Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Category: Democracy (Page 1 of 4)

From the Vault: Good Reads on Democracy and Politicians

While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall from our archives some of our memorable posts from 2016-2017.

Here are four good reads in democracy and politicians that you may have missed or be interested to re-read:

Aveek Bhattacharya’s ‘What should voters look for in their politicians?

Jesper Pedersen’s ‘Should MPs be subject to mandatory deselection?

Miriam Ronzoni’s ‘Germany and European Solidarity

Luke Ulas’ ‘Why are you more angry about Trump’s state visit to the UK than about visits from leaders of China and Saudi Arabia?

Germany and European Solidarity (or Lack thereof!): Why We Need the Right Kind of Leader

… and why Schulz could be the one

Saying that the right thing to do is for Germany to show more solidarity towards the European South is hardly news. But how can this be achieved in times of populism? In spite of the odds, Martin Schulz (the Chancellor candidate of the SPD) could play a surprisingly refreshing role in this respect.

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More Solidarity among EU Citizens

From June 14th to June 16th, the Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary European Studies (ACCESS EUROPE) organised an international conference on “Solidarity and European integration”. In his contribution to the panel “European solidarity and justice: normative issues”, Andrea Sangiovanni presented his dispositional analysis of the concept “solidarity”. He defines solidarity as a (complex) disposition to sacrifice one’s own self-interest (narrowly understood) for the good of others. In order to distinguish solidarity from utilitarian altruism, love, enlightened self-interest, and fairness, he further specifies it as being a disposition to sacrifice that is impersonal, narrow, and person-directed. It is a disposition to sacrifice one’s own self-interest for the sake of overcoming an adversity faced by other member states or EU citizens. Such a dispositional analysis is, I believe, much more promising than, for instance, an analysis of solidarity as a mental state. It enables us to reach a better understanding of the conditions that are most conducive to the development of solidarity and the factors that hinder it. In this post, I develop some thoughts on how to address this issue in the European context.

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If everything is measured, can we still see one another as equals?

Relational egalitarians hold what matters for justice is that all members of a society “stand in relations of equality to others.” The idea that all human beings are moral equals is widely shared: it underlies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions. How will this norm be affected by the arrival of “big data,” the collecting and analysing of huge amounts of data about individuals? Internet companies and government services collect data about individuals’ activities, including geographic locations, shopping behaviour and friendships. Many individuals voluntarily share such information on social media, some also track their physical activities in meticulous details. Experts expect that “people analytics” – big data applied to the measurement of work performance – will have a revolutionary impact on labour markets.

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There is too much division of labour: Against all-or-nothing social roles

Marx might have been right, too strict a division of labour is making us worse off in an important respect: we cannot but fail to develop core human abilities, and this failure cannot but affect our sense of wellbeing, of being at home in the world. Not that we should, or could, fully undo the division of labour such that you and I can “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” But is it unavoidable, or good for us, to have to live by a radical division of labour where the main social roles are an all-or-nothing business?

Consider: you either enter politics, dedicating it a large amount of time, or you have virtually no say in any public affairs. You’re either a parent or someone who can have children in their lives only very sporadically and precariously. You typically either have a full-time job (for many over-engulfing) or an unsatisfying one, which you can all too easily lose, and it probably doesn’t pay enough to live. You’re either in a monogamous relationship, or else your relationship(s) are not socially sanctioned as serious, meaningful, worthy of protection – as marriage and civil partnerships are.

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Evidence for a non-ideal theory of freedom of expression (Remembering Anna Politkovskaya)

About ten years ago Anna Politkovskaya, a well-known Russian journalist, writer and human rights’ activist, died in her apartment building in Moscow, shot four times in a lift. After a long and highly charged trial-and-retrial, we still do not know who the instigators of Politkovskaya’s assassination are, though six people have been convicted of the murder. In her books and articles (she was one of the best reporters of Novaya Gazeta), Politkovskaya reported on the situation in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War and on the deterioration of the quality of Russian democracy, especially as far as human rights protection, transparency and good governance were concerned. She defined contemporary Russia ‘a failing democracy’ and she admonished her fellow citizens about the concrete risks of ‘hurtling back into a Soviet abyss’, thanks to the ‘information vacuum’ that the Russian power system was able to produce. Her investigative works as well as her popularity in the West – she won several important awards from human rights and international journalism and her books were translated in several languages – were certainly worrisome for the Russian government as well as for several crucial state agencies. In Russia, however, her influence was quite limited beyond human rights activists’ circles, as Vladimir Putin noticed after her brutal assassination.

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Resisting TTIP and Corporatocracy

TTIP protesters in Brussels, February 2015.

TTIP protesters in Brussels, February 2015. Greens EFA, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Valentin Beck teaches moral and political philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin. He recently published Eine Theorie der globalen Verantwortung (Suhrkamp 2016). This post is the fourth and final part of our series on TTIP.

Traditionally, trade agreements have been a topic of debate chiefly for economists and other experts. Recently, however, TTIP, TPP and CETA have loomed large in public discourse. What is behind the intense public interest and vehement opposition by civil society groups? The debate does not centre solely on matters of distribution, as some would suggest. Instead, the most important critique of these agreements regards their power to undermine democratic procedures.

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Should MPs be subject to mandatory deselection?

This post will be fairly UK-centric. Apologies to non-Brits, or anyone who’s simply had enough of British politics for now.

Since Jeremy Corbyn re-established his control over the Labour Party on Saturday, it seems inevitable that he’ll try to assert more control over the party. This may involve a number of measures, such as lowering the threshold for getting on the leadership ballot (ensuring his successor will be an ideological ally), and allowing members more direct control over policy-making . But increasingly there is talk of mandatory deselection of MPs who refuse to get behind Corbyn’s leadership. Although Corbyn himself claimed on TV that “most MPs” had no reason to fear it (a reassurance or a threat, depending on where you stand), others have been much more vocal in their demands. The firebrand Unite union leader, Len McCluskey, recently repeated his demand that “despicable” and “disgraceful” MPs lose the right to represent Labour at the next general election. It also seems the policy is popular with the grassroots. At a recent leadership hustings I went to in Durham the prospect of deselecting rebellious MPs came up repeatedly, each time to thunderous applause from the audience.

This is a conflict between competing visions of politics and leadership within Labour, but it’s also about something more fundamental: what is the role and purpose of a political party? It pits those for whom its primary purpose is to achieve its political aims within a democratic system, against those for whom it is, first and foremost, a democratic organisation in and of itself.

In this post I’ll go through some arguments in favour of deselection of MPs, and against. Ultimately I’ll argue that deselection is problematic in all but extreme cases, as MPs are first and foremost accountable to their constituents rather than their members.

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A randomly selected chamber? Exploring some challenges

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "chamber of representatives"

In reaction to the contemporary crisis of electoral democracy (marked by decreasing turnouts to elections, marginal party affiliation and general distrust towards politicians), there is a growing interest (from scholars, activists and politicians) in the idea of using random selection for selecting representatives, as was the case in ancient Greece and several Italian Republics in the Middle Ages.

Random selection cannot replace elections altogether. Despite all their shortcomings, elections are a very important democratic tool, in particular because they offer a space for wide participation to self-government, whereas active participation through random selection is limited to a very small section of the population. What is more, randomly selected representatives are not accountable to a constituency. This can have interesting effects in shifting decisions from the preferences of the median voter and reducing the short-termism inherent to elections. Yet it also dangerously impairs legitimacy if a government is not accountable.

For these reasons, the most plausible idea is to have only one chamber of representatives selected by lot (the other and the government remaining elected). What I want to do in this post is to identify the main challenges that such proposal faces. And I count on you to tell me whether you think that there are decisive or not, and if there are other important challenges that I’ve failed to consider.

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What should voters look for in their politicians?

hillary-clinton-bernie-sandersAmidst the political chaos of the past few months, some have taken the opportunity to reflect on what it all means for democracy. In particular, the question of whether individual Members of Parliament are bound to permit Britain’s exit from the European Union because their voters supported it has led to a number of reflections on an elected representative’s duties to their constituents, often drawing on Edmund Burke.

However, I think the reverse relationship – how individual voters should relate to their representatives –  is just as interesting. Among the dominant sentiments around the EU referendum was confusion. In a campaign without the standard reflexive party political loyalties, many people appreciated for the first time the responsibility they carried with  their vote, but were at a loss as to how to use it. I think this is the best explanation for the repeated demands for ‘more facts’, patently absurd in a period where the internet means the vast majority have access to a volume of information inconceivable a generational earlier. People weren’t lacking for information, they were lacking for guidance as to how to use it.

The strange political alignments of recent months on both sides of the Atlantic have left many similarly rudderless, whether it is Republicans deliberating whether to support a person with as many personality flaws as Trump, or those on the left torn between the apparent idealism of Corbyn/Sanders and the supposed pragmatism of Clinton/mainstream Labour candidates.

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