People’s Senate Party in Canada

www.peoplessenate.ca:

People: You, me, all of us.

Senate: An ‘upper house’ of parliament that reviews the government’s proposed laws and policies and gives them a thumbs up or thumbs down.

People’s Senate: A senate formed from the random selection (lottery) of the public.

People’s Senate Party: A party that believes BC needs this.


Politicians seem all the same, banding together in order to disparage their opponents. We might wonder why these members of parliaments cannot make consensus decisions in a civilized way, why the group in power must bully through their policies. (And why the policies are often contrary to the needs of the 99%) Unfortunately it couldn’t really be any other way than it is because the elected members are by-products of a system that demands these actions from them.

The People’s Senate Party accepts the adversarial nature of the legislative assembly but does not accept that these elected men and women should have the final say on the legislation and policy that affects us. We believe BC needs a Senate, but formed from a random selection of citizens similar to a courtroom jury. This Senate would use mutual deliberation and consensus to approve or reject the legislation and policies devised by the politicians. Our proposed senators, normal people like you and me (in fact you could be one if you win this senator lottery), could even suggest legislation of their own.

This political jury, we’re calling a People’s Senate.

Advertisements

42 Responses

  1. “The People’s Senate Party accepts the adversarial nature of the legislative assembly but does not accept that these elected men and women should have the final say on the legislation and policy that affects us.”

    As an exact analogue of Harrington’s constitutional proposal this would certainly have my support. It’s interesting to see how such early-modern and contemporary proposals invert the social structures of classical republican thought. The adversarial joust of the legislative assembly is the postmodern version of the chivalrous tourney (indeed the expression party members “toeing the line” derives from the fact that the two warring factions at Westminster were kept beyond two swords lengths by lines painted on the floor). We need the wise judgment of the allotted representatives of the hoi polloi to keep the peace between the squabbling noble tribes. Cicero would be rolling in his grave.

    Like

  2. Thanks for picking up on my website and party. I only registered this party a month ago, but the traffic to my site is steadily rising. I believe there is an appetite for some degree of government by lottery. I also understand that there is now a party in Spain that promotes the lottery too.

    Like

  3. Hi Mike – thanks for dropping by. It is always a pleasure to find more people who share our support for the use of sortition.

    > I believe there is an appetite for some degree of government by lottery. I also understand that there is now a party in Spain that promotes the lottery too.

    You can find various pieces of news regarding use and interest in sortition on this website, including a recent one regarding Partido Azar, the Spanish sortition party.

    It could be interesting to have you present a more detailed account of your thinking regarding the institution you are proposing. Personally, I suspect that if you allow the elected to set the agenda, leaving people with only an up-or-down vote, the effects of the institution would be quite limited and somewhat convoluted. Partido Azar, for example, I understand, proposes having a fully empowered allotted chamber – one that could set its agenda and propose laws rather than merely vote on proposals created by others.

    Like

  4. Hi Yoram.
    Thanks for the link. I can understand enough Spanish to get the idea.

    I initially thought to promote sortition as a substitute for the electoral ballot but decided against it for at least three reasons: a) It is very radical and would be a tough sell. b) It is not totally clear to me that there is no benefit from elections and possibly parties. For example, if you run the model here, http://www.pluchino.it/parliament.html, there is an optimal ratio of elected members to random members. Yes, there is much I can argue against this simple model, but the point still remains. We should be sure we are tossing out the bad. c) Most importantly, shouldn’t a random selection of the people decide to do away with elections? I shouldn’t be the one deciding this. My job is to simply plant the seed of sortition.

    I believe if there is a political jury (I call it a people’s senate) that judges the proposed legislation and is empowered to vote down the proposals, it will force the ruling party to act with tact. I also believe that the people’s senate should be empowered to suggest proposals of its own, but I have not fully thought out the details yet. Basically, I do not want to make very many decisions. A randomly selected group of the people should be making these decisions.

    In the short term, I aim to build up the party, and work out some of the details through consensus when there are enough people participating in the party. It won’t be a random sampling; it will be a group who have self-selected to participate, but in the short term, to get the party moving, it should work.

    Mike.

    Like

  5. > My job is to simply plant the seed of sortition.

    I agree that this should be our goal. If we are doing the planting, however, shouldn’t be planting the best quality seeds? And shouldn’t be planting the seed at the best possible location rather than stick it in an unproductive corner of the garden?

    > Most importantly, shouldn’t a random selection of the people decide to do away with elections?

    Yes, they should – but – as you write – it is our job to advocate for this course of action.

    (It is a separate and interesting theoretical question, BTW, of what would be the normative justification for adopting an electoral (or any non-democratic) system. Can the institution of a non-democratic system be justified by having been instituted by a representative body?)

    In any case, please keep us informed of your endeavor, and let me know if you think I can be of help.

    [ See some discussion of Pluchino et al. here. ]

    Like

  6. > I agree that this should be our goal. If we are doing the planting, however, shouldn’t be planting the best quality seeds? And shouldn’t be planting the seed at the best possible location rather than stick it in an unproductive corner of the garden?

    If you are suggesting a 100% legislature based on sortition, then I would say this is too radical for most. And there are probably all kinds of laws and constitutional obstructions. For example, I believe our Bill of Rights in Canada says that it is a human right to vote. I haven’t checked in a while, so I may be wrong on that. Now, if you suggest that a portion of the lower house should come from sortition, then you have a much more compelling point. But then the allotted body might just act as a minority party.

    In BC we do not have an upper house (unproductive corner of the garden or otherwise). So it is a matter of creating one anew. Also, if we present the People’s Senate as a sort of political jury, then this should resonate with the public. People generally respect juries. It doesn’t have to be super-productive right off either. But it does need to have some successes. Those successes will then be reflected as a positive attitude towards it in the general public from where new randomly selected intakes would come. I believe the seed would grow.

    Thanks for your offer of help. I have a thought in the back of my mind to try and write an article for one of the smaller (maybe university) newspapers in Vancouver. Perhaps I will pick your brain a little when I start this. (I might not get to it for a month or so). Also, I feel I tossed the website together a little quickly. If you have any feedback, it would be appreciated.
    Cheers.

    Like

  7. > If you are suggesting a 100% legislature based on sortition, then I would say this is too radical for most.

    My suggestion is to implement the Callenbach and Phillips proposal: two equal-powered chambers – one elected and the other allotted. Once this is implemented, further transition to a sortition-based only system should be considered given the experience of the mixed system. Personally I believe that any system that involves an electoral element is not democratic.

    Regarding the website: it is a good start, I think. If you consider adding more material, you can look around this blog and the various links it has. The website could also probably use some graphical design work, but I am not particularly knowledgeable about such things. You might want to ask Martin Wilding Davies of Newid how he produced his website – it looks quite slick.

    Like

  8. Yoram: “It is a separate and interesting theoretical question, BTW, of what would be the normative justification for adopting an electoral (or any non-democratic) system. Can the institution of a non-democratic system be justified by having been instituted by a representative body?”

    I agree that the positivist argument for legitimating constitutional innovations is flawed, but why do you claim that election is non-democratic, whereas sortition is? The argument from antiquity doesn’t work as the mathematics of rule-and-be-ruled-in-turn doesn’t apply to large states. Although election does privilege demagogues and elite interests this was also true in the ecclesia — the key institution of Athenian democracy. For a system to be democratic there has to be some modern analogue of the Athenian assembly, and this would have to be electoral or plebiscitory. What you are advocating is klerotocracy, not democracy.

    Like

  9. > why do you claim that election is non-democratic, whereas sortition is?

    I have never heard a reasonable argument for claiming that elections are democratic. I don’t think there is any good reason to think that elections result in government that represents the interests of the people.

    > Although election does privilege demagogues and elite interests this was also true in the ecclesia

    I agree. I think the democratic institutions in Athens were the Boule and the boards of magistrates.

    Like

  10. Mike,

    I am curious how you came to the notion of sortition. I expect it was as a result of the Citizens’ Assembly…yes?

    I wonder if any of those Assembly members took the logical step of imagining selecting legislators the way they themselves were selected. I haven’t heard any hint of that…but I wonder.

    Terry Bouricius

    Like

  11. Democracy is rule by the people, not rule in the interests of the people (a dictator or oligarchy could represent the interests of the people. Ancient democracy secured rule by the people via two processes: 1) rule and be ruled in turn and 2) direct affirmation in the assembly. (1) is impossible in large states; (2) is also impossible, hence the modern analogue (election or referendum).

    Whilst most commentators would agree that election, at best, only offers approximate representation of the interests of the people, nevertheless it is a democratic procedure (it just doesn’t work very well). When you say that the ecclesia wasn’t democratic what you mean again is that it didn’t work very well to secure the interests of the people (in your view), but to claim that the key institution of Athenian democracy wasn’t democratic is simply an abuse of language. As Quentin Skinner pointed out in an early essay on Dahl, democracy is a descriptive category, not a normative term. When you say you dislike the key instutution of Athenian democracy this puts you alongside 2,500 years worth of conservative critics, but none of them sought to claim that ancient democracy was not democratic. They (like you) just thought it was bad.

    The boule and boards of magistrates were only viewed by the Athenians as democratic on the strength of rotation. If you are taking the modern approach (which I would agree with) that they are democratic in the sense of affording descriptive representation, then that’s true, but this rules out active functions, for all the reasons that Pitkin has demonstrated. Whilst the boule performed active functions in the sense of being the secretariat of the assembly (a collegiate magistracy), it was not a leglislative body (and most citizens might well serve on it once or even twice in their lifetime, so was democratic in the rotation rather than representation sense).

    Like

  12. Hi Terry. Quick answer here since I’m rushing out the door. I read “Is Democracy Possible?” maybe 7-8 years ago. I forget how I stumbled on that. The funny thing is, I met Callenbach a couple years ago. He was talking about the legacy of Ecotopia. I had no idea he wrote a book on sortition, and he just casually mentioned it.

    Like

  13. The Citizen’s Assembly never resonated with me very much even though I live in BC and was starting to get keen on sortition around that time. I believe the participants were “educated” on a few acceptable Westminster-system alternatives and chose from those.

    Like

  14. John Burnheim will be very pleased to hear that — he dropped in to see us in Exeter a few weeks ago. Andrew Rehfeld also told me that John’s book had a big impact on his work.

    It’s ironic that sortive bodies get to deliberate difficult issues that require detailed constitutional knowledge yet are not trusted to judge the everyday business that constitutes most legislation.

    Like

  15. > I believe the participants were “educated” on a few acceptable Westminster-system alternatives and chose from those.

    Exactly – this kind of political theater is what can be expected to take place when the elites determine the setup.

    Like

  16. Perhaps this is why so many of these sortition exercises have dealt with constitutional issues — it’s hard to bring the judgment of one’s own life experience (the prime benefit of sortive assemblies) to bear on issues that are so unfamiliar — few citizens have strong views over the relative merits of plurality-at-large, Schwartz-sequential-dropping and single-transferrable-vote electoral systems. Not so with bread-and-butter legislative issues such as tax-and-spend, education, crime, social policy etc., where most people do have their own views and interests, so elites would be constrained to offer proposals that would be (or at least appear to be) in the interests of the popular assembly.

    Like

  17. > Democracy is rule by the people, not rule in the interests of the people (a dictator or oligarchy could represent the interests of the people. […]

    Not that it really matters one way or another, but if we are to take the term literally, then democracy means “rule of the people” rather than “rule by the people”. We have been through this before: the only reasonable interpretation of the this rather ambiguous term – and this is what people imply by the term intuitively – is a situation of equality of political power. Which, again, implies equal representation of interests. A person or a group that would manage to consistently represent the interests of the people (as perceived by the people) would not be a dictator or an oligarchy, but simply executors of democratic policy.

    The rest of your comment as well is a set of baseless assertions, mis-attributions and misinterpretations of the kind that you have presented (and that I have addressed) many time before, and since you don’t seem to be bothered by obvious and repeated mistakes and inconsistencies in your arguments and since it appears they convince no one but yourself they are not really worth engaging with again.

    Again, I address any reader who does feel that these arguments have some merit – please let me know and I would be happy to discuss them.

    Like

  18. Yoram: “baseless assertions, mis-attributions and misinterpretations”

    It’s hard to respond to vague ad-hominems, so await clarification.

    Like

  19. Perhaps part of the disagreement between you two is whether the term “democratic” should be applied only to variants of “pure, or assembly” democracy, or also to varieties of representative democracy.

    Modern democratic nations claim the mantle of “democracy” based on elective representation (as many have rare or no referenda nor mass assemblies). I think, what Yoram and I are saying is that a system of government based on representation through sortition instead of election is at least AS or MORE worthy of the term “democratic” than an elective system. Both are nominally based on equal political rights (except that sortition can deliver, and elective can’t). In neither of these democratic systems do all citizens actively govern.

    Keith, you are setting a higher bar for use of the term “democratic” in modern times than just about any other political theorist, by seeking to insert a referendum process as an analog for the Athenian Assembly (ekklesia), which you see as fundamental to the concept of democracy in ancient Athens. Such referenda may or may not be desirable, but they aren’t inherent in a representative democracy (whether by sortition or election).

    My problem with referenda is that they are a very poor analog for the Assembly. (And I am not certain the Assembly was the optimal institution itself). At least at the Assembly the participants were treated to pro and con debate (presumably with time limits, etc.), such that all those voting had spent hours learning a substantial amount and were exposed to arguments on both sides…which is never true in modern referenda.

    Like

  20. Speaking of assemblies, I have been attending the daily General Assemblies of Occupy Vancouver and this is the most democratic behaviour, among more than a few people, I’ve ever witnessed. Dialogue is key in order to attain a consensus. So far, after just a week and a half, it has mostly worked.

    I don’t know how to define the word democracy. Suppose the Tibetans kicked out the Chinese and clamoured for the return of the Dalai Lama as a ruler, would that be a democracy? Well, it doesn’t matter. If the people get what they want (in this example or through consensus), call it what you will, it seems morally correct to me.

    Like

  21. Terry,

    > Perhaps part of the disagreement between you two is whether the term “democratic” should be applied only to variants of “pure, or assembly” democracy, or also to varieties of representative democracy.

    As far as I am concerned, “assembly democracy” is not a democracy at all. Like any form of mass politics, such a system does not provide a reasonable expectation of political equality.

    > Keith, you are setting a higher bar for use of the term “democratic” in modern times than just about any other political theorist

    Keith doesn’t set a high standard – he is setting a double standard. He plays up potential imperfections of a sortition-based system and at the same time proposes systems in which severe political inequalities are inherent features. In parallel he insists that various arbitrary formalisms must be adhered to for no better reason than the fact that they match his interpretation of some arguments made by Pitkin or some other person.

    Like

  22. > Speaking of assemblies, I have been attending the daily General Assemblies of Occupy Vancouver and this is the most democratic behaviour, among more than a few people, I’ve ever witnessed. Dialogue is key in order to attain a consensus. So far, after just a week and a half, it has mostly worked.

    How does this work? What kind of decisions are arrived at? How are proposals made? How many people are involved? I invite you to share any relevant observations you have through this blog.

    In general, this kind of ad-hoc consensus-based system is often celebrated among Left-wing activists, but I think it does not provide a viable basis for an effective political movement.

    While I sympathize with the objectives of the Occupy movement, I am not optimistic as to its chances of success. Just over the last year, similar movements have risen and mostly dissipated in various countries (Greece, Spain and Israel, and probably others). The archetype of such movements is perhaps the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960’s. Yet, its short term success has been followed by decades of political regression. (It did have some important long term political achievements, but these are limited to some specific areas.) I think it is clear that a different form of political organization (namely, sortition-based) would need to be adopted before long term gains can be realistically expected.

    Like

  23. > If the people get what they want (in this example or through consensus), call it what you will, it seems morally correct to me.

    I think that is what most people would call democracy. As always, formalizing this notion is tricky, but any formalization that doesn’t preserve this notion should be rejected.

    Like

  24. I’m grateful to Terry, as always, for arguing in a way that enables me to respond, as opposed to Yoram’s standard ploy of emptying a bucket of ordure over my head.

    1) I believe my interpretation of the two characteristics of Athenian democracy (rotation and direct voting in the assembly) is uncontroversial, as nobody (to the best of my knowledge) argues that the Greeks viewed sortition as a mechanism to enable statistical representation.

    2) Both of these mechanisms cannot work in large states. Rotation is impossible ex hypothesi and elective representation or plebiscite is the modern approximation to direct voting in the assembly. This is what modern political scientists mean when they use the word “democracy”, so I’m unsure why I’m being singled out for criticism by using the same terminology.

    3) I’m as aware of the inherent problems of elective representation and plebiscites as everyone else on this list, so there’s no need to repeat them. Nevertheless this doesn’t contradict point 2, it’s just that the elective/referendum process is suboptimal (both from an epistemic and a normative perspective).

    4) We all agree that sortition can be used (in large modern states) as a mechanism to enable statistical representation, but Pitkin has argued that “descriptive representatives” cannot perform active political functions including the representation of interests. This is not “my interpretation” of her arguments, she states it explicitly in the book. For better or worse her book is the standard authority in the field (not just the work of “some other person”), so rather than beating up on me, you should seek to overturn her arguments first. I’ve not yet heard a convincing argument to this effect — either on this forum or in the mainstream political theory literature (Mike Saward and Andrew Rehfeld have attempted but it involves replacing democracy with the ‘representative claim’). So who would like to step up to the line?

    5) Please let’s hear some arguments, rather than just endlessly repeating the old mantra — elections give too much power to elites and are based on rational ignorance, so why don’t we give sortition a try etc. I’m 100% committed to sortition as a means of implementing descriptive representation, but I have no wish to pretend that it can do something for which it is inherently unsuited (the active representation of interests).

    6) Mike/Yoram: The internal proceedings of Occupy Vancouver may well be dialogic and consensual, but these are criteria of deliberation, not democracy — if anything they are characteristic of aristocratic assemblies like the House of Lords. As for the return of the Dalai Lama by popular assent this would only be representation in the Hobbesian sense (a more pertinent example being the rise to power of Adolf Hitler). Democracy is generally associated with ongoing political equality yet Yoram, in claiming that “a person or a group that would manage to consistently represent the interests of the people” would be an “executor of democratic policy” is just restating Leviathan. Hobbes did claim that this was a form of representation but even he would have struggled to call it democratic. So by all means continue to pursue these arguments, but please don’t try and dignify them with the word “democracy”. When the ruler of a Third World banana republic refers to his fiefdom as the “Democratic Republic of xxxx” it’s time to start counting the spoons.

    7) I agree that the normative goal of democratic theory is that “the people get what the want”; the question is what mechanism(s) best enable this? We all agree that the judgment of a descriptively-representative assembly is the most democratic way of ensuring informed decision-making in large modern states. But I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that sortive agenda-setting is possible without overturning the underlying norm of equal political power (both within and outwith the allotted chamber).

    Like

  25. I don’t believe that this Occupy round will achieve much that we will be able to point our finger to. But the changes are coming. We don’t live in a static world. I also fear that the General Assembly in Vancouver with its consensus model will be short-lived. So far, there is not a good way of agreeing to what should be on the agenda. That appears to be the weak point. But when an item falls on the agenda that stirs some emotions, I’ve seen it work well. For example, an assembly of maybe eighty was presented with the proposal that a local politician could speak at a particular timeslot, and that received some good disagreement.

    The model is based on the Wall Street 90/10 super-majority vote. Sometimes amendments to the proposals reduce the disagreement from >10% to <10% and it passes. There is also the block (veto) that anyone can use if you fundamentally disagree. There is a way to deal with that through two rounds of deliberation with break-out groups and two more rounds of voting. If the block persists, then that blocker is out of luck. So, in a nutshell consensus really means deliberation aimed at a 90% super-majority and a soft veto.

    The other consensus system that I am somewhat familiar with (more as a spectator than a participant) is what happens in Open Source Software. Projects such as Linux and Apache chug along year after year with good results.

    Like

  26. One more thing: I find it a little amusing that there are such opinions here that are so intransigent. For me, the whole point of sortition is that I don’t know so much (and neither do elites), so I need the help of a cross section of society to help me out.

    Like

  27. That’s a fair point Mike but if an option is ruled out for conceptual reasons (i.e. an priori truth that, by definition, is not open to empirical refutation) then I’m not sure how experience, however derived, can affect this one way or the other. There are many things that sortive chambers are good at deciding but these are generally to do with preferences, values and beliefs as opposed to logical analysis. It’s perfectly possible that an allotted chamber with active powers could make an excellent legislature, but it would be a serious mistake to describe this as a form of representation and/or democracy. This is an argument about the meaning of words, so belongs to the realm of philosophy, not political science (or, for that matter, opinion). John Burnheim has admitted that he is not a democrat (the answer to the rhetorical question of his book title being “no”) and it behoves all those proposing soritive assemblies with anything more than an aggregate role to answer this question with similar honesty.

    Like

  28. I would very much like to hear more about the direct democracy efforts of OWS. I basically agree with Yoram; decision making by consensus is great when it works, but the problem is it doesn’t scale up to large groups.

    I like to point out that groups that try to use consensus decision making, both past and present, either tend to be horribly inefficient or very free with the ban-hammer. Quakers use (or used) consensus in monthly meetings, and despite their liberal creed and homogenous beliefs. they have expelled more people throughout history than just about anyone. (To the degree Wikipedia can be said to work with consensus – I’m inclined to call a black lie – it also does so by disenfranchising most participants.)

    The protesters acutely need to learn about sortition, because fundamentally, what they want is political equality. Have you tried presenting the idea to them, Mike? How has the reaction been?

    Like

  29. Hi Harald

    > I would very much like to hear more about the direct democracy efforts of OWS.

    It is interesting but two or three times recently I’ve had a concern with the OWS assemblies in my city, and when I go back to the assembly the next day I find that it is being discussed. It actually gives me faith in sortition because like-minded people exist. So 24 hours ago I wrote here that the assemblies are weak for not having a good way to get items on the agenda. Today this was addressed through a proposal. Now, this proposal was defeated because it had slightly more than 10% disagreement. But those people who disagreed are going to meet individually with the committee who made the proposal and (hopefully) bring it back.

    The proposal tonight was based on the assemblies from Spain in recent times. I can go over it if you want.

    The most remarkable things, I suppose, are: the processes are very much non-adversarial. Today someone raised their voice, and there was an uproar. It is leaderless. If at any time someone appears to be authoritative, there is opposition. It is all-inclusive. People bend over backwards to include minorities. (I may be looking through rose-coloured glasses a little because I really want this to work. So take everything I say with a grain of salt.)

    > they have expelled more people throughout history than just about anyone

    In regards to OWS, a block means “I fundamentally disagree with this so much that I will leave the movement.” The blocks are addressed with great labour. If, after three vote attempts, the person still blocks, they are invited to stay, but they don’t get their way. In other words we call their bluff. They threatened to leave, so they can go. This also prevent saboteurs.

    > Have you tried presenting the [sortition] to them

    In general they are hostile to political campaigning, and I registered a political party recently, so no. But the official demands of the group will be discussed soon. If one of them is going to regard electoral reform, I might have an opportunity there.

    Like

  30. Keith, I agree that some of this thread has been discussing the meaning of the word democracy. It is not a question that interests me so much. The current definition of democracy is roughly: “something nice”. It is thought that if you call something democratic you are praising it. Beyond that, I cannot see any generally accepted definition. Some day when sortition dominates the world, we will call it democracy. Some day after that, when we are fed up with sortition because we found something better, sortition will not be democratic (unless we truly do succeed in pinning down the meaning of the word, but succeeding in that doesn’t really get us anywhere.)

    On the issue of logic: I would have to think some more what you meant in relation to sortive chambers. There are all kinds of horrible power structures that move to the beat of their own internal logic.

    Like

  31. The classical definition of democracy is, as Yoram correctly states, the rule of the people (in practice this translates into the rule of the majority of citizens). Although this is a precise concept, the practical difficulty is how best to ascertain the will of the majority, and the associated (epistemic) problem of how to enable informed majoritarian decision making, along with the (liberal) concern over protecting the rights and interests of minorities. (Note that the epistemic and liberal concerns are nothing to do with democracy from the political science perspective.) If we want a responsible debate over democracy we also need to resist the common temptation to view it as just a hurrah word (“something nice”) and we shouldn’t be too cavalier about the benefits that it has afforded citizens in comparison with the other available alternatives. As Churchill pointed out the least bad option is preferable to the rest.

    Given your interest in consensus processes, it’s interesting to contrast the standard definition of democracy with that preferred by deliberative theorists. Jon Elster, in his 1998 CUP collection Deliberative Democracy defines democracy as “any kind of effective and formalized control by citizens over leaders and policies” (p.98), and deliberative democracy as “decision making by discussion among free and equal citizens” (p.1). Note that Elster is not concerned about which citizens get to control/decide and whether these citizens should or should not be representative of the views of the majority, hence my earlier argument that deliberative democracy is an oxymoron. Harald’s concern (which I share) with consensus is a liberal one, but to this we need to add that it undermines democracy (as traditionally conceived) and is also epistemically harmful in that Condorcet-optimal decisions require that conditions of autonomy, diversity and independence be respected.

    Like

  32. I find myself in agreement with Keith that using “democracy” as a substitute for “a good government” or “a moral government” is a counterproductive abuse of the term. Any system of government can result in bad policy – including democracies (real ones, not the eklogocracies [elections-based governments] we call “democracies” these days).

    We believe (with good reason, I think) that democracies tend to produce better outcomes than oligarchies, but that is not because democracies are assumed to be good, but because of certain properties of a system based on political equality.

    Like

  33. “Democratic process” within a voluntary association (whether the Occupy movement, or a garden club), has a fundamental difference from democratic process for a geographic community, such as a state. Consensus can work when “exit” is an option. A voluntary association has an inherent commonality (an interest, goal, etc.), while members of a society with different religions and world views may not. It is unreasonable to expect people to leave their job and move their family to another country…
    Thus a proposal for democratic process in one institution may not work in another.

    I think sortition may actually have broader applications than some may assume…Might it be useful for governing a political party, or a club. What about in a stock corporation among share holders (rather than the traditional apportionment of power based on shares owned)? What about among employees of the firm? Might they have enough interest in the welfare of the firm to deiced certain things through a sortition body? I haven’t examined these, but may get around to it after I solve the best way to govern society as a whole ;)

    Like

  34. Voluntary organizations tend to have a huge enthusiasm gap. In most, the one who gets to lead is the one who is willing to lead, and that isn’t a problem since there’s so little prestige and privilege connected to it, and so much work.

    Formally, at least here in Norway, a nomination committee tends to be elected, and they nominate executives (after asking them), and those executives are rubber-stamped by the general assembly. The process could and should be improved by choosing the nomination committee by lottery instead, but it’s unlikely to produce visible differences in most cases.

    OWS, and similar spontaneous movements, are different in that they don’t nearly have the same enthusiasm gap – or at any rate, there are a lot more highly committed individuals. This is, I think, a factor in why they are so reluctant to select leaders.

    I agree with your observation on the “exit” option, Terry, but I still think it’s a much better idea to seek consensus informally, to the degree it is practical, rather than having it enshrined in by-law.

    Like

  35. Nicely put. Oakeshott is very good on the compulsory nature of political association (no exit available). According to him this has strong entailments — civil association cannot be purposive (unlike voluntary or enterprise organisations) as this would infringe the liberty of dissenting citizens (as the only alternative is emigration), so it’s unhelpful to compare the very different organising principles involved. It would also be entirely illiberal to seek consensus in an organisation that has no exits. I think (and I suspect this is where we would disagree) that this also has entailments for policy generation as there is a danger that the purposes of individual assembly members may shape the agenda, whereas this is less likely if there is a macro-democratic filter (although I accept that such filters are open to manipulation). In compulsory forms of association great care has to be exercised to ensure that there is majority backing for policy proposals and I don’t see how this is possible without some sort of electoral or plebiscitory element.

    Like

  36. > Consensus can work when “exit” is an option

    I like this comment, but I would also say that consensus is the best means to minimize the number of people who would like to exit. Take the Open Source Software movement. Exiting is easy here: just don’t log on anymore. Furthermore, someone exiting can take a copy of the software code with him. It is as if any disgruntled subject can make a complete kingdom clone and invite everyone to populate his world. Think about that. Anyone can be king with a few mouse clicks. Therefore, the mature projects typically work on consensus in order to maintain contented communities of contributing programmers.

    Like

  37. Computer programming is a good example of purposive behaviour (Oakeshott’s enterprise mode of association) — consensus is fine as everybody is free to leave and join another association. This is not the case with the civil mode of association — this is (in effect) compulsory, so attempts to achieve consensus are illiberal. This is additional to the epistemic objection (consensual mechanisms lead to groupthink, which could be valuable in software design, but is disastrous in political decision making).

    Like

  38. In the software example, one of the reasons why voting is specifically avoided is because it shuts down the conversation and eliminates the chance for further exploration of the issue to give new ideas. Consensus can be innovative. Ideas need to have sex and procreate new ones. There is a risk of group think, but I would rather aim for the innovative, and be aware of the risk than keep people apart lest they agree on something.

    I’m willing to except that consensus may not always work, and if a sortive body, in exasperation with consensus, wants to go for a vote on some particular issue, fine.

    Like

  39. Mike I think you are downplaying the difference between enterprise and civil modes of association. Civil association does not exist to maximise the production of widgets and citizens don’t have the option of joining another enterprise (unless they emigrate), so I don’t think you can draw any lessons from one form of association for the other.

    Like

  40. […] That party ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot. Finally, the People’s Senate Party promotes sortition in […]

    Like

  41. Hey Mike,

    Yoram Gat suggested I contact you since we share a passion for reforming the Senate through sortition. I personally think we can save humanity too.

    I have recently submitted two posts outlining my thoughts to About the Kleroterians blog.

    Today I was thinking of approaching a school or similar publically funded body to do an experiment with sortition. It could be a class project even. Maybe there would be a principal who would be willing to have a Student Senate that is selected by lot from the general student population. One with the power to at least question decisions that directly affect the students. The principal would still make the final decision. Like the song goes, if sortition works there, it will work anywhere!

    I am not much of a theoretician as you will see if you read my two entries. I am more of an action sort of guy. That’s how I roll. Knowledge without action is, well, just knowledge.

    I don’t have time to read the entire thread above tonight but will over the next several weeks.

    Cheers!
    Kevin

    PS Don’t suppose you are from Canmore? You are probably tired of that by now, sorry. But since this is an international blog, it is something just us Canadians “get.” And with Father Francis John Patrick Mulcahy’s approval, I like to mix a little “jocularity” with my writing and my life.

    Like

  42. I guess the way to reach Mike is through his own website:
    http://unparty.ca/send-email/

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: