”

    True. If the criterion for sortition is the descriptive accuracy of the representation then optional participation has to be ruled out.

    “On the other hand, compulsory participation recognises these pragmatic inequalities, but counts them as a reason for inclusive selection and deliberation as a process of universal education.”

    How so? Notwithstanding how “inclusive” the deliberation is it cannot equalise the imbalance in political competence, rhetorical skills and interest in politics. This is why I argue for a silent witness model of deliberation (i.e. listen and then vote) with speech acts provided exogenously (i.e. by elected advocates). This makes for an effectively bicameral form of parliament along Harringtonian lines and fits well with modern calls for upper houses constituted by sortition. I used to oppose such models on the basis that the upper house is normally viewed as the “aristocratic” chamber, so it would be odd for it to be constituted by the democratic principle of sortition, but accept now that this is just nit-picking. I guess for the representatives of the people to be Lords or Senators is appropriate in a demotic age.

    PS Anthoula — note that modern advocates of sortition are kleroterians, not klerotarians.

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  4. Thanks for all your comments, Keith!
    I had not quite figured out how exactly deliberation (and inclusion) can be educative for the masses, other than through the classic republican argument that people will learn to vote by having to do so. But your silent witness model (if I understood it correctly) sounds quite ingenious! I like the mechanics: a sortitioned People’s Upper House, to which elected Lower House members would argue in favour and against bills. I would like to read more about the sortition technicalities however, and the basic principled argument for replacing an ‘aristocratic chamber’. I’m also not so fond of the name of your model, ‘silent witness’. How does it differ from common juries?

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  5. Anthoula: >I’m also not so fond of the name of your model, ‘silent witness’. How does it differ from common juries?

    Silent Witness is a rubbish BBC crime drama (not recommended!). My template is the 4th-century Athenian nomothetai (legislative courts) in which the jurors (supposedly) sat in silence, listened to the arguments of the competing advocates and then determined the outcome by voting. Although deliberative democrats claim that this makes for an impoverished form of exchange (Dryzek and Landemore hate my model!), I can’t see any other way of overcoming the fact that political competence, rhetorical skill and interest in politics are not distributed equally in society and that the minipublic would reflect this imbalance. Given that the minipublic would in fact be a minidemoi (Bohman’s term) — in that it would have legislative decision-making powers — anything that might adversely affect the representativity of the forum would have to be proscribed and this, IMO, rules out speech acts of any kind. I’ve had a debate with Jim Fishkin as to why different DP samples from the same population on the same topic come to different conclusions and the culprit, I believe, is the small-group deliberations. If different samples come to different conclusions then which one is the “proxy for what everyone would think under good conditions”?

    >I would like to read more about the sortition technicalities however, and the basic principled argument for replacing an ‘aristocratic chamber’.

    As a theorist I’m a little vague about the former and the latter is just an acceptance of facts. Gordon Wood is very good on the difficulty the American founders had in justifying a Senate for a post-aristocratic republic and nobody nowadays has a clue what upper houses are meant to do. But you know more about parliamentarianism than the rest of us put together (with the honourable exception of Naomi), so I’m sure my previous sentence is just hyperbole!

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  6. I take it that your guiding principle is some sort of arithmetic equality of political influence, right? That said, don’t you see any risks in your model? For example, an uncommitted or illiterate nomothetes may cast an ‘unreasonable’ judgment after all, or..? Are we to throw away all expertise and scientific knowledge when it comes to policy-making? (I’m playing advocatus diaboli here). And what about deliberative inequalities among the elected advocates? Will they not affect the jurors unequally?

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  7. Anthoula,

    >I take it that your guiding principle is some sort of arithmetic equality of political influence, right?

    Not political influence, but decision power. I have a diarchic typology (derived from Urbinati) in which I refer to the former as isegoria and the latter isonomia. The former is an example of proportional equality and the latter arithmetic equality (in the classical sense).

    >an uncommitted or illiterate nomothetes may cast an ‘unreasonable’ judgment after all

    Yes indeed, the juror has the prerogative of the harlot (power without responsibility), so it’s a radical proposal. I look for commitment (accountability) elsewhere, ditto with the supply of reasons. At one point I argued for a (minimal) IQ threshold for political jurors but was persuaded that this is unnecessary as the illiterate will be in a tiny minority.

    >Are we to throw away all expertise and scientific knowledge when it comes to policy-making?

    No. My proposal for balanced information and advocacy is derived from Fishkin’s experiments, the main principle being that it should be provided exogenously — some, indeed, have argued that this will give too much power to expert witnesses.

    >And what about deliberative inequalities among the elected advocates?

    Voters make their own choices and one of the selection factors suggested by Manin’s principle of distinction is the persuasive power of the candidates (that’s why people vote for thespians like Tony Blair and David Cameron). This does not apply to sortition, where “your” proxy might well have no rhetorical prowess at all — this is just randomness in the pejorative sense. So a randomly-selected body that had a full deliberative mandate would be a source of inequality, both internally and (more importantly) with respect to the target population. I stress the latter because although everyone who participates would be formally equal (anyone can speak), the target population has no say in the illocutionary force of the speech acts of the participants, so would be effectively disenfranchised by the kleristocratic putsch.

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  8. PS

    >an uncommitted or illiterate nomothetes may cast an ‘unreasonable’ judgment after all

    That’s one of the reasons that I’ve moved towards the full bicameral model in which the allotted house has little more than veto power. The initial decisions will have been taken in the elected house and the allotted second chamber has to decide whether to accept or reject. But this does mean that the lower house has to promote policies that will be acceptable to the upper house, along the lines of Harrington’s analogy of two children dividing a cake — “you cut and I’ll choose”. The upper house would have real political power, but they will be naturally disposed to follow the lead of the lower house. Given that both houses represent the same citizen body but through two different balloting methods (preference election and sortition), this strikes me as not unreasonable.

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  9. Hi Anthoula! It’s nice to see you on the blog.

    >Are we to throw away all expertise and scientific knowledge when it comes to policy-making?

    I see no harm in allowing the elected members to sponsor experts. Also we could have something similar to expert testimony, in keeping with the courtroom metaphor. In a court case there are usually few affected parties, so finding experts without a conflict of interest is not so hard. However, everyone has a stake in the law and the experts are no exception. I think it’s better to make plain their biases as much as possible. The alternative runs the risk of making a narrow and subjective view the “expert” view in the eyes of the jurors.

    >And what about deliberative inequalities among the elected advocates?

    In this system, political success should be associated with having persuasive representatives. We can safely say parties will seek to maximize their influence by nominating eloquent individuals for office. If people vote for parties who nominate candidates who are not up to par they have only themselves to blame for the results.

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  10. Keith,
    >That’s one of the reasons that I’ve moved towards the full bicameral model in which the allotted house has little more than veto power.

    I’m willing to toy around with the idea of full bicameralism again. It’s a guaranteed solution to the coordination problem. There’s no reason to believe all the proposals which can pass through a short-term allotted assembly will be consistent and add up to reasonable set of national policies when considered in context. Either we make sure all the proposals fit with each other before they ever reach a vote, which would be the case if they were sponsored by the governing majority in a separate elected house, or we can let the voting members of the allotted body remain in office long enough to where they can get a good handle on everything up in the air any given moment. In the former case, the allotted house serves as a patch to cover over the agency loss inherent in the electoral mechanism. It also acts as a more robust upper house, checking the government’s possibly rash actions. In the latter case, you have the wisdom of crowds at play, with a representative crowd choosing between diverse options presented with rigorous debate. This is more appealing, if it can be pulled off. The difficulty is in ensuring representativity despite the longer terms. This may well take considerable experimentation.

    Conventional party government, albeit it checked rather rigorously by the allotted house, would probably be the end result of full bicameralism. The parties would have to remain at the heart of the system and they must accept responsibility regardless of whether ministries are up for grabs. While you have made good arguments in favor of a merit based executive, I remain sceptical it could stay apolitical even under the best of circumstances. As with the advocacy, there is something to be said for giving up the illusion of objectivity and plainly acknowledging the inherently political nature of the process.

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  11. Naomi:> Conventional party government, albeit it checked rather rigorously by the allotted house, would probably be the end result of full bicameralism.

    Agreed, and I think you have persuaded me that this would be the best outcome in practice (although objectionable for kleristocrats and other ideal theorists). It certainly wins on the precautionary principle, would not alienate politicians and would also be pushing at an open door. I’ve just received the latest monitoring report from the Constitution Unit at UCL and the principal feature is the (partisan) flaws of the existing upper house vis-a-vis its constitutional role of checking the rash actions of an elected government: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/publications/tabs/monitor-newsletter/monitor_62.pdf

    Has anyone done a count of the number of proposals for a bicameral system with an allotted upper house? It must be running well into double figures now. My suggestion to the kleristocrats is to hold their noses and support this. Note that this would be different from the proposals of Callenbach and Philips, O’Leary etc as the upper house would not have the right of initiative, but I think the latter would be better delivered by direct democratic initiative tempered by public votation. Successful initiatives would still have to pass the lower (government) house before reaching the house of lots, so would still have to pass the coordination test. The upper house could also perform the monitoring function suggested by Yoram in the Burnheim thread. It’s not “true” democracy but a form of government designed for angels is of little value in the real world.

    So it looks like I need to organise a bonfire for the remaining stock of The Party’s Over.

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  12. Keith asked
    >”Has anyone done a count of the number of proposals for a bicameral system with an allotted upper house?”

    David Schecter has been collecting all of the published sortition proposals and interviewing the authors to allow for side-by-side comparisons. His aim is to at least have this posted on the newDemocracy Foundation web site when finished.

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