The conception of democracy on Mars can improve its functioning on Earth


It’s hard to disagree with some and critical lacerations to the British political system made this week by Dominic Cummings. A democracy that is forcing voters to choose between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister is one that has gone “extremely bad,” the former Downing Street aide said. Such a poor binary option is the political equivalent of a box of tick cookies on a website, offering voters the illusion of consent but giving them no choice but to accept non-negotiable terms and conditions.

Can we imagine a better democracy on Mars? The great virtue of thought experiments is that they expand the realm of debate. For this reason, Hélène Landemore, a professor of political science at Yale University, recently challenged her students to write a constitution for Mars (her previous assignments to reimagining the U.S. constitution had occasionally led to unbearable disputes). Not only could Mars-setter travelers, such as SpaceX founder Elon Musk, be intrigued by the exercise, but politicians should also be intrigued. Instead of replicating the standard model of an elected parliament and a representative government, students have sketched out a much more participatory political form.

Needless to say, with its focus on universal values, the imaginary declaration of the Martian charter represented the constitution of the United States and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the students ’31-page constitution also reflected more contemporary concerns, embodying the rights to physical and psychological integrity, privacy and non-interference by government, and sole ownership of personal data, for example. On the other hand, it explicitly extended constitutional protections to animals and the environment.

But its most distinctive feature was that it implicitly rejected the electoral model of democratic politics, establishing six permanent “mini-publics” of 250 Martian citizens chosen at random to legislate in the areas of economic, social and environmental policy, civil rights, supervision. of government and interstellar relations. Fifty representatives of each of these mini-publics would then sit in the general central chamber, which would approve the government’s budget and have veto powers over the legislation.

The students were clearly awake in class because Landemore is one of the best convincing defenders for this kind of “open democracy.” His argument is that traditional electoral politics has too often been captured by the rich and networked and dominated by narrow elites who fail to achieve it. “At some point you have to be honest and say that there is not much that can be saved from this electoral model,” he says.

His idea is to build on long-term ideas assemblies of citizens which include a random sample of the population to ensure that as many different views as possible are respected in the implementation of a political agenda. “The best way is to diversify the composition of your group rather than trying to maximize their competence. This seems like an intuitive contrast, but when you have to solve hard problems, you’re better off with people with different thinking rather than very, very intelligent people who think the same way, ”he says.

A good illustration of the failures of traditional politics, such as the promises and pitfalls of citizens ’assemblies, came to France after the yellow vests 2018 protests. Poor voters, dependent on cars, protested that an out-of-contact Parisian political class had struggled through rising fuel prices, ignoring their concerns. In response, President Emmanuel Macron launched a national debate which led to a convention of citizens on climate.

The French example highlights the difficulties of translating fine sound theories into practical policies. Some members of the convention he felt betrayed because parliament has not adopted all of its suggestions, even though Landemore insists they have significantly changed the dial in the public debate. His dispute is that the demand for democracy remains almost universal, but its supply has been too limited.

That argument would certainly have resonated among the participants of the political conference in Moscow this week marking the centenary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet-era human rights defender. His fear was that Vladimir Putin’s Russia would be a “messenger of the future,” showing how it was possible for an authoritarian regime to reject universal moral values ​​and international rules and to build a “managed democracy” behind the façade. of an electoral system.

This danger is real even in many other countries. We should not wait for astronauts to reach Mars before experimenting more with participatory politics to strengthen democracy.

john.thornhill@ft.com



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