Can reason be democratic?

What is the point of raising the question in the context of this website?

I suspect that there is a difference of a fundamental sort between me and some of my critics that can be characterised very roughly as this: they are committed to democracy as the will of the people. Not because they think that will is infallible, but because any effort to make it less fallible is going to put too much power in the hands of self-appointed elites that are worse in many ways, even at getting things right. We cannot risk giving power to the elites who claim to be the voice of reason. No more Lenins!

On the other hand, I want to emphasise the supreme importance of getting it right in dealing with the dangerous world we have created. I postulate that this goal can only be achieved by a rational process in which any citizen who wishes to do so may take an active part. One takes an active part in a rational process by putting forward considerations for or against a proposal that others can be expected to recognise as having a certain amount of validity. Mere will or gratuitous assertion do not count.

An obvious objection to this view is that it makes people unequal. Almost anybody can cast a vote, but taking part in a rational discussion of a serious political problem demands a degree of skill in thinking and expressing one’s thoughts that many people do not have. Many also lack the time and energy that the task demands. There is certainly inequality of participation here. But is that any worse than the inequalities that voting almost inevitably inflicts on many people in any situation where the decision is determined by majority voting?
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Participation Toolkit

A book named “Participatory methods toolkit: a practitioner’s manual” was published in 2005 by the King Baudouin Foundation and the Flemish Institute for Science and Technology Assessment (viWTA).

This toolkit has a “citizens jury” part that may be of interest to us.

Page 21:

4) Participants

Recruitment

In some methods, the participants are supposed to be representative of the population at large. However, this may be unrealistic to achieve perfectly in practice. Purchasing random sampling phone numbers may prove financially unviable.

In this case, the advisory committee and project management will need to establish recruitment criteria and decide on another method, such as newspaper advertising. In newspaper recruitment, panellists are somewhat self-selected because they have to initially respond to an advertisement. In any method of recruitment an element of bias is introduced at the selection stage by the preferences of the selection committee. Recruitment is usually done three to four months prior to the first activity.
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Participatory and Deliberative Democracy: Sortition and Democratic Representation

An upcoming session in the Political Studies Association’s Annual International Conference 2017:

Participatory and Deliberative Democracy: Sortition and Democratic Representation

Room: Executive Room B
Time Slot: Wednesday 12th April 11:00 – 12:30

Panel Chair: Dr John Boswell (University of Southampton)
Panel Members:

  • Mr Keith Sutherland (University of Exeter)
  • Dr Brett Hennig (Sortition Foundation)
  • Dr Peter Stone (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Mr Dimitri Courant (University of Lausanne & University Paris 8)

We are witnessing something of a revival in support for sortition, with the idea popularised in particular in David Van Reybrouck’s recent Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. Although the debate around the use of sortition has typically been tied to discussion of mini-publics, this panel seeks to look more broadly at its relationship to democratic theory and democratic practice more broadly conceived. It brings together proponents and sceptics, normative theorists and those whose work is more applied, for a contemporary, lively and varied debate on this age-old topic.

Papers:

Je participe

Explaining non-participation in deliberative mini-publics

One of the issues dividing commentators on this blog is whether participation in sortition-based assemblies should be mandatory or voluntary — see, for example. Those of us advocating legislative juries based on Athenian nomothetic panels advocate quasi-mandatory participation in order to ensure accurate descriptive representativity. Those, however, who argue for full in-depth participatory deliberation claim that mandatory participation would be ‘disastrous’, as it is hard to see how a a ‘full-charge’ legislature — essentially like existing elected legislatures but with members selected by lot — could function with (in effect) conscripted members.

A paper by Vincent Jacquet in the European Journal of Political Research, examines why it is that the overwhelming majority of randomly-selected persons refuse the invitation to participate in deliberative minipublics. Given that the descriptive representativity of the minipublic (vis-a-vis the target population) is one of the principal rationales for sortition, acceptance rates are extremely poor, ranging from 1% (America Speaks) through 3% (Belgium), 5.7% (Ontario), 6.2% (Netherlands), 7.4% (British Columbia) to 20% in Deliberative Polls. As a result there is a danger that voluntary participation risks the ‘over-representation of better educated and politically active individuals’ as ‘the [overwhelming] majority of the recruited population refuse to participate (pp.2-3).

Stratified sampling can enable some correction but this is generally on the basis of crude population metrics and ‘[voluntary] participation follows the social unequal distribution pattern of political engagement . . . participants are better educated, mostly men and older than the average population . . . participants are more politically interested and have a higher sense of efficacy’ (p.3). Such ‘statistical biases’ might suggest that deliberative minipublics privilege the usual suspects, the added disadvantage being that nobody has chosen ‘descriptive’ representatives and there is no way to kick the rascals out. There is a danger that

Using mini-publics to shape public policies may create new deliberative elites — randomly selected but distinct from the wider population precisely because they have taken the time to deliberate. (p.14)

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Equal Participation in the Post-Democratic Age

Forthcoming book chapter by Dirk Jörke and Anthoula Malkopoulou

Equal participation is a sine qua non of democracy. Yet, today equal voting rights are insufficient for embodying this principle. On one hand, the use of voting rights is not equal among the population. On the other, elections have increasingly become a post-democratic facade, because decision-making has shifted to unelected bodies or non-transparent network meetings. Are more direct democratic procedures the solution to this predicament? This chapter argues that they are not. For once, deliberative citizen assemblies bring inequalities in from the backdoor, as they permit knowledge, skills and other resources more available to advantaged citizens to weigh in positively. Likewise, introducing random selection as a way of distributing public office may allow advantaged citizens to dominate, if the pool of candidates is voluntary and thus self-selected. We argue that reforms should generally focus not on introducing more direct participation, but on reducing the inequalities of participation in representative systems.

The other alternative being large non-deliberative juries with mandatory participation.

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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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