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The origin of the third wave of democratization is commonly dated to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974. The fall of the Soviet Union accelerated this process until about 2005 when the pace began to slow and it even began to reverse. But Robert Dahl thought about waves of democratization differently. He believed a democratic wave was more like a transformation. It was an intensification rather than a proliferation of democracy.
Dahl allows us to interpret the current rise of populism around the world not as a rejection of democracy, but as a challenge as democratic governance and ideals continue to evolve and transform. Or as Hélène Landemore puts it, “What you call the “crisis” of democracy can also be read as the growing pains of a system trying to adjust to the constraints of a globalized economy, an interconnected world, and rising democratic expectations.”
Hélène Landemore offers an alternative approach to imagine democratic governance. It is a democracy without elections or politicians. She calls it an Open Democracy. It relies on representative assemblies where members are selected through lottery kind of like a jury. Her approach encourages deliberation among ordinary citizens who better represent their communities and societies.
Many advocates have already embraced this novel approach. and it has already used in limited ways. We talk quite a bit about political theory, but also some real-world applications of these ideas. Indeed, Landemore has found inspiration in many of these examples like the constitutional assembly in Iceland or France’s citizen assembly on climate change. So these mini publics offer a novel way to consider the possibilities for democratic government without elections.
Hélène Landemore is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University. She is the author of the book Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century. Her research reconsiders the meaning of representation and legitimacy.
Robert Dahl was unclear of what the next transformation of democracy would become. I feel the same uncertainty. But I believe Hélène Landemore challenges us to consider new experiments in democracy happening right now. So perhaps a third transformation of democracy has already begun.