Electoral Democracy Vs Deep Democracy

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From top: The RDS count centre on Saturday; Dr Julien Mercille

Elections are exciting but real democracy happens between them.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

Election talk has dominated the airwaves over the last few weeks. Left parties like Sinn Féin and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit have made important gains. Progressive Independents like Clare Daly and Mick Wallace have kept their seats.

So there is cause to celebrate…but not so fast.

Many commentators have declared that this is “democracy in action” and how beautiful it all was. The people have spoken and, allegedly, this is what democracy is all about, holding our politicians to account.

Yet, it is important to remember that electoral democracy is so shallow as to be somewhat irrelevant.

Voting once every four or five years and doing nothing in between is actually a way to protect the establishment from being really challenged. It is a way to keep the population out of all sorts of important decisions for the country and that will affect each one of us.

In other words, we need to deepen democracy.

I take “democracy” here to mean simply the condition in which people are able to decide over what matters in their lives, as opposed to having decisions imposed on them by those in power.

Significantly, deep democracy means cooperation among ordinary people, because that’s essential to becoming more free. We can’t increase our opportunities and expand our horizons without the assistance of others and without collaboration at the community and national levels, and beyond.

If we become atomised and individualistic, our opportunities will shrink and we will have to satisfy ourselves with a very limited existence.

This means that whatever the election results are, we must continue to extend democracy to the many areas where it is either non-existent or too shallow—and there isn’t a shortage of those in Ireland.

The objective is to give as much control as possible to people over their lives and to organise the economic, political and social spheres in a way that we can benefit as much as possible.

Deep democracy therefore includes:

Economic democracy: This involves a redistribution of resources so as to reduce inequalities and so that the products of work do not go disproportionately to a small corporate elite. It also involves giving those who work the right to decide about what goes on in the workplace, instead of being told what to do by their bosses and managers. We’re not cogs in a machine, we’re creative beings.

Social democracy: This means the right of everybody to decent housing and a decent education without discrimination based on religion or ethnicity or socio-economic class. It’s also about the right to quality health care whenever needed. So far, those services are organised to cater to the needs of the well off more than anybody else.

Gender democracy: This means giving women the possibility of making decisions over their own bodies. In Ireland, this means giving them the possibility to make their own choices about abortion. It also means doing away with all sorts of gender discrimination in the economic, cultural and political spheres which are too many to enumerate here.

But the fact is that very few of those will be won in the Dáil.

Parliaments mostly rubber-stamp legislation once people have organised and campaigned for it. Politicians need to be pressurised until it becomes too costly politically for them to ignore people’s wishes. As the saying goes, rights are not granted, they are won.

Therefore, when looking at the election, it will be easy to identify a number of progressive candidates who should have been elected but didn’t make it. Either they never came close to making it, or they lost in the very last rounds by a few dozen votes.

It’s disappointing, but one way to look at it positively is that those who didn’t achieve their electoral goals have not really lost.

They will continue to create very significant change outside Parliament, and that may sometimes actually turn out to be more useful than parliamentary work. Combining that to agenda-setting speeches in the Dáil by those who got in should make us hopeful.

So let’s get to work.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

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49 thoughts on “Electoral Democracy Vs Deep Democracy

    1. Nice Jung Man

      If no one bothers to post or comment on the articles, like the Leather Jacket Guy phenomenon it wouldn’t be a thing you know.

    2. MoyestWithExcitement

      No but sure that was only your first post. I’m sure more whiny posts like that about your intellectual betters will make most people detest you though.

    3. han solo's carbonite dream

      kinda , he started so well and over time has fallen.

      progressive independants…such a buzzword …makes them look more than palatable

  1. Joni2015

    No, no and no.

    The people clearly don’t want this socialist utopia that you’re pushing. That is democracy.

  2. Harry Molloy

    “Progressive TDs like Mick Wallace and Clare Daly ”

    What exactly is meant by progressive here??

    It’s something I noticed in the good doctors piece over the the journal too, he uses progressive as an adjective for “things that I like”. Very little substance here. College bar ideals for the world at best.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      It means people who got into politics to change things as opposed to the types who are protecting seats that have been in their family since the 1940s. Just because you don’t understand the piece doesn’t mean it has no substance although I have to say, I would generally find the motives of people who come onto pieces like this and belittle it without presenting any sort of coherent counter argument to the content of the piece, to be highly questionable. Either they tend to be simple minded ideologues who can’t stand that a lucid and strong argument that contradicts their world view has been presented to members of the public or they are angry emotional wrecks with terrible self esteem and so need to lash out at anyone they subconsciously read to be smarter than them.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          There is of course, it’s just you have no coherent counter so you just want to belittle it.

    2. classter

      ‘Progressive’ is generally used tor represent some combination of the following; left-wing, socially-liberal and concerned about the plight of the less privileged sections of society

    3. Medium Sized C

      Clare Daly is pretty progressive.

      Mick Wallace is complicated.
      On one hand he is crooked, (quite crooked, if he was in FG he would be reviled on here) and on the other he really is somewhat of a political iconoclast and really wants to change things for the better socially.

  3. Joni2015

    it will be easy to identify a number of progressive candidates who should have been elected but didn’t make it

    Why should they have been elected? Just because you say so? You’re an embarrassment to academics.

  4. Bertballs

    +10000000000000000000000000 Let’s boycott this blather . The people have spoken. Let us not limit our existence .

  5. Advertising On Police Cars

    Mercille is your typical McGill University intelligentsia talking down to everyone….typical self entitled Anglophone.

    Just ignore him.

    1. Paul

      “It also involves giving those who work the right to decide about what goes on in the workplace, instead of being told what to do by their bosses and managers. We’re not cogs in a machine, we’re creative beings.”

      Fupping , fupp, fupp . GAWD. Loike oh so deep. *Flicks at bald head*

  6. Owen C

    “Therefore, when looking at the election, it will be easy to identify a number of progressive candidates who should have been elected but didn’t make it. Either they never came close to making it, or they lost in the very last rounds by a few dozen votes”

    (a) there’s no could or should in democracy. The people either choose to elect you or they don’t.
    (b) if they should have been elected, why did they “never come close to making it”?
    (c) how many seats will be decided by a few dozen votes? Like even one?

  7. J

    “it will be easy to identify a number of progressive candidates who should have been elected but didn’t make it. Either they never came close to making it, or they lost in the very last rounds by a few dozen votes.” * BS Edit

    A number of populist, individualistic candidates failed to turn their protest march ( can’t pay, won’t pay ) into election success and workable policies.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      A number of voters thought the only way to get rid of FG was to vote FF. Now they can see there are other options. Joan got reelected without reaching the quota. I *think* Kelly did as well. I’d say the next election will see even more losses for FG/Lab and hopefully most of FF’s gains will be lost as well.

      1. Owen C

        Given the high potential for a FG/FF coalition, which every voter was surely aware of, how was voting for FF a means to get rid of FG? For all the talk of a left wing revolution etc, parties which clearly identify themselves as centre right, centrist, or centre left (so FG, FF, Labour, SocDems, GP) got 62% of the vote. Clearly identifiable left wing or far left (SF, AAA-PBP) got 17.7%. The other 21% for Independent/Others is a bit more difficult to characterise, but its probably half of that or so for left wing candidates. So thats 28% for the left, and 70% or so for the centre, centre left or centre right. That’s the clear facts as regards what the people have voted for.

  8. fluffybiscuits

    His post does not go far enough, we need a set of standards whicht he govt has to meet. These must be targets that are set for them to reach within a time frame. Call them social/human rights/ whatever standards but they must be in place. Eg 100k new units by 2020 for social housing. Link it to TD pay

  9. J

    “Yet, it is important to remember that electoral democracy is so shallow as to be somewhat irrelevant.” Jeepers. BS weepers. I think Mercille is going all Churchill on this one. (“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”)

    1. Neilo

      @J: noticed that, too. A little scary. Does he propose rule by the intelligentsia who’ll tell us right from wrong, like that Simpsons episode with Hawking but without any laughs.

    2. nellyb

      it’s been said before – democracy is routinely conflated with majoritism. Should majority decide that some convoluted form of serfdom or slavery is acceptable, then majority can vote it in. The constitution can be regressively changed to accommodate such exploitation. Best example is 08th amendment, very gender specific law based on belief of immaculate conception as a regular occurrence.
      “Pakistan constitutionally is a democratic parliamentary republic with its political system based on an elected form of governance.” – just an example. To remember where not to go under “majority” banner.
      I assume Mercille is arguing for liberal democracy, which is aligned with my understanding of democracy.
      If WW2 hadn’t destroyed Europe as it did, european countries would have had the same slow fight with large asset/land owners at election times. Because that what FF/FG are fundamentally are. We’ve just swapped royal landowners to home grown ones.
      The war taught European landowners an important lesson – if you want to rally pleb to fight for your lands and property during wars, you must look after them in peace times. Especially women. They were, are and will be the fallback for post-war backbreaking labor: rebuilding infrastructure, manufacturing/producing basic goods, raising and educating children and many other things.
      Sorry for long-winding post, mentioning to these who might be interested.
      If democracy is not progressive or liberal than we are a toilet roll for asset holders :-)
      And – if you’re in Tipp North – commiserations with having M. Lowry elected.

  10. Pedant

    Julien’s ‘gender democracy’ definition is a bit odd. Does it only refer to women seeking the right to choose an abortion? Does it not apply to any other issues facing women? Does it have nothing at all to do with men? If so, why not just call it ‘reproductive choice democracy’ or ‘abortion democracy’?

  11. Genelection2016

    I never read his stuff. I can never get passed his photo. I would willing turn for him, left, right, middle ground … communist, conservative, liberal whatever he wanted me to be on a Monday morning all in exchange for 5 minutes behind the bicycle shed. Is 5 mins too much to ask? I’d sell my political soul for 5 mins!

  12. Tony

    It’s funny. Julienne is saying all the right things, trying to be liked by the wet BS massive. But the cynical jerks are rejecting him.. Just like democracy. People can sense ingratiating fakery even through a cute québécois accent.

  13. Mark McAuley

    Great piece Julie. . I like to refer to what youre calling deep democracy as democratic equality. All citizens should have an equal right in the decison making impacting Ireland, as and when necessary, through people-initiated referendums. Approximately 50 newly elected TDs think so also. http://Www.1yi.ie

    1. Rob_G

      If people think parish pump clientelism is bad in Ireland now, it would be immeasurably worse if there were referenda every few months.

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