Crowdfunding Anthony Barnett’s WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit

unboundAnthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:

Dear Fellow Kleroterians!

Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.

There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.

But any recommendations that it might take would depend upon the wisdom of him and his ilk. I summed up the approach Carty and I would take. He responded “You know wherever we go in the country people keep coming up to us with this idea”. Obviously, he thought it absurd. Yet I came away knowing there was not the slightest chance sortition would get a favourable mention but that spontaneously, in the instinct for self-government across the UK, people know that the principles of the jury could be applied to government.

Now Hurd and his particular section of the ruling elite, deeply for Europe and the influence it gave them, have received a bloody nose. A key reason for this is that they never ‘let go’ – never allowed regular people to have a direct claim on the country through a proper constitution, let alone a democratic one. Now, a deep and ongoing crisis of the British state is underway as its undemocratic character has been revealed by Brexit. The vote was an understandable one – though I was for Remain. But the consequences will not deliver ‘control’ to regular people. Instead, a large section of the once complacent elite will have to eat the consequences of our backward, parliamentary absolutism.

There will be no way back to becoming a European country that we need to be, with an honest relationship with the EU of the future, without a constitutional revolution. This will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce sortition into government. That at least is what I will argue, if – and this is why I am writing to you in a shameless fashion – I can crowdfund the book. No mainstream publisher was willing to publish something fast and so I have gone with Unbound, who will have the book out in January if I finish it in November. Please help if you can by making a pre-order. The book is called WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit. the link to the site where you can pre-order is here: https://unbound.com/books/brexit.

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7 Responses

  1. Anthony,

    > There will be no way back to becoming a European country that we need to be, with an honest relationship with the EU of the future, without a constitutional revolution. This will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce sortition into government.

    What is there for the elites to gain from this opportunity? Presumably they will lose some of their power due to a more democratic system. What will be the dynamics that will force the elites to move toward democratization?

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  2. Yoram,

    If the Brexit decision had been taken by a well-informed minidemos then the result might have been different. The shock result should awake Mosca/Pareto/Michels elite theorists from their dogmatic (and superannuated) slumbers. Elites are currently losing power at an unprecedented rate — the current UK government has the thankless task of implementing a policy that it doesn’t agree with and is against its short-term interests. In 2016 all three mainstream political parties in the UK received a bloody nose for ignoring voters’ concerns over immigration, and Dahl might well have moderated his anxiety over the power of intellectuals to dominate the policy agenda in the light of Brexit, UKIP, The Tea Party and the Trump phenomenon (Dahl, 1989, pp. 332-5). This is what might well encourage existing political elites to take an interest in sortition as (at least under the proposals of Anthony Barnett and myself) they would still retain powers of initiative.

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  3. I agree with Keith, there is a loss of elite power. There is also the need for elites such as they are becoming, to retain consent. This was true before representative democracy. Machiavelli concerned himself with this! Democracy is an opportunity to build consent not just loose influence. Thanks very much for carrying this.

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  4. Anthony,

    >Democracy is an opportunity to build consent not just lose influence.

    I agree. The idea of governance without elites may be an attractive idea to many people, but I can’t think of a single historical example. Most historians (Ober being the exception that proves the rule) accept Herodotus’s perspective on the Athenian “revolution” as an attempt by one particular aristocratic group to secure its power by taking the people into its own faction. The unintended consequence of this was an overall reduction in elite influence and the growth in the power of the demos, and there is no reason to think that the modern reintroduction of sortition would follow a different path (however much that may grate with post-Marxist political theology)

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  5. Anthony,

    So the notion is that elites will relinquish some of their power in order to legitimate their hold of what remains?

    That certainly seems what David Van Reybrouck has in mind as well.

    It seems to me that as things stand now the position of the elites is strong enough so that they will not be willing to bargain away much power, if any, in a deal of the kind you are offering. This is the case because despite having no legitimacy (“consent”) to retain there is no viable alternative they have to fend off. Only when sortition becomes a viable political force can the elites be expected to do anything that is more than empty gestures.

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  6. Yoram,

    >there is no viable alternative [elites] have to fend off.

    Really, what about populist politics? Are you claiming that UKIP (UK), Tea Party/Trumpism (USA), Front National (France), Alternative fuer Deutschland (Germany), M5S (Italy) Partij voor de Vrijheid (Netherlands) are elite phenomena? If so then why are they so hated and feared by the established political parties (on the left and the right)? Your claim would seem to indicate the triumph of dogma over empirical political science.

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  7. >[Yoram’s] claim would seem to indicate the triumph of dogma over empirical political science.

    Just to be clear, what he appears to be offering is an argument from authority — i.e. the claim of Aristotle (repeated by Montesquieu and Manin) that election is an inherently aristocratic mechanism and can therefore, by definition, only arrogate power to elites. If this is the case then no amount of evidence regarding the need for elites to modulate their policies in the light of populist pressure could overturn this dogma. The strange thing is that Yoram has also offered the view that democracy is rule in the interests of the people, as opposed to the standard definition (rule of by, and for the people). If it is the case that democracy is merely rule in the interests of the people (as they perceive them), the example of Threresa May’s government implementing Brexit against its better judgment (and interests) would be viewed as democracy in action (even if it countermands Aristotle’s definition).

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