Athenian democracy involved a combination of sortition (boule, juries and most magistracies) and direct democracy (ecclesia). Sortition fell into disuse in large modern states and direct democracy was replaced by representative elections. There has been a flurry of proposals recently for the reintroduction of sortition, but it is unclear how — or indeed if — this can be reconciled with mass democracy, as the latter is elitist, populist, undeliberative and frequently hijacked by rich and powerful elite interests, leading to sharp exchanges on this list. However a recent debate suggests an acceptable compromise, which I outline in this post. There would be three stages to the legislative process, with the relevant Athenian institution in parentheses:
1) Policy initiation (boule)
Terry Bouricius has suggested a multitude of randomly-selected forums for the development of policy proposals. In Athenian democracy there was a reasonable chance that an individual might be selected for the boule (hence the 2-term lifetime limit), but large modern states would require a multiplicity of forums in order to even approximate this. As policy forums would fulfil an advocacy role, the sortition would be on a voluntary basis, and would largely attract activists and interest groups. Each of (say) 50 fora would contain several hundred members and at the end of the deliberative period each would perform an internal votation (ranking of preference by secret ballot) to determine the group’s favoured policy proposal out of all of those discussed.
2) Public votation (ecclesia)
The individual policy preferences of each group would be offered to the public, who would choose (and rank) their selection in a public ballot (an aspect of Swiss democracy known as votation). As this stage would be subject to considerable influence from lobbyists there would be very strict limits on campaign advertising, and public broadcast slots would be allocated equally, a process that works well in the UK. The (say) top ten policy preferences would be selected for the final stage:
3) Deliberative scrutiny (nomothetai)
Random selection for the final deliberative body would be mandatory, as in jury service, and it would be considered a great honour and civic responsibility to be selected. Policy proposals would be introduced by their original (stage 1) advocates and would be opposed by members of the house of advocates, composed of members of a wide range of civic society and interest groups. Membership of the house would be selected randomly from a shortlist of candidates put forward by these groups, who would then choose which debates to participate in, depending on their particular skills and interests. This model of voluntary advocacy has been demonstrate to work reasonably well in the UK House of Lords, where the debate is better-informed and less partisan than in the Commons.
The (temporal) space between the three stages would be filled, as per Condorcet’s model, with public deliberation, and would presuppose the break-up of media monopolies.
This proposal is based on a strict separation of legislative and executive powers, with government ministers appointed on merit. Items of secondary legislation (statutary instruments) would go straight to stage three, and the randomly-selected house would also approve ministerial appointments (and remove ministers via censure motions).