In 1896 A. H. J. Greenidge published his book A Handbook of Greek Constitutional History. Greenidge devotes a few pages to sortition (“appointment by lot”). He proposes theoretical justification and analysis of the effects of the mechanism.
At this point we may naturally raise the question, “What is the meaning of this new element in political life which was destined to become almost the most characteristic feature of the Athenian and other democracies?” From the treatment of the lot by Plato and Aristotle we should be inclined to gather that it was a consciously adopted democratic institution, that it was the final assertion of the numerical equality of all citizens and of the principle of equal representation. But to realise this character it must be accompanied by universal admission to office. We know, however, that the use of the lot preceded universal admission; we shall see, when we come to discuss the qualifications for office, that in early Athens it was an assertion of the equal fitness for rule of the members of only a narrow circle; and we are further informed that in some cases of its employment it had other meanings than that of an assertion of equality. It was sometimes adopted as the final solution of a difficulty — in the case, for instance, of equality of votes. [Arist. Pol. vi. 3=p. 1318 a.] Here it is a mere appeal to chance, as in Homeric times it was an appeal to heaven. In the state of Heraea the lot was introduced as a means of avoiding the bribery and canvassing which accompanied direct election. [ib. v. 3=p. 1318 a.] But, though it was a political expedient that might be applied with other objects, we must regard its use as being, on the whole, in the highest and purest sense democratic. A low view of democracy as the right of a majority to rule, such as had begun to be entertained at Athens in the fourth century, might justify Isocrates’ assertion that the direct election of magistrates is more favourable to popular government than their selection by lot. [Isocr. Areop. § 23.] For under the former system the people choose their own representatives, under the latter chance will rule and the oligarchically minded sometimes slip into the government of the state. But true democracy is the assertion of the equal representation of all individuals, classes, and interests; and there is much to be said for the view that the effect of the lot at Athens was the protection of the rights of minorities, [Muller-Strubing Aristophanes p. 206.] although we cannot admit that this was the primary motive for its introduction. There is abundant evidence that the lot existed at Athens before the constitution could be described as democratic; [To the passages in the Ath. Pol. we may add Her. vi. 109; Plut. Arist. 1, Per. 9.] but, in the developed democracy, its employment was a guarantee that all offices should not be swamped by the triumphant majority of the moment. It was a standing protest against that party government which the Greek thinker knew to be the deadliest enemy of liberty, and at which, as realised in the pseudo-democracies of America and England, the true Greek democrat would have stood aghast.
Next to the question of its meaning comes that of its justification as a working principle. We must here distinguish its employment as a mode of appointment to individual offices like the archonship, or to small corporations like the financial boards, on the one hand, and the faculty of admission it gave to large administrative bodies such as the council of five hundred on the other. In the former cases there seems a greater danger of lack of fitness or of maladministration. For in large bodies gifted with the power of discussion and debate the aristocracy of intellect is certain to prevail; the decisions of the council at Athens were often those of a Cleon or an Androcles; and its constitution does not need as its justification the modern thesis that “on general questions the votes of forty academicians are not better than the votes of an equal number of water-carriers,” [Le Bon Psychologie des Foules.] for the lot admitted men of every grade of intellect. In the case of smaller bodies at Athens the danger of the lack of the intellectual element was met by the routine nature of their duties and the constant direction of the ecclesia, of the lack of the moral element by the scrutiny before admission (δοκιμασια) and the rigorous examination of conduct after quitting office (ευθυνη). This created an individual responsibility which was demanded even of members of as large a body as the council. Where special knowledge was required, as in the στρατηγοί. Or the great finance offices of the fourth century, the lot was not employed. It was a misfortune that in one sphere at least where special knowledge would have been desirable, the law-courts, it was recognised as the universal principle of admission. In these courts there was no debate, and therefore no intellectual guidance, and this is the weak point of the Athenian system. (pp. 139-141)