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Unherd: Don’t be fooled by citizens’ assemblies

There is no democracy without equal participation

Over the past few years, it has become quite fashionable to speak of ‘threats to democracy’. For many journalists and academics, the source of those threats is often crystal clear: Trump, Brexit, and somewhere on the margins, the non-English-speaking Alternative für Deutschland, Marine le Pen and Viktor Orban.

However, while none of this resurgent traditionalism is exactly up my street, being as I am of a decidedly more liberal persuasion, I don’t see it as the biggest threat to democracy. Having considered the issue for the better part of my life, I believe that the biggest threat to democracy is the belief among the current societal elite that what they want and what democracy is are the same thing – and that tweaking the rules of the game to get what you want is therefore right, just and somehow unto itself democratic.

This trend that sees democracy as a set of particular decisions, rather than just as a method for making decisions, has been well under way for some time and tends to divide the world between ‘informed’, ‘correct’ decisions, and ‘uninformed’ ‘incorrect’ decisions. ‘Correct’ decisions are automatically democratic; ‘incorrect’ ones are not.

One of the ways that is currently in vogue for ensuring ‘informed’, ‘correct’ decisions is to hold so-called citizens’ assemblies, a democratic ‘innovation’ that many leaders currently feel assured will bring them the results that they want.

You may have heard of citizen assemblies. They are all the rage in academic circles and some of that has seeped out into the political sphere. Conservative politician Rory Stewart proposed one to ‘bridge the gap between the referendum result and parliament’ on Brexit, for example, and Extinction Rebellion has demanded that a binding assembly be held on how the UK can tackle climate change and ecological justice.

Read the full article at Unherd.com


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