On the same week, the Church gave itself a pope. A president was elected in China. Pope Francois. President Xi Jining. Both using very similar organisational and selection methods: a pyramidal structure, where top level appointments are based on merit, to the top. In both cases, a very old system. In both cases, with each succession, the appointment of a team freed from any concern related to its own re-election, governing as a team with those who have chosen them, then choosing those who will choose their successors. In both cases, an electoral body reduced to a few dozen or hundred people. In both cases, people with a great personality, concerned about the long-term future of the institution that chose them. In both cases, withstanding time very well, formidably suited, even, in an era of modernity and in particular able to offer to the world’s media all the elements of suspense they need, without the delay and bricolage of democratic debates. In both cases, a system increasingly more subject to the same pressures found in Western democracies: polls, and the pervasive media presence. Both the victims of corruption and capable of all crimes, because they are taking advantage of the widespread impunity, given their opacity.
Naturally, with some great differences: in the Vatican, the pope elected is elected for life. In China, the president is elected for ten years. In the Vatican the system has been working for more than eighteen centuries, with countless incidents, coup d’état, killings, fissures, without interruption. In China, the system even if it meets a Confucian tradition of more than two thousand years, has really been working only since the last 30 years.
At the same time, in Rome, a few kilometers from the Vatican, Italy is unable to choose a government leadership team; and in all the other democratic countries, governments must, in order to survive, increase their spending and reduce their taxes, making the explosion of the public debt the extent of their own powerlessness. They must, more broadly, forget the interest of future generations, to obey what they think is that of their constituents.
As with each serious crisis in the West, the question of the credibility of democracy will soon be raised again. And some will be very keen, are already very keen, on questioning democracy. In the name of the nation, the environment, religion: multiple fundamentalisms are already prowling around the bed of democracy.
In order to save democracy, we must try to reconcile the best democratic systems (the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, transparency in the voting process and universal suffrage), with the best meritocratic systems (the ability to select the highest-level leaders and to give them the means and the time to think and decide according to the interests of the very long term).
One could for example imagine the construction, in parallel to local democratic institutions, of consultative assemblies, composed of people chosen from activists from all the democratic parties valued for their disinterestedness and their concern for the long term. These assemblies would nominate officials to higher levels, to become a National Consultative Assembly, responsible of advising democratic powers on the importance of long-term issues. These assemblies would be appointed for ten years, and their members would not be reelected. In a way, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council is, in France, a very imperfect incarnation of this.
If we want to save the major part of democracy, we have to start thinking about calling upon such boldness.