Can “Lottocracy” Save Democracy From Itself?

For more than a decade, scientists and experts have been proclaiming that democracy is in crisis. Some have argued that the epic failure to bring democracy to Iraq and Libya and the post-Arab Spring events on a global “democratic recession. ”Meanwhile, China’s political rise and economic progress have shown a viable political alternative to the“ Western model of democracy ”. Indeed, not only has the Western model of democracy become a contested cause for right-wing nationalists, but the pandemic has shown that these states are ill-equipped to deal with national emergencies that require a high level of coordinated international solutions. The critics argue that democracy appears to be endangered on all sides.

But what if “the crisis of democracy” is actually a sign of the vitality of democracy? According to this reading, Brexit and Trumpism are in reality the product of resentment and distrust of political employees and institutions that fail to deliver on the promise of democracy. In other words, democracy is not rejected per se but an elitist political system that does not protect the power of the people. Such a proposal is at the heart of Hélène Landemore’s new book. Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Centurywho argues that the problem today is not democracy per se, but the existing paradigm of democracy, which is too elitist and cannot meet the democratic expectations of the population.

Landemore – professor of political science at Yale University – carries the problem into the 18th century. The federal papersthat equates the choices of the elite with the choice of the people. The problem, argues Landemore, is that this equation has been proven wrong; All too often, with the system being explicitly oligarchic, the elites have proven impervious to the wishes of the voters, and we have come to the point where people are rebelling against the system. Instead of rejecting democracy, Landemore calls for a more inclusive version of it, which she calls “open democracy”. It is based on five key principles: participation rights, deliberation, majority rule, democratic representation and transparency.

The purpose of these principles is to make democracy less elitist by making it equally open to all citizens. She believes this can be achieved by introducing new forms of non-choosy democratic representation: for example, there is Lottery, a system in which representatives do not run for office but are chosen at random to serve fixed political terms. A lottery, Landemore said, would reduce the chances of representatives being bought off by not running for office and would likely allow greater political, ethnic, gender, and economic diversity as candidates are chosen at random.

But can there be a lottery in a country as large as the United States? In the end, is open democracy a utopian fantasy? To answer these questions, I spoke to Landemore about how she thinks about democracy in a populist age and how her vision of open democracy could be put into practice.


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