A letter to David Swanson

[Updated below.]

Sortition advocate Richard Ward has pointed me at a televised panel discussion on CSPAN2’s BookTV titled “The Imperial Presidency“. One of the participants in the panel was David Swanson. I have just written the following email to Mr. Swanson:

Dear Mr. Swanson,

I have recently watched the “Imperial Presidency” panel discussion on BookTV in which you took part, and followed that with a visit to your website. I found that I agree with all of what you said in terms of the problems with the current political system.

I did not find, however, that you offered a practicable solution to the problems. You did suggest at one point joining a grass root non-partisan organization (such as RootsAction). While I understand and identify with the line of thinking that leads you to propose this activity, I think further examination would show that there is little reason to hope that it would be effective.

The flaw with the grass-root activity path is that for such an activity to be effective, the organization has to be quite large. On the other hand, if the organization is large then it becomes plagued with the problems associated with governance of large organizations. These are, in effect, all the problems that we identify within state itself: unrepresentative government, influenced disproportionately by elites of various kinds.

Therefore, as long as the a theoretical solution for the fundamental problem of the governance of large organizations is not offered, there is little reason to expect that joining grass-root organizations would yield a long-lasting significant improvement.

I would like to offer such a theoretical solution: sortition – selection of government officials by lottery. Please have a look at the Wikipedia entry for more details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition.

I would be very interested in your response,

Yoram Gat

Update: David Swanson was kind enough to respond promptly, if briefly:

How do you get from the current state of affairs to the implementation of a reform like election by lottery?

To which I replied:

Thank you for your prompt reply.

You ask: “How do you get from the current state of affairs to the implementation of a reform like election by lottery?”

Not without a lot of grass root pressure, which of course requires grass root organization – which I imagine is your point.

But my point is that a grass roots organization must itself be built in a way that leads to popular representation. As long as the organization is governed by the same kind of processes and institutions that currently exist in the state (i.e., elections, electoral campaigns, mass voting), there is no reason to expect that the “grass roots” organization would remain grass roots when it becomes large and powerful. There is every reason to expect that as the organization grows it will begin to show the very symptoms that it was created to change.

Therefore, an alternative way to govern an organization must be adopted, if there is to be any reasonable hope for the grass root effort to succeed. Again, I think sortition provides such an alternative governance mechanism. It is a mechanism that entrusts political power in the hands of average group members. That, and only that, is democracy.



One Response

  1. MiddleAmericaReformParty is blueprint to improve US democracy using soritioned senate chamber.Reboot democracy: http://wp.me/s1fQnO-start


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