Mary Beard and UKIP’s Arron Banks agree over sortition for the House of Lords

SPQR author Mary Beard and UKIP eminence grise Arron Banks occupy the opposite poles of the political spectrum — the former being a self-acknowledged liberal leftie and the latter a Trump-supporting right-wing populist. After their Twitter war over the role of immigration in the downfall of the Roman Empire they agreed to meet over lunch to discuss their differences and were surprised to find that they had more in common than either of them anticipated:

After they have warmly agreed to renationalise the railways and the energy companies, draw the House of Lords by lot because it works perfectly well for juries, scrap Trident, and counter the mania for solving every problem with legislation, Mary concedes that the philosophical borders of Banksland “lie in a slightly different place to where I’d previously thought”.

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Debate: for and against allotting our political representatives

Henri Vernet, January 6th, 2017

Democracy. Several candidates for the Elysée are proposing sortition as a complement for elections.

Having citizens participate in political life through… sortition. The idea may appear to be unknown, but it is making its way in the upcoming presidential campaign. Is it the accessory needed to fight the falling turnout rates and the mistrust of the political “system” which many French people feel excludes them? Several candidates for the Elysée are proposing this device, in one form or another, in their programs. Arnaud Montebourg wants to have a citizens’ senate allotted from the electoral registry. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has already “experimented” with the mechanism by allotting some of the delegates to the convention which hammered out his program.

At the same time Emmanuel Macron proposes that an allotted citizens’ council will audit the president of the Republic every year. Others as well, among the Right as well as from the Left, view this mechanism – which evidently does not replace elections – as one of the ways for renewing political practices. The grand return of sortition, which was a major force in the Athenian democracy of ancient Greece? Already, several countries like Ireland, Estonia and Iceland have used sortition over the last few years for addressing issues as important as constitutional reforms. In France the debate is ongoing…

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Should our political representatives be allotted?
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The false choice: Should the passengers fly the airplane or should the pilots?

There’s a new illustration (January 2017) from a New Yorker cartoonist that depicts a man standing up on an airplane and saying: “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?” The crowd of passengers all raise their hands.


This cartoon has received over 35,800 likes and 19,600 retweets on Twitter and sparked coverage and a debate in USA Today, “‘The New Yorker’ mocks Trump voters and triggers a debate on (smug) experts.”
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2016 review – statistics

Below are some statistics about the seventh year of Equality-by-Lot. Comparable numbers for last year can be found here.

2016 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 1,664 8 161
Feb 1,573 11 153
Mar 2,075 20 173
Apr 1,699 12 128
May 1,534 9 78
June 1,818 9 66
July 1,961 7 87
Aug 1,978 9 91
Sept 2,367 11 181
Oct 2,905 8 212
Nov 2,966 8 139
Dec (to 29th) 2,232 8 58
Total 24,772 120 1,527

Note that page views do not include visits by logged-in contributors – the wordpress system does not count those visits.

Posts were made by 17 authors during 2016. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 268 email and WordPress followers of this blog. In addition there are 203 Twitter followers (@Klerotarian) and 67 Facebook followers.

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the 2nd result (out of “about 18,900 results”). Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 2nd result (out of “about 62,600 results”) – right behind the sortition entry at Wikipedia.

Happy holidays and happy new year to Equality-by-Lot readers, commenters and posters. Keep up the good fight for democracy!

2016 review – sortition-related events

This is a review of notable sortition-related events of the year 2016.

Paul Lucardie wrote to note that sortition has been gaining some momentum in the Netherlands with a proposal from a group of mayors to appoint municipal councils members by lot, a proposal that received some media attention. Paul also reports that the Groningen municipal government is set to have an experiment in 2017 in which a partly allotted body will be granted some limited decision making power in the municipality. Paul and some other academics will be monitoring the experiment.

Going over last year’s posts on Equality-by-Lot, I note the following:

Sortition continues its movement toward the center of the political stage in French-speaking Europe.
The most notable developments this year occurred in France, where two prominent candidates for the leadership of the socialist party made separate proposals for introducing allotted bodies into the French system in a way that would potentially give those bodies significant independent power. Allotment was also used to select delegates for a convention of a Left-wing party. More modest steps were taken elsewhere on the continent: in Switzerland and, as Paul mentions, in the Netherlands.

To a much lesser extent sortition is making gains in the English speaking world. In Ireland, the government expressed an intent to convene allotted citizen assemblies to review various issues. In Australia, allotted bodies were convened to handle corruption in local government, and to consider a nuclear dump in SA. David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was published in English and received some attention. In Canada and the UK sortition was discussed by academics. In the US, sortition was mentioned in a workshop of the APSA.

Sortition’s gains are fueled by the ongoing delegitimization and destabilization of the electoral system throughout the Western world. The two outstanding electoral events of 2016 – the Brexit vote and the election of Trump – are both expressions of a rejection of the electorally-generated establishment and status-quo. For the first time, the U.S. presidential elections featured major party candidates who both had negative net favorability ratings. A study reported that citizens all over the Western world – and in particular, rich citizens – are losing their faith in the electoral system and mainstream political scientists re-discover that electoral government is inherently non-responsive. Elites’ frustration with the electorate is manifesting itself in a revival of openly anti-democratic ideas. Van Reybrouck and others offer sortition as an alternative: a democratic mechanism that will furnish the elites with the outcomes they desire.

2016 review – images

Images that appeared on Equality-by-Lot in the passing year.


Dedieu and Toulemonde: Taking political chances with sortition

Franck Dedieu, a professor at the IPAG Business School, and Charles Toulemonde, a research engineer, write in Le Croix.

This short and readable essay is critical of sortition, or at least of the proposals currently discussed in France, but is not completely hostile to the idea. The authors avoid some of the most common knee-jerk anti-sortition arguments and make some interesting and valuable points.

Taking political chances with sortition
29 November 2016, Franck Dedieu and Charles Toulemonde

Machiavelli attributed to chance more than half of human actions. Free choice and individual will would therefore control the minor part of history. Miserable fate! And yet, over the last several years, and more so over the course of the present presidential campaign, the idea of drawing by lot representatives of the people made a breakthrough in the political agenda.

A proven system

In 2012, Ségolène Royal imagined citizen juries supervising the elected officials. Today, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of France Insoumise, has relied partially on chance last October for selecting delegates to his convention.

Arnaud Montebourg, a candidate in the primary of the left, wants to do the same for selecting the members of the senate. The environmentalists of the EELV, the activists of the Nouvelle Donne party and the members of the Nuit Debout movement of the spring of 2016 have crowned sortition with all the political virtues. This idea of a horizontal Republic is based on a simple argument: the elected, having become the professionals of politics, are living in a closed vessel in an increasingly inbred system and do not represent the social and sociological realities of the electorate. However, as usual in politics, we must be wary of silver-bullet ready-made solutions.

Controversial legitimacy?

On reflection, this stochocracy (from the Greek stokhastikos, randomness, a term used by the philosopher Reger de Sizif) moves away from democracy, rather than approaches it. There is a risk that sortition would strengthen the foibles of the very “electoral oligarchy” is denounces. How will the two political classes share power? Will the “elected deputies” regard themselves as equal to the “loto-senators”? The “chosen” will have the upper hand of the electoral legitimacy while the “commoners” will only have the legitimacy of the lucky draw. What a distance between the Oath of the Tennis Court of the deputies of the Third Estate and the oath of the casino of the Mélenchonists!
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