Kerlouan: Macron treats the allotted citizens like children

Philippe Kerlouan writes in Boulevard Voltaire.

Citizen Climate Convention: Macron treats the 150 allotted citizens like children…

One may ask oneself how can 150 citizens, selected by lot in order to create proposals for addressing global warming, be “France in miniature” and represent “all the significant sections of French society”, as the co-president of the governance committee of the Climate Convention asserted they are. One must believe that the allotment was balanced according to some statistical measurements. But nevermind! The Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles designated numerous officials using a lottery. Chance is maybe the most effective way to turn equality for all and social-professional diversity into a democratic system.

We should also have confidence in the people so selected and not consider them second class citizens. As they met on Friday, January 10th for another weekend of work, they were able to pose questions to Emmanuel Macron, who attend in person for the occasion. No doubt he had nothing better to do in these troubled times. One of the participants, quoted by the Le HuffPost, observed that it is “scandalous that he chose this date in order to clown around in front of the Convention whereas he would have done better to take care of the pensions”. But our president must have had his reasons.

Could those reasons be electoral? Each one can make their own guess. In any case, Macron explained that this Convention if certainly not an public relations exercise but would have results. He even undertook to put the measures proposed up for a referendum. That should reassure the participants who were starting to ask themselves what is the purpose of the Convention: finally the people will get to speak! But Macron did add some draconian conditions to his commitment that make it likely that his promises are just pious vows, not to say a gigantic fraud.

Macron has committed to submit to parliament or the French people the proposals of the Convention “without filtering”, “if they are precise, clear and detailed”. That is, if they are bills of legislature. “If they are just ideas or intentions, you will submit them to people who will have to put them to music”. Regarding an eventual referendum, he added also that if it is a bill of legislature that is presented, “the day in which the French vote for it will be the day in which it is applied”. However, “if it is just a series of proposals”, the referendum will be merely advisory. “It will be followed by writing a law that would be submitted to parliament.”

We can understand that Macron would not want to put in front of parliament a text which is not fully ready – no matter its origin, even if written by experts. But then, why has he made the choice to convene such a convention, with its significant costs, if the proposals that it produces are to be screened by a politically correct elite which imposes its opinions? It is not even “populism” anymore or “demagoguery”: we should invent a new term in order to name this hypocritical call to the people, which we know will be useless and in any case the last word would be given to the oligarchy in power.

In a previous session, a citizen in the audience had interrupted an “expert” who explained that “a carbon tax, even though it is useful, powerful, necessary, cannot suffice” by saying: “excuse me, you treat us like children and that is insufferable”. Our president, him as well, is treating the 150 allotted citizens like children, and takes all Frenchpeople for fools!

16 Responses

  1. The Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles designated numerous officials using a lottery. Chance is maybe the most effective way to turn equality for all and social-professional diversity into a democratic system.

    True, but the Athenian democracy at no stage arrogated policy proposing to citizens selected by lot. Although the council was selected by lot it was an administrative magistracy. The French citizen climate convention can make no claims to historical provenance.

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  2. > Although the council was selected by lot it was an administrative magistracy.

    The fact that you keep repeating this nonsense with a pompous air of authority does not in any way make it any more true.

    (Not that “historical provenance” interests anyone other than pompous fools.)

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  3. Yoram:> Not that “historical provenance” interests anyone other than pompous fools.

    Then why are you wasting your time researching what Aristotle may or may not have said about the respective merits of sortition and election?

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  4. To Keith Sutherland: We know that the main task of the Council of 500 was to prepare proposels witch were decided on in the Assembly. It had also an administrative task in regulating daily matters!

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  5. Ronald,

    Classical historians are pretty well unanimous that the council was not a deliberative body, it was an administrative magistracy. How could 500 people deliberate together? — I understand that the upper limit for deliberation is in the order of 18-24. The reason that random selection was used for the council was to protect the sovereignty of the assembly from usurpation by oligarchic and factional influence.

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  6. Yes Keith I agree with you, but I did’nt know that you had deliberation (between members) in mind. I am very curious about the procedures in the Boulè; perhaps there was more ‘deliberation’ than in the Assembly. I have found very little information about that.

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  7. Yes, that’s the problem. Peter Rhodes has written the main book on the topic and he told me that the historical evidence is extremely thin. This leaves modern activists and “deliberative democrats” entirely at liberty to use the council as an imaginary template for their ideal projects without being constrained by unfortunate things like facts.

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  8. Perhaps the ‘debate’ in the Boulè somewhat resembles the ‘debates’ – proposals, questions, answers, interruptions – in the House of Commons (UK) or the House of Representatives (USA)?

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  9. The anonymouses of today are mine

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  10. Ronald,

    That’s certainly plausible. But if such a body were designed to generate policy proposals it would lack democratic legitimacy, as there is zero probability that the speech acts of the randomly-selected persons (or the small minority of them that chose to speak) would even approximate equal perlocutionary outcomes. They would not be representative of the target population in the statistical sense as some people are a lot more persuasive (and influential) than others. In an electoral system representatives are chosen (in part) on account of their persuasive skills, not so with persons picked at random. This is why, irrespective of size, a randomly-selected body can have no part to play in policy generation/advocacy, unless you assume that “average citizens” are just tokens for a homogeneous mass (as opposed to members of an equally homogeneous elite). That sort of archaic political sociology does not accurately describe modern pluralistic states.

    Bear in mind also that in classical Athens policy was proposed by any citizen who chose so to do, it wasn’t limited to a randomly-selected microcosm.

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  11. When we compare classical Athens with our representative system with respect to suggesting policy proposals, then I see not so many essential differences. In both systems many ideas living under the population could be brought under the attention of the legislating bodies. The Athenians had the Boulè and de Agora were many felt political problems could be named and discussed. We have our digital social media to make politicians aware of urgent matters. Sortition in this field irrelevant is I think.

    But when we compare the systems with respect to the legislating branch then there is a great difference in my opinion. Then a legislating body based on sortition is much superior to a system based on elected professionals, because every citizen has political-judgement-ability (as Protagoras already knew) and the use of random-selected bodies gives a better representation of the “will of the people”. As James Fiskin put it: “Random-selected Minipublics take decisions in a way the majority of the people should have done if they had the opportunity to inform themselves properly.” (I quote from memory)

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  12. I am the Anonymous who posted this on 03.04.2020 at 2.51 pm

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  13. Yes, I think we all agree that allotted minipublics are the optimum form of legislative decision making (and some of us agree that sortition has no role to play in policy generation).

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  14. Keith,
    I think you are using a narrow concept of “deliberation. Hansen makes perfectly clear [page 256] that any proposal from a citizen (including from a member of the Council itself) had to first go to the Council of 500 (Boulè), which had to decide whether to place it on the Assembly agenda, or ask the Assembly to authorize a mini-public (nomothetai) for a change in the law. The council also settled on the wording of these items. Deciding on what would go on the agenda and the wording requires something that can only be described as “deliberation.” We also know the Council used many committees, though we do not know for sure if a committee did this deliberative work and presented their draft to the full Council, or what.

    You say that having a random body generate proposal has no democratic legitimacy. The principle Greek democracy was based on was that ANY citizen could attempt to initiate a proposal, and this should not be limited to the Council or 500 (nor to political parties in the design you are working on). Neither of these schemes have democratic legitimacy. However, selecting WHICH of these citizen generated proposals should ultimately go onto the public agenda MUST be made by a random citizen body. This is the FUNDAMENTAL DEFINITION of Greek democracy.

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  15. Terry:> The principle Greek democracy was based on was that ANY citizen could attempt to initiate a proposal, and this should not be limited to the Council or 500 (nor to political parties in the design you are working on). Neither of these schemes have democratic legitimacy.

    Why so? Ho boulomenos sounds to me like a fundamental tenet of direct democracy in a small poleis. This is impractical in a large modern state, so the issue is how to achieve “representative isegoria”. My suggestion is Alex’s model for new-style political parties.

    > However, selecting WHICH of these citizen generated proposals should ultimately go onto the public agenda MUST be made by a random citizen body. This is the FUNDAMENTAL DEFINITION of Greek democracy.

    Are you suggesting that the council rejected outright a significant number of the proposals sent to it? Do you have evidence to support that claim? In the modern case one would anticipate whittling down hundreds of thousands of proposals to generate a workable legislative agenda.

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  16. PS, capitalising words like MUST is no substitute for argumentation backed up by supportive evidence. I’m open to persuasion, but not hectoring. Unfortunately sortition-all-the-way-down has acquired the status of an article of faith with some people (even though no society ever has, or could be, governed by a single procedure.)

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