“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms...” Winston Churchill’s famous remark is a slap in the face for David Robichaud: “People take democracy for granted and they feel no love for it. But if we don’t protect it, what will we end up with? An authoritarian regime or a plutocracy!” A professor of philosophy in the Faculty of Arts, Robichaud has just recently co-authored Prendre part. Considérations sur la démocratie et ses fins, with Patrick Turmel of Laval University.
Robichaud’s main finding is that democracy is withering on the vine: voter turnout is dwindling as socio-economic inequities continue to rise. But the belief that the system is an elitist preserve is erroneous; he maintains that democracy is a tool that facilitates more equitable decision-making: “We each have a role to play when it comes to preserving our democratic system. It’s been shown that when one person takes the time to cast a ballot, it has an influence on their circle of family and friends, who are then more likely to vote as well.”
Over the course of his career, Robichaud has pondered a broad range of philosophical concerns, including minority language rights and trust between individuals from different cultural, social or political groups, as well as wealth distribution and reasons for taxing the wealthy more heavily. “The common thread in all these issues is justice,” he says.
This position is based on a simple premise, which he discussed in his 2012 book La juste part: all wealth is produced “collectively” thanks to a complex network of social cooperation. Individual merit and luck have a bearing on personal success, but they are not the main variables.
“Take the coronavirus vaccine, for example. If someone develops one all on their own and makes millions of dollars, that’s all well and good,” he explains. “But if they rely on the work of other researchers or on publicly funded university discoveries or labs, then we have a problem. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the individual who got rich did so by tapping into other people’s work.”
Robichaud contends that his point of view is neither moralistic nor anti-capitalist. “I’m not saying that every instance of inequality is immoral. But we need to emphasize the fact that we are all interdependent. Indeed, that’s one of the prerequisites for a market economy. Yet capitalism in its current form is bringing disproportionate benefits to people at the top of the economic ladder.”
In particular, he is calling for a more balanced tax system that recognizes individual contributions to our collective well-being. “If the wealthy are required to pay higher taxes, it’s mainly because they derive greater benefits from social cooperation, thanks in part to our educational and legal systems.”
Robichaud makes it a point of honour to demystify his philosophical ideas for the general public, whether in his writings or during radio interviews. His reflections are anchored in practical considerations, evoking his intimate knowledge of political and economic issues. “I’m always concerned about how my ideas will be applied,” he explains. After all, his work is an example of a collective good designed to raise the level of fairness and justice in our society.