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The West must choose representative democracy – not sorting – POLITICO

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Expressed by artificial intelligence.

James Snell is a senior adviser at the New Lines Institute. He is currently writing a book about the war in Afghanistan.

National Review founder and patron of the American conservative movement William F. Buckley once said he’d rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone book than by the faculty of Harvard University.

When a generation of government workers and politicians moved from Harvard School of Government to Washington and oscillated between the two in the 1960s, they brought America to the Vietnam War.

By contrast, the ancient Athenians – so admired by the founders of the United States – were ruled by a ball, or council, where positions were filled by lot. The same is true of the courts of Athens and the Roman juries after the founding of their republic.

There is something romantic about this notion of unrepresentative democracy, of government formed by the citizens rather than their elected delegates – so romantic, in fact, that it is making a comeback.

This is the idea of ​​“sorting”, of replacing ordinary electoral democracy, in which the great mass of people vote, with a more specific rule by specially – or randomly – selected citizens.

The idea would soon be the subject of a treatise in “The Keys to Democracy”, originally written by the late classicist Maurice Pope and rejected by its editors for being too utopian. The book has been lovingly retyped and edited by his sons Hugh and Quentin, and will be released early next year.

Interestingly, however, what was once seen as an exercise in magical thinking and rank historicism now has wind behind it. In France, for example, President Emmanuel Macron has made citizens’ assemblies a key part of his reformist discourse – just as he has convened councils of local mayors to form an assembly to judge his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. and others.

Macron also recently considered creating a citizens’ assembly to discuss the future of voluntary euthanasia.

Meanwhile, in Britain, climate campaigners – perhaps aware of the depth of unpopularity of their more radical “degrowth” plans – are demanding that parliament, the voice of the people, be replaced by a “ citizens’ assembly” to decide on national policy. Something they no doubt hope to be shaped to be more open to deindustrialization than the people and their elected officials.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Ministers are chosen by ever-shrinking groups of Conservative voters, Conservative Party members and Conservative MPs – or sometimes just whoever is in the room with candidates like Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson when arguing over the throw.

And watch how it continues to work.

Hugh Pope says politicians are bad – and I don’t disagree. “When I sometimes admired a politician, it was because of his accomplishments in life or the charisma of his personality, not because I felt he deserved to be responsible for so many details of other people’s lives” , he wrote. Nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Ancient Athens was a small homogeneous society | Archives Hulton/Getty Images

Likewise, voting in democratic elections may seem reasonable, Pope notes, but it is often far from flawless in countries like Turkey and Malta. And if you thought ballot initiatives and plebiscites were the answer, you’d be wrong — the public can’t be trusted to rule on the kind of single-issue questions typically asked in referendums, he says.

A randomly selected group or ordinary people is therefore the sweet spot – much like an Athenian jury. It has the theoretical flavor of democracy and the comforting banality of the common man. No politicians, no lobbying – adorable, says Pope.

But there are problems with this. Can we really run a country of tens of millions like a city-state 2,400 years ago?

Athens, after all, was a small, largely homogeneous society. And while it was a cosmopolitan port by Greek standards, it did not host a people who spoke 100 languages, espoused dozens of different religions, or represented the great diversity inherent in any reasonably prosperous and complex modern state. .

Instead, Athens was a place where about 95% of the population – women, children, slaves and foreigners – had no say in their own government. And even when the adult male population was energized and fully participating, their polis voted to go to war about once every two years and – some classics might say – was eventually destroyed by its own hubris, especially when it s it was about believing in the one. genius of his system of government.

It’s not like we haven’t tried running institutions with small groups of ordinary people before.

The British state regularly tries to organize “consultations”, which are totally worthless and are monopolized by entrenched rent-seeking interests, as well as individuals with too much free time. Local political parties are often led by members who can – in some democracies – be numerous and proudly, deeply ordinary. But what happens in these circumstances? Extremes normally enjoy much greater importance than their numerical strength.

They hold their opinions more firmly and with more fanaticism than the general public. They have a stronger forward-thinking impulse and hate their enemies more than most people care about anything. The risk is that the weirdos will dominate – self-selection, even if selected by lot – because everyone has things to do on the weekends.

The problem with socialism, as Oscar Wilde – a political radical himself – said, is that it takes too many parties. This is also the problem of citizens’ assemblies.

For example, supporters of former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who was, despite Twitter saying, considered politically extreme by most of the public – were filmed saying his leadership had given them a reason to to get up in the morning. But the average person doesn’t need to be motivated that way. They have football to watch, kids to look after, or dinner to cook.

In a representative democracy, it is the people who tend to win. Corbyn’s Labor Party, meanwhile, was crushed in the 2019 general election, receiving the party’s lowest vote share since 1931. But in a group of citizens selected by lot, people cannot be eliminated like that – there is no accountability when things go wrong.

There is no doubt that the coming century will be a battle between democracy and autocracy. But as US President Joe Biden attempts to build a global coalition of democracies to save the world, it’s important to remember that committees rarely have a vision and countries obsessed with sorting are likely to be inward looking. themselves and obsessed with themselves.

Ultimately, in the fight ahead, the democratic West must choose representative democracy over a world run by parochial councils. It cannot bend back and forth.

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