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Moran 2021 PSAI Chiara Valsangiacomo

The Ungovernability Objection Against Liquid Democracy

Speaker: Chiara Valsangiacomo is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science at the University of Zurich. (Research Interests: Normative democratic theory, liquid democracy, methods of political theory; Email: (opens in a new window)chiara.valsangiacomo@uzh.ch

Date/Time: Sept 243pm

Venue/Platform: Webinar by Zoom

Organised by: (opens in a new window)Dr Marie Moran, Part of the PSAI series 

 Abstract: In this paper, I consider the ungovernability objection against Liquid Democracy (LD) from a theoretical point of view. LD is a collective decision-making scheme that is increasingly discussed as a complement to current democratic systems. One of its main characteristics is voluntary delegation: for every issue put to the vote, each citizen has one vote that can be passed on to another person at their discretion. Another key feature is prxy voting: voting weights correspond to the number of delegations received on any specific policy. As a result, power distribution in any liquid assembly appears to be extremely volatile and fragmented—citizens and proxies experience varying power levels across different policy areas, and the liquid assembly regularly and swiftly changes in size as well as composition. It is against this background that the ungovernability objection can be reasonably raised against LD. In fact, the structural features of the liquid assembly seem to complicate the democratic policy-making process, as they produce an insidious tendency towards policy incoherence and legislative gridlock. Engaging with the literatures on institutional design, electoral systems, as well as with constitutional theory and theories on the separation of power, this paper clarifies the ungovernability objection and provides a defense of LD against it. In particular, it zooms into the working of the liquid assembly, reflecting on how to enable a smooth law-making process within a large, volatile, fragmented and decentralized legislature. Furthermore, it presents and discusses three macro-institutional design solutions—presidentialism, strong and weak bicameralism—that can facilitate the smooth coexistence of liquid and classic institutions within the same political system. Overall, this article provides a defense of LD against the ungovernability objection as it sheds a more positive light on the possible inclusion of LD’s principles within existing democratic systems.


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