Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

Redeeming Rousseau: Politdoche & General Will

Plaque of Jean-Jacques Rousseau issued by Gene...

Plaque of Jean-Jacques Rousseau issued Geneva in 1912 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Recently on Daft Blogger I fell hard on the word “government” and offered a replacement, “politdoche.” This article demonstrates why it fares better as an ideal and how it would operate in practice. Along the way, politdoche makes some strides towards resolving two conceptual conundrums in political theory, “representation” and “the general will.” Why does this matter in the first place?

Because “government” assumes hierarchy, overtly in its etymology, it cannot serve as an adequate ideal of democratic political organization. Gov splits the polity into a class of rulers and a class of ruled. It rends community and fosters resentment: those subject to the law feel they have little say in its creation. Representative gov further substitutes the stakeholders in an issue with electoral power-holders.

Ideals Matter

A man, startled by a tumult outside his window, runs outside to a horrific scene. Sirens, lights, ambulances, stretchers, police. White wolves are terrorizing his town with impunity, and right before his eyes, one nabs a small child by the back of the neck. Terrified he starts back. Then, he notices that the lighting is odd: there are no shadows. Something isn’t real. Realizing he’s in a dream, he decides to change it. He turns around, pulls a spectacular sword out of the sky and charges towards the wolves. After one or two are clobbered, the rest flee in a hurry. The man, after his small act of bravery, feels empowered from then on to choose to take a stand. We may be at such a pivotal moment in the history of democratic politics.

Ideals matter because they determine the standard by which we measure ourselves. They matter because they give direction. Let’s turn in the direction we want to move towards. If we want equality, liberty, and economy, let’s inject those aspirations into our political institutions. That begins with the words we use. And with some courage.

Democracy is a life, and like all life it strives in struggle.

Robert Marion LaFollette

Politdoche as New Ideal Organization

Just as the specific mechanisms of gov depends on form (monarchy, republic, democarcy) so too would politdoche. Everything below applies to any form of politdoche, but for the purpose of illustration, the discussion assumes “demarchy,” a democracy built upon the extensive use of selection by lot in political institutions, through the use of citizen juries and citizen councils. It aims to create institutions highly representative of its citizens, and highly incorruptible. However, you can substitute your favorite “ideal structure” and it would work just as well for the present discussion, of the words government and politdoche.

A Word on Representativeness of Political Institutions

Representation is a concept often used in daily language yet seldom understood, namely because it means different things to different people. In her 1968 classic, “The Concept of Representation,” Hanna Pitkin identified six general senses of the word as used in politics: 1) authoritative (a representative acts as agent with power of attorney); 2) descriptive “standing for” (a rep shares come relevant characteristics with her constituents); 3) symbolic standing for (a rep symbolizes her district); 4) acting for specific (a rep votes/deliberates the way her constituents would); 5) acting for general (a rep looks out for the interests of her constituents); 6) acting for the whole (a rep acts in the interests of the country as a whole).

Pitkin ably demonstrated that none of these meanings are adequate because, as used by laymen and political scientists alike, the word encompasses many of these often mutually exclusive senses at once. Interestingly, her analysis does not consider selection by lot, used in ancient Athens and renaissance Venice; neither does it consider the word “gov” and its implications. She ends her book with a watery statement that “representation” has different meanings from a Realist or an Idealist perspective, an operational and an essential definition. Thus drawn and quartered, left a bloody mess, “representation” (so crucial in a republican government) has mostly been absent from political science ever since.

Politdoche changes that. It leads a way out of the conundrum by creating a new “theory of representation.” Hologramic representation. Every individual institution would be a “synecdochic image” of the polis, the part reflecting the whole, the whole the part, like a laser-generated 3D hologram, “standing for” the whole. At the same time, a snap-shot at any moment of a democratic politdoche would be a DNA replica capable of re-inventing the whole polis, thus “acting for” it. More than that, it would be a miniature model embodied by the citizen jury, a juror as, it were, able to look at a model on the table and see herself through a window at her daily non-juror position. She could be anyone in society, a Supreme Court Justice, a homeless person, a farmer, temporarily on duty in the politdoche.

A mouthful asks a deep question, one to be bravely taken on:

Could politdoche, as synecdochic-hologramic, connective-synergistic, synectic anima deliver Rousseau’s General Will from its disgrace?

The conceptual problem of “mandate v. independence,” otherwise known as the “taxi-driver v. doctor” question, is done away with in politdoche. The question can be put in this way. When you send a rep to Congress, is it like asking a driver to take you to the airport and telling him which road to take, or is it like a asking a doctor to do what he think best?

No question in a democratic politdoche. Since all citizens have an equal probability of being selected and since once selected they serve but a short term, the citizen rep is free to deliberate and act as she sees fit conforming to her own moral principles and sense of the public good. Indeed, that she act according to her own judgment is a requirement for every juror. So freed from the conceptual conundrums of “representating,” a politdoche could freely act. But how would it do so?

Operational Politdoche

If liberty and equality are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.

It is difficult to envision politdoche, so bloated are our imaginations with gov’s command, rule, order, coercion, violence. But politdoche, by no means utopian, relies on different means, ones we currently associate less with political authority and more with civic society. This is of course no coincidence. It would use social persuasion, moral suasion, mediation, coalition building between effected parties to a controversy–social means to carry out its policy. What gov does by subsidy or threat, carrot and stick, politdoche does first with persuasion, equally receiving and giving of the polis. It is important to appreciate that receptivity, a consequence of its yin aspect. An aspect, entirely missing from “gov,” although one professed at election time.

Does this mean that a politdoche would be unable to assert itself?

Of course not. Sociology and psychology have shown how powerful are social norms and pressures. It’s easy to verify that in gov-based society, the more numerous the laws the less they are complied with.

Ask yourself, is there a law against facing backwards in an elevator? Yet that norm is nearly universally complied with, just as adults are kind to children absent a law prohibiting rudeness to children. Moreover, studies on “why people obey the law” show that fear of punishment is a minor motivator compared with social pressure and internal sense of justice. The American Bar Association, for example, has conducted several such studies.

But politdoche would go further in wielding its “soft power,” because it would have more at its disposal. The very fact that it serves a continual re-legitimating function, absent in electoral republics, gives it energy never known before, except perhaps in some periods of Athenian history. In fact the social power of this continual re-invigoration, re-legitimation, may have been the first cause of the institution of democracy (through selection by lot) in Athens. The power of many stakeholders, alternately inside and outside political institutions, who do not see “gov” as separate from themselves, provided a strong volunteer army that kept the city safe without dissipating its resources.

Does this mean mob rule?

No, for two reasons. First, measures passed in the citizen jury (hologramic sample) would require some sort of super-majority, not quite the unanimity of the Anglo-American jury but of a kin, to be worked out by statistics depending on the sample size. Second, a politdoche is entirely compatible with Constitutionalism, encapsulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights raised to local standards for example. Accompanying it would be judicial review, although to be consistent, politdoche would require a weaker judiciary than under gov.

The last point deserves comment. Gov was built upon protecting an elite(s), usually a monarch or an oligarchy, from the unnamed “masses,” a minority from the majority. Politdoche would begin with trust, deep representativeness, soft power and rapid turnover of power, on an organically ordered organization. It begins from a different vision, founded in ecological, courageous thinking.

As Ideal institution it evokes an organic, hologramic theory of representation. As Real institution it operates through hologramic samples (synecdokische Ausschusse) at all levels of Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. A politdoche deliberates as it legislates, spreads word about issues as it is educated by society. Politdoche does not throw its hand up at the difficulty of legitimacy, hiding behind formalism and elections, it leans its back into it as it muscles forward between the operational and the ideal. It exercises a vigorous soft power somewhere between Plato and Aristotle, the aspirational and the practical.

In short, politdoche transcends Pitkin, respects Arendt, and redeems the spirit of Rousseau, all as it delivers a sounder notion of the General Will.

And questions cascade forth. How would a politdoche handle freedom of expression? How would it treat environmental issues? How would it deal with the financial system? A follow-up putting politdoche to work on concrete issues of liberty, social justice, the environment, the economy is forthcoming.

[This article first appeared on on April 21, 2013 here:]

2 comments on “Redeeming Rousseau: Politdoche & General Will

  1. AhmedRTeleb

    An interesting follow-up discussion on Daft Blogger here:

  2. Pingback: Equality & Political Ecology: Spinoza & Politdoche | Fila Sophia

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