“How much lack of participation can democracy stand?”

José Luis Moreno Pestaña has recently published an article entitled ‘How much lack of participation can democracy stand?’ in a political philosophy blog called ‘El Rumor de las Multitudes’, which is one of the main spaces for reflection of the Spanish newspaper ‘El Salto’. In his article, he deals with some of the major challenges of our democracies, in line with the main topic of J.L. Moreno Pestaña’s latest work, ‘Los pocos y los mejores’ (Akal, 2021) —which has earned him the award ‘Premio Internacional de Pensamiento 2030’ —.

How much lack of participation can democracy stand?

We present a study on how the election procedure shapes democracy and why sortition is necessary. To do so, the requirements for political participation in terms of knowledge are carefully considered. Faced with the question ‘how much participation can democracy stand?’, I would like to answer with the opposite question: ‘how much lack of participation can democracy stand?’. I will try to answer with some ideas I elaborated in my book ‘Retorno a Atenas. La democracia como principio antioligárquico’ (Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2019, 2ª edición), as well as in ‘Los pocos y los mejores. Localización y crítica del fetichismo político’ (Madrid, Akal, 2021).

My answer is that democracy can stand an enormous lack of participation, although we still need, at least, voter turnout, as it is the representation of democracy. The electoral mechanism works in a very specific way. Firstly, in any electoral procedure, voters should have very clear preferences, that is, they should know exactly what they want. Secondly, they should identify their preferences among the proposals of the competing candidates. Thirdly, candidates should look for something that makes them stand out in a context of serious negative cognitive connotations. Finally, due to the high information dissemination costs, the wealthy tend to do better in the election. Bernard Manin explained this phenomenon in a classic entitled ‘Los principios del gobierno representativo’. Why is this book read and still these issues go unnoticed? To answer this question, we should start a heated debate on which my friend’s Francisco Manuel Carballo Rodríguez works can shed some light.

If any case, two effects take place in this context. The first one is that voters tend to identify politics with the electoral offer as it is promoted. The second one is that the agents that stand out while looking for political resources tend to identify their policies with themselves. If we take a closer look, we realise that their actions would not be possible without the collaboration of many other individuals: advisers, donors, activists, that is, people who carry out the campaign. However, it is true that in a conflict situation, candidates try to stand out and tend to attribute to themselves the work that has been done collaboratively.

Link to the article in ‘El Rumor de las Multitudes’.

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