Sortition: a democratic alternative to the electoral system

In order to achieve representative government political officers must be selected as a statistical sample of the population

This essay is an English version of an essay of mine that was recently published in Hebrew on the Israeli website Haayal Hakore. A lively discussion followed in the comment thread. I hope to pursue some the topics raised by commenters in upcoming posts.

2011 has seen an outpour of popular frustration with government. Mass demonstrations erupted in both Arab countries and Western countries. Over a year later, it appears that the results of the Arab Spring are very different from the results of the Western protests. While in some Arab countries the protests led to an overthrow of the government and significant political changes, the protest in the West dissipated almost everywhere leaving very little impact on the political structure. (Some claim that the protests in the West increased public political awareness and activism, but even if such claims are to be believed, political institutions were unaffected; the only exception is Iceland where some structural change has taken place.)

The difference between the outcomes in Arab countries and in the West can be explained by a fundamental difference in the agendas of the protests. The protesters in the Arab countries had a very clear and specific demand – removing an unelected, or only nominally elected, government and establishing an electoral system similar to the Western model. The Western protesters on the other hand expressed discontent with government policy, but had no clear demands about how things should be changed. The general message of the protest in the West was that public policy is not as it should be – it is serving the elites (“the 1%”) rather than serving the bulk of the population (“the 99%”). But while policy demands were sometimes presented (with varying degrees of coherence and emphasis) no program was laid out of how government should be changed in order to promote policy change.

The standard mode of operation in the Western system is to channel political displeasure into an electoral agenda – promotion of certain ideas within party platforms or promotion of certain parties. Complaints are expected to be addressed by changing the people and parties in power through elections or by convincing reigning politicians to change their policies by threatening them electorally. The 2011 protests largely avoided this route. Despite the fact that surveys indicated that the protests enjoyed significant popular support, no clear electoral option for representing their ideas and the people supporting them emerged. The protest could be described as being anti-electoral – the protesters apparently had no expectation that the electoral system would address their complaints.

If the protesters in the West are to be believed then the success of the Arab movements is only temporary. It is merely a consequence of the fact that Arab countries have not yet instituted a governmental structure that has been standard in Western countries for decades. If a Western-like governmental system does take hold in Arab countries, then the citizens of those countries can eventually expect to find themselves as frustrated with their government as are Western citizens today.

The question is whether – and how – the Western system can be reformed so as to produce policy that is satisfactory in the eyes of the citizens. The Western protest movement has been unable to come up with a promising answer to this question and fizzled as a result.

Variations on the theme of elections

The essential element of the Western government system is its reliance – both practically and ideologically – on elections. Since the end of the second world war, a large number of variants of the Western system have been implemented in various countries: different voting schemes, different campaign finance schemes and different divisions of functions between various government bodies and branches. Considerable attention in public and scholarly discourse focused on the differences between variants, but the core element of the system – electoralism itself – is rarely examined critically. In terms of policy outcomes it is difficult to see any significant differences between the variants. At least according to the protesters, policy favoring the 1% typifies the Western system in all of its variants.

The 2011 protest seemed to be aiming its displeasure at the core element – not a particular variant or a particular aspect of the electoral system but the system itself. However, the protest did not offer an alternative to the electoral system, an alternative that has the promise of promoting the interests of “the 99%”. Sortition is such an alternative.

Sortition

Sortition is the procedure of selecting political office holders as a statistical sample of the population (akin to the way people are selected to be interviewed for opinion polls or for official surveys such as the consumer expenditure survey conducted by the many national bureaus of statistics). Its effect is to produce political bodies that are statistically representative of the entire population. A body selected as a sample of the population would be a microcosm of the citizenry: men and women, young and old, rich and poor – the shares of all those groups among the members of the body would be similar to their proportion in the population. Similarly, all occupations, ideologies, religions, levels of education, areas of residence and ethnic groups (and any characteristic grouping in society) would be proportionally represented.

Various ways for introducing sortition into existing political systems can be proposed. One particularly appealing application for sortition is for appointing bodies that would oversee the elected bodies. Like existing oversight bodies, such oversight bodies would be supported, of course, by professional staff. Unlike existing oversight bodies, however, that are appointed by the same bodies and politicians that they are supposed to oversee, and are always vulnerable to the criticism that they are politically biased, sortition-constituted oversight bodies would be independent of elected institutions and would rely on their statistical representativity as their source of legitimacy. One purview of oversight could be matters that have to do with the influence of money on politics, addressing one of the primary complaints of the protest movement.

A more radical proposal is to use sortition to select the members of a parliament chamber – a chamber that would have equal authority to the elected chamber (or, in bi-cameral systems, change the selection procedure of one of the chambers to sortition). Unlike elected chambers that are dominated by the elites, in a sortition-constituted chamber, any group that makes a large part of the population – “the people” – would make a large part of the chamber. Such a parliament would legislate according to the values and the interests of “the people”, would elect an executive that will promote those interests, and will supervise the executive closely and continuously in order to verify that its performance meets its expectations.

In order to implement proposals such as those, an official sampling mechanisms would need to be created. Once a year – say, on Independence Day – the names of those joining the political bodies would be publicly drawn. The allotted people would announce whether they accept the nomination or give it up. Those who gave up their slots would be replaced with randomly drawn alternates, or possibly could nominate replacements. Those who accept the nomination would be invited to a year of training during which they would follow the activities of the body they would be joining. At the end of the training period they would become full-fledged members of the body and would serve on it for four years. The terms of service would include, of course, a salary that would be similar to those of elected politicians, assistance with the transition to their new roles and with transition back to private life at the end of the term.

Sortition-constituted bodies should be large enough to assure reasonable proportionality, and small enough to allow an open and effective discussion among all of the members of the body. These considerations constrain the size of the body to be between a few dozen people to a few hundreds of people. This way the impact of each member of the body would be large enough to justify paying their full attention to the issues at hand and at the same time small enough so that the opinions of a single member, or the opinions of a handful of members, cannot dictate policy to the entire group.

In addition to the parameters already mentioned – the length of the initiation and service periods, the size of the bodies, and the members’ salaries – many other parameters need to be determined. The guiding principle should be the creation of a democratic body: a body whose decisions represent the informed and considered opinions of the public. First, statistical representativity should be maintained in order to guarantee similarity between the interests and worldviews of the population and those of the members of the body. Secondly, the aim should be creating political equality within the body and making sure that each member has the motivation and the tools to obtain all the information relevant for setting the body’s agenda and for independent decision-making.

Restoring former glory

Sortition conflicts with modern practice and ideology. Contemporary use of sortition in government is limited to the selection of juries. It was not always this way. When democracy was created – in ancient Athens – sortition was considered to be the prototypical democratic procedure and elections were considered oligarchical. The link between democracy and sortition was a standard notion up until the 18th century and was only controverted by modern dogma during the 19th century. The sentiments of the 2011 protests are really a return to the ancient understanding – that elections are inherently oligarchical and that democracy cannot be achieved through electoral means, but only by rejecting electoralism altogether. The missing item on the agenda of the protests is the adoption of the other part of the ancient understanding: the public will not reject electoralism until the alternative to elections – namely, sortition – is offered.

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97 Responses

  1. An excellent introduction accessible to a wide audience, in my view.

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  2. Thanks, Ahmed!

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  3. Yoram, it’s a well-written article, and congratulations on getting it posted where – I hope – it will be seen.
    I realise that you’re writing for people who have never heard of sortition, but there are a few things that trouble me.

    >”One particularly appealing application for sortition is for appointing bodies that would oversee the elected bodies. Like existing oversight bodies, such oversight bodies would be supported, of course, by professional staff.”

    Oversight bodies? Not sure what you mean here. Is this something peculiar to the Israeli system?

    >”A more radical proposal is to use sortition to select the members of a parliament chamber – a chamber that would have equal authority to the elected chamber . .”

    It’s not clear to me whether you mean to add the allotted chamber to the elected one, or to replace the elected one by the allotted one.

    >”(or, in bi-cameral systems, change the selection procedure of one of the chambers to sortition). Unlike elected chambers that are dominated by the elites . . .”

    I suppose introducing even a limited amount of sortition is a step in the right direction, but if, as I understood, you believe that electoral “democracy” is fundamentally flawed, regardless of the technical details of the elections, why advocate a mixed sortition/election system? Is it out of loyalty to the Athenians of 24 centuries ago, or even loyalty to Callenbach & Phillips? If, as you say, elected chambers are dominated by the elites, (I agree that they are dominated by special interests) then why do you think they have any legitimacy? Why have them at all? Or are you trying for gradual reform, (“be patient, don’t rock the boat too much, and in three hundred years we’ll have a good system”)?

    >”Such a parliament would legislate according to the values and the interests of “the people”, would elect an executive that will promote those interests, and will supervise the executive closely and continuously in order to verify that its performance meets its expectations.”

    Elect an executive from where? From amongst themselves? From the whole citizen body? For how long? How will it stop the executive from getting out of control?

    >”Once a year – say, on Independence Day – the names of those joining the political bodies would be publicly drawn.”

    I thought you were in favour of the whole body of (citizens + permanent residents) being automatically in the draw. And are “political bodies” – which I take to mean parties – to be encouraged?

    >”Those who accept the nomination would be invited to a year of training during which they would follow the activities of the body they would be joining. At the end of the training period they would become full-fledged members of the body and would serve on it for four years.”

    The French say “C’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron”: It’s by working as a blacksmith that one learns to be a blacksmith. Would it not be better to let members learn on the job? What harm can they do as neophytes? If they come up with proposals that the more experienced members know are nonsense, those proposals will get voted out. Even if they don’t, it’s not as though there is anything intrinsically irrevocable about legislation, it’s not brain surgery or piloting aeroplanes. Anything that gets done can get undone, the more readily in a sortition assembly because losing face or being shown to be wrong won’t change your chances of re-election, which are zero whatever happens.

    You’ve probably made posts on some of these topics before, (I haven’t read everything on the site), so maybe you can just reply with a link in some cases.

    >”I hope to pursue some the topics raised by commenters in upcoming posts.”

    Sorry to be such a caviller, but you asked for it!

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  4. Thanks, Campbell.

    > Oversight bodies? Not sure what you mean here. Is this something peculiar to the Israeli system?

    Oversight bodies are bodies that are supposed to follow the activities of other bodies in order to monitor their legality, effectiveness, efficiency, corruption, etc. Israel has a government office called “state oversight”. This is like the Ombudsman’s office that exists in many countries. In the U.S. Congress has oversight function over the executive branch. There are various cities in the U.S. that have police oversight boards. There are probably many other bodies at various levels with similar functions all over the world.

    > if, as I understood, you believe that electoral “democracy” is fundamentally flawed, regardless of the technical details of the elections, why advocate a mixed sortition/election system?

    I do indeed believe that electoralism is antithetical to democracy and as long as significant power is held by an elected body, the government is not democratic. I would indeed like to see a system that is free of elections.

    The current system, however, relies heavily on elections and any change carries a certain amount of risk, and the more abrupt the change, the more significant the risk. Abrupt changes are opportunities for things to go wrong in various unforeseen ways and skepticism at the idea that a single abrupt change would take us where we hope to go is appropriate.

    I think setting up an allotted chamber of parliament with power equal to that of the elected chamber is a radical change which would take us a significant way toward a democratic system. At the same time keeping some power in the hands of existing power centers promises some continuity and therefore provides some safety mechanism against undesirable, unforeseen effects.

    The hybrid system would hopefully not be the endpoint of the process of democratization. First, the allotted chamber can be expected to gradually reform its own procedures in a way that will allow it to exercise its power in an effective way. Second, such a system would give citizens the opportunity to compare the workings of the two chambers. Hopefully, the allotted chamber would prove itself worthy of public confidence and this experience would motivate popular support for abolishing the elected chamber and a transition to an elections-free system.

    > Elect an executive from where? From amongst themselves? From the whole citizen body? For how long? How will it stop the executive from getting out of control?

    The allotted delegates will appoint political officials as they see fit. I presume that there would be high level executive officials that would be personally elected by the delegates. The term of service of the officials they appoint would be up to the delegates. I presume they will continue to serve as long as (and just as long as) the delegates approve of the job they do.

    The power to hire and fire, along with ongoing scrutiny by the allotted chamber should keep executive power in check. Of course, if the delegates feel that they are being outmaneuvered by the appointed officials they would have to power to change institutional arrangements to address these concerns.

    >>”Once a year – say, on Independence Day – the names of those joining the political bodies would be publicly drawn.”

    > I thought you were in favour of the whole body of (citizens + permanent residents) being automatically in the draw. And are “political bodies” – which I take to mean parties – to be encouraged?

    Indeed. The sentence you quote was meant to describe the actual drawing, not the preparation of the pool. By “political bodies” I meant the allotted bodies (chamber of parliament, oversight body, or whatever other body is being selected by sortition).

    > It’s by working as a blacksmith that one learns to be a blacksmith.

    You don’t just walk one day into a workshop and become a practicing blacksmith. You go through an apprenticeship first. This is true for almost any kind of occupation, and I don’t see why politics should be different. Of course, learning continues on the job itself (and never really stops) but that doesn’t mean that you start handling red hot irons on the first day.

    > (I haven’t read everything on the site)

    What?! You haven’t? I am sure you will find all the nasty exchanges in the comments very informative.

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  5. On the Blacksmith analogy as applied to new legislators… I agree with Campbell IF the terms are staggered, so that the neophytes are always a minority of the body. When I was first elected as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, we got two days of training from staff before, and the rest was on-the-job training, with all of the rights and responsibilities of long-term legislators (though less power due to seniority, etc.). That is typical for virtually ALL legislatures, I would suspect.

    On the other hand, if an allottted body is formed as a whole (as in my proposals for multiple short-duration bodies), there would need to be much more pre-service training, and observation.

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  6. Yoram, thanks for the explanations.

    >”The current system, however, relies heavily on elections and any change carries a certain amount of risk, and the more abrupt the change, the more significant the risk. Abrupt changes are opportunities for things to go wrong in various unforeseen ways.”

    So you want peaceful evolution, rather than a re-run of the French, Russian or Iranian revolutions. Fair enough, except that in a number of countries you’ve got violent revolutions happening anyway. And in the best of cases the free elections that are so ardently desired, even if instituted, will only give rise to the sort of domination by powerful interests that we see in the West.
    Would the Egyptians, for instance, be in a worse mess if there had been a significant majority of people demanding and instituting a sortition-based system?

    >”You don’t just walk one day into a workshop and become a practicing blacksmith. You go through an apprenticeship first. This is true for almost any kind of occupation, and I don’t see why politics should be different. Of course, learning continues on the job itself (and never really stops) but that doesn’t mean that you start handling red hot irons on the first day”.

    You seem to have more faith in formal education than I have. My experience has been that there is a lot of truth in that French proverb. Moreover, I’m inclined to think that historically apprenticeships have mostly been a way for employers to exploit child labour, and, for the parents, a way of making a bit more room for a large family in a small house.

    We have formal training, and formal qualifications because we don’t want unsupervised incompetents putting other people in danger, or charging them for services they cannot perform. But, as I said above, what harm can the new members do, given that they are surrounded and out-voted by senior members, and that any Act of parliament can be revoked by parliament?

    I’m at a loss to know what you intend to teach the new members in a year. Learning the rules of parliamentary procedure shouldn’t take more than a day or so, and, presumably, if they step out of line, there is a speaker or equivalent to bring them to order. A couple of days to discover the services available to members, another couple to learn the essentials of the legislation governing members’ behaviour, some time to meet staff . . . perhaps two weeks in all.
    Any longer would seem to me only to provide a wonderful opportunity for the training staff (now who will they be? quis doceat custodes?) to indoctrinate members with the trainers’ political agenda.

    The members’ real duty is to think. Can this be taught? To a degree, yes, one can teach logic. However, philosophers have been trying to teach us to think for thousands of years, and the best measure of their success is the extent of agreement between them. Not very great, in this layman’s view, with all respect.

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  7. > And in the best of cases the free elections that are so ardently desired, even if instituted, will only give rise to the sort of domination by powerful interests that we see in the West.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    > Would the Egyptians, for instance, be in a worse mess if there had been a significant majority of people demanding and instituting a sortition-based system?

    I would certainly like to see such a demand, whether the short-term result is a pure sortition-based system or merely a hybrid system. We are a very long way from something like this happening, unfortunately.

    > You seem to have more faith in formal education than I have.

    Possibly, although I wasn’t proposing a formal training course. I was thinking of a variety of educational devices and opportunities, but primarily of shadowing the work of the serving delegates. The whole process should be controlled by the delegates themselves, with each delegate taking advantage of the opportunities he or she sees fit.

    Yes – apprenticeships have historically been a tool of exploitation as well as of education. It doesn’t have to be that way. In the scenario we are considering this doesn’t seem possible, anyway, since the delegates’ status as full fledged members in due time is not conditional on appropriate behavior during the training period. On the contrary – if the newcomers get to have decision making power prematurely then they would become potential targets for manipulation by the veteran delegates and (what’s worse) manipulation by non-representative power.

    > I’m at a loss to know what you intend to teach the new members in a year.

    So, first, I don’t think that “teaching” is the appropriate term here. The incoming delegates are not passive learners being taught a fixed body of knowledge, but rather they are active students who decide what is appropriate for them to learn and in what way.

    Second, I think that the mechanics of the decision-making procedures would take much longer than a single day to learn. There are always various subtleties that need to be understood and can be best understood by demonstration, i.e., by following the ongoing business of the chamber.

    Third, each delegate needs to form a team – advisors and support staff – and develop a relationship with them. Some of those would be existing chamber personnel, others would need to be recruited.

    Fourth, the most important part of the learning process is substantive, not procedural. The delegates need to learn about the specific policy issues that the chamber is handling and to define new issues that they think are important and need to be addressed.

    All of this takes time, and I think it is best not to rush things. If the the delegates are going to spend a few years of their time in the chamber, saving a few months of training makes no sense to me. Uninformed and unconsidered opinion is the anti-thesis of democratic power, and that is all you get by rushing the just-selected delegates to the levers of power. Yes – this would be mitigated by the fact that there is always a majority of more experienced delegates, but it is still a vulnerability that is introduced into the system for no real gain.

    That said, the length of the training period would, of course, be set by the chamber itself (or by a different allotted body) rather than be determined once a for all ahead of time. So if it is the informed and considered opinion of the body that the training period should be 6 months long (or 18 months long), so it shall be. I suggested a year-long training period merely as a good round figure to start with.

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  8. Hi Yoram,

    You wrote:

    “Once a year – say, on Independence Day – the names of those joining the political bodies would be publicly drawn.”

    In a lottocracy, which is a special form of sortition, one has:

    Continuous Change

    It need not be that the appointment of all governors must happen on the same day, in fact, it is far more ‘barter and cow trade’ preventing when two or three persons are taken everyday.

    Except on the precise occasion of a voting session, there is no harm in having everyday two persons starting, and two persons ending their duty. It prevents barter and clodding even more than the absence of proximity.

    Since there is no seasonal work involved, we even need not have their year in 365 1/4 days, 360 days being good enough, or 300, 600, etc.

    You wrote:

    “The allotted people would announce whether they accept the nomination or give it up. Those who gave up their slots would be replaced with randomly drawn alternates, or possibly could nominate replacements.”

    In a lottocracy one has:

    When appointed, they have (as duty) the task of governing. Therefore it should be like conscription, which exists without any problem still today in Israel for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 and which existed some years ago in Holland. I my self have served in the Dutch army for two years. But I rather would have spent that time at the university. If accepting the nomination would depend on whether you like it or not, you woluld NOT have a representative sample anymore. Those who do noy like it are nor represented anymore! The possibly to nominate replacements would disturb the representativity of the sample even more.

    Volunteers vs. Conscripts

    In his idea of demarchy Brian Martin, like you, is speaking of “chosen randomly from volunteers”. León, the first advocate of lottocracy, states “that first of all, the job (the function of governor) must not be liked”. The latter seems much more appropriate. Somebody who wants to be chosen should already be suspected, because for him/her public interest will be contaminated by individual interest. Actually, León also speaks about conscripts.

    You wrote:

    “Those who accept the nomination would be invited to a year of training during which they would follow the activities of the body they would be joining. At the end of the training period they would become full-fledged members of the body and would serve on it for four years.”

    In a lottocracy one has:

    When appointed, they have (as duty) the task of governing for a year, i.e. after a schooling period of two months, an effective ‘sitting’ period of ten. Therefore NOT four years, but 10 months! The longer in charge, the greater the possibility that personal interest will prevail!

    You wrote:

    “The terms of service would include, of course, a salary that would be similar to those of elected politicians, … ”

    In a lottocracy one has:

    The terms of service would include that those who are alloted are compensated for what they normally would earn if they were not allotted.

    Many other things are different in a lottocracy and you can read about it in a text of less then 1500 words. Go to:

    http://www.socsci.kun.nl/~advdv/lottocracy.html

    Yoram in the past I repeatedly have pointed to the above web site. Strange you apparently never read it.

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  9. On the education point, are either of you familiar with Fishkin’s work on citizen deliberative bodies, eg http://bit.ly/FishDel which is a continuation of the experiments talked about his book Deliberation Day. It is surprising how quickly people “learn” to deliberate–perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising because to deliberate is part of human nature.

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  10. Yoram, thanks for the reply.

    >”So, first, I don’t think that “teaching” is the appropriate term here. The incoming delegates are not passive learners being taught a fixed body of knowledge, but rather they are active students who decide what is appropriate for them to learn and in what way.”

    Just like all first-year university students, no doubt.

    >”Second, I think that the mechanics of the decision-making procedures would take much longer than a single day to learn. There are always various subtleties that need to be understood and can be best understood by demonstration, i.e., by following the ongoing business of the chamber.”

    Well, if I interpret this correctly, I’m somewhat relieved. There would be no curriculum, and no teacher; new members would simply go and sit beside old members and not vote?

    >”Third, each delegate needs to form a team – advisors and support staff – and develop a relationship with them. Some of those would be existing chamber personnel, others would need to be recruited.”

    Members will certainly need support staff. I’m not sure to what extent they need their own personal team (beyond a secretary or two). I think that there should be a large pool of research staff with different technical qualifications available to all members. It would be more economical, for a new proposal, to draw a number of teams from the pool, each one concentrating on one aspect of the proposal, and making the results available to all members, rather than to have 500 personal teams all scurrying about looking for the same stuff.

    >”Fourth, the most important part of the learning process is substantive, not procedural. The delegates need to learn about the specific policy issues that the chamber is handling and to define new issues that they think are important and need to be addressed.”

    On the contrary, I feel the procedural part is important, but simple enough for a working knowledge to be learnt quickly.
    I think the “substantive” issues will often be too technical and will change too quickly for the members to stay on top of them. That’s what research staff is for.

    >”I suggested a year-long training period merely as a good round figure to start with.”

    And I suggested two weeks. Ah, the tyranny of round figures!

    The one place where I agree that a long learning period is required is the position of Speaker. I think I’ve said elsewhere that I think it should be filled by rotation every day or every two days amongst members with several years’ experience.

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  11. >Sortition is the procedure of selecting political office holders as a statistical sample of the population

    Strictly speaking, sortition is the random selection of political office holders. One of the consequences of random selection is statistical representativity and this is the aspect that appeals to you and me. But others (Dowlen, Stone etc) are interested in the prevention of factionalism and corruption, rather than descriptive representation, so we need a broader definition than the one you supply.

    >Such a [randomly selected] parliament would legislate according to the values and the interests of “the people”.

    That’s a very strong claim and you need to provide an argument as to why a group that looks like the people will automatically act in the interests of the people, bearing in mind that speech acts pertain to individual agents, not collectivities. It’s perfectly possible that an oligarchy, that looks nothing like the people may nevertheless act in the interests of the people and the converse is also true. The fact that you use scare quotes for “the people” would suggest some unease in the use of this concept.

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  12. I believe that sortition is one of the solutions that could be adopted to reform our democratic system. At local level (Provincia Autonoma di Trento) a popular committee has proposed a bill supported by 4.000 thousands signatures (in Italy the collection of the signature is regulated by mediaeval procedures) to improve political rights of citizens.
    http://piudemocraziaintrentino.org/2012/08/23/kei-points-of-the-bill/
    In the bill a proposal for an assembly of citizens appointed by sortition in order to evaluate issues of public interest is also included :
    http://piudemocraziaintrentino.org/ddl/#Pritani

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  13. Hi Ad,

    You raise some interesting points, some of which were discussed here in the past.

    Here are a few of links to past discussions:

    Conscription vs. voluntary service:
    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/daniel-baron-the-power-of-the-lot-are-people-obliged-to-participate-in-political-lotteries/

    Delegate salaries:
    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/common-lot-productions/
    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/sortition-on-youtube/#comment-970

    Length of service:
    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/institutional-design-power-parameters/
    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/daniel-hannan-selection-by-lot-better-than-appointment/#comment-1601

    Finally, regarding ongoing recruitment (“continuous change”): I see no clear advantages for this idea. On the other hand, I see two definite disadvantages:

    (1) Such an ongoing process will diffuse public attention to political process. I think focusing public attention on the political activity is very important in order to create a sense of responsibility and transparency. The reason that I suggested having the drawing done on a symbolic day was as a way to attract public attention.

    (2) Having groups of delegates sharing the same experience at the same time empowers the members of those groups. This is especially important for newcomers. Having each delegate go through the phases of service essentially alone atomizes the delegates and reduces their power relative to that of other people and groups in the system.

    By the way, I have read in the past the page you link to – possibly not with as much attention as one could wish for.

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  14. The thoroughness on this forum is great, and Ad’s page and Brian Martin’s essay http://bit.ly/MarLot are wonderful.

    But given the general public’s lack of ANY knowledge on sortition, I believe the details don’t matter at this point, and may serve only to overwhelm the general reader. It might be more useful merely to get people talking about sortition and alternative electoral methods. When the discourse is more widespread the nitty gritty can be delved into.

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  15. Hi Ahmed,

    > Fishkin’s work on citizen deliberative bodies

    We discussed Fishkin’s work occasionally here including the “What’s next California” project. See for example: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/the-san-francisco-chronicle-fishkin-promoting-a-citizens-advisory-council/, https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/fishkin-how-to-fix-california%E2%80%99s-democracy-crisis/, https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/prof-fishkin-is-keeping-busy/.

    Personally I think his work is problematic: it suggests models in which the randomly-selected participants are completely dependent on an agenda and setup determined by other parties.

    > I believe the details don’t matter at this point

    I generally agree. We should not get too hung up on details. The details should be determined on an ongoing basis by representative bodies rather than a-priori by self-appointed constitution writers.

    On the other hand not everything that has an allotment element to it can be considered desirable, so we should be mindful of the various parameters that affect the value of various proposals. There are, for example, two posts in which I tried to enumerate parameters that affect the ability of an allotted body to represent the interests of the population: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/institutional-design-power-parameters/, https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/internal-dynamics-design-parameters/.

    Like

  16. Hi Campbell,

    > Just like all first-year university students, no doubt.

    Snide remarks aside, the extent to which allotted delegates can be relied upon to independently learn about public policy and set the public agenda is a matter that is separate from the question of whether newly selected delegates are to be immediately vested with full powers or go through a training period. Whether on the job or during a training period, delegates would need to learn about the matters they need to decide upon – granting them full decision powers from day one would make no difference in this matter.

    > There would be no curriculum, and no teacher; new members would simply go and sit beside old members and not vote?

    Sitting beside old members, and having conversations with them should certainly be a major part of the training. However, I don’t see why the delegates could not arrange seminars on various relevant topics. Of course, which seminars to have and who would be running them would be determined by the delegates themselves, and attendance would at the discretion of the individual delegates.

    > It would be more economical

    Economy is a secondary consideration in my view. Having a body of experts providing professional services to the entire body (like the US Congress GAO) could be a useful institution, but it is not a substitute for a personal team – both technical personnel and policy advisers. Without such a team, the the professional body of experts becomes a powerful unrepresentative political body upon which the individual delegates depend.

    > I think the “substantive” issues will often be too technical and will change too quickly for the members to stay on top of them. That’s what research staff is for.

    I don’t understand this – do you expect the delegates to vote without understanding the issues? Will they just have to blindly follow the advice of the research staff?

    > And I suggested two weeks. Ah, the tyranny of round figures!

    That seems to me clearly insufficient. I know that when I start a new job, join a new team, or even embark on a new project, it takes me months to become productive. Remind me again, what’s the rush to get the delegates voting?

    Like

  17. Hi Alex,

    Great to have you drop by!

    I had a brief look at the Key Points page you linked to. I think it is important to keep the list shorter and to select carefully what goes into it. With so many different items on the list it is not realistic to expect to have enough public focus in order to pressure government into meaningful reforms.

    I also think that pushing toward petition-based political action, or any other form of mass participation – including elections – is misguided. Mass politics, in all its forms, suffers from the same drawback. See my posts on this matter: “Direct democracy” and mass politics – part 1 and part 2.

    By the way, you may be interested in this blog: http://blog.demarchia.info/

    Best,
    Yoram

    Like

  18. Yoram,

    >> “I think the “substantive” issues will often be too technical and will change too quickly for the members to stay on top of them.
    >”I don’t understand this”

    This morning, we vote on whether to ratify the international convention on bilge water in ships. This afternoon, it is a bill to change the list of prescription-only drugs to include the substances mentioned in Schedule A (attached). Tomorrow, there will be a discussion on the proposed new high-speed rail link between A and B. Then there is a proposal to change the syllabus in primary schools to include . . . and so on. No-one can be an expert in everything.

    >”do you expect the delegates to vote without understanding the issues?”
    Inevitably, yes, just as MPs have always done. The best political system possible isn’t going to make us omniscient or eradicate human stupidity. I expect though, that allotted members will tend to make honest errors, rather than “I always voted at my party’s call/ And I never thought of thinking for myself at all”. Not to mention straight-out corruption, and voting in view of the next election.

    >”Will they just have to blindly follow the advice of the research staff?”

    “Have to”? No. “Blindly”? That will depend on the individual member, of course.
    I understand your concern about the power that the research staff will have, it is something that I have thought about. However,
    1. There is probably more danger of abuse of power with the teams attached to each member as you suggest. Sir Humphrey and Bernard (it was Bernard, wasn’t it?) were adept at steering their Minister because they knew him like the back of their hands. You can’t know 500 members in this way.

    2. Since it will necessarily be a large group, and composed of people trained in different disciplines, you can expect a divergence of opinions on pretty much any topic. I imagine it would be filled by the normal public service advertisement of vacant positions, job interview, etc, so it would not be representative in the same way as a randomly selected body, though I suppose you could randomly select from suitably qualified applicants. (Horrors! an élite!)

    3. If they research queries posed by any of the ~500 members they are bound to get “inconvenient” inquiries, inquiries that don’t fit accepted wisdom or common prejudices. With a bit of luck there will be dissenting opinions expressed by the staff. If the results of all queries are available to all members, this should help them, if not “understand the issues”, at least get some balance.

    There’s no getting away though, from the research staff being subject to the academic fashions of the day. If Keynes is king, we’ll spend like drunken sailors; if it’s Friedman, we’ll have balanced budgets and starving widows.

    >”Remind me again, what’s the rush to get the delegates voting?”

    1 How interested in learning will they be if they can’t vote?

    2 Again, what harm can they do? Apart from being surrounded by senior members, for every new member who votes ‘yes’ for the wrong reason, there will probably be one who votes ‘no’ for the wrong reason. At the risk of setting your statistician’s teeth on edge, things will ‘average out’. Sorry, but you know what I mean.

    Once again, we’re off arguing about details, which is both good and bad. The main thing I wanted to say about your article was that it would have been nice to see at least a mention of the possibility of a pure sortition system.

    Like

  19. Campbell,

    > This morning, we vote on whether to ratify the international convention […]

    The delegates have to manage the number of issues they deal with using (further) delegation (to other allotted bodies or to appointed professionals). Going through a sham vote where most of the voters vote on issues they don’t understand is worse than worthless.

    This, by the way, is not a detail, I think. In my opinion, the whole rationale for using sortition is based on the idea that the decision makers should understand the issues they are facing. Replacing the rule of an electoral elite for a the rule of a professional body is not something I would spend my time advocating for.

    > 1. There is probably more danger of abuse of power with the teams attached to each member as you suggest. Sir Humphrey and Bernard (it was Bernard, wasn’t it?) were adept at steering their Minister because they knew him like the back of their hands. You can’t know 500 members in this way.

    This not only runs contrary to the standard theory of competitive markets, but also runs contrary to common experience, I think. Do customers get better service from, say, their cell-phone provider, which serves many customers, than does an employer from his employees which he or she hand picks and can dismiss or promote according to his or her satisfaction?

    Of course, a single expert body will not even face the minimal competition that a cell-phone provider does. Hoping that some chance variation within the body would provide the necessary representative range of opinion is too optimistic, I think.

    > There’s no getting away though, from the research staff being subject to the academic fashions of the day.

    The problem is not fashions, if that is taken to mean random variations not biased by interests. The problem is that people and groups of people tend to have self-serving world views. Having the delegates depend on a body of experts means that that body will wield significant political power it will likely use to promote the ideas and interests that it represents.

    > How interested in learning will they be if they can’t vote?

    They will be aware that they will have voting power in a year – that seems like pretty good motivation. But even if they don’t, and they simply waste their time idling (which seems highly unlikely to me), the downside seems relatively minor.

    > At the risk of setting your statistician’s teeth on edge, things will ‘average out’. Sorry, but you know what I mean.

    No – this is like claiming (as is often claimed) that uninformed voters cancel each other out. Being uninformed makes you susceptible to biases, not merely to unbiased variations. If this weren’t so propaganda would be ineffective.

    However, even if this were true and the only problem would be chance variation, this would still be a significant problem. The fact that delegates are routinely voting on issues on which they are uninformed would undermine confidence in the system and commitment to the system both by delegates and by the public at large.

    > Once again, we’re off arguing about details, which is both good and bad.

    Not all those matters are merely details – some of those apparently fine points matter a great deal in my opinion.

    > The main thing I wanted to say about your article was that it would have been nice to see at least a mention of the possibility of a pure sortition system.

    Point taken – I guess I should mention that the hybrid election/sortition system should be seen as leading, if all goes well, to a fully sortition-based system.

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  20. >Such a [randomly selected] parliament would legislate according to the values and the interests of “the people”.

    I’m still eagerly awaiting the argument that underlies this claim.

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  21. Yoram,

    Taking things somewhat out of order:

    >”Not all those matters are merely details – some of those apparently fine points matter a great deal in my opinion.”

    I didn’t say that I don’t think they matter, I agree that they do. But your article was a general introduction for people who have never heard of sortition, was it not? So my bringing up a lot of quibbles is perhaps out of place. (However, now that I’ve started, I might as well go on.)
    Another point is that, in my view and perhaps yours, the parliament itself would decide on its manner of functioning, and would settle these things to its own satisfaction.

    >”Having the delegates depend on a body of experts means that that body will wield significant political power it will likely use to promote the ideas and interests that it represents.”

    I think this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. We’re not really talking about a body of experts; I’m not, anyway. The research staff, whatever their original training and background, will become experts only in the narrow field of finding information – which means having excellent general knowledge, and being aware of where to go looking for info – scanning it quickly, and reducing it to digestible chunks. They will not normally be experts in anything else, and there’s no reason for them to have common interests and views except on their own pay and working conditions.

    However, there is one place where members will probably have to rely on experts, and that is in the drafting of laws, the translation of ordinary English (or whatever) into precise legal language (aka gobbledegook). I would hope that this could be cut to the minimum, but whenever a law is not totally unambiguous, you get judges deciding what the parliament meant, which means you are at the mercy of another, very formidable, group of experts, who are not always known for their love of common sense.

    >”Do customers get better service from, say, their cell-phone provider, which serves many customers, than does an employer from his employees which he or she hand picks and can dismiss or promote according to his or her satisfaction?”

    False analogy. Customers get fairly uniform but lousy service because phone providers are an oligopoly, and a near monopoly because charges are pretty much the same, and irate customers can only change to another, usually equally bad, provider. A dropped call might cost you thousands, but it won’t cost the company a brass razoo, and that’s about how much they care.
    And hand-picked employees, like courtiers in monarchies, can be self-serving, indulge in private wars and rivalries with their colleagues, or collude with them to lead the boss up the garden path. Yes, minister, unfortunately this happens.

    Researchers who acted dishonestly or who just didn’t perform could be sacked, or prosecuted in extreme cases.

    >”Of course, a single expert body will not even face the minimal competition that a cell-phone provider does. Hoping that some chance variation within the body would provide the necessary representative range of opinion is too optimistic, I think.”

    You put in the words “opinion” and “expert body”, not me.
    My researchers would be asked to produce (eg) historical or statistical data, results of scientific or other research, bibliographical or electronic references, perhaps opinions of recognised leaders in a particular field, but NOT their own opinions. My researchers are “gofers”, not experts.

    With a research pool:
    You could imagine it having two main functions
    1 Providing a general briefing on matters scheduled for debate. So before any member gets around to asking questions, there would be some sort of summary available.
    2 Answering requests for info by members. (Copies of answers should be sent automatically to all MPs.)

    Both functions would be performed by a smallish group taken out of the pool at random. Group members would act independently; they need not even know who else out of the research pool is dealing with the same query. The group would cease to exist when a question is answered or a briefing prepared, and its members would be available to constitute other groups. Ask a new question – or the same one again – and you get a different group answering.

    One point that occurred to me while typing this answer is that the research pool would be a prime target for special-interest groups (scientology, extremist religious groups, lobbies, foreign powers . . .) However, your hand-picked teams would also be targets, as are senior levels in the bureaucracy. I think the constant shuffling of the groups would reduce the dangers, and perhaps expose those with a hidden agenda.

    Incidentally, your personal teams are not incompatible with a research pool. You might well have both, and I think that’s for the parliament to decide.

    >”The fact that delegates are routinely voting on issues on which they are uninformed would undermine confidence”

    I’m all in favour of them being as well-informed as possible, Yoram. But I believe that the information should deal with one issue at a time, at the time when that issue is on parliament’s agenda. That will give them the best chance of grasping the complexities. I don’t see how you can hope to prepare them for four years of issues in advance, when you can’t possibly know what those issues will be. (Would you have given them a good long session on how to deal with bank crashes and financial chaos in 2006? Or prepared them for a long World War in 1911?)
    At the end of the day, though, every higher animal on the planet makes decisions based on imperfect knowledge.

    >”Going through a sham vote where most of the voters vote on issues they don’t understand is worse than worthless.”

    Hey, steady on! You’re attacking one of the fundamental principles of electoral democracy!

    Like

  22. Keith

    > I’m still eagerly awaiting the argument that underlies this claim.

    We’ve discussed this matter in the exchange which is concluded here. Unless you have new contributions on this topic, I see no reason to rehash it.

    Like

  23. The exchange you refer to appears to be on the subject of Athenian democracy; what I was requesting in this instance was a short explanation as to why a group that “looks like America” will automatically act in the interests of America. This is an objection that Peter Stone makes in his introduction to Callenbach and Philips and it merits a response. It’s also the distinction that Hanna Pitkin makes between “standing for” and “acting for” — it’s perfectly possible for an individual or a group to act in the interests of another (obvious examples being solicitors and other trustees) even if they can make no claim to stand for the other and the converse is also true. I’m not sure if this counts as a “new contribution” in your eyes but there is a massive lacuna in your argument that needs to be addressed.

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  24. In response to your request for new contributions on this topic, let me outline a few instances when the randomly-selected group might not legislate according to the values and interests of “the people”:

    1. If members of the group were not well informed on the policy issue in question and chose not to avail themselves of balanced information (or didn’t know where to obtain it).

    2. If the group contained individuals who managed to dominate the proceedings either on account of their personal charisma or perceived social status.

    3. If the group were swayed by a temporary mood or prejudice that was dominant in the nation at the time.

    4. If the group chose to put its own short-term interests above the long-term interests of the nation — ie to sacrifice the interests of the unborn for the sake of their own material comfort.

    Your claim of an automatic connection between “standing for” and “acting for” would need to refute all the above four points. In addition to this there is the perennial problem of majoritarian tyranny. Given your oft-stated view that constitutional safeguards are an abuse of democracy, your proposal would legitimate the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities by the [majority of] “the people”. The allotted parliament might, for example, choose to exterminate all Jews and distribute their property by lot.

    Like

  25. Hi Keith,

    I’ll be rude enough to butt in here, although you addressed Yoram. I hope you will both excuse me.

    >”1. If members of the group were not well informed on the policy issue in question and chose not to avail themselves of balanced information (or didn’t know where to obtain it).”

    If you look at the discussion above, we’re working on this.

    >”2. If the group contained individuals who managed to dominate the proceedings either on account of their personal charisma or perceived social status.”

    Your you-beaut mute moots can still be swayed by eloquent, charismatic, or supposedly high-status individuals outside the assembly. The Pope, Rupert Murdoch, television evangelists, the “shock-jocks”, the Mufti of Cairo . . .

    >”3. If the group were swayed by a temporary mood or prejudice that was dominant in the nation at the time.”

    In this case they would be acting “according to the values and interests of “the people”” at the time, even if everyone later came to regret it. Your objection suggests that you feel you know better than “the people”.

    >”4. If the group chose to put its own short-term interests above the long-term interests of the nation — ie to sacrifice the interests of the unborn for the sake of their own material comfort.”

    If by “its own short-term interests” you mean the interests of its own generation, then the answer is as for point 3.
    If you mean the interests of assembly members as opposed to those of non-assembly members, this can be avoided by prohibiting them from legislating on their own salaries, perquisites, and conditions, as I have suggested elsewhere.

    >”Given your oft-stated view that constitutional safeguards are an abuse of democracy, your proposal would legitimate the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities by the [majority ”
    A lot of discrimination against African-Americans in the south of the USA has been done in the name of safeguarding the constitution.

    >”The allotted parliament might, for example, choose to exterminate all Jews and distribute their property by lot.”

    I have often wondered whether an allotted parliament in Germany would have prevented these horrors. One can only speculate, but I’m inclined to believe that an allotted parliament (starting, say, in 1900) might have:
    Improved the lot of the working classes
    Not got wasted money on the naval arms race
    Not made bellicose statements involving shining armour
    Not supported Austrian intransigence over the ultimatum to Serbia,
    and hence perhaps
    Avoided the first world war, and the reparations following it, thus removing a great deal of misery and feelings of frustration and humiliation in the 1920s, so that there would be little interest in searching for scapegoats, or in radical solutions to problems which did not exist. Presumably Bolshevism would have been less appealing to the working class, and so less frightening to the bourgeois, so the radical alternative of the Nazis would also be less appealing.

    If sortition had been instituted in 1931, who knows? At least there would be the regular change in the parliament, though Germany would no doubt still have been seriously polarised.

    Pure speculation, of course, but worth thinking about.

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  26. Thanks Campbell, bear in mind that I’m not seeking to defend our existing electoral and advocacy arrangements; my argument has consistently been for an allotted parliament as the final decision-making body in a mixed constitution. In the case of pre-war Germany your speculations may well be right, but the precautionary principle would recommend constitutional checks and balances. Regarding point 3, I’m with Edmund Burke in insisting that society is a compact between the past, the present and the future and that arrogating supreme power to the present is as unjust as the denial of universal suffrage (OK, Burke never said the latter). What I am implacably opposed to is Gattism — ie government as the whim of a tiny oligarchy. Not only is this fundamentally unjust but the chances of it being accepted by the excluded masses are as close to zero as is imaginable. I’m genuinely puzzled as to why we are even debating it.

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  27. Campbell,

    > Another point is that, in my view and perhaps yours, the parliament itself would decide on its manner of functioning, and would settle these things to its own satisfaction.

    Certainly.

    > My researchers are “gofers”, not experts.

    This seems to be a fundamental point at which we see things very differently. In my view there are very few tasks that are so mechanical and well defined as to involve essentially no discretion. Certainly producing “historical or statistical data, results of scientific or other research, bibliographical or electronic references, perhaps opinions of recognised leaders in a particular field” is an activity with immense area for discretion which would shape the results produced and therefore with great political impact.

    > Researchers who acted dishonestly or who just didn’t perform could be sacked, or prosecuted in extreme cases.

    But how would that be determined? Dishonest or not performing according to whom? Would a majority of delegates be needed in order to dismiss a researcher? That would be terribly unwieldy on the one hand, and would be open to abuse on the other hand (dismissing researchers whose “research results” upset majority opinion).

    > Incidentally, your personal teams are not incompatible with a research pool. You might well have both, and I think that’s for the parliament to decide.

    Sure. I think that is essentially the existing situation, which I think should be preserved. And, yes, that is certainly something that the parliament itself, or a different allotted body, should decide.

    Like

  28. I have a PR publicity point and a couple of substantive points that I will add to the latest post, as this discussion is getting awfully long and one of my points being making the information on EqualityByLot more visible and accessible to a wider audience.

    Like

  29. Ahmed – we can create a post with your comments if that suits you. I can either set you up as a contributor to the blog or you can send me your comments in an email and I’ll post them for you.

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  30. Sorry, I had already started the second post before I read this. If you feel it more appropriate to make the second one an independent entry, go ahead. I do not think my point about publicity is all that important to most readers. At any rate, if you want me to do the things I volunteered to do, send me an email and I’ll start on it this week.

    Like

  31. > In response to your request for new contributions on this topic […]

    I am not sure there is enough innovation here to justify re-opening the discussion, but let’s give it another shot:

    Points 1, 2 and 3 are scenarios in which a group of people (in our case, allotted delegates, but the scenarios are not specific to them) make decisions which, by hypothesis, are “wrong”. Given some workable definition of “wrong” (e.g., the group later comes to regret its decision), this could certainly happen. However, it is a basic assumption of democracy that for a given level of resources, people are the best judges of their own interests. Upon this assumption, the fully self-determined procedure would be superior to any alternative (which, of course, are also prone to reaching “wrong” decisions).

    Point 4 is different. Here the allotted group makes decisions that are in accordance to its own interests and in accordance to the interests of the population from which it is sampled. However, in this scenario the decisions are judged by other people, who are not members of the population, as being against their interests. Again, this is certainly possible, but it is irrelevant for our purposes. If the members of the population (and therefore the members of the sample) see the interests of the non-members as something they should protect then they will take whatever steps they see as necessary to do so. If they decide those interests do not merit protection, what would be the basis to over-rule them?

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  32. Yoram,

    >”Certainly producing “historical or statistical data, results of scientific or other research, bibliographical or electronic references, perhaps opinions of recognised leaders in a particular field” is an activity with immense area for discretion which would shape the results produced”

    Yes. There will always be perfectly honourable differences of opinion. Hence the proposal for a number of people acting independently do do the research, so that what one misses, or considers unimportant, will be picked up by others.

    >”But how would that be determined? Dishonest or not performing according to whom? Would a majority of delegates be needed in order to dismiss a researcher?”

    In my experience, people with a barrow to push tend to get noticed by those around them very rapidly. If, for instance, every research enquiry is answered by a reference to the works of L. Ron Hubbard, after a few complaints by members, the boss (in the public service there always is a boss) might well call the person aside and say shape up or ship out. It might be a bit messy getting rid of them, but long before they were frog-marched out they would be notorious, and anything they produced would be taken with a huge grain of salt.
    I think you’re making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill here. Fanatics are few, and tend to stand out; so do people who do no work, or very little. Amongst our 500 or whatever allotted members, there will always be a few who are prepared to bang their fists on the table and demand better service. And they will have the power to make sure they get it.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Ahmed is quite right in saying this discussion is getting awfully long and I am the main offender here.
    He’s also right in wanting to make the information on EqualityByLot more visible and accessible to a wider audience. Which is why I wanted a page which outlined the basics of sortition and summarised the points that we all agree on and those that we don’t.
    As things stand, any outsiders must think “if these guys can’t get their act together and agree on something, why should anyone take them seriously”.
    For my part, I should like to say that pretty much all the proposals I have seen on this site, including most of those I have criticised, would be an improvement on the misgovernment we see with existing systems, and also that the details – which are certainly important – of a government based on sortition will have to be worked out in the light of experience.

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  33. >”it is a basic assumption . . .that . . . people are the best judges of their own interests.”
    We are often lousy judges of our own best interests, but what other basic assumption can one make?

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  34. On the issue of a research pool…
    I served as an elected legislator in the small U.S. state, Vermont. we got no individual staff, but rather relied on a legislative staff that served all three political party legislators. It worked very well, as the staff had to bend over backwards to be impartial and good in order to maintain their position (they could be removed if they were felt to show bias in their work. Also, legislators have no need to learn how to put concepts into language appropriate for laws…that is one of the jobs of the staff…to translate legislators’ intentions into legal language.

    In an allotted system, I would favor having a separate allotted body JUST deal with over-seeing the performance of staff (so they could focus on it). I would also having separate allotted bodies dealing with each issue area (akin to legislative committees in current legislatures)… so the allotted legislators CAN become well-informed on ALL bills they vote on.

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  35. Yoram

    Point 1: I agree that it is a basic assumption of democracy that people are the best judge of their own interests — this is tautologically true and I would also argue (pace Campbell), true in practice. But sound judgment is only possible when the jury (the body that judges) is well informed (along with other Condorcet-optimal conditions regarding independence, cognitive diversity etc). Your assumption that people can adequately inform themselves regarding issues that they may not have any prior knowledge would suggest that subjects we usually refer to as pedagogy and juristics are illegitimate. Indeed your use of scare quotes with the word “expert” would indicate that this is your view.

    Point 2: Why is ignoring the possibility of charismatic and high-status people dominating the proceedings “superior to any alternative”?

    Point 3 and 4: I also fail to understand why privileging the present is morally preferable to attempting to address the needs of future generations (and acknowledging the wisdom of the past).

    You have chosen to ignore my point on the need for constitutional checks to prevent the tyranny of the majority (perhaps because it was an unnumbered addendum).

    In sum your proposal is a good example of positivism taken to absurd extremes (combined with a sense of formal democratic proceduralism that would have impressed Joseph Schumpeter). According to the positivist/proceduralist view that I will name, in your honour, “Gattism”, the only positive/procedural test of the interests of the population is the preferences of a microcosm, as this is the only thing we can measure. Phrases like “well informed”, “the interests of future generations” and “past wisdom” are not operationalizable and therefore have to be ruled out. Strictly quantifiable language is essential in the field of software engineering, but human beings and the societies they generate cannot be reduced to algorithmic form. So perhaps you should stick to your day job.

    However point 2 is still addressable in positivistic terms — perhaps this is why you continue to ignore it. The point is extremely simple — mathematicians can indicate formally how a sample statistically represents the whole population, but this depends on the law of large numbers. Not so with the individual members of a small deliberative group, where the difference in the (illocutionary) weighting of individual members does not cancel out, especially given the open mandate that you are proposing (it would only cancel out in the act of silent voting, as every vote counts for an integer of one). So you are still hoist by your own positivistic petard.

    If you can bring yourself to reply, why not just respond to the last paragraph as it is amenable to the tools of your own profession. Everything else can just be dismissed as, in the words of the Vienna Circle, literally meaningless (unquantifiable).

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  36. Keith,

    Again, I feel like we are rehashing well hashed material and I don’t think the current iteration is adding much to previous iterations. I don’t feel that the new buzzwords you have thrown in (Schumpeter, “Gattism”, positivist/proceduralist view, quantifiable language) push the discussion forward.

    I will point out, in case it is necessary, that I am not claiming that any decision reached democratically is morally justifiable – this is obviously untrue. My claim is that the democratic assumptions [namely: (1) all people’s interests should have the same weight, and (2) under the suitable circumstances, every person is the best representative of their own interests], which I accept, make decision making by a self-determined, statistically-representative body the only morally justifiable decision-making procedure. Obviously, the only alternative to “a dictatorship of the majority” is granting power to a privileged minority. Calling this minority “a constitutional court” doesn’t make any substantial difference.

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  37. About new democratic political system and democratic electoral system.

    Each stage of society’s development tends to generate a new form of government that reflects the changes in social relations between the citizens and their government. The emergence and rise of new elites collides against the monopoly and privileges of the old ruling elite. What in crisis times initiates so-called “people’s revolutions” often leads to civil wars. But, because the new ruling elite maintain the paradigm of autocracy under the guise of democracy, such “democratic revolutions” only result in a transference of power from one group of elites to the next, something which is of little benefit to the well-being and development of society. And with each social movement, the process repeats itself again and again.

    A democratic revolution should be seen as a new stage of humanity’s development, primarily a new way of thinking and innovation in a system of social relations and governance. If it fails to do that then it is merely yet another ‘palace coup’ bringing grist to someone else’s mill. In the absence of the revolutionary idea arab democratic revolutions (“Arab spring”) were doomed to failure even before they started. Replacing leaders doesn’t alters the system allowing arbitrariness.

    A multipolar democratic governance that uses revolutionary decision making system and comprising several independent parties with a movable centre of joint decisions, would put an end to discord and would bring society together. It would also open a new, evolutionary way of development without social turmoil and without social and economic cataclysms. A working multi-party system within the government guarantees multiculturalism, tolerance and social stability within community.

    This governance revolution do not gives preferences to any of the political ideologies; it is a self-balancing democratic governance system, a step to collective common sense and a new civilization.

    A new political system as a real Democratic Revolution.
    http://www.modelgovernment.org/

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  38. Yoram,

    Positivism and proceduralism are not buzzwords, they are standard conceptual tools adopted by the political theory community. Gattism is a buzzword but, like Schumpeterianism or Marxism, is a useful shorthand for encapsulating a clearly-formulated political or analytical position. It just saves wear and tear on one’s computer keyboard. When someone says “Schumpeterian” all political scientists/theorists immediately know what they mean. Buzzwords are particularly useful for proposals like your own that can be stated in a single sentence, namely:

    >decision making by a self-determined, statistically-representative body [is] the only morally justifiable decision-making procedure.

    This has the merit of parsimony but is only true if

    a) you bracket out the non-quantifiable elements (“well informed”; “the interests of future generations”; “past wisdom” etc) and

    b) assume that the law of large numbers applies to the internal dynamics of a group of several hundred (which it doesn’t).

    I don’t expect a positivist/proceduralist to reply to a) as this would involve unquantifiable nonsense, but do expect a response to b).

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  39. *** If, really, there is a country where an allotted sample of the people, after due deliberation, will decide to kill an ethnic or “racial” minority, don’t think about changing the political system, only one thing is to be considered: the minority must secede territorially, or flee as soon and quickly as possible. Who could want to stay in a State surrounded by a majority of would-be murderers?
    *** Do you imagine really the Shoah decided in 1930 years by an allotted sample of the German people, even given the strength of the anti-Semitic ideology? Note that the history of the Nazi plebiscites (which, however twisted, are interesting) do not indicate so strong anti-Semitism: Hitler did not undertake any plebiscite related to “the Jewish question” – or actually to any of the issues where Hitler got his criminal reputation. The Nazi crimes were not decided by “direct democracy”, or by “semi-direct democracy”, but by an aberrant kind of “representative democracy”, with Hitler as representative.

    *** There is nothing undemocratic about a Constitutional Court, if the Court is a “citizen jury” chosen by lot. This was the Athenian way, in the final stage of the Athenian democracy (before its destruction by the Macedonian pikes). A law was to be voted by the legislators (nomothêtai) – which was a body chosen by sortition. But, afterwards, it could be judged and eventually nullified by the judges (dikastai) of a specific court – another body chosen by sortition; it could be nullified specially for being against the principles and norms of democracy (the Athenian constitution was not codified, as in contemporary Britain or New Zealand, but did exist in the common mind as a set of principles and norms). This was the “Graphê nomon mê epitêdeion theinai” (“case for introduction of an improper bill” – to be distinguished of the “graphê para nomôn”, which was about nullifying decrees not conform to laws). The Athenian system, in its final stage, was an example of democratic “rule of law”.
    *** How a judicial allotted body could contradict a legislative one? Because in this second step the citizens could be less emotional than in the first step (actually that could act as the bicameral system of representative States); and because in this second, judicial, step, the attention could be concentrated on the constitutional (or other far-reaching) sides of the issue

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  40. Thanks André, two points:

    1. The example of an allotted parliament deciding to kill all Jews and confiscate their property was purely hypothetical — an extreme illustration of how a klerotocracy could make entirely illiberal decisions in the absence of constitutional safeguards. I wasn’t suggesting that it was remotely likely, but it’s incumbent on those making structural proposals to speculate on all possible outcomes. In Yoram’s eyes it’s all fine and dandy because “democratic” procedures would have been correctly followed. My objection is that it is both undemocratic (from the perspective of the excluded majority) and potentially illiberal.

    2. Thanks for making the distinction between the two forms of graphê. I agree regarding the vital role of the nomothetai in 4th century Athens, the only thing you have missed being the fact that legislative jurors only voted on new laws that were sent for consideration by the Assembly. In the fourth century *anybody* could propose a new law, and *every* citizen had the right to vote on the establishment of the nomothetai. In fact laws had to overcome five independent hurdles:

    a) proposal (ho boulomenos)
    b) prelegislative scrutiny (probouleumata)
    c) assembly (ekklesia) vote to establish a nomothetai
    d) nomothetai deliberation and vote
    e) potential court challenge (graphê nomon mê epitêdeion theinai)

    It behoves those of us who believe in the principle of Athenian democracy to develop a modern-day analogue of this multi-stage process. Nothing could be further from Athenian political practice than Yoram’s plan for an all-powerful klerotocracy; nothing could be less democratic (from the perspective of the excluded minority); and the potential for illiberal outcomes (unchecked majority rule) are very serious. The only political theorist who might have taken this sort of concentration of sovereign power seriously is Jean Bodin or (possibly) Thomas Hobbes. The Athenians would have ostracised Yoram immediately (or worse) for the crime of proposing the overthrow of the democracy.

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  41. PS a modern version of the Athenian constitutional court would not *be* a jury it would *add* a jury to existing judicial practice. The Athenians had no professional lawyers or politicians as the legal code was comparatively simple (whatever Draco and Solon had recorded), nevertheless the arguments for and against were made by the accuser, with spokesmen for the defence being nominated by the Assembly. Jurors were not advocates, so the modern equivalent would add a jury to the existing structures, rather than replacing the professional lawyers.

    On the subject of proceduralism in the context of allotment, this would be the view that the process would be legitimate iff it had been established in law by popular referendum. A substantive approach would take issue with this, investigating the degree to which an allotted body represents the informed judgment of the whole population. I’ve argued at length elsewhere that this would limit the role of the allotted body to voting, whereas policy formulation and advocacy would need to come from elsewhere in order not to contravene democratic representativity. This is point (b) in my commentary, that is still awaiting Yoram’s response.

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  42. > constitutional safeguards

    What are those safeguards you are so keen about? Are we talking about a group of lawyers wearing black robes who will protect the oppressed minorities? Why would we be expecting them to do that any more diligently than a representative body? Is this based on your general sense that the unwashed masses are bloodthirsty bigots who are only restrained by the benevolent actions of a civilized elite?

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  43. I’ve consistently advocated a mixed constitution, that keeps the executive, judiciary, advocative and legislative powers separate. So yes a constitutional court would be a branch of the judiciary and would, like any other court, contain judges and lawyers. The difference, however, is that the final judgment would be in the hands of a representative jury, selected by lot. Other constitutional checks and balances include bicameral legislatures and the need for supermajorities to overturn constitutional safeguards. This would be entirely uncontroversial were it not for the fact that this forum is largely populated by klerotomaniacs.

    I await your considered response to point (b) in my earlier post.

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  44. First, something slightly off-topic but highly relevant to Klerotocracy or just better democracy.
    Harassed by all kinds of venal fund-raising letters from the Dems, I am staging a “social media coup” against the two-party system. None of the information in my article will be news to you, but you will get some good laughs out of these letters. Please visit and share!
    http://bit.ly/SpCoup

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  45. I am reposting this from the “summary page” because it is relevant to the discussion, regardless of how you feel about neologisms. My point is that a lot of the back and forth above begins with assumptions very tied to the current political system and to the word “government.” For example, the representative issues stems from the fact, and the conceptual separation, between rule and rulers. So far, it seems that this point has yet to be raise. So, here goes.

    ——————

    Regarding the representativeness and demarchy or deep democracy in general, here are my two cents.

    It was raised that whether the aim of sortition is a) representativeness or b) curbing corruption could entail different institutional details. I call these the “pro-active” and “prophylactic” motivations. Related to these, is the fundamental question, “Why make decision as a group in the first place?” That is, why democracy at all. To me there are two main justifications usually mentioned for democracy or “group wisdom”: a) cancellation of errors and b) the power of deliberation.

    It seems that “error cancellation” would suggest direct democracy merely using a “like” button where the law of large numbers could fix everything. I do not think this is what we imagine to be good government, and I state the obvious that too many important issues are not “quantifiable” in this way. So, that leaves us with deliberation as the ultimate justification for democracy, or the deeper democracy that sortition aims to achieve. Instead of making nice distinctions on the different senses of the word “represent” let’s ask: “How do we make deliberation better?”

    I’ll leave that there because there is another ultimate driver of democracy, which is more pressing, “political equality.” If we want to achieve it, it seems clear to all of us, and is becoming clear to more and more people in the US, Europe, ME, that elections do not work.

    Which brings me to my most crucial point. If we want to have a new kind of government, one built on reflecting the collective knowledge, values, goals of a society and coordinating that society’s social action, we need new ideals and some new language to reflect them. We also need new words able to move and “e-move” people.

    Whether you call the form of the regime “demarchy” “sortitive democracy” “participatory democracy” or “lottocracy,” if you call it “government” you betray the ideal of equality and representativeness — and you miss a chance to articulate the new values of a new type of state.

    The word “govern” means to rule over, ultimately coming from the Greek ” kybernân = to steer and kybernḗt = helmsman. You cannot “govern” over equals, you can only govern inferiors or those who lack something, knowledge, virtue, money, that you have.

    To that end, I thought about this last week and gave it a (first) try at a new type of ideal state:

    Politdoche = representative coadjument entity organizing a body politic. Gr polis (city) + doche’ (received).

    This type of organization would receive/reflect a people rather than command them. If you do not like this word, please help me find a better one. Because language matters, as evidenced by the way “democracy” now has come to mean something rather undemocratic.

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  46. Campbell,

    > Fanatics are few, and tend to stand out; so do people who do no work, or very little.

    I am not talking about fanatics, but simply about bias. A very relevant example is economists. Economists tend to see the world in a very specific way having been self-selected, selected and indoctrinated into this world view. They consider this world view to be the result of their superior intellect and knowledge. In reality it is simply self-serving dogma.

    > And they will have the power to make sure they get it.

    Again, I don’t see how. How would a handful of delegates be able to affect service any more than a handful of customers are able to affect the service they get from the cell phone provider? Would they have to organize the support of a majority of the delegates in order to dismiss a biased researcher?

    > I wanted a page which outlined the basics of sortition and summarised the points that we all agree on and those that we don’t.

    I have attempted to give a very short introduction in the “what is sortition?” page. I invite you (any everyone else who is interested) to offer additions or revisions.

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  47. > So yes a constitutional court would be a branch of the judiciary and would, like any other court, contain judges and lawyers.

    And, again, why should we believe that those judges and lawyers would do a better job at safeguarding the constitution than would a representative body?

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  48. >why should we believe that those judges and lawyers would do a better job at safeguarding the constitution than would a representative body?

    a) because they have been trained in the law (in the same way that you have been trained in software engineering) and

    b) because they will decide nothing, they are merely expert advocates. The final decision would be in the hands of an allotted jury.

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  49. > a) because they have been trained in the law (in the same way that you have been trained in software engineering)

    Why would having been “trained in the law” make the lawyer less likely to support oppressing minorities? This is not a question of laws but of morals. This is like claiming that their military training makes the generals less likely to advocate aggressive wars.

    > b) because they will decide nothing, they are merely expert advocates. The final decision would be in the hands of an allotted jury.

    This is neither here nor there – whatever influence they have can be used for good or for bad.

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  50. About Constitutional Courts, I would agree with Sutherland, and remind about some historical facts.
    In monarchic France, the “Parlement”, which was not a parliamentary body in contemporary sense but a High Court, could nullify the king’s edicts by refusing to “register” them as contrary to the Fundamental Laws of the Kingdom, or other norms. To enforce the registration of a controversial edict the king had to come and hold a very particular formal session called “lit de justice”. The king had to think twice, but he had the last word, because he was the sovereign.
    In contemporary French Republic, a representative State, the “Conseil Constitutionnel” decided that any “affirmative action” about women in elections was unconstitutional. Thus the constitution was amended in 1999 by the Parliament (with super-majority), overcoming the Council’s decision.
    Considering these two instances, we can imagine a modern day “dêmokratia” where there is a “Constitutional Council”, “of lawyers wearing black robes” as says Yoram Gat, because specific competences are needed in complex modern societies, but where the decisions of the Council could be nullified by an appeal to an alloted Court, who would have the last word, because the people is sovereign.
    President Obama criticized the famous ruling of the US Supreme Court in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”. Was this ruling a legitimate protection of free speech extended to corporations, or a path to plutocracy? In a modern “dêmokratia” an alloted body of citizens could consider the arguments of the President and the Judges, deliberate, and decide.

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  51. Agree with André. but only question the need for two separate courts, one comprised of black-robed lawyers and one comprised of a representative sample of citizens. In most courts the lawyers and the jury sit in the same chamber, the distinction being purely functional — expert advocacy in the former case and deliberative judgment in the latter. How could a lay jury in a constitutional court come to an informed decision without hearing the arguments? In the absence of legal advocates (for and against) they would have to rely on media reports, filtered only by their own prejudices. The 2003 (UK) Hutton Inquiry is an interesting example — the impartiality and publicity of the (non-democratic) judicial-style proceedings were widely praised, the only problem was there was no representative lay jury, so Lord Hutton’s “verdict” was vilified as a whitewash. Hutton’s background was with the Northern Ireland Diplock courts, so verdict by judge was something that he was entirely comfortable with; not so for anyone with a democratic inclination.

    Yoram, in a mixed constitution the sovereign has the last word. In monarchic France the sovereign was the king, in a demokratia the sovereign is the people. This does not preclude the other (non-democratic) elements from asking the sovereign to think twice. The ancient theory of the mixed constitution argues that liberty (and optimal epistemic outcomes) arise out of the conflict between monarchical, aristocratic and democratic interests. Unfortunately the mixed constitution has been unfashionable since the early seventeenth-century, having been replaced by the popular sovereignty paradigm (Bodin inverted). It will all end in tears because tyranny is tyranny, irrespective of the numerical composition of the single sovereign. Alan Cromartie gave a very interesting paper at the last meeting of the Popular Sovereignty Network (University of London) on the tyranny of the Athenian demos which should be required reading on this forum: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/hpt/projects/

    On your specific points: the decision whether or not to oppress minorities would be made by the representative jury, the advocates (for and against oppression) would simply try to sway the argument. As to whether their influence would be “good” or “bad”, I don’t know how to establish the necessary god’s eye view to make these distinctions, but I’m encouraged that you are now willing to consider qualitative issues, rather than just resorting to proceduralism.

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  52. Apologies, the Athenian tyranny paper was by Kinch Hoekstra:

    http://www.qmul.ac.uk/hpt/projects/meetings/

    Cromartie’s paper explained how the mixed constitution became unfashionable in the run up to the English civil war.

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  53. André,

    > Considering these two instances, we can imagine a modern day “dêmokratia” where there is a “Constitutional Council”, “of lawyers wearing black robes” as says Yoram Gat, because specific competences are needed in complex modern societies, but where the decisions of the Council could be nullified by an appeal to an alloted Court, who would have the last word, because the people is sovereign.

    I don’t think that “specific competences” is the issue here at all. Is oppression of minorities a matter of legal expertise?

    I don’t see any justification for privileging the opinions of lawyers in any way over those of other sections of society. One might as well suggest that constitutionality would be determined (unless over-ruled) by a chamber of teachers, or a chamber of academics, or a chamber of engineers, or a chamber of industrialists, or a chamber of blue-collar workers, instead of a chamber of lawyers. All those groups could also claim to have “specific competences” that justify that they would have a special status in determining matters of constitutionality.

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  54. Keith,

    > As to whether their influence would be “good” or “bad”, I don’t know how to establish the necessary god’s eye view to make these distinctions

    Exactly. In that case, you are proposing to introduce an influence that is neither representative (that is, it is anti-democratic) nor biased for the good. What is your justification then?

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  55. I’m not aware of any way of objectively determining the substantive good, and am surprised at your implicit suggestion that there might be. For my part I’m content with the considered judgment of a representative sample of my peers (I guess this makes me a better positivist/proceduralist than you). But judgment needs to be well-informed and, in advanced complex societies, expertise is domain-specific. If I want to build a house I consult an architect; if I want to understand the law then I consult a lawyer or constitutional expert. But I then use my own judgment as to whether I like the architect’s design and whether I agree that the law in question is just and prudent. My choice of house is (primarily) a private matter; but given that the law concerns us all, advocates for and against the law would need to opine, and a representative sample of those affected by the law would need to make the decision. If the law in question was to do with the persecution of minorities, then historians, moral philosophers, religious leaders, ethicists and others with domain-specific knowledge would also have a right to opine (alongside representatives of the minority group in question).

    What would be entirely immoral would be to leave the decision entirely to the prejudices of an allotted group, without any attempt to ensure that the decision was informed in a well-balanced way. This argument is entirely uncontroversial (to anyone other than a diehard kleromaniac), so I’m puzzled as to why I need to keep restating it.

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  56. > I’m not aware of any way of objectively determining the substantive good

    Exactly. So how would having a “constitutional court” be of any use for preventing the bad outcomes you are warning us about?

    > if I want to understand the law then I consult a lawyer or constitutional expert.

    That’s just great. If you want to consult a lawyer go ahead and do it, and so should anyone who thinks they should. Consult a plumber if you feel it is the right thing to do. But why do you think that you should have the right to force other people to listen to the people you would like to listen to?

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  57. >So how would having a “constitutional court” be of any use for preventing the bad outcomes you are warning us about?

    Because, in the absence of an independent standard of the good, the best we can hope for is the informed and considered judgment of a representative sample.

    >why do you think that you should have the right to force other people to listen to the people you would like to listen to?

    Because the idiosyncratic advocacy preferences of a small randomly-selected constitutional court (“my nephew is a law student, so I’ll ask him for advice” etc) are not subject to correction by the law of large numbers, so the resulting decision will not reflect the informed and considered judgment of the whole population, merely the random whims of those who happen to have drawn the golden ticket.

    Putting it slightly differently: if you want to ask a lawyer to fix your plumbing then that’s your prerogative, but if you are deciding on behalf of the whole nation then your personal eccentricity impacts on everyone else. If there were x million making the choice then personal eccentricities would be cancelled out, but then we have the problem of rational ignorance. Hence the need for external standards for balanced expert information and advocacy.

    However, given that you always use scare quotes for the word “expert”, I imagine there is no way that I can put this simple and banal point in a way that you will understand.

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  58. > Because, in the absence of an independent standard of the good, the best we can hope for is the informed and considered judgment of a representative sample.

    And clearly, it is you who will determine what “informed and considered” means, i.e., that it means consulting with establishment-approved lawyers.

    Of course, your choice of who to consult with is clearly the correct one, while other people, being “idiosyncratic” (unlike yourself), might make the mistake of asking the wrong “experts”. Therefore, it is right that you force other people to consult with the “experts” you choose.

    By the way, I see no reason for “a constitutional court” to be small (if it is to exist at all). The usual considerations apply, so as usual somewhere on the range of a few dozen to a few hundred people seems right.

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  59. 1. Experts on law are called “lawyers”. This is nothing to do with my personal predilections, you can verify it by consulting the Oxford English Dictionary.

    2. The internal workings of a group of “a few hundred” are not subject to the law of large numbers.

    I don’t think we’re making much progress here, so please don’t feel obliged to respond.

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  60. With so much going on at once in these comments, it’s hard to know where to begin. Three points that have not been raised yet, perhaps from the fresh perspective of a newb on EbyL.

    The general tenor of this debate, on procedure v substance for e.g., remains too grounded in current political thinking, adversarial, distrustful, grounded in control. For some, sortition is about a new form of political organization that “breaks the wall between ruled and ruler.” In that case, 18th C notions about sovereignty are/should become unnecessary, anachronistic, even meaningless.

    Academic thinking likes, maybe because it’s easier to teach, to label, categorize, “dichotomize.” The binary distinction between “proceduralism” and “substantive constitutionalism” gives the impression that there are no other options. In fact, I can see at least a 3rd, 4th, and 5th option. Briefly, a 3rd could be a mixed system where certain spheres are one or the other. A 4th could be a new kind of constitutionalism, let’s call it “aspirational constitutionalism” where the Constitution or Basic Law contains not legal pronouncements but a set of values that the Citizens Assembly must specifically consider and weigh before passing legislation. A 5th would be something like I believe some sects of Quakerism practiced, pure proceduralism that required unanimous or near unanimous decision making. We could come up with even more variations if we will.

    Third, addressed to Andre, Separation of Powers has another, more contemporary meaning, a functional one. Unfortunately we’ve lost the distinction in the word “legislature” that it probably once had in Latin. Executive and Judiciary are clear, to put into practice and to settle according to “justice” respectively. To legislate, however, is related to binding together, legitimating, according to values. In this case, the contention between the substantive Sutherlandism and procedural Gattism has a middle road. Yes, judicial review but only on interpretation and weighing of interests, not on values or social goals. Of course this is easier said than done.

    So, if I had to chose one “way” I would mix a form of super-majority-constrained assembly with broad powers with a weakened judiciary. But I still think point 1 above is the more important one at this stage of the game. Why sortition at all? What is the vision? Perhaps the reflections of a newb, but my informed intuition nonetheless.

    Lastly, on the tone of these comments. I know that this is a spirited yet respectful discussion; but I am afraid that to an Internet passerby, Kleroterians could appear to be bickering. Which I know is not the case!

    I am glad EbyL exists and includes so many sharp minds, and I hope to contribute regularly in the near and distant future!

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  61. Nicely put Ahmed. I agree completely on the need to avoid bickering. The problem with floating extreme political ideas, that transcend our current models by appealing to an idealistic vision is that they will only appeal to the converted (the fact that Yoram’s proposal was not well received on Haayal Hakore supports this claim). It behoves us all to make proposals that are reasonable in the eyes of the world, rather than to argue that klerotocracy is the only true democracy. This was not the case in classical Athens and its true place is in utopian fantasies such as Barbara Goodwin’s book Justice by Lottery. Let’s keep it real.

    The dichotomy between procedural and substantive approaches to democracy is a very real one and I’m not sure how one can achieve a middle way. Either a proposal serves to implement the considered judgment of the people or it doesn’t. The law of large numbers confirms this in the case of the aggregate judgment of an allotted assembly, assuming Condorcet-optimal conditions. But this is an “output” function, whereas agenda setting and advocacy are “input” functions, and do not apply to an allotted forum, assuming a substantive (rather than procedural) approach to democracy. I know you don’t like distinctions, but the literature on representation draws a clear line between “standing for” and “acting for”, and I only commented on this thread in order to point out that Yoram’s proposal fails to provide any argument as to why a body that looks like America should automatically act like America. Despite repeated requests this argument has not been provided, hence my sense of frustration.

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  62. > Experts on law are called “lawyers”.

    Really? So a procedure by which every delegate can consult with an “expert on law” of their own choosing would satisfy you? Of course not – you will insist that they must consult with those “experts” that meet with your (or the establishment’s) approval.

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with your original argument for having a “constitutional court”. How would expertise in law have any bearing on questions of oppressing minorities? Legality and oppression are two unrelated issues.

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  63. An example of constitutional safeguards is the obligation on the UK judiciary to ensure that parliament does not introduce legislation that contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights. This requires a detailed knowledge of the law and makes it much harder for UK governments to oppress minorities. Constitutional safeguards in general are based on the separation of powers (a principle that you reject) and, if the irritation of Home Secretaries trying to deport unwanted aliens is anything to go by, the separation of executive, legislative and judicial functions is an effective way of limiting power. None of this would apply in the case of an all-powerful allotted chamber, that’s why your proposal is so dangerously illiberal.

    I don’t have any fixed views on how expert advocates should be chosen in general but I was impressed by a suggestion on this forum a year or so ago that advocates should be selected by allotment from all civil society organisations deemed relevant to the national conversation. I appreciate that the latter is on the vague side (who gets to do the deeming) but steps need to be taken to ensure that advocates represent broad interests. I’m not sure that a house of advocates that included delegates from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Trades Union Council could accurately be described as the Establishment, but the desire to safeguard the national interest from transient moods and prejudices would suggest that a civil society organisation would have to be in existence for some years before inclusion. The unwritten British constitution is particularly amenable to this sort of approach — Ivor Jennings’ The Law and the Constitution gives a good description of the incremental process whereby institutions like the BBC, the TUC and the LGA were included by informal constitutional convention. How that might be possible in a country like the USA is more difficult to imagine. The important thing, though, is that the selection of advocates should not be at my whim, your whim or any other randomly-chosen agent, as the issues affect all of us not just those who win the golden ticket.

    This conversation would be much easier to pursue if you would explain (third time of asking) why it is that the random fluctuations in the internal workings of a small group should automatically be corrected by the law of large numbers. Random sample a) might contain a highly charismatic individual who managed to persuade his peers by sheer illocutionary force (and/or perceived high status) to adopt an eccentric policy proposal; whereas random sample b) might contain similarly powerful individual(s) who persuaded the group to follow an entirely different course. How could both assemblies “legislate according to the values and the interests of the people” if he policy outcomes are so different? A positivist would approve, so long as the correct procedures were followed and the votes counted accurately, not so for those of us who believe in substantive political equality.

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  64. > An example of constitutional safeguards is the obligation on the UK judiciary to ensure that parliament does not introduce legislation that contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.

    And are we supposed to believe that this procedure, that obviously puts considerable power in the hands of those who can declare a law unconstitutional, somehow decreases the chance that minorities are oppressed? Do we know that it doesn’t increase the chance that this happens? Again, if not, what is its justification?

    > I don’t have any fixed views on how expert advocates should be chosen in general

    How about the allotted delegates choosing the advocates themselves then?

    > (third time of asking)

    I feel that I have answered this question in this thread, and in other threads over and over again, while my repeated questions are not being answered.

    However, on the off-chance that this will make a difference, let me re-phrase my answer to match your re-phrased question.

    Having two allotted groups reach different decisions is certainly possible and I don’t see it as indicative of any problem. People can reach different conclusions, or change their minds, based on different circumstances, including being exposed to new arguments. So can groups of people. There is nothing surprising or problematic about this. What is problematic is when the circumstances are consistently manipulated in order to obtain biased results.

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  65. The protection of minorities against majoritarian tyranny is one of the functions of constitutional checks and balances. Nothing is perfect, but anything would be better than a single chamber (elected or allotted) with unchecked powers. This is just bog-standard constitutional theory.

    I’ve pointed out (repeatedly) the problem of allotted delegates choosing their own advocates: the law of large numbers does not apply, thereby contravening the very rationale for allotment (representativity).

    You would need an infinite number of allotted groups, not just two, to ensure that legislative proposals represented the informed preferences of the whole population and then you would need an additional mechanism to choose between those generated. There are much more parsimonious ways of generating policy options that reflect the popular will.

    The requirement for balanced advocacy is in order to protect the process from biased results.

    With the exception of my friend Trenton Oldfield (google him), I’ve never come across anyone else whose hatred of elite expertise has led to such bizarre proposals. This would be harmless were it not for the fact that proposals for sortition as the only valid democratic principle discredit our movement in the public eye. This is why I feel duty-bound to point out the flaws in your argument; unfortunately this ends up in a series of flames that just drive everyone else away, so I think we should terminate this exchange.

    But I would urge you, if only for strategic reasons, to keep your extreme proposals to yourself, so as not to undermine the nascent interest in sortition as a serious political programme, rather than a utopian fantasy.

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  66. > This is just bog-standard constitutional theory.

    In other words, since you are unable to provide a sensible argument, you fall back on convention. Not an impressive intellectual maneuver.

    > keep your extreme proposals to yourself

    Tsk, tsk. Such clumsy attempts to silence people you disagree with merely expose your underlying authoritarianism. On the other hand, this mindset explains your proposals much more convincingly than your entire corpus of comments.

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  67. Some points on the issue of a single allotted legislature with powers of initiation and debate and judicial review…

    1. Keith suggests the fact that different random samples of people might come to opposite policy decisions (because of the skill of orators, or the like), shows that one full-power allotted assembly can’t speak for “the people.” Note that this is no different than the situation with an elected legislature. Indeed a single legislature (whether elected, allotted, full-power or not) might adopt policy A if voting in the morning, but policy B if voting in the afternoon. Yoram’s point seems to be that since the views of each of us is subject to constant change, so too is the “will of the people,” and all we can ask of a legislature is that leave open the opportunity to make decisions the people would like and that it not have a built-in tendency to REJECT what is best for the people. It may be that both policy A and B are reasonable (at least would seem so to most citizens), so we don’t need to fret about variations between different hypothetical allotted chambers.

    2. I think it is wise to always have a second set of eyes look at legislation…thus bi-cameral legislatures, judicial review, and the Athenian multi-layer system of review and reconsideration. I think it makes sense to maintain this principle in an allotted democracy. In general, I think each of the reviewing bodies should also be selected by lot to avoid corruption and concentration of power, etc.

    I will refer readers to the summary of my detailed multi-body sortition model at the NewDemocracy web site here:
    http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=194&Itemid=129&showall=1

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  68. Terry, I agree that elected legislators can be equally inconsistent, the difference being that people get to choose who their representative is and can fire those who have betrayed them. Not so with allotted representatives who possess the harlot’s prerogative, hence the need to restrict their behaviour to actions that are open to aggregation. At the moment the only obvious candidate for aggregation is voting, but I’m open to persuasion that other speech acts can be aggregated in a representative way, although I can’t imagine what form they would take as speech acts are, by definition, performed by individual human agents who are unequally endowed with intelligence, status, rhetorical powers etc. How would you go about aggregating qualitative behaviours to ensure that they accurately represent the wishes of the whole community?

    I’m glad you agree regarding the need for checks and balances to constrain the tyranny of a single allotted chamber. Is sortition to be the only selection mechanism for reviewing bodies or is this supplementary to some other constitutive principle? What I’m referring to is the earlier suggestion (I forget the name of the author) that allotment should be used as a secondary mechanism in the house of advocates. If sortition is the only principle then a very large number of parallel chambers would be required and their are far more parsimonious ways of empowering the people.

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  69. > Yoram’s point seems to be that since the views of each of us is subject to constant change, so too is the “will of the people,” and all we can ask […]

    Exactly.

    > I think it is wise to always have a second set of eyes look at legislation

    There are good reasons in favor and against having multiple decision making bodies, either with or without differentiated purviews. Democratic principle, however, requires that all decision making bodies would be representative, i.e., constituted through sortition.

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  70. >Democratic principle, however, requires that all decision making bodies would be representative, i.e., constituted through sortition.

    This is true in the case of the decision function, not so with regard to policy formulation and advocacy, for the following reasons:

    1. There are no historical examples of democratic government by sortition alone. Athenian democracy during the classical period comprised a mixture of election, sortition and direct democracy. Although the weighting of the three elements varied over time, the direct element (the assembly) was the most important, appointment of the council by sortition being a way of ensuring its primacy.

    2. From an analytic perspective you frequently cite the claim of the canonical authorities (Aristotle and Montesquieu) that sortition is characteristic of a democracy as it involves ruling and being ruled in turn. But the principle of rotation only applies to small poleis, and is completely irrelevant in large modern states.

    3. This being the case you naturally resort to the principle of representation (not applicable to 1 and 2 above as the Greeks had no concept of political representation). I agree with you that representation is the principal modern function of sortition and disagree with Dowlen and Stone’s claim that it is purely a mechanism to protect the polity against corruption and factionalism. However the principle of descriptive representation only applies to aggregate functions like voting, and does not apply to individual speech acts, where the principle of large numbers cannot negate the substantial variation in illocutionary power that each allotted member has.

    In sum if you want to contribute to this debate you need to move beyond repeating slogans derived from quoting the canonical authorities out of context and provide us with some sort of argument as to how rule by a small and all-powerful klerotocratic oligarchy (or multiple oligarchies) is democratic. Those of us who are making the entirely new case for sortition as a representative principle need to think carefully what descriptive representation can and cannot do, Pitkin’s work being the best example to date.

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  71. TB > Yoram’s point seems to be that since the views of each of us is subject to constant change, so too is the “will of the people,” and all we can ask […]

    For those of us who think there is more to democracy than following the correct majoritarian procedures, this is a good argument why random fluctuations in the will of the people need to be moderated by institutional arrangements that privilege past wisdom alongside the rights of the unborn. Otherwise we might end up exterminating the Jews and dividing up their property amongst ourselves, if such is the will of the people. This would suggest the value of a mixed constitution, as a multitude of allotted bodies would be equally victim to a widespread temporary prejudice. This is the role of black-robed judges, academic historians, theologians, ethicists etc. — all members of Yoram’s despised club of establishment “experts”.

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  72. > Otherwise we might end up exterminating the Jews and dividing up their property amongst ourselves

    Despite having repeated this line ad nauseam, and despite having been asked about this over and over again, you have not provided any reason to think that the institutional arrangements you propose would reduce the chance that such a scenario would happen.

    As I pointed out a few dozen comments up this thread, you are simply assuming that unlike civilized people who wear black robes and carry academic credentials, the unwashed masses would take any opportunity to murder and plunder.

    Can’t you at least muster the candor to state your beliefs explicitly instead of hiding behind regurgitated cliches?

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  73. >Can’t you at least muster the candor to state your beliefs explicitly instead of hiding behind regurgitated cliches?

    The privileging of advocacy rights by the following elite “establishment” figures would help counter the risk of majoritarian tyranny in the following specific way:

    Historians would tell the story of earlier holocausts.
    Ethicists would explain the categorical imperative.
    Religious leaders would expound on the sanctity of life.
    Lawyers would explain the universality of human rights entitlement.

    etc. etc.

    You would prefer allotted groups to choose their own advocates. Well in the UK, for example, the best-known historians are David Starkey (an expert on the Tudors with far-right views), David Irvine (a holocaust denier) and Dan Snow (because he’s a fit looking guy who is on TV a lot). If, however the historian advocates were nominated by, say, the Institute for Historical Research at UCL (or a similar professional body), the choice would be an expert in holocaust studies who was held in high esteem by his peers (rather than the general public, who are, for the most part, ignorant on the topic). If there is a risk of bias in the appointment, then sortition could be utilised among the members of the professional body with the appropriate qualification. I’m deeply puzzled as to why you find this problematic, as it strikes me as a case of simple common sense. In fact I imagine that even among the most extreme kleroterians you would find it hard to find many others who share your decision to scare-quote the word “expert”.

    In addition to the elite advocacy rights detailed above, constitutions might well enact John Burnheim’s principle that those most affected by a decision (ie the minority in question) should have a statutory right to address the assembly. This would all help to protect minorities from majoritarian tyranny. There might also be entrenched human rights statutes that could only be overturned by a supermajority in both houses and the signature of the head of state.

    Is that specific enough for your requirements? I’m sure that experts in constitutional law could come up with many other safeguards based, primarily, on the the separation of powers (another constitutional principle that you deny, claiming that it’s just a form of elitist propaganda).

    The sheer, dangerous, eccentricity of your constitutional vision is why we need a term to quarantine it — Gattism. My problem is not the countless hours that I have to spend pointing out its absurdities, its the fact that the resulting flames send everyone running from the only serious forum on sortition, hence my appeal to you to keep your extreme and illiberal views to yourself.

    I’m relieved that you have chosen to ignore the three questions in my earlier post, otherwise we will be here all night.

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  74. I think the temporal factor Keith raises is valid…it is even true for the INDIVIDUAL…The present me wants to eat snack food, but commit the future me to eating nutritious food and exercising. But when that future arrives, the now present me would prefer to eat salty snacks while watching TV.

    Likewise for a legislative process…The current legislature might want to make a decision that seems desirable for the present, while wishing both the past and future legislatures would focus on what is good in the long run. For example, If a legislature is adopting rules that will bind a FUTURE legislature, since they don’t know exactly what issues that legislature will be tackling, they will want rules that will protect their future selves from abuse (rules might require timely notice of agenda items, protections for minorities, etc.) but in the PRESENT moment, the majority of an unrestrained body might recognize that the majority can simply push through a bill without regard to minorities, and prefer to adopt more expeditious rules just for this moment. In other words, we are more careful about crafting fair rules that also protect minorities if we understand that OUR interests could be the minority in the future. Thus I think it makes sense that a legislature should only adopt rules for a different legislative body than their own, whether temporal or simply separate (except by super-majority).

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  75. Agree with Terry that protecting the interests of the unborn is the big problem — the past makes itself present in the form of institutions and traditions. But I don’t see how multiple legislatures established by the same principle (sortition) would render themselves immune from domination by a widespread current prejudice — surely this would have to come from an institution that was established by a different selection mechanism. I’m unsure as to what that might be, the suggestion that I’ve made before is that, in the same way that parents want their children to inherit their property in good condition, the interests of the unborn would be best protected by a constitutional monarchy, that represents the “freehold” interest. This is likely to prove an unpopular proposal but I can’t think of anything better.

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  76. > Historians would tell the story of earlier holocausts.
    Ethicists would explain the categorical imperative.
    Religious leaders would expound on the sanctity of life.
    Lawyers would explain the universality of human rights entitlement.
    etc. etc.

    This little fable would have had a modicum of plausibility if we haven’t been seeing all those “experts” cheering on every act of aggression and oppression pursued by the reigning powers throughout recorded history.

    I would have been touched by your naivety if it weren’t so clear that your underlying mindset here is in fact authoritarian and your ostensible naivety being merely an act.

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  77. I don’t think there is any evidence that experts (including historians, ethicists and religious leaders) are any more or less aggressive than everybody else; one would expect them to broadly reflect the natural psychological spectrum of the general population. I know some very kind and gentle historians and have a number of friends who are priests and they strike me as reasonably decent people — certainly not prone to aggressive outbursts or favouring schemes to oppress the people (although you might consider that the last group are conspiring to opiate them). The only distinguishing characteristic of an expert is that she is knowledgeable in a chosen domain and the level of her distinction is determined by a process of peer review. Your depiction of elites as inherently aggressive and oppressive reminds me of Arthur Robbins’ machiavellian theory that political leaders are inherently psychopathic and that the masses are inherently virtuous. If there is any naivety on show I think it’s in respect to this trope and it certainly helps make sense of your own highly unusual proposal for the political potential of sortition. If the elite is intrinsically oppressive/aggressive and the masses intrinsically virtuous then statistical representation (which disempowers elites) will allow virtue to predominate. Robbins could at least base his view on his own expert professional knowledge of psychopathy, but where do you derive yours from? This is a serious question as I’m genuinely struggling to understand the provenance of your proposal to arrogate absolute sovereign power to a klerotocratic oligarchy which would strike most constitutional “experts” (aggressive/oppressive or otherwise) as extremely dangerous and illiberal.

    Regarding your accusation of authoritarianism, yes I do believe that the views of those who are acknowledged authorities (aka experts) in a particular domain should be privileged in deliberations that pertain to that particular domain — in this respect I am in agreement with Burnheim. But I also believe that experts should have no part in the final decision, which should be taken by a large allotted jury (this is where I part company with Burnheim). So I suppose that would make me an authoritarian democrat.

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  78. Keith,

    >” if the irritation of Home Secretaries trying to deport unwanted aliens is anything to go by, the separation of executive, legislative and judicial functions is an effective way of limiting power.”

    So the “fused” (your word) British system has some advantages after all, according to you. Given that Ministers responsible for government departments are elected members of parliament, the separation between the executive and the legislature is pretty imperfect. In the US, the vetting of Supreme Court judges by the Congress means the separation between the legislature and the judiciary is a bad joke.

    It’s a bit hard to understand your faith in constitutions. They seem to have about as much effect as those in power wish them to have. In most countries the constitution is simply disregarded; in the US, its interpretation is perverted so that it serves as a pretext for legislative and judicial outcomes that are surely far from the founders’ intentions. Even when they seem to work fairly well, changes in interpretation over time alter their character.
    At the end of the day, constitutions can always be changed, whether by vote, by popular agitation, by putsch, or by revolution.

    >”I don’t see how multiple legislatures established by the same principle (sortition) would render themselves immune from domination by a widespread current prejudice”

    In my view, you’re not going to prevent “domination by a widespread current prejudice” with _any_ constitutional arrangements you can dream up. What constitution in mediaeval Europe would have prevented the widespread Christian prejudice against atheists, Jews, Muslims, and “heretics”, and prevented their persecution? If enough people like Peter the Hermit start shouting “God wills it!” you’ll have a Crusade – as 21st century history has shown.
    And you worry about the “illocutionary powers” of an allotted representative, as if they were the only ones who might have loud mouths!

    >”Religious leaders would expound on the sanctity of life.”

    Indeed they would. And on the necessity to preserve it with fire and sword, using examples from the Old Testament, or calling for the stoning of adulterers and blasphemers.

    Keith, sometimes I wonder if the rest of us here are not unwitting participants in a sociological experiment that you’re running in connection with your PhD. Something like “How much repetition is necessary to make ordinarily intelligent people swallow complete nonsense?” I’m not sure that a denial by you would completely reassure me. Not even if you repeated it.

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  79. Campbell, I agree that the actual separation of powers is a shadow of Montesquieu’s ideal type. I’m with Hansen (see his article in History of Political Thought) that the ancient doctrine of the mixed constitution is a better candidate than the separation of powers for the protection of liberty from the tyranny of any of the partners. I’m certainly no fan of written constitutions and am well aware of the ability of US constitutional amendments, written in stone, to block sensible legislative proposals. But it’s better than nothing — constitutions can be changed, in all the ways you mention, but change tends to be slow, so they act as a brake when a people are seized by a temporary passion which they might later come to regret. As such they are an essential part of Burke’s compact between the past, the present and the future.

    Constitutional checks and balances are certainly better than dangerous and illiberal proposals for an allotted chamber with absolute powers. I’m worried by unchecked illocutionary powers from any source — all power should be balanced by opposing forces. I recommend you read Charles I’s response to the nineteen propositions of parliament — the last defence of the ancient doctrine of the mixed constitution and (in Pocock’s view) the first modern republican tract. The important thing about the ancient doctrine is that it’s based on actual “clout” rather than hypothetical and artificial entities such as “the sovereign” or “the people”. Dividing up power is premised on the idea that it was originally unitary, so you end up back with Bodin, Hobbes and Rousseau.

    I’m certainly not running a sociological experiment. I don’t doubt your intelligence but I do think the fanatical defence of klerotocracy as the only show in town would be viewed as “complete nonsense” by most intelligent people. I’m as sorry as you that I have to keep repeating these points but what else can you do when faced with repeated statements such as:

    “Such a [randomly selected] parliament would legislate according to the values and the interests of “the people”.

    If someone could explain to me why this is true, then I wouldn’t need to repeatedly point out that “acting for” and “standing for” are distinct forms of political representation and there is no necessary connection between the two. (This isn’t my argument it derives from Griffiths, expanded on by Pitkin and repeated by Stone in his introduction to Callenbach and Philips.) If Yoram and you want to repeat this claim then you need to explain why it’s the case that a group that looks like America will, of necessity, act like America.

    I continue to live in hope, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  80. Keith,

    > I don’t think there is any evidence that experts (including historians, ethicists and religious leaders) are any more or less aggressive than everybody else

    Then, again, why should we believe that privileging those groups would help prevent “exterminating the Jews and dividing up their property amongst ourselves”?

    > Regarding your accusation of authoritarianism, yes I do believe that the views of those who are acknowledged authorities (aka experts) in a particular domain should be privileged in deliberations that pertain to that particular domain

    The authoritarian part is not the fact you have faith in “acknowledged authorities” (acknowledged by whom?). You are certainly entitled to have faith in whomever you would like. The authoritarian part is the fact that you think you should be able to force everybody to accept the same faith that you have.

    Now that I think about it: isn’t forcing your faith on others the opposite of what your “acknowledged authorities” supposedly stand for? Rather ironic.

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  81. Campbell,

    > Keith, sometimes I wonder if the rest of us here are not unwitting participants in a sociological experiment that you’re running in connection with your PhD. Something like “How much repetition is necessary to make ordinarily intelligent people swallow complete nonsense?” I’m not sure that a denial by you would completely reassure me. Not even if you repeated it.

    Heh.

    To me the disturbing part is that most commenters on this site remain stoically neutral toward Keith’s “nonsense”, neither explicitly accepting it nor explicitly rejecting it, and sometimes even jumping to Keith’s defense when his tactics are criticized. This allows Keith to keep his experiment going and keep claiming disproportionately large parts of the public space on this site.

    Interestingly, this demonstrates a general point of importance: even for very small groups when most group members perceive the stakes as being low, a-typical self-selected parties come to dominate group dynamics. This makes proposals such as John Burnheim’s demarchy (which calls for forming a multitude of allotted bodies) highly unlikely to produce democratic outcomes.

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  82. >Then, again, why should we believe that privileging those groups would help prevent “exterminating the Jews and dividing up their property amongst ourselves”?

    I listed four reasons above, namely:

    Historians would tell the story of earlier holocausts.
    Ethicists would explain the categorical imperative.
    Religious leaders would expound on the sanctity of life.
    Lawyers would explain the universality of human rights entitlement.
    etc. etc.

    If you don’t bother to read what I say then, I’m afraid I have to repeat myself.

    >The authoritarian part is the fact that you think you should be able to force everybody to accept the same faith that you have.

    Not so, faith in authority and expertise is widespread in most societies, albeit less so than in early generations. You generally like to attribute this faith to indoctrination, I would attribute it to a natural deference towards those who know what they are talking about. Professional accreditation and the principle of peer-review are not things that I have personally dreamed up, they are part of the process of distinguishing between signal and noise that most societies adopt.

    >even for very small groups when most group members perceive the stakes as being low, a-typical self-selected parties come to dominate group dynamics.

    Absolutely right — I fully agreee. I’m all for a modern version of Solon’s Law, according to which, in times of stasis, all citizens/members etc should be obliged to take a position in an argument, rather than just sit on the fence. If that were to happen I think Campbell and yourself would be surprised to find yourselves in a very small minority and would likely seek constitutional checks and balances to make sure you were not oppressed by the tyranny of majority opinion. Unfortunately the silent majority cannot be forced to speak, and most of them have already been driven away by the fact that we have made no progress whatsoever in resolving these fundamental issues.

    I’m totally at a loss as to how to resolve this impasse. I would walk away myself, however I’ve been working on little other than sortition for over a decade and there are no other forums on which to debate. Who would like to pick up the mantle of Solon and oblige all members to take a side in this long-running stasis? Terry, Peter, Conall, do I hear you volunteering?

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  83. Keith,

    > I’m as sorry as you that I have to keep repeating these points but what else can you do when faced with repeated statements such as: […]

    Since you ask, let me give you the obvious answer: the standard response is to disagree and keep silent, once it becomes clear that continued argumentation is unproductive. Go ahead and keep making the statements that you feel are justified, but allow others to make the statements that they feel are justified, without exposing them to your harassment.

    > If Yoram and you want to repeat this claim then you need to explain why it’s the case that […]

    Certainly not. Of course, as it happens I have explained my position to you many times over in this thread and in others. However, you should realize that neither I nor any other commenter “needs” to answer questions that you pose in order to continue expressing our opinions. Your rude demands betray, again, your authoritarian way of thinking.

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  84. Although I approve various ideas of Keith Sutherland, especially about the drawbacks of an all-powerful allotted chamber, I cannot accept many of the points he made on April 07.
    *** About sortition in Athens, Keith says:” the direct element (the assembly) was the most important, appointment of the council by sortition being a way of ensuring its primacy”. It is not true about the second Athenian democracy. I will not discuss here about the Council. But in the age of Demosthenes the Assembly could only initiate a legislative process; the allotted Legislators were the deciding body. And the last word was given by allotted Courts, who could nullify any decree (of the Council, and of the Assembly) as being contrary to laws, and any law as contrary to constitutional principles, or other high reason. The Assembly was the more important in the questions of foreign policy and war – which were clearly very important as there was more often war than peace in classical Greece. But for any other subject the Courts had the last word. That explains that for Aristotle (Politics, III,1,7-1275a) the “ekklêsiastês”, citizen in Assembly, and the “dikastês”, citizen in Court, were both ‘kurios” – exercizing the sovereign power (right, he did not say that about the “bouleutês”, councilor).
    *** About rotation, Keith says: “the principle of rotation only applies to small poleis, and is completely irrelevant in large modern states”. Athens was not so small, and the rotation was actually “virtual rotation”: no citizen could be sure to get in a ruling allotted body someday, especially given the dispersion of life expectancies, but he had the same chance than another citizen; and he was sure that among the ruling body there were citizens with a profile like him, that he as a type was not excluded. This was the meaning of “being ruled and ruler at turn”, one of the two sides of democratic liberty as conceived by the Greeks (the other one being the individual liberty – see Aristotle, Politics, VI,2,4-1317b). And note that in a complex modern society, dêmokratia would need involvement of citizens in legislation, defining of policies, Courts, supervision of the administrative apparatus; a big amount of work for citizens as rulers.
    *** Keith says “the Greeks had no concept of political representation” and the sortition had no “representative” function in Athenian democracy. This is a difficult subject; and it is sure that the Greeks had not the (very recent) concept of “representative sample”. But to give such a power to allotted bodies, often the last word, in a dêmokratia implied some idea of representation. We have no work by a democrat philosopher (the works of Protagoras are lost) but we have a fragment of democratic theory in the “Suppliant Women” by Euripides, with this sentence “dêmos d’anassei diadokhaisin en merei eniausiaisin”, “the people rules by turns through annual successions” (v 406-7), which refers evidently to the allotted bodies of Athenian democracy as a form of the people’s rule.
    *** Keith speaks of “klerotocratic oligarchy (or multiple oligarchies)”. Logically you cannot deem as “oligarchic” a sample of the citizen body, mirroring it. Historically never were the allotted juries in ancient democracies seen as “oligarchic” in contrast of the Assembly; we cannot find this idea neither in democrat texts nor in anti-democrat texts.
    *** Keith says “There are no historical examples of democratic government by sortition alone”. Actually we have few information outside Athens. Some democracies could have in their system an even bigger part of sortition /rotation, if we consider the variety of democracies indicated by Aristotle (Politics, IV, 178-1298a). A (late) example of a democracy by rotation is given by Cicero about Rhodes (De Republica, III, 35).
    Anyway even considering only Athens, and given the impossibility of governing a modern society by general voting, even with tele-voting, organizing a modern dêmokratia by sortition is only a step more than Athens, in the same direction taken in the fourth century by the Athenian democracy.
    *** Voting without good deliberation is bad, whether through election, or through referendum – or through sortition. Right. But it is possible to organize deliberation with a mini-populus, to quote Dahl, whereas except special cases it is impossible for elections and referendums. The subject of deliberation using modern technology and ad hoc procedures is the subject we should concentrate into. Only an example: when a policy is especially sensitive for a minority, maybe we could think of preliminary meetings of small groups half-minority, half-general citizenry, to have the sovereign more conscious of the minority problems and feelings. Clearly, that would be of little use in a society where two peoples are in cold war. Democracy is the power of “the” people, and is meaningless in a State including two peoples.

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  85. Keith,
    Short answer, I’m short of time.

    >”you need to explain why it’s the case that a group that looks like America will, of necessity, act like America.”

    Is your main concern that the group will be unduly influenced or misled by one or more outspoken members? In doing so it would behave exactly like America :¬)

    I can’t answer for Yoram, but I would not hope for the group to behave like America, but rather like an America that had the time and resources to examine all aspects of issues, to discuss them with their colleagues, then to go away and vote in private as they considered best. Yes, sometimes they will be influenced by others, unless their minds are completely closed, and they can’t all be like that. Often it will be for the good (whatever that may be).

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  86. André

    I completely agree regarding the relative power of the assembly and the courts in the 4th century. My argument was specifically about the role of the council, as some people on this blog have made the anachronistic case that policy proposals were the result of deliberative exchanges in the council, whereas all the authorities insist that the council was purely an administrative secretariat. In this sense sortition served two functions in Athens: in the case of the boule (and other collective magistracies) it was to preserve the supremacy of the general assembly; in the case of the courts it was in order to allow space for deliberative scrutiny. Whether the Athenians considered either body to serve a representative function is an interesting question — there’s no direct evidence that they did, but absence of evidence does not mount to disproof.

    On the topic of rotation you claim that “[the Athenian citizen] was sure that among the ruling body there were citizens with a profile like him, that he as a type was not excluded”. That’s a very interesting claim as it would suggest a form of descriptive representation. Do you have any evidence to support it? Ditto with your next paragraph, where I think there is a danger of anachronism in supposing a representative function. Hansen finds only one instance of the concept of political representation: namely in Aristotle’s discussion of how a society composed of 500 rich and 1,000 poor citizens could elect an equal number of citizens from each census class. The resulting decision-making body would represent the interests of each class equally (Arist. Pol. 1318a11-17, cf. 1298a40-b2, 21-3, cited in Hansen, 2013, p. 98). Dowlen claims that the deme ratio indicates the application of proportionality to political representation, and the study of classical Greek architecture would suggest a sophisticated understanding of proportionality. I like your quote from Euripides, but rotation did also apply to magistracies, and I believe this is also the case with Aristotle’s discussion of kurios. I think we shouldn’t underestimate the probability of every male citizen assuming office at some time in his life and this would clearly not be the case in large modern states (although Hansen does make a proposal for rotation by allotment in a legislative body in Denmark [pop. 4 million])

    My use of the phrase klerotocratic oligarchy was primarily rhetorical — a (failed) attempt to shock my fellow discussants into seeing the anti-democratic nature of their proposals. I completely agree that when a microcosm mirrors the general public it is not oligarchic. But this is only true for behaviours that pertain to the collective level — ie voting. It does not apply to the speech acts of individual members of a descriptively-representative group as the law of large numbers is not relevant to the internal workings of a group of only a few hundred. This woud mean that an allotted group with powers of policy initiation and advocacy would be oligarchic, the only difference is the selection mechanism (randomness, rather than wealth or inherited status). It’s worth noting that Athenian juries were strictly limited to collective acts (listening to the deliberative exchange and then voting). Individual speech acts by jurors were reviled as thorubos (def: noise, tumult, uproar. of persons wailing; of a clamorous and excited multitude; of riotous persons. a tumult, as a breach of public order),

    Please will you explain how a modern society organised by sortition alone would work. The fourth-century Athenian reforms did increase the role of sortition, but this was part of the conservative move to re-“establish the rule of laws, not men”. Sortition was abolished for the most important financial magistracies (they were to be elected) and the increased use of sortition was limited to the role of legislative scrutiny — a move which I have consistently applauded and argued would be the role of sortition in a modern state. But this is a long way removed from rule by sortition alone, as advocated by Yoram and Campbell on this blog.

    I also agree regarding the problem of rational ignorance (voting without deliberation). The challenge is to find a modern equivalent of ho boulomenos. The compromise that I have suggested is that any citizen should be able to propose a new law and that those who achieve the threshold of 100,000 online signatures should be offered to the whole population in a public votation (a Swiss form of referendum in which citizens choose between a range of policies proposed by citizen initiative). Those that pass the votation stage would then be subject to deliberative scrutiny by the modern equivalent of a nomothetai. Sortition rules in the end, but to have sortition at the beginning (as Yoram, Cambell and Terry propose) would be undemocratic — ie rule by allotted oligarchy.

    Agree again regarding the right of minorities to participate in debates on policy issues that are particularly sensitive to their interests. But this is really a question of advocacy rights, and sortition would not necessarily be the best way of choosing those best suited to argue the case for minority interests. The exchanges yesterday were in fact on this very issue, and the need for constitutional checks and balances to ensure that minority interests would not be overwhelmed by the tyranny of the majority.

    Yoram,

    I’ve always sought to answer your questions. If you choose to ignore the answers and my further questions, then that is your prerogative.

    Campbell,

    None of us wish to reproduce the dysfunctional aspects of [American] democracy. My concern is only that advocacy and information should be properly balanced rather than just at the whim of the tiny number of individuals who would come to dominate the deliberations of an allotted group (unless subject to strict moderation, with the resulting problem of quis custodiet).

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  87. Keith,

    Your focus above is on the sway that a particularly effective allotted representative might have on the ultimate policy decision. But this is equally true in an elected legislature, correct? In the past you have said that the difference is that in an electoral system all citizens had a choice in who would represent them (thus a democratic element). Of course, we know that isn’t exactly true…frequently every representative I vote for is defeated, and I have no ACTUAL representation. You then fall back on the proceduralist logic, that under the procedures of this electoral democracy, the fact that I had an equal hypothetical CHANCE to succeed in electing a representative (even though, party, money, fame, etc. mean this isn’t reality) means that at least nominal political equality was achieved. But this is ACTUALLY true under a sortition model…I have political equality, in that I have an equal chance of being selected, and also an equal chance of having somebody LIKE me selected as each other citizen. Thus your statement that “…an allotted group with powers of policy initiation and advocacy would be oligarchic, the only difference is the selection mechanism (randomness, rather than wealth or inherited status)” conveniently leaves out the ‘oligarchy’ of a small group that is ELECTED, instead of selected by lot, or heredity, or wealth. But there IS a difference… ONLY the sortition model assures that there will NOT be continuation in power with resulting corruption.

    IN EVERY CONCEIVABLE GROUP (whether representative, or the whole society) that deliberates to develop proposals, some members will be more effective than others. In a smaller representative group, whether these people are selected by lot or by election makes no difference to the legitimacy of their superior effectiveness.

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  88. Terry,

    I think we need to approach this from a statistical perspective, rather than from that of an individual voter. In a first-past-the-post electoral system the choices of the majority will prevail. Not so in the sortition example as there is no statistical connection between the allotted representatives with the most illocutionary clout and majority preferences — it’s just, well, random. In an electoral system you will be represented if you choices are shared by most other voters, not so in an allotted system that incorporates speech acts by individual members. It’s no coincidence that this was not the route that the Athenians pursued in the brief for their legislative courts. Whether on not they had a notion of statistical representation (Andre claims that they might have) nevertheless the aggregate jury vote was representative (although skewed by over-representation by the old and the poor).

    I think this points out the need to draw a stark distinction between the rational and arational functions of lotteries. Statistical representation is a rational function as the relationship between the minipublic and the whole population is based on a numerical ratio. For example one would expect a minipublic to be approx 50/50 on gender and the same principle applies to other salient qualities. But this only applies at the collective level, the internal workings of the group are entirely random. There is no good reason to believe that in a group of only a few hundred those with the most illocutionary force (ie oratorical charisma and/or perceived status) will necessarily share the views of the majority of citizens. This principle is demonstrated by the internal workings of this forum, in which the silent majority are, well, silent, leaving big-mouths like Yoram and myself to dominate the conversation. There is no reason to expect any different in a deliberative minipublic, unless it is subject to strict moderation (not possible in a legislative assembly on account of the quis custodiet principle).

    The random (arational) internal workings of the group may have the effect of insulating the political process from corruption but it acts against the rational use of lot (descriptive representation). Peter Stone’s attempt to subsume the rational function within the arational is a serious error — hence the fact that the term “representation” doesn’t even appear in the index of his OUP book. Apart from Pitkin’s 1967 book I’m not aware of any serious work in political theory that demonstrates this point adequately, so I’d better get on and finish my PhD and write it up before someone else beats me to it.

    PS I’m at work at the moment and don’t have Manin’s book in front of me, but if I remember correctly he refers to election as an aristocratic rather than an oligarchic principle. There are important differences in that aristocratic selection is based on the principle of distinction whereas the oligarchic principle means that representatives can only be selected from a pre-defined group. In an election voters select the candidate that they perceive to be “best”, hence Manin’s description of election as an aristocratic mechanism. Of course, empirically speaking, the range of choice is constrained by influences that could be described as oligarchic (or that certainly used to be the case), but the principle is the relevant factor. As you are the only one with a background as an elected representative do you see yourself as an aristocrat or an oligarch? If you answer “just an ordinary Joe trying to do his best”, that would count for a tick in the aristocratic box.

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  89. Andre
    Comments on some points by Keith
    *** Keiths says: “I like your quote from Euripides, but rotation did also apply to magistracies and I believe this is also the case with Aristotle’s discussion of kurios.”
    The quote from Euripides does not distinguish between the different allotted bodies (it is about a supposed Athenian democracy of the Heroic Age !). But it says very strongly that the people “rules” through rotation/sortition. The verb is “anassei”, “rules”, corresponding to “anax”, the Homeric (and Mycenian) name of the king. Well, it is possible that we have here the words of a democrat theorist favoring the sortition device, a precursor of the later reforms. But anyway there is in this sentence the idea of people’s rule through sortition.
    When Aristotle says (Politics, III,1,7-1275a) that the “ekklêsiastês”, citizen in Assembly, and the “dikastês”, citizen in Court, were both ‘kurios” – exercizing the sovereign power, it is explicitly by contrast with ordinary “arkhai”, “magistrates” and councilors, who had a power, but not the last word.
    *** Keith says that “the increased use of sortition” in the second Athenian democracy “was limited to the role of legislative scrutiny”. But another reform took all the judicial power from the Assembly; therefore the judicial power, which had the last word in internal questions, was given exclusively to allotted Courts. It is a second case, and a very important one, of increase in the political role of sortition. The Assembly kept the last word only in foreign policy and war.
    *** Keith says :”It’s worth noting that Athenian juries were strictly limited to collective acts (listening to the deliberative exchange and then voting)”.
    Right, and it was unavoidable. Do you think of 201 or 501 jurors of a non-permanent body exchanging views? And if you downsize the jury, the role of chance is too strong (as it is in modern judicial juries) and the risk of corruption is too strong (with Athenian jurors being often very poor). But in a modern “dêmokratia” small juries could deliberate, by internal exchanges and by hearing national orators (both are necessary), and be interconnected into a big jury of a reasonable size. This would give a high degree of rational deliberation, which is absent in elections and referendums.
    *** Keith says “sortition would not necessarily be the best way of choosing those best suited to argue the case for minority interests”.
    I do not exclude professional or militant advocacy for groups, which will occur anyway in any free speech society. But these advocacies have drawbacks, hardening often identities and antagonisms, whereas exchanges between ordinary people can have better effects on mutual understanding.
    *** Note that this can be extended to foreign affairs. Maybe I am idealistic, but the peace between Israelis and Palestinians could maybe be easier through meetings between allotted samples of ordinary citizens that through the “representatives” of the two peoples.

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  90. Yoram
    *** To give a general comment on your text, congratulations
    *** A reservation : you should have avoided the subject voluntary/mandatory, which affects election as well. In an introductory proposal, it is better not to include problems common to the two systems – the difficulties will play only against the new paradigm.
    *** Your proposal relates only to the legislative branch. I think it is better to mention that sortition can be used too for the judicial branch , to give the last word to the common citizens, and for the executive branch (overseeing of Administration and State agencies).
    *** Such a proposal will get usually a negative response from the world of politics and media – it is disturbing for the « established » political class. But remember that in 2006 in France a presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, issued a proposal about allotted « jurys citoyens » which would have oversee the elected representatives. The proposal got incredibly shrilly criticisms from the world of politics and media – but a good majority in opinion polls. The candidate was defeated (47 % vs 53 %) by Sarkozy for other reasons, but this event is proof that the sortition idea can get out of the world of pure theory.
    Two tasks are necessary, even they are not so easy to combine : to study the problems of the model of « democracy through sortition », and to break through the screen of hostility which keeps sortition out of the common world of political ideas.

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  91. Thanks, Andre.

    The issue of sortition in the courts came up in the comment thread. I, of course, support sortition in the courts, as in any place where political power is held. There are significant differences, however, between regular courts and bodies which concentrate significant power, such as the legislature and the supreme court. Trying to cover both typed of bodies would have diluted the message, I think. I did mention a proposal of allotted oversight bodies (second paragraph of the “sortition” section).

    I was not aware of Royal’s proposal. It would be great if you could contribute a post regarding her proposal and the reactions to it – among elite circles and among the population.

    As for the task of publicizing the idea of sortition: I think we can be fairly certain that elite media will ignore the idea as long as it can, and then ridicule it as long as it can, and then fight it as long as it can. If we are lucky, we will prevail. With the average people we can expect a more sympathetic attitude, but there is still the matter of overcoming the initial shock of unfamiliarity.

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  92. Andre> “But in a modern “dêmokratia” small juries could deliberate, by internal exchanges and by hearing national orators (both are necessary), and be interconnected into a big jury of a reasonable size.”

    Agreed, and this is in fact the architecture of Jim Fishkin’s deliberative polls. Fishkin insists that the small group deliberations are an essential part, so I must concede this point. However what concerns me is the variation in outcome between different DPs. It seems to me that if an allotted system can claim to be “representative” then it must reach the same decision, irrespective of which empirical individuals are in the sample. Fishkin has demonstrated some degree of variance between different polls on an identical topic and it strikes me that this must be, ex hypothesi, the result of variations in the information/advocacy input. (The only other explanation is the sample is not large enough). This doesn’t bother Fishkin as he’s only interested in measuring preference alteration but it would be a serious problem in a body with unchecked legislative powers. This is my only reason for insisting that such an assembly needs to be deliberative in the Latin sense of weighing different arguments and determining the outcome rather than the German sense of “deliberative voice” (this is Yves Sintomer’s distinction).

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  93. @Andre. Well-put regarding getting the message to a general audience, avoiding unnecessary detail and controversy. The “screen of hostility,” a nice turn, is something that I’m sure we’ve all encountered.

    Psychology literature speaks of an effect of “my idea is better than yours” where merely because a solution to a mutual problem is proposed by someone else, there is a human tendency to see mostly its flaws first, or even “poo-poo” it entirely. If this is the case, I wonder whether the better course is to make “proposals” in such a way that the receiver “arrives at the solution” on his/her own.

    So for an editorial for example, begin with the problem, the waste, ineffectiveness of elections and problems of mob rule, then arrive at selection by lot as a mere question. “Reader, what do you think?”

    @Yoram, I’ve previously stated l it was an excellent intro, except perhaps a bit too detailed. I second the request to have more details of Sego’s (isn’t that her nickname?) proposal. Getting word out whenever selection by lot is proposed is obviously another way to begin to wear down the psychological fear of the unfamiliar.

    @Keith, to state the obvious, your focus on “ensuring,” “the right decision,” and “gov’t” is on the opposite spectrum of my “risking,” “courage,” and “politdoche.” As a self-styled cowStateRousseau, Rousseau-d’Auvergne if you will Andre, I whole-heartedly prefer the risk-taking people-trusting approach as a way to impassion people about selection by lot.

    He, LaFollete, gave speeches on wagons at county fairs, sometimes traveling 100s of miles in a day to bellow out several in a day, to get his message out. One could do well in likewise not being overly concerned about soiling one’s trousers in “populism.” Moreover, Keith, your concern (that I do not share) about personalities in deliberative bodies applies equally to the status quo and will matter much less in a body that’s temporary and continually renewed.

    The details will be worked out in each country according to its traditions and practices anyway. Kleroterians should only see to it that the essential features of sortitive bodies are adequately respected.

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  94. Ahmed,

    Everyone is entitled to take courageous risks in their own affairs, but when it comes to the affairs of the nation a prudential approach would be to build on past experience. Ground zero approaches usually end up leading to the Killing Zone. Classical Athens was the birthplace of democracy, so that’s as good a place to start as any, hence my proposal for a modern-day version of Athenian democracy, which was a combination of election, sortition and direct democracy. This may not be courageous or as ideologically pure as sortition-only proposals, but then Pol Pot was a lot more ideologically pure than James Madison.

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  95. >break through the screen of hostility which keeps sortition out of the common world of political ideas.

    There are two ways of breaking down walls. One of them is full-frontal assault and the other is to come up with proposals that do not outrage the denizens of the world of political ideas and those that have a vested interest in electoral representation. The latter approach would suggest sortition as part of a mixed constitution. Those of a more radical disposition might like to look at this as a Trojan Horse. So, for whatever reason, let’s cease prattling on about sortition as the one and only form of “true democracy”.

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  96. K,

    sounds like you’re putting words in people’s mouths to make a point that ultimately no one has actually disagreed with. Y’s proposal is not based on pure sortition. And the only proposal I ever put on the table, “Open Letter to Muslim Brotherhood & Egyptian Opposition: A Way Out.,” was not up pure sortition either.

    But your attitude implies a (unfounded) mistrust of everyday people, and a corresponding approach that’s control-centric.

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