Chouard: No democracy without sortition

An interview with Etienne Chouard in Ragemag magazine (translation by Google Translate, with my touch-ups):

Is sortition the future of democracy?

Sortition is not the future of democracy, it is inseparable from democracy; it is a much stronger link than a chronological phase: there is no democracy without sortition.

Chouard also considers the popular initiative mechanism as a major democratic component (mistakenly, in my opinion):

What is a popular initiative referendum?

PIR (or CIR: Citizen-initiated referenda) is the institution that guarantees the people that it is possible, on the people’s initiative at any time, to regain control of the legislative process and components. It is central. The popular initiative referendum exists in a few countries in the world: in Italy, half of the United States, Venezuela and Austria, for example. In France, in 2008, the parliament, by government orders, revised the constitution to establish what they fraudulently called (I weigh my words) a “popular initiative referendum.” Just read Article 11 to find that this is a referendum on parliamentary initiative. Our so-called “representatives” so openly mock us. We do not have a democracy: we have a plutocracy.

Advertisements

126 Responses

  1. Hello, no need for Google translation : Here are all the links of translated videos of Etienne Chouard,
    VIDEOS TRADUITES:

    NOUVEAU!!! Conférence de Lyon
    Partie I
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais, Espagnol):

    &(Français)

    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/SEv2jtydYoAX/info/etienne-chouard-partie-i-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 2
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)

    &(Français)

    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/kyaaZhuTWnsq/info/etienne-chouard-partie-ii-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 3
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)


    &(Français)


    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/Z7aI7ZSlawRO/info/etienne-chouard-partie-iii-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 4
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)


    &(Français)


    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/ZwEmrDfBjCRl/info/etienne-chouard-partie-iv-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 5
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)


    &(Français)


    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/sSxxnMpWw63G/info/etienne-chouard-partie-v-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 6
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)


    &(Français)


    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/bLPxcIrq64If/info/etienne-chouard-partie-vi-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Partie 7
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais)


    &(Français)


    Sur Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/fiasZo7AAz7h/info/etienne-chouard-partie-vii-conference-de-lyon-mars-2012/

    Conférence de Montpellier (Français, Espagnol)
    Vidéo originale (je crois) http://vimeo.com/39060391
    /!\ Sous titres pas encore inclus, je cherche à joindre le bonhomme. /!\Vidéo traduite sur Amara (Français, Espagnol) Anglais en cours.
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/h8ZFgjyLGeXS/info/la-vraie-democratie-le-tirage-au-sort-etienne-chouard-montpellier-14-mars-2012/

    L’arnaque de l’impôt sur le revenu (6minutes) @Six-Fours du 20/02/11
    Vidéo originale (Français, Anglais, Allemand, Espagnol)

    Vidéo traduite sur Amara (Français, Anglais, Allemand, Espagnol)
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/z4utUrP75Gtc/info/etienne-chouard-larnaque-de-limpot-sur-le-revenu/

    Partie 1 de la Conférence @Marseille du 23/04/11
    Vidéo originale sous-titrée (Français, Anglais)

    Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/khaENb7vcE8X/info/etienne-chouard-conference-sur-la-creation-monetaire-marseille/

    Partie 2
    Vidéo originale sous-titrée (Français, Portugais)

    Amara
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/YuWpZ2dB69wn/info/etienne-chouard-sur-linflation/

    Partie 3 : Le tirage au sort comme bombe politiquement durable contre l’oligarchie
    Vidéo originale sous-titrée (Français, Allemand, Anglais, Espagnol), Roumain ajouté, mais il y a un petit probleme: le texte est affiché seulement sur une seule ligne et quand une phrase est très longue, on ne voit ni le commencement, ni la fin de la phrase.)

    Amara (Roumain ajouté)
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/czm05eHCsqYb/info/etienne-chouard-conference-le-tirage-au-sort-comme-bombe-politiquement-durable-contre-loligarchie/

    Conférence @TEDX
    Vidéo originale sous-titrée (Français, Anglais, Espagnol, Italien, Portugais, Suédois, Roumain, Bulgare, Catalan, Grec)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN5tdMSXWV8 (MANQUE LE GREC)
    ET
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaX0DWZ0zhg (MANQUE LE FRANÇAIS)

    Vidéo traduite sur Amara (Hongrois, Allemand en cours)
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/GHnNaj21BEVm/info/etienne-chouard-chercheur-en-cause-des-causes-tedxrepubliquesquare/

    Avec Sylvain Durain (La liberté d’expression)
    Vidéo originale
    /!\ Sous titres pas encore inclus, je cherche à joindre le bonhomme. /!\

    Vidéo traduite sur Amara (Français, Anglais)
    http://www.universalsubtitles.org/fr/videos/aTxmOb2kZjWm/info/etienne-chouard-la-liberte-dexpression-la-vraie-democratie-la-culture/

    Like

  2. Chouard is clearly right on both counts. 1) Sortition is not the future of democracy; it is (and always has been) an essential part of it. 2) The popular initiative mechanism provides every citizen (at least in theory) the opportunity to introduce proposals for allotted scrutiny. Leaving everything to sortition is neither the past, present or future of democracy, it is another variant of oligarchy.

    Like

  3. “Leaving everything to sortition is neither the past, present or future of democracy, it is another variant of oligarchy” – how so?

    Like

  4. The key is the word “everything” — it’s one thing arguing that sortition is an essential component of democracy (I take this to be Chouard’s position), but it’s quite another thing to insist (as do some members of this forum), that it’s the only show in town. I’ve written about this at some length, for example:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/what-sortition-can-and-cannot-do/

    Like

  5. Anonymous,

    Just in case it is not clear, Keith’s opinions are his own and, as far as I am aware, his alone. If you find any of his arguments convincing, it would be interesting to discuss those. (Attempts to discuss Keith’s opinions with Keith himself don’t seem to go anywhere.)

    Like

  6. It’s something of a truism to state that someone’s opinions are their own. The only people who might challenge this perspective are those who believe that individual speech acts automatically reflect the views of the social grouping that they “represent”. As Yoram clearly denies this in my case, I take that as a refutation of his general sociological perspective (although he might retort that “Keith”, as an alien from outer space, is an exception).

    Like

  7. @keithsutherland

    Interesting … plenty of food for thought. I’ll read your book before I attend the upcoming Dublin workshop.

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/upcoming-workshop-in-dublin

    See you there?

    Like

  8. My name is Arthur Robbins. I am the author of PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED: THE TRUE MEANING OF DEMOCRACY. I have been invited to comment on this site by Keith Sutherland. He has requested a copy of the book for review and suggested that I participate in this online discussion. I am responding to the comment, “there is no democracy without sortition.”

    I am a beginner here and for my own clarity will state some basics. Government is a numbers game. This thought goes back to Aristotle who said there are three kinds of government. When one governs it is called a monarchy. When a few govern, that government is known as an aristocracy if those few are virtuous or an oligarchy if they are not. When all citizens are given the opportunity to debate and legislate on their own behalf that government is labeled a polity by Aristotle. He reserved the word democracy for a polity that legislates exclusively for the benefit of the poor.

    If we stick with this simple schema, any form of government in which a few speak for the many is by definition an aristocracy/oligarchy. I believe choosing the few by sortition is radically more democratic (adjective) than choosing them by election, provided the pool of candidates is not exclusive. However the outcome can only be aristocracy/oligarchy. It can never be democracy (noun). When 6000 Athenians gathered on the pnyx to debate their common destiny there was no sortition to determine their numbers.

    Any form of government can be made more democratic. At the time of the Roman Republic when things got out of hand a dictator was called in. His term was limited to six months. This is a more democratic solution than that of Napoleon who chose to be dictator for life.

    I think it often occurs that the means of selecting ones governors, those in power, are conflated with the form of government. Sortition and election are not forms of government. They predate and determine the form of government. Government is what you have the morning after sortition/election.

    In Athens sortition was used for selecting magistrates and members of the Boule. It was not used to determine who could attend and speak at the Assembly. Generals and those with fiduciary responsibility were chosen by election not sortition. Had all magistrates been chosen by election, Athens would still have been a democracy.

    Thus, in my view, “there is no democracy WITH sortition.”

    Like

  9. Hi Arthur,

    Could we agree that democracy, i.e., a situation in which political power is equally distributed, is the objective?

    If we do, then the question is what institutions of government facilitate democracy. Experience, as well as analysis, show that plebiscite-based government – which is, as far as I understand, what you are proposing – does not lead to equal distribution of political power. See here: 1, 2.

    Like

  10. Arthur, hard to comment without reading your book first but how do you get round the problem that a system of government (direct democracy) designed for a small city-state cannot be scaled up to states comprising hundreds of millions of citizens without being subject to the dual problems of rational ignorance and manipulation? Representative democracy may well be oxymoronic but at least it’s an attempt to deal with the problem of scale. Most of us who argue for sortition accept the principle of representation, but argue that it should be descriptive rather than based on Manin’s principle of distinction.

    Perhaps the best thing would be if you were to make a new post outlining your thesis and then we can engage with it directly.

    Like

  11. Gentlemen,

    I was reluctant to enter into the fray, understanding that it might be difficult to outline my position in a few paragraphs.

    I object to the term “representative democracy” because when the many select the few the outcome is oligarchy. I think it is important that the terminology be accurate. Where there is representation there cannot be democracy, by definition.

    I am not advocating “plebiscite-based government.” My approach is three-fold. First step, help people arrive at a creative understanding of government. Second, take steps to democratize the oligarchy. Third, begin the process of creating democracy on a national scale. People like Arendt and Gandhi believed that you could have a national democracy anchored in many small local bodies. There could be thousands of local assemblies debating national issues. I don’t see why issues of scale are a problem.

    Like

  12. Defenders of representation (elective or sortive) would disagree that it is oligarchic, claiming instead that it is a mediated form of democracy, and the only workable option in a large political community (the difference between the two balloting methods being that they return different types of representative). Sortition advocates do argue that election is oligarchic, but what they really mean is that it is a form of representation that favours the interests of a small elite. I agree with you that a constitutional settlement that places all power in the hands of allotted representatives would be oligarchic (I’ve coined the term klerotocracy to refer to it) — it needs to be leavened by direct-democratic initiatives in order to merit the term democracy. However democracy in large states without some form of representation strikes me as unworkable — why would the members of Gandhi’s thousands of local assemblies take the trouble to debate national issues if their final vote was of little statistical consequence? They might as well turn on the TV and vote in the X-Factor. If we take the problem of rational ignorance seriously then representative government is unavoidable, the only issue being what sort of representatives we want — defenders of election prefer the “best”, whereas defenders of sortition prefer the typical.

    Like

  13. Can we agree that sortition would be superior to current systems in the United States?

    Stephen Shalom’s nested councils idea is an attempt at direct democracy that seems feasible. It seems to me that sortition is both less radical and easier to implement that direct democracy, at least in the short term. I honestly don’t find sortition to be objectionable, and I feel as though I would be comfortable living with a frequently rotating government-by-sortition.

    I wish all of us “democratizers” could get behind something big. Voting for the Green Party seems like a good idea. A constitutional amendment of some sort might be necessary, but consisting of what (eg. overturn citizens united, House of Representatives by sortition)?

    Like

  14. >Can we agree that sortition would be superior to current systems in the United States?

    Not really, as it would still be a form of oligarchy. True democracy requires a mixture of sortition, election and direct democracy. The only modern proposal for sortition as rotation I’m aware of is Marcus Schmidt’s model for Denmark (which only has some 4 million citizens), and even then the proposal is for sortition as part of a system of mixed government.

    Like

  15. Keith,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. One of my primary ideas is simple-minded and obvious and therefore difficult to convey and grasp. I believe that the word democracy should be accurately employed. Should a time arrive when a citizenry actually wants democracy, it will exist as a possibility. If representative government becomes synonymous with democracy then true democracy disappears as an option.

    Keith, since you have taken the trouble to coin a term, klerotocracy, in principle acknowledging the difference between representative government and democracy, it makes all the more sense to reserve the term democracy for situations where it literally applies.

    “… why would the members of Gandhi’s thousands of local assemblies take the trouble to debate national issues if their final vote was of little statistical consequence?”

    One of the primary benefits of democracy is the effect that direct participation has on those who participate. It has been argued that the typical Athenian citizen and Athenian culture has a whole achieved such a high level of development as a consequence of involvement in the life of the polis. If a few hundred communards in a small village in India were to debate and decide upon the fate of the nation, they would be that much more empowered, educated and engaged in the life of the nation. They would be elevated as a collective and strengthened as individuals. Democracy is not about the vote. It is about the debate.

    P.S. Somewhere on this site I saw the acronym, “MARP.” I can no longer find it. Would someone kindly thither direct me?

    Like

  16. Yoram,

    I fully agree that, ” that sortition would be superior to current systems in the United States?” I cite at length Stephen Shalom’s nested councils idea in PARADISE LOST…. I think it is excellent. I don’t believe it is based in sortition.

    I am not objecting to sortition. I favor it. I think it would be a major step forward for mankind. I am objecting to calling a government in which a few speak for the many, whether chosen by election or sortition, democracy.

    Like

  17. > There could be thousands of local assemblies debating national issues. I don’t see why issues of scale are a problem.

    Scale is a crucial factor. Without coordination, each one of those assemblies would come up with its own proposals and decisions, with no way to turn these thousands of different proposals and decisions into national policy. What coordination mechanism do you propose?

    Like

  18. > A constitutional amendment of some sort might be necessary, but consisting of what (eg. overturn citizens united, House of Representatives by sortition)?

    Citizens United is a symptom – it is a red herring.

    Yes – I think we should focus on “A Citizens’ Legislature” – a House of Representatives by sortition. That goal is clear, is worthy, and is achievable in the long term.

    Like

  19. Arthur: One of the primary benefits of democracy is the effect that direct participation has on those who participate.

    No-one would argue with that, but why should anyone take the trouble to participate if their influence on the final decision-making process is negligible? I think you are seriously underestimating the problems of scale. I disagree that democracy is about the debate, it’s about who wields power; the fact that we use a number of adjectives to qualify it (elective, representative, direct, sortive, participatory, deliberative, agonistic etc) indicates that there are a variety of ways of achieving the same goal.

    Like

  20. I note a continuing theme on this blog, namely the overwhelming concern with representative function of sortition.

    I find this puzzling given *any* system of sortition & regular rotation of the national parliament would be far *more* representative than “representative” democracy (which tends to oligarchy).

    The following system would satisfy the sortition, rotation & representation criteria:

    – the current parliament is filled randomly every week.

    – an order of business is drafted by the civil service & decided upon on (in a weekly session) by the parliament, on say a quarterly basis.

    – thereafter, each policy brief (drafted by the civil service) would be decided upon on a weekly basis using a preferencial vote; ie rank proposed solutions in preference order.

    In the UK for example, the House of Commons has 650 seats. Given a population of 62 million, 650 seats represents a sample with ~99% confidence level, 5% confidence interval.

    However, I agree with Dowlen (“Political Potential of Sortition”) that the primary utility of sortition is impartiality.

    Like

  21. Arthur,

    I think your assumption about the meaning of “democracy” in classical Athens is historically inaccurate. A small minority of citizens could gather periodically in Assembly Bbut many who might have wished to participate were turned away if the pnyx was over-filled. Most political decisions were not made by the assembly, but by randomly selected bodies. A key element that defined democracy was the use of lot. In 403 BCE the Athenian Assembly abandoned law-making authority and transferred it to randomly selected legislative panels (nomothetai). And the randomly selected People’s Court could overturn decisions made by the Assembly. Even Aristotle, (whom you mention) wrote (in Book 4, chapter 9 of “A Treatise on Government” that lot was natural to democracy, while election was natural to aristocracy.

    Yes the Athenians embraced “isegoria,” the right of any citizen to contribute in the assembly or by being selected by lot, but as the size of a community grows, the dynamic of declining impact of each individual to essentially zero in a mass process, and the resulting rational ignorance reduces the motivation of most citizens to participate in any but a superficial way to near zero as well.

    With countless decisions needing to be made every day, it is nonsensical to think that all citizens should actively participate in all decisions. A division of labor is essential in a mass society, the only question is how a society should designate a group of “deciders” to assure community interests are pursued and protect against corruption. Sortition is the method the Greeks settled on, and it can work just as well today.

    Like

  22. Anonymous,

    I think the “the overwhelming concern with representative function of sortition” on this blog is concentrated with one person – Keith. Most people here see the statistical representativity of the allotted chamber as an effective tool for attaining representation of interests.

    As for your proposal: an allotted chamber that has the tenure of one week would be much too weak to be able to determine policy effectively. As a result overwhelming political power would be wielded by the civil service and by those controlling mass media.

    Like

  23. I agree with Yoram that this would place enormous powers in the hands of the professional civil service. In my first book I did argue that the right of initiative should be limited to government officials but was subsequently persuaded that this would be unacceptable from a democratic perspective. But if we are to return to a system of isegoria in a large-scale mass democracy then issues of representative accuracy arise — a high aggregate confidence level does not address the problem that the potential imbalance of the speech acts of individual agents is not resolved by statistical measures that only apply at the collective level. Yes, an allotted chamber may be representative, but chambers don’t speak, individual people do and each of them only represents themselves. There are simple rules for aggregating votes (as they carry equal weight), but that is not the case for speech acts. I don’t think it’s true that I’m the only one who understands this point, Terry certainly does — hence his byzantine proposal for multi-stage sortition. Those who remain silent do so as they are more concerned about the impartiality benefit of sortition (or don’t want to be dragged into a slanging match). Those who oppose this point tend to do so on account of adhering to an archaic mindset whose characteristics I outlined in an earlier comment.

    Like

  24. Yoram,

    Above, “The Not-for-Profit Life” made reference to Stephen Shalom’s “nested councils.” Debate occurs at the local level and sometimes ends there. On issues which require a more inclusive debate, a delegate is chosen — I would hope by sortition — to represent the local assembly. That delegate is free to vote his opinion at this higher level but if the issue is contentious or if the delegate is being pressured to violate the spirit of the local assembly, he returns to the local assembly for resolution. If the issue under discussion — ecology, war and peace — requires still broader inclusion, then the second level sends a delegate to the third level, etc. Delegates would return to the lower council on a regular basis. They would serve brief terms. The lower council would have right of recall.

    A similar solution would be to have regional assemblies to which local assemblies send a delegate. Several levels of regional assemblies could end with a national level.

    I am aware that solutions like these include representation. However, there is a significant difference between this hierarchy of assemblies and what is being called “representative democracy,” where representatives are selected to speak for the citizenry and citizens lack the opportunity to debate the issues themselves and influence the outcome.Where there are local assemblies debating national issues citizens in the first instance, speak for themselves. It is this face-to-face interaction that constitutes the bedrock of democracy.

    Like

  25. Keith, when you say, “I disagree that democracy is about the debate, it’s about who wields power” you are speaking the language of oligarchy. In a democracy everyone leads and everyone follows. There is no “who” wielding power.

    Like

  26. Terry,

    The Athenian Assembly would meet at least forty times a year. At a given session as many as 6000 out of a citizen population of around 30,000 would be in attendance. They voted on going to war, granting citizenship, receiving ambassadors. They decided what projects to fund, how much to charge for leasing a temple’s land. They voted on laws relating to the exportation of grain, which was in short supply.

    It is quite true that any citizen could challenge a law. A jury would be called to determine if the law should be overturned or not. Juries were in the hundreds and could represent a check on the Assembly that at times could act rashly. The fact that any citizen was empowered to challenge a law is testimony to the political equality that prevailed.

    You say, “Most political decisions were not made by the assembly, but by randomly selected bodies.” I am not sure what the basis for such a statement is. To go to war or not was certainly decided by a “randomly selected body.”

    You say that, “In 403 BCE the Athenian Assembly abandoned law-making authority and transferred it to randomly selected legislative panels (nomothetai).” What you fail to mention is that in 404 BCE there was a coup instigated by Sparta under the leadership of Critias, a student of Socrates. The coup led to the Dictatorship of the Thirty and the death of fifteen hundred Athenians. For the period you describe, Athens was no longer operating as a democracy.

    It is quite true that lot is natural to democracy. Sortition was used to select the magistrates who oversaw such day-to-day issues as water or grain supply, building projects and trade. But magistrates functioned as administrators, not legislators. Legislation was the function of the Assembly where citizenship was all that was required for participation.

    “With countless decisions needing to be made every day, it is nonsensical to think that all citizens should actively participate in all decisions.” Quite true. This is where the magistrates come in. The Assembly, on the other hand, decides critical issues of national importance such as foreign policy, declaration of war, budgetary matters. I fully support sortition as a means for selecting magistrates.

    You speak of “the dynamic of declining impact of each individual to essentially zero in a mass process.” This is a true statement but perhaps irrelevant from the point of view of democracy. There are issues of quantity and issues of quality. The invigorating, character building effect of engaging in open debate on matters of critical importance to individual and collective well being produces a citizenry that is enlightened, engaged and empowered. This I believe is one of the primary benefits of democracy.

    Like

  27. Arthur,

    Decisions making regarding issue that are local in nature – i.e., issues that affect only a particular locality – do not have to tackle the matter of scale. But for all other issues – and these are the large majority of issues which are handled by national government today – your proposal is very vague. You do not explain how the local councils affect the decision making at the higher levels of the hierarchy. How are discussions and decisions by local councils translated into decisions at the higher levels?

    In addition, having brief terms for delegates means that no serious discussion and policy forming can occur at the higher levels of the hierarchy. How are policy proposals at those higher levels created? How are the delegates supposed to make informed decisions?

    (BTW, I suppose you are aware that your proposal is in the spirit of Anarchism. Despite being backed by formidable proponents, in my mind it ever produced a credible proposal for a large-scale government structure.)

    Regarding democracy being about debate – I completely disagree. If it were, you could have your democracy today simply by debating political matters with your neighbors and co-workers. Unless the debate is credibly translated into policy, this is not democracy but idle talk.

    Like

  28. Yoram,

    Two of the most important matters facing any nation are budget and war and they are closely intertwined. Let us take war. On this particular issue there might simply be a counting of votes. This issue is debated at local assemblies around the country. All the votes are counted. Let us say a three quarters majority is required to make war. If that number is attained, there is war. If not, not.

    There is something known as “participatory budgeting,” a practice which has its origins in Porto Alegre, Brazil and has been adopted in cities around the world. Local assemblies determine expenditures in the community. There is even such a project in NYC. One could take the same procedures and apply them on a national level.

    “Regarding democracy being about debate – I completely disagree. If it were, you could have your democracy today simply by debating political matters with your neighbors and co-workers. Unless the debate is credibly translated into policy, this is not democracy but idle talk.”

    Yes, indeed. There is debate leading either to consensus or a vote that is then the basis for policy.

    You say, “having brief terms for delegates means that no serious discussion and policy forming can occur at the higher levels of the hierarchy.” I am not sure what “serious” means. But democracy is government of amateurs. And that is its chief strength. It seems to me that a form of government in which all citizens are part of and define the governing structure is the antithesis of anarachy.

    Like

  29. Arthur

    It’s interesting to see that your proposal is indeed based on representation (nested hierarchies of delegates). Two obvious problems regarding non-local decision making:

    1) Why should anyone bother to take the considerable time and effort to understand and then debate the problem, in the full knowledge that their views will count for virtually nothing once they’ve progressed up the food chain? The same would apply to your proposal for declaring war. If I have one vote in 50 million then I probably won’t even bother to turn up; if I have one vote in 300 and it’s an important issue then I’ll do all the necessary homework. That’s what Downs meant by the problem of rational ignorance.

    2) There is a literature on the problem of delegation that goes back at least as far as Burke. On the one hand deliberative norms require a free mandate at every assembly; on the other hand the delegate is bound by the decision of his local group. There has been some empirical polsci work done on this recently and it’s a real can of worms. There was a paper on it at a recent conference I attended and the case in point was the New South Wales Farmers Union — they debated things locally and then their delegate was sent to the regional assembly to represent their views. But he was then swayed by the arguments in the higher-level assembly and was felt to no longer reflect the local views so the local farmers sacked him. This is likely to be repeated over and over if your proposal were implemented. This is the reason that we advocate a national assembly appointed directly by sortition as the only practical way forward for large political communities. I fully acknowledge that this will lead to less chance for the Millian benefit of participation and debate to be widespread but it will give rise directly to a decision process that reflects the interests of the whole population. That’s why we tend to judge democracy in terms of outcomes rather than etymology.

    Like

  30. Yoram,

    Here is an example, one of many possible examples, of how one could structure a democracy on a national level.

    In Porto Alegre the local councils addressed five themes. On the
    national level in the United States, I can imagine sixteen themes: War and Peace; Justice; Budget; Natural Resources, Conservation, and Ecology;Utilities; Commerce; Immigration; Education; Culture; Parks;Healthcare; Transportation; Urban Planning; Agriculture; Government; and Foreign Affairs.

    Because the object of democracy is the involvement in government
    of as many people as possible, these sixteen themes, spread over 3,200 districts, create 51,200 assemblies devoted to debating national issues. If one imagines a minimum of five hundred participants in each local assembly, then 25,600,000 citizens could be involved in government on a rotating basis. Over a ten-year period the entire adult population would have participated in the democratic process at least once.

    Participants would be chosen by lot, just as they are in selecting
    juries. Agendas would be compiled by drawing on various
    resources.

    Imagine that the Pentagon wants to build a new bomber. It
    would submit a detailed request that appears on the agenda at each of the 3,200 “War Assemblies” around the country. In addition, district members with fifty signatures on a petition could get their item on the agenda. During the meeting itself, members chosen by lot would be able to submit items for consideration.

    A chairman for the day would be chosen by lot. The Pentagon proposal would be argued for by one proponent and opposed by one opponent, both of whom would be knowledgeable on the subject matter. This exercise of speech would last perhaps thirty minutes.

    After the debate, held on stage before the assembly, a committee made up of a dozen or so citizens, chosen by lot from the members of the assembly, would gather around a conference table on stage. This same committee would have already set the agenda for the assembly after considering the various submissions. They now engage in a conversation about all the proposals before the assembly, a discussion that is overheard by the entire assembly.

    Once this experience reaches its natural conclusion, six or so members of the assembly, chosen by lot, address the assembly expressing their views. After all views have been heard, the committee drafts a proposal that is read aloud to the assembly and
    then posted on a bulletin board for the entire community to read.

    Each item on the agenda is discussed and debated, using the same
    format. For example, the assembly focusing on “War” would debate
    such issues as raising an army, disbanding an army, making war, ending war, opening a military base, or closing one.

    The assembly proceeds through the agenda until all items have been addressed and then adjourns. At a subsequent meeting of this assembly the various proposals receive a final reading and discussion by another committee chosen by lot. Each of the finalized proposals is then submitted to a vote of the assembly. Items that are approved by a majority of votes of those
    present are accepted.

    The next step is for a representative of the district assembly, chosen by lot, to argue for these approved proposals before a central committee. The central committee, comprising representatives of 3,200 districts, follows the same procedure, this time arriving at decisions that are binding on the national level.

    Most but not all proposals will require funding. After each of the
    fifteen themes have been legislated, the 3,200 budget assemblies review the monetary requests, using the same procedures that generated the legislation before them. They then prepare several different budgets, emphasizing different priorities. These budget proposals are mailed out in a national referendum.

    Let us say there are five budget proposals. One budget might allocate the majority of funds to war, another to education, and yet another to transportation. The allotments will vary, giving voters meaningful choices. Among the choices are “none of the above.” If no budget proposal receives the votes of a majority of the citizenry or if a majority vote “none of the above,” then the budget process is revisited and another vote taken until a budget is accepted. Voters who reject the budget have the option of expressing their preferences by checking these boxes: “I would like to see more of this.” “I would like to see less of that.”

    In this example, there is a broad base of citizen participation on a broad range of issues affecting the common good. This is how I believe democracy would work.

    Like

  31. Keith, you offer an interesting example of democracy at work.

    You say, “But he was then swayed by the arguments in the higher-level assembly and was felt to no longer reflect the local views so the local farmers sacked him. This is likely to be repeated over and over if your proposal were implemented.”

    The issue goes back to the local assembly until the delegate and the assembly agree. This is exactly what Shalom was proposing.

    Why would a local assembly want as a representative a delegate who didn’t speak for them? J.S. Mill believed that the delegate would naturally would be brighter than those he spoke for and hence should be true to his superior intellect. This is what is known as elitism.

    Like

  32. >The issue goes back to the local assembly until the delegate and the assembly agree.

    That’s a recipe for legislative constipation that makes the Washington gridlock pale into insignificance! Real-world politics assumes disagreement to be endemic. An appeal to “superior intellect” is at the core of the principle of distinction that is the rationale for elective representation, not delegation. So you’ve moved a long way from (Athenian) democracy — inevitably, given the problem of scale.

    What we are suggesting on this forum is using the same technology that the Athenians used for appointing magistrates to achieve the broader goal (legislative power in the hands of the many, rather than the few). As Terry has pointed out, this is also derived from the Athenian innovation of the nomothetai, as legislation in the Assembly was corrupted by a combination of demagoguery and rational ignorance. I only refer to this (disparagingly) as klerotocracy when people argue that it is the only principle of democracy. This is clearly wrong: the function of the nomothetai was to judge legislative proposals, not to introduce them.

    Like

  33. Arthur,

    > the object of democracy is the involvement in government
    of as many people as possible

    No – democracy is about representation of interests. Participation may be a tool in assuring representation of interests. In any case, what you are proposing doesn’t really give the citizens a true voice any more than voting in primaries and elections does. Sitting as one person among 500 in one assembly among 3,200 is a charade, a ritual, not a position of influence.

    In your new bomber example the unrepresentative staff of the Pentagon (and whoever they answer to) has much more influence on policy than the council-members.

    The situation in which an assembly of 3,200 people who just met set an agenda and make binding decisions is very far from being democratic. If it doesn’t lead to a complete break down of government in which no policy is set then it will lead to concentration of power in the hands of various unrepresentative unaccountable groups. This is exactly the situation I wrote about in the post I linked to.

    My sense is that your proposal (like the many “participationist” proposals of the same flavor) tries to make democracy work by simply imitating in a large group the decision-making model that works well in a small group. This has some intuitive appeal, but simply would not work for straightforward reasons. Sortition is the tool to turn the large scale back into small scale.

    Like

  34. Yoram,

    I am applying to democracy the meaning as derived from its Greek origin. I believe this is the true meaning of the word. The more people who participate, the more democratic is the government. When the few speak for the many, no matter how they got there, the outcome is not democracy.

    I am trying to rescue the word so that if there are some people who are interested in democracy after understanding its true meaning, the option will exist as a possibility.

    The word “democracy” is a powerful manipulative tool in the hands of the oligarchs. The word has a soothing effect. When people think they are living in a democracy they are lulled into a state of passive acquiescence. If they understood they were living in a oligarchy, they might pay closer attention.

    Like

  35. Arthur

    We would all agree here about how the word democracy has been abused, but the concern of practical people has to be what are we going to do about it. I think most people are aware of the oligarchical nature of modern government — it’s been a long time since Lord Hailsham described the British political system as an elective dictatorship. The problem of scale is such that you really can’t just factor up processes that had some degree of success in polities comprising 30,000 citizens or so. We need to concentrate on what works now, rather than just restoring a word to a meaning that it had over two millennia ago. If it’s the case that the goal of democracy is best served by a small sample of the citizenry then so be it.

    Like

  36. @Yoram:

    “an allotted chamber that has the tenure of one week would be much too weak to be able to determine policy effectively. ”

    Weak in what regard? I don’t understand.

    “As a result overwhelming political power would be wielded by the civil service and by those controlling mass media.”

    Indeed – good point. I’ve been thinking about this myself.

    A possible solution to these problems are:
    1. civil service oversight (possibly by lot)
    2. media propaganda addressed within the policy brief

    What would you propose as solutions to these issues?

    Like

  37. @keithsutherland

    “I agree with Yoram that this would place enormous powers in the hands of the professional civil service.”

    Any ideas how to adress this?

    “There are simple rules for aggregating votes (as they carry equal weight), but that is not the case for speech acts.”

    Am I correct in saying your main concern is demagoguery within an allotted chamber? If so, any ideas how best to address this?

    Should a member of the allotted chamber not be entitled to a timely, independent, impartial verification of any statements made in said chamber?

    Also, you are assuming that open debate is the norm (or even permitted) in an allotted chamber.

    Like

  38. Keith,

    I am confident that the government you would establish would be preferable to the one we have. The one thing I can’t grasp is why you, and just about everyone else, insists an applying the word democracy, which inaccurately describes the form of government you have an mind, when there is a term available, aristocracy/oligarchy, which accurately describes it.

    Like

  39. Arthur,
    I think the connection between your layered delegate model and Athenian democracy is weak at best. And to correct your history of Athens, I would refer you to Mogens Herman Hansen’s authoritative history, “The Athenian Democracy In The Age Of Demosthenes.” After the overthrow of the tyranny of the Thirty, Athens reinstated nomothetai (randomly selected legislative panels) for passing all laws, rather than giving that authority back to the problematic Assembly. this constitutional provision lasted until the fall of Athenian Democracy in the Lamian War of 322.

    I argue that sortition was the genuinely core element of Athenian democracy…for preparing resolutions and setting the agenda (the Council of 500), for passing laws (nomothetai), for over-riding decisions of the Assembly by the People’s court (dikasterion) and nearly all magistrates for carrying out executive functions. Indeed, as understood by many Athenian democrats, the Assembly was the weak point in the system, where demagogues and rational ignorance often resulted in poor decision-making. Not that the allotted bodies always made good decisions, but they improved the chances.

    Like

  40. Terry,

    Demosthenes lived from 384–322 BCE. Athens had been defeated by Sparta. Athenian democracy was in decline. In “The Greeks,” Kitto draws a contrast between 5th century and 4th century Greece. “What we meet in the fourth century [B.C.] is a permanent change in the temper of the people.” Government, theater, life style, education, architecture, all underwent a transformation. The spirit that had animated Athenian society at its height was gone for good.

    To understand what ancient Athens has to offer as a culture, one needs to train ones gaze upon Athens in the 5th Century. This was a vibrant, robust society, rich in culture and civic life. The backbone I believe was the form of government in which citizens at large debated and legislated the issues of the day. Yes there are examples of demagoguery, the most notorious being the invasion of Sicily in 415 B.C. under the leadership of Alcibiades. There were no doubt more routine examples. But Athenian life was the envy of its neighbors, enemies and allies alike.

    I doubt there was significant corruption. Malfeasance would be dealt with severely. In one case from the 5th century, ten treasurers of the Delian League were accused of misappropriation of funds. They were put on trial, condemned and executed one by one until it was discovered that there had been an accounting error. The one remaining treasurer was allowed to go free.

    Like

  41. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn what we call it (democracy, oligarchy, oncocracy, etc.). I only coined the term “klerotocracy” in response to the view expressed by some members of this forum that sortition alone was pure democracy. To my mind an effective system of government must involve a mixture of democracy, aristocracy and monarchy (a freehold perspective is required to look after the interests of future generations). This has been the traditional wisdom, from the time of Aristotle and Polybius through to Rousseau. The mistake of us moderns is to insist on a single system which we call “democracy” (which is anything but). You are right to point out that this is a confidence trick, but the key issue is what do we do about it?

    Anonymous (who are you?):

    The agenda-setting power of the government/civil service would best be limited by the democratic right of initiative (elective and/or plebiscitory). Demagoguery in the allotted chamber is an extreme example of the simple (and obvious) fact that rhetorical skills and status influence are not evenly distributed in the general population. This is why DPs insist on moderators to even out the effects of speech acts, but this would not be possible in a legislative assembly — for reasons that Juvenal pointed out a long time ago. Ditto regarding the “impartial” verification of speech acts — if this were possible then there would be no need for politics, as we could obtain the “right” answer by purely epistemic procedures. I’m not assuming open debate is the norm, just the opposite: speech acts should be limited to advocates, and proscribed for randomly-assembled members who would decide the outcome of the debate by judging the veracity of the advocates’ speech acts (exactly as in a judicial trial). This is because the statistical mandate of a randomly-selected assembly only applies at the collective level. Equalising speech acts would be done by requiring “balanced” information and advocacy, in a similar manner to the DP. This is not unproblematic, but a lot more fruitful than attempting the same in a randomly-selected body, especially as most of the latter would have no idea what they were talking about.

    Like

  42. Anonymous,

    > What would you propose as solutions to these issues?

    I would simply propose a parliament (as we currently know it, with, say, a four-year term) which is selected by lot. This is the proposal of Callenbach and Phillips (1985): A Citizen Legislature.

    [I would not be surprised if such a body would come up with further suggestions for reform, but it is pointless, I think, to try to design the reformed government in any more detail right now. The necessary details would emerge once the allotted chamber is active.]

    Like

  43. Keith,

    Thank you for your refreshingly honest reply. I am concerned that the confidence trick undermines the possibility of an informed and engaged polity.

    If mixed government is what you prefer then aristocracy or monarchy would equally well characterize it. The government you describe is the government we have, sliding towards predominantly monarchy. It is curious to me that after all the thought and effort you have invested in establishing a decent government you should choose such a modest compromise. Such mixed governments will inevitably lead to the abuse of power I assume you wish to avoid.

    Like

  44. M.H. Hansen published an article in HPT recently in which he argued that modern states would be better understood in terms of the ancient notion of mixed government than the modern concept of separation of powers. Modern presidents, in Hansen’s view, have more power than early-modern monarchs, and parliaments and congresses are clearly constituted on the aristocratic/oligarchic principle. He then goes on to argue Manin’s case that universal suffrage allied to the fact that anyone can stand for office provides the democratic element.

    I agree that it’s important that we should understand what words like “democracy” mean. But it would be a little presumptuous of us to say that the leading historian of ancient Greek democracy, misunderstands what the word means. However I was struck that the monarchical and aristocratic elements merited 3 pages each in his article, whereas poor old democracy only got one paragraph. Members of our blog would argue that democracy as currently constituted is a parody of its original meaning and that sortition is a sine qua non (citing Aristotle and Montesquieu in support); and some of us (ie you and me) argue that direct democracy is also essential. We’ve been working on Hansen and Manin to get them to acknowledge the essential role of sortition in a true democracy.

    However it’s a conceptual error to argue that mixed government is a form of monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, although imbalances can tip it in either direction (the best document in this respect being, ironically, Charles I response to the nineteen articles of parliament). I think modern democracies would best be described as a combination of monarchy or oligarchy. But one thing Madison was right about was that unchecked power will inevitably lead to abuse, and this would be just as true in the case of democracy. I’m much to long in the tooth to go for anything other than a modest compromise, on the basis that the radical clean sweep always ends in tears.

    Like

  45. Keith,

    There is the oft expressed concern that democracy will lead to abuse of power. I know of no such examples in history. However, there is ample evidence that monarchy and oligarchy lead to abuse of power.

    Remember it was Madison who said,”Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” I am not sure he qualifies as a reliable resource for a discussion of democracy.

    Like

  46. Keith,

    I briefly saw MARP on these pages but can no longer find it. Can you give me some hints.

    Like

  47. Arthur, re MARP see here.

    Like

  48. Yoram,

    Thank you for being so helpful. I cannot believe there is something like MARP in the US of A. Very exciting. A lot of good thoughts.

    Like

  49. I’d need to look up the context for Madison’s quip, but I agree with him that large, non-deliberative assemblies are a total waste of time.

    Like

  50. Keith,

    See Federalist #55.

    Like

  51. @Yoram

    > “I would simply propose a parliament (as we currently know it, with, say, a four-year term) which is selected by lot.”

    There are a number of problems with this proposal, as outlined in Callenbach pg. 75 – 77.

    It excludes those unable/unwilling to attend for a four year term.

    Also it is open to corruption, due to rotation only once every four years.

    > “an allotted chamber that has the tenure of one week would be much too weak to be able to determine policy effectively.”

    I disagree. One week is sufficient if the members arrived briefed & informed about the issues they will vote on.

    Also, more frequent rotation has greater impartiality. As a statistician, I’m sure you appreciate the Law of large numbers in operation here.

    I’m still unsure what you mean by “weak” in this regard.

    > The necessary details would emerge once the allotted chamber is active

    Not the most auspicious start to an alloted chamber – we’ve thrown you all together, now figure out how to run an assembly.

    > “As a result overwhelming political power would be wielded by the civil service and by those controlling mass media.”

    A powerful civil service is not necessaritly a bad thing. Generally the people actually doing the work are best placed to suggest solutions to existing problems.

    Regarding mass media propaganda; that issue alreday exists today. It is certainly does not preclude sortition. On the contrary, the purpose of an alloted chamber is to counter the power weilded by those controlling the mass media.

    Like

  52. > “an allotted chamber that has the tenure of one week would be much too weak to be able to determine policy effectively.”

    It depends what you mean by “determine”. A trial jury is certainly able to determine the outcome of a case without prior knowledge, but I think Yoram is referring to the initiation of policy proposals. I agree with you that a four-year jury with policy-initiation rights would be wide open to corruption.

    I also agree regarding the initiation of policy proposals by the people actually doing the work (as opposed to armchair theorists and those with an axe to grind). Given that those who determine (ie judge) the proposals would be ordinary citizens, government officials would be constrained to introduce policies that they anticipated would meet the approval of citizens. This is the most valuable dynamic of a mixed constitution.

    On the issue of mass media propaganda, there is a strong argument to be made against monopolies (irrespective of the sortition issue). It’s worth noting that in the UK the BBC has a far larger market share than News International, so any anti-monopoly proposals would need to bear that in mind, especially in the light of the precarious future of commercial print media. Levenson is likely to make the matter worse if he hobbles the tabloids, as this will drive even more people to the internet, where certain key sites (BBC online, Mail online) already predominate.

    Like

  53. Arthur,

    Federalist 55 deals primarily with the optimum number for a legislative assembly and Madison’s arguments are hard to fault, especially:

    Sixty of seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depository”

    It’s worth noting that the optimum size for a group with an active deliberative role is around the size of a student seminar (12 or so). However this sort of number could not possibly be statistically representative of the whole citizen body, so this would suggest an allotted legislative chamber of several hundred. This sort of size would be ideal to judge the outcome of a debate, but would not lend itself to active deliberative functions, even if everyone were a Socrates. Once the chamber size is larger than several hundred then there would be less incentive for members to pay attention as the causal power of their individual vote moves towards the rational ignorance pole. As Madison observes, such matters are hard to quantify exactly, but public opinion statisticians would have a good idea of the minimum number necessary to ensure reasonably accurate descriptive representativity.

    I’m sure that Madison would be turning in his grave if he could see how quickly his grand project for representative government turned into ashes. But on the issue of the dysfunctional nature of mass participatory democracy he was clearly right. The only point that I would take issue with Madison on is his choice of the balloting procedure for the legislative assembly (preference election rather than sortition).

    Like

  54. PS to Arthur,

    I’ve spent the morning reading Jeremy Waldron’s Chichele inaugural lecture and came across a pertinent quote from Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws:

    “To form a moderate government, it is necessary to combine the several powers; to regulate, temper, and set them in motion: to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to counterpoise the other. This is a masterpiece of legislation; rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence. On the contrary, a despotic government offers itself, as it were, at first sight; it is uniform throughout.”

    [I’m aware, of course, that a moderate government would be anathema to many on this forum.] Montesquieu would have insisted that any unitary form of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy) was likely to turn into a despotism.

    Like

  55. Keith,

    Fifth century Athens had assemblies in the thousands and juries in the hundreds and seems to have done reasonably well.

    Madison was rabid in defending his class interest. Most of the people who have written about democracy over the centuries have been opposed to it. This would apply to Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Madison, Hamilton, J.S. Mill and many, many more. Aristotle, nonetheless, could be even handed and had some interesting thoughts on the subject.

    Like

  56. Yes. But I’m persuaded by Terry’s argument as to why the legislative right passed from the assembly to the allotted courts in the fourth century — this strikes me as a clear indictment of direct democracy and may be one of the reasons why all the commentators you refer to were so prejudiced against it (you can add Harrington to the list). I’m not aware of any historical examples of unalloyed direct democracy (either successful or short-lived).

    Like

  57. Keith,

    Democracy was undone by the war with Sparta. War is the enemy of democracy.

    Like

  58. Arthur,
    Two points…one on Athens and one on self-selection distortion.

    1. I understand you consider the constitutional changes in Athens at the end of the fifth century to be a retreat from democracy. Many scholars consider it the refinement of democracy. The fifth century “spirit” you bemoan Athens’ losing may simply be the swagger of empire. In the fifth century, Athens was indeed more of a post-empire demos. Josiah Ober, in his “Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens,” concludes that the “flourishing,” capacity, and level of democracy in the fourth century was different but comparable to that of the fifth century.

    2. A key dynamic of mass participation democracy is the distortion created by self-selection…Who can make the time and has the interest to participate in hours of meetings when the effect of one’s participation approaches nill? Does “democracy” refer to rule by those who have the time and interest to participate on an ongoing basis, or should those with less time and interest also be equally represented in decision-making bodies. Admittedly, both the Assembly AND the sortition process used in Athens represented those who were willing to participate, “volunteers” if you wish. Some of us in the modern movement for sortition seek to also represent (through random sampling) those with less time or self-confidence.

    Like

  59. Arthur,

    Perhaps it’s helpful to draw a distinction between the intrinsic and consequential value of democracy. Participation is clearly an intrinsic benefit, for all the reasons that Mill outlined. But if our concerns are consequential — i.e. government in the interests of all the people — then clearly sortition is a better method, for the reasons that Terry has just outlined. This would also suggest a quasi-mandatory obligation for anyone who’s lot is drawn (or at least every effort being made to ensure that those who are selected are able and motivated attend). Oscar Wilde might well have quipped that (direct) democracy takes far too many evenings, so it would be better to limit the burden to those who draw the short straw. I know this contravenes the noble republican spirit, but I think we need to be as realistic as Constant about the psychology of modern citizens.

    Like

  60. I agree with Terry on both points.

    Like

  61. For sure self-selection is a factor. Athenian farmers who lived at a distance were less able and less likely to attend the assembly. Exactly how does the system of sortition you propose address their needs?

    The political right to attend the assembly, debate and vote on matters of critical importance is a vital right. It establishes political equality. It prevents oligarchs from taking over and waging war. It is a moment of intellectual and social development for those who participate, a benefit to the individual and community alike.

    The concept of rational ignorance seems to be based on voting. Why would anyone want to waste his time when his vote will count for so little? There are those who would argue that it is not the vote but the participation that is the motivating factor. When someone is free to enter the debate on matters of consequence that experience is its own justification. No longer is the citizen isolated and alienated with his own thoughts. He feels connected and empowered.

    I think we have to be cautious about suiting our system of government to “the psychology of modern citizens.” Modern citizens are not citizens in any meaningful sense of the term. We should create a government that will create a citizen of substance and character. This was Mill’s point. One of the primary responsibilities of government is to create a worthy citizen. Which government is most likely to achieve that aim?

    Like

  62. Arthur,

    I will relay two personal stories to illustrate my point about the motivation to pay attention to policy that is absent in mass participation situations you imagine. I used to be a city councilor and then a state legislator. While serving, I knew my vote (in the chamber) mattered, and I deeply studied issues. After i left office to take car of our second child, I stopped paying attention to the “sturm und drang” of politics and policy matters, because my vote no longer carried any weight. When power is extremely diffuse, only deluded people with a false sense of their own importance will bother to delve into a wide range of policy matters, in order to have “informed” opinions.

    Secondly, when I was a city councilor I initiated a system of neighborhood assemblies, in the spirit of New England Town Meeting and participatory democracy. I imagined people gathering to discuss issues that mattered to them, and both advising the city council and actually making decisions about things like allocation of community development block grants. This came to pass and has been institutionalized in my city for nearly 30 years now…but these neighborhood assemblies suffer from self-selection distortion in a huge way. Few people choose to take the time to participate, and those who do only coincidentally sometimes represent the community.

    Like

  63. Terry,

    When you were participating in the debate and your vote mattered you paid attention. When you became an outsider, the political process engaged you less. This it seems to me is a measure of the importance of participation.

    I think it is heartening that you have had such a positive role to play in community politics. It is troubling that so few people take the trouble to attend neighborhood assemblies. It would be interesting to find out why.

    Like

  64. Arthur,

    Ah! The reason is exactly what Yoram, Keith and I have been saying. When participation is as one of thousands (or millions), the impact is so small that participation is irrelevant to the outcome. Some people ENJOY participation for reasons of intellectual stimulation or social engagement, but most people would rather do something that is either fun or has detectable impact on the world. Mass participatory democracy fails to motivate most people and you are left with a distorted subset that does not represent the community.

    Like

  65. Arthur: >The political right to attend the assembly, debate and vote on matters of critical importance is a vital right. It establishes political equality. . . Modern citizens are not citizens in any meaningful sense of the term. We should create a government that will create a citizen of substance and character.

    This is straight out of Rousseau (although the latter part might also be from one of his disciples, Pol Pot). In Rousseau’s time the ratio of citizen to state was much smaller, yet he argued that his system of direct democracy was only possible in tiny city states like Geneva or undeveloped islands like Corsica. He ended his life in depression and despair as he realised his notion of citizens of substance and character was a pipe dream. This is primarily because the sense of citizenship that was characteristic of early republics was a consequence of the need for every man to defend the state against its enemies (this is also why citizenship was a male prerogative) — hence the organisation of republican civil society on the basis of the military capabilities of citizens. Even the wealth criterion reflected the ability to provide armour and a horse — cavalry soldiers were more valuable than infantry so their political clout was greater. Participation was not a goal or an end in itself, it was a necessary survival factor.

    Like it or lump it, modern states are organised on a different basis. We contract out security to people who are (in effect) mercenaries and we have no particular wish to spend our evenings in interminable political debates. We would rather vote in the X-Factor than in the Assembly. Benjamin Constant argued that this is the difference between ancient and modern liberty. Those of us who wish to do more than rail against the dying of the light listen to the bitter experience of people like Terry and seek to design political institutions that are based on how people are, as opposed to how we would wish them to be. Political service is a tiresome chore, so we should draw straws as to who has to do it. Coincidentally, random selection just happens to produce a sample that is statistically representative of the whole community, thereby ensuring that the principles of equality and social justice are not betrayed. This is unlikely to do much to produce citizens of substance and character, but it’s also less likely to lead to the Killing Fields.

    >For sure self-selection is a factor. Athenian farmers who lived at a distance were less able and less likely to attend the assembly. Exactly how does the system of sortition you propose address their needs?

    This is why voluntarism cannot be part of a sortive system with statutory powers. In order for the system to be representative it’s important that everyone who is selected should attend, including a sample of the farmers who live at a distance.

    Like

  66. Anonymous,

    > It excludes those unable/unwilling to attend for a four year term.

    With due compensation and accommodation to special needs, I think we can expect very low refusal rates for allotted seats. If rates are higher than, say, 5%, then some sort of an alternative form of representation would have to be found. For example, allotted seats could be made transferable so that people can appoint surrogates.

    > Also it is open to corruption, due to rotation only once every four years.

    I think that the likelihood that a significant part of the chamber would be corrupted within a few years is very low. Of course, a balance has to be struck between competence, that increases as the term becomes longer, and representativity, that decreases as the term becomes longer. I believe that any term shorter than a couple of years is clearly too short to allow the allotted delegates to assume real political power, which is a prerequisite for a real democracy. I don’t see any good reason why the term has to be different than it is now.

    > One week is sufficient if the members arrived briefed & informed about the issues they will vote on.

    Briefed by whom? On an agenda set by whom? By the time the agenda has been set and the delegates have been “briefed” most of the decision making has been completed.

    > Not the most auspicious start to an allotted chamber – we’ve thrown you all together, now figure out how to run an assembly.

    I disagree. Those who are within the system are in the best position to design its detailed structure. Indeed, the alternative – trying to dictate the details in advance – is not only presumptuous, it is anti-democratic.

    > A powerful civil service is not necessarily a bad thing. Generally the people actually doing the work are best placed to suggest solutions to existing problems.

    A competent civil service is indeed indispensable, but suggesting solutions is one thing and determining the range of possible policy and the information upon which decisions are based is another. At this point the civil service is in charge, and the allotted chamber is just along for the ride.

    > the purpose of an allotted chamber is to counter the power wielded by those controlling the mass media.

    Very true (among other purposes). A week, however, is not a long enough period of time to allow the delegates to form an opinion that is independent from their mass-media shaped pre-conceptions. The power of sortition is to grant the delegates the opportunity – the resources and the motivation – to become independent thinkers, independently informed. Such a process, however, takes time. Again, I think it is a matter of years, not days or weeks.

    Like

  67. Yoram,

    >I think that the likelihood that a significant part of the chamber would be corrupted within a few years is very low.

    If the allotted chamber were allowed to set its own agenda then lobbyists would only need to corrupt a few individuals with the necessary social status, charisma and persuasive skills to dominate the debate. Allotted members would not be constrained by party ideology or the need to seek re-election, so lobbyists would think they had died and gone to heaven. But if the role of the assembly were limited to deciding the outcome of the debate by secret vote then corruption would be impossible. This was the reason for the introduction of the secret ballot in the 19th century. If you want a more democratic alternative than leaving the policy agenda to “people actually doing the work” that is less amenable to corruption then you need to look elsewhere than an allotted chamber.

    >The power of sortition is to grant the delegates the opportunity – the resources and the motivation – to become independent thinkers, independently informed. Such a process, however, takes time. Again, I think it is a matter of years, not days or weeks.

    It’s much more likely that such a body would be increasingly corrupted by groupthink. To extend Burke’s observation, independence of mind requires independence of means, environment and association — none of which are normally associated with a legislative assembly. I believe trial jurors are prohibited from contacting each other outside the jury room and this is in order to ensure that their judgment is truly independent. Over a period of years a group would become more homogeneous (“going native” in common parlance) rather than becoming more independent. This is an uncontroversial truism of social psychology.

    Like

  68. PS It’s worth remembering that Surowiecki’s conditions for the operation of the “wisdom of crowds” are very exacting, and liable to fail if the tenure of assembly members is as long as Yoram is suggesting. As Yoram’s primary concern appears to be gaining independence from indoctrination by the mass media (with their elite-driven agenda), it would be better to concentrate on breaking up media monopolies than assuming that independence of mind can be achieved by some (unspecified) process of auto-emancipation. What does this process involve? Will assembly members be barred from reading elitist newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail?

    Like

  69. Keith,

    “Like it or lump it,” you say, “modern states are organized on a different basis.” Well, I don’t like it and I refuse to lump it. I think this is where you and I diverge. I think it is a mistake to start with a warped system of government, a corrupt society and a mindless citizenry and then try and massage these elements into something a little less of each. At some point you break with what you have and envision something different, more wholesome, more vital. This is an exercise of the imagination. It does not exist because I think it. But if enough people think it, it will exist. It is my goal to free people from the fixity of things as given.

    “Political service is a tiresome chore.” Yes it is under the current system. It is tiresome because we are we are oppressed on all sides and powerless to effect any real change.

    “This is straight out of Rousseau (although the latter part might also be from one of his disciples, Pol Pot).” Like most major political writers Rousseau’s thought is based in contradiction. He can be quoted as a democrat or a totalitarian. His fundamental principle is that we live in a state and hence must submit to it since someone, somewhere once agreed to enter the compact.

    Like

  70. Keith,

    Here is Rousseau on the subject of representation.

    “The deputies of the people therefore are not and cannot be its representatives, they are merely its agents; they cannot conclude
    anything definitively. Any law which the People has not ratified in person is null; it is not a law. The English people thinks it is free; it is greatly mistaken, it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as they are elected, it is enslaved, it is nothing.”

    Like

  71. Yoram and Keith,

    Interestingly, I agree with most of what both of you have written above, even though you contradict each other ….We have a dilemma in that we need a allotted bodies that are BOTH long-term (to gain deeper understanding an ability to frame an agenda) AND short-term (to avoid the corruption,volunteer distortion, and group-think dangers)…which is what brought me to my multi-body sortition scheme (what Keith calls “Byzantine.”) One (long term) body prepares an agenda, but gets no say about the actual details of the bills, another (long-term) body reviews proposals from citizens and experts to prepare a final draft bill, and a third (short-term) Jury votes the bill up or down by secret ballot.

    Like

  72. Keith,

    MARP is a remarkable example of an imaginative approach to government. Many of their proposals are consistent with mine. I would like to send them a copy of PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED. Does anyone know the personnel involved?

    Like

  73. Arthur: >I think it is a mistake to start with a warped system of government, a corrupt society and a mindless citizenry

    I’m reminded of Lloyd George’s story of when he stopped his car to ask the way and was greeted with the response “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you”. As a practical politician he preferred to start from where he was, rather than some idealised daydream.

    >At some point you break with what you have and envision something different, more wholesome, more vital.

    Yes I think that’s what Pol Pot referred to as Year Zero. I have a new paper on Rousseau on representation that I could send you if you like (also one on Rousseau’s Dog and Schrodinger’s Cat).

    If I’m not mistaken the membership of MARP amounts to little more than one man and his dog, so if you signed up that would provide the party with a welcome boost.

    Terry, thanks for finding common ground between Yoram and myself. As an (ex-) practical politician do you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of a multiple-body sortive solution? Surely we’re better off starting with one body and the obvious role would be what such a body has demonstrated it can do well — ie determine the outcome of a debate. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Like

  74. Keith,

    Galileo was one man. I don’t know if he had a dog.

    Like

  75. > One (long term) body prepares an agenda, but gets no say about the actual details of the bills, another (long-term) body reviews proposals from citizens and experts to prepare a final draft bill, and a third (short-term) Jury votes the bill up or down by secret ballot.

    Certainly less byzantine and better motivated than Keith’s proposals.

    I really don’t see how having an up-or-down final vote by a short term body can be considered a useful procedure. Again, this just means that policy has to go through the filter of pre-conceptions shaped by mass media – not very different from the role of the voters for propositions in the Oregon system. Such ready-made (near-) instant opinion is much more susceptible to self-reinforcement bias (“group think”) and other forms of bias than the considered and informed opinion of a long term allotted body.

    Like

  76. >pre-conceptions shaped by mass media

    I think this is becoming something of a bogey-man issue. In the UK there is one broadsheet newspaper group with a left-wing agenda. It is owned and managed by a charitable trust. Unfortunately nobody reads it and it’s going downhill very fast. Attempts to take the (tabloid) Express in a left-wing direction failed when their readers deserted it for the Mail. The Independent has a circulation similar to the average parish magazine. There is plurality and choice in media and people vote with their feet (usually by marching to the right). I think it’s extremely patronising to suggest that millions of subscribers are indoctrinated by media barons — it’s much more plausible to argue that people read the media of their choice and that the proprietors have to set their agenda to cater for the taste and viewpoints of their readers. This is not to argue that there is not a problem with media monopolies, I just don’t find it remotely plausible that a long-term sortive assembly would free itself of media influence and find an independent voice — much more plausible that it would succumb to group-think.

    Like

  77. Keith,

    I think both you and I and the members of this forum seek to create a government that serves the common good. I fully understand and appreciate that every practical effort that improves our collective lot should be pursued. Terry has my respect, admiration and gratitude for what he undertook and achieved. However, I think we also need to take a longer term, bigger view, a more creative approach to the problems of government. I see no contradiction between the two. I think we need both.

    Like

  78. Agreed, so long as we are prepared to work with the crooked timber of mankind. If we have a long-tem ideal we also need to know how to get there. Rousseau ended his life in despair when he realised that his dream was impossible to achieve; those who have sought to realise it subsequently have ended up creating hell on earth. I don’t want us to repeat past mistakes, how ever well-intentioned we may be.

    Like

  79. Keith,

    “Rousseau ended his life in despair when he realised that his dream was impossible to achieve; those who have sought to realise it subsequently have ended up creating hell on earth.”

    I am not sure sure which dream you refer to. Rousseau had more than one.

    Who are the figures who set out to create democracy and “ended up creating hell on earth?” Surely you don’t offer Pol Pot as an example?

    Like

  80. No, Pol Pot wanted a society that was designed along Rousseauvian lines and Rousseau was certainly no democrat. The thing that alarmed me was your wish for a clean break with the past and also to create “citizens of substance and character”. Social engineering is one thing, psychological engineering can be a lot more scary. As a sociologist I believe that the character of citizens is more a reflection of the economic and security system than whether or not they share power in a nominal sense (ie when each citizen’s share is so small as to be of no causal value). This being the case you would need to adopt some decidedly illiberal form of psychological engineering in order to achieve your goal. Rousseau concluded this and it was one of the reasons for his depression, as it required that people should be “forced to be free”, and it was this side of the Rousseauvian project that Pol Pot is remembered for.

    Like

  81. Keith,

    It troubles me that you are able to attribute sinister intent to my benign thoughts. If you read PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED you will find nothing sinister therein.

    Political democracy is not about social/psychological engineering. Writers like Rousseau and Mill, even Plato understood that all governments, by default, help determine the character of their citizens. This is true not be cause there is a predetermined template that is being applied but because living in a certain social setting under the auspices of a certain kind of government is an important factor in determining the character of the populace. Broadly speaking those who live under a oligarchy will differ in significant ways from those who live under a political democracy.

    There is no coercion under a political democracy. What freedom there is exists by virtue of ones participation in a democratic society.

    At no point do I ever advocate a complete break with the past. I am very much in favor of democratizing the oligarchy along the lines suggested by MARP. No break with the past there. I believe that a true political democracy may or may not have a role to play in the future. But this would not be so much a break with the past as a return to the past as represented by 5th century Athenian democracy.

    Like

  82. OK, I need to read the book (I’ve lent it to Ivo because he wants to refer to it in the final chapter of his forthcoming book).

    On the topic of Athenian democracy, Hansen has just sent me the draft of his latest paper in which he claims that, according to Aristotle, the original form of Athenian democracy (in the time of Solon) was indirect and elective. This then evolved into direct democracy in the 5th century, which in turn gave way to a greater emphasis on sortition in the 4th century. Aristotle’s preference was for the first form (which corresponded more closely to modern indirect democracy), but he viewed all three forms as democratic. So it’s simply wrong to claim that the word democracy requires the participation of everyone. Hansen is not alone in this view; see for example Melissa Lane’s paper at the first meeting of the Popular Sovereignty Network at Queen Mary, University of London, in which she describes Athenian democracy as “proto-Schumpeterian”: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/hpt/projects/papers.html

    So you need to be cautious about claiming that fifth-century Athens (or fourth- for that matter) has a monopoly of the word democracy and that indirect democracy is a corrupted form — Aristotle certainly believed that the opposite was the case. Even if it were desirable, it’s doubtful whether it is possible to return to a form of government that existed for a short period of time in a small city state over 2,000 years ago. It strikes me as much more fruitful to start from where we are and then look to see if there are any tools from the past that can be co-opted to address some of the dysfunctions of indirect democracy (aka representative government). This would be in full realisation of the huge differences between now and then and the acknowledgment that we may use an ancient technology (say sortition) for an entirely different purpose than that for which it was originally designed. Such is the prerogative of the grave robber.

    >There is no coercion under a political democracy.

    That was certainly not true in the Athenian case. On account of the fear of stasis, there was a very strong pressure towards conformity and same-mindedness (I can provide references if you like). In liberal democracies it is the liberal element rather than the democratic one that is non-coercive (otherwise the adjective would be superfluous).

    Like

  83. My reading of stasis is the opposite of yours. I see stasis as a state of sustained conflict of opposing forces. It is the opposite of conformity. Where there is conformity, everyone adopts the same point of view. I have read nothing to support the notion that Athenians had a bent towards conformity. My impression is that they were an independent, outspoken people.

    It is a curiosity to me that we are looking for the true meaning of democracy either in 6th century Athens or 4th century, scrupulously avoiding Athens in the 5th century. It seems to me that this drift is under the leadership of M .L. Hansen who, you suggested earlier, might not be one of democracy’s closest friend.

    It is true that many epithets have been applied to democracy, “proto-Schumpeterian” being one of them. These characterizations often refer to systems of government that have very little that is democratic about them. Schumpeter was certainly no friend of democracy. Nor was Aristotle, though I think he appreciated its strengths.

    Like

  84. My understanding of the concept of stasis, and the Greek pressure to conformity was derived from the work of Moshe Berent (Open University of Israel). I brought in Hansen’s and Lane’s papers simply to indicate that there are many forms of democracy. Sortitionists privilege the fourth century, direct and participatory democrats the fifth and representative theorists the Solonic period. I’m inclined to the view that democracy is a complex phenomenon and all three approaches have something to offer.

    BTW: Hansen starts his paper by acknowledging the importance of the fifth century: “We are always told that ancient Greek democracy was direct rule by the people . . . This view is basically correct”. But then he goes on to “suggest some modifications . . . namely that some ancient democracies seem to have employed indirect government rather than direct rule by the people and in important respects have resembled the modern form of democracy” [Lane refers to this as “proto-Schumperterian]. Aristotle calls this type 1 democracy “the original form of democracy”; direct rule by the people being type 4 — “a more recent form . . . the commonest form of democracy in Aristotle’s lifetime”. Aristotle is usually portrayed as an enemy of democracy, Hansen claims that he would be better described as a friend of type 1 democracy and a foe of type 4.

    I think it’s fair to say that Hansen is the leading historian of ancient Greek democracy. His argument is that ancient democracy passed from indirect, through direct to the sortive variant, whereas the modern form has passed from indirect to (increasingly) direct, citing the recent growth of referenda and powers of initiative. Sortition advocates anticipate that modern democracy will also pass to a third stage, but it should be noted that in the ancient case the third stage incorporated, rather than replaced the earlier two. It was more of a change of emphasis than a break with past practices.

    Like

  85. Keith,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. At stake, as is usually the case, are primary assumptions. As I mentioned at the outset, I see governmental forms as being determined by the number of people who govern, the one, the few, the many. This was Aristotle’s view, but was also mentioned at an earlier date by Pericles in his funeral oration. When a relative handful govern — the case in most Western governments — that government is an aristocracy/oligarchy.

    Like

  86. > When a relative handful govern — the case in most Western governments — that government is an aristocracy/oligarchy.

    It is unavoidable that decision making power is concentrated. Mass decision making is a mirage. The question is whose interests are represented by the decision makers.

    The many can participate in politics in various important ways, but not in high powered decision making.

    Like

  87. I agree with Yoram here — representation is inevitable, the only question being what form it takes. Aristotle and Montesquieu argued that elective representation is aristocratic, as people will always elect their superiors (in wealth, status, charisma or perceived ability). Modern advocates of the lot argue that sortition is a way to achieve descriptive representation — a portrait in miniature of the whole citizen body. But some sort of representation is unavoidable in large-scale societies.

    Although Pitkin claims that the Greeks had no concept of representation, Hansen has uncovered some evidence to the contrary, particularly in the federations: “In the Boiotian federation, for example, Tanagra sent 60 councillors to the federal council of 660 members. Though there is no explicit evidence, the presumption being that they were expected in the council to further the interests of Tanagra.” There is even one example of the idea of representation in Aristotle’s Politics, where he discusses how equality between the rich and the poor can be achieved in a democracy:

    “He suggests that the citizens of a polis be divided into two property classes, one of e.g. 500 rich citizens and of of e.g. 1,000 poor. He further imagines that both census classes elect an equal number of citizens from among themselves and that decisions are made jointly by these two groups of equal size. Obviously one of the two groups is supposed to promote the views and interests of the rich and the other one the views and interests of the poor. In this case it is appropriate to see the members of the two groups as representatives of, respectively, the rich and the poor.”

    There is no evidence, however, that the Greeks used sortition as a system of representation, this is an entirely modern concept. In regard to the numerical distinction (the one, the few and the many), Yoram’s argument is that direct rule by the many will, paradoxically, give rise to rule in the interests of the few, as opinions will be formed, and agendas manipulated, by those with the most resources. Rule by a small sample of the many will be more likely to preserve the interests of the many. Although I disagree with his proposal for implementing such a system, I would agree with the underlying logic.

    All these quotes are from M.H.Hansen, “Aspects of Indirect Democracy in Ancient Greece in Particular in Aristotle’s Politics” (unpublished m/s)

    Like

  88. @keithsutherland

    > If we have a long-tem ideal we also need to know how to get there.

    > It strikes me as much more fruitful to start from where we are and then look to see if there are any tools from the past that can be co-opted to address some of the dysfunctions of indirect democracy (aka representative government).

    A citizen-initiated alloted chamber would be a good start on the road to full sortion & rotation.

    The threshold for initiation is the key issue here: in short the smaller the better (within reason). In British Columbia, Canada, the threshold is a petition with the signatures of 10% registered voters. Consequently, only one initiative has been brought since the law was passed in 1995.

    In the UK, the threshold for an e-petition is 100,000 signatures.

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions?order=desc&page=1&sort=count

    Here’s a recent example from the UK where an impartial decision is needed: reform of the National Health Service. The government has railroaded the bill through despite near universal opposition from all stakeholders.

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670

    A citizen-initiated alloted chamber has the virtue of evolution rather than revolution.

    Also, the message to the ruling class is emphatic: the electorate have the *right* to directly make & recind laws should the need arise.

    Like

  89. @Yoram

    > It is unavoidable that decision making power is concentrated.

    You seem to be missing the point entirely: the primary utility of sortition is impartiality. In other words to *prevent* the concentration of power.

    > Mass decision making is a mirage.

    What would you call a general election then?

    > The question is whose interests are represented by the decision makers.

    The question of whose interests are represented by the decision makers does not arise if sortition & rotation are effectively used. See my 1st point.

    Like

  90. @Yoram

    > The many can participate in politics in various important ways, but not in high powered decision making.

    Spoken like a true oligarch.

    One could argue that an alloted chamber (or popular referendum) should only be used for “high powered decision making”.

    Elected representatives should get on with the daily business of government.

    A citizen-initiated alloted chamber can then be used when needed. See my previous point:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/chouard-no-democracy-without-sortition/#comment-4114

    Like

  91. @Yoram

    > The many can participate in politics in various important ways, but not in high powered decision making.

    Spoken like a true oligarch

    On the contrary, one could argue that “the many” should have the final say in many “high powered” decisions.

    Elected representatives could get on with the daily business of government. A citizen-initiated alloted chamber can then be used should the need arise.

    See my previous point:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/chouard-no-democracy-without-sortition/#comment-4114

    Like

  92. >In the UK, the threshold for an e-petition is 100,000 signatures.

    All that means is the government will consider holding a parliamentary debate. A major constitutional revolution like you are proposing would need a lot more than 100,000 signatures on a petition. As a matter of interest I initiated a similar petition many months ago — last time I checked it had half a dozen signatures and has long since been deleted.

    Like

  93. > You seem to be missing the point entirely: the primary utility of sortition is impartiality. In other words to *prevent* the concentration of power.

    Sortiton can prevent the concentration of political power within the hands of an elite. It does so by concentrating decision-making power in the hands of allotted delegates.

    > What would you call a general election then?

    A charade, I guess. The important decisions are made outside the voting booths.

    > On the contrary, one could argue that “the many” should have the final say in many “high powered” decisions.

    You misunderstand. I didn’t say that “the many” should not participate in high-powered decision making. I said they can’t.

    This is not a matter of the superiority of a certain select elite over the rest of us. I presented the argument here.

    Like

  94. Keith wrote:
    >There is no evidence, however, that the Greeks used sortition as a system of representation, this is an entirely modern concept.

    I disagree. While it may not be “proof,” I think there is powerful evidence that Athenians used sortition explicitly as means of achieving representation in central bodies of local communities. The members of the Boule (Council of 500) were not selected from among the whole demos, but from local neighborhoods and villages (demes) with the number of representatives roughly proportional to the population of the deme. Hansen writes in “Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes” (p.247) “representation on theCouncil was based on the 139 demes and not merely on the ten tribes.”

    I think Pitkin was merely making a faulty assumption based on the fact that the Ancient Greeks did not have a word that neatly translates into “representation,” as her work is heavily focused on etymology, rather than political practices.

    Like

  95. Yoram,

    One of my principal concerns is that we call things by their proper name. When a handful govern it is an aristocracy/oligarchy.

    Like

  96. >When a handful govern it is an aristocracy/oligarchy.

    Actually oligarchy is the correct term (unless the handful were also deemed to be the best). What you say would be true for an assembly with full powers of initiative as this would be the province of individual wills. However if all the assembly does is to judge the outcome there is reason to believe that, if provided with identical balanced advocacy, any number of samples of the same population would return the same verdict. In this limited case the sample would be an accurate microcosm of the whole demos, so the word democracy would be correct. (This would only be the case if we assume a consequentialist approach, rather than focusing on the intrinsic merits of democratic participation.) And if you are going to adopt an essentialist position on language then you would have to acknowledge Aristotle’s claim that election by lot was a democratic device.

    Like

  97. Terry, I agree that Pitkin (and Arthur) focus primarily on the use of linguistic concepts. Hansen, however is an evidence-based historian, rather than an ordinary language philosopher, and this is his view (from the same paper):

    “At the polis level there is no indication in our sources that any of the political institutions were representative in character. No source substantiates the view that officials coming from different subdivisions of a polis or from different census classes are supposed to represent those who had elected them or from among whom they have been selected by lot”

    So he only acknowledges the possibility of representation at the federation level and that Aristotle played with the idea. If so, then assuming he is being consistent, we have to assume in your citation that he was using representation in the weak sense (as a word rather than a concept) — rather in the same way that we speak of academic “conference delegates” when most people in fact attend conferences in their own right.

    I don’t see why ancients and moderns should not use sortition in completely different ways — ie sortition as representation could be the political equivalent of an evolutionary spandrel. Why should we care how this technology was used 2000 years ago in tiny poleis that had very little in common with large modern states?

    Like

  98. > When a handful govern it is an aristocracy/oligarchy.

    If the formalities of taking part in some government rituals are what matters, then surely the Eastern Bloc regimes, with their elections and congresses and local party offices and the rest of the trappings of mass participation should be considered the most democratic regimes that ever existed.

    No – this mistakes superficialities for substance. The important issue is not how many people raise their hand when a vote is conducted, but what interests are represented by public policy. When those interests are those of a small segment of society, then the government is oligarchical. When those interests are those of the general public, then the government is democratic.

    Like

  99. Keith,

    I fully agree that selection by lot is a democratic (adjective) device. The outcome however cannot be democracy (noun), if only a few are governing.

    “This would only be the case if we assume a consequentialist approach, rather than focusing on the intrinsic merits of democratic participation.”

    My support for democracy is based on my understanding of the benefits of participation.

    Like

  100. Yoram,

    There is an important distinction to be made between social democracy and political democracy. Social democracy (the Eastern Bloc regimes) deals with the distribution of wealth and often leads to a strong central authority. Political democracy deals with the distribution of power and leads to the dispersion of power, rather than its concentration.

    When speaking of government one can think of two opposing forces at play, one centrifugal, the other centripetal. Social democracy creates a centrifugal force drawing power towards the center. Political democracy creates a centripetal force drawing power away from the center.

    Like

  101. Arthur, many thanks for confirming that your interest is democracy is intrinsic — i.e. the moral and civic qualities that develop as a consequence of participation. I think it’s fair to say that most of us on this forum (certainly Yoram, Terry and myself) are consequentialists — i.e. we judge a system of government in terms of its legislative outcomes. The problem with your view unfortunately is that it’s unlikely to succeed — why should people take the trouble to participate in a process that is unlikely to lead to meaningful outcomes (other than the moral improvement of the participants)? People would be better served to join a church community (where their efforts may be rewarded in the afterlife) or support a football team. The latter example is not entirely facetious — democratic participation is always in a particular polis, as opposed to some sort of Kantian universalism. In sum, I agree with Yoram that what matters is outcomes (although I wouldn’t express that purely in terms of class interests).

    The etymology of the word “democracy” supports this view:

    demos (δῆμος) = people
    kratos (κράτος)= force or power

    For the people to exert “force” or “power” it is not necessary that they should all participate. If you insist on the latter then you would need to follow Burnheim’s example and opt for “demarchy”:

    demos (δῆμος) = people
    arche (ἀρχή)= rule

    Most of us on this forum would argue that the best way for the people to rule is via a descriptively-representative sample, as the scale of modern states makes it impossible to rule and be ruled in turn and mass participative democracy cannot work on account of the principle of rational ignorance. I would also argue (and this is where I part company with Terry and Yoram) that for the people to exert power as well (in terms of policy initiation) requires either elective representation and/or direct-democratic initiative. If the individuals who draw lots have the right of policy initiative this would be, as you point out, a form of oligarchy (that would not even have the benefit of rule by “the best”). Not so if the role of an allotted assembly is limited to judgment alone. So demarchy requires sortition, but democracy requires that this should be leavened by election and/or popular initiative.

    I don’t much care what name we use to dignify such a political system, but thought it relevant to point out that the ancients had three different conceptions of democracy derived from political practices in three different centuries and that we should be cautious before selecting the definition that just happens to suit our own purposes and claim that this is “real” democracy. Note that Yoram and Terry are also guilty of this when they claim that sortition alone is democratic. I would agree with Aristotle’s claim that you need a combination of all three forms of democracy to create a system of government that is equitable in practice, even if such a system falls short of discarnate platonic ideals such as “equality”. The consideration of transcendental concepts is the province of mathematicians, not political theorists. I use the term “theorist” advisedly in the light of Jeremy Waldron’s recent argument for the rapprochement of theory and political science, along Aristotelian lines (as opposed the Rawlsian nonsense that we’ve had to put up with for the last few decades).

    Like

  102. Keith,

    You say, “The problem with your view unfortunately is that it’s unlikely to succeed — why should people take the trouble to participate in a process that is unlikely to lead to meaningful outcomes (other than the moral improvement of the participants)?”

    I don’t see why participation can’t lead to meaningful outcomes. Suppose local assemblies were to debate whether or not the nation should go to war and then vote. It seems to me the outcome would be meaningful.

    Like

  103. Because, even if intermediated by a nested hierarchy of delegate assemblies, at the end of the day it’s just your pathetic little vote against hundreds of millions of others. So why take the considerable time and trouble to study the issue (war or peace) in depth? This is standard rational ignorance stuff, as the problem with mass democracy is numerical. If you want to argue against Downs and his economist friends then you need to look at the work of Richard Tuck and others, but I’m not at all persuaded by their arguments.

    Like

  104. Keith,

    When 500 people meet in a school auditorium to debate war and peace this is not mass democracy. This is not about 100s of millions of people but 500. You will probably know some of the people in attendance. War is a critical issue. There are strong opinions. The outcome will matter.

    Rational ignorance is an abstraction. When was the last time it was tested in real life circumstances when a nation of millions empowered local assemblies to determine matters of war and peace?

    Like

  105. Keith,

    Rational ignorance does not take place in a vacuum. Or perhaps one could say that it does. How much of the apathy is determined by the fact that citizens are kept in the dark about the deeper meaning of the issues that confront them? Citizens are lied to, manipulated and intimidated into a state of passivity. Is this what you mean by “rational ignorance?”

    Like

  106. Keith,

    In February of 2003, millions took to the streets around the world to oppose the invasion of Iraq. How does rational ignorance explain this occurrence? And if there is such a thing as rational ignorance it could be explained by the fact that the US government ignored these millions of votes and invaded Iraq any way.

    It is not large numbers that make people “rationally ignorant.” It is that most people have figured out that the oligarchy will have its way no matter what.

    Like

  107. >When 500 people meet in a school auditorium to debate war and peace this is not mass democracy. This is not about 100s of millions of people but 500.

    If the decision of those 500 determined state policy then rational ignorance would not apply — this is the reason that we advocate the use of a microcosm selected by lot in order to decide policy outcomes. But in mass democracy there would be hundreds or even thousands of such forums, so the decision of each individual would be negated by all the others. It’s just a question of numbers and applies irrespective of the role of propaganda and manipulation. If you want to defend your book against this sort of criticism you need to read the work of Anthony Downs, Russell Hardin etc and then see if you can gain any traction from Richard Tuck’s defence of politics against rational choice theory.

    Public protests have always had a certain amount of traction in anything other than totalitarian states, but this is activism not democratic politics. It has nothing to do with mass democracy — one can anticipate similar attempts to influence public policy in monarchical, oligarchical or sortive democracy. This all pertains to the domain of advocacy, not democratic decision making.

    Like

  108. Arthur,

    If you believe that the mere existence of a formal mechanism of translating a person’s opinion into a decision (no matter how minuscule the weight of a person’s opinion is) would motivate a large part of the population to become informed and politically active, then how do you explain the fact that this doesn’t occur under the Oregon System (i.e., the popular initiative mechanism as they exist in Oregon, California and quite a few other states in the US)? Why don’t we see assemblies appear as a matter of grass-root action to propose legislation and discuss propositions?

    Like

  109. RATIONAL IGNORANCE

    1) Rational Ignorance has its basis in a theory of voting behavior and assumes that representative government is a form of democracy. Representative government, as I see it, is a form of oligarchy. Therefore, in my view, since my interest is democracy, I don’t see the relevance of Downs, “An Economic Theory of Democracy.”

    2) Nor do I consider voting, by means of which governors are selected, to be a form of political participation. Political participation is what does or doesn’t occur the day after elections.

    I don’t see how one can extrapolate from voting behavior in a mass society governed by an oligarchy onto a truly democratized society in which political participation exists as an option. Voting can be quantified. Participation cannot.

    The act of voting has become fetishized in a culture that lacks a genuine form of political activity. Voting is not a form of governing. Nor can it be seen as a substitute for it. To attribute any significance to voting patterns, when choosing one presidential candidate over the other has as much meaning as choosing one laundry detergent over the other, seems misguided.

    It is curious to me that on a forum where so much importance is being attached to sortition that “rational ignorance,” an outcome of voting, so frequently enters the discussion.

    3) However, even on its own terms Downs’ theory seems flawed. How does one explain a voter turn out of 100 million in a presidential election when each vote counts for so little?

    4) Terry gave the example of his experience in Vermont with local participation. Yorum refers to initiatives in Oregon and California. Why is there so little popular response to opportunities for participation?

    In an alienated society, dominated by a highly centralized oligarchy that is constantly at war, living on the brink of financial collapse, with a sense of impending ecological disaster, repeatedly seeing their needs and wishes ignored by the national government, it is not surprising that the local populace lack motivation to take local initiatives. If there is an instance where rational ignorance applies, this might be it.

    5) Says Keith, “But in mass democracy there would be hundreds or even thousands of such forums, so the decision of each individual would be negated by all the others. It’s just a question of numbers and applies irrespective of the role of propaganda and manipulation.”

    I doubt that “mass democracy” is a valid turn of phrase. Where there is a mass, there are large numbers of thought-free people ready to follow the heard. Mass behavior applies to a totalitarian form of government not to a democracy where individuals are thoughtful about political involvement, as a consequence of their regular participation.

    In a mass society, absent genuine opportunities for political participation, it might “just be a question of numbers.” Certainly this does not apply where people are thoughtfully engaged in the life of the polis. Further, I doubt it is ever just a question of numbers. Obviously, propaganda and manipulation play a significant role, even where numbers are the only measure.

    6) If I were to define the fundamental difference between myself and others on this forum I would say the difference is between one of quantity vs. quality.

    7) Let us, for a moment, stay with the issue of numbers. In a national democracy with participation in local assemblies, there would be millions involved. Every citizen would have the right of participation. However, on any a given day, the “rational ignorance” factor might come into play. “I am too busy. What I have to say doesn’t matter anyway. “ To be generous, one can imagine such an attitude affecting one third of the citizenry. Out of a citizen population of 150 million, that would leave 100 million participants, i.e., the many that Aristotle refers to.

    8) Democracy is neither about votes nor decisions. It is about face-to-face exchanges on critical issues of national importance. There will be votes and outcomes. But the votes and outcomes are not what make a democracy a democracy. Just about any government will have votes and outcomes. In a true democracy it is what happens before the vote that matters most.

    Like

  110. One of my primary interests is trying to establishing the meaning of the word democracy. It could turn out that having established the meaning of the word, democracy is neither feasible, nor perhaps desirable. This does not, in my mind, justify bending the word to suit a desired outcome. I think the meaning of the word democracy should be respected, regardless of whether or not democracy can be implemented.

    Like

  111. >Rational Ignorance has its basis in a theory of voting behavior and assumes that representative government is a form of democracy.

    It’s undeniable that rational choice theorists have concentrated on voting during elections, but the principle of rational ignorance is applicable to any decision process where the number of choosers are such that the causal power of each vote is small. Even if preference elections were replaced by either direct- or sortive democracy, rational ignorance would still apply. A deliberative body with a legislative role has to make a decision — either it has to be a consensus verdict (hard to imagine in multicultural societies) or else a majority vote. If the body is so large, as in a plebiscite, or else if there is a nested hierarchy of smaller bodies, then the causal power of each vote will be approaching zero, and individual citizens will find it hard to take the considerable time and trouble necessary to study the issues in depth. This presupposes of course that the economist’s model of the rational choosing individual is not just an artefact of political alienation. If you want to claim that unalienated citizens naturally focus on the common good (as opposed to satisfying their own preferences) then you would need to provide the necessary supporting evidence and argumentation. You would also need to demonstrate how you propose to achieve what cynics might describe as a fundamental re-engineering of human nature from the current state of fallen man, preferably without recourse to the secularised variants of Christian eschatology that have proved so harmful in human history.

    >However, even on its own terms Downs’ theory seems flawed. How does one explain a voter turn out of 100 million in a presidential election when each vote counts for so little?

    Because voting in presidential elections is largely cost-free to electors (only taking a few minutes) and benefits from powerful cultural pressure towards participation. Voting in presidential elections is a very good example of rational ignorance, choices being determined largely by the candidate’s hairstyle of suntan (the latter is a reference to the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon TV debate — Kennedy spent most of the day sunbathing, while Nixon was swotting up on the issues. Although Nixon won the debate amongst the radio audience, Kennedy won the TV ‘debate’ and went on to secure the presidency). In the vast majority of recent US presidential elections the tallest candidate has won. There is a vast amount of evidence as to the ignorance of the voting public, Downs & co. have simply come up with a theory to indicate why this is inevitably the case when large numbers of decision-makers are involved.

    >In a mass society, absent genuine opportunities for political participation, it might “just be a question of numbers.” Certainly this does not apply where people are thoughtfully engaged in the life of the polis. . . Every citizen would have the right of participation. However, on any a given day, the “rational ignorance” factor might come into play. “I am too busy. What I have to say doesn’t matter anyway. “ To be generous, one can imagine such an attitude affecting one third of the citizenry.

    I don’t think your 1/3 estimate is even remotely generous — it would more likely be 99.9%, You really should read Rousseau on the impossibility of producing the requisite cognitive shift in large, affluent, pluralistic societies. Even if your focus is on participation for its own sake, rather than outcomes, you do need to beware of wishful thinking. Personally I would rather live in a benign dictatorship that produced a just, peaceful and prosperous society than one which privileged participatory hot air over outcomes.

    As for the meaning of “democracy”, Hansen has demonstrated that it meant three different things over just three different centuries of Greek history. Your approach to intellectual and conceptual history, which appears to treat “democracy” as a (unitary) “big idea” is, to put it kindly, unfashionable. If you want to return to the longue duree notion of intellectual history in a viable manner, then take a look at David Armitage’s new article on the subject: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/hpt/Rubinstein%20Lecture%202012.pdf

    Like

  112. Keith,

    Your contemptuous dismissal of democracy is nothing more than an expression of personal preference. There is no argument therein.

    Consensus might be hard to imagine but it is certainly a conceivable alternative to majority vote on all issues.

    There are certainly alive today, thriving and expanding in numbers, citizens from around the world who are devoted to the common good. There is no argumentation necessary. Their work speaks for itself. This includes activists with an international following as well as individuals working towards the common good on a less visible plane.

    I don’t think it is a question of re-engineering human nature. I think it is a question of education. Most people are ignorant on the subject of government and democracy, especially in historical context. Many Americans subscribe to the myth of American exceptionalism. Few Americans have a rational understanding of what the Constitution actually means and how it came into being. Were Americans more grounded in political reality, were more Americans connected to the severity of the economic and ecological situation, a good number of them might be won over to the common good.

    You say, “I don’t think your 1/3 estimate is even remotely generous — it would more likely be 99.9%.” Your estimate is an educated guess, as is mine.

    You say, “Personally I would rather live in a benign dictatorship that produced a just, peaceful and prosperous society than one which privileged participatory hot air over outcomes.” J.S. Mill offers this possibility and then refutes it, based on his belief in the importance of participation.

    I see democracy as an important idea that has been misappropriated. It has never been my goal to be fashionable. Being fashionable is an expression of the status quo. I am interested in what might be not what is. What is cannot long endure.

    Like

  113. @Arthur

    I view sortition/rotation as a potentially simple & effective problem solving tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Philosophical issues do not concern me.

    > What is cannot long endure

    What are the problems with the status quo as you see it?

    Like

  114. Annonymous,

    I have a strong practical side, just as you do. In Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained I devote considerable attention to sortition and rotation. I am an advocate of both. Two chapters are devoted to democratizing the oligarchy with some very practical suggestions, like a constitutional amendment limiting tenure to two non-consecutive terms in a lifetime. Where sortition is concerned, I am in favor of establishing vetted pools of candidates, overseen and vetted by large juries.

    There is a breathtaking innocence to your questions, “What is cannot long endure? What are the problems with the status quo as you see it?” Volumes could be written in response.

    “What is it that cannot long endure?” The planet and the creatures that inhabit it, for openers. It will be a miracle if life is sustainable one hundred years from now, probably less. Do you follow the work of George Monbiot among others? The only thing that can change the outcome is a significant change in the way government is structured.

    It was Heraclitus who said you can’t step into the same river twice. In other words, change is everywhere, all the time. The status quo flies in the face of this simple fact. Status quo is dead matter. The human race is living matter and needs to be guided by living matter. The status quo won’t do.

    Change will occur. The question is, will it direct us or will we direct it?

    Like

  115. Arthur,

    Nowhere do I dismiss democracy, contemptuously or otherwise, although I do argue that people are aware of the futility of political participation in modern states (due to the law of large numbers).
    I’ve also tried to point out that democracy exists in at least three variants (direct, elective and sortive) and that a judicious combination of all three forms is necessary to overcome the law of large numbers without resorting to oligarchical sortition-only solutions.

    BTW, another book you might find encouraging is The Case Against the Democratic State by Gordon Graham. The author acknowledges the problem of rational ignorance but concludes, like you, that democratic participation is intrinsically valuable (even though he doubts its instrumental purpose). Graham is a professor of moral philosophy so no doubt that makes sense to him.

    Like

  116. @Arthur

    If you’re serious about actively advocating & implementing sortition/rotation, you first need to identify:
    1. the immediate problem
    2. how sortition can solve that problem.

    You haven’t explained how sortition can directly address global warming.

    Again, philosophical meanderings do not concern me.

    Here’s an example of an current, immediate problem: NATO members funding, training & directing death squads in Syria (similar to El Salvador circa 1980’s) .

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/turkey-attempts-to-trigger-a-nato-led-war-against-syria

    How could sortition address this problem?

    Like

  117. Anonymous,

    Sortition would address this problem by changing the makeup of the decision making group. Currently foreign policy decisions are made by an electoral elite that tends to be more belligerent than the average member of the public.

    If a majority in the public rejects tactics of terror such as the one you refer to, then statistical representativity would guarantee that there would be a majority in the allotted chamber against pursuing such policy.

    Like

  118. I’m not sure there is much evidence supporting the claim that elites are more belligerent than average members of the public. Did the Sun manufacture support for the Falklands war or did it reflect public jingoism? (probably a bit of both). However, the fact that allotted members would be sending their own children into the front line will certainly be a restraining factor.

    But what about the problem of global warming? This involves the trade off of the interests of future generations with those of the present. Whilst I agree that a more deliberative style of decision making would probably help, there’s no particular reason to believe that substituting one method of balloting for another would lead to a shift in focus to the interests of future generations. Would allotted citizens be any more likely to vote directly for an increase in their present cost of living than they currently vote for Green parties (assuming a PR-based electoral system)? Recent UK government elites have set unilateral targets for CO2 reduction that have been unpopular in terms of the consequences for energy pricing. The Blair government was forced to reduce its focus on global warming as a result of widescale public protest over the high price of petrol (gasoline). In short I think elites may be better at addressing the problem of global warming.

    The same can be said for the debt crisis — although we all like to blame “bankers” and elected politicians it remans the case that mortgaging the future of our grandchildren is an easy way to achieve the illusion of prosperity in the here and now. This would remain the case irrespective of the balloting method. My preferred solution to the preservation of the interests of future generations would be the sort of statutory provision for the costing of future liabilities and externalities that Niall Ferguson advocated in his recent Reith Lectures. This is relatively straightforward in budgetary affairs, less so with ecological externalities as the science is less certain.

    PS: Arthur is not advocating sortition; his book is a call for direct democracy.

    Like

  119. Anonymous,

    In order to consider the meaning and merit of what I have to say on this site it is important to keep in mind the larger context for my thoughts. I have written a book entitled, PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED: THE TRUE MEANING OF DEMOCRACY. This is a full-length, wide-ranging study, more of a polygraph than a monograph.

    The book is 496 pages long, has four parts, twenty-seven chapters, not including preface, introduction and conclusion. There are approximately 200,000 words. The book weighs two pounds, three ounces. Don’t drop it on your foot.

    In this book my goal has been to educate the reader on the subject of government and democracy. Democracy is defined by example. The first section explores democracy and democratic trends in Athens, the Roman Republic and the Italian city-states. The next part is devoted to democracy in the United States between 1776 and 1788 when the Constitution was ratified. This is a critical period in American history and a very interesting one. There was a strong democratic bias. The citizenry was informed and articulate. The Constitution ended all of that and installed the oligarchy.

    One of the most democratic documents in American history is the Pennsylvania state constitution of 1776. There is a sharp contrast between this constitution and the events leading up to its ratification and the U.S. constitution that followed and subsumed it. I explore these differences in detail and in the process reveal what democracy is really about.

    The book has a third part that examines democracy in the middle ages and at the time of the French Revolution. Incipient democracy is crushed by violence, Genghis Kahn, the Crusades, Napoleon.

    In the fourth and last part the focus is on democratic trends in India and Latin America. In this last part there are two chapters devoted to a practical discussion of how the oligarchy can be democratized. It is in this context that I offer thoughts about the use of sortition. I am deliberately being cautious in my offerings, aware that it is easy to alienate readers who are not yet ready for significant change.

    PARADISE LOST, is 75-80% history. I would say maybe 10% of the book is devoted to the subject of governmental reform, the subject matter of this forum. PARADISE LOST is not a how-to book. It is a book that precedes practical implementation. It seeks to enlighten and empower. The American writer, Henry George, author PROGRESS AND POVERTY, said “Right reason precedes right action.” PARADISE LOST is about the right reason that precedes right action.

    With this as a prelude here are my thoughts on sortition. For me the critical issue is how the pool of candidates is established. I offer the solution that anyone can nominate himself, a friend or relative. Once the pool is established, it is vetted by a large jury, possibly in the hundreds, randomly selected from the same pool that does jury service. When the pool has been finalized, there are two options. There can be a traditional election or else another sortition. The person selected serves in office, once again under the scrutiny of a large jury.

    One could use such a system to select the executive, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and the many functionaries who serve at the President’s pleasure.

    My primary recommendation for governmental reform is rotation in office. If members of Congress served for two non-consecutive terms in a lifetime there would be a radical change for the better. Power would circulate. There would be new ideas, fresh blood. In all likelihood the men and women who served would be more interested in the common good than a sinecure as career politician.

    My primary goal is not so much to further a particular solution, as it is to help the reader to think imaginatively and creatively about government.

    Like

  120. > My primary recommendation for governmental reform is rotation in office. If members of Congress served for two non-consecutive terms in a lifetime there would be a radical change for the better. Power would circulate. There would be new ideas, fresh blood. In all likelihood the men and women who served would be more interested in the common good than a sinecure as career politician.

    I think you are mistaken. Political parties would have no problem finding a large number of people who would serve for a term or two and would, while in office, promote special interests.

    As you may be aware, there are already quite a few states in the U.S. with term limits for their state legislature (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Term_limits_in_the_United_States#State_legislatures_with_term_limits). I don’t think there is any reason to suspect that instating those term limits has changed materially the nature of government in those states.

    Like

  121. Yoram,

    Let me quote everyone’s favorite. Here is what Aristotle has to say on the subject of rotation. “Where there is natural equality of the citizens,” he says, “and it would be unjust that anyone should be excluded from the government … then it is better, instead of all holding power, they adopt a principle of rotation.” In other words, where there is political equality, justice requires that everyone be given a chance to serve. If someone monopolizes the office, then others are being denied that opportunity.

    Later, Aristotle lists as one of the democratic institutions “restriction of the tenure of office to six months, that all of those that are of equal rank may share in them.” But, in addition to the principle of serving and sharing in office, rotation serves to put a limit to the concentration of power. “The short tenure of office prevents oligarchies and aristocracies from falling into the hands of families.” And further, “it is not easy for a person to do any great harm when his tenure of office is short, whereas long possession begets tyranny in oligarchies and democracies.” Again, Aristotle says “that no one should hold the same office twice, or not often, except in the case of military offices; that the tenure of all offices … should be brief.” The more people who rotate through a given office, the less likely it is someone wishing to extend an offer of bribery will find a willing recipient. It is more difficult to corrupt the many than the few.

    I think these observations apply as well today as they did in Aristotle’s day. You say, “Political parties would have no problem finding a large number of people who would serve for a term or two and would, while in office, promote special interests.” To a degree this might occur. But nonetheless there will be less concentration of power in the hands of a few since those few are constantly changing. Also, the make-up of the political parties might change if there are fewer old timers waiting in the wings. The quality and nature of the person who will seek office where there is no hope of a lifetime career would be different. Since opportunities for self-gain would be limited, there would be room for public service as a potential motivation. Undoubtedly, if rotation were combined with sortition, the outcome would be even better. However, if rotation alone were instituted for members of congress I think that would be a very important first step.

    Like

  122. Aristotle’s primary justification of rotation as a democratic institution was “rule and be ruled in turn”, and this principle is entirely irrelevant to large modern states on account of the numerical discrepancy. We need to be cautious before taking the words of the ancients as a foundation for designing contemporary political institutions.

    Like

  123. Keith,

    It is true that in a democracy everyone leads and everyone follows. However, that in way contradicts anything I said above. Leave Aristotle aside. The more people who serve in office, the more democratic the government. The more people who serve in office, the less there is concentration of power, the less easy it is to buy the office holder. It is easier to corrupt the few than the many.

    Like

  124. That’s only true if you choose to redefine democracy in terms of participation. The wielding of power does not require participation — powerful people usually choose to act via intermediaries — and in large states it is only possible for the common people (demos) to wield power (kratos) via some form of representation. In large states sortition is a form of political representation and has nothing to do with rotation.

    The issue of corruption is entirely orthogonal and is usually the domain of the police, but it’s easy to argue the case that officials with a short term of office and who were not seeking re-election would be very easy to corrupt. The more officials you have, the more opportunities for corruption, whereas absolute monarchs and tin-pot dictators tend to have a mind of their own.

    Like

  125. […] Chouard (and here, here, and here), Lawrence Lessig, David Chaum, Jacques Rancière, Clive Aslet, Jim Gilliam, Loïc Blondiaux, and […]

    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: