Is the word government a problem?

This is a change of pace from the previous posts, and an issue not yet discussed on EbyL as far as I know. To express a new dynamic between citizen and political institutions, through selection by lot and possibly other reforms, would we need a word besides “gov’t”?

The full article is here. I suggest we comment on that site (DaftBlogger), especially explaining sortition or Equality by Lot, as a way to develop some cross traffic and build awareness.

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
William Shedd

Finally, uncannily, a philosophical-linguistic dimension leaves us astounded and open-mouthed.

The word “govern” means to rule over, originating from the Greek kybernân = to steer and kybernḗt = helmsman, tillerman! The word “cybernetics,” by the way, shares this root.

Mr. Tillerman is no appraisal of contemporary government, or American isolationism, or American imperialism. Mr. Tillerman stands for 2500 years of a conception of government as controlling, disciplining machine. To some, it means controlling the masses or keeping their hands off the property of elites. For others, it means checking the abuse of the weak by the strong. For some, it means limiting the influence of social organizations like the church. Again for others, it means curbing the economic power of moneyed elites.

Mr. Tillerman stands for a society that controls the unpredictable by casting its lines only within its own ship over which it stands vigilant guard. He stands for a society that keeps order by making sure its members are helpless or “armless.” He points out that you cannot “govern” over equals because governing implies inferiors, those who lack something–knowledge, virtue, or money–that you have. Whatever that distinction it becomes a category justifying subordination or, worse yet, exclusion all together.

For a progressive idealists, this begins a heavy task, a deep exploration. What if today we want a new kind of political entity, one built on reflecting the knowledge, values, and goals of society and coordinating its collective action rather than controlling its individuals? What would we call such a thing?

Whether you judge this new organization can best be achieved through electoral reform, the use of technology, or the use of sortition, whether you call the regime a “participatory democracy,” “sociocracy,” “demarchy,” or “lottocracy,” if you still call it “government” you betray the ideal of equality and representativeness or miss-articulate the values of this new state. These thoughts led me to the following neologism (as a first attempt at) articulating this ideal for the 21st Century:

Politdoche = representative coadjument entity organizing a body politic.
Greek polis (city) + dochë (received).

It would receive/reflect a people rather than command its members. It would coordinate healthy social actions rather than prohibit undesirable ones. If you do not like “politdoche,” please find a better one, share it, and begin using it. Who knows, it might be the one that these revolutions, these crises, and these dead ends need to find a way forward. More needs to be said about this. More I hope will soon be.


42 Responses

  1. You really should read Rousseau, who drew a sharp distinction between the sovereign legislature and the delegated government. The first element was “moral” and was constituted by free choice and the second was “physical” and was constituted by the rule of law (the product of the choice). The former decides the law, whereas the latter executes it. There’s nothing wrong with the latter so long as the former is properly constituted. The problem with the modern debate is the conflation of the moral (legislature) and the physical (government). This is a functional distinction and has nothing to do with the words you choose to label it. Once you’ve made the functional distinction then you can make some progress on how best to insantiate both of the functions.


  2. Ahmed,

    I am not a great believer in the difference labels make. People are suspicious of government for good reasons: this is a powerful body that (1) unless it is designed correctly will promote the interests of a minority at the expense of the majority, and (2) will sometimes do things you are unhappy with even under the best circumstances.

    Renaming this institution will not change those facts, in the same way that naming the Eastern Bloc countries “people’s republics” didn’t change their oligarchical nature. I think we should focus on substance rather than on labels.


  3. K, I rather think Rouseau would agree with me.

    Y, sortition to me does bring up new ideals, the fact that there is rapid rotation, no distinction, similar to working on a team…

    But to don my “social media hat” I say let’s move this over to no matter how vigorously you disagree.


  4. I realize that it would be unfair to ask you to comment elsewhere if you prefer to keep it here. I’ll check back in a couple of hours (or tomorrow morning as we have about an 6-8 hour time-zone differential) and respond wherever you chose to follow up.

    The point that I think both has not yet been addressed is that ideals matter.

    What was unproductive in the previous long, heated discussion about the specifics of “checks” or, second order cybernetics, in my view is the assumption that new “sortitive institutions” would be based on the same views of human nature, human rights, and equality of either the 18th Century or Ancient Athens, both of which have things to teach us, granted, but the “wisdom of the past” no matter how Burkean also includes “learning from our mistakes.”


  5. Ahmed,

    As you saw, I commented on DaftBlogger as well – they have a system where comments do not appear immediately but have to be approved first so it took some time for my comment to appear there. I’ll double post this comment as well.

    Regarding new ideals: I think the existing democratic ideal is not that different from the ideals we are talking about. Common ideology, and to a large extent official ideology as well, already mandates political equality. This is the reason, by the way, that Schumpeterian elite theory of democracy, that was widely adopted in elite circles in 1950’s and 1960’s has fallen out of favor.

    That task that we have is not so much of promoting new ideals, but more of a matter of explicating existing ideals and having institutions reflect the ideology that is already quite common.


  6. As it happens I publish a journal in second-order cybernetics (Cybernetics and Human Knowing). I agree that what is needed is self-regulating systems, as opposed to those that need external regulation. This would not be possible with a single entity — Harrington’s bicameral model is a good 17th century example of a self-regulating system in which the Senate proposes but the popular house chooses. This means that the Senate is obliged to introduce proposals that are favourable to the popular house. He illustrates this with the example of two girls deciding how to divide a cake — one divides and the other chooses. The latter will always choose the larger slice, thereby encouraging the former to divide equally:

    “two of them have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them: that each of them therefore might have that which is due, “Divide,” says one to the other, “and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose.” If this be but once agreed upon, it is enough; for the divident, dividing unequally, loses, in regard that the other takes the better half. Wherefore she divides equally, and so both have right.” (Harrington, Commonwealth of Oceana, 1656)

    But this requires TWO chambers, each with *different* interests (thereby ruling out two allotted houses):

    “But in a commonwealth consisting of a single council, there is no other to choose than that which divided; whence it is, that such a council fails not to scramble—that is, to be factious, there being no other dividing of the cake in that case but among themselves.” (ibid)

    Note that this has nothing to do with the distinction between the moral and the physical aspects of the commonwealth (the legislature and the government), this is a subdivision within the legislature. Also none of this depends on ideational factors like values and ideals, Harrington was a cynical materialist who explained everything in terms of interests. However much you might disapprove of such a perspective, you won’t end up as a disappointed idealist, “mugged by reality”. The other thing we should learn from the past is Arendt’s theory of revolutions, nicely expressed by The Who:

    “I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
    Take a bow for the new revolution
    Smile and grin at the change all around me
    Pick up my guitar and play
    Just like yesterday
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
    We don’t get fooled again
    Don’t get fooled again
    No, no!


    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss”

    If we are to learn anything from the past it is to avoid wishful thinking.

    ‘Fraid I haven’t time to comment on other blog sites, I spend much too much time commenting here!


  7. Yoram, I am also double posting. They seem to have fixed the problem with the delay over there, but will do it anyway.


  8. Wholly agree on explicating CURRENT ideals, and that includes showing the tensions and contradictions between them.

    Ideals values regarding citizenship may not have changed much in the recent past, but they have also taught us something about what does not work in state institutions. That something being broke must be, presumably, why you are an advocate of reform, in particular the use of sortition or selection by lot.

    What is broke includes how government has worked in the past couple of centuries despite that we had supposedly agreed on “equality, fraternity, liberty.” The point, our ideal of citizenship is incompatible with that of government, as evidenced by the word “govern” itself.

    Now, many, many people confuse the word Idealism (the philosophical variety) and idealism (the psychological variety). When someone says, there must be some level of “coercion” even if the state apparatus is called a “politdoche.” That speaks to idealism small i. Philosophical Idealism is about what is the “goal towards which we strive” even if imperfectly.

    Demarchy, sortitive democracy, has much affinity to anarchy, but is much less naive. In fact, one way to think of demarchy is sober anarchy with a better sense of social obligation.


  9. Agreed re idealism (in fact my company, Imprint Academic, is probably the leading international publisher in Idealist Studies). My point is that a second-order cybernetic system should function purely on the basis of interests, without the need to even consider the ideological level. Self-correcting systems require a minimum of two bodies, each constituted on a different selection mechanism. This is why all talk of allotment as the sole organising principle is doomed to failure — this is idealism in the utopian sense of the word.

    PS John Burnheim’s work doesn’t depend on idealism, interests are quite sufficient for the constitution of demarchic committees. I would also note that all Yoram’s posts are constituted in terms of interests, so it will take some effort to convince cynical materialists like us that changing ideas and language is all that’s needed.


  10. The artist who made Mr. Tillerman’s World commented the following at DaftBlogger, anticipating much of what’s been said here (my own response below shortly): p.s. Keith, he sounds closer to Rousseau than anything you’ve expressed so far.

    Brent April 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    We live in a world today where even growing crops and healing are super political activities. Monsanto and pharmecueticals govern the trademarks they force upon the world. They attain the highest possible council and annihilate any cultural tradition that can not afford the same battle field.
    Today the powerful govern through legal rhetoric.
    Our different forms of local appeasement (government) mean nothing to their rhetoric. They cross political, cultural, social, language… boundaries smug with the knowledge that they have the treasured resources to lay siege to any and all who attempt to have a contrary voice.
    The Art metaphor is a reflection of what exist now. The metaphor is not the solution. I do sense that the solution is not in maintaining the status quo.
    A problem needs to be recognized before a solution is even allowed dialogue. Obviously, we have a long way to go.
    As Ahmed states ” reflect rather than command”. That is not a stratification. It is an opening.
    It is not easy to see how this can manifest. Most things are not easy to see when they have not been experienced. Afterwards they become assumptions.
    Even much of the comments here are bits taken from authors of the past. The future will need new concepts not ones proven false in logic or philosophy classes. Every form of self govern can not be called anarchy. That is too simple.
    I hear Ahmed offering a model medium to begin Nothing succeeds that lays down to quit.
    I am a commoner not full of fancy rhetorical debate who refuses to hand over my time to a conveyor belt of apathy.


  11. @keithsutherland:

    > Harrington’s bicameral model is a good 17th century example of a self-regulating system in which the Senate proposes but the popular house chooses.

    The same effect be achieved thus:
    – given an allotted chamber, rotated weekly;
    – the last act of the outgoing chamber would be to propose the next weeks order of business

    Thereby separating advocacy & decision.


  12. @Ahmed

    As a form of government (who rules/decides), I prefer populo, or populous. Lots of people :) Yes, that’s a pun.

    As opposed to, say … 10,000 middle aged, ultra rich, powerfully connected white males running the show.


  13. @ Keith and Yoram: reposting from
    (again bc cross traffic is fertile)

    No one is denying taking interests into account. Yes, self-interestedness is part justification of reforms, such as demarchy, but they tell us little about what NAME, along with its connotations, a political institution should take.

    You mention Rousseau but miss the spirit of his message. Perhaps it is true, what they say of Englishmen, that they need to land on one continent or another before they can have a sense of the Ideal of the poetic, in language. Too much focus on interests and analytics, they’re likely to miss the meaning of words that don’t fit neatly within the framework of the “propositional calculus,” and miss the forest for the trees.

    Perhaps, politdoche does presuppose a theory of representation, but one that would not fit neatly into Pitkin’s old categories, which were based on voting in an age of “statesmanship.” Demarchic politdoche might call for a “synecdochic theory of representation” one based on an organic resemblance of the part to the whole–part and whole literally exchanging places like a living, breathing hologram.

    There, in the hologram, you might find Rousseau’s general will, continually re-legitimating itself through the “kleroteric” sample that re-infuses the politdoche with the people’s energy and will–non-expert people who are nonetheless savvy regarding their every day affairs given the relaxed, unharried atmosphere of deliberation with others coming from various stripes also serving on a temporary basis.

    The organic back and forth reflection of part to whole should not, could not, be called “gov’t” as we’ve known it in the 2500 years that it’s been “at the helm.”

    This is the idea behind the UK’s “Ordinary People” party and behind my “Open Letter to the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Opposition.”


  14. @Anonymous, you talking about specific implementation of a sortitive assemblies. I do not see how that addresses the topic of the post.


  15. From the Editor of DaftBlogger who misspelled your name Yoram.

    Ernest April 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM
    @Ahmed @Yolam — The picture you draw of Mr Tillerman is quite powerful, artistically speaking. The resemblances you point out between Tillerman’s condition and the current actualizations of government seem correct to me as well. Actually I see Tillerman’s shadow everywhere, as you suggest, from personal experiences to apolitical social circles and organizations. But after There is one passage though which in my opinion is questionable.

    Is Mr Tillerman Government? Or just one of the forms in which Government can exist? Are we drawing a line between Type A (e.g. good) government and Type B (e.g. bad) government or are we moving beyond government (e.g. politdoche)? Obviously you are pushing, ideologically, for the introduction of a new structure, or a paradigm shift in political science (with “the study of government” as definition in mind).

    It is at this point, I believe, that you and @Yolam part ways. Where you see a gangrenous limb in human organizational efforts, @Yolam still sees a possibility. Where you say through government it is impossible “to treat citizens on an equal footing, take citizens’ values into account, give everyone a fair say in the important collective decisions”; @Yolam says that through GOOD government it is possible “to treat citizens on an equal footing, take citizens’ values into account, give everyone a fair say in the important collective decisions.”

    The final picture is that of two research fronts, one on the “government” front and one on the “beyond government” front. You are not mutually exclusive, you are complementary. Because it would be as scientistic (not scientific) to deny the possibility of better government as it would be to rule out any alternative to government.

    Speaking to @Ahmed, I think you should elaborate Politdoche further. Schematically speaking:
    If you accept government then…
    [Individual Input: vote, strike, speech, article etc.] — > [Elaboration: Governing body] — > [Output: policies]

    How different is the above scheme in Politdoche to differentiate it from good government as @Yolam perceives it?


  16. With all do respect to everyone who’s shared their thoughts, Ernest’s comment seems to me the first deeply constructive one.


  17. >The same effect be achieved thus:
    >- given an allotted chamber, rotated weekly;
    >- the last act of the outgoing chamber would be to propose the next >weeks order of business
    >Thereby separating advocacy & decision.

    Not so: chambers (allotted) or otherwise, don’t propose anything; speech acts pertain to individual human agents and there is no way to ensure that the agents with the most powerful speech acts (who actually do the proposing) will necessarily reflect the interests of the popolo. The interests reflected will be random in the arbitrary, rather than the statistical sense.

    Demarchy? Politdoche? Synechdoche? (or whatever). No matter how you choose to rename the shit-house, it still smells the same. When it comes to linguistic philosophy Austin rules over Wittgenstein and his postmodern followers.


  18. My response to Ernest:

    Just as the article can be summed up in the sentence,
    “If our political ideals involve equality and a bond between people and state institutions, then we should chuck the word gov’t,” the response to your question, “How would a politdoche behave differently than a gov’t?” can be summarized:

    “A politdoche would use persuasion and social influence to implement policy, rarely resorting to coercion and only under exigent circumstances.”

    Furthermore, I point readers to the use of “doche,” meaning to receive, which symbolizes the “yin” element of a politdoche clearly absent in gov’t.

    Perhaps these and other differences will be elaborated in another article soon.


  19. Message to Kleroterians:

    I was honored to be invited here and glad I submitted this first article. The feedback, even when rough, has sparked some ideas for development and pointed out gaps that could use elaboration. I’ve even come to appreciate K’s playing the role of “crusty old man.”

    Apropos, I’ve noticed the absence, literally and metaphorically, of “yin” energy on this forum. Perhaps some female Kleroterians are needed to bring it.

    In the meantime, I’m happy to play “cow-state Rousseau.”


  20. And I’m glad to play the role of the crusty old man.


  21. @keithsutherland:

    > there is no way to ensure that the agents with the most powerful speech acts (who actually do the proposing) will necessarily reflect the interests of the popolo.

    Is there any helpful research in this area (apart from Harrington) ?


  22. I’m not a social psychologist, but even a cursory knowledge of group dynamics indicates that some people are more vocal and persuasive than others, and that the most vocal are usually atypical extremists. Take this blog, for exampe, where until recently most of the comments were by Yoram and myself. On a blog this is of no consequence; not so on a legislative body, where allotted members serve a representative role. How would you like it if the people who shared your views were shy and retiring and were drowned out by the likes of Yoram and myself? The only thing that descriptively representative groups can do without compromising equality is voting.


  23. @keithsutherland

    > I’m not a social psychologist, but even a cursory knowledge of group dynamics indicates that some people are more vocal and persuasive than others, and that the most vocal are usually atypical extremists.

    Whoa! That’s a whole heap of conjecture. Or as they say in the startup world MUA: Massive Untested Assumption.

    For such a huge roadblock, I’m surprised you haven’t found (or suggested) any possible solutions. Which makes me doubt your conviction to the cause (he said menacingly :).

    Of course, there is a way to test this hypothesis: run a youth parliament.

    As for the blog, the future of political progress will be shaped by the doers. To quote Nassim Taleb: “there are those who win and those who like to win arguments, they are rarely the same”.


  24. Agreed. I’m a political theorist, not a social psychologist, so the only tool that I have to hand is argument. But it’s much better to base our theorising on experience. The only modern experience we have of allotted bodies is the Anglo-American trial jury which has indicated that ordinary citizens are capable of weighing evidence presented to them and competing arguments and determining the outcome. There is nothing about our experience of juries that would make us wish to abandon the established system of expert advocacy (and the rule of law) in favour of leaving it all in the hands of the allotted jury. The other evidence is 20 years of social science experiments by James Fishkin, which have come to similar conclusions.

    Regarding the negative case, I’m sure there must be a wealth of evidence regarding group dynamics, but this is not my speciality. My experience of groups (including this very forum) indicates that they tend to be dominated by loudmouths like Yoram and myself. If this is true for voluntary groups then it would be even worse for those established by a quasi-mandatory process (necessary to ensure statistical representativity). Most people would have no particular a priori views for new laws, and as such the group is likely to be dominated by those with an axe to grind and those of a high perceived status.

    One area where political theorists do have something to contribute is regarding what potential a particular institution has to offer. The modern approach tends to be based on conceptual analysis — ie the use of words. The term “statistical representation” refers to a property (representativity) that pertains at the group, rather than the individual level. All of us are unique, so a single individual can only represent herself. If we wish to aggregate individuals so as to form a portrait in miniature of the whole society we have to ensure that we are summing integer properties and this would suggest that all we can sum are votes as all other properties (“speech acts” in the parlance of political theory) are unequal. Hence my insistence that an allotted group with a full mandate to propose and argue for new legislation will not be representative.

    Of course this will not be the case if you agree with George Monbiot’s Machiavellian sociology, according to which ordinary people (with the exception of the political class, who are all inveterate bastards) are decent, kind, fair, honest etc. If this is true, then any process that disenfranchises the political class (the grandi) will automatically be representative as it matters little which ordinary person you choose as they all have a common interest (that of the popolo). John McCormick (another political theorist) wrote an interesting book stating this, and he had the honesty to admit that his inspiration was as much Marx as Machiavelli.

    So by all means let’s do the empirical work, but experiments test hypotheses, and these are generally formulated by theorists.


  25. Here’s the follow up now just appearing on Daft Blogger, that might interest theorists. I hate the title they have it, but they could’ve done worse.


  26. As the short link suggest, it is an attempt at dealing with Pitkin and redeeming Rousseau’s general will.


  27. Ahmed,

    I like your analogy of 3D representation, in which you can cut a holographic film in half and still retain the whole picture, albeit at a lower resolution. This being the case we need to find the minimum resolution which provides an accurate picture of the whole but which doesn’t reintroduce the problem of rational ignorance (the voting power of each individual being so small that there is no reason to inform oneself on the subject being debated). The polling industry and Fishkin’s experiments would lead us to believe that this is several hundred. But the metaphor only applies to behaviour at the group level, rather than the level of the individuals who go to make up the picture, as there is no way to sum the activity of the individuals (other than voting) in such a way as to ensure that the picture is still an accurate representation of the whole. Pitkin does deal with a variety of forms of representation in her book, but her prime distinction is between the descriptive and active variants, which are mutually exclusive. I don’t see how you can “transcend” this distinction because the former applies to a collective and the latter to individual human agents.

    I also like your attempt to revive the General Will. Rousseau ruled out representation for the sovereign legislature (but not the delegated government). However he did not consider random sampling for the legislature, although in one short passage in the Social Contract he hints at a proposal:

    ‘to make the government site alternately in each town, and also to assemble in them by turns the estates of the country’ (Rousseau, 1998, p. 93)

    This would be akin to a system of rotation, but in space rather than time. I don’t think it would work for large states (the numbers are far to great) and there might well be significant regional differences which would distort the holographic accuracy of the sample. Nevertheless the principle of allotted sampling would not constitute a betrayal of Rousseau’s vision. Whether an assembly constituted by this principle would institute the General Will or the (aggregate) Will of All is a moot point, but I’m not sure that Rousseau was really that bothered as:

    ‘There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another, and the general will remains as the sum of the differences.’ (Rousseau, 1998, p. 29)

    Rousseau did, however, insist that the activity of members of the General Assembly should be limited to silently weighing the merits of each law and then determining the outcome through voting. Although he advocated a complete separation between deliberative exchange (the role of the delegated government) and voting (the role of the sovereign assembly), it strikes me that voting without hearing the arguments is a recipe for the rule of prejudice rather than considered judgment. Perhaps it made sense in the eighteenth century, but not in an age of widespread public education.


  28. A constructive comment, that’s much appreciated Keith. Yes, this is obviously a first approach that needs much development.

    Would you please paste your comment to Daft Blogger if you haven’t already? It would educate the general public on some important points of theory–in a tangible way!–and generate good publicity for Equality by Law.

    My next task is to apply this to concrete issues, dealing w a polluter, a labor issue, a free speech issue, to illustrate how a “demarchic politdoche” would behave.


  29. done


  30. I’m pasting my reply here as well, since the other site does not notify about follow ups.

    What a highly constructive (& instructive) comment!

    Yes, the right “sample size” needs to be worked out in a demarchy. It would depend on the legislative, executive, or judicial context; on population heterogeneity; on population size; perhaps geography; and your comment on the balance between “deliberative efficacy” and “representativeness.” This is an area that calls for more research. Fishkin’s experiments involved “plenary” and “deliberative’ subsamples, which adds another dimension and level of complexity.

    Ultimately, politdoche itself (in demarchy, republic, or whatever) is a different way to conceive of the citizen-state relationship, and it doesn’t easily fit into what either Pitkin or Rousseau writings. However, the core of their ideas are relevant because they help us discern and distinguish, which is what we have to move forward prudently and with energy.

    Another area I would look into is legal theory. What would the legal philosophy of a democratic/demarchic politdoche look like?

    Politdoche to me is an idea rife with propagation and cross-polination potential.


  31. Thanks, here’s my response on daftblogger:

    In his 2009 book Jim Fishkin defines deliberation in the Latinate sense of discerning the “weight” (L: libra) of different arguments, so that would indicate that his plenary sessions are also deliberative. This is in contrast to the modern derivation of deliberation from the German for “deliberative voice” beloved of Habermasian democrats. However Jim told me (personal communication) that his small group “deliberations” (in the Habermasian sense) were an essential part of opinion transformation, perhaps on account of E.M. Forster’s epithet “how do I know what I think until I hear what I say?”. (Note, though that Forster coined his quip during the heyday of behaviourism [that’s why Dennett chose to popularise it], and psychologists and philosophers [other than Dan] are now more comfortable with fluffy terms such as “cognition” or even “consciousness”. We are all perfectly capable of silently communing with our inner selves.)

    However if the case for sortition/demarchy is that is is a form of democratic representation then it would be necessary for every sample of the population to return a similar, if not identical, verdict and this has not been the case with Fishkin’s deliberative polls. This can only be for one of two reasons: either the sample is not accurate enough to be truly representative or else the information input and speech acts of the members of each sample are different. Fishkin goes to considerable length to ensure the former and uses trained moderators for the small-group sessions to minimise the latter. Unfortunately this would not be possible in an assembly with a legislative role, on account of the Quis Custodiet? problem, hence the need to limit the role of an assembly constituted by lot to deliberation in the Latinate sense.

    As for “politdoche” I would urge you not to muddy the water even more with additional concepts. Most political theorists don’t even know the meaning of long-established terms like sortition or demarchy.


  32. Here it is again corrected. Must be easier for the moderator to delete the last two.

    Because this article is not about demarchy per se, I will say little about your views on sampling, although I might disagree. Your remarks are relevant, however, in so far as they betray a fundamental philosophical difference with respect to what politics are about in the first place. On this the Forster quote illustrates a crucial point.

    “How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?” could not be any more Platonic-Socratic. Plato and Socrates’s “dialectic” is an insight into all of thinking, argumentation and politics. The so-called Socratic method does not aim at a “right answer,” but to undress unreflected dogma and bring contradictions up to the surface. In the political realm, Socratic inquiry and deliberation are not about arriving at “the right answer,” but rather “wrong answers” that are acceptable to those in the dialogue, in the deliberation.

    You speak of “steering,” “ensuring the right answer,” “reproducibility of outcomes.” Of control. I speak of reception, dialogue, inquiry, acceptable “wrong answers.” Of trust. You speak of government, of predictability, of Yang. I speak of politdoche, of receptivity, of Yin.

    And here lies the kernel of our philosophical clash or your misapprehension of my project. Politdoche is about a shift in perspective. The adversarial, controlling Yang is already present by nature in today’s “government,” especially on our respective islands. You inhabit the Island that invented the adversarial method of today, the constable, the sheriff, the writ; I inhabit its offshoot that’s taken the adversarial mode to its apogee. Lawyers, guns, control, surveillance, inquisition, discipline.

    Perhaps geography is the issue. On an analytic island of definitions, interests, and “interest,” it may be impossible to touch the earth of the continent, connotation, communication, and human community. Rather than a tunnel, the EU should have built a foot bridge that, in crossing, you can see the colors of poetry and community–alas that “general will” that’s not quantifiable in interests or interest.

    Politdoche = representative coadjument entity reflecting the body politic.

    Citizens are coadjutants, who work together, not because commanded by an overseer but because they arrived at their “wrong answer” projects together, “wrong answers” they can accept. Politdoche is representative because its method of selection knows how to receives politic bodies. It is reflective and receptive because these bodies rotate sufficiently quickly that they act “synecdochically” like a hologram of the whole.

    Your sortition, however cleverly devised, sounds like gov, like more of the same, like the overseer entity.

    Politdoche is about a new ideal of political organization itself, not particular reform here or there. Our time does not want more fear and petty revision; it calls out for courage and vision.


  33. Golly, so politics is all about synechdochal adjudants doing holographic politdoche. I like to think that I’m more rooted to terra firma and that I share the concerns of the man on the Clapham omnibus (paying his mortgage and feeding his kids). This gives rise to a decidedly non-Socratic perspective on politics:

    “Politics I take to be the activity of attending to the general arrangements of a set of people whom chance or choice have brought together. In this sense families, clubs and learned societies have their ‘politics’. But the communities in which this manner of activity is pre-eminent are the hereditary co-operative groups, many of them of ancient lineage, which we call states.” (Michael Oakeshott, On Political Education)

    This being the case, “getting the right answer” is establishing the general arrangements that allow as many of us as possible to pay the mortgage and feed our kids, and to do so in such a way as to enable future generations to do the same thing. The conservative perspective that I share with Oakeshott takes a dim view of courageous and visionary experiments in generating wrong answers, however acceptable they may be to those who choose to participate in the deliberative dialogue. It also accepts that most people have little interest in Socratic dialoguing and Taoist metaphysics, however attractive they may be to the chattering classes.


  34. At issue is not conservativeness. At issue is the word “government” and the social philosophy that it entails, a hierarchical one.

    Assuming an a priori outcome, as your last comment suggests, before entering deliberation is not politic, not true politics, but pure power struggle. This is surprising coming from a self-proclaimed advocate of sortition.

    This harks back to a point I made on Daft Blogger a month ago, on the difference between “la politique” and “le politique.” The French have two words for politics, the stuff of divisive, power struggle “la” versus that of consensus-forming open deliberation “le”. We could use that distinction in English, we need more of “the politic,” the “classical” sense of finding common ground, of deep dialogue.

    Again our approaches patently contrast. Yours would have a politics of “interests”; mine calls for a “politic” of finding or creating common ground. This distinction in itself does not mean that the two cannot coexist; however, it is clear that the scales are tipped exceedingly too far in the direction of “the political” right now.

    What is needed on both sides of the Pond are heavier weights for “the politic.” Sparring aside, this is something with which I’m certain you agree.


  35. Ahmed,

    Nicely put, and you raise some very important issues. It strikes me that the relationship between sortition and deliberation is at best contingent. Deliberative democrats are generally interested in the ‘forceless force of the better argument’ (Habermas, 1981, Vo1.1, p.47) and adhere to a minimal definition of democracy as ‘any kind of effective and formalized control by citizens over leaders or policies’ (Elster, 1998, p. 98). Elster appears unconcerned as to *which* citizens get to do the controlling or whether their views (and interests) accurately represent those of the majority of their peers. Deliberative democrats actively favour volunteerism, and often privilege members of civic society organisations (Elstub, 2008). If there is any interest in sortition, something which they refer to rather condescendingly as ‘mini-publics’, this is in order to generate the necessary cognitive diversity to get the ‘right’ answer from an epistemic perspective. Habermasians are actually seeking to return to the Burkean ideal of the deliberative pursuit of the ‘laws of God and nature’ (Pitkin, 1967, p. 169). At least Burke accepted the notion of diverse interests (albeit of an ‘unattached’ nature, not requiring a direct relationship between voters and parliamentary representatives); Elster, however, is happy with the homogeneous notion of ‘citizen’. If there is an implicit notion of interests it is the Machiavellian/Marxist distinction between the popolo and the grandi, existing parliaments being nothing but committees for managing the interests of the latter.

    Whilst there are other ways of generating cognitive diversity, sortition has the additional, and unique, property of generating a ‘portrait in miniature’ of the larger citizen body, which represents the significant ‘interests’ of the citizen body in a proportionate manner. As well as generating a body that is roughly 50/50 male/female, it would also be accurately representative on the conservative/liberal axis and every other dimension that might be seen to be politically salient. Both liberal democrats and Marxists would agree with you that ‘interests’ are entirely a priori, but they are, nevertheless genuine and they will not simply disappear as a result of the deliberative exchange. One might hope, with Rousseau, that allotted delegates would vote for the general good as opposed to simply reflecting their own interests, but Rousseau certainly did not view this as a likely, or even possible, outcome of deliberation in the general assembly (which he proscribed, reserving it for the wise and virtuous members of the delegated government). He realised that the adoption of the general good would require an entirely illiberal form of civic education (under the guidance of the Great Legislator) and, indeed, that all citizens should worship together at the altar of civic religion. Apart from Habermas, the only significant thinker who advocated the “talking cure” was Sigmund Freud and his methods have even been rejected by his own professional colleagues. Rousseau was no friend of deliberative democracy.

    Much better, therefore, to accept that deliberation, or the “gift of the gab” is the province of the chattering classes. Let them deliberate and let the representatives of the popolo adjudicate between the deliberations — who is talking sense and who is “too clever by half”. This will enable informed decision making, but within a truly representative context, in which “a priori” interests are duly acknowledged. This would also have the benefit of producing decisions which are more likely to be accepted by all those who didn’t participate directly in the exchange of reasons. And there is 20 years experience in social science experiments demonstrating that this approach works.


    Elster, J. (Ed.). (1998). Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Elstub, S. (2008). Towards a Deliberative and Associational Democracy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Habermas, J. (1981). Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

    Pitkin, H. (1967). The Concept of Representation Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


  36. @Ahmed

    > Yes, the right “sample size” needs to be worked out in a demarchy.

    I note much philosophical meanderings (from most on this blog) and a complete ignorance of basic statistics.

    For large populations (< 10,000), 95% confidence level, 5% interval gives a sample size < 400.


  37. Anonymous,

    There is broad agreement on this forum that a sample of several hundred would statistically ‘describe’ a large population to a high degree of confidence; the disagreement is over what the ‘output’ of the sample is — in particular the role the individual units making up the sample could perform without breaching the statistical mandate. In a public opinion poll based on a statistical sample of the population the output is the aggregate data (x% of the sample agreed with proposition 1; y% with proposition 2 etc.) and resulting statistical analyses; individual response forms are of no statistical significance.

    If this principle were to be applied to an assembly of persons created by statistical sampling it’s hard to see what function other than voting would be statistically significant. The speech acts of individual members are of the same status as a single response form in an opinion poll and should therefore be treated as unrepresentative. The only way round this is to assume, a priori, a homogeneity of interests/opinions within the popolo, so that it matters little which person is selected, so long as the members of the grandi are statistically insignificant (the Gat/Monbiot assumption).

    Such an approach would not be accepted by opinion pollsters, who assume a wide range of interests and opinions in the target population. In an opinion poll each respondent counts the same (yes/no/don’t know), but this would not apply to “illocutionary” speech acts (designed to persuade), the standard currency of deliberative assemblies. This is why the acts of any group with a statistical mandate would have to be limited to voting (or any other “aggregate” function yet to be specified).

    This is not a philosophical issue, it is a statistical one (with anthropological underpinning). I would be delighted if you were to come up with a convincing refutation of this argument.


  38. Anonymous,

    In my last comment I considered the problem of sampling from the point of view of statistical theory, but if you view it from the empirical political science perspective you would come to similar conclusions:

    The 20th Century has been called the ‘conservative century’ as the (UK) Conservative Party has been the dominant force in twentieth-century British politics. On its own or as the predominant partner in a coalition it has held power for more than sixty years from 1900-2000. Yet, despite widespread electoral success, Conservatives are also referred to as the “stupid” party. This is because conservatism is not a body of principles that lends itself to articulation, it is more a disposition or a psychological mindset, preferring the familiar and sceptical about change. The nearest thing conservatives have to a principle is Karl Popper’s “unintended consequences of human action” (and Popper was a social democrat). By contrast liberalism and progressivism are easier to translate into a rational set of principles and, as such, attract a higher caliber of philosophical and doctrinal defenders. The only example of a 20th century UK conservative philosopher that springs to mind is Roger Scruton, and he has often complained about being blackballed by his intellectual peers. Scruton might well concur with the old saying that the devil has all the best tunes.

    If the above figure is true then an allotted assembly might well have (say) a 60/40 conservative leaning but, given the “stupid” epithet, conservatives would be unlikely to attract persuasive orators in proportion to their numerical weight in the assembly. The very words “progressive” and “reactionary” carry their own intellectual baggage, making it easier to mount a discursive defence of the former. Given that the currency of Habermasian deliberative democracy is discursive argument, this will mean that, if the allotted assembly has a role for active speech acts, we can anticipate that the “progressive/liberal” element will have an unfair advantage.

    We’ve discussed this problem elsewhere from a philosophical perspective (at great length), from the perspective of statistical theory (above), and here from an empirical political science perspective, all three approaches suggesting that an allotted chamber which permits activities other than aggregate functions such as voting ceases to be representative. I would like to offer an open invitation to refute these arguments, from any (or all) of these three perspectives.


  39. Third part on politdoche (said “pall it docky”) brings in Hobbes and Spinoza and can be found here:
    Once again, I appreciate all your comments and critiques!


  40. >This is where Rousseau fits best. This is a deeper reading of his political theory, not as an Abstract General Will containing the “right answer” arrived at through Reason, but as a contingent general will arrived at through the use of concrete reasoning, reasoning that is our only access to the values, interests, and beliefs of others.

    This piece is a bit too abstract for my taste Ahmed but I think your “deeper” reading of Rousseau is misleading. He agued consistently that the general will was not a rational function (concrete or abstract) and that members of the sovereign general assembly should not indulge in any form of discursive deliberation. Rousseau’s general will was a secularisation of the will of God to save all men, and the ‘right answer’ was arrived at intuitively — without any reference to the values, interests and beliefs of others. Rousseau and Hobbes were both firm believers in government, the only difference between them being whether or not it was a delegated function.


  41. @Keith, I appreciate that comment. I agree re Rousseau; “fits best” within the counter-current around the Enlightenment that was more skeptical of reason. That and a few other things could certainly be made more clear in the essay.

    Whether or not R and H were believed in the word “government” or the idea of hierarchical command is not relevant. They are notes in a chord that says, by way of a one-sentence summary:

    “a) There is no pre-social pre-political law or touchstone of justice; b) therefore, an ideal political entity should not command with deadly force.”

    It is still abstract, indeed, because we are still in the realm of Ideals.


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