Le Forme della Politica: Improving Democracy

Roberto Barabino writes the following:

Le Forme della politica” (Forms of Politics, abbr. FDP) is a an Italian non-partisan association whose objective is to analyze the forms, i.e. the rules of the game and the conceptual premises of the political decisions, in order to make proposals and take action for their improvement. The FDP is based on the teachings of the philosopher Giuseppe Polistena, who is also a co-founder of the association. He intends to correct “Aristotle’s mistake” (his statement that “the man is a political animal”), because politics is the pursuit of the common good and this is not a natural attribute of men and women, but requires a difficult effort in order to be achieved.

The FDP was founded in 2012 and up until 2016 focused on the Italian political sphere. The main themes were: the criteria necessary to guarantee the democratic functioning of political parties, the differences between institutional and political leadership, the limits to parliamentary mandates, and the study of foreign experiences regarding direct democracy and participation.

In 2016 we read and discussed David Van Reybroucks’s outstanding book “Against elections” that showed the intrinsic weaknesses of the electoral-representative democracy and proposed a bi-representative democracy in which sortition plays a relevant role. This was the inspiration for creating the international branch of our association, called “Improving Democracy” (ID), and to launch the “International Sortition Project” (ISP), in which we propose that a small proportion (e.g., 10%) of the members of the elective assemblies at various levels (parliament, regional council, town council, etc.) should be reserved for citizens, who will be able to put themselves forward as candidates for such roles without being part of an organized political force.
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“Anyone have any better ideas?”

Terry Bouricius pointed out the following story in The Onion, “America’s finest news source”:

Humanity Surprised It Still Hasn’t Figured Out Better Alternative To Letting Power-Hungry [Depraved People] Decide Everything

NEW YORK—Noting that it has had thousands of years to develop a more agreeable option, humankind expressed bewilderment this week that it has yet to devise a better alternative to governing itself than always letting power-hungry assholes run everything, sources worldwide reported.

Individuals in every country on earth voiced their frustration that, in spite of generations of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse they have suffered at the hands of those in positions of authority, they continue to allow control over the world’s governments, businesses, and virtually every other type of organization and social group to fall to the most megalomaniacal pricks among them.
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Je participe

Hartz-Karp: Unlike the Athenians, we don’t believe that every citizen is capable of participating in important decision-making

Janette Hartz-Karp, a professor at the Sustainability Policy Institute at Curtin University, has a sortition advocacy piece in The Conversation. It covers well known ground: history, diversity, deliberation, applications in Australia, etc.

The opening of the “What’s the obstacle to reform?” section is interesting:

So why isn’t deliberative democracy happening more often? Simple. Those in power are wary about sharing their power.

Unlike the Athenians, we don’t believe that every citizen is capable of participating in important decision-making. We assume most people are too self-interested to make decisions for the common good.

This seems to conflate two different ideas:

  1. Resistance by the elite,
  2. Anti-democratic sentiments in the population.

The first idea is clear and presents a general phenomenon. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

The second idea, however, is more intriguing. How resistant are the people themselves to democratic rule? If they are, why? An empirical study of this question could be useful.

The article also generated a lively conversation in the comments.

Hague and Harrop: Would we really want a parliament containing its due proportion of the ignorant, the inarticulate and the corrupt?

The following excerpt is from the 2004 edition of Rod Hague and Martin Harrop’s textbook Comparative Government and Politics (The “Functions of legislatures” section, p. 253):

We have suggested that the essence of assemblies is that they ‘represent’ the wider society to the government. But how can we judge whether, and how well, that function is fulfilled? What features would a fully representative assembly exhibit?

One interpretation, plausible at first sight, is that a representative assembly should be a microcosm of society. The idea here is that a legislature should be society in miniature, literally ‘re-presentating’ society in all its diversity. Such a parliament would balance men and women, rich and poor, black and white, even educated and uneducated, in the same mix as in society. How, after all, could a parliament composted entirely of middle-aged white men go about representing young black women – or vice versa? To retain the confidence of society, the argument continues, a representative assembly must reflect social diversity, standing in for society and not just acting on its behalf (Anne Phillips, The Politics of Presence, 1995).
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Gruen: A pathway to sortition

Nicholas Gruen, an Australian economist, consultant, commentator and former adviser to the Australian federal government, has two lengthy articles in The Mandarin advocating introducing a sortition-based body into the Australian political system. Gruen’s proposal is to create an allotted body with 6 year terms and some measure of legislative veto powers.

It is unfortunate that as a background for his discussion, Gruen offers the familiar story of the failures of the electoral system stemming from the elite’s pandering to the voters’ uninformed whims. This explanation seems to never lose its appeal despite clashing both with the fact that in practice policy outcomes in electoral systems overwhelmingly serve the elites and with the truism that those in power tend to serve their own interests.

The articles are of the interest for being another step in sortition’s journey into mainstream politics, and in particular for taking a step beyond the ad-hoc issue panel setup that is by now familiar in Australia. But beyond those points, the articles are interesting for Gruen’s suggestion for how sortition can be promoted:

I’d like to go hunting for the funds – from philanthropists and from ordinary concerned folk like you and me via crowdfunding – to simply establish a people’s chamber outside our official constitutional institutions.
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Le Parisien Magazine: For or against allotting senators?

Nicolas Priou, January 18th, 2017

Appoint some of the senators by chance. That is one of the proposals of Arnaud Montebourg, for “rebuilding the lost confidence” between the citizens and the institutions. More precisely, the candidate for the primary of the left (on the 22nd and the 29th of January) would like to allot 100 senators in an assembly reduced to 200 members. This means on citizen for each department, drawn from the electoral registry, as is already the case for judicial juries.

A system created in ancient Greece

The goal? “Assure the involvement of citizens in the political system” and making the Senate “a chamber with oversight powers over the public purse, public commitments, political promises to the public, and European decisions”. The idea is as old as the Athenian democracy – or rather klerocracy, as the Greeks called the political system where the representatives of the people and the rulers are selected by lot. But this method is rarely applied other than for selecting juries. More recently, it was Iceland that went farther. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, an assembly of 1,000 allotted citizens was formed to create the basis for a new constitution. Which was eventually rejected. In France, in addition to Arnaud Montebourg, various think tanks, philosophers, and researchers have been promoting the idea of sortition of senators for several years, proposing different numbers of people designated by lot. But are the French people ready?
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