Yale theorist Hélène Landemore promotes open democracy, democratic experimentation

By Kimberly Givant || Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of youtube.com

On Tuesday, February 28, the Government Department at Franklin & Marshall College hosted Yale University professor and renowned political theorist Hélène Landemore, the 2017 Jerome Weinstein Lecturer. At the 4:30 p.m. lecture in Stager Hall’s Stahr Auditorium, Landemore presented on the concepts of her new book project, a furtherance of the democratic theory of openness and collective intelligence put forth in her widely acclaimed book Democratic Reason, published in 2013.

The talk was entitled, “After Representation: Rethinking Democracy for the 21st Century,” which also serves as Landemore’s tentative title for her book project. Though it has become increasingly difficult to stand by collective intelligence and radical democratic power, Landemore insists that the current crisis of democracy, as exhibited by the divisive election of Donald Trump in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain, demands experimentation with more authentically democratic practices.

The purpose of Landemore’s lecture was not purely to educate the audience on her developing project. The theorist also wished to collect feedback, questions, and suggestions for improvement from the group consisting primarily of students and professors of government and politics in order to strengthen her arguments and theories before eventual publication.

Though Landemore’s work is within the school of deliberative democracy, which theorizes against democratic forms that have a tendency towards oligarchic drift, she was insistent that her theories do not propose movement towards direct democracy. To Landemore, direct democracy is a false solution to the failures of current democratic forms. Landemore’s preference of “open democracy,” while meant to be clearly distinguishable from “representative democracy,” is not completely anti-representative. Landemore’s open democracy rests on inclusion and openness as its foundation.

While the theories of the political philosophy giants Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls continue to dominate our perceptions of democracy, Landemore believes they are based on largely exclusionary democratic conventions: exhibited by the importance of high courts for Rawls and the practice of filtering citizen input for Habermas. As a close observer of the Icelandic experiment of 2010-2013, in which constitution formation was done through a random selection of citizen participation, Landemore firmly defends the notion that successful experimentation with authentic, more inclusionary democratic processes is feasible. Though there were stumbles in the Icelandic experiment, overall the practices triumphed in transparency.

To check the legitimacy of authentic democratic processes, Landemore used the five-point criteria put forth by the late political theorist Robert Dahl, that criteria being: inclusiveness, equality at the decisive stage, control of the agenda, effective participation, and enlightened understanding. Landemore used the criteria to expand into the nine principles of open democracy which she determined consists of the following: dynamic inclusiveness, substantive equality, democratic deliberation, the majoritarian principle, empowerment rights, complex representation, periodic rotation, openness, and transparency.

The majority of the questions and concerns expressed in the Q&A portion of the lecture revolved around Landemore’s support for the majoritarian principle—a notion that runs contrary to ideals of the U.S. government as a system that functions in support of minority protection. Landemore responded to these concerns with her belief that through the deliberative process, a process of inclusionary compromise and transparency, more representative and diverse majorities will be created. In an era of hatred and disillusionment towards democracy, Landemore fiercely defends the urgency of the view that we must do something by means of democratic practice and experimentation.

Senior Kimberly Givant is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is kgivant@fandm.edu.


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