Sortition in Spain

Jorge Cancio writes:

As you perhaps know, Spain is undergoing some difficult times, both economically and politically.

Since May a new social movement, demanding “real democracy now” has taken the streets. Its main focus is to criticize the lack of democratic participation rights and the hegemonic position of the two main political parties.

Some discussions and debates tend to concentrate on possible direct democratic institutions, already present in other countries, such as referenda, recall and legislatitive initiative.

However, discussion of sortition as a democratic tool is for the first time seriously hitting the streets. During the local elections in May a small political party favouring sortition launched its initiative in Galicia (

On November 20th we will have general elections for our parliament and a new initiative to form a party is being launched: It is worthwhile to spend some minutes visiting the website and reading its well written and argued contents.


77 Responses

  1. This is very interesting, Jorge. Could you provide some more information – especially for the benefit of those who don’t understand Spanish? What are the proposals? Are they getting any press coverage in Spain? What are the origins or affiliations of the groups?

    Please keep us up to date with any developments.


  2. Looking at the Azar website using Google translation, I found that it refers to some article in El Pais regarding sortition:

    We know five works brainy, well-argued and relatively recent, between 2004 and 2011 – written in Spanish democracy by lottery, is not much, but less is nothing. The shortest of them was published full page in August this year in El Pais Spanish newspaper with the largest circulation.

    Do you know what this article is?


  3. Dear all

    The article published in El Pais is the following one:

    Google translate really helps with Spanish-English ;-)

    The partidoazar website (literally “chanceparty” or “the lot party” or the “sortionist party”) has well written contents. And Yoram, they are on your side ;-) – they propose complete substitution of sortion-based institutions for elected ones.



  4. Some info on the wider “real democracy now!” movement (aka “15M” as it started on May 15th) in – I suggest you use google translate or sth similar.

    In general terms it’s a very wide grassroots movement, with some loose ties with preexisting leftist groupings – but all in all it represents an awakening of a previously apolitical mass of people.



  5. Do you know Carles Ferrer i Panadès, the author of the article? The article says he is a professor of philosophy.


  6. Unfortunately it’s the first time I hear about him…


  7. Prof. Ferrer’s article seems to have attracted some attention – beyond being quoted on the Partido Azar website, it is duplicated in various places on the web.

    I tried to track down Ferrer’s email, but couldn’t find it. Jorge, maybe you would be able to find a way to contact him and invite him to join the conversation here? I also wrote a message through the Partido Azar website with such an invitation.

    This is definitely one of the more exciting developments of the year, as far as I am concerned. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I would love to find ways to support these efforts.


  8. > I would love to find ways to support these efforts.

    Maybe we should take a page from George Orwell, go to Spain to join in the good fight :)


  9. All your help will be welcome ;-)
    I’ll be meeting up with some partidoazar promoters… will keep you posted –
    and as regards contacting Prof Ferrer: I’ve been looking for some contact data but it also seems elusive to me – let’s see…


  10. by the way, my own article (available on SSRN) -although not a best seller- has attracted many more visits since May 15th ;-)

    people are focusing much more on fundamentals now!



  11. “Form a party, form a party, form a party” ~ and th’ beat goes on. Just “trying” sortition here or there, now or then has already been done and has gotten Mankind no place. SAMPLING TIME is over, by some 2000+ years, for sure. It’s COMMITMENT TIME now, time to replace the faux-democracy of “Election = the Blanket Popularity Contest” with the real democracy of “Election = the BLANKET Lottery Drawing.” Doing it the Renaissance way or the Athenian way will only end up in failure as far as real democracy for Mankind is concerned.


  12. And how (other than ranting at the few unfortunates on this forum) do you propose that your blanket programme be implemented?


  13. Hi Jorge,

    Thanks very much for your information. Indeed, things seem to be moving in Spain!
    Having read the main texts on the websites of Partido Azar and Sorteo, I have a few questions, however; could I submit them to you, as my Spanish is barely sufficient to understand texts but not to write comments?
    I understand Azar advocates an assembly based on a stratified sample from the population, and mentions criteria like age, gender, region, education and income. Yet selected members of the assembly
    have to pass a minumum test (if I understand it correctly) and can refuse to participate quite easily. Those two conditions seem to detract from the representativeness of the assembly – which I suppose constitutes its main legitimation.
    A similar problem might arise if Sorteo wins seats in a municipal council: I understand that its seats will be taken by a random sample from candidates who have volunteered to be put on a list?
    Is my understanding correct in your opinion?

    Paul Lucardie


  14. The anti-politician sentiment in Spain is bubbling up in many countries. See this recent article in the New York Times.

    None of the other places seem to have any group promoting sortition though.

    Yoram, you might want to post a link to this article as a new thread.


  15. Terry,

    Why don’t you write a short post with your thoughts on this article? I’d be happy to join a discussion regarding the points being made. An interesting aside regarding dogma and reality in elite political discourse:

    Item 1:

    Unlike struggling Europe, Israel’s economy is a story of unusual success. It has grown from a sluggish state-dominated system to a market-driven high-tech powerhouse.

    Item 2:
    GDP per capita in the US, Israel, Spain and France


  16. Paul,

    While I agree that imposing screening tests is a serious deviation from democratic principles, I think allowing people to opt out is not a problem, provided that opting out is truly voluntary and is not in reality an unavoidable choice for some. Voluntarily opting out is a legitimate choice in a democracy, just as much as any other choice.

    In any case, even if we assume that opting out is problematic, as long as this is a choice made only by a small minority, it is hard to see it as a serious problem.


  17. Unfortunately opting out is the default position. Take for example the
    2004 British Columbia citizen assembly (Warren & Pearse, 2008). Of the original stratified sample of 23,034, only 1,715 opted to be selected, 964 came to the selection meeting and 158 were randomly selected, so there is no way to tell the degree to which the final assembly was an accurate microcosm of the whole population (arguably citizens with a proactive interest in political and constitutional issues would be more likely to volunteer their time). If the case for sortition is based on representativity (I accept that this is not true for all proponents) then opting out needs to be kept to a minimum, hence the efforts made to ensure as many people allotted to DPs actually show up.


  18. I am certainly not thinking of asking people to volunteer their time. This will be a well paid job (as it is now, of course). For this and other reasons I doubt many would choose to opt out of such an opportunity. Of course, part of the design task is to make sure this is the case.


  19. Agreed; but as well as inducements participation in politics would have to be seen as an honourable public duty, as in Athens, where social and cultural pressure was very powerful. I think to an extent this would be a natural consequence of allotted members having significant political power.


  20. Right. This is one important reason (among many others) why DPs are so different from a real allotted chamber as to make any analogies between the two pretty dubious.


  21. Yes, most DPs have been advisory only — the one exception being Zeguo China, where the DP preferences were implemented in full.


  22. For reasons we have discussed in the past, I don’t think any real political power was wielded by the DP members in the Zeguo case either.


  23. Personally I like to follow the lead of old positivists like Ivor Jennings and measure political power in terms of actual “clout”. In the Zeguo example DP members got their own way, even though this was contrary to the wishes of the local party officials, so that sounds pretty much like genuine political power to me. I agree that they didn’t set their own agenda, merely choosing between options that were already on the menu, so I suppose we’ll just have to agree to differ over the status of the poll.


  24. Right – so we differ as to whether significant political power is wielded by someone who makes a choice on an agenda set by someone else, from a set of options provided by that someone else, and based on information provided by that someone else.

    Clearly, a reference to an “old positivist like Ivor Jennings” makes your position that much more reasonable.


  25. Except that “someone else” is, in your example, singular. As you well know, my proposal (for democracies), is that the legislative agenda should be set by election or referendum. It is fundamentally un-democratic for an allotted assembly to both set its own agenda and judge the outcome. As for China, the Zeguo process was clearly an improvement on the agenda being set and judged by the same party cabal. Like Jennings, my concern is with actual political power rather than constitutional formalisms.


  26. > As you well know, my proposal (for democracies), is that the legislative agenda should be set by election or referendum.

    As usual, you are unable to keep to one topic – we were discussing DPs, not your proposals.

    > It is fundamentally un-democratic for an allotted assembly to both set its own agenda and judge the outcome.

    On the contrary – the only democratic way to set an agenda is for an AC to do it. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same AC that votes on specific proposals, but that is a secondary issue.)

    > As for China, the Zeguo process was clearly an improvement on the agenda being set and judged by the same party cabal. Like Jennings, my concern is with actual political power rather than constitutional formalisms.

    On the contrary – you seem to be concerned with formalisms alone, since substantively nothing has changed. This was merely a PR exercise in which Prof. Fishkin was happy to play his part of celebrity international academic. It has some interesting parallels to a TV reality show.


  27. I’m sorry you have to be so rude about the one researcher (Fishkin) who has done more to put sortition on the map than everyone else put together. Your argument for multiple allotted chambers does not address the problem of the substantive democratic equality of all citizens (as opposed to privileging the speech acts of the chosen few).

    As Pitkin puts it, descriptive representation “has no room for any kind of representing as acting for, or on behalf of others; which means that in the political realm it has no room for the creative activities of a representative legislature, the forging of consensus, the formulating of policy, the activity we roughly designate by ‘governing’ ” (1967, p.90). The only activity a descriptively-representative legislature can perform is to vote (ibid., pp.144-5).

    By all means continue to ignore my arguments, but you need to overcome these standard (and carefully-crafted) objections in the literature before repeating your claim that sortition alone is sufficient to form a legislature.


  28. Dear Keith

    Some comments I already shared with you some months ago in our mailing-list on the issue whether allotted chambers are equally “entitled” to act for the population they “statistically” represent as “elected” reps are nowadays:

    First, it is worth remembering that elected representatives lack an imperative mandate and, therefore, are supposed to speak their minds (or, more realistically, their political parties’ masters’ minds) as opposed to being bound and to “act for” their constituents in a descriptive sense.

    In this regard, I don’t see why an elected chamber is in a better position to comply with the “active” part of a representative chamber. As you say “Pitkin’s second category, requires the representative to pursue the interests of her constituents, in a similar manner to a trustee or legal advocate.”

    As we have seen, there is no imperative mandate and no agency relationship between an elected rep and his/her constituency. Instead, practical experience teaches us how elected representatives do many times not act as “trustees” or “legal advocates” but mainly pursue the interests of their parties –to whom they are directly accountable- and from time to time are subject to a general yes/no vote, where people merely may decide which of the -normally- two main parties may continue in government. The decision on who runs for a certain district is taken mainly (at least in continental Europe) by the leading circles of the political parties.

    In contrast, the members of allotted chambers will bring in the diverse interests of the population, as they would be a miniature mirror or reflection of it, and, hence, would, with their actions, be it debating the proposals of others or making their own proposals, be pursuing the diverse interests of the population.

    If we negate the possibility of allotted chamber members to speak, to discuss and to make proposals, we will deny them much of their value-added. Taken to the extreme this would mean that, as in the ancient roman assemblies they only would be able to say yes or no to the proposals of the magistrate. This would rip them off of much of their potential power in opening up the agenda setting function now controlled by parties and established power structures, in introducing and representing non-organised interests (remember Mancur Olson) and most importantly in improving the deliberative quality of our democracy as debates would be more free, less bound to party instructions.



  29. Just to add that in a sense when we elect our reps nowadays we believe in a fiction where we “translate sovereignity” to a number of people for them to act on our behalf, although we know that what we really do is to choose among closed lists of some professional politicians, strongly mediated and influenced by economic and media interests, who in the end are mainly accountable to structured special interests and whose professional life depends on their leaders’ wills.

    In an allotted chamber the fiction would be that in accepting the system we as a people accept the fiction that the selected members will stand and act for the population at large for a certain period of time. Paired with transparency rules, collegiality, rotation and brief mandates – isn’t this a preferable fiction?



  30. I am still waiting for the appearance of anyone who is convinced by your “carefully crafted arguments”, Keith.


  31. Yoram.

    While not quite convinced, I don’t dismiss Keith’s argument out of hand. I agree that the ultimate task of a sortition chamber is to vote, and that there is a risk of”undemocratic” distortion of the direction of the body by “speech acts” of arbitrary and unrepresentative talkative and persuasive individuals…I part with Keith when he suggests that elected members of another chamber have any MORE democratic legitimacy, or actual competence than the individual members selected by lot. The advantage of reduced risk of corruption may increase the democratic nature and outweigh the possible negatives of randomness of the individuals committing speech acts.


  32. Dear Terry

    I agree that there are of course more talkative and persuasive people – this is a fact of human natura we could say, and is present also in elective chambers.

    Nonetheless, there are of course possible rules in order to balance out to the furthest extent possible these assymetric endowments: time-limits, rotation, collegiality, rules of procedure, etc are all means which are well known in parliamentary and deliberative practices.



  33. Jorge,

    This is a sidetrack, but you say: “The decision on who runs for a certain district is taken mainly (at least in continental Europe) by the leading circles of the political parties.”

    Is that really so? Here in Norway, a district’s candidates are decided by the chapter of a party in that district. It’s something they are really touchy about. In the second to last election, it looked like the leader of the CD party could lose his seat in his home district (Akershus). He did find another district that was willing to give him a spot (the one where he was born) but this was controversial – even the former leader of the party criticized it.

    The right-wing progress party has been of the few parties in Norway to try to directly intervene in local nominations, in order to replace “loose cannons”. They have occasionally been hurt badly by it (in the districts they intervened in).

    In the eighties, the Labour party also tried to intervene in local nominations because some locales hadn’t followed the party rules for gender balance in nominations. They failed.


  34. Terry,

    No one as far as I am aware is claiming that there is no potential for power inequality within an allotted chamber (AC). There is such potential in any group activity that is not completely mechanical. I think all would agree with Jorge that the chamber’s design has to be made in a way that minimizes this risk. Keith’s substantive claim on this matter (as far as I can understand it) is that somehow power inequality in an AC is more severe than in mass politics.

    Beyond that (and to the extent that I manage to understand him that seems to be his central point) he claims that there is some sort of a formalistic reason why agenda setting, proposal making and discussion – any activity except voting – in an AC is non-democratic. This, according to Keith, has something to do with action-as-individuals vs. action-as-a-group, I think.

    I have yet to see someone willing to pick up Keith’s side on either of those claims.


  35. Dear Harald

    sounds as in Norway things are a bit more bottom-up than elsewhere (which doesn’t surprise me at all) – I was of course making some generalizations based on what usually happens in countries like Spain, Italy, France and probably Germany where a deputies future is almost doomed in case he or she doesn’t heold the party discipline – established by its the leading circle. As a matter of fact party discipline mostly only crumbles when a different circle disputes leadership to the incument one and so on…



  36. Yoram,

    While the foundation of Keith’s point is indeed that the descriptively representative body is only “democratic” as an entire entity, and individual members have no claim to represent anything other than themselves…there is another practical aspect to his stance. A lot of research into group decision making that can go under the name of “the wisdom of crowds” indicates that the quality of decision making falls sharply once individuals hear and thus start changing their vote based on how OTHER members of the group are going to vote. Once the individuals start deferring to the dominant group and they devolve into “group think” scenarios. A wise aspect of Athenian People’s Court process was that after both sides of a case were presented, the dikasteria jurors voted without further debate or discussion.
    But my conclusion is different than Keith’s. I simply conclude that the optimal procedure is for one sortition body to decide on agenda and proposals to submit to a separate sortition body of the sort that Keith favors. This is because there is also a lot of research showing the benefits of diverse deliberative bodies, including the seeking of win-win possibilities that is forsaken if agenda setting and proposal selection is limited to an elite elected group.


  37. A point where perhaps I share some concern with Keith (and others) is the one relating to the apparent lack of sufficient “continuity” between the allotted chamber and the population at large. In Athens this continuity was based mainly on “ho boulomenos” and the fact that the citizen body directly participated in the assembly). This point is raised quite convincingly by Cynthia Farrar in her contribution to the Entretiens…

    Perhaps a way out or at least a middle ground, apart from rotation, petition rights open to all citizens and brief mandates of AC members, is to combine well crafted elective institutions (which would to a certain extent take the place of “ho boulomenos” and be a way-in in the system for the elites) with the allotted chamber.

    Another issue to consider, from a practical point of view, is that nowadays most true policy and legislative initiatives (again in parliamentary systems) stem from the executive and not from the parliament itself.

    In an institutional framework with an allotted chamber this would not be very different I guess as most political issues arise in the interaction between administrative apparatus and the rest of the society, hence, it would be the executive sending its proposals to the allotted chamber, which in general, as is the case in parliamentary systems with their parliaments, would react to, discuss, refine and adopt the proposals put forward by the executive.



  38. Apologies for the delay in responding (I was away in Paris at Gil’s sortition workshop, which for some odd reason wasn’t announced on this blog). For the sake of clarity, could I just emphasise that none of the views I’ve expressed are original, they derive 100% from Pitkin’s book.

    Jorge: could you tell us a bit more about ho boulomenos and what sort of well-crafted elective institutions might become their modern analogue? I agree with you that in practice most of the day-to-day legislative proposals would be generated by the executive. This was Mill’s argument and is the model behind my first book; I only introduced the elective/petition element on account of claims that Mill’s proposals were not sufficiently democratic.

    Of course I agree with all your criticisms of elective democracy, but I don’t think we want to replace one fiction with another – “ we as a people accept the fiction that the selected members will stand and act for the population at large for a certain period of time.” Pitkin claimed that the selected members would “stand for” the population at large but ruled out “acting for”; this is her argument, not mine, so I think you all need to read her book rather than have me continually paraphrase it. Her text is still the dominant paradigm in work on representation; all I’ve done is to replace the word “descriptive” by “sortive” (a subset of the descriptive category). So if you want to rebut my (derivative) arguments, you need first of all to rebut Pitkin — nobody has managed to do this over four decades.

    Madison sincerely believed that his proposals would work; the verdict of history is that he was wrong, but we need to be sincere and clear-minded in our alternative proposals, rather than cynically suggesting a ‘least-worst’ fiction.


  39. Dear Keith

    I have read Pitkin a couple of times since we had our email-debate and, besides the fact that her book is mostly concerned with the meaning of “representation” but not with actual politics, my understanding is that she affirms that “acting for” is ruled out within the descriptive sort of representation. Statistical representation could be understood as descriptive representation.

    However, the former does not necessarily mean that “acting for” is legitimate only when other kinds of representation (elective?) are present. Does she explicitly explain when and why “acting for” is legitimate at all? (perhaps I don’t remember those passages…)

    Pitkin also explains other kinds of representation as you know, for instance, symbolic representation or formalistic representation.

    I think that allotted chambers are not necessarily circumscribed to descriptive representation. There could as well be a symbolic element to it as well as a formalistic element (i.e. we all agree constitutionally that AC’s will represent us and we establish some duties in this regard in the constitution…).

    On elective institutions: my feeling is that the concentrarion of power which exists nowadays in parties and elective institutions is its main downside and danger. True internal democracy and transparency as well as a real countervailing power such as an allotted chamber would work in a “checks and balances” fashion. At the same time people who feel the call for politics (nowadays’ “ho boulomenos”) would have an arena where to develop their ambitions, although in a limited and constrained manner as the end-goal would never be (again) absolute institutional power (a little akin to e.g. Perikles who held generalship for many years but could not really and absolutely control neither the assembly nor the Boule etc, but had to persuade, convince and lose from time to time)



  40. Hi Jorge

    Pitkin is clear that substantive democratic politics has nothing to do with symbolic or formalistic representation — the former is associated with fascist regimes and the latter with Hobbes and his modern analogue (Schumpeter). That only leaves the descriptive and active categories. As the former refers to a ‘portrait in miniature’ of the larger society, an individual ‘descriptive representative’ has the same status that an individual brush-stroke has to the whole painting. The representation is only meaningful in toto. To Pitkin political representation is primarily ‘substantive acting for others’ and it’s simply incoherent to attribute this to anything other than concrete human agents or political parties. Legitimation is via the standard mechanisms of authorisation and accountability and her perspective is compatible with Jane Mansbridge’s concept of gyroscopic representation. Pitkin’s work is the focus of my PhD, so I would be surprised to learn that I was misrepresenting her position.

    I’m suspicious of your argument that sortive institutions could be deemed representative as a result of referendum or some other fiat (this is also Andrew Rehfeld’s argument) as I’m more concerned with substantive political equality than constitutional positivism. Substantive political equality would require the separation of advocacy and judgment roles; those who feel the ‘call to politics’ are advocates and their policy proposals need to receive both popular assent and deliberative scrutiny in order to pass the democratic threshold. Ho boulomenos was designed for a tiny direct democracy, the modern equivalent would require that either they or their proposals should receive public assent in an election or a referendum prior to deliberative scrutiny. What you are suggesting is equivalent to government by ho boulomenos in the boule alone (abolishing election — the modern equivalent of the ecclesia). The Greeks would not have seen that as democratic and neither should we.

    Nobody would dispute your argument regarding the dangers of the concentration of power in parties and elective institutions, but your suggestion (concentrating all power in an allotted chamber) would almost certainly be worse. You’ve already acknowledge that your proposals would involve acknowledging ‘the fiction that the selected members will stand and act for the population at large’, but I think we should aim a little higher. Note: only the latter (acting for) is fictional, nobody disputes that sortition can establish a microcosm that stands for the whole. I agree with you that ‘acting for’ is a fictional claim, but I’m not cynical enough to advocate fictional solutions to political problems. I think also that you should be wary of referencing the fascist case for symbolic representation (alongside the abolition of elections) in a country with the recent history of Spain.



  41. Hi Keith

    Surely you know Pitkin’s work better than I do ;-)

    Could you please explain a bit further the following point and/or indicate the exact passage in Pitkin’s book?:

    “Legitimation is via the standard mechanisms of authorisation and accountability and her perspective is compatible with Jane Mansbridge’s concept of gyroscopic representation.”

    I’m especially interested in what is the standard mechanism of “authorisation and accountability” – is this elections? If yes I would have my doubts that elections as they function in practice are a fully acceptable mechanism for “authorisation and accountability” – in fact I think that much of what brings us to think about sortition is due to the grave shortcomings of elections as the (sole) mechanism for selecting our representatives.

    Let me explain a couple of points: with symbolic representation I was meaning the sort of symbolism that accrues to institutions which can be regarded as legitimate such as a President (who not only acts for but also stands for and symbolizes the nation and the like)… don’t read it as of the fascist sort please. To a certain extent elective representatives count partly with a symbolic representation (they represent the “nation” we use to say ad we adorn them with symbolic features “fathers/mothers of the nation”). Jurors for instance are not only people charged with deciding a case – they symbolize the community and are expected to act as a fair cross-section of the community would do… Politics has a lot to do with perception and symbolism.

    Finally, on your last paras: in fact, if you remember our email exchange, I’m eclectic and as, I tried to explain, I see some difficulties in having allotted chambers alone. That’s why in my article I argue for a mixed system combining existing institutions with AC’s. Today’s “ho boulomenos” would still be able to act in political parties, interest groups, etc and even be elected to an elective chamber – but they would need to share power with an allotted chamber.



  42. Throughout the book, but espec. pp.57-9. Although accountability through elections leaves a lot to be desired, one of the main criticisms of sortition is the lack of any accountability or authorisation mechanism. This is one of the arguments for the retention of political parties in a mixed constitution. I’m glad we agree on the need for a hybrid solution, but I think it’s best to do the conceptual work first and isolate which aspects of political representation are best served by which mechanism, rather than just muddling along with a bit of this and a bit of that. This is why I keep banging on about Pitkin’s active/descriptive distinction and the ongoing necessity for election/referendum to fulfil the former, sortition for the latter.


  43. Hi Keith

    I’ll look again at those pages. I see your point on accountability and authorisation – somehow it’s connected to the “continuity” problem pointed out by Farrar I feel. There is work to be done, conceptually and in terms of institutional engineering.

    However, I see possibilities, especially in a mixed system, for an AC to not only “stand for” but also to “act for” the population at large – I don’t believe too much in clear cut divisions based on theoretical concepts – real-life is muddier, we only have to watch our current systems. If we had a mixed system we would have more centres of power: the administrative apparatus (setting much of policy and executing it), the electoral and elective system (specializing in party politics and contributing key political people – with some accountability and authorization aspects -strengthened by the very existence of the AC) and the allotted chamber (representing more diverse interests, opening the agenda, facilitating more transparency of the whole system, and contributing a non-partisan deliberation platform).

    It’s a pity you don’t read Spanish ;-)



  44. OK but only one of your chambers (the elective one) would count as democratic, whereas in my proposal the allotted chamber would as well. But I agree that an allotted chamber constituted in the way you suggest might introduce valuable liberal values to the mix (diversity, transparency, deliberation etc). Unfortunately it is only democratic in the eccentric sense that Elster, Habermas etc view democracy, as there is no concern for representative equality, see:

    Assuming the primacy of democratic norms this would mean that the elective chamber retained the judgment role, which looks a bit like shooting yourself in the foot.



  45. Sorry for writing again… I was just parsing over the pages you mentioned and it is a bit difficult to me to see how or why Pitkin’s description of authorisation and accountability theorists must have such a tremendous weight. I mean, she appears to equate authorisation theorists with those who see the key point in the fact of being elected (authorised) whereas accountability theorists see the key point at the end (held to account in the reelection), but she appears not to confront these positions with the functioning of political systems in practice.

    If we consider that who can be elected is determined not only and perhaps not mainly by the population or even the respective party affiliates, but is more dependent on structured interests and the decision of the parties’ leaders – isn’t it that the “authorisation” by the people is weakened quite strongly? Yes, we can decide on a predetermined set of candidates -in many countries we just vote closed lists where we usually only know the first two or three- but isn’t this too weak to claim “authorisation”?

    And if we consider that the future and reelection of the elected political party professional depends many, many times not on the decision of a constituency, but on the decision of his party leaders – isn’t it that “accountability” to the people is also very weakened? Isn’t a reelection contest -especially in countries with lists of candidates- a very weak form of holding individual politicians accountable to the public at large?

    I just want to make the point that we should not take thei “representativeness” of elected politicians for granted to the same extent as we have to be watchful with the possible shortcomings of allotted chambers…



  46. Could you please explain this a bit further: “OK but only one of your chambers (the elective one) would count as democratic, whereas in my proposal the allotted chamber would as well.”?

    Why wouldn’t the AC?



  47. Pitkin’s work is conceptual, not empirical. I agree with you that electoral representation provides poor accountability for the reasons that you give, however sortition provides *no accountability at all*. On the other hand authorisation requires a narrative as authors write stories, unless you are Hobbes in which case the authors (the represented) simply transfer all power to the authorised representative, without bothering to write the script. This is what would happen if the allotted chamber were given active powers — it would be a transfer of sovereignty in the Hobbesian sense. But elections do provide an authorising narrative — we call it a party manifesto.

    Regarding your second point, an active allotted chamber would only be democratic according to the truly bizarre Elster/Habermas definition, which disavows any claims to representative equality. I’m tempted to make Orwellian remarks about the ideological background of these authors (some animals being more equal than others), but probably best not to go down that road.


  48. Keith,

    But why is the “speech act” of a volunteer (“Ho boulomenos”) being an individual elected representative any more democratic than that of a sortition representative? Knowing what we do of the partisan elective process, and the distortions introduced by the various voting methods (winner-take-all plurality voting as in the U.S. and U.K. or party list PR, etc.), why do you )or is it Pitkin?) give the mantle of democratic legitimacy to a single elected representative. In the U.S., the institution of Congress was never even ratified by the general population (the framers set up a system of state ratification conventions of propertied white males, instead of a referendum). I would argue that elected members of Congress only have the appearance of legitimacy due to long-standing custom, rather than a substantial democratic foundation.


  49. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with your statement that allotted chambers provide for no accountability at all – first they are responsive to the interests of the population at large, because they are a cross-section of the population; second, (if rotation and short terms are instituted) they know that now it is their turn, but that later others will rule – hence a responsability grows to be responsive and accountable to the needs of the majority; third, thet can be held accountable by requiring them to explain and motivate their decisions; fourth, through petition rights and other means of direct participation they can be obliged to listen, debate and decide on what counts for the population; fifth, they would be accountable for not being corrupt, for fulfilling their duties in an analogue fashion to today’s jurors… and we could go on and on – alas, if “election” is the only means of being accountable you are right: they are not… but that is a very narrow reading even of Pitkin (see page 56 “whether it be achieved by elections or OTHER means”)



  50. It’s Pitkin’s argument and it is purely a conceptual one. The reason that she would allow representative status to the former rather than the latter is because of the electoral mandate. Although this is empirically highly imperfect for all the reasons that you give, the individual sortive representative has no mandate at all, her only mandate is a collective one (ie the aggregate vote). As for the legitimacy of actual political institutions, that’s a different can of worms, but has no impact on the conceptual argument.


  51. [My previous reply was to Terry’s comments]

    Jorge: 1) the cross-section argument only applies in aggregate, and is distorted by individual speech acts (I’m beginning to repeat myself); 2) rotation is entirely irrelevant in large modern states (just do the maths); 3) some people are better than others at verbal justification (and some dissemble more than others); 4) direct participation/petition rights only enfranchise activists, lobbyists and other minorities; 5) note the three-fold scrutiny required in Athens (see George’s paper) and that was for a society with very strong background political norms; 6) I don’t have Pitkin in front of me (I’m at work now), so don’t know what she means by “other means” but it cannot be descriptive representation as she rules this out ex hypothesi.

    Good night everybody!



  52. IME, a good deal of political science writing on electoral systems and government is positivistic: It assumes that the current state of events must be reasonable and just, and seeks out some strange perspective from which it may appear so. Maybe we should play with the ideas backwards too, just for fun.

    If there should be a “rabble” council providing some sort of input/check on to a representatively allotted chamber, I still think choosing it by sortition (among volunteers, as opposed to everyone) would be a better idea than electing it. That would at least give a council representative of something – not the people, but the opinionated subset of it.

    It would certainly be less smooth and more “rabbly” than elected politicians, especially if it was rotated more often. It would still be better than online newspaper discussion forums, I suspect, on account of more people seeing the potential gain in participating, rather than just the “getting muddy” part.

    It could be argued, I suppose, that such a forum gives insight into the unreflected opinion of the people – and having that would be of value to a properly allotted chamber. People aren’t necessarily ready to admit that the properly allotted chamber comes to the kind of conclusions they would have come to, had they studied the issues and talked them over, so the p.a.c might have to take it into account.

    From a pragmatic point of view, a “rabble chamber” might dissipate and/or put to good use the energies of the group that I think stands to lose the most power from sortition: people like us, the opinionated. Since this is a group which could otherwise threaten to discard the system in its early phases, it might be pragmatic as well to have such a chamber. I am still wary of giving them any significant input to the real chamber, much less power over them.

    [In case I didn’t make it clear, this was a somewhat joking exercise in coming up with justification for a less democratic second chamber]


  53. I wonder if there is some sort of accountability for a modern sortition democracy that can be derived from what they did in Athens…In classical Athens they applied two forms of accountability that I can think of…One was applied to randomly selected magistrates (and elected officials) upon completing their service. They were required to submit to a sort of audit…and could be punished if the panel found fraud, or the like. The other form of accountability applied specifically to individuals who sponsored legislation, or initiated prosecutions, etc.( “Ho boulomenos”), which allowed these activists to be put on trial for misleading the people, or proposing unconstitutional laws, etc. Can anyone think of a modern form of accountability that derives from these?


  54. Harald: I’m glad that you acknowledge that your proposal would empower activists and the opinionated — “people like us”. To my mind democracy is about empowering the silent majority; this is why I’m opposed to the new trend in political theory from the likes of Mike Saward and Andrew Rehfeld who are advocating a voluntaristic model of the “representative claim”, which attempts to legitimise (e.g.) Bono’s claim to represent the people of Africa.

    Terry: Looks like the police are going to be very busy! This is why I’m puzzled by Olly Dowlen and Peter Stone’s argument that sortition sanitizes the political process from corruption and factionalism. If so then why did the Athenians have to go to such lengths to scrutinise the behaviour of allotted officials?


  55. Dear Keith

    If you lay aside conceptual rigidity (yours or your interpretation of Pikin’s) perhaps you could see some merits in what I said in my last posting.

    Just to recap: accountability is NOT only achieved through elections. As Pitkin herself argues accountability is an end to be achieved and the means to it can be manifold – elections are just one of those.

    If we look deeper into the concept we see that accountability can be achieved also by other means:

    Therefore, there is nothing intrinsic in “accountability” that prevents us from establishing means ensuring it also for allotted chambers. We just have to free our minds a bit from our preconceptions – otherwise corporate boards, judges, jurors, bureaucracies and the like would need to be classified us unaccountable as they are not elective in general.

    Please think twice before repeating yourself – I’m trying to discuss things, not trying of repeating unmovable arguments…

    For instance: 1) the cross-section argument applies not only in aggregate but individually – each of the persons in the AC is a part of the interests present in society; why would a deputy elected as part of a closed list have a bigger claim to act individually?

    2) rotation and brief mandates are important not because everybody will rule (please don’t build strawmans) but because it is a signal for those in the AC that they will be ruled in turn and hence they will want to act responsively

    3) some are better than others in their verbal skills: such is also the case in elected chambers (and it is NOT their rhetorical skills which determine election in 99% of all deputies) – so what? we know that there are procedures (as developed for instance in parliaments) which balance those assymetries

    4) what about elective systems: who are truly enfranchised? the elites?

    5) could you explain what you mean? Citing others instead of developing your own argument is a bit difficult to follow

    6) what you really seem to miss is that an institution can be endowed with several facets of representation as they are detailed by Pitkin. For instance, a parliament nowadays would present us with aspects of “symbolic”, “accountability”, “descriptive”, “authorisation” forms of representation. It does not just fit in one of those categories. They are just points of view on the subject. Akin to that there is nothing that prevents an AC from being not only “descriptive”, but also to be “accountable”, to have a mandate/authorisation and to, through time, acquire “symbolic” representation…

    Please think it over – I’m trying very hard to argue with you to reach some better understanding of the issues…



  56. Keith –

    > (I was away in Paris at Gil’s sortition workshop, which for some odd reason wasn’t announced on this blog)

    I am not sure what you mean by that – a note regarding this meeting was posted.

    Jorge –

    > Please think twice before repeating yourself – I’m trying to discuss things, not trying of repeating unmovable arguments…

    I have not followed your current exchange with Keith, but if this exchange is anything like those I had with him in the past, I fully sympathize with your frustration.


  57. “Harald: I’m glad that you acknowledge that your proposal would empower activists and the opinionated — “people like us”.”

    Yes, it would, to some degree. It depends on how much actual power the “rabble chamber” should have, which of course should be as little as possible – the goal would be to neutralize and put to good use our urge to seek power, not to accomodate it.

    By comparison, elections empower a tiny elite from within the activist and opinionated classes. You don’t acknowledge this, and I’m not happy with that.

    The activist and opinionated classes – those which I have called the “loudmouths”, and the class which I frankly admit we all are in – may potentially grumble for two reasons:

    * We might grumble because we had power before which we don’t have now, or,

    * We might grumble because although people like us frequently enter the allotted chamber, deliberation and information is so successful that we don’t recognize their informed opinions as our own.

    The first should obviously not be accomodated. The second I gather you see as a democratic problem, as you follow some political scientists in distinguish between various ways of being represented. I see it only as a practical problem, because I agree with what Yoram has said (as I recall, can’t find the quote right now, sorry): representation only makes sense as applied to people’s interests/values, not to their individuality or anything else.

    Your interests are represented. Maybe you feel you are not, in some symbolic, formalistic or individualistic sense, but there’s absolutely no need to feel this way, so it’s a practical problem rather than a moral one.


  58. Jorge, thanks for your thoughtful post, I’ll try to respond in the same manner:

    Accountability: I honestly don’t understand how an randomly-selected representative can be held to account other than by the forms of judicial scrutiny/punishment used by the Athenians. I’d really like to hear your positive suggestions.

    1) The elected representative has a right to to act individually as he has been chosen (authorised) to do so. In the case of the closed list then it’s the policies of the party that have been mandated (this is standard democratic theory). Claiming the same for an allotted rep. would be akin to an opinion pollster choosing to highlight individual respondents, rather than aggregating the results. Why do you not think this is an exact analogy?

    2) Rational choice theorists would argue that this is wishful thinking — and would cite numerous illustrations (prisoner’s dilemma etc) as to why self-interested agents recognise that there is no automatic reciprocity (otherwise advocates of unilateral nuclear disarmament would have won that argument and Kant would not have needed to formulate his categorical imperative). in practice it would require strong civic republican norms that are simply not dominant in modern liberal democracies.

    3) This is the standard response of deliberative theorists but, as I’ve attempted to demonstrate in the post that I referenced last night, such people are primarily epistemic rationalists, who redefine democracy in a very eccentric way and are no more interested in substantive political equality than Edmund Burke. Harald has just admitted (and I don’t think he was being sarcastic) that his goal is to empower activists, the opinionated and other “people like us”. What about the shy, the retiring, the moderate and the “don’t knows” (most people)? In voting at the end of a debate they have the same power as those Harald would choose to privilege but not in proposing and arguing for policies, so any active role for the allotted chamber would be entirely undemocratic.

    4) Of course elections enfranchise the elites, this is Manin’s argument (although voters can choose their preferred elite). This is why my preference is for policy initiation by online e-petition and referendum (but this removes the accountability provided by elections, so may be too high a price to pay). Harrington proposed that leaving judgment in the hands of the popular house would oblige elites to advocate policies that were in the common interest; my only innovation is to argue that the popular house should be 100% sortive, rather than a mix of election and sortition (Harrington’s proposal).

    5) In Athens there was threefold judicial scrutiny of allotted officials –before, during and after the period of service. This would suggest that Dowlen and Stone are wrong, allotment to the Athenians was just a convenient way of enabling rotation (rule and be ruled in turn) rather than a way of sanitizing the political process from corruption.

    6) No doubt political institutions do have a symbolic function — Bagehot described this as the “dignified” part of the constitution, there to “excite and preserve the reverence of the population” (and to hide the true source of power in secret Cabinet committee). Although Bagehot was a conservative liberal, his cynicism regarding symbolic representation was close to his contemporary, Karl Marx. Pitkin is clear that descriptive and substantive representation of interests are the only relevant categories and I really don’t think it helps to obfuscate this. Her analysis has been accepted by political theorists working in representation for the last four decades and I think you need to overturn the general argument first (all I’ve done is to apply it to the specific case of sortition). There have been attempts to overturn Pitkin (Saward and Rehfeld attempted at a representation workshop a couple of weeks ago in Reading) but this required giving up on democratic representation, so that’s not a route that I would like to go down.


  59. Harald, I agree 100% that elections empower a tiny elite from within the activist and opinionated classes. But in my proposal they would only succeed if they introduced policies that were in the general interest as all voting power would be in the hands of the allotted house. Thus the legislative process would be turned into a cybernetic (self-regulating) machine, as Harrington originally intended.

    As for accommodating the grumbles of loudmouths by giving them (institutional) toys to play with I don’t think this is a worthwhile political priority, in comparison with addressing the democratic deficit and the poor epistemic quality of political judgment. There are plenty of other debating societies, blogs etc that they can join to get their fix. And if the loudmouths decide to throw their toys out of the pram then this is a matter for the police.


  60. Sorry Yoram, I misread Gil’s post as an online interview in French. Oliver Dowlen is organising the second workshop (Nov 18-19) so it would be good if he were to post an announcement in good time for people to make the arrangements to attend. Most of the debate at the first workshop was in English.


  61. Hi Keith

    let’s go on ;-)

    If we consider accountability as an end s “as responsibility,answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving.”, then we have several means to make an AC “accountable”. First, we have legal means to prevent and prosecute corruption. Second, we have horizontal accountability: one power would check and balance the other one. Third, direct democratic tools (referenda, initiative, petitions…) provide for vertical accountability (as responsiveness). Fourth, media attention would make AC members accountable through their exposure to public attention. And this list could go on – we only need to do a bit of institutional engineering.

    If elections are the only means then we don’t have accountability for an AC, but this concept itself and Pitkin herself do not reduce accountability to elections.

    On 1: Why? An opinion poll is something very different to a public institution, where people discuss publicly and transparently. The AC members are mandated to express their opinions and interests – and this is only possible if they begin to do that individually. Otherwise this chamber would only be passive. In a jury everybody has a right to talk, to propose, to discuss and finally to participate in the decision based on a mandate of finding justice in the specific case before them. Isn’t this legitimate?
    And why do we allow elected reps to act individually (as they do) if they were selected as part of a closed list?

    On 2: Why should that be wishful thinking? AC members will normally not have a direct personal interest in the issues before them and if they do have conflict of interest rules are thinkable. It is like in many civil society organisations where people act on the board for a limited time – usually, in absence of direct personal interests, they just try to do a good job because they expect the same behaviour from their successors etc. Collegiality, transparency and openness in discussions and decisions are all elements which put another brake on possible direct personal interests. Remember: an AC member is very different from a professional politician whose (professional) life depends on his performance as parliament member and therefore always bears a clear self-interest in any of his/her actions.

    On 3: Here you do not address my point. What is the legitimacy for those asymmetries among elected members in contrast to allotted members? Wouldn’t it be as undemocratic for a persuasive elected member to be more influential than his timid elected counterpart as if this happens in an AC?

    In 4 and 5 you really do not counter my arguments I feel…

    Finally on 6 you say:

    “Pitkin is clear that descriptive and substantive representation of interests are the only relevant categories and I really don’t think it helps to obfuscate this”

    What is “relevant”? and where does she define “substantive representation” in her book? Could you please explain what “substantive representation” is and how it can be achieved? I thought the/an essential ingredient was “accountability” but this seems like a moving target…



  62. Accountability: OK, but accountability requires some sort of sanction and the only one of the mechanisms that you suggest that includes sanction is the long arm of the law. Given the existence of offshore bank accounts it would be relatively easy to subvert judicial accountability, whereas electoral accountability is comparatively robust (at least in countries like the UK; less so in countries with gerrymandered constituencies like the US). Of course I agree with horizontal checks and balances (not really accountability) but this works best when each chamber does what it’s good at (epistemic judgment in the case of the popular chamber). Media input would better be described as influence as they have no sanctions to hold allotted members to account and plebiscites/petitions would presumably be a parallel mandate, so again not really holding the allotted chamber to account. In general I think we do need to be quite precise in the way that we use concepts like accountability — if there is no alternative to elective and judicial accountability then we should acknowledge this rather than seek to blur the boundaries with other concepts.

    1) The normative problem is the differentials and inequalities that are introduced by active participation; the epistemic problem is the danger of groupthink (this is why Rousseau preferred silent deliberation and Condorcet specified independence as a precondition to the best epistemic outcome). Jury deliberation is on account of the need for unanimity of judgment (a passive function); however the evidence is that when it comes to political decision making, consensual mechanisms are harmful (you know the references, I’m sure). Party-political representation has to be seen as changing over time — mandate-independence being an anachronistic hangover from the era before closed party lists.

    2) Madison did argue that in the extended republic disinterested majorities were possible because most people were not directly affected by most issues. That may have been true in the era of limited government, but in modern social democracies the key legislative issues — fiscal, health, education, welfare etc — affect most people. I agree that the institutional culture and decorum (what you have described as symbolic representation) could help to offset individual interests by impressing on allotted members the great honour and civic responsibility involved. But it would still be prudent to assume that the rational choice model of human behaviour might be right. Hope for the best but assume the worst and you can only be pleasantly surprised.

    3) It’s democratic in the electoral case because voters have *chosen* their representative, whereas in an allotted assembly it’s pure chance. How would you feel if the people that were the descriptive proxies for your own views were lazy, unattractive and incoherent, whereas those with opposing views had the likes of Barack Obama? This just wouldn’t be fair, whereas if you voted for an idiot then you can only blame yourself. However the incoherent bozo and Barack Obama would have one vote each so inequalities would not develop in an allotted house with a judgment mandate.

    4) and 5) Sorry, I really tried to!

    6) Pitkin argues repeatedly through her book that political representation is at heart the “substantive representation of interests”. This is an “active” function of individual human agents (or aggregates of agents in political parties). An aspect of political representation is that representatives are both authorised and held to account by the electoral process. By contrast descriptive representation is an aggregate function so the only thing such “representatives” can do is vote (p.145).


  63. Keith wrote:

    “In Athens there was threefold judicial scrutiny of allotted officials –before, during and after the period of service. This would suggest that Dowlen and Stone are wrong, allotment to the Athenians was just a convenient way of enabling rotation (rule and be ruled in turn) rather than a way of sanitizing the political process from corruption.”

    I suspect sortition was at least as much about preventing corruption as enabling rotation. The authoritative historian of the later variant of Athenian Democracy, Mogens H. Hansen, (The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes) suggests repeatedly that sortition indeed had a vital role in stemming corruption, rather than merely facilitating rotation. He gives specific examples of reforms (such as selecting the person to preside over a meeting at random from a larger random pool right before the meeting) that were designed to obviate corruption.

    He also notes that the post-service scrutiny of magistrates seems to have been quick, with hardly any prosecutions resulting. The point of these audits was to have a fail-safe in case corruption during the term in office wasn’t caught immediately. Since the officials knew this was coming, corruption was less tempting.

    The invention of Nomothetai (randomly selected legislative commissions) was a reform that moved most legislating from the Assembly (direct democracy) to an allotted chamber. This reform was adopted after a century with experience with sortition for other functions, and the apparent conclusion that the sortition panels would do a better job (including presumably being relatively free of corruption) than the full Assembly.

    However, I should note that in all of Athens’s sortition panels and courts, voting was conducted after hearing competing presentations by opposing sides, with no debate among members (Keith’s prime argument).

    Thus I continue to lean to the idea of a dual sortition process, with the first step being the formation of diverse groups of “loudmouth” volunteers, who would deliberate, debate and develop proposals for a second sortition group to judge. This first step should not be performed by elected elites, but rather by diverse randomly selected volunteers. Also, there is no reason that there couldn’t be huge numbers of these proposing groups, such that anyone who wanted to participate could actually weigh in (such as through an online process). Since the goal is to develop a proposal that might actually pass the judging AC, the volunteer members would have a built-in interest in modifying their views based on input from others, to craft a generally acceptable proposal.


  64. I’ll happily defer to Mogens on the details of Athenian democracy, but why is there hardly any reference to the sanitizing effect in the literature? Given that political service was voluntary, the Greeks had no computers (!) and compiling written lists would be costly and time-consuming, drawing lots is an obvious and easy way of enabling rotation, so perhaps this is why there is little mention of reasons. This is not to deny the sanitizing effect but I’m a bit worried when political theorists develop a singular thesis and then seek to impose it on every historical example. This is a bit like the discredited perennialist approach to the history of political thought that was displaced in the 1960s and 70s by the contextualism, which claimed that different historical instances of the same concept (sortition or whatever) could be for very different reasons. I agree that the role of the nomothetai was deliberative scrutiny.

    I really like your idea of random groups of loudmouth volunteers (this is not unlike the online petitions system, described by the leader of the house of commons as a “megaphone”). How about:

    1) Have these groups all develop their ideas (crazy or otherwise), then
    2) Allow the public to rank the resulting proposals in a referendum (a process the Swiss call votation)
    3) The winning proposals would then be sent for deliberative scrutiny in the allotted chamber.

    The three stages would correspond (roughly) to:
    1) boule, 2) ecclesia and 3) nomothetai

    and the organising principles would be:
    1) Ho boulomenos, 2) direct democracy 3) deliberative democracy.

    Note: All I’ve done is add stage 2 to your proposal, vital to ensure a democratic mandate before the scrutiny stage (and to reduce the options to a realistic number). I’d vote for that, and it would be great if we could end this marathon debate actually agreeing about something!



  65. Dear Keith

    Probably we have reached a point where we could go on and on but probably it’s better to just recognise for the time being our different positions and conceptions. But I see this as a work in progress – at least for me this has been/is being a good learning experience.

    My personal “lessons learned” would be the following:

    – accountability is a porose concept. If jurors, bureaucracies and judges can be accountable – i.e. responsive and to a certain extent subject to control by the population at large, allotted chambers can as well. BTW “horizontal” accountability is well established I think to describe mutual control by different institutions (see Przeworski, O’Donnell…)

    – hence, accountability for ACs is a matter of institutional design. It is not inherently impossible.

    – if “accountability” and “mandate” are essential elements for “substantive representation”, there is no fundamental obstacle that prevents ACs from gaining some “substantive representation” apart from its “descriptive” sort

    – there is however some weakness in the “acting for” element, especially when individual AC members are considered. This is probably where more institutional imagination and conceptual work is needed and a reason for combining allotted and elective institutions.

    – seeing the issue in a broader context it seems to me that part of the problem is that almost all work on representation, including Pitkin’s (and yours, Keith) is based on a paradigm of representation (and democracy) where the nuclear element is the elective system. And this nucleus is based on an idealised vision of elections as “choice”, as “autonomous decision”, as voluntary “authorisation” and “control” or “sanction”. Hence, the elective system always gets the benefit of the doubt. If anybody points to its shortcomings, to its real functioning, these are put down as pathologies which do not affect the essential positive quality of “elections”.

    – In contrast sortition always has the uphill battle. This is only natural as Pitkin’s conceptual framework is based ultimately on regarding elections as a central, an essential part of representation, therefore it is no wonder that sortition has a difficult time to find its place in a framework designed around elections. When sortition is considered all its (actual, potential or feared) downsides are taken to the fore, while election appears in it’s “purity” and, as I said, any empirical evidence of elections being an oligarchic/elitist selection method are discarded as patholgies and/or anomalies which do not compromise the essence…

    – I think that we are living through a time of paradigm crisis, which follows from a crisis of the representative democracy system itself. And we (all of us) are part of this crisis, here in it’s theoretical realm. Part of this crisis is to supersede a conceptual framework made, based on, and to describe the representative-elective systems we have had since the XVII-XVIII centuries.

    I look forward to more exchanges on this list ;-)



  66. Jorge, what do you think of the compromise solution that Terry and I have negotiated? I was hoping that it would address all our differing concerns as it is a modern analogue of Athenian democracy.


  67. I’ll have to read it through – and will come back to this list (tomorrow I’m leaving for a trip to Belgium…), but at first sight it’s an example of institutional imagination in progress ;-)

    I hope you agree on some of my “lesson learned”…



  68. Jorge, everyone with half a brain accepts that election is inherently elitist in principle and pathological in practice — Churchill’s “worst form of government except all the others” verdict applies now even more than it did in 1947. Hanna Pitkin in a recent paper acknowledged that representation and democracy may well now be mutually opposed. But there’s no point replacing one pathology with another, hence the need for very clear and careful thinking. The precautionary principle would also suggest that scepticism is the best default and that the onus of proof is on all of us who are proposing innovations.


  69. Terry,

    > Also, there is no reason that there couldn’t be huge numbers of these proposing groups, such that anyone who wanted to participate could actually weigh in (such as through an online process). Since the goal is to develop a proposal that might actually pass the judging AC, the volunteer members would have a built-in interest in modifying their views based on input from others, to craft a generally acceptable proposal.

    Having an AC setting the agenda and being separate from a decision making body seems perfectly reasonable (it may or may not be better than having a single body combining agenda-setting and voting). But your free-for-all seems either unworkable or undesirable. How would huge numbers of proposing groups deliberate? How would the decision-making AC go through the mass of proposals? Wouldn’t you be back at the mass-politics situation in which those with the most resources get to set the agenda and influence the outcome?


  70. Yoram,

    I haven’t thought this through completely, but here is what I am imagining…

    Some citizens are interested in working to help make public policy and some aren’t. Those who volunteer will be appointed to either a Review Panel or an Interest Panel.

    Anyone interested in working on public policy in a general way puts their name into the Review Panel lottery. Review Panels are formed from a random selection of these volunteers (not knowing what issue they will be working on, to avoid interest bias). These Review Panels are randomly assigned to work on a particular issue. What issues deserve work can be decided by petitions, or where surveys indicate that at least X% of citizens are not satisfied with the status quo. This panel reviews, deliberates, asks questions for clarification about proposals submitted by Interest Panels from the Interest Panels, experts, staff, etc. They decide which proposals are suitable for passing on to a Decision-making Allotted Chamber.

    Interest Panels are also volunteers, but they have an interest in a particular issue, and are allowed to work on that issue. However, the interest panel membership is randomly mixed so that people on opposite sides of an issue are likely to be on the same panel. The Interest Panel members know they need to write a proposal that can get past a Review Panel, in order to reach an AC.

    The Interest Panels can be as numerous as needed to allow any citizen who wishes to participate (probably online). Interest Panels could work as long as they maintained a quorum of members. Some Interest Panels will probably disband having failed to achieve a required threshold vote (whether a majority or 60% , etc.)

    Thus, scores of Interest Panels might draft unique proposals on a particular subject, that get winnowed down to one or two final proposals by a Review Panel, that, after pro/con presentations, are given an up or down vote by the AC, either enacting or rejecting the proposal.

    Review Panels would probably need to take weeks or months of work to wade through all the proposals to select final proposal(s), so these people need to want to do substantial work. The AC membership would be mandatory in the sense that jury duty is, and might meet for just a weekend on any given law.


  71. Agreed, but why not have the final pre-scrutiny winnowing down done by votation (ranking by referendum), then you would have an exact analogue of Athenian democracy, see:

    That’s all that would be required to transform your proposal from klerotocracy into democracy


  72. Jorge,

    > A point where perhaps I share some concern with Keith (and others) is the one relating to the apparent lack of sufficient “continuity” between the allotted chamber and the population at large. In Athens this continuity was based mainly on “ho boulomenos” and the fact that the citizen body directly participated in the assembly).

    I am not sure what “continuity” means here. If you mean a way for an average person to influence politics directly, then surely as a group increases in size one can expect to have less and less direct impact.

    In my mind the modern-day parallel of the Athenian assembly is the public discourse through various media. That is why I think an important part of a democratic society needs to be democratic media – media that gives all members of society equal platform, i.e., equal opportunity to express themselves and equal resources to obtain and transmit information and opinions.

    I do not see how elected bodies can be considered as enhancing the political influence of the average person. Voting is a ritual – a theater of political influence – not a substantial way of have an impact on politics.


  73. Terry,

    Much here would depend on the details, but I really do not see what would be the advantage of such a process over a fully empowered allotted parliament.

    In general, why would you want to limit the power of the final decision making allotted chamber to an up-or-down vote on a given set of proposals? Having put in the effort of learning the ins-and-outs of a particular subject, why shouldn’t they introduce changes into the proposals as they see fit? Why would you assume that some self-selected groups would do a better job in designing those proposal? I would assume that most groups would be reluctant to put the needed care into drafting the proposal when they are aware that their proposal would be one among a potentially huge number of votes.

    This also leads to the issue of mass-politics effects: Wouldn’t proposals backed by high-resource groups or individuals have an inherently advantageous position by being able to create better looking proposals (using experts, research, PR, etc.)? It would also require resources to set the agenda (by establishing the need for a call for proposals on a certain issue) which could be a crucial power point.

    And what about the review panels? Would they be compensated for their efforts and provided with staff and resources? Would they be able to introduce changes to proposals, or will they have to take them as given? If the review panels are effective bodies for screening, why shouldn’t they be making the final decisions?

    Another important point is the cost – in effort and time – of the whole process. Are you really suggesting that any law would have to go through the arduous process you proposed? How many laws would manage to be enacted in a year? Wouldn’t this create a huge bias in favor of the status quo?

    In conclusion, there are many reason for not distributing political power too thinly. On the other hand the only good reason I can think of to limit the power of the decision making body is suspicions of corruption. But then I think there is very little reason to assume the process you suggest would be a good preventive measure – quite the contrary. An overseeing body (also allotted) whose specific and explicit mandate is prevention of corruption seems a much more promising arrangement.


  74. Yoram: “I do not see how elected bodies can be considered as enhancing the political influence of the average person.”

    Electoral or plebiscitory systems are generally designed to empower the average person, “average” viewed here as a statistical function. This is what is meant by democracy; your proposal for klerotocracy has no historical precedents, as elective/plebiscitary systems are the modern analogue of the Athenian assembly. Mass democracy has always been corrupted by demagogues and powerful high-status people, hence the need for this to be just one element in a mixed constitution; remove this element and the system can no longer be described as democratic. Whatever the purpose of sortition for the Athenians — rotation or the protection of the political process from corruption — it had nothing to do with democracy and was certainly not seen as a system of representation. The proposal that Terry and myself have been discussing involves two sortive elements and only one plebiscitory and I think that’s about as good as it gets.


  75. […] Bouricius has suggested a multitude of randomly-selected forums for the development of policy proposals. In Athenian democracy there was a reasonable chance that […]


  76. Since this piece of the discussion has gone far away from the beginning point (Spain)…I propose that we follow Keith’s lead and move further discussion of this particular concept to his new thread, “Athenian Democracy Reincarnate”

    When I have a little time I will respond to Yoram’s points there.


  77. […] in Spain and in September a party which had the implementation of sortition as its main goal was organizing there. That party ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot. Finally, the People’s Senate […]


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