Marcela Iacub: To reform political life, long live the lottery!

The French original is here.

The prevalent disgust with the political class will not be resolved as long as the powerful enjoy unwarranted privileges and as long as the president lives in the Elysée palace

It seems that attempting to reform political life brings bad luck. Once the government appointed François Bayrou to draft a law for reforming political life he was quickly paralyzed. Ever since the announcement of this effort, scandals are surrounding the allies and the close associates of the president’s party. Faced with this curse, two explanations suggest themselves.

The first is sociological. The privileges associated with power are shared by practically the entire political class. How then may one find the person capable of putting an end to those privileges? And if by happenstance such a person is found, even the most straight-laced would be surrounded by others who may not be…

The demands of honesty keep increasing year-by-year. That which was common practice suddenly becomes ethically unacceptable, and that which was unethical becomes illegal. Things are moving so quickly that the political class will soon face a crisis. And it is normal. In a democracy, isn’t the gratitude of the people the only privilege allowed? But maybe under those conditions, no one would wish to govern…

For a regime to be really deprived of unwarranted privileges, it must be based on sortition: the rulers are to be appointed in the same way juries are. Everything would then be very different: the political class would simply be a mechanical intermediary and the public in involvement in politics would be strong. Populism would disappear because the citizens would be educated about every question being collectively discussed.

The second reason is psychological. In the current context, the one who is charged with reforming political life is necessarily hated. Not only because he is suspected of hypocrisy – must he not be hiding his own scandals or those of his associates? – but also because the mere idea of “reform” provokes a desire to punish. The entire political class is transformed into a scapegoat for all the collective frustrations. The disgust with the political class is but a mild version of the desire to eliminate it. If it recently benefited the present government, it will soon to turn against it. Can this be doubted?

This is why it is hopeless that the attempt to reform political life will restore the public’s confidence in those who rule over it. It will only further this hate. No sanction will appease the public’s wish to make the power elites pay, to make them fall, to see them suffer. For that to dissipate, the entire system of privileges accorded to the rulers has to be abolished. And above all a profound remaking of institutions has to conceived. Representative democracy has to be reconsidered. It creates the political elites that extract from the people the power to shape their destiny. It is necessary to abolish the material privileges attached to the exercise of power. Today, the most symbolic and the most jarring among those is the fact that the president lives and works at the Elysée palace. Doesn’t this hall signify the unfathomable abyss which separates the rules and the ruled? Aren’t the former nothing but the servants of the sovereign will of the latter? These transformations will make the people, woken from the aggressive apathy toward the ruling elite, re-become a real actor in political life, their hate transformed into delight.

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15 Responses

  1. >Everything would then be very different: the political class would simply be a mechanical intermediary and the public involvement in politics would be strong. Populism would disappear because the citizens would be educated about every question being collectively discussed.

    That’s a strong claim, appropriate for the 50th anniversary of the summer of love. I’d like to know what the author was smoking when he wrote it (presumably John Lennon’s Imagine was playing in the background).

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  2. Marcela Iacub nailed a lackmus test of democracy which is not. Privileges.

    The statements which Keith criticises may be formulated a tad poetic, but their substance is true. I reformulate in more prosaic language to check if the John-Lennon-Accusation holds up:

    (Sorry for capitalisation there is no other formatting option.)

    “Everything would then be very different: the CURRENT political class would simply be a mechanical intermediary SHRINKING OVER TIME AS INSTITUTIONS GET STREAMLINED and the public involvement in politics would be strong. Populism would disappear because the citizens ALLOTTED TO A DEMARCHIC COMMITTEE BY FORESIGHT-WEIGHTED SORTITION would be educated about every question being collectively discussed.”

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  3. HJH

    >Populism would disappear because the citizens ALLOTTED TO A DEMARCHIC COMMITTEE BY FORESIGHT-WEIGHTED SORTITION would be educated about every question being collectively discussed.

    I’m very sceptical it would be viewed as democratically legitimate by the vast mass of disenfranchised citizens. The trouble with foresight-weighted sortition is it gives too much power to the men in white coats. For perceived legitimacy it’s necessary, IMO, to demonstrate that each representative sample would return the same results — thereby demonstrating that it makes no difference which citizens are included in the sample. In the current demotic ecosphere, this precludes selection on the basis of any epistemic criteria. (In Burnheim’s example it doesn’t matter because the demarchic councils have no statutory power, but the current piece of Gallic rhetoric is about the appointment of “rulers”.) What you guys seem to be promoting is Platonism implemented by an impartial selection mechanism, rather than a hereditary class. But we don’t live in a society that has any regard for aristocratic values.

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  4. I liked the observation that it is difficult to create a credible reform process when everybody that can conceivably be appointed for the job would be implicated in the same practices that they are supposed to curb.

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  5. hjhofkirchner,

    You can use HTML tags for formatting. E.g, italics.

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  6. Keith,
    thereby demonstrating that it makes no difference which citizens are included in the sample

    Almost there.

    1. Major point:”…provided the new sample has a similar level of total foresight and is equally well stratified during sortiion.”
    2. Minor point: Being critical rationalists from Vienna, we would falsify that it makes a statistically significant difference.

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  7. Keith,
    sceptical it would be viewed as democratically legitimate by the vast mass of disenfranchised citizens

    No vast masses needed. A demarchic party needs to reach 4% to get into parliament. Not easy but doable. Actually more a question of campaign money.

    Of course, a few seats will not give us majority by the old rules, but just think how cool the demarchic party will be, when it can ask, every single time: “This is what the Austrian people decided. Do you want to impose your clientele’s special interest against the general good?”

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  8. HJH

    >No vast masses needed.

    By your own calculations only 4% voted for the sortition party, the remaining 96% voting for “special interests”. Why do you think they will defer to the 4% and view them as the custodians of the general good?

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  9. I did not write the 96% would defer. My last paragraph states the key reason why this tactical move would be a great leap forward.

    Predictably the consequential effect to be

    (1) significant party government finance to be invested in practical demarchic sortition projects, so people see the process and its decision quality practically. Words are cheap. (No offense, Klerotarians.)

    (2) if these projects turns out as well as I think they will, more votes next time round, until we reach the majority.

    Essentially, it is John Burnheim’s model of convincing by merit, expanded with a built-in way to rise to power by BEING what you call “custodians of the general good”.

    Clearer?

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  10. HJH

    >Essentially, it is John Burnheim’s model of convincing by merit, expanded with a built-in way to rise to power by BEING what you call “custodians of the general good”.

    Thanks for confirming so clearly that your criteria are purely epistemic. Liberals like myself (and I imagine Yoram would have a similar perspective) would put scare quotes around “merit” and “general good”. Platonism has a very long, and illiberal, tail.

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  11. Not sure why we need put arguments in labelled sorting drawers instead of debating them on merit, Keith. Kind of bothersome.

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  12. The issue is who gets to do the debating, and the need to ensure that the speech acts fully represent the interests of the wider public. Epistemic terms like “merit” and “general good” are not sufficient, as democracy presupposes the right to make very bad decisions. Urbinati is very good on the epistemic disfiguration of democratic proceduralism.

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  13. “The issue is who gets to do the debating”

    Why, everybody of course. No problem at all using the right technology. For Prediki I can confirm conclusively that a massive parallel debate is perfectly feasible. Which by logic fulfills your second criterion.

    There must be no such thing as a “right” to make a false decision. That’s plain silly and I do not care who came up with that brainwave.

    There must only be only a duty to make the best decision to achieve a specifically defined and measurable general good.

    Anything else is not falsifiable. We would not be able to judge a decision right or wrong, a key prerequfor human progress.

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  14. >Why, everybody of course.

    My concern is with enfranchising those who have nothing in particular to say (or the necessary skills to say it) but who might wish, nevertheless, to appoint a spokesperson — this is why election is a democratic mechanism. Everything else in your comment is epistemic and has no bearing on the democratic right to get it wrong.

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  15. “your comment is epistemic and has no bearing on the democratic right to get it wrong.”

    1. Why again, labelling in an “epistemic” drawer and stop, instead of debating?

    2. I gave a complete argument why a declaration of a right to get it wrong is a fallacy, at least for those amongst us who can accept Popper’s scientific principle of falsifiability, and Mises’s value neutrality principle when looking at human action.

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