Étienne Chouard: Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good, Part 5/5

Previously published parts of this essay are the Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

(ii) Constitutional workshops, a practical tool for popular education for training a multitude of citizen constitution-writers, guardians of the common good

Representative government (falsely called “representative democracy” – a deceptive oxymoron) is a regime of domination of the voters by the elected, was never willfully adopted and was imposed from the outset by the elected (Sieyes, Madison, etc.). The solution will not come from the elected, who are the problem since they usurp the constitutive power. The solution must come from elsewhere: from the citizens themselves.

The emancipation of the voters, their transformation into citizens, demands the institution of their political empowerment and it should therefore be the voters who practice constitution-writing themselves.

1. A citizen worthy of this name must be vigilant, and therefore a constitution-writer

Vigilance has long been described as an essential quality of a citizen.

Plato:

When a man will not himself hold office and rule, his chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse [Republic, Book 1, p. 347c].

Thucydides:

A man who takes no part in political matters we regard not as unambitious but as useless [Pericles’s Funeral Oration, The Peloponnesian War, Book 2.34-46].


Marat:

To remain free, it is necessary to always be on guard against those who govern. Nothing is easier than to lose than that which is not well kept. Overconfidence is always the precursor of servitude [Les chaînes de l’esclavage, 1774].

Alain:

Democracy is not the power which originates with the people, it is power which is controlled by the people. Democracy is the exercise of control by the governed over the rulers. Not once every few years, nor once a year, but continuously [Propos sur le pouvoir, 1985].

Thus, we must all be constantly vigilant.

But what is the use of vigilance without the ability to act? Today our anti-constitutions do not afford the citizens any powers to defend themselves against the politicians.

In order to play their role as the guardians of democracy, the citizens have to endow themselves with guaranteed power. This is the choice regarding representatives: masters or servants.

In Athens, the people had the right to vote for and against laws at the Ecclesia, the people’s assembly. But they also had the right of Isegoria, the right of everybody to speak, at any moment on any subject. This right allowed each citizen to become, at times of danger, a guardian of democracy, of the common good.

Today this popular power could be instituted as:

  • The freedom of expression,
  • Referendum at the popular initiative,
  • Public media accessible to all,
  • Protected status for whistleblowers.

But the elected will never institute citizen power. Only the citizens themselves are capable of instituting their own empowerment. It is therefore essential (and non-negotiable) that the citizens are constitution-writers, that is, capable of willing, instituting and defending their own social contract, their constitution, the superior text which constitutes a people.

This is going to require training – theoretical and practical – of the population. How can that be done?

2. This transformation of voters-children into citizens-adults can only happen through practical popular education: a multitude of self-replicating small-scale constitutional workshops

The elected will never teach the voters to transcend them, or even to control them effectively (because of their conflict of interest).

It is therefore the citizens who have to teach each other, among themselves, through encounters aimed at the writing of constitutional articles. Such encounters would be self-replicating small-scale constitutional workshops where popular, peer-to-peer education between equals will take place.

Once the many are trained and have gotten into the habit of constitutional discussion, it will appear natural to allot citizens for the constitutional assembly, because experience will show that we are all largely writing nearly the same articles.

The constitutional workshops are therefore pulling at the root of the popular disempowerment and inability to defend the common good. It is such workshops that I have been promoting for some years all over the French-speaking area.

Conclusion

The common good needs a multitude of voluntary guardians who are able to understand it, to aspire to it and to defend it. Therefore an emancipatory political apprenticeship, theoretical as well as practical, must not only be made available to everyone but encouraged from a very young age to the end of life.

From this point of view, elections reduces to almost nothing the number of guardians of the common good and corrupts those that remain.

In contrast, sortition, notably when applied to selecting a constitutional convention, increases the number of the guardians of the general interest and protects them from corruption by dis-incentivizing them from lying and by instituting permanent control mechanisms.

This analysis is a recent construction and should not become the domain of experts. You all can, and you all should, participate in enriching this reflection and strengthening it.

Thank you,
Étienne Chouard

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