Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party can be an answer to the tyranny of the elected representatives
Who would have thought that the bespectacled, mild-mannered, boyish looking Arvind Kejriwal is going to give the two domineering national parties such a scare in the imminent contest for Delhi? Not so long ago, such a reckless suggestion would surely have been met with laconic condescension even acidic contempt from Congress and BJP heavyweights. At the height of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption upsurge two years ago, these politicians, ensconced in their risk-free comfort zones, had one crisp message for the street protestors: Fight us, if you will but only in the electoral battlefield. ‘The tyranny of the unelected’, they fumed. As if elections were the only means of acquiring political legitimacy. All other protests, by this reckoning, deserved derision unless they acquired a momentum threatening to upset the electoral applecart of the ‘elected.’
A 1976 book named Un-vote for a new America by Ted Becker, Paul Szep and Dwight Ritter* offers, among other ideas for political reform, the idea of using sortition for selecting half the members of the U.S. Congress:
[I]f the reader makes even the most superficial survey of the world’s “democracies” particularly zeoring in on the national legislatures, it will be obvious that they are all dominated by elites, business or political. All of them claim to represent the people; obviously they don’t. They merely represent the elites’ view of what is in the “public interest” and we are told, correspondingly, that what they decide to be the public interest is, ipso facto, the public interest.
Although Peter Stone has asked us not to cite from his draft conference paper, this forum is really just an extension of the debate at the University of London workshop, so I would rather quote it verbatim than run the risk of paraphrasing it and getting it wrong. The following quote is taken from the concluding paragraph (p.16):
If democracy is supposed to be about government by consent of the governed, for example, then sortition looks like an obvious dead end. The arguments for taking elections to represent such consent are quite telling; citizens are thought to consent to be governed by elected officials even if they voted against those officials, or failed to vote at all. But however tenuous the link between election and government by consent, the link between sortition and government by consent is even weaker. There is no sense in which citizens can be said to have done anything to consent to randomly-selected officials; indeed, the whole point of randomization is to remove any opportunity by citizens to influence the selection process.
The claim that sortition produces a portrait-in-miniature that “stands for” the target population is categorised by Hanna Pitkin (1967) as a form of “descriptive” representation. I prefer the term “statistical representation” as it makes clear that the reference is to the sample as a whole, rather than the individuals that it is comprised of. There is a temptation to think of sortition as just an alternative mechanism for selecting political officers, and that the end result is still “representatives” akin to the (individual) Honourable Members selected by preference election. But the notion of an (individual) “statistical representative” is clearly an oxymoron. An individual selected as part of a aggregatively-representative sample is just a data point, as in a randomised public opinion survey. In a public opinion survey the views of any individual respondent are of no intrinsic interest, the purpose of the survey is to aggregate individual responses as an indication of the prevalence of different viewpoints within the target population. The fact that individual x has a certain view is irrelevant, all that matters is what proportion of the target population shares the same (or broadly similar) views and the same principle would apply to a representative group constituted by sortition. “Statistical representatives” (to describe the component units of a aggregatively-representative body) is an example of the rare group of terms that only exists in plural form. This places serious constraints on the actions of a body selected by sortition, as statistical representativity only applies at the collective (aggregate) level; indeed it is hard to see what representatives can do other than to register their preferences/beliefs via voting (all votes carrying exactly the same weight), as the differences in the “illocutionary force” of the speech acts of individual members of such assemblies will destroy its aggregative representativity.
Last week’s sortition workshop at Queen Mary, University of London was entitled Sortition and the Consolidation of Democracy. The host and academic convenor was Oliver Dowlen, who was a research fellow at QM, and most of the papers adopted the Dowlen-Stone ‘Lottery Thesis’ that the primary value of sortition is as a prophylactic to protect the political system from factionalism and corruption — a principle that Dowlen and Stone attribute to the arational ‘Blind Break’ introduced by the lottery mechanism. The main focus of my commentary is Peter Stone’s (draft) paper, ‘Democracy and Good Government’ (Stone, 2013), but my arguments are addressed to all three signatories of the ‘Dublin Declaration’ (Delannoi, Dowlen and Stone, 2013),* which, whilst acknowledging that sortition is also a way of instituting ‘descriptive’ representation, concluded that this was a ‘weak’ use of the lot. My claim in this commentary is that the ‘Blind Break’ is a) politically conservative (sortition is capable of protecting the integrity of any political system, not just democracy) and b) philosophically tautological (its ‘strength’ is entirely reliant on the pre-definition of the Lottery Principle).
This past week, Oliver Dowlen organized a very good workshop in London on “Sortition and the Consolidation of Democracy.” In addition to the academic speakers, we heard a talk from a representative from a Greek civic organization named Politeia 2.0. The group is working with James Fishkin and Stanford’s Center for Deliberative Democracy to use randomly selected deliberative bodies. They want to use these groups to develop proposals to reform the Greek constitution. They have a website at http://www.polites2.org/en/.
At the moment, this blog, Equality by Lot, is all about an endless stream of opinions, opinions, …, and discussions, discussions… Would it not be an idea to start with a rules based protocol, such as L. Leòn’s protocol, and to ask people to add rules or to eliminate rules (with a short explanation of why)? It would make things much more down-to-earth and much more exciting.