How Can We Realize a True Representative Democracy

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* Article: Bernard Guibert: Comment achever la démocratie représentative ? Revue du MAUSS 2005/2 (no 26), pages 171 à 192



From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, 2007:

The term 'achever' (in french), refers to the Hegelian concept of 'Aufheben', i.e. both to complete and to abolish. The author sees a real revolt taking place against representation. Representative democracy has always been both a 'disciplining' of social revolt and a 'censitary' system.

According to Pierre Rosanvallon, three things are missing in the present system:

- 1) future generations are not represented, hence it pays no attention to sustainability

- 2) it is inserted in a non-democratic system of nations, and hence pays no attention to international equity

- 3) there is little internal solidarity between the rich and the poor

Representative democracy is based on four interlocking principles:

- 1) the governing are elected through regular elections

- 2) they have a certain independence from those who elected them

- 3) the governed have free speech

- 4) political decisions are subject to discussion

It also combines the following 3 governance principles:

- 1) egalitarian democracy , through the vote

- 2) aristocratic selection of the best

- 3) monarchic rule of a unified sovereign power

It went through three historical phases:

- 1) censitory elections by the notables

- 2) universal suffrage and parties

- 3) opinion democracy through media and polling

Egalitarianism is progressing but always in conflict with the 2 other principles.

A problem with with polling is that it is a one-way street, there is no return deliberation. Rather, decision-makers let themselves be informed by the results, then negotiate with the lobbyists, and undertake a media campaign towards the floating segments.

Some reform proposals go in the direction of 'deliberative polling', and the hope is that technologies (such as groupware), can be instrumental in this.

The new tension in this era of necessary 'total subjective engagement', is between impartiality and implication (this goes against the theory of Habermas).

There is a new form of deliberative democracy emerging, but only as a seed form.

According to Yves Syntomer, it also has four characteristics (or rather, four models inspired by different values):

- 1) the scientific argumentation (the brahmin model)

- 2) negotiation (a merchant model)

- 3) polemics (a warrior model)

- 4) sophistics (a manipulative, rhetorical model)

Modes 1 and 3 are based on a general interest and lead to higher synthesis. Modes 2 and 4 are based on the differential interests of the parties.

The first model combines rational debate in search of truth and a selective elitist principle: it is the liberal ideal of representative democracy.

Deliberative democracies requires that any citizen speaks for himself, in dialogue with others. This dialogue has to be organized according to certain procedures.

In the interplay between egalitarian and elitist principles, with the latter dominating in representation, what has to happen is a reversal.

In other words, we have to subsume the elitist principle to the egalitarian principle. The second derivative principle is a systematization of positive discrimination against the hidden dominance of financial interests. These principles have to be extended from politics to social life.

But what about expertise ? Here 'hybrid forums' have shown themselves to be quite successful, even to science itself. In such a forum, there are two delegations, one based on expertise, and one from the people based on representativity.