The other point of view of the debate at La Croix

The French newspaper La Croix has recently published two pieces under the title “Of what use is the senate?”. A translation of one of those pieces is here. Below is a translation of the opposing view.

Jean-Philippe Derosier: “The senate is in the DNA of our institutions”

Jean-Philippe Derosier is a professor of public law at Lille 2 university and the author of the blog “The constitution decoded”.

Personally, I do not dispute the utility of the senate, even if some changes could surely be considered. There are three reasons for the utility of a second chamber. First of all, a logical reason. The parliament represents the nation, and the nation is the people but also something else. The people are represented by the assembly and other thing, in our system, is the regions (territories). In countries which made the choice of bicameralism, this other thing can be different, for example in England the history of the British nobility is incarnated in the House of Lords, or the civil society in Ireland.

The second reason is biological: there are always more ideas in two heads than in one and the second chamber completes the role of the first through a permanent dialog instituted between the two assemblies.
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Loïc Blondiaux on a citizen senate

A France Insoumise rally at the Place de la République in Paris, July 3rd 2017, Thomas Samson/AFP

La Croix has a short interview with Loïc Blondiaux on the idea of a “citizen senate”. Original in French here. My translation, corrections welcome.

What could a citizen senate look like?

Compiled by Béatrice Bouniol, Sept. 22nd, 2017

On the eve of the senate elections, Loïc Blondiaux, professor of political science specializing in participative democracy, discusses the idea of citizen senate and the questions it raises.

La Croix: Why does this idea of a “citizen senate” come up in political debates?

Loïc Blondiaux: The idea of a citizen senate indicates two major developments. First, the return to consciousness of the idea of sortition, which was suppressed for centuries. More and more political players and thinkers are considering the possibility of using it in different ways: citizen juries in a more-or-less ad-hoc setting, citizen assemblies aimed toward an institution change or a new sortition-based institution. Secondly, we witness today an increase in proposals that aim to modify the workings of government bodies, to open them more toward civil society and toward discussion with citizens.
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Ranciere: What times are we living in?, part 3 of 3

What to save from the drifting French political system? The philosopher Jacques Ranciere was the guest of Aude Lancelin in “The war of ideas” of June 20th, 2017. Here is the transcript of this interview. Parts 1 and 2 of the translation are here and here. [My translation, corrections welcome. -YG]

05. The question today is that of rethinking forms of organization, ways of being together for the long term, outside of the electoral forces.

Aude Lancelin: Your book is also a severe blow to those who today are pinning their hopes on the famous cortège de tête: the group of young people who clash with the police after the demonstrations. You have some ironic words on this subject. For you it is primarily a varnish of radicality which is applied to quite traditional demonstrations. The political meaning of all that and its future are not at all assured in your eyes. Do I misinterpret your thinking?

Jacques Ranciere: First thing: the cortège de tête is not simply the professional revolutionaries who think that it is necessary to radicalize the struggle and who radicalize the struggle by breaking shop windows. There are also people who think that breaking windows is the time of assembly of people who come from different horizons, who come from the political struggle or who come from delinquency in the suburbs, and who suddenly discover themselves. That is a way of gathering people that is classic anarchist or revolutionary politics, and suddenly the people that the movement appeals to and who are involved, who arrive with their own actions, their own revolt or their own ways, are coming first from the world of delinquency rather than from the world of politics. The cortège de tête are not simply people with a specific strategy. Another thing that I am trying to say is that the violent actions of the cortège de tête are also symbolic and not any more strategic in fact than the assemblies of the Nuit debout. Because, in fact, what is it that they are really doing? They take aim at symbolic targets; an ATM, a shop window, a nice car… But that is not at all a strategic action. There is this idea that it is necessary to radicalize, to create an irreversible situation. In my experience, that is not irreversible. It is not that some actions create an irreversible situation. I don’t think that existing conditions create a great realignment. Basically, the question is knowing how to manage this interaction between gathering the greatest number and striking the enemy. But what does “striking the enemy” mean? I don’t really know. I think that in the so-called “radical” thinking, there is always a double logic. On the one hand, the logic of confrontation (“we are going to confront them and it is through the confrontation that we rattle the enemy”) and at the same time a logic of desertion (“if we secede the system will collapse”). In the texts of the Comité invisible there is always this double logic. I think that neither of those two logics is really proven. But I am not trying to give lessons, I am just responding to the questions.
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Threlkeld’s reply to Paul Lucardie

This is my reply to Paul Lucardie’s 2014 book Democratic Extremism in Theory and Practice: All Power to the People, regarding his questions, objections and comments about my 1998 proposal for democratic lawmaking.

In my reply I explain why Lucardie’s alleged category of “democratic extremism” is illogical and should be rejected.

I do not find the book’s objections to what I propose to be convincing, but I do find them and Lucardie’s questions interesting and worth replying to. For example, he suggests that compared to popular election, citizen juries waste political talent. I explain, in response, why popular election massively wastes political talent compared to the citizen jury proposals I have made.

In the course of replying, I outline much of my position on citizen juries, including details I have not published before, such as some further details about why the final say in lawmaking needs to be transferred to legislative juries, and about juries deciding how public decision-makers are chosen.


Lucardie observes that: “Obviously, it is rather inconvenient if one wants to write about a phenomenon [democratic extremism] that by definition cannot exist [because it is a contradiction in terms].” (14.) Lucardie then tries to define “democratic extremism” in a way that is not a contradiction in terms, but he does not succeed.
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Wariboko: Election by lottery: A new approach to Nigerian democracy

Nimi Wariboko, Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics at the School of Theology at Boston University, writes:

Electioneering is warfare in Nigeria. Billions of naira are invested in campaigns and conducting elections. War and money have not yielded wise leaders for the country. Is it not time for us to generate creative ideas on how we can peacefully and cheaply select citizens for offices? I suggest that we complement our system of election with lottery. We reserve one-third of all seats in the state Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives, and the Senate for delegates to be filled by lot. Every four years, we put the names of all eligible citizens in a given constituency in a computerised urn or other mechanism and pick out a winner to represent his or her constituency at one level.
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Ranciere: What times are we living in?, part 2

What to save from the drifting French political system? The philosopher Jacques Ranciere was the guest of Aude Lancelin in “The war of ideas” of June 20th, 2017. Here is the transcript of this interview. Part 1 of the translation is here. [My translation, corrections welcome. -YG]

03. It is paradoxical to work through institutions in order to demolish them.

Aude Lancelin: Let’s remain with France insoumise and the phenomenon of Mélenchon during the presidential elections. You are very sceptical regarding the figure of a tribune (Mélenchon) who is going to speak in the name of the suffering of the people and champion their cause. This posture is suspect in your view. What is the basis of your criticism?

Jacques Ranciere: There are several things. First, adopting this posture means also adopting the posture that the system imposes, namely the posture that there is an official political game and that there are the people of the depths who are not represented, or are represented by the extreme right from which they must be separated. It is this idea that the people exist, that there are those who represent the people, that is what de Gaulle pretended to do. I don’t think that this is a democratic idea that makes it possible to mobilize and advance. That is the first point. The second point is that I find it paradoxical to become a candidate of the supreme office of the system saying: if you elect me, here is my program. And at the same time to say: but pay attention, this system is bad and therefore everything is going change. I think there is a fundamental contradiction. You are saying to me that my anti-presidential stance is somewhat paradoxical or difficult to follow. But I think it is still more difficult to follow a stance which on the one hand asks to be vested with the powers of the president of the 5th republic and at the same time says I want to 6th republic and i am going to throw all of this up in the air. It is either one or the other. If we say: it is necessary to throw the 5th republic up in the air, we say: I am here to throw the 5th republic up in the air. Period.
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Legislature by Lot

[Note: this has been adapted from an orginial blog post here:]


From Friday to Sunday this weekend (September 15-17) the co-founder and director of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, will be joining a group of academics, researchers and activists gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the pros and cons of a “Legislature by Lot” – a parliament, senate or congress selected by sortition.

The workshop is being organised by Professor John Gastil (Penn State) and Professor Erik Olin Wright (University of Wisconsin-Madison) who have drafted the principal proposal that attendees are responding to. Their proposal is for a bicameral legislature where one chamber is elected and one is selected using sortition.

Deepening Democracy CoverThe intended outcome of the workshop will be a book whose prospective title is “Legislature by Lot: An Alternative Design for Deliberative Governance”, to be published by Verso as part of of the Real Utopias series.

The workshop will be attended by many well know academics and practitioners in the field of deliberative and participatory democracy, including Lyn CarsonNed CrosbyJim FishkinArchon FungJane MansbridgeYves SintomerGraham Smith and many others.

Workshop session titles include “Legislatures by lot in the context of major democratic reforms”, “From deliberative to radical democracy? Sortition and politics in the 21st century”, “On democratic representation and accountability” and “Random assemblies for law-making? Prospects and limits”.

It promises to be an interesting and stimulating weekend of discussion about if and how sortition should be introduced into the legislative branch of government – and the resulting book (probably appearing in late 2018) should make a major contribution to the debate about radical but achievable changes that could be made to better our democracies.