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"In compelling us to subject all our received ideas and deeply held convictions to rigorous scrutiny, this fine iconoclastic work could not be more timely. David Van Reybrouck reveals the startling historical fact that the French and Americans chose the electoral method precisely because it was undemocratic and then goes on relentlessly to demonstrate that far from safeguarding our right to self-determination, elections are actually impeding our democracy." —Karen Armstrong
"Van Reybrouck is a skilled polemicist..." –The New York Times Book Review
"Mounts a convincing case that we have wrongly conflated democracy with elections." –The Observer (London)
"Van Reybrouck wants to revive a system in which government is not just for the people, but really by the people ... a persuasive description of a system designed to be soundly based in popular assent ... A President Trump might focus attention on his views." –The Financial Times (of London)
"Very persuasive . . . There are few new big ideas in politics and few answers to the serious challenge faced by democratic politics . . . invigorating and advance[s] a promising practical idea . . . fresh, challenging and uncomplicated." –The Times (London)
"A radical remedy to save the essence of democracy, which is diseased and potentially dying.>The provocative title doesn't tell the whole story. As European intellectual Van Reybrouck (Congo: The Epic History of a People, 2014, etc.) argues, what we need is not less democracy but purer democracy. Those who equate democracy with elections, he writes, are wrong. To the contrary, elections are anti-democratic, establishing a political aristocracy that is disconnected from and distrusted by voters. Thus, "it would appear that the fundamental cause of Democratic Fatigue Syndrome lies in the fact that we have all become electoral fundamentalists, despising those elected but venerating elections." If DFS is the rapidly worsening disease, what is the cure? The author carefully builds a historical case for a return to the classic Athenian principles of democracy, in which citizens contributed not by vote but by lot. Those representing the masses in running the government were chosen the way that modern democracies generally choose juries, putting important decisions in the hands of citizens chosen randomly rather than by vote or merit and allowing them to deliberate toward a consensus. A fairly recent inspiration for this proposal comes from the concept of "deliberative democracy" advanced by a Texas academic, who proceeded from the oversized influence that unrepresentative states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential selection process to suggest that a smaller, more diverse group be assembled to deliberate, a process that would be more likely to change minds than the polarization we have now. Among those most aghast at such a radical shift have been the political parties and the media, who serve as gatekeepers, as well as others with a vested interest in the status quo. However, "why do we accept the fact that lobbies, think tanks and all kinds of interest groups can influence policy yet hesitate to give a say to ordinary citizens, who are after all what it's all about?" Readers who disagree with the cure may at least recognize the incisiveness of the diagnosis." –Kirkus Reviews
“In his masterful book Against Elections, David Van Reybrouck describes a modern blueprint for sortition-based democracy” –Ariel Procaccia, Bloomberg
About the Author
After finishing her studies at the University of Manchester, Liz Waters (translator) worked for some years with English-language texts and at a literary agency in Amsterdam before becoming a full-time translator of literary fiction and non-fiction. Authors whose books she has translated include Lieve Joris, Jaap Scholten, Luuk van Middelaar, Douwe Draaisma and Geert Mak. --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- Publication Date : April 17, 2018
- Publisher : Seven Stories Press (April 17, 2018)
- File Size : 7365 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 188 pages
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B071DZ1KR1
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #121,899 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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A short book but long on practical ideas on how to deal with the perceived ills of democracy as it stands today. I think most people interested in the subject will enjoy the book as much as I did.
A couple of comments:
First, the author does a good job at itemizing and invalidating the most common objections that have been voiced against the idea of deliberative government. However in my opinion he leaves out the most challenging one: new laws or changes to existing laws are introduced and voted by the very same officials who would have to relinquish some of their authority and privileges. The probability that elected officials vote for changes that force them to share their current hold on power is close to zero. Allowing common citizens to participate in government affairs would also mean more transparency, and that makes it even more unlikely.
Secondly, Mr. Van Reybrouck does not mention the new technologies that would help support deliberative government, such as social media networking and blockchain for example. I wish the author will turn his attention and considerable intellect in that direction in a next essay or maybe in a future edition of his book.
In this very methodically argued and well-documented treatise, the author lays out an exceptional case for what may be the new solution (which is actually a very old solution): sortition, government by drawing lots. The myriad ways such a system could function in tandem with an elected government are explored in depth, and I was left with hope that there was still life left in democracy, that we weren't all doomed to spiral into fascism.
We stand at the beginning of a new age, where our old systems are failing us in droves. It's time to reinvent our society to fit the new equality, lest it collapse in on itself. Reybrouck's argument here is timely, well-written, thought through, and urgent. It may be the best hope we have for saving the creaking pillars of government.
If the founding fathers of the United States, 250 years later have
thought it a good system for expressing the will of the people to have
them queue up at polling stations every two or four years with a bit of
card in the hands and go into a dark booth to put a mark NOT next to
ideas, but to names on a list?
Names of people about whom restless reporting had been going
on for months in a commercial environment that profits from the
Would we still have the nerve to call what is in fact a bizarre archaic
ritual, a festival of democracy?
although his book condemns elections globally, he brought up the founders of the United States without ever making a distinction between the electoral systems of other nations and that of the US; that might create the "bizarre, archaic ritual" he refers to.
therefore, this review should be understood through an American filter but that only exacerbates the problem with this book.
-there are no distinctions
-There is no forensic study as to why elections do not produce "democratic" results
-there is no attempt to even define what that would mean in the context of "democracy"; the system ostensibly that has failed to make voting an effective means of popular control
to write a book condemning voting and to suggest replacing it, as he does, with committees and such, without ever taking on these foundational basics dooms this book to failure.
that is, of course if one believes that a polemic like this should explain exactly why things have not worked out, if/why they are irretrievable, and how the course of action suggested within its pages could realistically be achieved.
none of this can be found in the book.
yes, there are some interesting experiences he cites as to how certain bodies of people and institutions have come together to deliberate. unfortunately, those efforts and deliberations always proved to be toothless and controlled by the political establishments that formed them; obviously for public relations effect only.
as an American who has studied the unique, singular really, US electoral system, the powers that lie within it, the squandering of those powers that are never mentioned much less studied, I found this book to be intellectually vacuous - at best!
I can only conclude that the author is a very poor scholar indeed or the books gaping omissions are in service to some ideology or steering intent. if so, the effort has been successful. by now there can be no doubt that voting has largely been discredited in the United States while at the same time it continues to be completely misunderstood, misused, and very improperly studied.
the only thing that can be said in his defense is that he has plenty of company. this, because there is no other scholarship, or activism for that matter, that goes beyond the unhappy outcomes (and usual "remedies") to seek an understanding as to why things are not working; in order to answer the question whether they could, under the existing system; with proper study/education and innovation.
of course, they could but no one will tell you that; least of all this author, with this book.