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Political Theory

H10 - Democracy II

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 107

Chair/Président/Présidente : Christopher Bennett (University of Waterloo)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Christopher Bennett (University of Waterloo)

The Validity of Bicameralism: The Views of Harrington and Bentham: Gary O'Brien (Retired - Former Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments)
Abstract: This paper proposes to examine the opposing views of James Harrington and Jeremy Bentham with respect to the justification of upper houses within a legislative system. Although both favoured the republican cause and had similar interests in electoral and parliamentary reform, as well as a more simplified legal code, their views seem diametrically opposed on the need for bicameralism. In Oceana (1656) Harrington wrote “A popular assembly without a senate cannot be wise” and set out his vision of an ideal two-chamber legislature. Bentham in A Fragment of Government (1776), Essay on Political Tactics (1791), the Constitutional Code (1830) and Houses of Peers and Senates (1830) provided a comprehensive analysis as to whether a legislature should be single or divided and argued for a system of government that was unicameral and centred on a democratically elected legislature. (Dinwiddy, Bentham, p. 81) Although bicameral theory in historical perspective has been widely covered (see Tsebelis and Money, Bicameralism, pp. 15-43), the focused Harrington-Bentham debate has not. Using a textual analytic approach, this paper will explore who may have influenced each author’s thinking and why their reasoning may have differed as to the importance and design of second chambers. The paper will argue that the Harrington-Bentham divide on the need for an upper house is still relevant not just with respect to the advantages and disadvantages of unicameralism vs bicameralism but how parliamentary institutions can be improved to better serve modern democratic systems.


Ballot Measures as Institutions of Mass Legislation: Spencer McKay (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: What role should ballot measures, such as referendums and initiatives, play in democratic systems? I contend that any answer to this question needs to link the abstract normative functions of democracy, such as inclusion and collective will-formation, to the various institutional designs for ballot measures, as these significant differences have largely been papered over in existing accounts. I argue that we should conceive of ballot measures as institutions of legislation because they are processes dedicated to explicitly changing the law, but that they are distinct from most other legislative venues by virtue of their openness to all citizens. On this view, the designs of both legislatures and elections offer useful clues for understanding how ballot measures ought to be designed to underwrite the capacities of citizens as legislators, rather than merely as voters.

Montaigne, Party of One: The Critique of Partisanship in the Essais: Zak Black (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Michel de Montaigne’s Essais were published during a period of intense factionalism in France, during which time he was sometimes required to act as negotiator between warring factions. Montaigne attributes much of his success in these endeavours to his staunchly anti-partisan reputation. This paper argues that one of the key priorities of the Essais is to cultivate a similarly anti-partisan disposition among his contemporaries, in part in order to moderate the violence of the conflicts. Not only does he hold himself up as an example of a politique go-between in moments of extreme tension, but he also attempts to provide a remedy for the very partisanship that makes such negotiations necessary. The paper lays out his strategy in two stages. The first is to chop away at deeply held political attachments by drawing attention to the force and fraud required to succeed in public life as well as the arbitrariness of public conventions. The second stage is to portray private life as the true realm of freedom and pleasure, one vastly more dignified than the realm of partisanship and the pursuit of public honours. His attempt to educate the elites of his time away from partisanship and towards a life that couples detached public service with the cultivation of personal freedom raises timely questions about the role of political theorists in moments of potentially volatile partisanship, as well as broader and more perennial questions about the sources of factionalism, the ends of public service, and the character of freedom.