Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
By enabling a mechanism of civic duty, it may in the long term lead to a better informed public. Voting is not a duty in most countries and even where it is a duty (Italy for example), it runs up against the bottom line of what electoral systems are all about: the possibility to choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, both the object of investments of enormous sums of money that expect to reap future dividends (It appears the combined warchests of Obama and Romney have passed the billion and a half dollar mark).

In effect voting is a one shot deal once every few years that tends to encourage infantilization of the citizenry and a disaffection towards the civic good. Voters express poorly considered opinions rather than exercise judgement, the latter a question of investing time, thought and one's personal repute in making a decision.

Unfortunately, electoral systems are equated with "democracy" and are largely considered a sine qua non. However, the present use of the term began with Woodrow Wilson. Before him, the term "democracy" had a very bad reputation. Our present forms of governments were literally created in a very rich period spanning perhaps 80 years from the American and French Constitutions to the invention of proportional representation in Europe in the 1860's. None of these experiments were conceived as "democracy" at the time but as a means to limit or eliminate hereditary aristocracy, by creating systems of checks and balances and ostensibly encouraging the advent of an aristocracy based on merit and time limits on magistracy. Considering the levels of enfranchisement at the time it was all very upper class with a healthy dose of self-glorification. The new elites just loved their new toy and generally dreaded the idea it could fall into the hands of the plebs. (An exception would be Jefferson's good friend and muse, Destutt de Tracy, who advocated female equality, universal suffrage and no contest divorce.)

Getting back to the specific case, as some comments make evident, there is utterly no "democratic" reason to change the House of Lords. It would only be a pale copy of the poor Commons, hostage to parties and the codswallop they shovel, in turn hostage to the ever present financial elites that keep those parties alive through "loans."

The House of Lords is quite the contrary a very "democratic" institution precisely because its members are not elected but generally selected on merit, some outstanding, many not so much. Since they haven't to respond to parties or an electorate, they have the leisure to use and express their judgement for the common welfare, which is probably why their House is now so powerless.

Much of this discussion has been affronted by Keith Sutherland in his essay A People's Parliament. Beyond Sutherland's advocacy of the use of sortition in the House of Commons, the dilemma of "democracy" and our present day "democratic regimes" is very much debated by the better minds on Sci Po Square. For a sobering and illuminating foray into all things democratic, I recommend Adam Przeworski's Democracy and the Limits of Self-Government.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Jun 29th, 2012 at 05:23:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the present use of the term began with Woodrow Wilson. Before him, the term "democracy" had a very bad reputation.

That probably goes all the way back to Aristotle.

If you are not convinced, try it on someone who has not been entirely debauched by economics. — Piero Sraffa

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 29th, 2012 at 06:11:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually Plato. I can't remember off hand who said it but philosophy was invented as an elite tool to justify an anti-democratic concept of the state.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Jun 30th, 2012 at 02:09:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Party politics is not absent from the House of Lords. Most of the existing nominated members take a party whip and many of them are professional politicians or party donors. Once appointed the life peers are not so dependent on party patronage as MPs, but most are still loyal to their party.

The plan, in the proposed new House, is to make members serve a non renewable 15 year term and to restrict eligibility for former members to be elected to the House of Commons (for 4.5 years after they leave the Lords). It is hoped that this approach will avoid creating a House of people obsessed with making sure they can be re-elected.

by Gary J on Fri Jun 29th, 2012 at 06:17:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The plan sounds good. It harks back to the Roman republic but has often gone array in South American experiences. (South America has always been a hotbed of regime experimentation.)

Now if the House of Commons were to chosen by sortition the 4.5 year hiatus would be out the window.

But then what powers would the House of Lords have, seeing that it is largely ineffective at the moment?

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Jun 30th, 2012 at 02:19:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series