participative democracy

Does the Great Debate usher in a new era of open political innovation?

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The President of the Republic today launched the Great National Debate on 15 January. It will last two months and proposes a form of response to the crisis the country is going through. Crisis known as the Yellow Vests crisis but which is broader than this movement. A crisis of politics, politics, democracy and perhaps also of the Republic. A deep crisis that expresses in different ways, more or less acceptable, a need to reinvent political practice. A reinvention in which citizens want to participate. If it does not turn into a "smokescreen", as some commentators of all persuasions have already described it, this Great Debate can be a chance to innovate in politics and to profoundly change the modalities of our life as citizens.
 
" Ihere is nothing worse than those who want to do good, especially good for others. The same is true of those who 'think well'. They have the irresistible tendency to think for and in the place of others. Captured by their certainties, doubt does not touch them. "These words, which introduce Michel Maffesoli's book The devil's shareThe "shadowy" side of the story, insidiously hidden under the best of intentions, is well reflected. When a society is complex and able to share knowledge at the speed of light on billions of screens of all sizes, the powers that be are forced to give up the claim to hold the right solution, the truth of the world. They are inevitably led to recognize the reciprocal dependencies that bind them and the vanity, as well as the danger, of unilateral certainties. This is what we are witnessing in this France of 2019. Pushed by the street, political power, extraordinarily contested and threatened, is forced to reconsider its own functioning, to review its position. To innovate, but in a particular form: that of open innovation, that is to say an innovation whose gestation and implementation are shared.
 

A request for open-innovation?

Asking politicians to practice open innovation, to get out of their hierarchical position - "Jupiterian", some would say - to get involved in the fluid and moving networks of society is becoming an imperative today. Michel Foucault had already expressed this idea in a certain way: "The idea of open innovation is not a new one. What makes it possible for power to remain in place, to be accepted, well, it is simply that it does not only weigh as a power that says no, but that, in fact, it passes through bodies, produces things, pleasure, forms of knowledge, discourses; it must be considered as a productive network that passes through the whole of the social body, much more than as a negative instance that would have the function of repressing it. "Montesquieu, in his time, said no other thing:" To do great things, you don't have to be such a great genius: you don't have to be above men; you have to be with them."
 
The Great Debate is able to reactivate possibilities that have remained latent and also to fulfil an important symbolic function: that of becoming aware of the influence of each person on the totality. Benjamin Constant had noted this dimension which, in Greek Antiquity, was part of the "Great Debate". raw pleasure "Each of us measures the extent of our sovereignty concretely and not as an abstract assumption. Already in 1819, he noted that the modern individual " almost never sees the influence he has. His will is never imprinted on the whole: nothing in his eyes shows his cooperation.. "To make visible not only the organizing mechanisms of social life but also to bring out, for the citizen, the " pride The "personal importance" of this initiative of the Great National Debate is one of the symbolic but eminently major consequences that this initiative of the Great National Debate seeks to highlight.
 
In this new form of the democratic game, politics is called upon to occupy a new function which is not a function of injunction or exhortation; if it were, it would inevitably come up against the weight of selfishness. Nor does it have the task of controlling the appropriateness or effectiveness of a decision according to its own criteria. This new function implies that all the actors in the system have freely expressed their will, in other words that they have found it to be in their own interest. But for this to happen, a major ingredient is needed: trust. Emmanuel Macron made no mistake when he signed his Letter to the French with these two words: " In confidence ".
 

Calling for trust

Passionate calls for confidence in politics in particular, or more generally in the conduct of public affairs, have become routine. Yet the relationship between political institutions or actors and the conditions on which trust is based are singularly opaque. This opacity lies in the fact that the decision to grant trust is lost in the indeterminacy of the perspectives under which that trust is granted. The idea of " social contract The statement "that free men trust each other or a sovereign" does not correspond to any reality. It is true that with the vote, the citizen acts out his trust. But election does not mean that the citizen entrusts a mandate to represent his own interests. In democratic societies, voting means that the elected representatives of the people are entrusted with the task of deciding according to the criteria of the common good. It is, however, on the basis of the idea of a social contract that these elected representatives demand sovereign decision-making power in order to govern.
The sovereign cannot be trusted.
The people's trust in political power therefore concerns only a fraction of the society in which they live. It is on this characteristic that the widespread view of the impotence of current policies is formed and a society of distrust develops.
 
Mistrust increases when the vertical practice of power comes up against radically new operating logics. This is the case with the logic of networked, i.e. horizontal, functioning. A large majority of citizens are accustomed, from a very early age, to circulating in a fluid and reactive manner in the digital information circuits, they refuse the darkness and heaviness of hierarchical paths. The decisions that politicians seek to apply to them are then immediately judged with mistrust and suspicion. Consultations, commissions, States-General and other Grenelle meetings are automatically tainted, because these citizens know that, in the end, the decision always comes from somewhere, from "above". Social networks play a major role in the formation of this hiatus with politicians, which is first and foremost a crisis of confidence in the very organization of power.
 

A new topographical position of power

A new injunction is addressed to politics: that of placing itself at the service of society and not dominating it, in the manner of a transcendental, somewhat arrogant authority. This change in the topographical position of politics on the map of power forces it to change its nature. Politics is destined to become an instrument of reflexivity - a mirror, one might say - of society's collective activity.
Politicians are then enjoined to take on a singular task: that of reconstructing the notion of nation, basing it on the participation of the people in their own history, a history in the making, in co-creation, built stone by stone, by the complex ensemble of the community. This construction of the modern nation becomes a major challenge that will be the solid foundation of a reinvented democracy.
 
In this new modality demanded of politics, it must be understood that civil society is not opposed to the public sphere, as liberal thinking would like to hear. It is, in fact, a dynamic in which it is society as a whole that finds a political dimension that the monopoly of the State had deprived it of. Correlatively, it is politics that is moving out of its state and institutional sphere to penetrate society as a whole and find its place in it. This movement is nothing more than a profound metamorphosis in the true sense of the word: that is, the emergence of a new, more complex and richer, self-produced and self-created metasystem, which at the same time possesses the same identity as the old one but differs from it by new qualities and aptitudes. In this process of metamorphosis, the state loses its status as a sacred force, positioned above citizens integrated into a single abstract model. What is required of the politician is to make a movement from a vertical to a horizontal position and to begin a mutation of its solidly structured organizational logic towards a new organizational logic: transversal, fluid and reticular. In this metamorphosis, it is the democratic process itself that carries out its mutation.
 

Nodes of resistance

This new physics of politics presents knots of resistance that should not be underestimated, but which are not inevitable. One of them is the rise of individual utilitarianism, fostered by the omnipresence of market and consumer ideology. In a world where the political focus is lost, where values are no longer produced by consecrated bodies, everyone tends to seek his or her own interest. Society - "dissociated-ness" - is then transformed into an immense field of competition and contest where the struggle for individual survival develops without any prospect of the common good. 
 
The market, consumer, advertising, information and communication society has created a truly narcissistic individual, and has set in motion the inexorable decline of the public dimension in our societies. The dynamics of individualization, the egotrip This can only be understood if we have in mind the idea that we are in a changing society, at the crossing point between two levels, that we are getting rid of one without yet adhering to the other. Taking back the ownership of oneself then becomes an imperative to fill a void, this feeling of no longer being anything or from nowhere. This pathology of emptiness then takes excessively violent forms - as we have seen in the confrontations linked to the Yellow Vests movement. Indeed, the modern individual, in the attempts he makes on himself, takes the freedom to test himself to the limits of drunkenness, fracture, even self-annihilation. This "... self-intensification "as the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls it, results not only from an ideological vacuum but also more prosaically from an everyday vacuum, from an exacerbated sense of failure and boredom. This desperate void - wrongly believed to be exclusive to certain populations on the margins of society - then gives rise to forms of hatred, nihilism, revolt and rage, which affect everyone. Inequalities and social fractures taken to their extremes are the fuel of this rage.
 
The other knot of resistance is the appearance of phenomena of radical reaction that were thought to be diluted in the miasmas of old history. Among these, there is one that is coming back to the forefront, with a global dimension: populism. In Russia, Latin America, the United States, Eastern Europe, but also in France and Italy, populism is reappearing everywhere. Populism highlights another axis of fracture, a cleavage other than that of left-right or fascism-democracy. The cleavage is now vertical and opposes the upper and the lower, the elites and the people, the people in the cities and those in the countryside, those who know how to speak and those who do not have access to the verb and its syntax. It is on this cleavage that populisms of all persuasions, whether liberal, national or social, are based. This phenomenon does not reflect opposition to politics, but a distancing from it and resentment of its protagonists, who are perceived as members of a closed caste. The populists then seek to shape a new face of politics, drawn from the bottom up, from the people, whom they unite against those in power in the broadest sense: political, media, economic, cultural. This popular radicalism reflects the hostility of what Shakespeare's Hamlet called "...the "people's" radicalism.... the insolence of the load "that is, the superiority and complacency of those in power.
 
In our societies of access to knowledge and know-how, of the multiplicity of sources of information - whether true or false -, of the fragmentation of populations and of functional differentiation, it is the people in all its diversity who aspire to be recognized as politically present. The more a society claims recognition of its identity - or, to be more accurate, of its identities - the less room and justification there is for political representation based on popular sovereignty.
 

A social contract to be reinvented

Contemporary societies have the virtue of creating communities and networks based on an ancient and concrete principle, different from the abstract principle of social contract: the principle of association. The theory of the social contract was based on the idea that individuals could emancipate themselves, in a way tearing themselves away from the community to which they belonged and merge into a new unity based on social ties. The great sociologists such as Durkheim and Georg Simmel had noted that this idea was an illusion because human reality requires that before the contract, there must necessarily be association and that the contract merely presupposes it. This illusion has been maintained by contract theorists, particularly the liberals, who have suggested that the contract dispenses with association. If we read Rousseau carefully, we will see that the word "association" is on almost every page of his book. Social Contract and that the words 'contract' or 'democracy' are singularly rare. The contract is not the foundation of democracy and if there is no association, there is no democracy.
 
The political role of associations in the broadest sense - the Yellow Vests movement is a spontaneous and protean expression of this - is now taking on a real dimension and makes them not only new representative bodies, revitalising social ties, but also actors bearing rights and defending values, who can act as a more or less legitimately recognised counterweight to the powers that be. This movement should be appreciated by politicians as an opportunity and be used as a particularly effective lever in their way of governing. However, politicians perceive this fundamental movement as an obstacle or even an impediment to their action. For it is true that to join forces is also to be stronger in order to oppose them. For some, it is indeed a way of rebelling against the steamroller of the homogenization of societies and mass individualism.
In order to exist and formalize their claims and their action, associations - in the classical sense of the term - traditionally need a more or less institutionalized frame of reference: the party, the union, the club, the associative structure. These structures are recognized by society and are generally established in the street. But the association of individuals can take other forms that confuse political action. Moreover, digital technologies have brought about new, instantaneous and hyper-reactive modes of association, which are particularly formidable. Social networks make it possible to bring together, almost in real time, several thousand people associated towards a common goal, such as a demonstration or a petition. This is a fundamental trend that affects the whole of society and threatens the following ultimately traditional government practices. Indeed, these new forms of association escape the usual political logics; they are not defined by an inside and an outside, as all collectives generally do, but by the density of the links that pulsate within them. They do not necessarily have representatives; they are not defined by the nature of those who compose them, but by the spirit that animates them. It is these new forms that we see, at different scales and today, symptomatically, on roundabouts.
 
Thus, we are witnessing the emergence of individual or more or less organised initiatives in all sectors of the political spectrum. Most often, these are initiatives led by concerned citizens, who have the will to move the lines by mobilizing their peers. They are innovative because they willingly explore new avenues, they are creative in imagining communities of peers that validate their ideas and intentions, they invent organizations, methods, places and networks where they can be deployed. Their stance is not necessarily one of advocacy or opposition; it can also be one of co-creation with more institutionalized decision-making bodies. In doing so, they are fiercely attached to their independence, fighting against the excesses that any attempt at instrumentalization would represent in their eyes.
 
 The reawakening of the principle of association in multiple and often creative forms is the major symptom of this change in democracy which contributes to the emergence of a "political society"; this phenomenon integrates the idea of a multiplicity of representations in representative democracy and provides, through intermediary representative bodies, passages between individuals and public political decision-making. The political role of associations is thus taking on a real dimension and makes them not only new representative bodies, reviving social ties, but also actors who are bearers of rights and defenders of values, who can act as a legitimately recognized counterweight to the functional spheres of societies. Within this framework, politicians must appreciate this movement as an opportunity to implement a creative policy and use it as a lever in their open innovation approach.
 

The deliberative solution

This new spirit of democracy in a political society is today crystallized in a "deliberative ideal" that takes many forms but is still uncertain because it touches the very foundations of political legitimacy. The philosophy of deliberative democracy follows the path traced by Jürgen Habermas, according to which the legitimacy of the norm and political decision can only be based on an inclusive and fair deliberative process. According to this idea, all citizens can participate and cooperate freely in deliberation. This idea is revolutionary in the sense that it is fundamentally opposed both to traditional republican conceptions that assert the monopoly of the elected representative over the general interest, and to liberal conceptions that construct the general interest as a more or less negotiated aggregation of particular interests.
 
This idea is now flourishing to the point of becoming a troubling "deliberative imperative" covering a multitude of procedures and heterogeneous mechanisms: participatory debates, citizens' juries, committees of wise men, neighbourhood councils, consensus conferences, and now the Great National Debate.
The deliberative idea is certainly a democratic progress since it allows the expression of the people outside the democratic meetings programmed by the institutions; but it comes up against a crucial point: the doors of decision-making are closed to it; decision-making remains the monopoly of the representatives. But what is the point of deliberating if it is not for the purpose of action? Reduced to mere participation in public discourse, deliberative democracy certainly enables the political system to better understand its societal environment. But it can quickly fade into a simple managerial technique of social relations or a modern form of "governance". Deliberative or participatory cosmetics thus mask, in a new form of political marketing, the renewal of the traditional relations of functioning of politics. The idea of deliberative democracy will only be successful when it integrates the binding force of normative frameworks allowing the implementation of decision-making processes.
 

From deliberative and participatory, democracy must become collaborative.

This collaborative democracy, located at several levels of society and at several points in the deliberative process, requires new forms of organization. In all hypotheses, if we accept that the social is inseparably linked to citizenship, that is, to the exercise of political power, new and more appropriate forms of expression and collaboration in public life must be found. The construction site of collaborative democracy opens up an immense space in which citizens are not mere bearers of categorical interests but identified and active builders of a continuous exchange. It is a process of reciprocal learning, co-creation, open innovation, translation of knowledge and not of massive aggregation or delegation of powers to "specialists", experts or politicians. In contrast to decisions made by a majority, by political professionals or by experts, this is a measured, cautious and concerted construction, an active and open approach that can always be revised according to the uncertainties and hazards of the world.
 
In order for this collaborative democracy to emerge, it is up to politicians to promote and facilitate its modes of expression, which are as rich and varied as information and digital technologies allow today and will allow even better tomorrow. The principles of its action are oriented in three main ways: firstly, by structuring the collective dialogue by problem or theme and not by partisan position or type of argument. Secondly, by facilitating access to relevant information and thus sharing the context, in order to produce a constructive and open dialogue process capable of bringing out the most advanced ideas and practices. Finally, by making available to all actors instruments for organization, expression, consultation and action, located at different levels and scales of society. This new construction implies deliberation and initiative for action, which will never compete with traditional representative practices, but will complement them, and in a logic of enrichment and confident vigilance.
 
These new constraints on political practice must be understood not as obstacles to action, but as "institutional facts" deeply rooted in society and generating original social facts. This collaborative, creative, active and responsible democracy thus participates in the historical implantation of institutions and their actors. The latter, by generating new social facts, will in turn, in a dynamic spiral, establish themselves in new institutions to reinvent the Republic. This is what is at stake in the Great National Debate that is opening up in France. The President of the Republic is playing a big game because missing this opportunity represents a major risk: that of amplifying frustration, resentment, mistrust and no doubt an unmanageable hatred.
 
 

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