The Triumph of Election

Why did the American founders ignore the case for sortition? It was well known at the time that sortition was one of the primary mechanisms of Athenian democracy and this explains why Madison and his Federalist chums (who were no democrats) ignored it. But even Antifederalists (who argued the democratic case for descriptive representation) failed to propose sortition as a means to establish a legislature that was a ‘portrait in miniature’ of the whole community. According to Bernard Manin it was philosophy – in the form of the Natural Right theory of consent – that was the principle cause of the ‘triumph of election’ (Manin, 1997, Ch.2). But is this true?

James Fishkin points out that the etymological root of ‘deliberation’ (deliberationem) is ‘weighing’ (2009, p.35), so when a randomly-selected assembly member of an allotted chamber (AC) ‘like me’ weighs up the arguments and judges accordingly then I am descriptively represented. But is it possible to take this further and argue that I thereby consent to the judgment of a randomly-selected assembly? The argument for this further claim would need to take the following lines (paraphrasing Fishkin, 2009):

  1. Someone ‘like’ me would, ex hypothesi, exercise judgment in the same way that I would myself. The argument does not require a definition of the ‘likeness’ criteria (age, gender, occupation, political preferences etc.), as the randomization process in principle reflects the incidence of any quality in the general population.
  2. The number of representatives ‘like me’ in an allotted assembly would be proportionate to the number in the general population. If the sample is not sufficiently fine-grained to accurately reflect the distribution of any quality deemed to be salient to the exercise of political judgment then the sample numbers would need to be increased accordingly: only a relatively small sample would be needed to provide an accurate gender balance, whereas the proportional representation of, say, albinos or molecular microbiologists would require a larger sample. The rapid growth of the polling industry is a testimonial to the accuracy and validity of the probability sampling principle.
  3. Therefore the aggregate judgment of the allotted assembly would represent the considered judgment of the whole population. This was the principle behind the nomothetai (legislative assemblies) introduced in fourth-century Athens.
  4. All electors are currently deemed to consent to the results of a general election, whether or not ‘their’ candidate was victorious; so the same principle should apply to the result of a vote in an allotted assembly (the only difference being the employment of one or other of the two mechanisms – election or sortition – that constitute a ‘ballot’.) Although one might argue that the ‘consent’ involved is at best tacit, hypothetical (or some other form of ‘useful fiction’), the same is true in both instances of the ‘ballot’.

But, according to Manin, this argument is false: ‘However lot is interpreted, whatever its other properties, it cannot possibly be perceived as an expression of consent’ (Manin, 1997, pp.84-5, my emphasis). According to Manin the only way of establishing consent is via the mechanism of the preference election. This is on account of the Natural Right theory that was dominant at the time of the birth of representative government. But are preference elections really an effective way of demonstrating consent, given that the aggregated outcome can only approximate the views of the average voter? How can one be deemed to have consented to an outcome that one did not personally vote for? An investigation of the strength of Manin’s argument requires a digression into the development of Natural Right theory – if in the end the notion of electoral consent has shaky foundations, then the Fishkinian alternative merits serious consideration, especially as the canonical narrative of electoral consent will be seen to rely on an archaic ‘corporatist’ perspective of the social orders which is of little relevance in an age that emphasises the sovereignty of the atomised individual.

Natural Right Theory

John Locke (1632-1704) is the best-known advocate of the principle that all legitimate government rests upon the consent of the governed. Just about the only thing that Locke had in common with his intellectual predecessor Thomas Hobbes was the shared belief that the ‘commonwealth’ (civic society) was the result of a ‘social contract’ between citizens (or subjects) and their government. Both writers are vague as to when and where this contract was signed. Hobbes – who did not have a high regard for historians (other than Thucydides, whose work he harnessed for rhetorical purposes) – argued, following Grotius and Selden, that the social contract was a logical deduction from observations on human psychology: given man’s innate combination of fearfulness, egoism and pride, the only rational (prudential) course is for all men to exchange their natural freedom for the order and protection of the sovereign. Given that each man’s imperative is the preservation of his own life, it matters little what form the resultant government takes so long as its sovereignty is unchallenged and peace is preserved. The context for Hobbes’s work was the Civil War, hence his wish for peace at any cost: it’s perfectly natural for the war-weary to consent to any form of government that will ensure that the pikes can safely be returned to the thatch or, better still, melted down and turned into ploughshares.

What a difference forty years makes: with the turmoil and bloodshed of the Civil War behind them, Locke and his friends and patrons could afford the luxury of desiring not just the protection of their lives, but also their liberty and property. The latter meant that all (property-owning) citizens should themselves consent to the tax-raising requirements of the executive. But this is where it all gets a little tricky, as Locke slips, without justification,

from insisting on the individual’s consent to taxation, to assuming the consent of only a majority, or even a majority of representatives. The slippage at [Locke, 1967] §140, p.380 takes place within a single phrase: However fair or necessary taxation is, ‘still it must be with his own Consent, i.e. the Consent of the Majority, giving it either by themselves, or their Representatives chosen by them’. (Hampsher-Monk, 1992, p.104)

What makes the problem even worse is the historical fact that the parliamentary ‘consent’ mechanism that Locke was describing had its origins not in the ‘bottom-up’ theorising of the social contract, but in the ‘top-down’ requirement of medieval kings for the towns and counties of the realm to send knights and burgesses to meet with the king’s council. Parliament was created for the convenience of the crown – during the thirteenth century it became an accepted rule that the representatives of those who were going to be most affected by taxation had to give their consent to it in parliament – the Q.O.T. principle derived from Roman law. Attendance at parliament was a ‘chore and a duty, reluctantly performed’ (Pitkin, 1967, p.3) and was in no sense considered a representative function. However ‘[t]he authorities who thus called for the election of representatives usually insisted that they be invested with full powers (plenipotentiarii) – that is to say, that the electors should consider themselves bound by the decisions of the elected, whatever those decisions may be’ (Manin, 1997, p.87). Thus electoral representation started out for the convenience of the executive, in order to establish the ‘consent’ of the ruled:

Once the delegates had given their consent to a particular measure or tax, the king, pope, or emperor could then turn to the people and say: ‘You consented to have representatives speak on your behalf; you must now obey what they have approved.’ (Manin, 1997, pp.87-8).

Very often the elected representatives of the people were merely asked to give their ‘seal of approval’ to what the authorities had proposed. There were usually no policy choices involved and the process was often limited to a mere ‘acclamation’ (ibid.). Philosophers were then recruited to justify this political imperative, resulting in the theory of Natural Rights:

[M]ost strong rights theories have in fact been explicitly authoritarian rather than liberal. Hobbes is representative, not exceptional. . . It is true that more liberal rights theories grew out of this conservative and authoritarian tradition . . . but the Grotian origins of these liberal theories cannot be ignored, for they were always uneasily close to their authoritarian counterparts (Tuck, 1979, p.3).

Given the tiny franchise of the late seventeenth century, and the domination of the Commons by the patronage of landed interests, MPs might very well have been unanimous in their opposition to levels of taxation that constituted an assault on their ‘natural right’ to hold property. Locke was no democrat: ‘he stands on the whole for the Whig grandees, entrenched in the House of Commons’ (Barker, 1971, p.xxvi). ‘In Locke by clear implication the test of membership is roughly equivalent to the forty shilling freehold’ (Franklin, 1981, p.125). Perhaps this is the reason that he appears not even to notice the conflation in his phrase: ‘his own Consent, i.e. the Consent of the Majority’. To a modern reader it is clear that one’s own consent may or may not coincide with the majority position but with a tiny, and relatively homogeneous, property-owning franchise, it may well have been that parliamentary representation was simply a case of ‘chaps like us’ who one could rely on to protect the family silver.

The construction of Lockean-style government-by-consent in a mass democracy of atomised individuals with disparate views and interests is a much more serious challenge. Hegel (like Burke), adopted the pre-modern perspective: political representation was via the corporations of civil society: ‘[deputies] are representatives not of individuals or a conglomeration of them, but of one of the essential spheres of society and its large-scale interests’ (Hegel, 2010, p.160). However, a representative assembly in a greatly expanded franchise becomes a congress of individual particular interests, so the distinction between the majority and minority positions becomes a very real one. How is it possible to maintain the principle that everyone should give ‘his own consent’ under universal franchise, with the inevitable conflict between the interests of a ‘multitude of particular men’?

Today, a person is deemed to be politically ‘represented’ no matter what, i.e., regardless of his own will and actions or that of his representative. A person is considered represented if he votes, but also if he does not vote. He is considered represented if the candidate he has voted for is elected, but also if another candidate is elected. He is represented, whether the candidate he voted or did not vote for does or does not do what he wished him to do. And he is considered politically represented, whether ‘his’ representative will find majority support among all elected representatives or not (Hoppe, 2001, pp. 283-4).

Consent by Proxy

Consent by the mechanism of preference elections is at best partial, tacit and approximate as it reflects only the consent of the majority (or at least its corporate representatives) and there is no obvious way for parliamentary representatives to accurately divine what the actual views of their constituents might be. But an alternative approach to electoral approximation, and better suited to a mass individualist society, is sortive representation by proxyI may not attend (and consent or dissent) in person but, if the sampling process is accurate, there would be people like me present who could participate on my behalf, and their presence would be directly proportionate to how many people ‘like me’ there are in the wider population:

A representative microcosm offers a picture of what everyone would think under good conditions. In theory if everyone deliberated, the conclusions would not be much different. So the microcosm offers a proxy for the much more ambitious scenario of what would happen if everyone discussed the issues and weighed competing arguments under similarly favourable conditions (Fishkin, 2009, p.194, my emphasis).

But could representation by proxy ever be considered a form of consent? Can I be a party to a contract that I did not sign myself? This is certainly no worse than mythical social contracts that are either the result, in Hobbes’s case, of logical deduction of how a ‘rational’ person would choose to act or, in Locke’s case, ‘speculative economic history’ (Hampsher-Monk, 1992,  p.90). And, as demonstrated above, the notion that consent is somehow embodied in electoral representation is only true under the near-unanimous conditions of the tiny property-based franchise of Locke’s time. So ‘consent by proxy’ would have to do very little work to improve on the dubious claims of consent by electoral approximation.

Fishkin’s Rome healthcare DP enabled elected officials to argue that the ‘perceived legitimacy’ of the DP results gave them the ‘cover to do the right thing’ (ibid., p.151) – the implication being that electoral success and legitimacy are anything other than synonymous (due to the widespread perception that elected officials are more often than not just ‘feathering their own nests’). The crucial issue is that of perceived legitimacy. A sophisticated knowledge of probability theory is required in order to understand how a sample can truly be representative of a target population. Probability theory was unknown in classical times, casting doubt on the claim that the lot was used as a method of random sampling, Dowlen (2008) arguing that sortition was primarily a mechanism to inhibit factionalism and corruption. But that does not rule out probability sampling as a way of representing public opinion in modern times (otherwise the opinion pollsters would all go bankrupt). All that is needed is to educate the wider public over the perceived legitimacy of the lot.

References

Barker, E. (1971), Introduction to Social Contract: Essays by Locke, Hume, Rousseau (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Dowlen, O. (2008), The Political Potential of Sortition: A Study of the Random Selection of Citizens for Public Office, Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Fishkin, J.A. (2009), When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy & Public Consultation (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Franklin, J. (1981), John Locke and the Theory of Sovereignty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Hampsher-Monk, I. (1992), A History of Modern Political Thought (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

Hegel, G.W.F. (2010), Philosophy of Right, trans T.M. Knox (Digireads.com)

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001), Democracy – The God That Failed (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers).

Locke, J. (1967), Two Treatises of Government, ed. P. Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Manin, B. (1997), The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Pitkin, H. (1967), The Concept of Representation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).

Tuck, R. (1979), Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

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36 Responses

  1. To say that the argument for consent to the decisions of ACs is no worse than the argument for consent to the decisions of an elected legislature is to damn the former with faint praise. There are two issues here, and social contract theorists conflate them all the time. First, did people actually consent to a policy? Second, would people consent to a policy if asked (under some set of normatively relevant circumstances)? As Manin et al. note, the original idea behind elections was the first–they wanted a system that would basically be a way that people actually expressed their consent. But much of the social contract tradition has actually addressed the second. Certainly, there’s no way to read Hobbes or Rawls as offering an account of actual consent. I think that sortition gives us a chance to make a fresh break from some of the problems of the social contract tradition, provided we can get them sorted out properly. But it would be a mistake to repeat those mistakes instead.

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  2. I have puzzled over how people can be deemed to have “consented” to a government, when voting against every successful candidate and policy at every opportunity, or not having voted at all. The assumption is that the majority are allowed to speak for the minority against their will. I concluded that, as a matter of practice, consent means not rising up in revolt.

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  3. 1. I doubt that your assertion that it “was well known at the time that sortition was one of the primary mechanisms of Athenian democracy” is true. The fact that sortition was nowhere mentioned during the constitutional debates suggests otherwise. The fact that Madison claimed that the Athenian council was elected (Federalist 63) suggest that either he was misinformed or that he expected his audience to be uninformed.

    2. The claim that the Anti-federalists “argued the democratic case for descriptive representation” is a substantial over-statement. The anti-federalists wanted to see the “great” checked by the “middling class”, but the idea that the poor should be represented in proportion to their numbers would have probably struck them as patently absurd.

    3. The reason for the elision of sortition should be sought not in philosophy but in interest. A remarkable degree of naivety is required to believe that a feasible possibility would be ruled out due to incompatibility with some arbitrary principles. Principles are an infinitely malleable creature, and no two statements can ever be proven to be incompatible if interests demand that they are be deemed compatible. The powerful (federalists and anti-federalists) were hostile to democracy and were therefore hostile to sortition.

    4. When considering the viability of a societal arrangement, the question is that of interests. If people perceive that a certain arrangement is beneficial to them (“just and efficient”) compared to feasible alternatives then they can be expected to support it. If enough people support it, then it can be created or maintained. Arguments about whether that arrangement enjoys “consent” or “legitimacy” (as characteristics separate from interest or benefit) make about as much sense as arguments about whether the system is “tasty” or “metallic”.

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  4. OK but Manin is the most-cited authority on representative government (and the 2nd supervisor of my PhD), so the first task is to demonstrate that he’s wrong.

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  5. Yoram: “the idea that the poor should be represented in proportion to their numbers would have probably struck [the antifederalists] as patently absurd.”

    I think this is a little unfair. These are the relevant extracts from Brutus’s tract from the Antifederalist papers:

    First of all the call for descriptive representation:

    “The very term, representative, implies, that the person or body chosen for this purpose, should resemble those who appoint them — a representation of the people of America, if it be a true one, must be like the people”

    “It is obvious, that for an assembly to be a true likeness of the people of any country, they must be considerably numerous. — One man. or a few men, cannot possibly represent the feelings, opinions, and characters of a great multitude.”

    “In this assembly, the farmer, merchant, mecanick. and other various orders of people, ought to be represented according to their respective weight and numbers.”

    Secondly, the acknowledgment that election is an inherently aristocratic process that will lead to plutocracy:

    “According to the common course of human affairs, the natural aristocracy of the country will be elected. Wealth always creates influence, and this is generally much increased by large family connections: this class in society will for ever have a great number of dependents; besides, they will always favour each other — it is their interest to combine — they will therefore constantly unite their efforts to procure men of their own rank to be elected — they will concenter all their force in every part of the state into one point, and by acting together, will most generally carry their election.”

    Given the prevalent intellectual climate, this is all pretty radical stuff. I acknowledge, of course, that the antifederalist view of universal suffrage excluded women and blacks but, notwithstanding this proviso, I don’t see how you can argue that their call for all classes to be represented “according to their respective weight and numbers” means anything other than that.

    If so, then it remains a puzzle as to why the case for sortition did not receive an airing. I share your scepticism regarding Manin’s argument (I don’t think many people had read Locke), but I’m not prepared to dismiss all ideological factors as just an epiphenomenon of class interests. That’s why I argue that religion (along with geography) had a significant part to play.

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  6. > I think this is a little unfair.

    This is merely being realistic. Just to put this kind of rhetoric in its proper context, note that at the time slavery was still legal in New York (where Brutus lived) and voting rights were limited to wealthy males. Are we really to believe that Brutus was proposing to have slaves, women and property-less men sitting in the legislature?

    The descriptive representation idea was standard at the time, apparently, and was paid lip service to by John Adams as well, for example (“portrait of the people at large in miniature”). So if we take these expressions literally we would have to conclude that there was unanimity on this matter. The opposite is true: large sections of the population were so marginalized that there was unanimity among the elite that they should be excluded. It was thus taken for granted that any talk about descriptive representation doesn’t apply to those sections.

    In the case of the anti-federalists, it is rather obvious that their concerns were that the powers of the state aristocracy would be diminished by the influence of the federal aristocracy. They phrased their objections with the aim of convincing the voters, which of course meant using more populist trappings for their message.

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  7. I still think this underplays the differences between the federalist and anti-federalist factions. I agree that slaves and women were to be excluded, but the position with propertyless white males was less clear (and the Lockean 50-acre franchise was attainable with relative ease in many states).

    Brutus’s emphasis on men of middling status was because he knew that there was no chance of the “great body of the yeomen of the country” achieving direct representation via an electoral system. As to why sortition was not proposed by the antifederalists is hard to say, but it remains the case that their writings aspire to the same goals as the advocates of sortition. Whether they all really believed in those goals is impossible to know, as they lost the debate and we don’t know what system of government would have been established if they had won it (other than a greater emphasis on state autonomy). But I don’t see why this should preclude those of us who believe in sortition from using their writings as a source of inspiration.

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  8. Again, similar rhetoric was made by the federalists. No elite speaker took it too seriously, it seems. There was no statistical representation in the States either – Brutus was apparently perfectly happy with that.

    If you find such rhetoric inspirational that is up to you, but psychologizing about religious sensibilities or philosophical dispositions when a simple matter of self-interest provides a straightforward explanation of the facts is just dogmatism.

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  9. It strikes me as equally dogmatic to reduce all arguments to material intrerests. I prefer to give agents the benefit of the doubt and believe that they might even mean what they say. You find that naive [I’m not sure why it’s dogmatic], so we’ll just have to agree to differ.

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  10. So, are you willing to believe that all “agents” mean what they say regardless of what they do or is your naivety selective?

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  11. This is the standard (and rather tedious) dispute between the intentionalist and contextualist camps in the history of political thought, represented in turn by Mark Bevir and the Cambridge School. Sensible people (as opposed to dogmatists) argue that you need both perspectives. Of course you have to take what historical agents say with a pinch of salt, the problem with taking contextualism to its logical extreme is that the interpreter puts herself in a similar position to the psychoanalist, arguing that you can ignore what the agent actually says because she knows the real meaning of the agent’s utterances. Intentionalists start from the position that we should give the speaker/writer the benefit of the doubt and assume that they mean what they say.

    Of course all psychoanalysis is based on a set of dogmas (Freudian, Jungian, Lacanian etc) and so is contextual analysis. In your case the ruling dogma appears to be scientific materialism, in which agents just act out their personal and class interests, reducing all ideation to an epiphenomenon of underlying interests.

    I’m not denying that interests colour ideation, but strongly deny that they determine it.

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  12. This is the standard (and very tedious) dispute between people who look at the facts and draw straightforward inferences and those who invent convoluted explanations in order to fit inconvenient facts into preconceived ideas (also known as dogma).

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  13. I don’t know what preconceived ideas you are referring to. My only claim is that the behaviour of human agents is influenced by other things in addition to the pursuit of self- and class-interests, including ideational factors like religious belief as well as geography, climate etc. I also believe that you should give some credence to what human agents actually say. Why do you describe that as dogmatic — and what are the tenets of the faith to which you claim I subscribe?

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  14. I’m not an expert on the federalist/antifederalist debates–that’s a fascinating topic that, I think, warrants much further attention by students of democratic theory. But even if one believes, as Yoram does, that class interests heavily inform political commitments, that does leave much room here for substantive agreements. The difference between wanting policies that serve the very rich, and wanting policies that serve the very rich and the middle class, is real and serious. It used to distinguish the Democrats and the Republicans (though not so much now), and it surely informed the Federalist/Antifederalist debate. You don’t have to think that the Antifeds were strong egalitarians to think that they wanted a wider circle of political participation.

    The really interesting question is how so many people (even highly elitist individuals like Adams) could have used the rhetoric of descriptive representation. Surely Adams wasn’t simply lying when he said he wanted a legislature that was :”an exact portrait, in miniature” of the whole people. So how could he advocate that AND be such an elitist? How did he consistently maintain both positions? To dismiss the possibility out of hand seems artificially to restrict the scope of the political universe.

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  15. Agreed, and if the commitment to descriptive representation was genuine, why they didn’t even consider sortition as an option. Manin puts it down to Locke; Yoram to self- and class-interests, whereas I argue that religion, geography and faculty psychology were also factors. Hansen claims it was because Athenian democracy was (mis-)represented to them by Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon and other enemies of democracy. Like most things, all of these factors probably came into the mix.

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  16. > But even if one believes, as Yoram does, that class interests heavily inform political commitments

    While this is true, I really don’t think such belief is necessary in the current context. The available evidence indicates that neither Brutus nor any other member of the political elite of that time (or any time since) had literal commitment to the idea of having a legislature with a statistical resemblance to the population. If Brutus had such commitment he would be excoriating the failure of the state legislatures to achieve this resemblance rather than use this standard as a tool for arguing against a federal chamber.

    > The difference between wanting policies that serve the very rich, and wanting policies that serve the very rich and the middle class, is real and serious.

    I don’t see any reason to believe that such a distinction existed between the Federalists and the Anti-federalists. Again, the straightforward interpretation here is that the Anti-federalists used the term “middling class” to essentially refer to themselves, the local aristocracy. (Much as Republicans talk about their policies benefiting the middle class.)

    Taking interested parties’ statements at face value is a risky business to begin with. Taking them at face value when such an interpretation goes against other factual evidence is irrational.

    > Surely Adams wasn’t simply lying when he said he wanted a legislature that was :”an exact portrait, in miniature” of the whole people. So how could he advocate that AND be such an elitist? How did he consistently maintain both positions?

    I am quite sure that Adams, like Brutus, could settle such statements with his elitist world view in a way that would appear consistent to him. So could any sufficiently articulate person who was committed to doing so. In that narrow sense, they were surely not lying.

    They probably have not been lying in a much more substantive sense: their audience did not think that such statements would be in conflict with the speakers’ elitist world views. The fact that such statements were made publicly in the context they were made attests to that. Due to that context, it is quite clear that it is the interpretation of those statements as showing some sort of a radical commitment to political equality that is false. An attempt to explain why such a commitment did not translate to support for sortition is thus completely misguided.

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  17. OK, but it’s anachronistic to apply modern standards of political equality to past agents and I’m still waiting to hear the nature of the preconceived ideas and dogma that I’m alleged to subscribe to.

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  18. Very interesting thread here, serendipitously appropriate to my attendance yesterday at an event at the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank). I asked a couple of the institute’s fellows if anyone there might be supportive of a sortitionally-chosen policy-making body. Both vigorously replied in the negative.
    The apposite negation was ‘consent’.
    “What?” one asked, “Remember it is states that matter. Take Vermont. It has only one representative (because of its small population). Say that 10,000 place themselves in the lot for sortitional selection. Then you use a dart board to choose the representative. Will be he a socialist? (as is the only avowed socialist in Congress: Senator Saunders from Vermont).” … the man’s point being: How could the populace feel they had ‘consented’?
    I find Keith’s initial submission here useful to this point. Namely: Any one of those hypothetical 10,000 would not satisfy ‘consent’.
    Furthermore, we are all, in our particularity, each an albino molecular microbiologist.
    And worse (as this blog previously alerted me): Even the most strictly proportionally representative body (chosen sortitionally) would by its very nature immediately lose that demographic denomination … and through deliberation would automatically become a specialist elite (since it would be focusing its attention and gaining knowledge different than the mainstream). The British Columbia Citizens Assembly being the example where, then, the mainstream rejected the Assembly’s advice (or … was it that the mainstream was influenced by a special interest group to reject the Assembly’s advice?).
    In any case, I heartily agree with the concluding sentence of Keith’s submission: “All that is needed is to educate the wider public over the perceived legitimacy of the lot.”
    And I continue to seek ways in which to accomplish that education.

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  19. David: “All that is needed is to educate the wider public over the perceived legitimacy of the lot.” And I continue to seek ways in which to accomplish that education.

    Thanks David — this is one thing we all agree on, the question is how best to go about it. To my mind Fishkin’s approach (demonstration by experiment) is the most convincing way, even if many on this blog feel he is insufficiently radical in his agenda. And along with that we need to do the conceptual work, unpicking the argument that elections embody consent and showing what sortition can and cannot do (in theory). And given that most citizens are of a moderate political disposition we shouldn’t frighten people off with too much radical egalitarian rhetoric — it would be good to include the guys from Cato alongside those with a left-leaning agenda, as we really need a broad nonpartisan coalition. Personally I’d like to change the name of the blog, but that’s probably a step too far!

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  20. > I’m still waiting to hear the nature of the preconceived ideas and dogma that I’m alleged to subscribe to.

    You are committed to the idea that the Federalist-Antifederalist conflict was somehow an elitism-vs.-democracy ideological conflict. The straightforward interpretation of the facts is that it was simply an elite power struggle with a thin patina of ideology.

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  21. > the man’s point being: How could the populace feel they had ‘consented’?

    These guys are ridiculous. When did the populace consent to the current order, and in particular to the “property rights” so dear to the libertarians?

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  22. > Personally I’d like to change the name of the blog, but that’s probably a step too far!

    All you have to do is to get a few of the regulars here to support an alternative name – I am certainly open to this possibility (I don’t think it matters much one way or another).

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  23. > it would be good to include the guys from Cato alongside those with a left-leaning agenda, as we really need a broad nonpartisan coalition.

    I think you will find that “the guys from Cato” do nothing unless they are paid to do so by their puppet-masters.

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  24. I’m not too bothered about the fed/anti dispute, but don’t feel that “dogma” is the right description — this usually refers to an overarching metaphysic (idealism, dialectical materialism or whatever). I don’t think I’m dogmatic in this sense of the word (however the claim that all ideology can be reduced to the struggle between social classes is a well-known dogma). My preference is to keep an open mind and accept that a multiplicity of factors could be involved.

    Regarding the consent issue, I’m equally puzzled as to how anyone can still take this seriously. I’m looking forward to some arguments with Manin on this.

    The name change was just a cheeky suggestion. I suppose it depends on what the main focus of the blog is to be — my interest is sortition, and I’m a little bothered that the title is partisan in this respect. But if we’re going to continue to discuss education and other social justice issues, I suppose the title is just about right.

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  25. Yoram, I followed your ‘puppet masters’ link and noted that Wikipedia also says this about Cato:
    =======
    Cato’s corporate fund raising may be hampered by its scholars’ tendency to take positions that are at odds with some of the interests of some large corporations. Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls “corporate welfare,” the practice of funneling taxpayer money to politically well-connected corporate interests.
    ========
    Not that I want to promote Cato … or Brookings … or the Tea Party, Democrats, Republicans, socialists, etc. I’ve been making a point of attending at least a session or two of all of them.
    Seems to me that the core of sortitional selection is that it assures *legitimacy*. Nothing ‘skulldugerous’! Nothing off-with-their-heads. Everyone their just deserts.
    Not really ‘equality’ by lot … since resentment of the rich is not much of general concern. (Though the obscenely rich deserve social approbation.)
    Rather, simply if if tritely: Government BY the people.

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  26. Regarding Cato: I find their protestations of independence unconvincing. Talking to them doesn’t do much harm, of course, unless you take them too seriously.

    Regarding sortition: I think legitimacy is derived from efficacy. If the public can be convinced that sortition may result in better policy outcomes, legitimacy will follow. As for “government by the people” – I think that is rather vague. “Political equality” is just as simple and more accurate.

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  27. > don’t feel that “dogma” is the right description — this usually refers to an overarching metaphysic

    If you prefer “pre-conceived ideas”, I have no objections. What overarching metaphysical framework your pre-conceived ideas serve is more than I care to explore.

    > the claim that all ideology can be reduced to the struggle between social classes is a well-known dogma

    True – but I doubt that there is anyone who actually adheres to this well-known dogma.

    > Regarding the consent issue, I’m equally puzzled as to how anyone can still take this seriously.

    This is a straightforward case of a class-interest induced dogma.

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  28. > the claim that all ideology can be reduced to the struggle between social classes is a well-known dogma.

    Yoram: True – but I doubt that there is anyone who actually adheres to this well-known dogma.

    Well, this was your earlier verdict:

    “The reason for the elision of sortition should be sought not in philosophy but in interest. . . . When considering the viability of a societal arrangement, the question is that of interests. If people perceive that a certain arrangement is beneficial to them (“just and efficient”) compared to feasible alternatives then they can be expected to support it. If enough people support it, then it can be created or maintained.”

    Although you didn’t use the word “class”, it’s implicit throughout your message. The metaphysical dogma you are expressing here is usually associated with Feuerbach, Marx, Engels and writers of a similar persuasion. By contrast my own view — that interests are one factor among many (albeit an important one) that influence ideology is not normally associated with a dogmatic position — unless you view open-minded pluralism as a dogma.

    > Regarding the consent issue, I’m equally puzzled as to how anyone can still take this seriously.

    Yoram: “This is a straightforward case of a class-interest induced dogma.”

    That may or may not have been true when Locke wrote his second treatise, but are you suggesting that Bernard Manin is just a capitalist lickspittle, who has sold his soul to the same nefarious cabal of puppetmasters that allegedly pull the strings of the scholars at the Cato Institute? I’m inclined to take a more charitable view and think that he really believes it and try to use reasoned argument to persuade him that he’s wrong.

    One further question: if political views can be reduced to interests, then why do you spend such a long time trying to persuade people to change their views? And how do you explain the divergent views of, for example Manin, Gat, Stone and Sutherland, who sociologists would probably roughly all categorise as middle class. What are the interests that incline me to one viewpoint, and what are the divergent interests that incline you to such a different one? I certainly haven’t gained any money and status out of promulgating my reactionary Madisonian views; what have you gained from promulgating your neo-Marxist views? (sorry to use that proscribed term, but needed something to match the “Madisonian reactionary” badge you have chosen to pin on me).

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  29. David: “Not really ‘equality’ by lot … since resentment of the rich is not much of general concern.”

    Exactly. I think it would be more true to describe it as envy rather than resentment. In the UK there is a vast market for weekly magazines (OK, Heat, Celebrity etc) that enable their readers to envy the life-style of footballers (and footballers’ wives) along with pop- and film-stars etc. If it was a case of resentment rather than envy then the magazines would be burnt or vandalised rather than purchased. Assuming that people are motivated to spend their money by pleasure rather than pain, then one must conclude that this sort of envy is a pleasurable experience. And I don’t see many calls for equality — people might well aspire to earn the same money as Ashley Cole (or to bed his ex-wife), but I’m not aware of widespread resentment. In the case of bankers and their bonuses, the resentment is largely on account of the consequences of the financial crash — the bonuses were OK when the banking sector was a cash cow, whose tax revenues and lax lending policy fuelled the illusion of prosperity that we all came to rely on over the last decade.

    I could go on about how the very notion of equality is a mathematical (and religious) abstraction, that has no correspondence in the real world, but suspect that Equality by Lot is not the best place for such a view.

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  30. > Well, this was your earlier verdict: […]

    And how is this verdict connected to in any way to the reductionist dogma?

    > By contrast my own view […]

    Call it dogma or pre-conception – you ignore the evidence and proceed to offer convoluted theories that raise more problems than they resolve. Even the reductionist dogma, as problematic and self-contradictory as it is, makes more sense than that.

    > but are you suggesting that Bernard Manin is just a capitalist lickspittle, who has sold his soul to the same nefarious cabal of puppetmasters that allegedly pull the strings of the scholars at the Cato Institute?

    It is, of course, you who is being a reductionist.

    I do not know Manin personally, and I am rather appreciative of his book. The “consent” dogma itself was quite obviously induced by class interests. Once a dogma is widely adopted, it becomes easy to subscribe to it as a matter of course, out of convention, habit, or to gain acceptance by others. I suspect that if there was any real argument in favor of the consent dogma we would be aware of it by now, but by all means, if you learn of a convincing argument from Manin, do let me know.

    > if political views can be reduced to interests, then why do you spend such a long time trying to persuade people to change their views?

    Yes – the self-contradiction inherent in the reductionist dogma is well known and quite obvious, which is one reason that I doubt that anyone (Marx or anyone else) adheres to such an idea.

    > I certainly haven’t gained any money and status out of promulgating my reactionary Madisonian views; what have you gained from promulgating your neo-Marxist views?

    I think you are getting your dogmas confused: the notion that individuals do only those things that benefit them with money or status is actually a Capitalist dogma. Class interests are supposedly working on a larger scale than the individual.

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  31. “And how is this verdict connected to in any way to the reductionist dogma?”

    Because you are seeking to reduce human behaviour to the operation of self- and class-interests, irrespective of the stated convictions of the agents. That’s what reductionism means — in cognitive science this using means explaining psychological traits using the tools of neurophysiology; the reduction of (cognitive) beliefs to (material) interests is a similar process.

    “Call it dogma or pre-conception – you ignore the evidence and proceed to offer convoluted theories that raise more problems than they resolve.”

    Like Peter, I simply refuse to believe that everyone is either a) lying or b) an unconscious pawn in the interplay of objective forces (material and/or historical). Michael Oakeshott argued that the concept of human conduct presupposes the notion of free agency (albeit conditioned by other factors). This presupposes that agents are given the benefit of the doubt. Yes this is a preconception on my behalf, but it’s a liberal one, not a dogmatic one.

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  32. > Because you are seeking to reduce human behaviour to the operation of self- and class-interests, irrespective of the stated convictions of the agents.

    There is no part of this statement that is true. It is at least as nonsensical as saying that you are seeking to reduce human behavior to the operation of religious sentiment.

    > I simply refuse to believe that everyone is either a) lying or b) an unconscious pawn in the interplay of objective forces (material and/or historical).

    This is a complete non-sequitur: Are you asserting that the above are the only possible alternatives to ascribing a radical democratic ideology to the Anti-federalists? If not, then what is your point?

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  33. I don’t see any way of interpreting points 3 and 4 of your comment of April 12:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/the-triumph-of-election/#comment-1408

    other than as an attempt to reduce ideology to interests. If not then what did you mean? As Peter put it: “Surely Adams wasn’t simply lying when he said he wanted a legislature that was :”an exact portrait, in miniature” of the whole people.” If, as you claim, all that is needed to explain the behaviour of Federalists and Antifederalists is the notion of class interests then either Adams was lying or else he was the victim of unconscious forces that obliged him to say one thing and do another. What other alternative is there?

    And I’m still waiting to hear what divergent interests cause Manin, Gat, Stone, Sutherland etc to have such divergent ideologies.

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  34. Returning to Peter’s comment on the apparent similarity between the Anti-Federalist Brutus and the Federalist John Adams, there is a crucial difference. Adams’s view, expressed in a 1776 letter to George Wythe of Virginia, was that a representative assembly should be ‘in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large’. However, although Adams argued that the legislature ‘should think, feel, reason, and act like [the people at large]’ and that it should do strict justice to their interests in an impartial manner, he stopped short of arguing that the membership should be *constituted* by the people at large, and especially not “according to their respective weight and numbers”. Anti-federalists might have retorted that Madisonian ‘natural aristocrats’ wouldn’t even know the interests of ‘the people at large’, so the latter would need to be present themselves, in proportion to their respective weight and numbers. It should also be noted that Adams’s letter was written at the start of the War of Independence – over a decade before the Philadelphia constitutional convention of 1787, when the division between the Federalist and anti-Federalist position became more entrenched.

    So I think there is a case that the Antifederalists should have considered the case for sortition, whereas the Federalists would have had good cause to rubbish it.

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  35. > I don’t see any way of interpreting points 3 and 4 of your comment of April 12

    Since I don’t see how those comments could be seen as making the argument you make, I guess there is not enough common ground here to have a useful discussion. This does exemplify, by the way, the fact I alluded to: no principles can ever be clearly enough articulated so that their interpretation and application in particular cases cannot be disputed.

    > If, as you claim, all that is needed to explain the behaviour of Federalists and Antifederalists is the notion of class interests then either Adams was lying or else he was the victim of unconscious forces that obliged him to say one thing and do another. What other alternative is there?

    Since the contradiction between descriptive representation and support for elections is common ground between us, then the question of why Adams made his “portrait in miniature” statement is irrelevant to the question of how he resolved the contradiction. As I already indicated, I don’t think Brutus was lying. Likewise I don’t think Adams was. In either case, however, assuming that they were lying would be a far more reasonable and useful explanation than resorting to inference of some mysterious religious sentiments.

    > I’m still waiting to hear what divergent interests cause Manin, Gat, Stone, Sutherland etc to have such divergent ideologies.

    You are waiting in vain. There may be very many divergent interests, but there is no need to assume that divergence of interests exists in order to explain differences of opinions.

    > Returning to Peter’s comment on the apparent similarity between the Anti-Federalist Brutus and the Federalist John Adams, there is a crucial difference.

    This question was not raised by Peter, but by me in my first comment after you quoted Brutus, and repeatedly thereafter. You ignored this matter in comment after comment. Finally, 6 days later, you come up with what is obviously a forced and convoluted excuse.

    Yes – Adams didn’t write that the legislature should be “constituted by the people at large” but neither did Brutus. One could make an argument analogous to the one that you made, asserting that “resemblance”, “being able to form a just idea of the people’s character”, “sign/signified”, “possessing the sentiments and feelings”, “governed by their interests”, etc., etc., don’t imply descriptive representation either. (In fact, I am quite sure that Brutus would make one version or another of this argument if pressed about the non-descriptiveness of the state legislature.)
    In general one can always nit-pick and claim to find “crucial” differences between any two statements that are not literally identical. (You provide here another point of evidence, if one needs to be provided, that no principle can ever be stated so clearly that its application cannot be disputed.) Building a whole edifice upon such subtle differences is a contrivance. You are just accreting another layer of contorted implausibility upon your original convoluted explanation – desperately clinging to a pre-conception.

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  36. “I guess there is not enough common ground here to have a useful discussion.”

    As you wish

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