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In response to recent scepticism, Palonen’s support for the ‘classical paradigm of elected Members of Parliament looks outdated and insufficiently responsive to the challenge of rising inequalities’: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