Tom Hodgkinson: Boris ought to know his Plato

Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler, invokes Plato on the pages of The Independent:

[I]f Boris [Johnson] knew his Plato, which he ought to, having been to Eton and everything, then he would recognise in the protests, riots and strikes that have marked this year a sign that the people ain’t happy with the situation. He would also recognise himself as being a member of the short-sighted oligarchy – oligarchy meaning “control by a wealthy minority”. Reading Plato’s Republic, I was struck by the parallels with a typical cycle that he describes. In Platonic terms, it would seem that an oligarchy has taken over UK plc, and that this oligarchy has made too many loans, thereby pauperising the people, and now fails to see what is happening right beneath their noses: that the people are talking about revolution. The good news, though, is that a real democracy may be in store:

Plato writes that when the pursuit of riches remains unchecked, resentment breeds:

[…]

This is the situation that will lead to social upheaval: “Democracy originates when the poor win, kill or exile their opponents, and give the rest equal rights and opportunities of office, appointment to office being as a rule by lot.

This is what the people want: a real democracy, government by the people, and not by a clique comprising top politicians and CEOs. […]

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46 Responses

  1. A most interesting book on the oligarchic expansion of debt: ‘The Grip of Death’ by Michael Rowbotham.

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  2. Boris Johnson read Classics (Lit Hum) at Balliol College, Oxford. Benjamin Jowett’s college, no less.

    When I was in the Oxford Classics program in the early 1970’s, we spent a whole year on Plato’s Republic in the philosophy part of Greats.

    Hard to believe he isn’t very familiar indeed with the Republic.

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  3. I wonder then whether Johnson – and everybody else with an Oxbridge education – are aware that elections were considered anti-democratic by the Greeks. If so, are they thinking that Aristotle, say, was wrong to think as he did, or are they thinking that what we usually call “democracy” is not really a democracy?

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  4. As I pointed out yesterday, Aristotle equated rotation (not statistical sampling) with democracy and would have classified your proposal as a form of oligarchy.

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  5. > Aristotle equated rotation (not statistical sampling) with democracy and would have classified your proposal as a form of oligarchy.

    Of course. Because when Aristotle says

    It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot

    he obviously doesn’t mean what he writes and instead he means what Keith says he means.

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  6. The most important insight of the (now-dominant) Cambridge school in the history of political thought is the danger of anachronism. Just because writers 2,500 years ago used the same words (albeit in translation) that we do, that does not mean they are using them to refer to the same political realities. The political reality of classical democracies was the small city state, where to rule and be ruled in turn was a realistic possibility; not so in large modern states. There is universal agreement that the Greeks had no notion of political representation, so Aristotle (and subsequent theorists like Montesquieu) would have classified your proposal for sortition under the category of oligarchy (the rule of the few).

    This is an uncontroversial point and has nothing to do with my particular views — it’s a simple matter of taxonomy (the one, the few or the many). Klerotocracy is an example of rule by the few; if you are seeking rule by the many, then you have to distance yourself from Madison’s ambition for the total exclusion of the people argumentatively, rather than just rhetorically. Sarcasm, I’m afraid, is a rhetorical, rather than argumentative form of speech. It has it’s place in leavening the discourse with a bit of humour, but at some point you need to stop sloganising and start engaging with the arguments of your intellectual opponents, however much they may fill you with righteous indignation. If we cannot all do that on a forum such as this, then what hope is there for the model of government by reasoned discourse that is presupposed by the advocates of deliberative democracy?

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  7. Wondering if someone would mind parsing the derivational differences between ‘klerotocracy’ (which does not appear in my online dictionary) and ‘oligarchy’ which does:
    ======================
    a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution : the ruling oligarchy of military men around the president.
    • a state governed by such a group : the English aristocratic oligarchy of the 19th century.
    • government by such a group.
    ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from Greek oligarkhia (probably via medieval Latin).
    USAGE See usage at aristocracy . [which says “Plutocracy is rule by the (necessarily few) very rich.”

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  8. As I coined the term kleritocracy, I suppose then it’s down to me. Aristocracy/plutocracy and kleritocracy are both forms of oligarchy (rule by a small group of people) — in the former the selection principle is wealth and power, in the latter the selection principle is randomisation (ie the same derivation as kleroterian). The point that I’m trying to make is that a randomly-selected assembly with full powers would be a form of oligarchy (rule by the few) rather than democracy (rule by the many) on account of the limited mandate afforded by the principle of statistical representation. Democracy can only be achieved by a mixed constitution, involving election/votation and sortition.

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  9. Flawed arguments do not get any better with repetition, Keith.

    A democracy is a system in which the members of the group are in a state of political equality – i.e., in a state in which the interests of all people influence public policy equally. A sortition-based system is the system which is best suited to achieve equal representation of interests.

    Any system which involves elections or any other form of mass politics privileges various elite groups giving their interests more influence over public policy than the interests of others. Therefore, these systems are anti-democratic.

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  10. Yoram, given that:

    1) you ascribe individual functions to members of an allotted chamber (proposing, arguing, advocating etc.)

    2) individuals are anything but equal in their persuasive power (illocutionary force), knowledge, charisma or perceived social status.

    3) individuals with active functions would be susceptible to corrupting inducements from lobbyists and other interested parties (hence Chouard’s focus on the role of the police).

    Why therefore do you claim that “a sortition-based system is best suited to acheive equal representation of interests”?

    Needless to say I accept fully that the aggregate judgment of a sortition-based system is the most democratic, but I’ve yet to hear any reasons justifying your further claim (for individual, active functions). Note that I’ve always accepted that elections favour elite groups, so there’s no need to keep repeating that rather obvious point.

    Unfortunately we have yet to hear an argument for an alternative to election/votation/direct-democracy for the active political function, all we hear is the repetition of a slogan (elections=aristocracy; sortition=democracy) derived from the very different conditions that obtained in antiquity . If my (sorry, Hanna Pitkin’s) arguments are flawed, then please refute them. Which premise is incorrect (1, 2, 3, or all of them?). It’s quite easy to cite Aristotle, Polybius and Montesquieu; coming up with coherent arguments for a modern implementation of sortive democracy takes an awful lot of work, both in terms of the clarification of the concepts (which you either lampoon or ignore) and social science experiments (which you rubbish as token gestures).

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  11. Keith,

    I think the basic question comes back to whether a small society of 100 people, in which all have an equal opportunity to participate, debate, propose, and vote is democratic. Most would say “yes.” In that society, there will be unequal persuasive ability. That does not invalidate its democratic nature…it merely describes ALL social groupings. So why does unequal persuasive ability invalidate an allotted body’s democratic nature? Can’t this tiny democracy agree to a division of labor, using random selection (to preserve equality of opportunity) to pick 50 to make laws for a month, while the other 50 hunt for food, and build shelter? That still feels democratic, (though “representative” rather than direct).

    As I recall, your objection kicked in as soon as the ratio of law-makers to others passed the point where it was not mere rotation, and most people would never serve as law makers. But political equality still exists as long as all have an equal chance to serve (just as all voters have an equal, though miniscule, chance to cast a decisive vote in a mass election).

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  12. Keith,

    As Terry points out, we have been over these points many times before. See, for example, here and other comments in the same thread. You are again simply regurgitating long-refuted points.

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  13. Terry, many thanks for addressing the argument so clearly: your original society of 100 members is democratic, whereas the allotted bodies aren’t, the crucial difference being the need for representation. Three and a half scenarios:

    1. In the society of 100 members with a direct democracy everyone who wishes to have their policy preferences adopted is free to take elocution lessons, study Cicero, practice bodybuilding and to take other steps to improve their socio-economic status.

    1a. Such a society would remain democratic iff the 50/50 division that you suggest was a rotation (ie taking equal turns in legislating and fishing) but clearly not if it was a permanent division of labour as the strictures on the aggregate nature of the representative mandate apply (and the sample would be much too small). Division of labour in such societies would be based on ability (the precursor of elective democracy, as citizens would want to choose the best people for each office) or power (supernatural, traditional, coercive or whatever). If they were egalitarians they might well choose to draw lots to ensure that everybody could rule and be ruled in turn.

    2. In elective democracy everyone who wishes to have their policy preferences adopted can choose a candidate with similar policy preferences (manifesto commitments) and the necessary persuasive “clout” (principle of distinction). Or they may choose a candidate that they trust or identify with (trustee representation).

    3. In a polity with a sortive assembly with full powers none of the above applies. Although there will be a statistical correspondence between the number of people in the assembly with views like mine to their prevalence in the whole population, the effectiveness of the promulgation of those views will depend on pure chance. As I’ve mentioned before, random selection as a representative mechanism depends on a statistical ratio, not chance, and this is the reason that the Dowlen-Stone “lottery principle” (arationality) does not apply to statistical representation (arationality is the opposite of ratio). In fact I wonder sometimes why we even bother discussing it in the context of sortition proposals for large-scale modern states, where representation is the defining characteristic.

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  14. Yoram

    I would have hoped that you would have had the courtesy to respond to my request (which of my 3 numbered premises are wrong?), but seeing as you haven’t I will have to respond to your old points.

    1. I see that the problem is my “lack of faith” in the average person not to be manipulated by persuasive and high-status figures. This is an empirical research issue, not the domain of faith — The vulnerability of groups to charismatic and status-based manipulation has been demonstrated over and over again, but it’s been forty years since I studied social psychology, so I will have to leave it to others with up-to-date knowledge of the research.

    2. You have repeatedly claimed that the “preferences of the majority of the population” (as opposed to elite interests) can be easily discerned without the need for balanced advocacy. This might indeed be seen as an article of faith (based on an archaic analysis of class interests). For example you have claimed that it’s obvious that a nationalised healthcare system is clearly in the interests of the majority. Not so in the UK where an increasing number are looking enviously at the continental insurance-based system, where elderly hospitalised patients are not left to lie for hours in their own faeces. I only use this example to demonstrate that there is no clear and simple division between elite and mass interests (the reason that I use the term “interests” rather than “preferences” here is that the analysis is complicated by the fact that the NHS, with it’s swarm of ministering angels, has achieved the status of a religious ikon).

    3. I agree that this issue of partial and biased information is a serious problem, which is why I’m very sympathetic to your critique of media power. As a liberal, I would prefer to see plural diversity (via breakup of media monopolies) as opposed to your preference for a “democratised” media, but that’s a minor disagreement about means rather than ends. It’s worth bearing in mind that Murdoch is powerful because people choose to buy his newspapers, so I would prefer to see choice extended via diversity. In practice the decline of print media, and the growth of free online alternatives is likely to ameliorate this problem without the need for excessive state intervention. If recording artists can gain widespread popularity without the need of record labels and music publishers, there’s no reason why the written word should not follow the path that music has taken. But whatever solution, we are in agreement on the urgent need to address partial and biased information.

    3. The issue of balanced information and advocacy in a parliamentary assembly is equally important. My view (as you well know) is that whoever wins the election/votation/initiative should provide the information/advocacy for the resulting parliamentary bill, with the opposition coming from a permanent house of advocates. I acknowledge that this is an elite solution (although I’m strongly attracted to Mark’s suggested use of sortition in the appointment of advocates: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/the-party%E2%80%99s-over-blueprint-for-a-very-english-revolution/#comment-1130 Remember always that the final decision is in the hands of the allottted members, not the elites. I acknowledge that this will impose rather conservative constraints on the advocacy agenda, but would consider this to be a more balanced and democratic solution than the random preferences of the active active individuals in the sortive house (or, more likely, the preferences of the permanent secretariat). This dialectical approach to advocacy — for and against — is the preferred method of media organisations in providing a fair balance, and it’s probably about as good as it gets.

    In sum, I’m fully aware of the susceptibility of my proposals to elite influence (although your only answer to the susceptibility of your own is an enhanced role for the police), so you really don’t need to repeat that any more. The question at hand is how best to ameliorate the influence of elites, rather than just forcing them underground or replacing an aristocratic/plutocratic elite with a klerotocratic elite.

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  15. Keith,

    So your pivotal point for why an allotted chamber with full powers is not democratic is your premise 3 “individuals with active functions would be susceptible to corrupting inducements from lobbyists and other interested parties.”
    But since this is also true of a small society in which EVERY member participates in the decision making body, doesn’t that mean you have defined away any and all democracy?

    My solution is to have a separate allotted body that makes no laws make all decisions regarding process for the law making allotted body (selection of staff, salary, time limits and structure of debate, protection against corruption, etc.)

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  16. No that’s an empirical observation (that could be addressed to a certain extent by police action). The key point is conceptual:

    2) individuals are anything but equal in their persuasive power (illocutionary force), knowledge, charisma or perceived social status.

    Individuals are only equal numerically, not in any other respect. This is why any action other than voting is a breach of democratic equality. The only other form of equality is religious (everybody is equal in the eyes of God) or metaphysical (Kantian notions of moral equality). This form of speculative equality is of little concern to political scientists other than as a normative goal. Peter accepted this point in his recent comment: “I think we all agree that in any large legislature, influence will not be distributed equally. Not everyone will talk the same amount, not everyone will be equally persuasive, etc. Even Yoram and Keith agree on this, I think!” If only that were true then I wouldn’t need to waste so much time labouring this point!

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  17. Keith,

    I haven’t responded in this thread to your points simply because I have already responded to them multiple times on other threads.

    As for your responses to my points, again, we have gone through these before as well, so I don’t hold much hope that we will make much headway now, but I will respond briefly again:

    > I see that the problem is my “lack of faith” in the average person not to be manipulated by persuasive and high-status figures.

    Again, you do not bother to read other people’s arguments, and as a result you offer irrelevant arguments of your own. Let me highlight the relevant sentence in the comment I referred you to above:

    Keith obviously has very little faith in the sense of the average person if he thinks the majority of the allotted group (and thus the majority in the population) can be duped into supporting, after thorough examination and an open discussion, ideas that are against the preferences of the majority of the population (and thus of the majority of the group).

    But even if we accept such a dim view of humanity, as a group of incompetents who can be easily manipulated to act against their best interests, why would the following be true:

    > (note that this is not possible in an opinion poll, where every ‘vote’ [box tick] has the same weight).

    If people are so easily manipulated, why wouldn’t their uninformed and unconsidered opinion (which is what one can expect to be expressed when one is exposed to partial or biased information and deprived of the benefits of an open discussion and inquiry) be even more unrepresentative of the preferences of the majority of the population?

    As you can see, I was willing to accept for the sake of the argument you lack of faith in the average person, so this is clearly not “the problem”. The problem is that your arguments are faulty even on their own terms.

    Then you claim:

    > You have repeatedly claimed that the “preferences of the majority of the population” (as opposed to elite interests) can be easily discerned without the need for balanced advocacy.

    This is false – do you care to offer any evidence that I ever made such claims, or is mere assertion sufficient?

    The preferences of the majority are not easy to identify. Doing so requires significant effort. Furthermore, I have no problem with balanced advocacy. It is just that, just as you concede a few paragraphs later, the system that you propose has no prospects of providing a balanced view. It is going to provide advocacy for elite interests.

    Balanced advocacy will result when each member of the allotted chamber is allowed to find their own sources of information and advocacy – not when these are controlled by an elite body.

    Finally,

    > I’m fully aware of the susceptibility of my proposals to elite influence

    I would not call this susceptibility but rather built-in control by elites. But then, if you concede that, why do you occasionally refer to your proposed system by the term “democratic”? Isn’t it clear to you that control by elite and “democratic” are opposites?

    > (although your only answer to the susceptibility of your own is an enhanced role for the police)

    This is a new claim. It is false and it is offered, characteristically without even an attempt to substantiate it.

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  18. Keith,

    I have no intent to gang up on you with Yoram…I just don’t understand your definition of “democratic.” If, as you state,
    “Individuals are only equal numerically, not in any other respect. This is why any action other than voting is a breach of democratic equality.”

    Then you believe that a society of 100 people (not just an allotted body) cannot be deemed “democratic” if members of the society discuss or debate an issue before voting (since members of the society will breach “democratic equality” if they open their mouths).

    Are you merely using the word “democratic” stripped of all its common normative connotations? For you is its definition “rule by ALL,” so that no system that uses representation can ever be termed “democratic?”

    What about “democratic-ish?” ;-)

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  19. Terry,

    A society of 100 people in which everyone participates is (directly) democratic as no representation required. This is not the case in larger societies employing allotment because the relationship between you and your “representative” is entirely down to chance. Even though your views might be in the majority in the larger community, those representing minority views could easily win the vote because they happened to have more persuasive allotted advocates. This is particularly problematic to those of a conservative disposition, as advocates for change would seem, like the Devil, to have all the best tunes.

    As I mentioned earlier a simple thought experiment can resolve this. If the role of the allotted assembly was purely to listen to balanced advocacy and then vote, then statistical theory would suggest that an infinite number of allotted assemblies would vote in the same way, and that this vote would therefore represent the considered preferences of the whole community. This would be very unlikely to be true for an allotted assembly that had powers of policy origination and advocacy, hence such assemblies would involve a breach of democratic equality.

    I confess to being a little puzzled by the need to continually restate this argument, and am glad to see that Peter has acknowledged it.

    Yoram,

    Thanks for your long response. I’m off to bed now so will have to leave it until tomorrow morning to react.

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  20. Keith, you wrote, “Democracy can only be achieved by a mixed constitution, involving election/votation and sortition.” Didn’t you post a topic in this forum where you explained your rationale for this? Can you paste in the link, or at least remind me of the title?

    Yoram, you wrote, “A democracy is a system in which the members of the group are in a state of political equality – i.e., in a state in which the interests of all people influence public policy equally.” If there is one allotted chamber with all the legislative power, and no participation by the rest of the citizens, isn’t there vast inequality between the two groups?

    Terry, you wrote, “My solution is to have a separate allotted body that makes no laws make all decisions regarding process for the law making allotted body (selection of staff, salary, time limits and structure of debate, protection against corruption, etc.).” The strategy of combining sortition with separation of functions seems like a good strategy to limit corruption and deal with the classic question of “who guards the guards.” Also, it gives more people the chance to play a meaningful role.

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  21. David,

    > If there is one allotted chamber with all the legislative power, and no participation by the rest of the citizens, isn’t there vast inequality between the two groups?

    The important issue is not whether everybody in the group gets a vote on every decision. This doesn’t happen even in groups of two people. If this was the standard then no system would be democratic.

    The important question is – as I stated above – whether the interests of the people are equally represented in public policy making. A sortition-based system makes it possible (and under the appropriate design, likely) to have such equal representation of interests, while an elections-based system makes it extremely unlikely.

    Any parliament could become undemocratic, by promoting interests that are special to the parliament and its members, but that is much less likely to happen in an allotted chamber than in an elected chamber, where it is virtually and inevitability.

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  22. Yoram,

    I agree that we are unlikely to make any significant progress on resolving our differences (this is why I disagree with Fela that people who are “interested in politics” are better candidates for a chamber with a discursive function), but I’ll make one more attempt.

    1. We both agree that partial and biased information is antithetical to informed decision making, the dispute is how best to achieve this, you preferring to leave it to each member of the allotted chamber to find her own sources of information and advocacy. This puts enormous power in the hands of arbitrarily-selected individuals whose only democratic mandate is collective, rather than individually. There is no particular reason to believe that individuals would select their sources of information and advocacy in a way that would mirror the choice of the general population. This is particularly problematic given that most individuals would have no prior knowledge of the issues under debate so would be likely to either follow their own prejudices or leave it to the permanent secretariat of the assembly. My preference is to leave advocacy to those groups who have attained recognition in wider society — for example on the one hand Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and on the other representatives of energy companies might well be recruited to provide information and advocacy for a bill dealing with energy and climate-change policy. No doubt these are all elite groups (in the sense that they have achieved widespread recognition as authorities in their field), but providing a balanced debate between opposing interests is the time-honoured method in these areas. As such I don’t think its for me to demonstrate the value of this approach, the onus is on you to demonstrate that randomly-selected individuals can do better. I don’t believe there is a body of evidence to support your hypothesis, so you would need to commission your own social science experiments.

    2. Moving on now to your claim that my proposal has no prospect of providing balanced advocacy, only elite interests. Referring to the energy-policy example, are you claiming that Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace pursue elite interests? If the debate were on employment law would you argue that the Trades Union Congress pursues elite interests? I don’t understand why a debate on employment law that had TUC advocates on one side and CBI (Confederation of British Industries) would be unbalanced and partial.

    3. My claim for the enhanced role of the police refers to the inevitability that an AC with full powers would be overwhelmed by the corrupting influence of lobbyists (not so with an AC that merely exercised the secret vote). This is the reason that Chouard spent so much time on the need for elaborate and all-pervasive scrutiny.

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  23. > There is no particular reason to believe that individuals would select their sources of information and advocacy in a way that would mirror the choice of the general population.

    There certainly is – the law of large numbers is the reason.

    > This is particularly problematic given that most individuals would have no prior knowledge of the issues under debate so would be likely to either follow their own prejudices

    Their prejudices would be similar to those of the population.

    > My preference is to leave advocacy to those groups who have attained recognition in wider society

    You are contradicting yourself. If certain groups “have attained recognition in wider society” then we would expect that allotted representatives would turn to them for information and advice.

    > the inevitability that an AC with full powers would be overwhelmed by the corrupting influence of lobbyists

    There is every reason to expect that an AC would be much less susceptible to corruption by lobbyists than an electorally selected chamber.

    > (not so with an AC that merely exercised the secret vote)

    On the contrary – common sense as well as experience show that secrecy reduces accountability and enhances the chance for duplicity and corruption.

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  24. Why on earth would you want to mirror the prejudices of the population, when the purpose of the exercise is the delivery of balanced information to better enable informed judgment by a lay body? If the prejudices affected the majority of the members of the assembly then there would be no chance of balanced information and advocacy. For example, in the UK most people read right-wing newspapers, so there is a reasonable likelihood that groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would be viewed as tree-hugging save-the-whale types and therefore be unable to make a significant contribution of knowledge and advocacy. I’m assuming, of course, that the speaking rights of advocates would be in proportion to the pre-deliberative support that they have, otherwise this would mean that neo-nazis and other crazies (who might have only the support of only one or two members) would be allowed the same amount of time and other resources to inform and persuade as advocates who were chosen by a large number of allotted members. This would make a mockery of the notion of balanced advocacy and would also mean that members were left wallowing in so much conflicting information that they would simply take refuge in their pre-deliberative prejudices.

    On the issue of corruptibility I’m not suggesting an electorally-selected chamber; my proposal is for an allotted chamber with secret voting powers, but with the corruptible element quarantined elsewhere. The secret ballot was introduced in the 19th Century in order to prevent the corruption of the voting process by threats and inducements. How can you buy a vote if there is no way of finding out how it is cast?

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  25. > Why on earth would you want to mirror the prejudices of the population

    You seem to swing between the two contradictory complaints, both unjustified: “the delegates would not be like the people so they are an elite” and “the delegates would be like the people so they would be misinformed and unconsidered”.

    > there is a reasonable likelihood that groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would be viewed as tree-hugging save-the-whale types and therefore be unable to make a significant contribution of knowledge and advocacy. I’m assuming, of course, that the speaking rights of advocates would be in proportion to the pre-deliberative support that they have

    Again, it is sadly amusing that you are able to argue two contradictory positions within a single sentence: if Greenpeace is “viewed” negatively, then their “proportional speaking rights” must be appropriately minimal.

    > How can you buy a vote if there is no way of finding out how it is cast?

    There are many options. One simple way would be to reward delegates based on aggregate vote results. But, more importantly, even if there was no way to buy a vote, this would not matter as long as one could influence those who write the legislation proposals and those who write and present the advocacy materials.

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  26. Apportioning time (or word count) to pro and con sides is an extremely challenging task. I don’t think it makes sense to apportion time based on pre-deliberation attitudes. We may even want to weight time towards minority perspectives to encourage people to re-examine their initial notions.

    Also, a proposal may have numerous distinct con arguments. A proposal to go North 10 miles, can be countered not only by a proposal to stay put, but also by a proposal to go South 10 miles, or North 100 miles, or East, etc.

    An allotted body would need to set out some sort of guidelines that would apply generally, but it is inevitable that each individual bill will have a unique set of opposing arguments, that will require “on the fly” decisions about what to include and where to draw the line. Fishkin relied on having hand-picked pro and con experts negotiate and hash out the “fair” balance point…but that just kicks the can down the road to picking these opposing experts.

    It is obviously easier to ignore this whole issue and go Yoram’s route of laissez faire as in current legislatures (is that a fair description, Yoram?), but I think that would miss an opportunity to get the best possible decisions out of an Allotted Chamber.

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  27. >You seem to swing between the two contradictory complaints, both unjustified: “the delegates would not be like the people so they are an elite” and “the delegates would be like the people so they would be misinformed and unconsidered”.

    I’ve no idea what you are referring to. First of all allotted representatives are not delegates. Secondly when performing individual active functions such as proposing and arguing in favour of legislation they are not “like” (in the sense of descriptively representing) anybody, they are simply individual human beings with no democratic mandate (unlike an AC with voting rights only, which would be statistically representative of the whole citizenry). If you wish you may refer to such a body as an elite, but it’s an unusual choice of words. My point is only that such a body would be a form of oligarchy (the rule of the few) and differs from (say) hereditary aristocracy only in that the accident of birth is replaced by the accident of lot. Thirdly, the purpose of balanced information and advocacy is to inform the ignorant, whereas you seem to think it is to mirror their existing prejudices.

    >if Greenpeace is “viewed” negatively, then their “proportional speaking rights” must be appropriately minimal.

    Yes, that’s exactly my point. Given that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are generally viewed as well-informed advocates for the environmental lobby they would be in a better position to supply balanced advocacy than merely relying on the prejudices of those without any particular knowledge and expertise in the area. This is particularly problematic if the AC represents a widely-held prejudice against (say) anthropogenic global warming. I’m puzzled as to why you would not want well-informed advocates of unpopular positions to have a guaranteed role to play in informing the deliberations of the AC, especially on issues that are critical to the survival of the human race.

    >One simple way would be to reward delegates based on aggregate vote results.

    As an inverse form of collective punishment this is unlikely to be effective. We could go into rational choice theory, prisoners’ dilemma etc, but it would be a little tedious.

    >Even if there was no way to buy a vote, this would not matter as long as one could influence those who write the legislation proposals and those who write and present the advocacy materials.

    Under my proposals every citizen is free to make petitions and initiatives. Admittedly successful proposals would need to attract a minimum level of endorsement from fellow citizens, but that’s a constraint that would normally be viewed as a democratic one. As for the writing and presentation of advocacy materials, unfortunately this would involve doing quite a lot of work, getting the necessary qualifications, peer and public recognition etc. It’s how expertise is gauged in most fields of endeavour, including your own chosen profession (at least that’s what my son tells me). Why you feel that such principles should not apply to the conduct of public affairs is something of a mystery to me.

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  28. Terry> Also, a proposal may have numerous distinct con arguments. A proposal to go North 10 miles, can be countered not only by a proposal to stay put, but also by a proposal to go South 10 miles, or North 100 miles, or East, etc.

    Isn’t that simply an argument for pluralism in the advocacy chamber? Of course this would mean there were more Cons than Pros, so it would be imbalanced. However if the Pros have the initial benefit of having won the public votation and the AC is effectively the same voters sampled in a different manner then the Pros would already have a clear lead. If so then the, admittedly conservative, multiplicity of Cons would provide a necessary balance. The AC proposal differs significantly from the DP in that it is a legislative bill with an existing mandate, as opposed to a sample of informed public opinion, where greater care would be needed to ensure an exact balance.

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  29. Keith> the inevitability that an AC with full powers would be overwhelmed by the corrupting influence of lobbyists

    Yoram>There is every reason to expect that an AC would be much less susceptible to corruption by lobbyists than an electorally selected chamber.

    You’ll find amusing but salient support for Yoram’s position in Harper’s — “Congress: The Most Dangerous Neighborhood in America”. http://harpers.org/archive/2007/09/hbc-90001300

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  30. Keith,

    > Given that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are generally viewed as well-informed advocates for the environmental lobby they would be in a better position to supply balanced advocacy than merely relying on the prejudices of those without any particular knowledge and expertise in the area.

    Let’s focus on this point, because if we cannot make headway on this very specific point that is simply a matter of elementary logic, then there is no reason to expect or even hope for any useful discussion.

    Please explain how could it be that on the one hand

    1. “there is a reasonable likelihood that groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would be viewed as tree-hugging save-the-whale types”

    and on the other hand

    2. “Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are generally viewed as well-informed advocates for the environmental lobby”.

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  31. Terry,

    > It is obviously easier to ignore this whole issue and go Yoram’s route of laissez faire as in current legislatures (is that a fair description, Yoram?), but I think that would miss an opportunity to get the best possible decisions out of an Allotted Chamber.

    Yes – delegates should be free to gather their information and advice in any way they see fit, but no – I don’t see this as “ignoring” the issue.

    This is not a matter of ignoring the issue, it is a matter of adopting the only system that is consistent with democratic principles and that motivates delegates to reach the best understanding of the issues. Any other system grant decisive political power to whoever provides the information and advice, and pushes the delegates into an infantile position in which they are easily demotivated and manipulated. This situation would be rather similar to the situation of the public at large under the current system which is being manipulated by the misinformation and fake debates offered in mass media.

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  32. Mea culpa. My use of the word “generally” in the second quote was ill-advised; what I meant was that Friends of the Earth are viewed as well-informed in circles that know something about the topic. No doubt you would translate “circles that know something about the topic” into elite/masses parlance; if so then I must plead guilty to the view that knowledge is an elite function and should be privileged over ignorance and prejudice. Notwithstanding this I insist that democracy requires that decision making should be taken by a well-informed microcosm that is statistically representative of the whole citizenry, but would draw a sharp distinction between lay decision making and “elite” (in your parlance) information provision. That would seem to me to be a moderate and reasonable perspective.

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  33. David, imagine how worse it would be if members of Congress did not have to stand for re-election — if they knew that they were only there for one fixed term, were accountable to nobody at all (apart from the police) and were subject to no internal party discipline or governing ideology. The main reason that Congressional members are prey to such temptation is because of the enormous power that they wield (this would be exactly the same as members of an allotted chamber with full powers), so the comparison with other zip codes is really just lazy journalism. If AC members were appointed on an ad-hoc basis and were only to deliberate (in the Fishkinian sense) and then vote anonymously they would be very hard to corrupt, whereas lobbyists and other advocates would have to operate in the full glare of public and media scrutiny. They would have to persuade the AC by the force of their arguments rather than by covert deals, pork-trading, bribery, threats and other forms of corruption. By contrast lobbyists would think they had died and gone to heaven if Yoram-style ACs were instituted as they would be so cheap to corrupt (average Joes earn a lot less than members of Congress).

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  34. > Mea culpa.

    I had several overlapping thoughts following your response. Here is a sample in no particular order:

    1. How ingrained is your disdain for others that when it comes to having “proportional” allocation of opportunity for expression of opinion – you implicitly assume that most people opinion count for nothing and should not be part of that proportion.

    2. How biased and self-important you are that you implicitly assume that it is your opinions of who matters that should matter, and that anyone who matters would agree with you.

    3. How rash you are in your thinking and in reading other people’s arguments that you can write within the same sentence two transparently contradictory statements without noticing, and even after having this fact pointed out you manage to misunderstand what is being pointed out.

    4. How difficult it is to make you see sense even when it comes to elementary items of logic. How unlikely it is that any fruitful discussion could grow on such shaky grounds.

    5. How absurd, but maybe inevitable, it is that you, whose every thought is dominated by elitist ideas, are so busy denying the existence of elites.

    6. That one of the following must hold: either (1) no one other than me bothers to read what you write with any heedfulness, or (2) people read what you write, note the contradictions but are not bothered enough by them to point them out, or (3) people are bothered by the contradictions but are too polite to point them out.

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  35. I would urge Keith not to respond to this last post of Yoram’s. I dearly appreciate this Blog, and find it endlessly beneficial for honing my thoughts, and don’t want it to devolve into flame-wars.

    Yoram finds many of Keith’s posts extremely frustrating, while I only find a small fraction of them frustrating, and most of them helpful for my thinking. However, I find Yoram’s bitter criticisms of Keith’s posts counter-productive. If Keith is writing illogically, noting it is okay, but adding phrases like “your disdain for others,” and “self-important” only drag down the whole Blog.

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  36. Gosh — looks like I’m beyond hope! But there is another possibility:

    6 (4) some people might even agree with me on some of these issues.

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  37. Thanks Terry, I would have kept quiet, if I had read your comment first, but they crossed in the post.

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  38. Keith> By contrast lobbyists would think they had died and gone to heaven if Yoram-style ACs were instituted as they would be so cheap to corrupt (average Joes earn a lot less than members of Congress).

    I do believe the average Joe would be less corruptible, per se, than those who *want* to be in Congress. What would be an appropriate salary for a sortitional Citizen Legislature? Current Congress gets $174,000. That seems too high. What about 90th percentile of the median household income — $83,000. Would that still make the average Joe so corruptible?

    Also … is there any disagreement that use of the secret vote in a sortitional legislature would not effectively thwart bribery? [Apologies if this has already been addressed. I’m not able to keep up with all the discussions.]

    ===========
    Agree, Terry … ad hominem is out of place here.

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  39. David, the main reason that AC members (with full powers) might be open to corruption is because their tenure in the AC would be comparatively short, so they might want to store up something for the future (“making hay while the sun shines”; carpe diem etc), especially as there is no structural accountability or party/ideological constraints. Congress members with long tenure and a high salary have less excuse.

    As for the notion of “per se” corruptibility, the default assumption is often that professional politicians are only in it for selfish reasons. I think that’s a little unfair: often people are drawn to politics as a calling for altruistic reasons — they want to make a difference — and then turn to personal gain when they find that there’s very little that they can do in practice.

    Regarding the secret vote, Yoram had expressed the view that it was a poor defence against corruption, but I think he is using the term in a more general sense than cash stuffed in brown envelopes (i.e. acting for personal or class interest rather than the general good). As such the new post on Rousseau’s general will — vs — the will of all pertains, as I seem to remember that Yoram had argued some time ago that allotted representation was not possible in a corrupt society (where people were no longer motivated by notions of the public good). Whilst I think that would be ideal, sortition (as a tool) is agnostic on this issue.

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  40. > (4) some people might even agree with me on some of these issues.

    Yes – others might also understand the phrase “generally viewed” as referring to the views of that minority of the population whose views are the only ones that count.

    > ad hominem is out of place here.

    Ad hominem is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.

    So, no, I did not engage in ad hominem.

    But, yes, I do think that avoiding the truth for the sake of politeness is wrong when this avoidance is being exploited systematically to spread offensive ideology in deceptive ways.

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  41. Yoram, I do think it’s important to draw a distinction between opinion and knowledge: I’m 100% committed to the principle of complete equality in political decision-making but would prefer for decision-making to be well-informed and would defend the commonsense view that knowledge in any particular domain is not evenly distributed. Not only do most people know very little about (say) software engineering, but would not even know who to turn to for advice, so would end up consulting someone that they just happened to know (limited, in my case, to my son and yourself). If it were the case that software engineering were a highly politicised domain then, by following this route, I would be unlikely to obtain balanced knowledge and advocacy. If my own prejudices are widely shared then there’s good reason to believe that the aggregated supply of information to the AC would be biased in favour of these prejudices. This is why I was surprised by your wish for knowledge and advocacy to mirror the prejudices of the wider population, rather than observing the normal dialectical exchange of pros and cons.

    As for your alleged ad hominems, I’ve got a thick skin and don’t really mind; however I’ve invited a number of scholars to comment on some recent threads and they may well be put off if they see that the informal protocols of scholarly exchange are not being adhered to. It’s also the case that sortition is a new and radical political principle in terms of modern democratic theorising, so it might be prudent to offer it as a useful and valuable corrective, rather than insisting that it’s the only political principle with any merit.

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  42. Regarding informal protocols of scholarly exchange vis-a-vis ad hominem attacks — There’s surely a bit of intercultural difference at play here. I remember being often shocked, at first, by the bluntness of South Africans and Israelis. USAers tend towards avoiding too much directness. I suppose scholarly exchange incorporates more of the latter style than the former.

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  43. That’s an interesting perspective. My concerns are twofold: strategic and substantive. From the former perspective I’m very keen that we should open the debate on this forum to new voices, including those with academic expertise in this field. This will require adhering to the norms of scholarly discourse and these are (as David points out) the Anglo-American norms of polite exchange of differences. This is particularly the case in a left-of-field area like sortition, which most people think is completely mad, so there is an added incentive to play by the rules.

    But there is also a substantive issue regarding the sort of non-partisan politics that is usually connected with sortition. The sociologist Karl Mannheim viewed politics as a clash of worldviews, a form of warfare by other means. This was largely a reflection of society in inter-war Germany but the topography of the UK parliament (two warring tribes separated by lines painted on the floor, two swords-lengths apart) was a product of the English civil war. In such a system I would brand Yoram a closet Marxist and he would brand me a despicable capitalist lickspittle and we would continue to trade insults in the full knowledge that it will make no difference at all to the outcome, as this will depend purely on the number of footsoldiers that each political army can amass.

    Such a perspective works fine in partisan majoritarian systems, when the winning tribe rules and everyone else just has to shut up. But sortition is normally associated with a more consensual and deliberative style of politics. In the words of John Rawls, deliberation should be governed by the ‘precepts of reasonable discussion’. Such precepts enjoin parties to political deliberation from accusing ‘one another of self- or group interest, prejudice or bias, and of such deeply entrenched errors as ideological blindness and delusion.’ Charges like this amount, according to Rawls, to ‘a declaration of intellectual war.’ We must instead be prepared to countenance deep, perhaps insurmountable, disagreement while at the same time attributing to others ‘a certain good faith’ (James Johnson, ‘Arguing for Deliberation’, in Jon Elster ed., Deliberative Democracy).

    The trouble with this restrained style of discourse is that it’s then impossible to know what deliberators really think — are they just acting strategically, adopting whatever rhetorical strategy is requried to swing the undecided in their direction? At least with Yoram’s uncompromising stand there’s no mistaking his position, but it’s hard to imagine this contributing much to an outcome that people of a different persuasion would be able to accept on any basis other than numerical force. It would certainly preclude any attempt to coalesce around a notion of the general will.

    This is one of the reasons why my preferred mode of deliberation is Fishkinian, where the allotted body (including its due proportion of closet Marxists and despicable capitalist lickspittles) listens to balanced debate and then judges the outcome, partly on the basis of the arguments and partly on the basis of the interests and prejudices that they represent. Inevitably this will mean the advocacy will be somewhat mealy-mouthed and strategic, as the goal will be to persuade as many fence-sitters as possible to tip one way or the other, but it’s hard to imagine how a more robust discourse could work in the field of deliberative politics if it’s already attracting adverse comments in a talking-shop united by a common passion (for sortition).

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  44. At the end of a recent presentation I noted three less obvious impediments to implementation of sortition: inertia, fear and reasonableness. Of the latter I said:

    Why finally, you might ask, is reasonableness an impediment? Because reasonableness by itself lacks drama, lacks fire. Dispassionate argument speaks only to the intellect. For many: ‘boring’.
    Human nature, though, loves the fire. We are hard-wired to be curious. We’re hardwired to seek the edge, the ferment, the fight. If any of you know the anthropological study, Homo Ludens, you know that humans are fundamentally creatures who like to ‘play’. Sortition removes the electoral fray. Sortition is such a rational and egalitarian idea that I worry it may not ignite the emotional conviction requisite for major social change.

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  45. > Sortition is such a rational and egalitarian idea that I worry it may not ignite the emotional conviction requisite for major social change.

    I don’t doubt that if and when sortition becomes a viable political possibility, it will have many passionate opponents and supporters. As long as it is merely a theoretical possibility, its opponents can simply ignore it leaving little room for emotional exchanges.

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