Consent of the governed

A few months ago I offered the following operational definition of “democracy”:

A regime is democratic to the extent that the people who are governed by that regime believe it serves their interests, where their opinions are equally weighted.

This definition is (quite close to being) an objective operationalization of the notion of democracy, I claimed. (It is not a full operationalization since the method by which people’s opinions about the regime are collected still needs to be fully specified. That, however, is an open-ended research program, so it cannot be fit into the space of a blog post.) It is certainly much more specific than the “essentially contested” literal “people power”. It is also more specific and less open for subjective interpretation than procedural definitions such as Schumpeter’s or Dahl’s, as well as having the advantage of not making quite absurd a-priori assumptions about the value of elections (or any other institutional procedure).

The proposal garnered some mixed reactions. Along with some support, there was a lot of criticism. Several commenters were concerned that this metric would indicate that China, Russia or other rivals of the West are more democratic than the West itself, a notion which they found patently absurd, it seems. Another objection was that an outcomes-based criterion for democracy cannot be satisfactory because any outcome can be produced by a dictatorship. It was also argued that according to this definition those who expose corruption in government and thus reduce trust in government could be blamed for destroying democracy. Occasionally the tone was that such a definition was a revisionist innovation and that whatever the definition of democracy is (no real alternative was offered, I believe), this obviously does not come close.

This seemed to lead the discussion to a dead-end. Yes, Prof. Wang Shaoguang has a pretty similar definition for what he calls “substantive democracy” and a survey he cites shows that this idea has wide support in China and its surrounding. But Prof. Wang and the Chinese are Chinese, so clearly they have nothing to teach Westerners about democracy (or maybe these are not even their true opinions and they are merely saying whatever they are saying in order to please whoever is eavesdropping). Moreover, even Prof. Wang still leaves room for “formal democracy” that would be defined differently.

It is only with great and inexplicable delay that I have recently realized how solid and respected is the pedigree of the proposed definition. For the notion that the legitimacy of a system of government can be measured by the confidence expressed in it by the people is really no more than an operationalized version of the classic “consent of the governed” doctrine, whose roots go back at least as far as Nicholas of Cusa in the 15th century:

Accordingly, since by nature all men are free, any authority by which subjects are prevented from doing evil and their freedom is restrained to doing good through fear from penalties, comes solely from harmony and from the consent of the subjects, whether the authority reside in written law or in the living law which is in the ruler. For if by nature men are equally strong and equally free, the true and settled power of one over the others, the ruler having equal natural power, could be set up only by the choice and consent of the others, just as a law also is set up by consent.

This doctrine has over the centuries been espoused by the most esteemed political philosophers of the West. Surely, for those who are attached to traditional meanings of political terms and to orthodox theories the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence carry some authority on matters:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Should Jefferson, Franklin and John Adams (not to mention 53 others of the best and brightest the colonies had to offer) be accused of providing moral support for dictatorships? Of foolishly asserting that it is popular trust that is the basis for good government? Of being Putin’s puppets as he carries his evil machinations against brave opposition figures?

What could be a more direct and natural expression of the consent of the governed than a survey, a referendum, or maybe an allotted body, in which people are asked whether they think their government promotes their interests?

41 Responses

  1. The irony is that establishing the consent of the governed is the reason that Manin provides for the “triumph of election” (over sortition). Nicholas of Cusa’s principal political innovation was a method for electing the Pope (a predecessor of the Borda count) and you generally deride the American founders for proposing an oligarchical system of government. So not only are you suggesting that we ignore the universally accepted view that democracy is a system where the people have power (rather than merely consenting to their rulers), you also seem intent in shooting the sortition movement in the foot. And do the Chinese really care as to whether or not their political system is democratic? You seem to be making the mistake (as Quentin Skinner put it in an early paper) of using democracy as a “hurrah” word, rather than an analytical concept.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I must confess I’m still a little baffled as to what the point of offering an ‘objective operationalisation’ of the concept ‘democracy’ might be. I’m reminded of that XKCD comic where in the first panel someone says ‘There are fifteen different USB standards! We should invent a single unifying standard,’ and in the second panel it says, ‘There are sixteen different USB standards’.

    As for the merits of your redefinition – since it makes the simple equation ‘democracy=popular support’, why bother using the word ‘democracy’ at all? You could simply say ‘popular’ or ‘popularly supported’, without taking a different word out of commission for the purpose.

    Keith,

    > “do the Chinese really care as to whether or not their political system is democratic?”

    Setting aside issues of what ‘democracy’ means in different contexts, the implicit idea that ‘the Chinese’ are a homogenous bloc with a single opinion is utterly incredible. Would you ask ‘do the Americans really care whether their political system delivers public goods?’

    Like

  3. Oliver:> Setting aside issues of what ‘democracy’ means in different contexts, the implicit idea that ‘the Chinese’ are a homogenous bloc with a single opinion is utterly incredible.

    Fair point. The impression I get from reading the press is that there is a reasonable majority of public opinion that supports the policies of the CCP, but I don’t believe whether the system is viewed as “democratic” is one of the questions asked. So, sure, outcomes is what matter but, as you point out this, is orthogonal as to whether China is a democracy or not. As we’re just quibbling over the meaning of a word, I’m not sure why Yoram is spending so much energy trying to redefine it (other than for Skinnerian “Cambridge-School” purposes).

    Like

  4. PS By “Cambridge School” I was referring to the use of words for rhetorical (rather than descriptive or analytic) purposes.

    Like

  5. *** Yoram Gat said “Several commenters were concerned that this metric would indicate that China, Russia or other rivals of the West are more democratic than the West itself, a notion which they found patently absurd, it seems”. That refers to an idea of “degree of democracy” which is itself very debatable.
    *** If we use « democracy » as an « Hurrah word », it may make sense to put all the political systems on one line, from the “more democratic” (very good), to the least democratic (very bad).
    *** If we consider the degree of consent to the established system, we may likewise use one line. But consent is not so clear an idea, and to measure it is even more difficult. How to ascertain and compare the level of consent between polyarchic Taiwan and autocratic Continental China ?
    *** If we consider “true democracy”, or to avoid battle about words “ortho-democracy”, as a specific system of sovereignty, as the system where the People reigns (ho demos anassei, as says Theseus), to put in on a line with other systems is strange. As strange as discussing if birds are more mammalian than snakes, if copper is more ferrous than aluminium.
    *** We can compare systems along different parameters. Ortho-democracy has common points with polyarchy. For instance the kleroterians may criticize the established system without fear of a political police, as many Athenian intellectuals criticized the dêmokratia without real fear (Socrates fate was a single event, a scapegoat after a civil war). Dissenters may have to be more careful in other systems. But this is only one parameter (although not a trivial one). If we consider the concentration of sovereignty in one point, ortho-democracy is more akin to absolute monarchy, and maybe partly to Chinese-style autocracy. Etc ..
    *** The supporters of polyarchy like the idea of one-line assessment – with polyarchy at one end and dictatorship/tyranny at the opposite. Therefore anyone who proposes another model is on the slippery slope leading to Staline or Hitler …

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oliver,

    > what the point of offering an ‘objective operationalisation’ of the concept ‘democracy’ might be

    It seems to me that a theory that deals with a concept (a democratic state) that supposedly corresponds to objects that exist (or potentially exist) in the real world benefits greatly from having an objective way for identifying instances of the concept. Wouldn’t you agree that a theory of, say, heat, would be very much hampered if no reasonably objective criterion existed within the theory that allowed to determine how hot objects are?

    > why bother using the word ‘democracy’ at all?

    That’s the word that is commonly used. The point is understanding the meaning of that word as it is currently used.

    Like

  7. > What could be a more direct and natural expression of the consent of the governed than a survey, a referendum, (…) an allotted body (…)?
    > (…) establishing the consent of the governed is the reason that Manin provides for the “triumph of election” (…).

    Yoram’s list can obviously be enlarged with “a general election” (I borrow the word from the Spanish system where there is a distinction with regional and local elections).

    I posit the the consent of the governed is a non-alienable right that can only be exercised individually. Once settled the impossibility, if not for the Zapatistas then certainly for a modern nation-state, of a direct government through a permanent online assembly (although technically possible, there is an effective limit to the attention span of people that we call “rational ignorance”), and accepted the inevitability of representation, it is only at the individual level that each citizen can consent to her own preferred path to representation, be it election or sortition.

    And only then will we have civil peace, for which time is running out –quickly.

    Like

  8. Andre,

    > That refers to an idea of “degree of democracy” which is itself very debatable.

    Because “democratic-ness” is a multi-dimensional construct? That’s certainly a valid theoretical position, but if so, what are its dimensions? Organizations like V-dem and Freedom House score countries on what they claim are multiple axes, each supposedly correspond to dimensions of democracy. The problem with those axes is that they rest on completely unconvincing (and vaguely articulated) theories of democracy and that the scoring along the axes is completely subjective.

    From a scientific point of view, a uni-dimensional model is preferable to a multi-dimensional model, provided that it coheres with the available evidence. IMO the “consent of the governed” model does cohere with how the notion of democracy is commonly perceived.

    > « Hurrah word »

    While I am a committed democrat, I don’t use the word “democracy” as a catch-all word for “good government”. It is clear that a very democratic system could in theory produce what I would call “bad” outcomes.

    > But consent is not so clear an idea, and to measure it is even more difficult. How to ascertain and compare the level of consent between polyarchic Taiwan and autocratic Continental China ?

    I agree that there remains a whole lot of productive work to fully operationalize this concept.

    > We can compare systems along different parameters.

    That’s true – the question if which comparisons are meaningful, interesting and useful. I think that comparing along the “democratic-ness”, or equivalently along the “consentfulness”, parameter is a meaningful, interesting and useful comparison. Certainly much more so than comparing systems along the various parameters offered by the established democracy-indices.

    > The supporters of polyarchy like the idea of one-line assessment – with polyarchy at one end and dictatorship/tyranny at the opposite. Therefore anyone who proposes another model is on the slippery slope leading to Staline or Hitler …

    Yes. That, of course, is propaganda, not science. Rather effective, it seems, if we consider how much instinctive hostility there is toward critiques of such doctrines.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Arturo,

    > Yoram’s list can obviously be enlarged with “a general election”

    Elections only allow voters to indicate preference between different factions of the elite. They do not provide an option to approve or disapprove of the system as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. > Elections only allow voters to indicate preference between different factions of the elite.

    … In exactly the same way as a referendum, which you listed, will only allow voters to indicate a preference between two or, if they are lucky, three options offered by the elites.

    In my proposal, “disapproving of the [electoral] system as whole” is simply done by individually opting for sortition.

    Like

  11. Yoram,

    > “The point is understanding the meaning of that word as it is currently used.”

    If that’s your intention, then you’ve clearly not succeeded! A full understanding of the various current uses of the word ‘democracy’ would fill a book. What you’re offering is a replacement for the complex, multi-shaded, inconvenient panoply of current uses.

    > “It seems to me that a theory that deals with a concept (a democratic state) that supposedly corresponds to objects that exist (or potentially exist) in the real world benefits greatly from having an objective way for identifying instances of the concept.”

    You’re quite right, but your definition does such violence to the concept that it is not adequate to the task. Popularity is certainly easier to measure than any of the various things commonly meant by ‘democracy’. But there are other tests for the adequacy of a working definition – tests it fails. How is one to interpret, for example, a popular uprising demanding ‘democracy’, on your meaning? ‘The people demand a government of the sort demanded by the people!’ Our concept ‘democracy’ must incorporate elements beyond mere popularity in order for it to make sense of these uses of the word.

    Like

  12. Yoram,
    Your definition is for something like a “legitimate” or “just” government, and not “democracy.” It is worth noting that with few exceptions the “consent of the governed” theorists of the enlightenment were OPPOSED to democracy — outspokenly so. They preferred rule by an elite or natural aristocracy, which they believed could earn the consent of the people (or at least the propertied, non-enslaved, males). The “consent” criterion is completely independent of the concept of democracy. Most (or all) of us hope that a good democracy WILL win legitimacy, be just, and earn the consent of the governed (who are also the rulers), but it is certainly possible that some OTHER system of government might be invented that achieves consent without using democracy at all. We don’t need to just imagine an existing system, with high approval ratings, (but in which dissidents may face arrest). I may have made reference before to that old Star Trek episode where a society was governed by an all-knowing computer, in which the people were essentially content pets that were well cared for. Democracy refers to a procedure of government in which the people as a whole have equality, freedom and power, not one where they might be merely content. That alternate society might (or might not) be wonderful, but it isn’t democracy.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Arturo,

    > In exactly the same way as a referendum, which you listed, will only allow voters to indicate a preference between two or, if they are lucky, three options offered by the elites.

    I was referring to a referendum where the question being asked is “does the system of government serve your interests?” or “does the system of government work properly?”, or some such question(s) directly reflecting the “consent of the governed”.

    Like

  14. Oliver,

    > If that’s your intention, then you’ve clearly not succeeded!

    “Well, that’s just like you opinion, man” :).

    > A full understanding of the various current uses of the word ‘democracy’ would fill a book. What you’re offering is a replacement for the complex, multi-shaded, inconvenient panoply of current uses.

    First, I’ll grant that like any operationalization, the one I am offering is to some extent a simplification. Surely there are whole books devoted to the complex, multi-shaded, inconvenient concept of temperature and its measurement.

    That said, much of the supposed complexity around the concept of democracy is caused by the attempts of intellectuals to justify the existing oligarchical system (see an example discussed here). There is certainly no need to take at face value every attempt to contort the concept of democracy when trying to understand what it really means.

    > How is one to interpret, for example, a popular uprising demanding ‘democracy’, on your meaning? ‘The people demand a government of the sort demanded by the people!’

    “The people demand a government that would serve their interests!” seems like a perfectly reasonable description.

    Like

  15. Terry,

    > Your definition is for something like a “legitimate” or “just” government, and not “democracy.”

    Ok. Then you are saying that there are legitimate forms of government that are not democratic?

    > It is worth noting that with few exceptions the “consent of the governed” theorists of the enlightenment were OPPOSED to democracy

    True. They believed that a democracy is not a legitimate form of government. But for those of us who believe that democracy is legitimate, it follows that it must win the consent of the governed.

    > Democracy refers to a procedure of government in which the people as a whole have equality, freedom and power, not one where they might be merely content. That alternate society might (or might not) be wonderful, but it isn’t democracy.

    It seems to me that if we believe people desire political equality, freedom and power then approval of the government system would be an indication that they believe that those are provided to them.

    But let’s assume that you are right and that it may actually happen that people would approve of a government that does not afford them those desired political goods. Then this can be measured in the same way by having people answer an appropriate question: “do feel that you enjoy political equality, freedom and power under the current system?”, or something along those lines.

    While the questions to be posed need to be carefully considered, the critical principle is that democracy is to be judged by the people themselves rather than by an elite of “experts”.

    Like

  16. >> « Hurrah word »

    Yoram:> While I am a committed democrat, I don’t use the word “democracy” as a catch-all word for “good government”. It is clear that a very democratic system could in theory produce what I would call “bad” outcomes.

    That’s not what Skinner means by “hurrah” word. His concerns are not epistemic, but rhetorical — for example attaching the adjective “democratic” to an illiberal autocratic regime (e.g. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

    Terry:> That old Star Trek episode where a society was governed by an all-knowing computer, in which the people were essentially content pets that were well cared for.

    Yes, that would be a democracy in Yoram’s eyes. I’m currently watching the Sky dramatisation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in which citizens are kept happy with Soma pills while being monitored (in the updated version) by an AI computer called Indra.

    Yoram, whilst there’s nothing wrong with being in a minority of one, there comes a point when you’re in a hole that it’s best to stop digging, so I would give up on this particular project. The trouble is it makes the whole forum look silly and discredits the sortition movement.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yoram,

    > “It seems to me that if we believe people desire political equality, freedom and power then approval of the government system would be an indication that they believe that those are provided to them.

    But let’s assume that you are right and that it may actually happen that people would approve of a government that does not afford them those desired political goods. Then this can be measured in the same way by having people answer an appropriate question: “do feel that you enjoy political equality, freedom and power under the current system?”, or something along those lines.”

    Well this is the whole ball game! In this one paragraph you’ve come up with an operationalisation for ‘democracy’ that’s as ‘objective’ as the previous one you came up with, but addresses our criticisms. A critic might still raise issues about the public’s epistemic position, of course, but insofar as we’re concerned that the operationalisation should capture the concept of democracy, this’ll do just fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Oliver,

    > A critic might still raise issues about the public’s epistemic position

    Yes – I suspect that many Americans, for example, used to believe they have much more political power than they really ever did, and some are still deluded about this. When you are satisfied with how things work, it is not hard to believe that this is due to your wishes being taken into account. And how can we really know that they are not? That is why I find the distinction between “the system is promoting my interests” and “I have political power” to be less important and less clear-cut than others here, it seems. Both are expected to be associated with democracy and the causality relations between all those are phenomena are ambiguous.

    But if the system is not really democratic then the interests it promotes will tend not to be, or at least not to stay for long, those of the public. And so even if the public is satisfied and feels empowered at some point in time, disappointment, disillusionment and a (justified) feeling of powerlessness will not be far off. (This is where we are now.)

    Like

  19. > “And how can we really know that they are not?”

    I mean, this is what critical theory, political science, investigative journalism and so on are for. Your insistence on polls as the sine qua non of democracy measurements remains a little obtuse.

    > “… even if the public is satisfied and feels empowered at some point in time, disappointment, disillusionment and a (justified) feeling of powerlessness will not be far off.”

    I mean, it’s taken decades and decades for the US to get to this point. I feel like the time delay before the propaganda stops working is rather too long to make a poll-based criterion of democracy an effective measure. We want to know whether a society is a democracy within our own lifetimes, after all, rather than just leaving a hypothesis for the arc of history to answer in its own good time.

    Like

  20. > time delay

    Yes – knowing things takes time and effort. Americans may have been deluded for quite a while. But the trend in public opinion has been unmistakable for decades. That puts the polls as a leading indicator, far ahead of the curve compared to Western political scientists who, with very few exceptions, would still insist that Western countries are high quality democracies.

    It turns out that political science – at least as practiced today in our society (but in other societies as well, it seems to me, like the Soviet society or older societies going all the way back to Athens) – is a very poor tool for understanding reality and serves mainly as a tool for propagating elite doctrine. Of course, it is not really surprising that this is the case since political science is practiced by an elite group.

    > Your insistence on polls as the sine qua non of democracy measurements remains a little obtuse

    What would be a more reliable and scientific tool for measuring the “consent of the governed”? Wouldn’t you agree that a poll asking people the following question would carry more weight in measuring democracy than the expert opinion of any blue-ribbon panel of political scientists:

    It is often said that good government must be based on the consent of the governed. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means “not at all” and 10 means “completely”, to what extent do you consent to the existing system of government?

    Like

  21. Yoram:> Western political scientists who, with very few exceptions, would still insist that Western countries are high quality democracies.

    What is the evidence for for this claim? It’s certainly not the case in my department (Politics, University of Exeter). My impression is that most (perhaps all) scholars are gravely concerned about the current state of democratic governance (for all the reasons discussed at length on this forum). But I haven’t come across anyone who would claim that democracy does not mean that the demos has kratos.

    >political science is practiced by an elite group.

    It’s certainly true that you have to pass a series of exams in order to study or teach in a politics department, but I think this is true of every discipline, including your own (software engineering). I think you are confusing “elite” and “privilege”, along with making the implicit claim that the interests of elite scholars aligns closely with the rich ‘n powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. *** Keith Sutherland says that in the department of Politics of the University of Exeter he has « not come across anyone who would claim that democracy does not mean that the demos has kratos. »
    *** In France at least we can find scholars who consider « democracy » as the current word for polyarchy, and who support polyarchy (actual form or a bettered one) with clear idea that it is not the kratos of the demos. Especially many reject the idea of demos as communitarian.
    *** Catherine Colliot-Thélène wrote a very explicit book, with a very explicit title La Démocratie sans « Demos », translated into English as Democracy and Subjective Rights ; Democracy without « Demos ».
    *** It is the boldest example, but actually the idea is widely present.
    *** It is implicit when in the media the British system is said « a very old democracy », which implies it was a democracy when the vote was very restricted.
    *** The etymology does not bother everybody. « We must consider the current meaning, not the etymology ». Are not we allowed to be « republican » forgetting that the Latin etymology excludes women (who are without beard, publicus coming from pubes). I don’t agree with this reasoning, because democracy is a transparent word, in line with aristocracy, bureaucracy, plutocracy. But it is the reason I propose to say « ortho-democracy », to avoid discussing about words.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Sorry here anonymous is André Sauzeau

    Like

  24. Andre,

    I haven’t come across that book — what is her thesis?

    >It is implicit when in the media the British system is said « a very old democracy », which implies it was a democracy when the vote was very restricted.

    I think that’s more a claim about the franchise (as in the Putney Debates). You mention the restriction of the franchise in ancient republics to males of a certain age, and the same is true of Athens in the classical era. But my principal point is that the terms aristocracy, democracy, bureaucracy and plutocracy refer to who exercises power (that’s why they have a common suffix), rather than whether or not “the people” feel that their interests are being served by those who have actual political power.

    Like

  25. > In France at least we can find scholars who consider « democracy » as the current word for polyarchy, and who support polyarchy (actual form or a bettered one) with clear idea that it is not the kratos of the demos.

    Such explicitly elitarian concepts of “democracy” used to be conventional academic wisdom in the 3rd quarter of the 20th century, I think. However, since the struggles of the 1960’s and 70’s such explicit elitarian views have become rare.

    These days, support for polyarchy usually does not rest on the notion that the demos should not (or cannot) wield power but rather on the idea that the demos does wield power through polyarchy (“responsiveness”, “accountability”, etc. are the standard vague terms used). For most sortition professionals (academics, public officials, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs) as well, the current system is basically fine but it needs some mending or updating for it to return to its former supposed glory. The simple notion that this system is fundamentally undemocratic – and was deliberately designed to be undemocratic – is almost never part of the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. *** Yoram says that the notion that the polyarchic « system is fundamentally undemocratic – and was deliberately designed to be undemocratic – is almost never part of the discussion ».
    Ok. But at least one pillar of the system, the representative election, is under strong discussion, at least in France. In 1789 France « nobody » was antimonarchic but some pillars of the Ancien Regime were under discussion.
    *** Among the sortitionists many consider that « the current system is basically fine but it needs some mending or updating », says Yoram. Actually there are different shades of discourse. And anyway we must consider that whatever the criticisms against the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat, such event is establishing the idea of a mini-public as legitimate voice of the dêmos. It does not mean ortho-democracy, but a bold step to a composite system with two legitimacies. Such a system may function, as a composite system (polyarchy + autocracy) was functioning before 1914 in the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. But I am not sure a composite (polyarchy + democracy) could be stable on the long run.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Andre,

    What is your view on Alex Kovner’s composite model? https://alexkovner.com/blog/ I wonder also if Alex would consider his proposal to modify the role of the political party (agenda setting with a reduced parliamentary threshold) is polyarchic or democratic. If there are multiple political parties and they all track public preferences (including minority preferences) accurately is this democracy or polyarchy?

    Like

  28. Andre,

    > In 1789 France « nobody » was antimonarchic but some pillars of the Ancien Regime were under discussion.

    If the analogy is that the mood can change quickly. I hope and believe that you are correct. The change, however, will likely not come from the political science establishment but from the people. Once that happens, the scientists may follow. Even then, they will likely try to divert and dissipate the popular energy rather than to realistically analyze the situation or to support democratic causes.

    > Actually there are different shades of discourse.

    I think this is much truer of the Francophone discussion than of the Anglophone discussion. I was thinking of the latter, where there are of course still shades, but they are all within a very limited spectrum.

    I cannot think of a single notable academic in the Anglophone world who is making radical criticisms of the Western system (with the exception of some Marxists, if any of these may be called “notable” in the Anglophone world). In particular, none of the vocal Anglophone pro-sortition voices (which are few as it is, of course) is making the argument that the current system is inherently and deliberately oligarchical and must be abolished.

    I believe that the tone in France and Belgium is somewhat more radical. Certainly Chouard is quite trenchant. Manin is good in his science even if his normative position is disappointing. Ranciere and Badiou are good, I believe. It would be interesting to understand why there is such a difference between the Anglophone discussion and the Francophone discussion. Any ideas?

    > And anyway we must consider that whatever the criticisms against the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat, such event is establishing the idea of a mini-public as legitimate voice of the dêmos.

    You are right. I believe the CCC was an important step forward which has garnered significant support among the French people and generated concern in elitist circles.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. >Yoram
    Badiou as good democrat? it would be something new. I remember more Badiou following Plato as critic of dêmokratia. But I acknowledge I did not follow the late thought of this philosopher. Can Yoram indicate references?

    Like

  30. *** Yoram Gat says : « It would be interesting to understand why there is such a difference between the Anglophone discussion and the Francophone discussion. Any ideas? »
    *** Various possible factors, possibly interlinked.
    * An intellectual tradition valuing abstract and radical ideas.
    * An historical tradition valuing political thinking and interest into the political system, since the French Revolution
    * An anthropological ground in a big part of France valuing abstract equality (as seen in pre-revolutionary heritage customs : mandatory equality between brothers and sisters, without will or minimizing it) – and lot is an embodiment of abstract equality.
    *** Note that Ségolène Royal’s proposal (2006) of allotted citizen juries overviewing representatives met a strong approval in polls (yes 59% no 34%). ; a spontaneous one, without previous debate in the media. The interest of a small part of the intellectual elite is only following a spontaneous leaning in the civic body.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Regarding Badiou: I haven’t read any of his books. My impression is based on interviews with him. He appears to me to be a radical critic of the existing political system who is a prominent figure in French academia. I’ll see if I can find any relevant references.

    Like

  32. *** Excepting a recent conversion I am not aware of, Alain Badiou is not an (ortho-)democrat, he is a neo-communist. He is a « radical critic of the existing political system who is a prominent figure in French academia. », OK. Alain Soral, likewise, is a radical critic of the established system (with a very different public ; and more dangerous) ; he is a neo-fascist. Chouard got hard criticisms about some links with Soral (I don’t know the current situation). Chouard discourse was of the kind « Churchill and De Gaulle were allied against Stalin ».
    *** I think such discourses radically wrong. Ortho-democrats don’t need dubious allies against the polyarchic model. Especially in France, but in many other countries likewise, the common people is not satisfied with polyarchy and knows more or less its basic defects. The strength of the system comes from fear of the unknown and/or of any mutation : here are the points we have to focus on.
    *** As I said, a strong polyarchic defense is the idea of one-line assessment – with polyarchy at one end and dictatorship/tyranny at the opposite ; with anyone who proposes another model being on the slippery slope leading to tyranny… Any alliance with neo-communists or neo-fascists is not a big help against established polyarchy, and actually gives much ammunition to it.
    *** Badiou’s book « Plato’s Republic. A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters » is an « innovative reimagining of Plato’s work », which is as basically anti-democrat as its model – and grounded on an erroneous identification of polyarchy and dêmokratia.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Given that Yoram is now recruiting neo-communists and neo-fascists as allies in his assault on “electoralism”, this shows the danger of his opinion-poll definition of democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Andre,

    > Alain Soral, likewise, is a radical critic of the established system

    Unlike prominent academic radical critics of the electoralist system, like Badiou, there is no shortage of right wings critics of the establishment in the Anglophone world either. Those of them that belong to the establishment are quite overtly elitist and are thus of no interest. Those outside the elite sometimes channel popular sentiment and are therefore more interesting. Presumably Soral is of the latter kind?

    > Chouard got hard criticisms about some links with Soral

    This is manipulative nonsense. Chouard is more of a democrat than any of his critics, which is exactly what gets them upset. The best allies of the right wing are the establishment liberals of various kinds who through their oligarchical system are pushing people into such positions. Like the rest of their political rhetoric, their professed concern about legitimizing the right wing is scripted propaganda.

    > I think such discourses [forming alliances with the right wing] radically wrong.

    Maybe, but that’s just tactics. It is not a fundamental issue worth getting distracted about.

    > Especially in France, but in many other countries likewise, the common people is not satisfied with polyarchy and knows more or less its basic defects

    I doubt this is true even in France, but it is quite clearly not the case in the Anglophone world. The popular disaffection with the current system is not translated at this point to a general rejection of electoralism. The defects that are recognized are not considered as inherent to the system but as a result of a corruption of the system. There is still a lot of faith that the system could be fixed, that fundamentally it rests on solid principles, and most importantly that there are no democratic alternatives.

    Academics and activists should have been addressing exactly those issues: pointing out that the defects are inherent and deliberate and that sortition provides a democratic alternative. Unfortunately, this does not happen in the Anglophone world. Instead we are getting talk about “revitalizing democracy”, “cognitive diversity”, “giving people a voice”, and various similar platitudes.

    > « Plato’s Republic. A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters » […] grounded on an erroneous identification of polyarchy and dêmokratia.

    That’s disappointing. Is it worth reading?

    Like

  35. Yoram:>Those of them that belong to the establishment are quite overtly elitist and are thus of no interest. Those outside the elite sometimes channel popular sentiment and are therefore more interesting.

    How do you operationalise this distinction? Take, for example, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump — they have all been accused of channeling popular sentiment but are all rich ‘n powerful. And the latter two are often described as anti-establishment. All these words strike me as vague and meaningless in the context of modern societies where there are a plethora of elites — cognitive, financial, political etc. — so I can’t see how you can have a serious discussion based on such vague notions as “the elite”, “the establishment” etc. I know you believe all political scientists are establishment lickspittles, but at least they attempt to bring some kind of conceptual and operational clarity to what otherwise amounts to little more than hand-waving.

    Like

  36. *** I said Badiou’s book « Plato’s Republic. A Dialogue in Sixteen Chapters », an « innovative reimagining of Plato’s work », is as basically anti-democrat as its model, and is grounded on an erroneous identification of polyarchy and dêmokratia.
    *** Is it worth reading ? Well maybe not so much to increase the political understanding. I found it funny sometimes. And it is curious to see the philosophy of Plato, whose thought was grounded, in a sublime way, in the ultra-right counterculture of Athens, converted in 21st century to ultra-left. And it may be interesting to see the ideological patterns which allow this conversion, and which could be someday important in an ultra-left criticism of any 21st century democratic endeavour.
    *** As for Soral, he is dangerous, especially because a basic point of his political endeavour is actually to propose to blend the anti-Jewish feelings present among some immigrants from North Africa and the anti-Semitism of the French native fascist tradition; actually proposing an integration through a common hostility to the « talmudo-sionists ». Criticisms of polyarchy which, more than considering the system, are focusing on « Jewish power » in an obsessional way are not interesting as help for any democratic endeavour. And if some neo-fascists may some day be converted to ortho-democracy, I doubt strongly about people with such a mind.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. Regarding Badiou’s position regarding democracy and elections: in this interview he seems to assert that he is a democrat and to reject the notion that elections and democracy are inseparable (around 6 minutes in).

    Yes, he does make the unconvincing standard Marxist assertion that in a real democracy the people rule themselves as a mass, in an unintermediated fashion. But that is of course usually the case with effective critics of electoralism (most prominent of those is Chomsky, I believe): their critiques are much more convincing than their proposals for a systemic change.

    Like

  38. It’s certainly true that you have to pass a series of exams study or teach in a politics department, but I think this is true of every discipline, including your own. The defects that are recognized are not considered as inherent to the system but as a result of the corruption of the system. There is still a lot of faith that the system could be fixed, that fundamentally.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Agree, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of an elite, the problem is when it becomes corrupted (by money, nepotism etc) into privilege. It’s also the case that large pluralistic states have a multitude of elites and that they do not generally cohere into a single entity (as was the case when Pareto, Mosca and Michels formulated the original elite theory). The Kovner/Sutherland model assumes that competition between elites is an essential component of demokratia.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Heh. I think you have finally found a suitable partner for discussion, Sutherland.

    Like

  41. I actually prefer the exchange of views with those who have a different perspective (so long as they are prepared to engage with the arguments in an open-minded way and abstain from ad hominem attacks). I don’t see any point in an echo chamber.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: