‏‎J’ai pas voté

J’ai pas voté is a documentary by Moise Courilleau and Morgan Zahnd. It is “an autopsy of French democracy aiming to create a new opportunity for growth of a new era of political organization”. Among those featured are Loic Blondiaux, Yves Sintomer, Jean-Paul Jouary, Jacques testard, Bernard Manin, Etienne Chouard, and Hervé Kempf.

The film is English subtitled.

23 Responses

  1. Is there a subtle difference in meaning between j’ai pas voté and je n’ai pas voté (the normal phrasing)?


  2. Is the difference between NOT-voting (principled abstention) in the first instance and I never got round to voting in the second? I’ve never come across j’ai pas before (normally je n’ai pas). Unfortunately they speak too fast for me to understand the dialogue. Ahmed to the rescue?


  3. Great news: English subtitling of this movie is expected to be ready soon.


  4. It’s done: the film is now English subtitled!


  5. I just watched it all the way through in one sitting for the first time, and I have to say I am rather impressed!

    The translation seems rather accurate also and better than I could have done. There’s only one thing of substance I would subtitle differently: “défiance” of politicians does not mean “defying” them but “being suspicious” of them.

    Overall, I think it does a terrific job of getting the point across that representative gov is not democratic gov, and it also introduces the concept of sortition in an accessible way!

    Does anyone know anything about the group that produced it? Was it the Institut Montaigne?


  6. I, too, think its a very well done film. I am envious. The French – academia and activists – seem to be far better aware of the political realities than their English speaking counterparts.

    One point of weakness is terminological. For example, the term “democratic” is used in the film without a careful definition and a distinction between the ways it is used. Also, the use of the term “representative” instead of the term “electoral” is quite confusing.


  7. Yes, that seems to be the case, and I have no theory as to why. They seem to be more “fed-up” with and suspicious of the political system although policy in France appears to better serve the interests of the “everyman” than it does in the US. If someone has any guesses, I would like to hear.

    The use of the adjectives “democratic” and likewise “representative” bother me less. You can’t entirely ignore current usage, even when you mean to question it. Their goal was to critique the usage of the word “democracy’ to describe a system that is, and has always been, by design rather un-democratic. The message rang clear and understandable. At any rate, “representative government” was used consistently to mean the current political structure in countries that see themselves as “democratic.”

    My favorite graphic was the one showing how only 17/577 MP’s in the General Assembly actually obtained a majority of the vote. The illustration of the Athenian system may be too quick for some people, however. Then again, in my view, the technicalities of Athenian practice is much less important than the fact that amateur citizens were an integral part of routine government activity.


  8. > You can’t entirely ignore current usage, even when you mean to question it.

    I agree. Current usage should not be ignored – on the contrary, it should be well described and appropriately critiqued. Misapplication of the term “democratic” is a significant impediment to creating a real alternative.

    > “representative government” was used consistently to mean the current political structure in countries that see themselves as “democratic.”

    That is not really clear to me. It seems at times that “representative government” is meant to be contrasted with “direct government”. In this sense, it would cover a sortition-based system as well. Also, the term “representative” is problematic since it could imply representation of interests which is what democracy really is about.


  9. They use the term “sociologically representative” to mean representative in the way of sortition. I prefer that term to Keith’s “descriptive” representation. But I am ambivalent about representativeness playing too central a role in sortition theory. I prefer the rotation of ruler and ruled, reflectivity–or even “holographic representation.”

    The reason I say this is that static representativeness could corner you into bodies of a certain or a certain composition. The mechanism of sortition and rotation of power makes “dynamic representativeness” possible, that’s in a sense more “direct” than so-called direct democracy, because it puts people face-to-face and in the center of decision making, including deliberation and fact finding.


  10. Ahmed,

    Sociological representation is a good simile for descriptive or statistical representation, the point being that it’s based on similarity between the aggregate representatives and the represented, rather than the expressed preferences of the represented. Holographic representation is fine if it refers to the aggregate — the trouble is it could be taken to mean that each individual representative is a degraded portrait in miniature of the whole (as with a holographic film), and this is simply not the case. Sociological/descriptive/statistical representation makes it clear that the reference is to the aggregate, not the individual “descriptive representative” (there is no such creature, in the singular, as the term only applies in its plural form). So the holographic analogy is potentially misleading.

    I don’t see how anyone can seriously argue the case for rotation in large modern states — the numbers simply don’t permit it. Reflectivity also only applies to the aggregate (the mirror reflects the whole citizen body). All substantive arguments for democracy — from Burke to Habermas — “put people face-to-face”; the issue under debate is who those people should be. In electoral systems we get to choose our representatives, whereas in sortition systems it’s guaranteed by the law of large numbers. Unfortunately the latter principle breaks down once face-to-face deliberation starts (as only a small number of people are involved), so such a system would be unrepresentative. This being the case, the film makers are correct to equate election and representative democracy. For an allotted decision-making body to be representative it would have to model itself on the Athenian legislative court, not the Habermasian face-to-face model. Deliberative democrats are aware of this, hence the fact that they do not, as a general rule, advocate sortition as the selection principle.


  11. You may not have noticed my suggestion regarding “dynamic representation” whether sociological/descriptive/holographic. The point: take it over time not space to get away from large, un-deliberative but statistically representative bodies to smaller, deliberative, temporary ones. This is as doable in a modern polity as it was in smaller states.

    I was at the Association for Political Thought conference this afternoon, where half the presenters on a “deliberation and solidarity” panel mentioned minipublics or sortition. A young dissertator from Vancouver is conducting two experimental minipublics to test the “affective” dimension of deliberation. Exciting stuff, imo, because social psychologists have been talking about this for some time, while political scientists and theorists have not adequately paid attention to. She is exploring what Tom Atlee and others have been imploring political scientists to become conscious of. A young professor from North Carolina talked about the need to look beyond the late 18th century West for models of government, in particular to Athens, for models of democratic practices.

    At any rate, good news for sortition and deliberation on this side of the pond.


  12. Ahmed,

    >take it over time not space to get away from large, un-deliberative but statistically representative bodies to smaller, deliberative, temporary ones.

    1. How many of these bodies would be required to benefit from the representativity generated by the law of large numbers?

    2. Why (and via what mechanism) would participants in subsequent bodies be obliged to pay any heed to prior deliberations? At some point a decision has to be made and this gives the trump card to the last body. Or are you proposing each body taking a decision and then computing the average? If that is the case then, given the constraints of 1), legislation would be a drawn-out and expensive process.

    >two experimental minipublics to test the “affective” dimension of deliberation

    The reason that political scientists and theorists have not paid attention to this is because the political process is intended to replace affect with argument.


  13. And as behavioral economics has replaced “rational choice” econ, so will behavioral political science, affect-aware, will replace naive pol sci.


  14. Ahmed, although that broad claim may or may not be true, I think you owe it to us all to answer the other two questions!


  15. > I think you owe it to us all to answer the other two questions!

    Your pomposity is truly impressive.


  16. Ahmed,

    I take your silence on this matter as a sign of your unwillingness to defend the traditional notion of political representation. You are not alone here since what Lisa Disch has called the “constructivist turn” in the scholarly study of representation. Under the traditional perspective, stable socio-economic classes led to the emergence of corresponding political parties, and voters naturally selected the representatives that corresponded to their own interests. This has become increasingly difficult in the shifting sands of post-industrial multicultural societies, so theorists have been seeking to adjust their perspective accordingly.

    In his book The Representative Claim Mike Saward attempts to make normative sense of the claim of the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof to represent the people of Africa. According to Saward potential representatives make their claim to (chosen) audiences who then react accordingly (mechanism unspecified). I’m deeply suspicious of this constructivist argument, as at least the old system was clear about the mechanism (preference election) and (in theory) anybody could offer themselves as a representative, even if they can’t sing (although many would doubt Geldof’s claim for the latter). In a sense this is a case of Manin’s principle of distinction but without the institutional democratic constraints.

    What is the relevance of this to face-to-face deliberation? One of the criticisms of deliberative democracy is that it privileges those able to distinguish themselves through their discursive skills (generally those of the educated middle classes), and who are consequently better enabled to influence an audience. The principle also applies to small groups, as I found during my own recent jury-room experience. I imagine the new focus on affect that your report is an attempt to equalise this process, but the losers in every case are the silent majority — those who neither have the “gift of the gab” or the requisite emotional intelligence.

    So, even though Yoram finds my request “pompous” (I’m not sure why), I would implore you to answer the questions, or to otherwise seek to unpack for our benefit this new system of representation (assuming that is what it was) that you discovered at the CPT meeting.


  17. I am not familiar with Disch’s idea, and it may be better to do away with “political” representation altogether. Yes, I had aggregation in mind, like a jury is in sum the “conscience of the community.” A citizen panel may not be statistically representative in every way, but when selected by lot, it is not SYSTEMATICALLY biased like an elected body is. Over time means that whatever random “represenative-deficiency” in any one panel will be eventually corrected over the long run by subsequent panels.

    No, we do not have to consider a panel “undoing” what a previous panel decided because we do NOT consider that with elected bodies. It is all too easy to set a higher standard for reforms than we require of current arrangements. At any rate, that would we be no more a problem than one president deciding to undoing the executive orders of a previous president. No one would every call that an issue.

    On another note: “Deliberative democracy” did not originate from the stuffy Habermas (or his “Habermafia” as some now say) and is nothing new; it is at least as old as John Dewey. William Keith’s “Democracy as Discussion” points out that there was a Forum Movement was a fashion in the 1920s and 30s in the US, and not a Brazilian invention of the 2000s.


  18. Thanks Ahmed,

    If aggregation is the policy, then how many small groups would be needed to achieve the benefit of the law of large numbers, or is this what you mean by “doing away with political representation”? Who or what is electoral representation systematically biased in favour of? I think our lengthy discussion of Gilens and Page’s deeply-flawed paper has covered adequately the rich ‘n powerful trope. Electoral representation in the UK appears to have favoured the views (not interests) of Oxford PPE graduates (see Jeremy Waldron’s inaugural lecture castigating their preoccupation with “57 Varieties of luck egalitarianism as opposed to topics such as . . . representation”; see also http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9322492/the-politics-of-ppe/). But the political class is meeting its nemesis in the form of UKIP, Front National, SNP etc. In the long run the median voter rules, it’s just that it takes time and in deeply divided polities (like the US) median voter rule means that everybody gets equally pissed off. We reject these imperfect institutions at our peril, especially if it is in favour of entirely untried and untested proposals with no historical precedent, and doubly so if the proposals give up on the whole hard-won right of political representation.


  19. > So, even though Yoram finds my request “pompous” (I’m not sure why), I would implore you to answer the questions

    “Imploring” is one thing, issuing demands is another.


  20. In standard English usage “I think you owe it to us all” is a moral exhortation (similar to imploring), not a demand.


  21. Yes, and “pompous” is a term of endearment.


  22. That’s good to hear Yoram, I didn’t know you felt that way about me.


  23. […] idea of sortition continued to be actively discussed in French. A new French movie – J’ai pas voté – featured a string of critics of electoralism and sortition advocates. Etienne Chouard and […]


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