David Van Reybrouck: Against elections

Ad van der Ven wrote to draw attention to David Van Reybrouck’s argument in favor of sortition. Van Reybrouck is a prize winning Flemish Belgian author writing historical fiction, literary non-fiction, novels, poetry, plays and academic texts.

His latest book is Tegen verkiezingen (Against elections) (machine translation with my touch-ups):

Our representative democracy is increasingly in the doldrums. Its legitimacy is affected: fewer and fewer people vote, voters are less predictable in their choice, and the membership of political parties is decreasing dramatically. It is the efficiency of less democracy: since long term government is problematic, politicians increasingly align their policies to the next election. It all leads to what is called by David Van Reybrouck democratic fatigue. But how do tackle it? Papering over the cracks – that is what is happening now mainly. There are some renovation trends here and there. Reybrouck fears that this kind of marginal solutions is no longer sufficient and that the existing system will result in more and more crises.

Over the last decades, increasing political attention is given to an old democratic principle that was used especially in classical Athens: sortition. Until the French Revolution sortition was a common democratic mechanism, not only in Athens but also in the flourishing republics of Venice and Florence during the Renaissance. After the French Revolution, it lives only in the courts of some countries. David Van Reybrouck presents a clear argument that sortition is an effective way to revitalize what has become an impotent democracy to involve the citizens in what concerns us as a society.

Van Reybrouck talks about his book in a segment of Buitenhof, a Dutch political interview program (third segment, starting at 36:30).

van-reybrouck

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71 Responses

  1. The observation that democracy via popular elections is deeply flawed and at best has outlived its usefulness can be taken as a given. We should keep in mind that once it was seen as the solution to the abuses of government by hereditary oligarchy and much was made of its theoretical superiority by those political philosophers that supported it at its beginnings. Belief in principles like consent of the governed and the effectiveness of what we now refer to as crowd-sourcing for the selection of political leadership underpinned the notion that this was the answer to the failures of the structures then in place. Clearly these hopes were misplaced.

    Part of the problem has been that reprehensive systems were introduced as an add-on to existing political structures with little forethought given to what the resultant dynamic might be. Even the U.S. effort, which was conceived as close to a full bottom up design as was possible at the time, was from the beginning left with remnants of the previous system which despite attempts to integrate them through checks and balances have caused unforeseen glitches with far reaching impacts.

    That is why any discussion of replacing the current system with one based on sortition must include serious discussions on the details of how it will function doing the job that it is intended to.

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  2. Actually, the problem with the electoral system is not a problem of details, it is a problem of a fundamental principle. Furthermore, the oligarchical nature of the electoral system is not some sort of an unforeseen accident. Its oligarchical nature was well understood both in antiquity and by its 18th century proponents. It was conceived, designed, and offered explicitly as an oligarchical system. Modern democratic ideology only emerged later and was grafted post-hoc to the existing electoral system.

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  3. Yoram, even if what you state is taken as true, it still does not absolve those putting forward the notion of sortition from demonstrating how this system will function at a practical level. The point here being that ideology may serve as the underlying philosophy but in and of itself does not make a system practical. It is the fleshing-out of such a system such that proponents can, at the very least, answer the inevitable criticisms that they will have to face when advocating for it that I am interested in.

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  4. Well, first of all what Yoram says is true. And it is well known to be true. Even for Aristotele, klerosis was the form of selection of officers in a democratic system, and airesis for an aristocracy (in the sens of government of the aristos, the best).
    For the US for example the system was explicitly a Republic, as opposed to a Democracy.
    The problem is that a lot of political thinkers though that in a democracy there would have been the “dictatorship of the majority”.
    James Madison for example felt that in pure democracies nothing would limit the majority’s abuse of a “weaker party, or the obnoxious individual.
    And even Aristotele put democracy in imperfect forms of government.
    But James Madison also said that “All men having power ought to be mistrusted”.
    The problem then becomes, how you select those in power, and what are the checks and balances applied to the system as a whole?
    I’ll do not consider here the fact that we know, from the Swiss experience, that well designed direct democracy tools are an effective way for minorities to have their voices heard.
    And neither that we know now that universal human rights and the rule of law are effective tools to protect the rights of individuals, when implemented.
    Most people give for granted that the selection of our representatives should be done via elections. But they forget a lot of things that are making the system ineffective, while, like you Robert, insist that those promoting lottery should demonstrate that the system works.
    But the demonstration is exactly in the fact that the system overcomes all the deficencies of an electoral system, while being equal in all other respects.
    To avoid being too long, I’ll just point out some of the problems.
    One of the things that was part of the system conceived by most of the political thinkers of the Madison era was that the election should be designed around the constituency. This gives a direct relation between the electors and the elected. This was a central part of the system. First of all you should know who you are electing, second you should be able to judge his behaviour and decide if should be reelected or not.
    But the system obviously works only with small constituencies, and where there are small hurdles for every individual to propose the candidacy.
    It is not so in almost all modern states. First of all, given the number of representatives that a parliament should reasonably have a constituency will always be quite large. And second, in a lot of countries the election is on a party list based selection, making the relationship electr-elected mediated by a party.
    It is obvious that in such situation it is almost impossible for an individual to be know by the electorate and be able to run for any seat.
    So the system becomes prone to influence by groups of interest and in general by corruption.
    This is avoided completely if the selection is done by sortition.
    And we know that the average competence and quality of the elected is rarely, if ever, better of that of the general population.
    All other things being equal, like the system of check and balances between different powers, this should demonstrate that sortition is a superior system. Or not?

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  5. “But the demonstration is exactly in the fact that the system overcomes all the deficiencies of an electoral system, while being equal in all other respects.”

    That cannot be asserted without proof, and I have given clear reasons in a previous thread why it cannot be assumed to be a given. In short you cannot separate the fact that existing legislative bodies are not constituted such that they can function with a membership selected by lot without full overhaul of the way they do business. Any detailed examination of the legislative processes now in place in every parliamentary system will make this clear.

    Yes we all can agree sortition is a better way of selecting members for legislatures, but sortition is not in and of itself some magic wand that will make all other structural issues disappear especially the ones that will emerge from the fact that members will be a random sample of unaligned individuals, without experience, and with no expectation of a career.

    These issues cannot be ignored, or declared irrelevant if for no other reason than if I am asking these question you can be sure others will too and a lack of reasonable answers will quickly have this idea deemed a crank’s errand by the very folks that are needed to support a movement for change.

    In other words: one way or the other the issues I have brought up will need to be addressed so they might as well be dealt with now.

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  6. David Van Reybrouk and I have been corresponding for several months. His English is excellent, and I have invited him to participate in this Blog. (He touts my multi-body sortition model in his new book).

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  7. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with all commentators here — Yoram and Stefano that aristocratic republicanism was the Founders’ stated preference and Robert that sortition is not a magic bullet and that the devil is in the detail.

    We need to remember that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries republicans were not opposed to aristocratic rule (in the original Greek sense of the word), merely requiring that the aristocracy should not be hereditary. Aristocracy, at the time, meant simply rule by the best, and was viewed through the lens of faculty psychology, with its distinction between ascending levels of motivation (passion, interest and reason) and its quasi-Calvinist entailment that the best way to discover individuals where the latter faculty dominated was election* (the etymological connection between election and the Elect was no coincidence). It was always acknowledged that “the best” were usually the richest, as the aristocratic virtues (wisdom, honour, and dispassionate public service [the modern variant of knightly valour]) presupposed free men — i.e. those with the time, education and independent financial resources to devote to res publica (plus the fact that God would heap material rewards on his chosen ones). As Burke put it, independence of mind presupposed independence of means. Early-modern republican theorists like Harrington believed that aristocracy was both inevitable and essential, but that it should not be hereditary. To this end he proposed radical agrarian reforms to open up the higher orders to all those with the necessary talents. The modern (i.e. disparaging) view of aristocracy as rule by, and in the interests of, the wealthy was a result of the inversion (and corruption) of faculty psychology by Marx, Durkheim and Freud. We should always be aware that we are reading the Federalist Papers through a cynical modern filter. Madison did acknowledge interests (especially landowning and commercial) but he believed, for good faculty-psychology reasons, that elections in large constituencies would return men from the genuinely disinterested class (doctors, lawyers and other professionals). Nobody who has read any of the above three iconoclastic authors believes this any more, but the general public still retains the ghost of a residual sentiment that professionals are trustworthy and retain some sort of disinterested god’s-eye perspective. Until very recently in the UK you had to be a Church of England priest or a doctor to countersign somebody’s passport application.

    During the nineteenth century, this was all re-languages in terms of democracy, primarily as a consequence of the extension of the franchise (this was certainly the case in England, and the founders and their descendants liked to view themselves as Englishmen). Yoram and Stefano are right that aristocracy and democracy are distinct principles and if you mix them up in the same “body of men” you just end up with a muddle. Yoram’s answer is the ground zero approach — blow up the whole system and institute a pure democracy. I would retort that this is both impossible and undesirable: impossible as pure democracy is, as Rousseau claimed, suitable only for angels rather than men. Historically speaking, even in a tiny polis like classical Athens, there was a clear distinction between rhetores kai strategy and demos. Neither is it desirable because, notwithstanding Yoram’s egalitarian rhetoric, in any group situation there will always be leaders and followers, owing to differences in ability, temperament, motivation, social status and rhetorical skills. Much better to acknowledge this and ensure that our aristoi are appointed in a manner that all citizens can participate in, rather than leaving it purely to chance.

    * as an aside, the old term, ballot, was derived from the Italian for ball-lot and was a reference to the Venetian practice of voting by balls. The “lot” part of this compound term might tempt sortinistas into a conflation with the Athenian lottery machine, but I believe the Italian reference was to preference elections, rather than lotteries. However Venice did also practice sortition, so I would love to be proved wrong.

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  8. Dear kleroterians,
    It is such a pleasure to be able to join your discussion, after having used and visited this site for months while doing research for my book Against Elections.

    @KeithSutherland: your work has been valuable for me; I have written about it in my book. @Terrill Bouricius: it was a privilege to exchange with you on your multition-body sortition model.

    Yesterday, I was invited to De Zevende Dag (The Seventh Day), the flagship talkshow on Flemish public television, for a long debate about my book with former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. It was a great and open debate where he endorsed the need for democratic innovation and urged government to start exploring sortition. (Terry, would you ever have thought that your work was going to be discussed by a former head of government?)

    Here is the link:
    http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws/videozone/programmas/dezevendedag/EP_131006_DZD?video=1.1747495

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  9. Hi David and (belated) welcome.

    I have a couple of questions:

    (1) Do you have an English version of your work, for those of us who do not read Dutch?

    (2) Are you in contact with Laurent Louis? Are you familiar with his proposal of sortition?

    Best,
    Yoram

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  10. Dear Yoram,

    Thank for your questions.

    1. My book is just out in Dutch. The French translation is due for early November. I know my publisher is at Frankfurt now, trying to get some foreign publishing houses interested. So far, there is no contract for an English translation. Ecco and Fourth Estate (both with HarperCollins) are publishing the translation of my book on Congo in 2014. That might trigger an English translation of Against Elections. Alternatively, I have been thinking of being more proactive myself in terms of getting a translation done.

    2. I have never met Laurent Louis, but I have seen his proposal in the Belgian parliament.

    3. My book Against Elections would not have become about if I had not been the founder of the G1000, a grassroots organization for more democracy in Belgium. It came about when the country was left without a government for 541 days and it became known as the largest citizens’ initiative for deliberative democracy on the continent http://www.g1000.org/en/

    All very best,
    David

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  11. @Keith Good summary and excellent point re “faculty psychology,”

    A point, not mentioned in these most recent threads, addresses the unequal speaking, leadership ability in a group, especially one selected by lot. If we really respect all opinions, want to take them all into account, why restrict ourselves to majority rule within the deliberative (or other) assemblies, whether elected or allotted?

    Isn’t this a big part of why juries have to come to unanimous decisions? Even the quiet juror must be given time to express her/his beliefs not for some theoretical reason about discursive ethics or an “idealized communicative situation,” but simply ’cause that last vote is needed!

    If we want to thoroughly look into all causes of current disfunction, majority rule should be reevaluated. There’s no reason a large assembly needs to make decisions unanimously, but perhaps high quotas (votes needed to pass a measure) would best promote all of discursive equality, cognitive diversity, and “cool heads” a la 18th or 21st-century psychology.

    In addition, I bring up the point from a previous thread that the other branches of gov should be considered, for all the goals a sortinista may have: anti-corruption, representativity, cognitive diversity.

    @Robert, currently most “popular assemblies” require no “legislation writing exam” for entry. It seems it’s already considered on the job training, or simply as Terry’s mentioned, done by hired, full-time, nonpartisan staff.

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  12. David:

    >Yesterday, I was invited to De Zevende Dag (The Seventh Day), the flagship talkshow on Flemish public television, for a long debate about my book with former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. It was a great and open debate where he endorsed the need for democratic innovation and urged government to start exploring sortition. (Terry, would you ever have thought that your work was going to be discussed by a former head of government?)

    That’s the best news that I’ve heard in a very long time as it confirms my view that politicians are very aware of the problems of our existing political systems (especially in failed states like Belgium). If we want more prime ministers (ex- or otherwise) to endorse sortition then we need to devise systems that reserve an important role for elected politicians. As in classical Athens the politicians should propose and the (microcosm of) the demos should dispose. David’s news also confirms the need to adopt measured language — i.e. stop dissing elected officials as mendacious and self-interested scumbags.

    Ahmed,

    That’s an interesting point but I don’t see the connection between a) verbalising and b) voting. If the quiet juror has nothing to say (or is too shy to say it) this need have no effect on her vote. We don’t speak in order to convince ourselves, but to persuade others, and this is why I’m opposed to deliberative acts by allotted persons (as there is no way to ensure proportionate representation for the vast majority who have been disenfranchised by the switch from election to allotment).

    I don’t think anyone other than extreme Habermasians are seeking consensus, a simple majority will suffice. As for the need to protect minority interests, this is generally the role of constitutional safeguards, including bills of rights, separation of powers and the need for supermajorities for issues affecting fundamental rights. In addition Rob’s proposal for a low signature threshold for petitions coupled with Terry’s allotted agenda council is deliberately aimed at enhancing minority interests. And if a proposal passes the agenda-council stage, disadvantaged minorities would benefit from permanent officials to help structure the proposal into a bill and might even wish to call on the services of members of the House of Advocates to give the bill the best possible chance of passing into law in an allotted house which may well not be particularly sympathetic to the needs of the minority in question. Although we all have the right to represent ourselves in court, most people would prefer the services of a barrister. I had previously assumed that proponents would act as advocates for their own bills, but disadvantaged minorities might well benefit from professional help in order to present the most persuasive case. Majority tyranny is the principal downside of democracy, so I’m glad this has become the focus of our debate.

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  13. David

    I hope you find a major English-language publisher, but if you don’t you could consider Imprint Academic’s Sortition and Public Policy series:

    http://www.booksonix.com/imprint/bookshop/

    click on “series link” tab.

    Our books don’t sell very well, although we published Paul Belien’s A Throne in Brussels, which has done OK.

    Keith

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  14. “…currently most “popular assemblies” require no “legislation writing exam” for entry. It seems it’s already considered on the job training, or simply as Terry’s mentioned, done by hired, full-time, nonpartisan staff.”

    Those that think potential legislation is written to go before any major parliament by nonpartisan staff you haven’t look very closely at any of them. Parties are far more than just the sum of the candidates that stand for elected office. Beyond the highly visible appointed public offices, which are held at the party’s pleasure, there is a vast network of ministerial councils and such that are staffed by party faithful and whose function is producing new legislative proposals and getting them framed for introduction. The point being that these are very partisan groups that are engaged in much of the day-to-day ‘sausage making’ of policy and finding replacements for them without the structure of a party system to keep some degree of control over them is not going to be trivial. There is simply too great a risk that the tail starts to wag the dog otherwise.

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  15. David wrote:
    “Terry, would you ever have thought that your work was going to be discussed by a former head of government?)”
    Actually, yes.
    In Australia, the NewDemocracy Foundation has lined up a couple of former state Premiers as sortition supporters, such as the Honorable Nick Greiner of New South Wales.

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  16. Bluntly I am a bit shocked by both the lack of coverage in the literature and the general unwillingness to engage on the topic of procedure for the internal workings of an allotted assembly. I am about the afraid it speak volumes about the depth and maturity of this idea. The base argument for sortition is both strong and compelling, but the absence of details on just how the business of such a legislature will be conducted and how influence will be controlled leaves it open to some rather damning criticism and difficult to take seriously.

    This is not a trivial concern. Nor is the question of leadership at the various levels that it will need to manifest itself in a practical demarchy both in the legislature, its ancillary system and of course the polity itself.

    Without a frank discussion of these issues, sortition remains little more than a hollow intellectual exercise.

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  17. Rob,

    What you believe is “damning criticism” is, in fact, no more than a prejudicial belief of yours that it takes an elite to make policy, and even more to the point, that it takes an officially mandated elite to make policy (since no doubt elite groups would be offering policy to the allotted chamber whether they are officially mandated to do so or not). I see no basis for this belief and you have certainly provided no such basis.

    BTW, if your claim is to be believe, then you should certainly avoid wasting your virtual breath on us, since we do not make an officially mandated elite and thus have no chance to overcome those unimaginable difficulties that are involved in defining policy of which you tell us (and surely reforming a governmental system counts as high policy).

    Regarding your general claim about the need to discuss “the internal workings of an allotted assembly”: the notion that details of procedure of a proposed government system should (and thus can) be discussed and analyzed a-priori is, let’s say, unrealistic. Furthermore, it is presumptuous for reformers to believe that they would be able to make such designs better than those who would be part of the new system itself.

    To the contrary: reformers promoting a new system should deal only with general principles and rough guidelines in motivating and describing the design they propose. The details should be left to those whose ongoing job is going to be to fashion and re-fashion those details.

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  18. Yoram Gat, Boy you’d like me out of here wouldn’t you? Don’t like it when someone starts asking hard questions eh? Sorry you will have to put up with me or ban me.

    I said nothing about a need for an officially mandated elite to make policy, in fact I have written over and over that I don’t know the answers, but I do have some idea of how things are done now in government and it is not clear that they will work all that well by replacing elections with a lottery, in fact quite the contrary.

    And it is the job of those that wish to reform a system to explain how it will work; just because YOU don’t want to doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be done.

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  19. I seem to fit neatly between Robert an Yoram on this point.

    I agree with Yoram, that the procedures that bodies in an allotted democracy should use SHOULD be decided by an allotted body (I would hope one separated from direct policy making). But on the other hand SOMEBODY needs to draft a starting point for procedures for the first allotted bodies to begin with. I agree with Robert that the procedures should be dramatically different than those used in current legislatures (which are based on a winner-take-all imperative and center around party allegiance, etc.). Without good INITIAL rules and procedures it is VERY likely that the allotted bodies would quickly be captured by partisan or other special interests and their rules evolve towards making the allotted bodies mere window dressing for a behind the scenes oligarchy. So (like Robert) I see discussion of internal procedures for allotted bodies as important…but like Yoram, I want the design handed over to an allotted body to decide on.

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  20. Terry,

    I agree that the allotted body should make its own detailed rules, that’s not the thrust of my concern. But the general constitution of such an assembly must be established beforehand not just for the reasons you state but to sell the idea in general.

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  21. Rob,

    > Yoram Gat, Boy you’d like me out of here wouldn’t you?

    Hardly. I would prefer for you to be less self-important and more polite, but I welcome your opinions, just as is true of Keith Sutherland, who has been very vocally disagreeing with me here for years.

    Quite apart from the fact that having a lively discussion is a great way to keep the Equality-by-Lot community vibrant, I enjoy an intellectual challenge as much as the other guy. So please do stay and have your say. It would great, however, if you could tone down your rudeness and bluster and put a little more effort into your substantiating your arguments rather than assuming that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is morally or intellectually deficient.

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  22. Terry,

    > the procedures should be dramatically different than those used in current legislatures (which are based on a winner-take-all imperative and center around party allegiance, etc.).

    What are the ways in which current rules are so completely unserviceable for the purposes of a democratic body?

    > Without good INITIAL rules and procedures it is VERY likely that the allotted bodies would quickly be captured by partisan or other special interests and their rules evolve towards making the allotted bodies mere window dressing for a behind the scenes oligarchy.

    As long as the body is able to set its own rules, wouldn’t you expect it to be able to set those rules in a way that would serve its own purposes?

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  23. Yoram:

    >It would great, however, if you could tone down your rudeness and bluster and put a little more effort into your substantiating your arguments rather than assuming that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is morally or intellectually deficient.

    Yoram you really should take a look in the mirror. Robert’s “rudeness and bluster” pales into significance compared to some of the gratuitous insults that you have hurled in my direction over the years (particularly wrt my own “moral and intellectual deficiencies”).

    I’m intrigued by the sharp differences within the tiny community of sortinistas — in particular why some are more prepared to alter their views than others. I have a hunch that it has something to do with why we became interested in the topic in the first place and am preparing a post which attempts to unpack this issue.

    Terry,

    If an experiment were designed whereby the procedures that an allotted legislature were to follow were designed by (say) three different allotted bodies and each of them came up with a different procedure, which one should be adopted?

    My own preference is for a three-stage approach:

    1) Political theorists/historians to agree (via a combination of peer review and consensus conference) what the purpose of the allotted body is and how it should interface with the other institutions of government. This does somewhat privilege those of my own profession, but that’s the way it’s always been (Yoram’s own views on the potential of sortition are little more than a gloss on a distinction made by Montesquieu and derived, ultimately, from Aristotle and Polybius). I would agree here with Yoram, that you can’t focus on the detail until you have agreed on the “general rough guidelines”.

    2) The procedural details and internal organisation of the allotted body should be decided by political scientists and those who have long experience of working within legislative bodies. (I agree here with Robert.)

    3) Given the need for a democratic mandate the final design should be approved (or rejected) by the votes of a randomly-selected constitutional assembly, after having listened to the arguments (for and against) from the various parties involved in stages 1) and 2).

    This strikes me as a sensible balance of theory, pragmatics and popular judgment.

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  24. Keith,

    > Yoram you really should take a look in the mirror. Robert’s “rudeness and bluster” pales into significance compared to some of the gratuitous insults that you have hurled in my direction over the years (particularly wrt my own “moral and intellectual deficiencies”).

    I’d be happy to look at the mirror if you would be kind enough to substantiate your claims. But note that pointing out relevant facts does not count as “hurling gratuitous insults”.

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  25. Well, let’s not go down that route — I explore the possible reasons for our mutual disagreements in the new post that I submitted this morning.

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  26. Keith and Yoram,

    As somebody who has read each of your criticisms of the other, it is my opinion that you have both been “guilty” of unfairly assigning bad motives to the other in the past. I know that I have certainly have been guilty of that plenty in other contexts (especially when I was in public office!). Let’s leave all that behind us, rather than rehash who was to blame, when. I think those kinds of criticisms (even if valid!) may serve to reduce readership and participation in this important Blog.

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  27. Keith and Yoram,

    Keith asked “What are the ways in which current rules are so completely unserviceable for the purposes of a democratic body?”

    There are countless examples, but I will relay one anecdote that may be relevant.

    When I was in the legislature, the rules gave the Speaker of the House authority to appoint members to committees. Since some committees were desirable and others not, the Speaker used this power to reward some legislators and punish others. It was used to threaten legislators to vote certain ways, either in committee or on the floor. I sponsored a rule amendment that would have members draw lots to determine the order they got to select their own committee assignments (within seniority classes, to make it more palatable). The vast majority of members would have been better off … being freed from intimidation, and having a “fair” shot at a better committee assignment. Only a handful of members would co-sponsor the resolution, for fear of being punished by the Speaker under the EXISTING rule. The resolution was sent to the Rules Committee by the Speaker (another power he had), where it was never brought up for consideration. The body “democratically” decided to keep its rules undemocratic, because the rules in place encouraged that.

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  28. Terry,

    I disagree with this kind of “all of us have sinned, but let’s not get into the details” attitude.

    I don’t feel that I have engaged in any kind of unseemly behavior. I certainly had harsh words for Keith in the past but, as far as I am aware, only when they were accurate and relevant. Unsocial behavior, such as making false assertions, has to be called out and denounced. Unchecked, such behavior can be quite detrimental to the public good and it is important that it is discouraged.

    In fact, I am somewhat disappointed that others in this forum have a tendency to turn a blind eye to behavior. This may seem like the polite thing to do, but it is in fact harmful. For example, when someone uses a word like “rubbish” as a response to what someone else says (as has happened here recently) should not be condoned but rather should be met with clear public denunciation by all those involved in the discussion.

    I’d be happy to put all of this behind us, but I see no particular reason to believe that without addressing root causes we will be so lucky as to not see such occurrences repeating.

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  29. Terry,

    The situation you describe is one in which, it seems, the chamber is in fact unable to set its own rules (the speaker has some sort of dictatorial power by setting the committees and then letting them veto legislation). I am not sure if this is really the case – I would guess that the speaker actually enjoyed significant support and that is how he manages to maintain his power. But if it is indeed the case then, yes, this is a set of rules that needs to be changed. However, again, this change is a matter of principle, not a matter of details. It is the principle that the chamber is managed democratically that needs to be observed, not a this or that set of procedures.

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  30. >I certainly had harsh words for Keith in the past but, as far as I am aware, only when they were accurate and relevant.

    Yoram we all are inclined to believe that the other guy is at fault. In my new posting I try to examine why it is that we seem to talk past and attribute bad faith to each other. So let’s pursue that rather than opening up old wounds. As Terry points out, this will only drive people away from the blog.

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  31. Terry,

    >Keith asked “What are the ways in which current rules are so completely unserviceable for the purposes of a democratic body?”

    I don’t remember asking this question (perhaps it was Robert). The example you provide is a very good reason why a house (elected, allotted or otherwise) should not determine its own rules. One way of determining procedure is when a mechanism has worked reasonably well in another context — my chosen example is always the judicial trial. Everyone tells me that there is no analogy between the trial of persons and the trial of legislative proposals, but I’m not so sure. It worked for the Athenian nomothetai, so why shouldn’t it work for us? (especially given that the current Palace of Westminster used to be called the High Court of Parliament).

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  32. The quote by Keith of Russeau reminds me of a quote of Madison: If men were angels, no government would be necessary. So he is even more drastic that Russeau, it seems.
    My impression is that for Madison, and in general most of the liberal thinkers of that time, meritocracy was THE founding principle of the society as a whole. And election, rather than sortition, was the way they thought would promote this principle in government.
    In that respect sortition was seen as a tool that promotes luck, rather than merit.
    But even for them elections, per se, were not capable of promoting the meritocratic principle, so there were a few other principles and tools to be considered.
    Among the principles, the most important were:
    1) power corrupts, and people of power must be mistrusted
    2) government main (sole?) purpose is to guarantee to all citizens the basic rights, interfering as little as possible with individual choices. (i.e. small government)
    3) rule of law is the foundation and the limit of government, and of society as a whole
    The main tools were:
    1) separation of powers
    2) the possibility of controlling the actions of the elected (transparency)
    3) frequent elections
    4) direct relationship electors-elected (constituency)

    I think that most of people would agree that the majority of these principles and tools are not respected in current governments in one way or another, or even in multiple ways.
    The defenders of electoralism would certainly point out that it is the violation of these principles and tools that leads to the failure of the system. Some might even point out that meritocracy is not anymore a guiding principle for our societies, and that “crony capitalism” is the heart of this decay, betraying the liberal principles.
    These processes are more and more seen as a corruption of the society, and of the electoral system in particular. (Corruption not, or not only, in the sense of bribery).
    And it is well known that sortition has been a tool for selecting officials almost free of corruption. And this is why more and more people see it as a way to solve the corruption problem.
    It is not because there is some sort of mathematical proof of its virtues, which seems to me what Robert is asking as a way to overcome criticism and objections to sortition.
    After all the inclusion of sortition in the election of the Doge was by many historians seen as the tool that allowed Venice to be a dominant power for a thousand years, avoiding the decline of its larger rival, Genoa (also known as “the Ruler of the Seas”), decline mainly due to power fighting and corruption.
    Not that Venice was completely free from corruption, the Italian word broglio, meaning electoral fraud, comes from venetian history like ballot.
    Coming back to the possibility of replacing elected officials with sorted out ones, let’s take as an example a legislative body.
    And let me use as the example the Italian parliament. (note: for personal reasons I know well how the legislative and executive bodies work at national and local level in Italy and Switzerland).
    If all MP were substituted tomorrow by a sorted out group of citizens we would certainly have a lower number of convicted for offenses related to bribery, tax evasion, fraud. I know, we are particularly “unlucky”, but this is the sad truth.
    And what would happen to all this people, whose large majority is not versed in the legislative process.
    Well, more or less what happened to all the MP of M5S in the last elections. Although elected, all of them were at their first experience in a parliament. What have they done to select their parliamentary assistants, those that support them in drafting legislation? Instead of selecting those suggested by their party, or those who helped them in previously, they asked publicly that all those interested in the post send their CV.
    And they selected their assistants based on CV and interviews. Is that a worse method? I do not think so.
    Regarding parties, they are part of the problem. Parliamentarians tend to vote along party lines instead of on the merit of proposals, and this worsens the quality of the legislation.
    (BTW, thanks to its DD system, this does not happen in Switzerland, and it shows, but this is another story.)
    So, while I concur that the devil is in the details and the quality of a government system depends a lot on how it is designed in its mechanisms, I don’t think that in general to switch from an elected body to a sorted out one you must change other things to have it working.
    I do not see any compelling evidence for that, but rather I see several hints of the opposite. That is, by changing the selection system to sortition you would have immediate benefits.
    If nothing else, the cost of elections :-).
    A closing note for Keith. Not to be pedantic, since you are almost right on the origin of the word “ballot”.
    But it comes from the venetian word “balota”, which means small ball. And small velvet balls, white and black, were used to vote yes or no in the legislative council, the “Gran Consiglio”. They were velvet so that it was impossible to “hear” if someone was abstaining, preserving the secrecy of vote.
    But, as you said, balls were used also to select the Doge. It was a rather complicated system, which resorted to multiple sortitions and elections.
    The initial procedure was that at the death of the Doge, the youngest member of the council had to go to the church of San Marco, and take with him the first child between 8 and 10 years old.
    This child, who was lucky because he gained the right to be supported by the state in his studies, was blindfolded and had the task of extracting the balls from a large cap. He had to give one ball to each member of the Gran Consiglio, who were passing in front of him one by one. Thirty of those balls were made of gold, the others of silver. The thirty selected could not be relatives, otherwise they were substituted.
    The thirty selected were reduced to nine by another sortition.
    The nine elected a group of forty, that were reduced to by sortition to twelve. Those elected twenty-five, that were reduced by sortition to nine.
    Those nine chose forty-five, that were then reduced by sortition to eleven.
    The eleven had to elect forty-one, and each of the forty-one had to receive at least nine votes.
    At last, those forty-one were in charge of electing the Doge, which had to receive at least twenty-five votes.
    BTW, the Doge had to maintain himself with his family wealth, all the present he received were property of the state, and he could see people or read correspondence addressed to him only at the presence of at least four of his six counselors.

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  33. Stefano,

    Thanks for clarifying the origin of the word ballot. Only one thing still puzzles me:

    >If all MP were substituted tomorrow by a sorted out group of citizens we would certainly have a lower number of convicted for offenses related to bribery, tax evasion, fraud.

    This would certainly be true ex-ante, but it seems to me that could only be preserved ex-post if the role of randomly selected members was restricted to voting in secret. If they were to vote in public or be responsible for introducing legislative proposals they would immediately be the target of wealthy lobbyists. Given that they would not be seeking re-election and would not be constrained by party discipline would they not be wide open to corruption?

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  34. Well, this is the big question. What are the incentives for randomly selected member of legislative, or executive, councils to act in public interest instead of their own self interest?
    And we are not talking of acts that would be criminal offences, since in that case the retribution should come from law.
    First of all, let me note that the situation is not dissimilar to that of a President of the United States during the second mandate.
    For him, as well as for a randomly selected member, the incentive can’t be being reelected. And party discipline also does not play a role.
    The President has at least as a balancing power the Congress.
    But, in my opinion, for both there is also the public opinion pressure that works. For most people, maybe more for some who passed through an electoral process but I’m not certain, it is important being recognized as good members of the society.
    It is after all what prevents most people from cleaning the internal of their nose with their finger in public, even if the public is our own family members. (And I’m not admitting I’m doing that in private, of course).
    And for this system to work, it is important that the vote of every member be openly known.
    I recognize the merit of your proposal. It is mainly a deterrent for the wealthy lobbyist. Since he does not know if the vote was according to the “paid promise”, he would be discouraged to spend his money possibly in vain.
    However, I have a different preferred solution for the problem of improper influence on the legislative or executive process. It is the introduction of the Swiss form of direct democracy.

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  35. Stefano,

    The other problem with open voting in an allotted assembly is the tyranny of public opinion/political correctness. The only merit of an allotted sample (rather than everyone voting on the issue, as in direct democracy) is that randomly-selected members are asked to register their votes only after having been fully appraised of the relevant facts and after having listened to competing arguments for and against the legislative proposal. The whole point of a deliberative poll is to find out what the public *would* think under good circumstances and the preference transformations involved will often mean a disjunction between well-informed and raw opinion (as in a referendum). That’s the whole point of sortition. If allotted members voted publicly, not only could their votes be easily bought by lobbyists (ex-presidents are a lot more concerned with their reputation than ordinary citizens who did not even want the job in the first place) but they would be subject to the tyranny of public opinion. Legislators very often have to make unpopular decisions and anonymity is the best way to ensure that this can be done. Needless to say this presupposes a very short term for each allotted member (as in jury service) in order to ensure the ongoing representativity of the microcosm. But we should never lose sight of the fact that sortition is not to discover what the public think, but what the public would think under good conditions (of balanced information and advocacy).

    As Andre pointed out in an earlier comment we need to guard against applying notions derived from electoral representation (including the fiduciary relationship between elected members and their constituents) to allotment. There is no such thing as an individual “allotted representative” who acts for her constituents and needs to be held to account by them; all one can say is that the randomly-selected microcosm stands for the whole citizen body.

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  36. Well, I do agree that the purpose of a representative assembly is to allow the members to go in depth in the evaluation of issues, ask expert advice and make an informed decision.
    This is exactly the problem that comes when parties have a disproportionate influence on who can stand for elections.
    The elected tend to vote along party lines. They have no incentive to study the issue, and to contribute with their thoughts and insights to the decision. If they come up with an idea not shared by the party, they might loose the chance to stand for reelection.
    Isn’t this one of the reasons that pushed for the general adoption of primary elections during the progressive era in the USA?
    What I find a bit strange are some of your assertions. I’ll address them in what I think is the “logical” order.
    The first is “Legislators very often have to make unpopular decisions”. It can’t be. The principle of any republican system, whether democratic or aristocratic, is to govern “with the consent of the governed”. This means that at the very least the governed, even ex post the decision, must be convinced that it was the same decision they would have taken had they had the same information that the (elected or selected) representative had at that time. A continuous misalignment between governing bodies and governed would, sooner or later, result in unrest and revolts. And after all “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”.
    The second discrepancy I see is that you say that people is both subject to public opinion pressure, and not subject to their public reputation (and so subject to lobbyist pressure). What makes the subject to public opinion pressure, if not their “reputation”?
    The third thing is something I disagree completely. And is that a referendum, and I suppose you include also the initiative, are a way to assess raw rather than well-informed opinion.
    As I already said, I agreed with you assertion that the devil is in the details. And research shows that the way direct democracy is implemented in Switzerland as opposed to the way it is implemented, let’s say, in California lead to different citizen awareness of the political issues discussed in the parliament. In the Swiss case you have initiatives and referenda with an informed electorate. And in any case, these tools are just a way (probably the best) to ensure a continuous alignment between government and governed, and also as a mean to bring to the general public the issues of minorities. And all this with just 2% of the laws going to popular vote, and with the vast majority decided in the same way as the recommendation of the parliament.The discussion about that probably does not belong here, so I stop.
    Going back to sortition, I have to confess that I’m in the pragmatic camp. I see it as a good tool to select decision makers. A tool that is essentially free from corruption.
    In the case of a legislative body for instance I would have nothing against elections, if elections were able to select the best decision makers. But for me it is apparent that, in almost all countries, elected representatives are at most equal to the average population, and sometimes even worse.
    So elections are a very expensive way to select the members of the legislative body, without any significant return. A waste of taxpayer money I would say.
    There might be other ways of fixing the system, but in many cases I think that a simple switch to sortition would lead to better or equal results for a lot less money.

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  37. >the governed, even ex post the decision, must be convinced that it was the same decision they would have taken had they had the same information that the (elected or selected) representative had at that time. A continuous misalignment between governing bodies and governed would, sooner or later, result in unrest and revolts.

    Yes, that’s clearly true over the long term, but that’s not the same thing as saying that each and every decision will command the immediate support of even the majority of citizens, who were not party to the same information. So individual legislators will need to be shielded from their neighbour’s criticism that (say) the new tax on aviation fuel (motivated by the concerns of the legislators over climate change) will mean that they will not be able to have that weekend break in Venice after all and that it might not be a good idea to hang all paedophiles from the lamppost.

    >The second discrepancy I see is that you say that people is both subject to public opinion pressure, and not subject to their public reputation (and so subject to lobbyist pressure). What makes the subject to public opinion pressure, if not their “reputation”?

    Yes, people will be concerned with their reputation, but will be able to swallow their pride if in receipt of a sufficiently large inducement to vote according to the lobbyist’s instructions. Everyone is up for sale if the price is high enough.

    As for the merits of direct democracy, perhaps this is not the best forum to discuss it.

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  38. Dear friends,

    Just a brief post to tell you that

    a) my book Against Elections will be available in French within a few weeks

    b) I got a phone call from the Frankfurt Book Fair last week where a superb Norwegian publisher had just bought the rights for a Norwegian translation

    c) the Dutch version of Against Elections has had four print runs since it was published last week (much to my surprise)

    d) the book has been the object of substantial debate, with some people violently attacking the text (some senior political journalists in Belgium, one EU commissioner) and others praising it (including a former prime minister in Belgium, two presidents of national parties in Belgium and a former party president in Holland).

    What strikes me most with those who dislike the idea of sortition is the tone of their rebuttals. Although my own text was written in a deliberately quiet voice (the title is the only provocative part, courtesy of my publishing house), opponents have been dismissive at best or downright aggressive at worst.

    Is this pattern common? Do you recognize it?

    I myself try to stick to the adage of the dalai lama: “Try to be gentle if possible. It is always possible.”

    When I spoke to those involved with With the Citizens in Ireland and the Irish Constitutional Convention, I was told: “Two categories of people dislike deliberative democracy and sortition: journalists and politicians. They are used to be the gatekeepers and cling to that privilege.”

    My question is: How can we quietly explain to others some of the ideas which we truly think are valuable and worth considering?

    I agree with Keith: if sortition is to be taken seriously, elected officials are to be drawn in rather than scorned at. But this also holds true for journalists, for any verdict of an innovative scheme will be given in mass media.

    Best wishes,
    David

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  39. Hi David,

    I think the idea that elected officials and other people who enjoy privilege within the current system can be made into allies is unrealistic. They enjoy their current privileged position and have grown used to thinking that it is justified. They will not give it up voluntarily. I would suspect that any cooperation on the side of such elements is an attempt to subvert sortition and defang it rather than truly adopt it. (There will be exceptions, of course.)

    Our allies are among the 99%, not among the 1%.

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  40. >Our allies are among the 99%, not among the 1%.

    Needless to say I disagree with this dogmatic claim (which is belied by David’s experience that support and hostility appear to be evenly divided within the political elite). If anything it is ordinary citizens who are bemused by the idea of sortition, wondering how it might be possible for folk like themselves (who have little knowledge of the workings of the political system) to organise their own affairs. No doubt Yoram would attribute this to indoctrination by an oppressive regime — it will require political re-education on an industrial scale to overcome this false consciousness.

    The principal reason that public servants and political journalists are hostile to sortition is on account of the student-revolutionary hyperbole and overarching claims of some of its supporters, so I’m relieved to hear that the title of David’s book (like my own first book) was a product of his publisher’s marketing department and that the book itself is more modest in its rhetorical style. I’m also delighted to hear about the considerable interest that it is generating.

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  41. 1.
    *** ,AhmedRTeleb wrote (october 7) « majority rule should be reevaluated. […] perhaps high quotas (votes needed to pass a measure) would best promote all of discursive equality, cognitive diversity, and “cool heads” a la 18th or 21st-century psychology. »
    *** A rule of super-majority is possible only if there is an established presumption. If a person, accused of a crime by a plaintiff, is judged by a jury of twelve with a super-majority of nine, that means an established dissymetry between the plaintif and the accused, a « presumption of innocence » for the defendant.
    *** In legislative matters ancient theorists, including democrat ones, favoured often a dissymetry with a presumption of value for the ancient legislation. Specially Rousseau had in legislative matters a strong bias towards the statu-quo, once a good republic established. This kind of dissymetry was quite tenable – in Ancient Times. When the basic social data evolve very slowly, the old law, approved at least implicitly by many generations of the sovereign people, must have the preference over the new proposals. The logical basis of this dissymetry would not be present in a modern dêmokratia. First, because the current body of laws will not be the result not of generations of true people’s power, but of generations of « polyarchies » (or dictatorships). Secondly, and even after a generation of dêmokratia, because the social data are evolving quickly, and it would be stupid to cling to laws which were appropriate for a different world. « Tradition is the democracy of the dead », said Chesterton ; maybe, but the dead could not take into account the data of newer times. The dead are to be excluded from sovereignty, not because they are deemed inferior to the living, but because they could not foresee the history to come, in a dynamic world. Presumption of value for the ancient legislation was an idea tenable for quasi-static societies, for the Age of Tradition the humankind has got out of which, irreversibly.
    *** Contemporary societies have to make critical choices, following unforeseen events. Established presumptions usually cannot work. The contemporary Greece has to choose between different ways to get out of a catastrophic situation. Let’s suppose a dêmokratia, with an alloted sovereign body. How ask for a supermajority? A choice is necessary – and to keep the current way is a choice among the others, without any reason to have priority.
    *** To conclude, in a modern dêmokratia a rule of supermajority cannot be tenable except in very specific cases, the list of these cases being decided by the sovereign dêmos through an alloted legislative body. And this legislative body cannot follow any rule of supermajority.
    *** We cannot accept what seems the idea of AhmedRTeleb, generalized use of supermajorities in the final decision. But it is right that a small majority is a problem, and it is reasonable that in such a case the rules should organize more deliberation, along specific procedures. Note that it is also the case for near-unanimous decisions, where there is always a risk of too little deliberation.

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  42. Andre – yes. The presumption in favor of the status quo is also the main plank in arguments for “checks and balances” and “limited government”.

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  43. By the way, a very interesting 1912 speech of Teddy Roosevelt called Limitation of Government makes the straightforward point that limiting government means granting more power to non-governmental organizations, which are less representative than the government is. Over a hundred years later, Wilson’s “outworn academic doctrine” is still commonly asserted as a sophisticated, historically valid position.

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  44. Andre,

    I can understand (but still disagree with) the argument to disenfranchise the dead, but what about those who are still to be born? The focus on the immediate needs of the present generation is a serious problem in the sort of demokratia that you are suggesting. Supermajorities, along with other checks and balances, might be seen as a way of securing the rights of future generations. This is more of a hope than a claim, the only foundation being an appeal to universal long-term human needs that might often be overshadowed by current exigencies. View it as an example of the precautionary principle.

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  45. I only have time to add this at the moment:
    My suggestion to seriously consider supermajorities stems from its discursive/deliberative effect. When people’s votes are needed, their turn to speak is usually respected and their concern addressed.

    It is not the history of political institutions or theory that gives me this idea, but experience in group decision making. Many intentional communities (or communes) make decisions based on unanimity or unanimity-1. I lived in such a place once and interacted with another organization run the same way. Real deliberation happened (tho imperfectly) and quieter voices were heard.

    If one is a sortinista because one believes in deliberation, then something more than mere majority rule should be considered. If one views sortition as a minimal check against misrule then my point is less relevant.

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  46. > When people’s votes are needed, their turn to speak is usually respected and their concern addressed.

    Sure. But, to state the obvious, what’s to prevent a minority from abusing this respect and demand more consideration for their concerns than is fair? What about respect and consideration for the concerns of the majority?

    > If one is a sortinista because one believes in deliberation, then something more than mere majority rule should be considered. If one views sortition as a minimal check against misrule then my point is less relevant.

    What if one believes in representation of interests in decision making according to their proportion in the population?

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  47. >What if one believes in representation of interests in decision making according to their proportion in the population?

    This is clearly the foundational principle of democracy (although one might prefer to state it as beliefs and preferences, rather than reducing everything to interests). But working democracies generally have other mechanisms in place (“checks and balances”) to protect long-term and minority interests against the selfishness and transient preferences of a mechanism that addresses only majority wishes at a particular point in time. We can argue over whether that should be done by supermajorities, or built-in constitutional safeguards, it’s still an obvious need.

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  48. To state the obvious again: procedures privileging the status-quo (be it super-majority requirements, “checks-and-balances”, or any other procedure) protect minorities or future citizens or any other group if and only if those groups are already protected by the status quo.

    It is the implicit notion that the status quo is natural, good and “protective” that may only disturbed only if there is widespread support for doing so that is underlying the status quo preserving procedures.

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  49. Yes that’s true, it’s predicated on the notion of collective wisdom transcending the generations. The fact that a political association has survived for a number of centuries is some indication as to its adaptive efficiency, and the precautionary principle would suggest that the onus of proof is on those who wish to change the terms of political association. Past experiences of radical attempts to blow up the system and start over (based, usually, on some abstract notion of equality) have not been successful, so that’s another reason to prefer the precautionary principle. Making all decisions on the basis of the short-term interests of the current generation (as perceived by a small sample thereof) might be a little rash. Of course the allotted sample may choose to take a long-term perspective, privileging (say) the ecological and financial interests of their great-great-grandchildren over their own immediate wishes, but then again they might not.

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  50. *** AhmedRTeleb says that his « suggestion to seriously consider supermajorities stems from its discursive/deliberative effect. When people’s votes are needed, their turn to speak is usually respected and their concern addressed. » I appreciate his arguments. And, as I said , I agree that in a democratic procedure it is useful to organize super-majorities, but only provisional ones ; eventually a kind of suspensive veto can guarantee a deep deliberation and prevent an instant decision which would be only a photograph of the a priori preferences. But at least in basic legislative and policy choices a right of final veto by a minority would lead often to a « no choice » which, actually, is a choice : in legislation the choice of statu-quo ; in policy the choice to let the things go as they are going, propelled by the internal and external de facto powers, that a democratic sovereignty is to control.
    *** PS We can note that the history of « liberum veto » in the ancient nobiliary republic of Poland-Lithuania does not seem to favour the unanimity rule. Over-conservative or foreign-corrupt elements could block the necessary reforms.

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  51. *** Keith Sutherland writes « I can understand (but still disagree with) the argument to disenfranchise the dead, but what about those who are still to be born? The focus on the immediate needs of the present generation is a serious problem in the sort of demokratia that you are suggesting. Supermajorities, along with other checks and balances, might be seen as a way of securing the rights of future generations. » The symetry Keith establishes between the dead and the unborn is basically irrelevant – Time is an arrow. The dead has no direct interest to our world, we can eventually consider their wisdom ; about later generations we can consider their interests which we can partially forecast, not their wisdom we cannot imagine.
    *** The more usual effect of supermajorities, and of checks and balances of the polyarchical kind ( = with interacting bodies which are not taken by lot from the ordinary citizens), is to leave the things going as they go, propelled by the internal and external de facto powers. I do not see how that will be specially efficient to « secure the rights of future generations ».
    *** There are many kinds of « long-term interests ». Let’s quote only some of them : a less polluted environment ; lack of internal ethnic antagonism ; world peace. The polyarchic system who dominates today is tendancially better than authoritarian or totalitarian systems from these points of view, as from many others. But it is not so good as we can hope. If we are pessimistic, we can fear, as Keith, that a dêmokratia will make « all decisions on the basis of the short-term interests of the current generation ». But it seems very pessimistic to forecast that it will be worse than in our current systems, where the policy is the output of many lobbying de facto powers, most of them seem concerned by their own specific short-term interests. Dêmokratia is at least able to produce a coherent and conscient policy.
    *** There is a problem with the use of the word « interests ». In Rousseau’s vocabulary, it includes material and moral interests. But in many current understandings, it means « material interests ». In this narrow sense, a parent who spends time, money, attention when caring for a child « acts against his own interests ». I propose to add adjectives to « interests » everytime and everywhere there can be ambiguity.
    *** In the second Athenian democracy a specialized jury could check if a law was not contrary to the basic interests of the State and the basic tenets of democracy, viewing the same law that the legislators but from a specific point of view. In a modern dêmokratia we can think of an alloted body examining policies, or proposals of policy, from the point of view of the interests not belonging directly to the citizen body, this including the future generations. Right, this supposes among the jurors some interests other than their direct material ones. If we trust Plato, Protagoras, the first great democrat thinker, put as base of dêmokratia the postulate that most men (not all !) have some common sense and some common decency.

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  52. Andre,

    Regarding the long-term interests that you outline, authoritarian systems have a much better record than polyarchies when it comes to internal ethnic antagonisms, the obvious example being the former Yugoslavia. Life for Syrians under the Assad dictatorship was much more peaceful than now, thanks to the encouragement the insurgents received from the intervention of the Western polyarchies in the Arab Spring. Are Libya and Iraq any better without their dictators? Sortition in Egypt would, as you have acknowledged earlier, lead to authoritarian theocracy. So I’m not convinced that either polyarchy or sortition would have much to contribute to the reduction of ethnic conflict and world peace. And why do you think that demokratia will produce coherent policy? Logically speaking authoritarianism is much more likely to be coherent (in the sense of consistent) than democracy.

    As for environmental policy in the UK, lobbyists with short-term interests (for example heavy manufacturing) have been very unsuccessful. The rapidly increasing energy costs in the UK are the result primarily of the influence of a small environmentalist elite and are very unpopular. There is a good chance that rule by an allotted assembly would lead to a marked increase in global warming as there is no evidence to suggest that “the masses” would privilege the interests of the unborn over their own immediate needs. Tony Blair claimed that the only reason he did not lobby for the taxation of aviation fuel was on account of the unpopularity it would bring him (a popular uprising against road fuel tax nearly brought his government down). Do we hear a popular clamouring for increased road fuel taxes in the US, or a protest at the drop in the price of gas for central heating and air conditioning?

    Long-term interests are very difficult to address and the compact between the dead, the living and the unborn, is the conservative method for constraining the short-term wishes of the current generation. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument from those with a more “progressive” agenda. Why should two samples from the same population (a legislative jury and a scrutiny body) come up with different conclusions? Bicameral constitutions always select each house on a different basis (rather than just providing a different brief). My understanding of the role of the second jury in Athens was a simple check as to whether or not a new law contradicted an old one (a task which could easily be performed by a computer), as opposed to a philosophical enquiry into basic democratic principles (and/or long-term interests). This was an aspect of the 4th century conservative reaction against demokratia, calling for a return to the rule of law, rather than the rule of men. It all sounds pretty conservative to me, in fact it’s hard to imagine a better instance of the pact between the past and the present (if Solon/Draco ruled it, then it must be OK.) So much for the arrow of time!

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  53. Keith,

    You give an example of an electoral politician declining to protect the environment because it would be unpopular… with a rationally ignorant electorate. We can’t know for sure what a better informed jury might like, but the experiments with allotted policy groups in Australia, Denmark and Japan suggest juries would have greater concern for the long-term consequences than most elected politicians feel free to pursue.

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  54. Fair point Terry. I agree that a well-informed allotted jury (I’m glad you use that term) would be less subject to the law of rational ignorance and might therefore adopt a longer-term perspective. The point that I was seeking to refute was the claim that elected politicians are simply dancing to the tune of rich ‘n powerful lobby groups. This may be the case in the US, but in the UK the primary constraint on policy is the rational ignorance of the electorate. The easiest way to match this in the US would be to adopt UK limits on campaign funding and political advertising. (Sorry, I forgot you can’t do that, on account of your hallowed constitution.)

    I also think the notion of an inter-generational compact, stretching into the past as well as the future, is a valuable corrective to the domination of current fads and fashions which can often, with the benefit of hindsight, look disastrously wrong. This is why conservatives like me have a strong regard for tradition, often expressed in quasi-mystical concepts like the “perennial wisdom”. In Eastern cultures it’s more a case of ancestor worship and that seems to be a key aspect of the 4th century reforms in Athens. The Greeks really did believe that Solon invented democracy (rather than upstarts like Kleisthenes and Ephialtes) and viewed the 6th century as a golden age.

    I’ve yet to hear a convincing “progressive” alternative to the inter-generational compact. Notwithstanding Andre’s claim on the arrow of time, the past is concrete and the future purely hypothetical, so any long-term perspective will have to involve the historical dimension. A thorough understanding of past mistakes should make us more humble regarding our present inclinations (that’s why Obama is so conservative wrt foreign interventions).

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  55. Of the last comments by Keith Sutherland, many are not convincing. I will make some points.
    *** Keith says that dictatorships have a good record « when it comes to internal ethnic antagonisms ». Yes, when the communist regime of Yugoslavia disappears, war flares up between the nationalities ; when the Baathist regimes of Irak and Syria are destroyed or destabilized, war flares up between the ethno-confessional communities. For me, it is rather a proof that these dictatorships, after long times of absolute domination, were perfectly unable to solve the national or ethno-confessional problems !
    *** Keith asks : « why do you think that demokratia will produce coherent policy? Logically speaking authoritarianism is much more likely to be coherent (in the sense of consistent) than democracy ». But I was comparing dêmokratia to polyarchy, not to authoritarian regimes, some kinds of them can exhibit strong coherence, I acknowledge ; sometimes coherence in madness.
    *** As Terry Bouricius rightly observes, Keith takes wrongly arguments against dêmokratia from the polls or the electoral reactions in polyarchies. « Public opinion », without debate, without thorough reflexion, without responsability, has no value. Keith’s arguments are valid against the stupid utopia of democracy-through-everyday-instant-referendums, not against democracy-through-sortition.
    *** I never said that « sortition in Egypt would lead to authoritarian theocracy ». It will be so if the majority of Egyptian citizens really want it. Would an Egyptian alloted body, after deliberation, decide to kill the apostates ? to force divorce onto a moslem wife of a christian ? As for environment concerns in the West, we cannot conclude from electoral phenomenons.
    *** Keith says the US cannot adopt limits on campaign funding and political advertising « on account of your hallowed constitution ». No ! On account of its interpretation by the Supreme Court. Law is what judges say it is, and Aristotle was at least partly right to say that if the dêmos has the judicial power, he has the ultimate power on the City (« Constitution of Athens », 9-1).
    *** There is an arrow of time, and not only directly for technological reasons. During millenaries, the institution of slavery was accepted by all major civilisations and all major spiritual authorities, and now it is an abomination. Let’s be careful before adoring the « perennial wisdom ».
    *** I do not say we must have only contempt for ancient political wisdom ; actually I think we must consider what the ancient Greeks said about dêmokratia and sortition (lamenting we have lost a huge majority of ancient Greek litterature – and specially the democratic one). But we cannot consider any ancient thought as authoritative for a modern world so different from the ancient worlds, even the last centuries worlds ; and which itself changes quickly. Many important aspects of the contemporary societies could not even be imagined half a century ago, when I was young – Internet, for instance. Even in a future dêmokratia it will not be possible to leave the (democratic) past govern the present . (And, in the first generation of a dêmokratia, the past will be an oligarchical, tyrannical or polyarchical past, according to the country ).
    *** Keith says « The Greeks really did believe that Solon invented democracy (rather than upstarts like Kleisthenes and Ephialtes) and viewed the 6th century as a golden age. » Yes, for its relative dynamism, Athens was in the World of Tradition. Solon was the founder of democracy, or, better, the re-founder of an Athenian democracy founded by Theseus. To say a law was « solonic » was a good argument, and a practical one, as there were no official file tracing back to this time. The name of Solon was kept in the memory because he was not only a law giver, but a poet, and in these oral times poetry helped to be remembered. Aristotle believed that the right to a popular jury was a solonic idea, but nobody knows, and possibly this historic idea was the result of an ideological victory of the democrats. In the World of Tradition, always better to say that a revolution is actually a restoration. The Spartan revolutionaries of the third century said they were restoring the City of Lycurgus. But we must look to the reality : the Second Athenian Democracy was a new system, using sortition to a degree unknown in the history.
    *** Keith says : « My understanding of the role of the second jury in Athens was a simple check as to whether or not a new law contradicted an old one (a task which could easily be performed by a computer), as opposed to a philosophical enquiry into basic democratic principles (and/or long-term interests). » Please, consider the speech by Demosthenes « Against Leptines », better named « Against the Law of Leptines », which invokes democratic principles (see the very interesting 107-108) and long-term interests.
    *** I acknowledge, however, that Keith’s argument about the idealistic lobbies is very interesting. I will come back to it.

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  56. Andre

    Happy to concede to your arguments on autocracies, polyarchies and the arrow of time.

    As to whether or not sortition would bring about the benign changes that we anticipate, the simple answer is we don’t know. The only relevant historical example is the comparison between 5th and 4th century Athenian legislative practice, and I agree that the evidence for privileging the legislative courts to the assembly is compelling. But the courts had a very constrained mandate — they had no role in initiating policy (primarily the role of the political class), and merely judged the outcome of the debate between competing advocates. I agree that this mixed system of legislation is a useful model for modern states and note only that it has little in common with the sortition-only systems proposed on this blog.

    The appeal to the golden age of Solon wasn’t just nostalgia, it can also be seen as a yearning for the rule of law as opposed to the changing whims of the demos (or the aristocrats, the reason for Solon’s reforms), see: http://agiw.fak1.tu-berlin.de/Hospitium/Eder.htm The 4th century reforms are a conservative reaction against pure democracy. In this respect the only relevant historical evidence that we have would argue against your case for the unchecked will of the allotted microcosm. Rather than the rule of the ancestors, the Greeks yearned for the rule of law.

    I’ll now read Demosthenes Against Leptines and come back to you as to whether splitting the sample of the demos into two separate courts could ever be an effective constraint on popular sovereignty (see my response to Yoram as to why the latter is a malign system of government: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/how-could-sortition-fix-any-of-this/#comment-7318)

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  57. Andre,

    >Please, consider the speech by Demosthenes « Against Leptines », which invokes democratic principles (see the very interesting 107-108) and long-term interests.

    Thanks for bringing us back to the evidence. I was wrong to focus on the illegality/conflicting element of graphe nomon (which could, in principle be resolved by a computer) and you are right to point out that it also involved the prosecution of “unsuitable” or “inexpedient” laws and this involved appealing to “honour, shame and Athenian [democratic] ideology” (Kremmydas, 2012, p.45). But I don’t see how this supports your earlier claim:

    >In a modern dêmokratia we can think of an alloted body examining policies, or proposals of policy, from the point of view of the interests not belonging directly to the citizen body, this including the future generations.

    The dikasts and the members of the original nomothetai were drawn from the same jury pool and the only difference (other than the additional role of the former in determining technical illegalities) was that they found Demosthenes’ oratory more persuasive than the original case made by Leptines. The court process in 4th century Athens involved a strict division of labour — the speeches were made by politicians (rhetores), skilled advocates (synegoroi) and professional speechwriters (logographoi). The jury would have decided the outcome in both cases on the basis of similar criteria. The model that you are proposing appears to suggest that all the above roles are performed by randomly-selected citizens.

    The evidence from Dem. 20 supports my case that the 4th century reforms were conservative in nature, intended to protect the political process from the whims of the current generation. This involved a combination of nostalgia for a past golden age, a strong desire for the rule of law, rather than the rule of men, a Condorcetian appreciation of the value of time gaps (in between nomothesia and graph nomon) and an appreciation of the checks and balances introduced by successive stages of scrutiny. I can find no evidence to support your argument for the primacy of the immediate will of the current demos in 4th century Athens, so would conclude that this is something of a reckless gamble.

    Interesting phrase in Dem 20.108 which would make a good defence for Schumpeterian electoral democracy:

    “the freedom of a democracy is guarded by the rivalry with which good citizens compete for the rewards offered by the people.”

    It is this very freedom secured by competitive rivalry between rhetores that would be eliminated by an appeal to full-mandate sortition (unlike actual 4th century deliberative democracy). Eder (1998) points out what an improvement this was over its 5th century antecedent (ostracism) as the latter diminished the (elite) cognitive diversity that was an essential part of sound political judgment.

    References

    Eder, Walter (1998), ‘Aristocrats and the Coming of the Athenian Democracy’, Democracy 2500 — Questions and Challenges, ed. Morris and Raaflaub (Archaeological Institute of America).

    Kremmydas, Christos (2012), Commentary on Demosthenes Against Leptines with introduction, text, and translation (Oxford University Press)

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  58. *** Keith Sutherland underlines that lobbies are not always founded on pure material interests, and that they may be founded on moral interests, including concern for future generations. He quotes the ecologist movement. He is basically right. But we must consider the bases of the political clout of this lobby in our polyarchies. I will consider two views, which are ideal types.
    *** First what I will name the « pessimistic view ». In this view the moral interest corresponds to the specific sensitivity of a small minority, which is linked to the socio-economic and the socio-cultural elites, which explains its political strength. The unavoidable drawback is that the supported policies will have a strong class content. Let’s consider two proposals about energy saving. First proposal, the State provides free thermal isolation to all domestic houses, free, the huge cost being paid by progressive income taxes. Second proposal, strong taxes on privately-consumed energy – a taxation which will be a proportional or a regressive tax. We can fear the second proposal will be pushed more strongly by the lobby. The class content of such a lobbying will alienate the low class citizens. And such a lobby will not like the idea of sortition.
    *** Secondly, let’s consider the « optimistic view » : the « Green » lobby gets its clout from the sympathy, however vague, that its objectives attract among the ordinary citizens. The militants can think their ideas are so good as to convince any alloted body which would have time, responsability, power ; and therefore to overcome the opposing materialist lobbies, and the natural inertia.
    *** Many Green militants, at least in France, seem to share this optimistic view. And, logically, the Green party seems the one French party where a serious number of militants favours sortition. I am not politologist, but for instance I remember the report of a Summer Meeting of the militants of the French « Green » party, « Europe Ecologie et les Verts », at Nantes in 2010, where some participants evoked the possibility of alloted « citizen juries », prompting applause.
    *** Note that at Nantes the Green bigman Cohn-Bendit is said to have ridiculed the cheering militants by asking « Do you want to choose the party’s leaders by lot ? » – good comeback, but poor reasoning : the party’s leaders are « strategoi », and the Athenians elected their strategoi.
    *** Are the « sortitionist » Greens over-optimistic in their ability to convince ordinary citizens in a democracy-through-sortition ? Only a democratic future can give an incontrovertible answer.

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  59. Andre

    There are two Deliberative Polls that might be viewed as favouring your optimistic scenario, one on energy policy in Texas and a recent one on nuclear energy in Japan. I believe that the first one led to small opinion shifts in favour of green policies and the latter was used by the Japanese government to impose a veto on new nuclear power stations. I think Terry has details of the latter and I recall him saying that the outcome was binding on the government, rather than just advisory. Of course this verdict was influenced mostly by the Fukushima disaster, so it may not tell you anything beyond that (and also bear in mind that some green lobbyists are pro-nuclear).

    Regarding your pessimistic scenario, the important element that you outline is the relationship between environmental and fiscal policy. If you have ad hoc juries appointed by sortition then every legislative proposal would have to be fully costed by the Treasury (and/or independent fiscal agencies). Assuming the need for balanced budgets in the medium term, the allotted body would have to take on board the progressive taxation and/or regressive fuel-cost implications and use that information when coming to its considered verdict. I don’t know whether the above-mentioned DPs considered the fiscal implications of their decisions, but I know that participants in the Texas DP were prepared to pay slightly higher prices for energy from sustainable sources, so this would provide limited support your optimistic scenario.

    I’m sceptical, though, that it would be mirrored in the UK, where energy prices are going through the roof. There is another long-term issue that is relevant, namely security of supply. The energy companies argue that the (avg. 5%) profits that they make are essential for capital investment to secure future supplies, but consumers are aggrieved by large annual increases. It would be interesting to see how that conflict between long-term and short-term perspectives would play out in an allotted democracy. There are also large differences between countries (the French appearing to be a lot more relaxed about nuclear energy).

    The UK Green Party used to have a no-leader policy but I think they abandoned that a few years ago.

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  60. PS My son lives in Tokyo and he told me yesterday that the new Japanese government was voted in on a pro-nuclear ticket, thereby overriding the earlier DP decision. Does this tell us that election results are manipulated and ill-informed or does it tell us about the need for DPs to be better integrated into the larger governance structure — ie taking into account all the above factors (energy costs, fiscal implications, security of supply etc)? I believe Terry knows more about this particular DP and I’d be interested to hear whether the information stage included the above factors or whether it only dealt with the safety issue. Japan is heavily reliant on temporary diesel-powered electricity generation which is very expensive and leads to power shortages, and it has no coal or gas reserves.

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  61. Keith,

    Sorry, I think you’re confusing me with someone else. I thought I heard about the Japan DP on energy from YOU. There was some energy jury in Australia I’ve also heard a little about.

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  62. *** Keith Sutherland says « the 4th century reforms (in Athens) were conservative in nature, intended to protect the political process from the whims of the current generation ». This sentence could mean that the Athenian dêmos would be forbidden to undertake legal changes he thought necessary. Such an interpretation cannot be accepted. The dêmos had the last word, no other social entity could block him. The « checks and balances » involved only alloted bodies with the same political sensitivity. The citizen jury acting for judicial review of the Law of Leptines was not basically different from the citizen jury of legislators who had approved the Law. It was only a second stage of scrutiny, with two advantages : a time gap, allowing less emotional effect and more « cool head » ; and a scrutiny centered on democratic principles and long-term interests, without domination by the immediate problem (the fiscal one, for instance). These reforms were not intended to mitigate the dêmos power, but making it more rational. More conservative, maybe, tendencially ; but not systematically : the dêmos had the last word.
    *** When a collectivity is ruled not by a complex system but by a well-identified sovereign, either a person (a king), an aristocratic council or a sovereign dêmos, there is logically some concern about excessive sensitivity tof the sovereign to emotions or whims. Relevant institutions are then useful. In ancient French Monarchy, the « Parliaments » – actually Courts with political role – could stop a King’s law by not « registering » it. The King could overcome this opposition, by some spectacular procedure (« lit de justice »), therefore his sovereignty was not destroyed, he had the last word ; but the system lessened the risk of royal whims.
    *** Keith writes « The court process in 4th century Athens involved a strict division of labour — the speeches were made by politicians (rhetores), skilled advocates (synegoroi) and professional speechwriters (logographoi). (…) The model that you are proposing appears to suggest that all the above roles are performed by randomly-selected citizens. »
    In modern advanced societies most of the citizens can read and write, and have a level of school training unknown to the ordinary Athenian citizens. Furthermore a modern dêmokratia will be able to use technological means of information and communication of high level.
    I think therefore that modern alloted bodies could perform some tasks that an ancient Athenian jury could not carry. But I don’t think a modern dêmokratia could dispense of rhetores or strategoi, of professional specialists of politics. The problem is preventing them to coagulate into a ruling elite – it was the problem mentioned by Demosthenes in his Speech “Against Leptines”, and his solution was to heighten competition, and never give any collective delegation of power.
    *** Keith writes « Interesting phrase in Dem 20.108 which would make a good defence for Schumpeterian electoral democracy:“the freedom of a democracy is guarded by the rivalry with which good citizens compete for the rewards offered by the people.” » But the rewards mentioned by Demosthenes are honorific rewards (involving sometimes financial rewards), they are not not election to enter a collective ruling body – which he considers explicitly as oligarchic.

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  63. Andre

    I’m not an expert on classical history, but both Finlay and Hansen are adamant that the 4th century reforms were to institute the “rule of law, not the rule of men”. That sounds to me like a pretty conservative development and indicates that the reforms were intended as a check on the whim of the demos. The paper by Eder that I referenced argues that democracy did not come to Athens until the 4th century, as democracy is best understood as the rule of law. The Greeks themselves also viewed the changes as a return to the “moderate” democracy of Solon, when the demos was only one element in the constitution. Nobody is suggesting that the demos was “forbidden” to change things — I’m happy with “tendencially” rather than “systematically” — merely that the need was felt to put the brakes on. What other meaning would you attribute to Demosthenes’ praise for the legislative practice of the Locrians? (I certainly don’t claim that the reforms undermined the ultimate sovereignty of the demos, only that they acted as a check — just as any Locrian could propose a new law, but he needed a very steady nerve.)

    The only other interpretation is that the 4th century marked a decline in democratic practice — this is the argument that Arthur has pursued on this forum. I don’t know what Ober’s view is — his main focus seems to be on the 5th century and arguing that the advent of democracy was caused by a popular revolution. Rhodes and Eder both ridicule Ober’s position.

    I’m sure that, on account of the higher level of education, randomly selected citizens could undertake some of the tasks that Athenian jurors didn’t, my concern is that this would affect the aggregate representativity, because the statistical mandate does not apply at the level of the concrete individual. Tasks other than voting would be possible but they would have no democratic legitimacy.

    I think we are both in agreement about the need for competition between advocates, in order to prevent the establishment of a hegemonic elite. Competition (and accountability) is the answer, as opposed to Yoram’s policy of assigning them no role at all. You and I are looking for a modern analogue of the Athenian politician, we are not seeking to ostracise them (an objectionable 5th century practice that was replaced by the new role for the People’s Court — the political trial). The Athenians would have thought you completely mad if you had suggested that there was no role for the likes of Demosthenes, that all politicians should (effectively) be ostracised, as opposed to establishing institutions to hold them to account.

    Honorific rewards were quite sufficient to motivate (and constrain) politicians in a small polis like Athens, where only a small number of citizens would have wished to assume an active political role and where all the other citizens would be able to attend in person to hear them speak. Not so in large modern states, hence the need for representation. Sortition is the right way to appoint a jury that “stands for” everyone else to judge the outcome of the debate, but election (or direct democratic initiative) is the only way persons can “act for” the represented. But we’ve been over this many times before. The only point I want to stress is that we are looking for a modern analogue for the Athenian politician, not public officials selected by rotation.

    Athenian politics was a mixture of rotation, isegoria, isonomia, ho boulomenos and euthynai. Apart from rotation (impossible in large states) we need modern analogues of all of them. Sortition monomaniacs are only interested in (representative) isonomia and are throwing away the essential role of isegoria and ho boulomenos. Now, in a parallel thread, Terry tells us we don’t need euthynai either, all we need is the magic bullet of sortition. Frankly this is all completely bonkers!

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  64. Keith,

    To be clear…I agree that in a modern democracy the right of ANYONE to initiate an attempt to change the law and to speak to the jury (ho boulomenos + isegoria) should be incorporated…And as in Athens, these people will self-select. But an elite should not automatically get to the head of the line (such as being anointed by election). Perhaps all who wish could submit testimony that gets randomly assigned to members of the jury (encouraging the use of persuasion arguments that would appeal to any juror, rather than a member of a favored in-group). An allotted body might recruit and appoint pro and con spokespeople from those who helped draft the bill, or argued against it, etc. The role of adversarial presentation is legitimate, but this doesn’t need to be focused on a privileged elite.

    As for accountability… see my response on that thread.

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  65. >But an elite should not automatically get to the head of the line (such as being anointed by election).

    Interesting choice of verb (anoint). I guess as a democrat I’ve no problem with the public authorising their representatives through election (they can always choose different ones if they see fit), and as an Englishman no problem with anointment. As before I’ve no huge preference for election over ho boulomenos and isegoria, other than the ongoing need for accountabiliy. Given that we no longer have a taste for Athenian-style punishments for proposers who get it wrong, election seems to be the best tool we have at our disposal. Perhaps if I was a disillusioned former elected official from the cesspit of US politics I might feel differently.

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  66. […] publication of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections […]

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  67. […] section of Belgian author David Van Reybrouck’s sortition book, Against Elections has been translated into English and posted […]

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  68. […] long article mostly revolves around Van Reybrouk’s book, but also mentions Gilens and Page. She seems to some extent skeptical of Van Reybrouck’s […]

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  69. […] or “revitalizing”, or “taking back our democracy” is a recurring one in the writings of some sortition advocates. But such expressions imply, first, that the electoral […]

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  70. […] Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney, writes in The Conversation a response to David van Reybrouck’s “tired democracy” argument, which Keane presents as an argument for “the replacement of periodic elections, the ritual […]

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  71. […] English translation of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections was recently published. The book is blurbed by, among others, J. M. Coetzee, the […]

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