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10 July 2012
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5 February 2023 at 10:36
I reply to both the previous comments.
It is reasonable that Professor Martinico, as an expert in comparative constitutional law, asks why I chose certain examples of some topics from a number of countries’ constitutions rather than others. The simple answer is that I quoted the cases randomly – no comparative purposes – just to give some references indicating that, in the varied and composite panorama of today’s democratic constitutions, basic ethical-political principles are a strong, inescapable, and theoretically well-founded, common denominator. I tried to underline that it cannot be otherwise, since those aims and goals are necessarily – forgive me the pun – constitutive of constitutions. In my introductory chapter, I aimed merely to hint at that subject. I will insert this short clarification in my book.
The second comment touches an issue of enormous importance. Yet, as I stated more than once, the pragmatic approach of my book is intended to rest on solid arguments, but it must of necessity exclude broad treatment of theoretical themes.
See in context
1 February 2023 at 10:51
2nd part of the previous comment, posted on behalf of the author : Giuseppe Martinico, Full Professor of Comparative Public law at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa.
This reminds me of a topic that is now central to constitutional law scholars, namely that of the alleged non-democratic nature of constitutionalism and the need to make constitutionalisation processes more democratic (both constituent processes, here reference is made to the so-called constitutional crowdsourcing phenomenon http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/constitutional-crowdsourcing-9781786430502.html and http://www.routledge.com/Icelandic-Constitutional-Reform-People-Processes-Politics/Arnason-Dupre/p/book/9780367557089) and the constitutional reform processes. The book with the greatest theoretical scope is that of Roberto Gargarella, http://www.cambridge.org/it/academic/subjects/law/constitutional-and-administrative-law/law-conversation-among-equals.
30 January 2023 at 00:33
Uno degli aspetti più incostituzionali della valutazione di stato italiana è la predisposizione di liste di riviste “scientifiche” non per il consenso dei ricercatori, ma per la statuizione di un’autorità di nomina governativa.
Chiaramente, dopo aver sottratto la valutazione della ricerca alla comunità scientifica per consegnarla all’editoria commerciale in un momento in cui la rivoluzione digitale avrebbe reso possibile alle università una gestione diretta della comunicazione scientifica, e dopo aver ridotto i ricercatori a impiegati sottomessi ai suoi parametri, l’ANVUR deve por rimedio ai danni che ha provocato. Ma come può farlo? Aggiornando le sue liste con le sedi che praticano la scienza aperta?
Una simile soluzione, mi pare, aggiungerebbe semplicemente un’altra lista, ma non modificherebbe la struttura dispotica e retrograda della valutazione amministrativa centralizzata.
Le pratiche della scienza aperta, che il “Bollettino telematico di filosofia politica” ha seguito a dispetto dell’ANVUR, sono certamente importanti, ma, proprio perché sono aperte, possono essere controllate da autorità culturali, quali il DOAJ – autorità che, a differenza dell’ANVUR, proprio perché soltanto culturali non possono imporre una Gleichschaltung burocratica.
L’ANVUR ha fatto e fa riferimento a database proprietari in mano a oligopolisti commerciali come Scopus e Clarivate Analytics, mostrandosi propensa a riconoscere e a imporre il potere di oligopoli esterni. Ma non mi sento affatto di proporre di surrogarli con il DOAJ o con liste composte dall’ANVUR: l’uso amministrativo delle liste infatti continuerebbe a presupporre che la qualità di un testo dipende dalla sede di pubblicazione, cioè dal contenitore e non dal contenuto. Quindi: se l’ANVUR ha aderito all’ARRA per fare qualcosa di più che conservare il proprio ruolo e il proprio potere entro un sistema che si propone di essere diverso da quello tuttora imposto in Italia, io non le chiederei di aggiornare le sue liste. Le chiederei di cancellarle, a favore di indicazioni generali sulle pratiche della scienza aperta – come provvisorio rimedio ai danni e agli sprechi astronomici prodotti dal modo in cui la ricerca è stata valutata finora.
27 January 2023 at 08:10
I found the overview of constitutions made in the opening very interesting; even if the selection seems a bit cherry picking. iit might be useful to perhaps better explain the rationale for the selection of the cases mentioned. I would not advise you to increase the space devoted to the topic, but rather to better explain why you mention those cases and not others. Here is a good piece on case selection in compconlaw https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=901700
24 January 2023 at 19:18
Reply to Professor Palumbo:
The commentator’s remarks are dense and thoughtful, and partly acceptable; yet, I must reaffirm my positions on some points, while on a few issues his criticism gives me a welcome opportunity to clarify my proposals and enrich my book accordingly.
About 1. a) and b) It is true that “liberal democracies are affected by a competence deficit”: but I do not believe that it is the primary cause of their “legitimacy crisis”: in my list of what I dubbed “the seven flaws of democracy” (chapter I.1.), the detrimental lack of competence which affects too many politicians and consequent policies is at the fourth place; this placement may be questionable, but I confirm my opinion that the frequently Schumpeterian (i.e. self-serving, opportunistic, demagogic, short-sighted) mindset of politicians is the first defect.
I acknowledge that, in my text, “the democratic game is not decomposed in its constitutive subgames”; similarly, “behavioural traits of the political players” and their institutional setting, as well as the relationship between single elected officials and their parties, are not examined in-depth. But an extensive discussion of such important issues would imply a long argument, ranging from political psychology to several other specialistic areas. This is beyond the scope of my book.
About 1. c) I do not subscribe to the label of scientific advisers as “puppets” of politicians. It is true that sometimes elected officials exercise a high level of manipulation in belittling uneasy evidence, but this is not mainly a matter of personal malignancy, but it is due to the inherent shortcomings of the Science Speaks to Power paradigm.
When the commentator refers to the “military-industrial-academic complex” that has allegedly dominated some major aspects of US politics in the XX century and beyond, I think that the addition of “academic” is scarcely warranted, although Henry Giroux (The University in Chains, 2007) maintains that the famous expression used by President Eisenhower in 1961, “military-industrial complex” contained also “academic” in its first draft: it is correct to underline that some outstanding public professors were part of “Big Science” working for the defense sector, but large parts of the public research and university world, above all the social sciences sphere, is clearly not affected by supposedly suffocating ties with private industries. Therefore, far from thinking that academics are all angels, I confirm my idea that that a number of public scientists who offer their programmes to voters’ choice in various sectors (applied political science, law, economics, agronomy, biotechnologies, industry/infrastructure, ecology, etc.) may be willing to counteract the exorbitant influence of vested powers (see II.18.3. Subduing the influence of special interests and the power of money in politics). This replies also to the comment by Palumbo in his point 3. b)
I will insert in my text a clarification about this important point.
Regarding some scientists working as legislators in the current system, I have tried to clarify that they must adapt to the inherent handicaps of democracies and be subject to the same dubious behaviour which necessarily affects politicians (the “seven flaws”): a dynamic that REDemo may possibly correct, at least in part, providing an institutionally secure path for elected public experts to law-making and governing.
About 1.1. Having clarified that the lack of competence in politics is not the primary cause of democracy’s legitimacy deficit, I fully concur with my commentator when he laments the “unresponsiveness of representative government to the demos”: in REDemo, the “Extension” of democracy aims at enlarging the influence of citizens and societal organizations, both on the initial outline and in the final outcome of policies (see Figure 4).
About 2. a) Establishing a mechanism for the people to elect scientific bodies would not mean “replacing the current system of meritocratic appointments”. We are talking of two different spheres: when on loan (so to say) to policymaking and governing, public experts who candidate would be subject to voters’ choices, while in academia the meritocratic criterion would (should) still prevail. (2. c)
About 2. b) A current democratic constitution in a given country is certainly an “original event”, but this does not exclude an ongoing “process”. If and when a constitution is democratically amended, lawmakers (both expert bodies and political parties) will have to conform their programmes and governmental actions to the renewed framework. I may have given an impression of excessive rigidity, when I underline that the starting point for a pragmatic reform is necessarily the present state of affairs. I will clarify this point in my text.
“[T]he discovery process and the subsequent interpretation of constitutional essentials ought to be reserved to professional experts”. No: the kind of perfect bicameralism imagined for REDemo means that party politicians and elected scientists co-participate in law-making and governing.
About 2.1. Professor Palumbo rightly points out that liberal principles which are at the base of the constitutions (the “constitutional essentials”) are not and cannot be unequivocally defined and automatically translated into complex, multi-faceted and ongoing policies and governmental actions. In other words, the ongoing applications of basic tenets like the balance of powers and the rule of law “rest on political disagreements that defy technical reasoning”. I agree. But the aim of my book is not to outline a normative framework for the definition and application of those principles, rather to design an institutional reform in which elected public experts will be able to give their effective contribution for the translation of constitutionalized goals into reality. Under REDemo, the “political disagreements” will still be resolved by voters’ choices, expressing or looking for the implementation of “ideals of the self and society people want to engender”; but, at least as Scientific Assemblies are concerned, deliberations will be better informed by the indispensable “technical reasoning” – a quality that is desperately lacking in the frequent Schumpeterian politicking of parties and factions.
I must add that, while constitutional essentials are open to discussion in theory and practice, the nub of their meaning is applicable to the real world: when a government passes laws which hamper free press or prohibits manifestations; or when the independence of magistrates is jeopardized by clearly illiberal provisions, e.g. the subordination of their appointments or careers to ministerial approval, any objective observer can see that such actions and trends are undemocratic in essence – beyond all theoretical subtleties that political scientists and philosophers are so glad to entertain themselves with. No “begging of the question” here about what democracy is and must be.
Passing on, I strongly reject the idea that policymaking means “expressing evaluative judgments, rather than facts-based assessments, and dealing with the trade-offs entailed by policy-making. To carry out those activities properly professional expertise is not needed.” I believe that theorizing an opposition between facts and values blurs rational analyses and consequently impedes objective criticism of political actions. When facts are obliterated, post-truths and outlandish opinions, unhinged from reality, are advanced as legitimate and experts are ignored or manipulated. Thus, that expertise is “not needed” by decision-makers is a sad reality, because politicians too often dispense of it: the main aim of REDemo is just to create lawmaking bodies in which facts are seen as a preliminary basis for legitimately different value-laden options (and choices among them will be taken by voters), counteracting the frequent and detrimental flight from expertise by political players.
In this sense, affirming that “professional experts represent one constituency among many others” is confusing: we must distinguish science for policy (the Rationalization of democratic law- and policymaking) from policy for science (the political direction and management of universities and research centers: general designs regarding a country’s academia, allocation of funds, etc.). Only in this second sense the academic and research world is a “constituency”: other political and societal actors should supervise in order to avoid elected scientists assigning too much power to the part of the community they come from. In the first sense, the constituency of public scientists who stand as candidates is the whole electorate: I have made clear in my proposal that scientists are to be elected from a national list (or a region-wide list in case of geographically restricted elections), hoping to avoid some defects of current democratic voting systems such as gerrymandering or pork-barrelling.
Furthermore, it is wrong to affirm that “academics scientists and professional experts belong to the same professional managerial class that is dominating legislative and executive bodies the world over”. Please, no: this judgement echoes an unwarranted Habermasian position that I have tried to debunk (see II.9. Scientification of politics: a shaky concept), explaining that elected officials are the final and supreme decision-makers (except in rare cases, e.g. independent agencies) and therefore science-based proposals too often hit the rubber wall of disinterested politicians, or must find a difficult way through narrow mesh filters (see Figure 3) that REDemo aims to enlarge (see Figure 4).
As for my alleged tendency to “attribute virtues” such as “benevolence, selflessness, foresight, enlarged time-horizon”, we may hope that the evident irony of my commentator is misplaced. While I reaffirm all the caveats I have expressed regarding any angelicated, so to say, image of sciences and scientists (see II.18.2. Reducing political frenzy, balancing powers in a better way), I propose a simple thought experiment, making reference to an issue I have treated in my book (see II.17.3. Climate crisis). Counterfactuals are always tricky, but, if scientists had been elected as co-lawmakers in Scientific Assemblies decades ago in several countries, we may have hoped in far-reaching policies aimed at avoiding the climate disruption that ensued: frustrated experts in that delicate field have been preaching to the choir, uselessly imploring the governments’ attention. If they were elected now, thank to voters rewarding incisive programmes with larger time-horizons, couldn’t we be a little more hopeful in policies that go beyond the blah-blah? Experts in different fields, who now invest (often: waste) so much time in writing Summaries for Decision-makers at the end of their thick reports (see the Coda to my book), if elected and able to actually make decisions in their field, may have the extremely selfish experience of seeing their theoretical efforts translated into effective policies. This is REDemo’s bet.
Thus, we take good note of the commentator’s opinion that “academia is perhaps more dysfunctional than the political realm”: we are afraid that the modest suggestions we have advanced regarding this delicate subject (see II.18.6. Decreasing privileges and corruption) can be seen as blunt recommendations or wishful-thinking exercises. But, if any hope of reform is vain, the alternative for democracies is business as usual.
As for the notion of “public” universities and research centers, from which the pool of candidates for REDemo bodies are to be selected, I definitely agree that this notion must be better defined: it should probably include all the academic enterprises which receive funding from any sort of public coffers and/or issue degrees recognized by the State.
About 3. a) Here the comment is potentially devastating: if Professor Palumbo’s grim account of the dynamics which reign in the life of academia, allegedly as defective as democratic politics “in engendering meritocracy and accountability”, is expected to be applicable to the functioning of the scientific bodies imagined for REDemo, there is no hope to reform democratic institutions the way I have carefully tried to devise.
Yet, following his own description, two important points may distinguish the disappointing methods of academic governance and the depicted Scientific law-making Assemblies: A. The participation of stakeholders – students in particular – in the election of the university managers is “restricted”. Instead, with REDemo the universal suffrage is a non-negotiable cornerstone: with this, both extended decision-making power for the people at large and broad elite accountability should be secured; B. Although the image of ”neoliberal managers” who dominate in academia is problematic (but there is no space here to discuss this significant issue), the programmes offered to the choice of voters by public experts who candidate would most certainly not be limited to a supposedly pervasive ideological orientation: in other words, it is reasonable to foresee that scientific candidates will offer a wide range of options to the electorate, in terms of both subjects for desired policies and nuances to realize them – that will be, to use the traditional labels, inclining more to left-wing or to right-wing visions of society.
About 3. c) This final part of the comment is perplexing. We area told that “The link between elections and democracy is highly contentious”, being elections the core of representative government, seen as the main basis of the “minimal conception of democracy (MCD)”, mostly advanced by Schumpeter and Dahl; for Palumbo, this “empirical approach to democracy was used in the service of the neoliberal cause” from the 80s, and later exploited as a bulwark of “neoliberal consensus politics”, at least until the 2008 financial crisis exploded. (Recall also what Palumbo wrote in his 1.1. point, that “minimalist understanding of democracy as electoral competition between elites was due to liberal demophobias“.)
But I think that such brief analysis, which has its merit, is obfuscated by a terminological/semantic misunderstanding, as it conflates “liberal” as it is commonly intended in political theory and “liberal” (often “neo-liberal”) as a concept pertaining to the economic-financial (and certainly political) domain. In its first instance, the term refers to the constitutional essentials (freedom of association, expression, press; fair electoral laws and practices; balance of powers; rule of law against executive/governmental break of limits) and is mostly descriptive, not prescriptive; we may say that free elections are a sine qua non for a democratic regime; meanwhile, it is correct to add that elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition (think of dictators who initially came to power through electoral consent, like Hitler or Chavez). One does not need to be a democrat to accept this theoretic framing; likewise, we can discuss the essence and dynamics of various forms of authoritarianism without embracing or supporting its acceptation – or rejection. Instead, the second meaning of “liberal” in the political-economic sense may have an added strong normative slant, with a definite ideological penchant – whether we are talking of economic or social liberalism or other/mixed modulations. In Norberto Bobbio’s words: “It is very easy to reject liberalism if it is identified with a theory or practice of freedom understood as power of the bourgeoisie, but it is much more difficult to reject it when it is considered as the theory and practice of limiting the State’s power”. (Politica e cultura, 1955, p. 278, quoted and translated by Giovanni Sartori)
In this sense, I reaffirm the idea Palumbo attributes to me: “it is impossible to conceive of a non liberal form of democracy”. In Kantian terms, we may say that “democracy is liberal” is an analytic judgement (explicative but not informative), i.e. the predicate is intrinsic and constitutive to the noun: we can call it a quasi-tautology, while the unfortunate expression “illiberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms. The frequent confusion should be attributed to a limit of the English language (or of its current use): the two terms currently used in Italian, i.e. “liberalismo” and “liberismo” (with the related adjectives “liberale” and “liberista”) allow a clearer, necessary distinction. In fact, Giovanni Sartori (The Theory of Democracy Revisited. Vol. 2, The Classical Issues, Chapter 13. Liberism, Liberalism, and Democracy, 1987) proposed to use the term “liberism”, apparently with scarce success.
Building on that, we must consider important additions, discussing (and maybe supporting) elements which make democracy more participatory, or deliberative (this last aspect is one in which Palumbo’s work offers an extensive and acute theoretical contribution).
I will add this clarification in my book.
24 January 2023 at 19:17
Comment posted by the author on behalf of Professor Antonino Palumbo, Political Theory and Governance, University of Palermo
1. Starting point: the rationalisation of the legitimacy crisis besetting liberal democracies at present. Framing the problem: liberal democracies are affected by a competence deficit; it is such a competence deficit that causes the legitimacy crisis observed the world over; this competence deficit is not due to the liberal component of the compound term, but to the democratic component. The steps that lead to this conclusion are:
a) various rational choice accounts of the democratic game are used to explain the pitfalls of actually existing representative governments. The main literature used mainly refers to the American model of representative government, but it is generalised to any other form of representative government despite their differences. Furthermore, the democratic game is not decomposed in its constitutive subgames, nor is it investigated the way in which those subgames interact among themselves.
b) the pitfalls of representative government are sometime attributed to the behavioural traits of the political players, and sometime to the institutional setting (rules) wherein the game is played. No clear causal relation is established between these two sources of failure, nor is it explained the way in which the two interact. Also, the same type of strategic behaviour is equally attributed to individuals actors (politicians) and collective entities (political parties) without paying attention to possible inconsistencies between the two.
c) although scientists have always operated as policy advisers and often as legislators as well, they are given no agency, and turned into the puppets of politicians. This misrepresents the relationship established by political actors, state institutions and epistemic communities in the xxth century, especially in the US. The critical literature on the cold war and big science, the military-industrial-academic complex, and the development of the Keynesian and neoliberal consensus politics supply ample evidence that academic and scientists are far from being mere puppets.
1.1. Assessment of the proposed rationalisation: I’m not convinced that the framing of the problem is right. I don’t think the connection between competence deficit and legitimacy crisis is at all proved. I couldn’t find in the work a convincing account of the alleged causal link between the two elements. Alternative narratives based on the unresponsiveness of representative government to the demos are, in my opinion, far more convincing. These narratives do not depend on the idea of a competence deficit of legislators, but on the structural disconnection between representatives and represented produced by the type of electoral democracy engendered since the end of second world war. Against the claim of the author, this minimalist understanding of democracy as electoral competition between elites was due to liberal demophobias and constitutional attempts to impose external side-constraints on democratic practices. That is, the liberal values and principles the author wants to preserve. I come back on this later.
2. solution to the legitimacy crisis: elective wise-guys legislative chambers made up of professional experts. In bicameral systems like the Italian, this would entail reserving the senate to candidates working in public scientific institutions like universities and CNR. Those elected will serve two-terms only, and have the same legislative power granted to the senate at present. This solution would represent, according to the author, a deepening of democracy. The reasoning process leading to this solution develops as follows:
a) liberal constitutional essentials (absolute and exclusive individual rights, functional separation of powers, and the rule of law) represent exogenous elements that need to be preserved. For the author, it is impossible to conceive of a non liberal form of democracy; any democracy lacking one of those elements will be ipso facto illiberal. This also means to a very large extent preserving the minimal conception of democracy (MCD) as an electoral method for selecting the ruling elite. Electoral mechanisms are thus to be used to select and empower experts, replacing the current system of meritocratic appointments. Direct participation of the people is possible, but it has to be reactive and unobtrusive: as a tie-breaker whenever a stalemate between the two legislative chambers is reached; as a right to petition parliament by submitting popular bills.
b) liberal constitutional principles and values supply the standards and criteria of validity political actors have to take into consideration when engaged in decision making and policy making. The validity of laws and policies is instrumental in nature, and concerned with gauging how well they engender the values and principles established at the constitutional level. Democratic politics is to be seen as an imperfect procedure dealing with regulative, rather than constitutive, issues. The constitution is conceived as an original event, rather than a process, and represents the unquestionable source of legitimacy. Constitutional essentials are grounded on procedure-independent processes of discovery unearthing what are the fundamental values and principles democratic institutions have to abide by. Moreover, unlike politicians who are biased and untrustworthy, both the discovery process and the subsequent interpretation of constitutional essentials ought to be reserved to professional experts – those who have the right competence to find out the best means to reach given ends.
c) At the postconstitutional level, professional experts need to be empowered by making them elective figures. Their direct general election is supposed to replace the system of meritocratic appointment-cum-delegation of policy-making power used at present. This form of empowerment is supposed to counter the tendency to by-pass expert advise by politicians whenever it does not not fit with their political orientation, or run against the lobbying pressures of organised interests. A two term limit is imposed to avoid expertise capture by organised interests. As for the election of politicians, the one of the wise-guys is supposed to combine a formal ex-ante form of authorisation with substantive ex-post type of accountability, even if the imposition of a two term limit reduces the deterrent effect of the latter. The election of professional experts to the wise-guys chamber of the legislative means, finally, that they can be called to assume ministerial responsibility without using the doubtful tactics used recently by the Italian presidents of the Republic to appoint Mario Monti and Mario Draghi.
2.1. Assessment of the proposed solution: it rests on many problematic claims, hidden assumptions, and unanswered questions. Starting from the latter, I could not find a clear justification of the liberal constitutional essentials (absolute and exclusive individual rights, functional separation of powers, and the rule of law) the author wants to defend. How are they arrive at, by whom and in what way? None of them seems to me above critique. In fact, different liberal schools advance conflicting claims in relation to all of them. This means that they are not self-explanatory either, and that their substantive content requires authoritative interpretation. American constitutionalism is a case in point. By and large, conservatives propose an originalist approach concerned with the real intentions of the framers, while progressives wish to update old ideas and make the constitution more consequential. Such a conflict cannot be resolved by the solution proposed. Moreover, conflicts between (i) legitimate rights holders, (ii) independent state powers, and (iii) opposite conceptions (formal and substantive) of the rule of law are similarly difficult to be resolved in this way. At bottom, all of them rest on political disagreements that defy technical reasoning. They are not only value-laden, but are based on ideals of the self and society people want to engender – ideals that cannot be dismissed on feasibility ground. In short, liberal constitutional essentials cannot be taken for granted without begging the question. If the standards and criteria of validity embodied by our constitutions are the object of reasonable critique and require qualified interpretation, it is then very controversial to see how the proposed imperfect procedural approach can work at the postconstitutional level.
The author concedes that there are always multiple feasible answers to policy questions, and that correctness theories are not suitable to dealing with political problems. This raise the question concerning the rationale of a wise-guys branch of the legislative. If professional expertise cannot supply right answers, what is the role of the latter? The political branch of the legislative is ostensibly supposed to represent the needs, interests and aspirations of their constituencies. Who or what is the wise-guys body supposed to represent? Political decisions and policy making entail two things: expressing evaluative judgments, rather than facts-based assessments, and dealing with the trade-offs entailed by policy-making. To carry out those activities properly professional expertise is not needed. In fact, professional experts represent one constituency among many others with its specific needs, preferences and desires. Attributing to this constituency legislative and executive powers would therefore reinforce the current biases of electoral democratic systems. In short, academics scientists and professional experts belong to the same professional managerial class that is dominating legislative and executive bodies the world over, and cannot, as a result, offset the biases generated by electoral dynamics.
Such a structural inability to empathise and figure out what other constituencies would choose if they were asked directly cannot be bridged by any of the virtues the author attributes to scientists and professional experts: benevolence, selflessness, foresight, enlarged time-horizon. Besides, what is the evidence that lead the author to attribute those virtues to professional experts? To my knowledge there is no study that show the existence of a distinctive set of behavioural traits among academics vis-a-vis that of politicians. There is instead ample evidence that show remarkable similarities between the institutional settings in which academics and politicians operate. My personal experience and research in academic governance suggest that, once all differences are taken into account, academia is perhaps more dysfunctional than the political realm. This is perhaps the reason why the author wants to restrict the selection process to those working in public institutions. Note however that the term public is in this context quite ambiguous. It can mean either of two things: public as opposed to private enterprises, or as opposed to for-profit organisations. In both cases, the identification of the institutional pool from which to select the candidates for the wise-guys chamber is problematic. If we accept the notion of public as opposed to private, we should exclude a large spectrum of academic and research institutions cultivating professional expertise. The US is a clear instance. No less problematic is to use the notion of public as synonym for non-for-profit to exclude all for-profit organisations. Thanks to thirty years of relentless neoliberal reforms, all non-for-profit organisations (public institutions included) operate now de facto according to a for-profit logic, universities above all. Likewise can be said about the two-term limit: if it is an effective deterrent against regulatory capture, it can work without introducing a wise-guys elective chamber; if it has detrimental effect on accountability, as imputed by liberal critics, it would not improve upon the current system of appointments.
3. Further remarks on elections, meritocracy and accountability. Representative government and academic governance mirror each other far too much to use the second as a counterbalance to the first. Moreover, both employ the same blend of electoral and appointment practices to select their personnel, and show remarkably similar defect in engendering meritocracy and accountability.
a) academic governance has been the object of far too many inquiries and studies showing that it has similar defects to those attributed to representative government. Traditional forms of collegiality which attributed full decision-making power to the dons were blamed for failing to engender meritocratic forms of selection, and for taking into due accounts the need of all other stakeholders, students above all. Under the pressure exercised by the 1960s protest movements seeking to democratise them, restricted forms of electoral democracy were eventually introduced into public universities. They notably failed to redress any of the previous problems, or to improve the accountability of the electoral elites who acquired regulatory power as result. In fact, the conflict of the faculties ended up producing the kind of factionalism that is pervasive in the political realm. It is because of those dysfunctionalities that neoliberals have successfully managed to reform the system by using managerial techniques imported from the corporate world. As a result, we have now a new class of university managers made up of second rate, bilingual academics and professional administrators running the show who are not accountable to anybody. If academics and scientists have repeated failed to counter neoliberal market rhetoric and reforms, thus setting their own affairs in order, how can they be trusted to redress the defects of actually existing representative institutions?
b) the rise and fall of the research university shows the entanglement between political and scientific activities, as well as the propensity of academic and scientists to collude with their mecenati. Big science, big government and big corporations represent a power block that is using similar logics of action, and supporting each other at critical junctures. They all vie to appropriate the product of human endeavour in its various form, and then claim an exclusive intellectual and economic entitlement to it. When their activities end up producing large scale social bads, they use the resources at their disposal to shift the blame on others or engage in denial & delays tactics aimed to avoid accountability. Within the scientific realm, those who refuse to conform to the logic of big science are pushed to the margins of academia, and cut off from the main funding streams. Big science is dominated by epistemic communities which are permanently engaged in redefining what counts as science or scientific evidence in ways that suit their own ends. They are also committed to making scientific activities policy-relevant by blunting their critical edge. Thus, public debates systematically end up producing stark binary choices, while appeals to complexity are employed to shift responsibility away when those choices yield widespread negative side-effects. All social and environmental problems we face today have been generated by big science’s commitment and personal contribution to endless economic growth. Empowering professional experts through the electoral mechanism would likely increase the bargaining power of big science and of the epistemic communities dominating it. It is a dangerous illusion to think that this bargaining power will be used to redress current imbalances, and engender the common good.
c) The link between elections and democracy is highly contentious, if not self-serving. It is at the core of the MCD, and its aims were originally related to cold war ideological imperatives. The MCD was conceived during the behavioural revolution in American political science by Schumpeter and Dahl using questionable behavioural assumptions, and stark binary distinctions. According to its proponents, the politics of the ballot-box had the power to solve both the problem of formal ex-ante authorisation, and substantive ex-post accountability without involving the demos in decision and policy making. This justification was strongly supported by the so-called empirical theorists of democracy, who also affirmed that the MCD was the most effective form of government. Historical evidence showed them wrong. For the outcome of welfare policies was widespread discontent among the very social strata that were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of endless growth and modernisation policies – working and middle classes. Following the demise of the Keynesian consensus politics in the 1970s, this same empirical approach to democracy was used in the service of the neoliberal cause. Another bunch of stark binary distinctions based on the same questionable behavioural assumptions was employed in support of global developmental strategies. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the neoliberal consensus politics has been confronting a legitimacy crisis even more severe than the one experienced in the 1970s. In its wake, a new generation of empirical theorists of democracy has emerged suggesting an institutional makeover aimed to preserve the essence of the MCD. The author of the REDemo project wants to join this group evidently, and is keen to repropose the electoral method to fill an alleged competence deficit. By now it should be evident to all and sundry that electoral solutions of this type have failed to deliver in the past and are not going to do so in the future. At best, electoral empowerment would supply a temporary respite to the epistemic communities dominating big science, who on their part are experiencing their own legitimation crisis.
9 January 2023 at 15:36
As an epistemologist and historian of medicine, Professor Gilberto Corbellini (GC) has written extensively on the relationship between science and society, in particular on science and democracy in Italy. The only reason why I do not quote his important writings in my text is that his books and articles on the subject – from which I have learnt much – appeared in Italian.
I reply to his dense and interesting comment, distinguishing a number of points.
1. GC maintains that “some democracies probably do not need the suggested changes because they already function efficiently” and that “in some polyarchies, parties are, as a rule listening to changing social expectations“. It would be interesting to discuss which nations in which areas of the world (Scandinavia? Oceania?) are so lucky. In any case, I believe that the institutionalized insertion of public scientists into the legislative and executive branches could improve a (supposedly) good functioning of governments. But, more importantly, one major tenet of the REDemo hypothesis is that elected scientists would not only be more RESPONSIVE to society (which is not necessarily good), but, because of the broader vision they enjoy thanks to expertise in their fields, could be more RESPONSIBLE in policymaking, possibly anticipating and directing socio-economic advancements – their programmes always being subject to the electorate’s approval; they could be leaders, more than followers, as most populist legislators are.
And, yes, I started imagining the REDemo reform having in mind Italy’s flawed democracy; yet, immodestly, I think that other countries could benefit immensely from a well-designed exploitation of expertise in public choices.
2. GC reminds us that human beings are not angels. I concur. That’s why – beyond disseminating in my text a number of caveats regarding overly optimistic enthusiasm about REDemo – in comparing the different incentives for party-political and scientific candidates I wrote that “University experts are not […] angels who always tell the truth and are unceasingly caring of the people’s welfare: but they will not NEED to be elected or to stay in office”. Furthermore, I devoted an entire sub-chapter to calling to keep a moderate, not utopian perspective (see II.4.4. Reasonable, not excessive expectations).
Instead, I am not convinced by a mention that GC gives to the non-angelical nature of scientists that is allegedly shown by their behaviour “during the recent pandemic”. I suppose that reference is made to episodes of public bickering among experts and to the not infrequent overexposure of epidemiologists and virologists in the media. Far from wanting to justify some prima donna postures, I believe that a part of the problem is due to the “Stephen Schneider effect”, i.e. the perceived need to raise the tone of communication on the part of experts, in order to be heard by elected officials who have too often been less than ready to consider evidence and science-based proposals – regarding Covid, climate disruption and countless other issues. As I wrote (see the chapter II.4.5. Loosening the “double ethical bind”), if elected scientists were actual decision-makers – although constantly in the public eye and balanced by party-political counterparts – they would feel much less compelled to scream, looking for attention from politicians who are frequently biased. Thus, I may accept that GC dubs REDemo as “idealistic”, if this refers to the admittedly difficult path it would go along and the major difficulties it would meet looking for its possible institutional implementation; instead, if scientists were (co-)legislators in certain countries where the pandemic hit hardest, it would not be “idealistic” to imagine that – maybe among heated discussions and inevitable mistakes – the health emergency would have been better managed, diminishing the death toll and sparing a great deal of human suffering.
3. GC correctly distinguishes theorists of liberal democracy between “those who defend an ‘epistemic’ conception of it, whereby the government of the many would always be superior to the government of the few” and those who “think that cognitive and moral biases prevail in voters’ choices”, hence the need “to reduce the impact of epistemic deficits”. I have extensively criticized both positions (see II.6. “Epist-” misunderstandings and inadequacies), and thus I refuse to be enrolled in the first cohort. Yet, I understand that my position must be better explained, because: A. on one side, I am acutely aware of the knot of mental biases and cultural prejudices that too often jeopardize human reasoning (a point in favor of those who are deeply skeptical of democracy); and, B. on the other, I reaffirm uncompromising support for the people to directly influence political decisions – even calling for an improvement in democratic instruments for that purpose. To solve the apparent contradiction, my answer is the following: A. I believe that the “Rationalization” of democracy can help laypeople make better policy choices in the polls because (hopefully) they will be offered better options by scientists who put themselves forward; in other words, my theory relies on a substantial improvement of the supply side. Most voters, despite their deep-rooted defects outlined by political psychologists, can understand when programmes are designed to promote (some versions of) the common good – their epistemic deficits being cushioned through the offer of policy-related expertise; B. On the demand side, the “Extension” of the institutional framework I support is simply a reaffirmation of a basic democratic tenet, i.e. an active role of civil society in contributing to political dynamics.
Somewhat contrary to my own fairly positive expectations, I sadly agree with GC when he affirms an empirical observation: “it is difficult to believe that the grafting of a chamber of expertise could ever take root at this stage of the development of democratic systems but especially in the face of a political culture almost immune to scientific rationality.” I realize that I must insist on that point: although there is no space here to discuss the many facets of the public understanding of science, I believe that societies can only gain from an improvement in people’s scientific/rational literacy: to be clear, this can be seen as a defence of the information/knowledge deficit model – a concept which is problematic but has a sound theoretical and empirical basis.
I will insert a clarification about this point in my text.
4. In connection to the former point, according to GC, “GMT underestimates the weight of functional illiteracy, and in countries where this prevails, citizens may send poor scientists/experts and even several pseudoscientists to parliament.” The risk is serious, because poor/pseudo-scientists are always more vociferous than their reliable colleagues, and they are likely to stand as candidates proportionally more often than the latter to the scientific assemblies envisioned by REDemo. I have tried to imagine how to deal with this important point (see the relevant paragraph in chapter II.20. A big challenge for public experts), presuming that, if many academics stand for office in the scientific legislative bodies, the small percentage of pseudo-scientists, who are unfortunately present in university and research institutions, will be skimmed off, or in any case be a minority among their elected peers. To test this hypothesis, the first step after the conclusion of the open peer review and the hoped-for publication of my book will be an initial empirical probe of its possible implementation: as indicated in the Addendum, a vast survey will be conducted among Italian public scientists whose competences could be used in a REDemo framework, to collect some data from those who may be willing to enter the imagined legislative/executive scientific bodies. The presumption is that there may be a strong positive response, because the first goal of many experts is to influence politics with the results of their works (https://theconversation.com/scientists-dont-share-their-findings-for-fun-they-want-their-research-to-make-a-difference-146267), if the survey among north American scientists can be considered paradigmatic.
Also regarding this important issue, I will insert a clarification in my text.
In conclusion, I am flattered by the positive opinion and the words of appreciation that Professor Corbellini uses to judge my book in general. Disclosure: although he bears responsibility for having encouraged me to develop the REDemo idea when it was just an initial figment of my imagination, I will not blame him for the hypercritical comments that I expect from many readers, let alone for the probable poor results of any attempt to implement the outlined reform. Thanks anyway…
31 December 2022 at 10:49
That Western democracies, i.e. open societies implementing the principle of representation, universal suffrage expressed through free elections, and the rule of law, do not function in optimal ways is a truism. Some democracies suffer more than others from the seven flaws illustrated in Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue’s (GMT) essay, as well as each in ways that, given the boundary conditions and public ethics at work, can fluctuate over time. The solutions GMT suggests, i.e. rationalization through the support of a chamber composed of scientists/experts, and an extension of the democratic model by providing a direct role for the electorate and social partners through petitions, referendums, etc., are, in theory, appropriate measures. However, some democracies probably do not need the suggested changes because they already function efficiently, so expertise is already used and valued without the need to bring it together in the form of representation in a chamber. Moreover, in some polyarchies, parties are, as a rule listening to changing social expectations. GMT likely thinks that these measures serve, above all, Italian democracy and systems of political government that have historically matured on social and cultural terrain that is not favorable to liberal values and institutions. Italy has been a case study since the years after Second World War. Here is where the phenomenon of ‘amoral familism’ was defined in the 1950s as one of the social traits that most limit a liberal democracy. This condition persists tragically in the country despite the decades that have passed, undermining the quality of civic sense.
The essay reminded me, at several junctures, of Federalist Paper 51, published in 1788. Before the “angels”, James Madison wrote: ‘ambition must be made to counteract ambition’. The GMT project is very ambitious. But I was also thinking of “angels” because the model advocated by GMT seems to be written for men who believe themselves to be angels or who think they can become angels. Human imperfection is recurrently recalled in the Federalist Papers about the problem of how to build, through the constitution, a republican institutional architecture capable of recruiting social diversity and transforming it into collective and individual welfare and freedom. Paper 51, and the subsequent ones in the series, reasoned in the sense of imagining how to change through the rules of representation and balances of power flaws into even positive qualities, creating institutional relations that, through the competition of interests, spontaneously bring about a better social order for all, which is difficult or impossible for intentions and planning to create.
GMT’s academic exercise – much more educational, in a positive sense, than many essays written by actual academics, but with some lack of clarity due to the vastness of topics/viewpoints covered, which waters down the taste for novelty – is striking in the quantity and quality of erudition. I have read very few essays on the relationship between democracy and science or knowledge that are as well documented and inclusive. In theory, the author’s thesis makes sense. But, like all models, it contains simplifications that force GMT to produce carping somersaults to counter the positions of those who, starting from the same analyses of the limits of liberal democracies, reach different conclusions. For example, citizens should undergo aptitude tests, or that voting may weigh more than others for some more competent citizens. The theories that already address the problems of inefficiency in democracies discussed by GMT are considered by him to be unworkable in principle or fact. However, his model of democracy is suggestive but also idealistic too. Among other reasons, it is also because humans are still closer to their primate relatives than to imaginary angels, including those who are scientists and experts, as seen plastically during the recent pandemic.
The theorists of liberal democracy can roughly be divided into two groups. On the one hand, those who defend an ‘epistemic’ conception of it, whereby the government of the many would always be superior to the government of the few in finding correct solutions, in the general interest and without harming individual freedom, to problems. The result can be achieved if democratic institutions make the most of the cognitive diversity distributed among the population in deliberative processes. Conversely, some think that cognitive and moral biases prevail in voters’ choices, which are more likely to lead to making the wrong decisions, for which measures are needed to reduce the impact of epistemic deficits. GMT belongs to the first category, and his proposals aim to enrich the political system’s decision-making architecture. He correctly explains that one has to abandon Condorcet’s theorem and the postulate of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ when trying to imagine empirically how the preconception that the greater the number of participants, the closer it gets to correct judgement would work. The phenomenon of the crowd’s wisdom has been studied extensively and seen to work only when it comes to estimating quantitative values or geographical information.
Regarding more complex issues, bias tends to prevail, and the decision is more likely to be wrong than if experts had made it. In complex societies, the relevant or appropriate use of knowledge would require processes that are less dispersed and disturbed by innate social inclinations that are dysfunctional in the context of the industrial and post-industrial world. However, it is difficult to believe that the grafting of a chamber of expertise could ever take root at this stage of the development of democratic systems but especially in the face of a political culture almost immune to scientific rationality.
Historically, technical figures have been present on decision-making levels in human communities. Still, technocracies, i.e. communities where decisions in the collective interest are taken based on technical expertise, do not express the same dynamism as liberal democracies, where free and independent scientific research improves knowledge, encourages the improvement/renewal of technical expertise, and allows or expands the spaces of self-determination of people as a better condition for civil coexistence. Science and the scientific community have been contributing to the solution of political problems for centuries – and without the scientific and technological revolutions that have taken place since the 17th century, the level of political and economic freedom would have remained as in autocracies – and in recent decades some western governments have created offices to support decision-making on issues that call for scientific knowledge. Some countries have also set up agencies to apply nudging to social choices, which is meant to be but is not a scientific way of reconciling paternalism and libertarianism. GMT is right. These are not institutionally structural measures, as would be an assembly of scientists/experts in support of the legislature and assumes that citizens should be more listened to and less manipulated.
Would the REDemo model be able to cure democracies in crisis? We will never know. Where democracies are still more solid and transparent, there is no need to rationalize and extend democracy. At the same time, where technical knowledge and various innovative ideas have more difficulty circulating, it must be something other than an idea that comes to the mind of political elites. GMT underestimates the weight of functional illiteracy, and in countries where this prevails, citizens may send poor scientists/experts and even several pseudoscientists to parliament.
5 December 2022 at 18:44
Author’s reply to Professor Douglas:
My reply to 1). This is exactly the position I argue for in REDemo: please read the chapter II.18.5. Adopting long-term views, in particular the paragraphs starting from “An interesting criticism seems to undermine…” to the end.
My reply to 2). I concur, this tension will be at work. Elected experts will need the support of high-level, dedicated parliamentary and governmental bureaucracy. Yet, even today there is a number of university professors who temporarily leave academia to be elected through the traditional party-political path, and they often return to researching and teaching after a few years. I will add a paragraph in my book, underlining this issue.
My reply to 3). This is another issue to be carefully managed. I give some ideas about that in my chapter “II.18.6. Decreasing privileges and corruption”.
My reply to 4). I actually support these needed changes inside the imagined new framework. Yet, I maintain that a broad REDemo reform is necessary: unfortunately (I would say), REDemo cannot be implemented piecemeal, step by step: the institution of Scientific Assemblies as (co-)legislative powers and the obligatory involvement of elected scientists in the executives is not a reform that can be introduced incrementally. I admit that, from an operational point of view, this is probably a major problem, as I make clear in the chapter “Conclusion”.
5 December 2022 at 18:41
Comments posted on behalf of Professor Heather Douglas, Michigan State University, Associate Professor: Philosophy of Science; Values in Science; Science in Society; Responsible Research; Science Policy. email@example.com
First, I share the Author’s frustration with current democratic institutions and appreciate the general novelty of what he is proposing. Electing experts to parallel deliberative legislative bodies may indeed have a salutary impact on our current problems. However, I do see some practical problems with the proposal.
1). Expertise is usually narrow, and it is only in committees with appropriately crafted sets of experts with different but relevant expertise (rather than individual experts) that we get really good science advice. I am not very optimistic about the possibility of individual elected expertise being able to marshal the needed solutions. Individual experts often think that their expertise is the one needed to solve a problem, and they are almost always overly optimistic about their expertise and insufficiently attendant to other relevant expertise.
2). It takes time to learn how to intervene in our legal, regulatory, and political systems. So it will take time for elected experts to learn how to make effective interventions. But the longer they are functioning in the deliberative legislative body, learning legal and regulatory details, the longer they are disengaged (necessarily) from their home expertise (which will be moving in new directions and learning new things without them). So, there is an inherent tension between wanting to give the experts time enough to learn the legal/regulatory ropes and not too much time so that they lose their expertise.
3). Expertise can be readily faked. It is already faked regularly with low power stakes- lots of fraud, QRPs, predatory journals with weak peer review, think tanks that set up their own journals to make it seem like legit work, etc. If having some of the markers for expertise becomes a key gateway to power, expect such fakery to increase. How will this pressure be managed? Who will legitimate the markers of expertise? It cannot be vetted solely by existing experts- that would lead to charges of cronyism.
4) There are also substantive democratic reform proposals that are necessary for good functioning democracies: Ranked voting; Campaign finance restructuring; Citizen advisory bodies for all science policy (standing- stakeholder– or temporary- demographic samples/juries); Independent redistricting commissions (so elected officials do not pick their voters!).
Framing REDemo as a solution to the current failures is, I think, too broad a framing. We need these basic reforms, and good thinking about the role of expertise is properly functioning (not the US currently) democracies.
I would recommend thinking about how REDemo would address the first three challenges, and why it would be needed if we managed to get the basic reforms of democratic institutions done.