Reporterre: The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron, Part 1

An article in Reporterre, original in French.

The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron
November 2, 2020
Gaspard d’Allens

Anger mounts among the members of the Citizen Climate Convention. Left to “face the lobbies” all by themselves, disappointed that many of their proposals have been thrown out or unraveled, some lose their energy, others do battle.

Promises oblige only those who believe them. The same is true for Emmanuel Macron’s commitments. It seems so long ago that the President has talked, with great gusto, in the gardens of the Élysée about the climate crisis and the adoption “without filtering” of 146 out of the 149 measures of the Citizen Climate Convention. “I want to have all your proposals implemented as soon as possible. Let’s go! Let’s act!”, he exclaimed to the sustained applause of the citizens, reburnishing, on the cheap, his environmental credentials.

Four months later, however, the ground covered is limited and motion has nearly stopped. Discussion of the bill handling the proposals of the CCC was postponed to next year instead of being discussed this fall. The idea of a constitutional referendum has disappeared and many proposals were dismissed or watered down. Time is passing and opportunities are lost. The stimulus plan and the financing bill could in fact have included the Convention’s measures but they did not.

“The proposals of the convention were sugar-coated to the maximum: there is nothing left but decoration without content”, says Greenpeace. “The majority has been drained of its substance, the ambition of the citizens”, laments the Climate Action Network. “A smokescreen”, “politics of empty words”, “undermining”, … The NGOs compete in their criticism of the “government’s abdication of environmental responsibility”. On October 15th the activists of ANV-COP21 sank portraits of the President into the Seine to show that “his promises don’t hold water”. “Macron is in a downward spiral.” His promises are sinking.

The prohibition of advertising of polluting products? Sunk. Lowering the VAT for train tickets? Sunk. The elimination of fiscal shelters that harm the environment? Sunk. Taxation of nitrogen-based fertilizers? Sunk. Mandatory renovation of private residences until 2024? Sunk. Moratorium on 5G technology? Sunk and the citizens labeled as “Amish”. Tax on air traffic? Sunk. “That would have deleterious impact”, announced Jean-Baptiste Djebarri, the Secretary for Transport and former airline pilot. And the surcharge on heavy vehicles was neutered.

The twists and turns around this last proposals give an idea about how the government is maneuvering. Originally, it was flatly rejected. Then it was adopted in a watered-down, delayed manner. Originally, the Convention wanted a surtax starting at 1,400 KG. The government set the threshold at 1,800 KG – making it applicable to 2% of vehicles, instead of 26%. Among the dozens of top-selling SUV models, none weighs over 1,800 KG. Furthermore, the measure will be applied starting at 2022. And worst, at that point the government will also reduce the CO2 surcharge.

“The government is openly jerking us around”

In short, it never stops raining “jokers” (vetos). Recently, the finance ministry implied having 25 jokers, very many more then than the 3 originally claimed by the President in June. The government announced proudly that it has put into place “totally or partially” 50 of the Convention’s proposals. In reality, this number includes very few of the signature measures, and most of the proposals concerned were watered-down. For example, the moratorium on commercial zones was transformed into a simple memo to local officials recommending that they do not allow rezoning farmland for development. This does not account for e-commerce warehouses contrary to an announcement by Barbara Pompili. Another example: The government wants to forbid flights when a railway alternative exists which is less than 2.5 hours. The Convention set the threshold at 4 hours. This nuance is far from anecdotal.

Faced with this adverse situation, the citizens of the Convention have decided to go public, sharing a feeling of worry and distrust. A wind of rebelion is rising. These last few weeks, the feeling of unease hase become increasingly palpable. “We have lost direction, we don’t know where we are going. I have the impression of being at an impass”, says Amandine Roggeman, a 26 year-old Parisian. “I am distrustful and on my guard. It is my way of avoiding going into an emotional roller-coaster where one day we are promised something and the next day, the opposite”, says Matthieu Sanchez, an employee of the territorial government from Seine-et-Marne. “We are not fools”, warns Yolande Bouin from Brittany, “we are not going to silently let the government to water down our measures”. Exasperated by the equivocations of power, are the citizens of the Convention going to end up revolting? If the creature going to go after its master?

37 Responses

  1. Asking for sortition or submitting proposals only leads to frustratration when your are confronted to our politicians in France. For this reason, I firmly push for sortition at the executive level. We started an association *a sortition foundation chapeter* in France, our goal is not to organize a convention but to take power (ahah not yet there ;).. More about it in the coming weeks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Would Elon Musk pick hundred random people from the street, let them come up with ideas and commit to put them all in his next car? Of course not, it would be a total mess. He must be happy Igor one or two useful thoughts from such a crowd. Maybe it can be developed with much work into something useful.

    And yet he can come up with a great car and they will happily vote for it by buying it.

    Why does this silly idea persist that randomly selected citizens should do more than approve of a policy?

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  3. > Would Elon Musk pick

    What a great criterion for setting up social institutions! When designing the political structure of our society we should always follow the ways of the oligarchy – why didn’t we think about this obvious idea before?!

    > Why does this silly idea persist that randomly selected citizens should do more than approve of a policy?

    Indeed. It is a true mystery how this silly idea called “democracy” manages to persist for millennia.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hubertus:> Why does this silly idea persist that randomly selected citizens should do more than approve of a policy?

    Yoram:> It is a true mystery how this silly idea called “democracy” manages to persist for millennia.

    There have been no historical examples in which a randomly-selected sample of people originate policy proposals (and please don’t give us any more guff about the Athenian council). Hubertus is suggesting a return to fourth-century Athenian practice, whereas Yoram is advocating a fictional device which doesn’t work in theory, let alone practice (anyone for Quantitative Easing?). The Elon Musk example reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer designs his ideal car, which looks a lot like the ill-fated Fiat Multipla. Fiat radically redesigned the car after two years as it “resembled a psychotic cartoon duck.” Musk’s success (Tesla’s market capitalisation long surpassed the Detroit Three and has now overtaken Toyota) is because Musk produces stuff that people want to buy, not because he’s an “oligarch”.

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  5. We should also note that the squealing about Macron’s perfidy is coming from elite NGOs and activists like Greenpeace, the Climate Action Network and ANV-COP21. Has anyone asked grassroots movements like the gilets jaunes for their view?

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  6. @Yoram: There are certainly many geniuses on planet Earth which can conceive and develop good policies but is is not 8 billion or a random sample thereof. Not by far.

    And – as Keith correctly points out above – Musk is not an oligarch, he is a self-made man. Confounding geniuses creating proposals for the people with oligarchic plutocrats deciding policies for the people can result in confused, utterly wrong conclusions.

    There is a reason why it was held in the Age of Reason that citizens should have equal value (one vote) but that the assignment of public offices should consider virtue, talent and knowledge. See Article VI of the original Citizen Rights.

    @rcaze: And obviously, we cannot find geniuses by random draw. Bad idea, sorry.

    However, it is certainly a key institution in a democracy, in my proposed definition, that the 8 billion people (or a randomly selected sample thereof) get the right to judge – after a neutrally moderated hearing of the creator and experts pro/con – whether they want any specific proposed policy or not.

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  7. I think the only difference between the Kovner/Sutherland and Hofkirchner proposals is that Alex and I insist on a democratic element to the proposal function. Alex’s change in the proposal decision threshold is designed to generate elite political parties that still reflect popular preferences. Our assumption (it’s no more than that) is that Bayesian principles will ensure that the principal factor determining which parties gain the most public support is epistemic competence (as opposed to charismatic leadership). The principal reason Trump failed to be re-elected was his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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  8. @Keith: we can witness TODAY the (great) use of random sample to take decision. We call that a jury to decide if someone is guilty or not (kind of a big decision). And the *gilet jaune* greatly despised Macron even before the CCC.

    @hubertushofkirchner: I don’t think geniuses exist (and certain that Elon musk is not one) what I think is that there are more than two good ideas in two heads and that collective intelligence can really make a difference. And luck seems to be a great equalizer in this case; nobody can pretend that they are more intelligent if they been picked by chance (-see this video to further understand this point https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LopI4YeC4I)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. rcaze:> we can witness TODAY the (great) use of random sample to take decision.

    Of course! That’s why Alex, Hubertus and I (along with everyone on this forum) agree that decisions should be taken by large randomly-selected juries, but do not extend this to policy proposals. The CCC was the other way round — randomly-selected persons made the proposals and the elected government took the decision on whether or not to implement them.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. rcaze:> that collective intelligence can really make a difference.

    That’s absolutely correct, and I say that after developing and applying collective intelligence tools for the last 15 years. But it is simply false that everybody is equally intelligent – we are not. (Resisting the temptation to cite Churchill’s quip about the average voter.)

    It is the high technology of collective intelligence mechanisms, well-designed methods and institutions which produces collective intelligence, distills the best available information (diagnosis) and the most accurate predictions (prognosis) for better collective decision making by people of very different intelligence, knowledge and virtue.

    These tools are key, without them the ideas of random crowds will reflect collective ignorance, madness of crowds, or whatever mass manipulators want them to believe. Just like the French CCC.

    @keith:> The CCC was the other way round
    Brilliantly summarised..

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  11. […] This is the second part of a translation of an article published by Reporterre following the aftermath of the French Citizen Climate Convention. Part 1 is here. […]

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  12. […] article published by Reporterre following the aftermath of the French Citizen Climate Convention. Part 1, Part […]

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  13. I thought about you and watching this video :

    You knew that Elon Musk tweeted that the coronavirus “panic” was “dumb”… ?

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  14. Sorry wrong wisecrack video here is the good one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RhOUup8epA

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The number of people celebrated for their expertise and genius who have said stupid things about the Corona pandemic alone is quite impressive.

    In any case, the problem with letting “smart people” (the master pilot or the master flute player, as Socrates supposedly put it) decide is that there is no agreement about who those smart people are. If we all agreed who they are then there would be no need to shove them down our political throat.

    Thus the question of whether we should let “smart people” decide is irrelevant. The question is how do we decide who the smart people are. If your answer is “we let smart people decide who the smart people are”, then I think we are at an impasse.

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  16. @Yoram: Did anybody propose that “smart people decide”?

    Regarding my position:
    1. Proposing: Smart people (“experts”)
    2. Deciding: Random people groups (“citizen juries”).

    The summary: ““we let smart people decide who the smart people are” defines Liquid Democracy which is just another road to fake democracy.

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  17. > @Yoram: Did anybody propose that “smart people decide”?

    Obviously, yes. You are doing just this in your comment.

    To explicate the obvious: “Smart people proposing, random people deciding (among the proposals of the smart people)” is really nothing more than “smart people decide”, since on any matter upon which the “smart people” all agree, there would be no alternative choices. So the “normal people” can “decide” only on issues on which there is disagreement among the “smart people” (and even then, only among the positions allowed by the “smart people”).

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  18. (BTW, you still haven’t said who gets to decide who the “smart people” are.)

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  19. Yoram:> BTW, you still haven’t said who gets to decide who the “smart people” are.

    In the Kovner-Sutherland scheme the decision is taken by the electorate. Voters are likely to make their choice based on the policy record of each of the parties, as that’s the only power that the new-style politicians will have.

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  20. @Yoram: I think I can see where the misunderstanding is.

    1. Smart people are capable of making smart proposals in their self-selected field of expertise, no more no less.

    2. CJs with random people should decide on proposals, also no more no less.

    They definitely do not decide on who is smart in first place that would be getting it the wrong way round, ad personam.

    It should be self-evident that just few random people out of a huge total pop in any randomly assigned field of expertise will not generate smart proposals which hold up in the complex world we live in. Just as seen in the CCC.

    Is the difference explained?

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  21. > Smart people are capable of making smart proposals in their self-selected field of expertise, no more no less.

    Again, this means the “smart people” are the decision makers. When the “smart people” agree, the random people have no choice. This is in fact very similar to the situation in elections.

    > They definitely do not decide on who is smart

    Who does and how?

    > It should be self-evident that just few random people out of a huge total pop in any randomly assigned field of expertise will not generate smart proposals which hold up in the complex world we live in.

    Not only is this not self-evident, but the opposite is true: it is “self-evident” that people are the best representatives of their own self-interest.

    > Just as seen in the CCC.

    What is it that is seen? How is that which is seen seen? It seems that people’s abilities to draw arbitrary lessons from the CCC process is unhindered by any constraints of coherence.

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  22. Keith (and Alex if you are monitoring this),
    Keith wrote about proposing…
    >”In the Kovner-Sutherland scheme the decision [about who should draft proposals] is taken by the electorate. Voters are likely to make their choice based on the policy record of each of the parties, as that’s the only power that the new-style politicians will have.”
    We can’t know for certain how parties or voters would behave in this redesigned scheme, but I don’t see any evidence in this world that your hope would be realized. As one example: for decades Republican politicians (and presumably their voters) insisted their policy preferences included “free-trade” and “balanced budgets” without huge deficit spending. Trump wins the nomination, becomes president and he and the Republicans in Congress adopt the most anti-free-trade policy in recent history with punitive tariffs, etc. and epic deficit spending (and this was not counter business cycle spending, but during the boom BEFORE the pandemic). Did Republican voters abandon the party as a result of this flagrant attack on bedrock Republican party policies? No. The voters showed no interest at all in these policy violations.

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  23. Terry,

    You’re right, we can’t know a priori how voter behaviour would change by decoupling the proposing and disposing functions and removing the need for policy aggregation to win elections, and we won’t know how long voters’ memories will be. But changing the proposal threshold is likely to make a big difference — Alex has made the point that it would no longer be possible for a major political party to have no policy proposals on big ticket items like healthcare. Trump certainly departed from Republican fiscal and trade orthodoxy and I think one of the issues that all of us advocating sortition have to address is how to ensure balanced budgets over the medium term with an ad hoc legislature. To my mind this requires an increase in the power of unelected executives, especially in the Treasury, or some sort of embedded fiscal rule that would (presumably) require a constitutional amendment.

    Hopefully Alex will respond directly in due course.

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  24. @Yoram:
    1. Deciding is not the same as proposing. There is nothing self evident about it.
    2. Boss Tweed is not applicable, as nobody decides who gets to propose. Not a person, not a lot. That’s th eonly way to ensure that the bet proposal wins, instead of the plutocratic one or a random one.
    3. People should NEVER EVER decide collective matters on their self interest but on the common interest.

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  25. Hubertus:> People should NEVER EVER decide collective matters on their self interest but on the common interest.

    How does that cash out in practice? Even Jon Elster, the high priest of deliberative democracy, draws a distinction between actions (verbal and otherwise) in the common interest and appearances (greenwash etc). And we should beware of confabulatory reasoning. Even Rousseau was prepared to acknowledge that the general will was not that dissimilar to the will of all (once the pluses and minuses have been taken into account). One of the big attractions of large quasi-mandatory decision juries is that you don’t have to take the moral high ground, it all comes out the same in the end. (Of course none of that applies to individual speech acts.)

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  26. You may want to read Rousseau again, Keith. He already very much differentiates from the easily mistaken will of all. I quote: “When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what the people is asked is not exactly whether it approves or rejects the proposal, but whether it is in conformity with the general will, which is their will.”

    And, he even makes it falsifiable: “When therefore the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will was not so.” is applying the scientific principle to public policy.

    It is important to appreciate that the requisite removal of particular wills from the general one cannot be done by statistical means, such as general voting or simplistic random CJ, as the number of those with self-cancelling particular interests maybe very uneven.

    To illustrate: There are many more tenants than landlords. Their particular interest would be to inhabit for lower cost. Yet, if their majority prevailed on their particular interest beyond the general interest, rented houses would soon fall in disrepair and there would be nothing to rent. PS: This is not a theoretical example, it happened in my country.

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  27. Hubertus,

    This is the relevant passage (Book 2, Chapter 3):

    if one takes away the pluses and minuses [of the individual wills] which cancel each other out, what is left as the sum of the differences is the general will.

    Regarding your example of landlords and tenants, it’s up to the business advocates (at minimum a very substantial minority) to persuade the jury that it is not in their long-term interests (or more importantly, the interests of their children) to bankrupt landlords. Interestingly your example is the inverse of a problem that Terry has highlighted when he was a legislator (lack of representation for renters). Hopefully the Kovner-Sutherland solution should produce a better balance of interests. Note, BTW, that your appeal isn’t to the general good as a high-falluting ethical principle, it’s simply to understand the unintended consequences of poor decisions (as a Popperian, I’m sure you’ll be comfortable with that).

    The same principle applies to those who believe in the Magic Money Tree. If in the end fiscally conservative advocates (again, at minimum, a large minority) fail to persuade the jury, then I’m afraid that’s an indictment of democracy in any shape or form.

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  28. Terry:> “We can’t know for certain how parties or voters would behave in this redesigned scheme, but I don’t see any evidence in this world that your hope would be realized.”

    It’s true that voters can still choose parties on whatever basis they wish, and there is no guarantee that they will do so on policy. But there are a few positive dynamics that point that way.

    1) There is no obstruction because there is no such thing as controlling the chamber. That reduces the tendency to take elections so personally.

    2) There will be multiple small parties. If 5 proposals are generally sought for each agenda item, there will tend to be about five major political parties. That reduces negative partisanship.

    Take the Democratic party here in the U.S. How much better off would it be if it could split into two or three parties? It can’t due to the cutthroat design of the chamber.

    3) Parties have a “score”. If their proposals consistently fail with the CJ, voters will tend to vote them down. People don’t like losers, and they won’t like wasting their votes on a party that can’t get anything passed.

    In summary, you have a series of dynamics that move the system away from hardball tactics and toward a focus on policy. These are by no means guarantees, but they sure would help.

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  29. Terry:> “As one example: for decades Republican politicians…”

    As Keith pointed out, there is a virtual requirement that parties generate real proposals to every agenda item, so this is harder (but not impossible) in our system.

    There is another dynamic here having to do with the executive branch, namely that in systems with “divided government” the legislature’s real goal is often to sabotage the executive. Call this the McConnell effect. While I have proposals for the executive (The Coordination Hierarchy I don’t think you need them to see an improvement in the McConnell effect just from the superminority structure.

    Parliamentary systems do not have divided government, which is why they only tend to ungovernability if a ruling coalition cannot be formed.

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  30. @Keith:> Read again. In your quote, Rousseau merely talks about the method to aggregate votes on the exact question which he poses in the paragraph before: “whether it is in conformity with the general will”. Rousseau does not at all suddenly change the underlying question, to vote in one’s own self-interest, as suggested by Yoram.

    @Yoram: One’s own self-interest is an entirely different matter to one’s own opinion on what the general will ought to be. To vote with the former is most certainly “undemocratic”.

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  31. rcaze:> “You knew that Elon Musk tweeted that the coronavirus “panic” was “dumb”… ?”

    So, he is not entitled to his own opinion, exactly why?

    PS: Some self-righteous people go even further and deny his right to state facts:

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  32. Hubertus,

    It’s even more complicated because Rousseau scholars can’t decide whether the general will is created or revealed by aggregating votes. The former is democratic, whereas the latter is little more than an empty tautology: “the general will is always right and always tends to the public advantage”. I’m happy focusing on method — counting the secret votes of a large quasi-mandatory sample of the target population. Whether jurists vote in their own interests or for the general good we can never know (and they probably don’t know themselves). The US presidential election provides an interesting illustration — the pollsters did appear to get it wrong on account of shy Trumpsters, who in the end voted for what they (rightly or wrongly) believed was in their own interests, whereas I imagine a lot of Democrats believed that they were signalling their own virtue. Does that make the former wrong and the latter right from the perspective of the general will? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. That’s a good point. It’s generally a fool’s errand to characterize noumena. Far better just to describe a practical method that meets well-defined and measurable criteria.

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  34. @Keith> “The general will is always right and always tends to the public advantage” not an empty tautology, it is simply brilliant. By defining what is “right”, Rousseau defines the essence of the general will: enables individual voter’s falsification, vs.the public advantage, as opposed to particular or individual interest.

    And in the full sentence he does make it double clear that it is not a tautology “but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct.” The precise difference between “right” and “correct” is key, one is about goal, the other about method.

    Rousseau also does not talk about just counting votes, he explicitly writes “taking away the pluses and minuses that cancel one another.” A simplistic vote counting of the total population or of “a large quasi-mandatory sample of the target population” is not the right method to achieve this requirement.

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  35. Hubertus:> Rousseau defines the essence of the general will: enables individual voter’s falsification

    So if the role of voting is to reveal (rather than construct) the general will that certainly identifies you as one of the anti-democratic interpreters of Rousseau.

    >The precise difference between “right” and “correct” is key, one is about goal, the other about method.

    This reminds me of the requirement of the Irish government that citizens should keep on voting about the EU constitution until they got the “right” answer.

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  36. “role of voting is to reveal (rather than construct) the general will”
    As I remember you agreeing (other than Yoram) that proposing (by open innovation) should be separated from deciding (by general voting or random CJ) it follows that we should be on the same side of this. The proposers construct, the deciders reveal.

    “citizens should keep on voting about the EU constitution until they got the “right” answer.”
    In Rousseaus’s definition they were “right” in each case. Question is, what is the method to find out wether they were correct. Big gaping hole in most democracy proposals I know. That’s where verifiable predicted effects come in in my open democracy proposal.

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  37. >In Rousseau’s definition they were “right” in each case.

    Now I’m really confused. If you take the epistemic approach to the general will, then there is only one right answer, which is open to falsification. But if you take the democratic approach, then the majority is right by definition and (as Alex has pointed out) we have no access to noumena, so cannot ever know the motives (conscious or otherwise) of voters. Having said that there’s nothing wrong in imploring voters to bracket their own selfish interests, but in a liberal culture this is only likely to succeed in exceptional cases — that’s why Rousseau (who didn’t have a liberal or democratic bone in his body) relied on civic religiosity and other forms of coercion to force people to be “free”.

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