The Practical Democracy Podcast. A podcast about practical change, with guests from public bodies and civil society.

Episode 7: In Defence of Democracy

Featuring: Dr. Roslyn Fuller, author and founder of the Solonian Democracy Institute

Dr. Roslyn Fuller is a wearer of many hats: she’s an author, a lecturer, and founder of the research group, the Solonian Democracy Institute. She’s an expert on Athenian democracy and participatory democracy, and the potential that the internet offers in combining the two.

In this episode Roslyn and host Ben Fowkes discuss elements from her two books, such as the fallacies of representative democracy, as well as democratic elitism, the positives and negatives of democratic systems, and what the future could look like.

Episode 7 transcript

Here’s a rough breakdown of timings:

00:00 Introduction: Roslyn’s background and the Fuller Democracy method

Roslyn introduces two of her books, In Defence of Democracy (2019) and Beasts & Gods: How Democracy Changed its Meaning and Lost its Purpose (2015), her entrance into the field of democracy, and what drove her to write books about it. She also talks about her own ‘brand’ of democracy, Fuller Democracy, what it means, and why she named it after herself (hint: why not?).

16:28 On Athenian democracy

Roslyn gives us a brief run-down of Athenian politics and how their systems functioned. It’s a bug-bear of hers that some modern democratic movements, for example sortitionists, say they advocate for the Athenian model but in actuality it’s something quite different.

25:04 Money, power, and the fallacy of representative democracy

The inspiration for Beasts & Gods came when Roslyn started wondering why, if we elect our governments, nobody ever seems to be happy with the decisions they make. She unpacks some of the problems with representative democracy, not least the fact that money influences just about every political outcome possible. She should know; she ran as a candidate once.

36:45 On anti-democrats

When she wrote Beasts & Gods, there was a general consensus that Democracy is Good. Then 2016 happened. All of a sudden, there was ‘too much democracy’ and the public was ‘too stupid’ to be trusted with making decisions, and so on.

46:24 The trouble with citizens’ assemblies…

Citizens’ assemblies (CAs) continue to explode in popularity, but not all of them are done well and some end up as expensive wastes of everyone’s time. Roslyn and Ben about some of the problems with CAs, elitism in particular.

53:50 The positives and negatives of democracy

Roslyn and Ben agree that there are better ways forward and that they all involve more public participation. However, there are positives and negatives to each outcome that should be considered: authorities need to be accountable to the will of the people, even when it doesn’t go ‘their way’; also, it’s hard to get people to participate. They’re busy!

1:06:34 So what next? Digital democracy or the implosion of the Western world?

Roslyn discusses what she envisages for the future of democracy. The way we’re going may well take us down a very dark road, but change is both possible and necessary. She thinks a probable step in the right direction is participatory budgeting: it’s easy, and also extremely scalable. She and Ben discuss the benefits of digital democracy, and how these benefits seem extremely obvious but bear repeating. Change is happening, but it’s long and difficult.

Follow Roslyn on Twitter or visit her website.

Check out the Solonian Democracy Institute for more of her research.