Superficially, the most obvious, topical, reason to read “Save Democracy — Abolish Voting” is because it demolishes the democratic arguments in favour of referendums while also offering a better alternative.
Anyone attracted by the promise that plebiscites put ordinary voters in control, or that they sideline the self-serving elites will find that the proposal offered by this book will achieve this in a much more effective way.
The book is a lot more than an attack on the crude binary referendums though. It takes a radical route out of the sterile debate around electoral reform, questioning everything that is popularly thought about how democratic decision-making should be done. It challenges the very idea that our political culture helps make popular sovereignty possible. The book argues that politics had gradually turned into a retardant, not an accelerant to democracy.
The main reason to read “Save Democracy — Abolish Voting” is that it offers a version of democracy that we would choose now if we were starting to create liberal democracy from scratch, knowing what we know about feedback loops and the democratic flaws that have grown more pronounced as electoral government has evolved.
Modern electoral systems were rarely ever deliberately designed to apply any sophisticated democratic logic. Instead, they evolved in a very uneven way in response to particular political pressures. The universal franchise often happened in some token way where, we could all join in the illusion of an equal say in our own governance.
That token is called “the vote”. It shares control over our government very unevenly and unfairly. No sensible reader could believe that they have as much influence as someone who (as Mark Twain put it) “buys ink by the barrel”? Most of us can’t afford to hire lobbyists, run expensive data-driven online campaigns or commission eye-catching “research” from a think tank. We know that governments are inordinately frightened of social groupings that have the time, energy and money to campaign for something, at the expense of everyone else.
We are very mistaken if we imagine that democracy is a system where our puny vote gives us control over only a small part of the decision-making chain (e.g. “a parliament”, or only a part of it in the UK’s case) by choosing from a limited set of options that we think we may want — in advance — once every few years.
It’s amazing that so many of us have settled for it. In no other circumstances would this be thought of as a good, or fair, way to exercise choice. In an age of proven and sophisticated feedback loops, it would not be hard to design a better version of popular sovereignty than this. “Save Democracy — Abolish Voting” suggests one of them.
We’ve always been aware that democracy has shortcomings. This book is based on the understanding that democracy has six essential imperfections — ones that we have known about for a long time. They are that…
- democracy could be a lot more equal and fair in terms of whose interests it advances and defends
- democracy could be more participative — in a constructive and deliberative way
- democracy could find wiser ways of making decisions
- governing in a consensual and collaborative way is a science that we could be better at. If we did, more of us would be content with what our governments do
- democratic government could be done more efficiently, and that it could keep pace with progress elsewhere in society more than it does
- sometimes, political divisions result in us failing to defend democracy from anti-democratic forces as well as we could do
This last point has never been more evident than it is today as numerous political figures accept help from Vladimir Putin to help win their domestic political battles.
The book also shows how all of these imperfections are growing, thanks to the changes that we are seeing in the digital age. It offers a perspective specifically written for democratic innovators — a digital-savvy way of going in an opposite, and better direction. It offers a system of democracy that would not allow either a foreign power or a wealthy internal group to exercise an unfair level of influence. It would ensure that there was ample investment in the high quality of journalism that we need — a journalism that is truly independent in the maximal sense of the word.
It is a system that would make the whole of the public sphere fully accountable, and one that found the investment needed to develop a sophisticated and intelligent version of participatory deliberative democracy. It would probably cost a lot less to run as well!
It is an unusual book, in that it defends the values and reputation of representative democracy vigorously while also promoting a new form of direct democracy that could eventually replace our current parliamentary system. While rejecting the use of referendums, the book also rejects the argument made by some of the opponents of referendums about how voters don’t have the intelligence to make big democratic decisions for themselves. Instead, it shows how direct participation in democracy can lead to better decisions than expert and representative-led governments often deliver.
It questions the very link between the desire of each citizen to get “the kind of government that I want” and “casting a vote.” It doesn’t do this without making a better suggestion though.
“Save Democracy — Abolish Voting” proposes a way of placing every part of the public sphere — every resource that goes into writing laws and deciding what governments do — equally under the control of each citizen. It does it in a way that doesn’t make lower-quality decisions than the ones made by representative democracies. Crucially, it does it in a way that does not depend on citizens needing to put any direct effort in if they don’t want to. It is not a proposal for a system that rewards activists, or the cash/time rich citizens who currently dominate our political system.
“Save Democracy — Abolish Voting” is a unique book with a highly original, practical and attractive proposal that could transform popular sovereignty for the better.
For more information, please contact the author, contact Paul Evans. To email, please follow this link or phone: 07918 738672.
ISBN: 978–2–9602117. Price: £6.99.
Published on 16th November 2017 by Democratic Society Editions as the first book in the series “Ideas of Democracy.” The views expressed in this book are the authors alone.