Beasts and Gods, the latest book by Dr Roslyn Fuller, launched on Monday, November 16th, offers a criticism of modern democracy. The text analyses voting systems across 20 countries and finds that modern democracies, where elections are largely decided by bank accounts, are regularly formed without voting majorities, and aren’t democracies at all.
As a response, Fuller advocates a return to the direct democracy of ancient Athens, a return that, she believes, can be facilitated in a modern democracy by the introduction of electronic voting and online discussion forums. I attended the launch of Beasts and Gods, at which there was also a panel discussion on democracy in Ireland. An Irish-Canadian, Fuller speaks quickly and confidently with a heavy accent, and has a realistic yet positive view of democracy in modern Ireland.
“Ireland is, in many ways, more democratic than most western countries, because we do have a lot of closeness between our representatives and our people”, Fuller explains, adding, however, that “there is a culture of corruption that comes from meeting your TD here”. Fuller herself has experienced this culture, as she is currently going door-to-door during her electoral campaign as an independent candidate in Fingal: “There is often an expectation when I knock on people’s door that I will fix their problem by exerting some sort of miraculous influence on their problem. But I believe that that comes from a place of powerlessness”. What she proposes instead is a system in which “a TD has much less power. You wouldn’t need to go through to get something done, you could bypass them in a way. I think clientelism stems from trying to use power every which way you can once you get access to it”.
Fuller doesn’t just have her eyes set on electoral office, she is also a successful journalist. As the legal correspondent for Russia Today, Fuller writes a regular blog, called ‘The Fuller Picture”, on issues of international law. I asked her how a Canadian educated in Germany and Ireland had ended up working for a Russian news corporation: “A few years ago I used to be a model and I made a calendar to raise money for the legal defence of whistleblowers. Russia Today noticed it and ran an article on it. Then they contacted me asking if I would like to write for them”. Fuller explained how: “In my articles I make legal clarifications on different things that come up. There is a lot of interest out there in international law, and it’s not something that is taught in school”.
Although aware of criticisms of the Russian government’s control of Russia Today, Fuller said it had no effect on what she wrote for them: “Russia Today is owned by the Russian government in the same way that the BBC is run by the British government. From the time I’ve been writing there, whatever I write, they just print it”. Fuller argues: “A lot of other media organisations try to edit your work, or to direct the conversation somewhere, that has not been my experience with Russia Today, which is very unusual”.
Regardless of her link to Russia Today, Fuller is very critical of the effects that mass media can have on democracy: “There have been studies that show that newscasts can change your opinion of something, even when they contravene your personal experience of it. If they keep seeing newscasts saying that the economy is going badly, they will become convinced that the economy is going badly, even if their own experience tells them that it isn’t. How we overcome this is the most difficult question”.
Beast and Gods is published by Zed books and is on sale in Irish book stores now.