Demistocracy: a means to rebalance political powers in contemporary France? An ethical inquiry into democratic innovation
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This paper starts by taking a Foucauldian genealogical approach to uncover the power imbalances which underpin the French political arrangement in 2022. It advances that such imbalances are two-fold. First, it notes the separation, or lack thereof, of the legislative and executive powers. Second, and crucially, it recognises a power asymmetry between the governing powers and the citizenry of France. It explores how to resolve such power asymmetries and ensure ethical governance, by investigating innovative democratic practices. In doing so, I subscribe to a rule-based instrumentalist approach. In order to anchor this research in a concrete context, I focus on the claims of the Gilets Jaunes – Yellow Vest protesters – to Citizens’ Initiative Referendums (RICs), and on the government’s response, i.e., its attempt at furthering participative and (pseudo)deliberative practices – The Grand Débat National (GDN). I suggest why RICs are not necessarily the way forward. Additionally, following an empirical ethics methodology, I provide an explanation as to why the GDN failed to rebalance powers. I finally broaden our épistèmes, and analytically argue against Estlund’s postulate for democratic authority by invoking Brennan’s epistocratic argument. Estlund’s argument is particularly relevant for my argumentative purposes as it intends to provide support for a democratic political arrangement that is epistemic in nature. I proceed to sketch research avenues for democratic innovation in France by suggesting that we should favour a hybrid system: demistocracy. I conclude and briefly address potential concerns with this proposal.