Political education can be defined as the process by which people come to form political judgments – how they evaluate different political parties and issues of public policy, basically. The primary context of political education is the family. It is in this environment that people are first exposed to political judgments and inculcated with political values. It should come as no surprise that, as a result, many (if not most) people remain faithful to their parents’ political orientations, as research in political sociology often reports. Fortunately, though, political education is not reducible to family transmission. As they grow up, kids become more and more exposed to different political views, be it in school or within their social network, and they can be influenced by all sorts of people and events in this process. It remains true, however, that in the absence of a strong countervailing educational process, families are the main driver of political education in most if not all countries. Should we be happy with this situation?
Author: Pierre-Etienne Vandamme
Currently postdoc at KU Leuven, I hold a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Louvain (Belgium). My main research interests are democratic theory, theories of justice, and civic education.
Recently, as I was discussing with a friend of mine, the conversation brought us to the issue of paternalism. Taking the bad habit of playing the philosopher’s role, I said something like “You know, paternalism is actually not always wrong.” My friend reacted very surprised – as if I had said “You know, patriarchy is actually not always wrong.” And as it happens, for her, “paternalism” and “patriarchy” were closely linked – which I had never considered before.
Before becoming the president of the Belgian Francophone Socialist Party, Paul Magnette was a renowned scholar in the fields of EU studies and political theory. In addition to analysing the political regime of the European Union, the growing power of the European Parliament, and the issue of citizen participation in EU politics, he wrote a book on the thought of Judith Shklar and another on the history of the idea of citizenship. We met in September 2021 at the headquarters of the Socialist Party to discuss the influence of his academic training on his political activity, the challenges of shifting from theory to political practice, and the practical relevance of political theory. A new interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series.
Stating that it is difficult nowadays for a state to pursue ambitious redistributive policies through a highly progressive tax system: is it right-wing or simply realistic? Claiming that it will not be possible to fund a universal basic income sufficient to cover the basic needs of all citizens, or to open borders and offer quality social protection to everyone at the same time: are these instances of taking economic constraints seriously or defending the status quo?
Is realism right-wing?
On closer inspection, many political issues that tend to be placed on the left-right spectrum could be interpreted as opposing an idealistic and a realistic perspective. However, these two oppositions are not identical.
Should political parties organize their internal affairs in a (more) democratic way? By this, I do not mean merely allowing party members to select candidates for a presidential election or to elect the president of the party. The question is also whether party members should be involved in the writing of political programs and in deciding which policies to pursue.
The answer might seem obvious at first sight: given that parties play an important democratic function (aggregating multiple demands and uniting citizens behind competing political projects), it would seem odd if they were themselves organized undemocratically. And yet we know that parties tend to be very hierarchical – it has even been described as an “iron law”. To what extent is this regrettable?
In many countries, governments impose legal duties on citizens regulating their interactions with unauthorized immigrants. It is for example forbidden to provide them with access to employment, housing or transportation, and even sometimes to merely assist them in some way. In France, for example, there has been a lasting debate about the so-called “délit de solidarité” (offense of solidarity) – a law forbidding citizens to bring assistance to illegal immigrants.
Are we, citizens of rich countries, under a moral duty to obey or disobey such laws?
Why do we trust experts to take care of our health and not to take care of our interests in the political realm? This is a very old question of democratic theory. Epistocracy is a neologism frequently used in recent works to refer to a form of government by those who know more or are wiser than the mass.
Two different aspects might differentiate an epistocracy from a democracy: the absence of political equality in the selection of the rulers, or the absence of egalitarian accountability. In addition to these undemocratic aspects, an epistocracy would differ from other non-democratic regimes by some mechanism allowing people who distinguish themselves from the mass by their wisdom or expertise to rule or at least enjoy an important degree of political power. The best example and – to my knowledge – the most interesting challenge to our democratic convictions is Jason Brennan’s idea of an “epistocratic council”. Members of this council would be selected on a meritocratic basis, passing a competency exam. And all citizens would have an equal voice in the choice of the expertise criteria.
Leaving aside the practical challenges such as the choice of the people in charge of preparing the exam, what would be wrong with such an epistocratic council?
Liam Shields – Just Enough: Sufficiency as a Demand of Justice
University of Louvain
2 December 2016
Twice a year, the Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics organizes a workshop in Louvain-la-Neuve on a forthcoming book in the field of ethics or political theory. Several scholars are gathered to meet the author and discuss the various chapters of the book in progress.
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.
Sacrificed for hope?
Economic transition and intergenerational justice
« Poverty and oppression are here, and they will not
be alleviated by the possibility of a better future.”
Suppose you believe that the nationalization of the means of production is necessary for the achievement of justice. Suppose, besides, that your political party enjoys enough popular support (an absolute majority) for this radical reform. Yet you know from experiences in other countries that such radical reforms engender an economic crisis, with higher unemployment and lower incomes. What you do not know is how the economy is going to fare in the future and how long the crisis can last.
These are a lot of assumptions, certainly, but please accept them for the sake of the argument. What I am asking you is to put yourselves into the shoes of western European socialist leaders from the first half of the 20th century. They faced both a strategic and an ethical dilemma.