Kleristocracy and Neoconservatism: Spot the Difference

Kleristocracy is a term, coined by Jon Roland, for the concentration of political power in sortition-based systems, and has been advocated by a number of commentators on this blog. It’s struck me recently that this has a lot in common with the neoconservative worldview that has led to such disastrous outcomes in (for example) Iraq and Libya and I want to use this post to explore the parallels.

Neoconservatives argue that the goal of foreign policy is the liberation of oppressed nations from tyranny – ideally through their own efforts, if not then with a bit of help from the “forces of freedom” – followed by the institution/imposition of democracy, enabling the self-organising powers of “the people” to operate in an unfettered manner. Kleristocrats also argue that “the people” should be liberated from tyranny (of the rich and powerful) and empowered by “real” democracy – the only difference between kleristocrats and neoconservatives being the use of an alternative balloting method.

Unfortunately “the people”— with a set of common interests or even a “general” will – turns out to be a Marxist construct. In fact, as Hobbes argued, there are only persons, who generally identify with members of their own faction, rather than “the masses”. This is clearly the case in sectarian theocratic regimes, but the inhabitants of modern pluralistic states also share little in common. Rousseau argued that in small cohesive communities like Geneva or Corsica the general will needed to be manufactured; how much more so in the pluralistic conditions of 21st century multiculturalism.

Liberal critics of neoconservatism argue that democracy is only possible as part of a mixed constitution in which the legacy institutions of civil society provide the necessary checks and balances on monolithic political power (elective or otherwise). Civil society develops over a long time and will differ greatly from culture to culture. Moderate advocates of sortition also argue for a mixed constitution involving checks and balances (anathematised by kleristocrats as non-democratic). Hobbesians and Paleoconservatives point out to neoconservatives the need for a strong executive power that is independent of “the people”; moderate advocates of sortition argue that stability and accountability, essential to all successful political systems, cannot result from sortition, hence the need for a multi-institutional approach.

Neoconservatism and kleristocracy share the Enlightenment faith in the rationality of human beings (in the former case, expressed through the sensible use of the ballot box, in the latter via a “discursive” approach to democratic deliberation). Both approaches are equally unconcerned with history or culture and seek to argue their case via an appeal to deductive logic and the assumption that human beings are primarily rational actors. Both groups share a left-wing provenance (neoconservatism being something of an oxymoron) and depict the concerns of their intellectual adversaries with actual human behaviour, culture and history as reactionary. Given the drubbing that neoconservatism has received over the last decade or so, it’s puzzling that kleristocrats are making the same mistake.

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71 Responses

  1. P.S. Michael Gove (his sacking was discussed recently on this blog), is a leading UK Neocon (see his book Celsius 7/7). The “free” schools that he championed were supposed to blossom once liberated from the tyranny of the educational establishment (“the blob” as he liked to call it). Unfortunately it didn’t seem to occur to him that free schools would merely amplify the partisan and sectarian cleavages in society, as they would be run by persons (with their own agendas) rather than “the people”.

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  2. Someone else coined the term “kleristocracy” but I don’t know who.

    Your classification of views in this field is too rigid. No two people hold exactly the same views and they don’t fall neatly into categories like “neoconservative” or “kleristocrat”. I don’t know anyone who advocates pure, simple, one-step sortition for every public office. I certainly do not. I see good use of multi-stage sortition alternating with merit filtering, for the following:

    1. One house of a bicameral legislature.
    2. Legislative committees.
    3. Judicial panels.
    4. Grand juries.
    5. Trial juries.
    6. Chief executive.
    7. Various administrative boards and commissions.
    8. Similar configuration for political subdivisions, such as states, counties, wards, and cities.

    I do not expect that sortition or any other system would solve all the problems of faction, prejudice, irrational exuberance, or whatever. Perhaps a cybernecracy (rule by machines) could accomplish that, but human beings will have human failings no matter how they are arranged or selected. However, it may be possible through a multi-stage sortition process of offices with divided powers to at least mitigate the worst of such failings.

    The main design goal of what I would characterize as a complex kleristocracy would be the mitigation of the public choice problem, where those most affected by public decisions invest the most, effectively, to influence how those decisions are made. In other words, to disperse power that can become a plutocracy (rule by the rich). The wealthy will always have greater influence, if only by paying for more research, education, or lobbying, but sortition would at least thwart them from placing people they control in key decisionmaking positions.In a multi-stage system they could influence the skills and reputations of those involved so that they would more likely to make it through the filtering stage, but they would have to do that for the entire field of potential candidates, not just a few they might have in their pockets.

    The main way to reduce factionalism is to assemble diverse panels that are compelled to deliberate and compromise. They don’t have to be representative of the public in proportion to the views of members of the public, most of which are not informed by the more intense deliberation that is only possible in small panels. The main design goal of diversity is to make it less likely that important alternatives are overlooked. That can be facilitated by requiring that decisions of the panels be by supermajorities, not just simple majorities — which tend to amplify factional division. It also helps when members are not distracted by the need to get re-elected, and the pressures that engenders. When performance is not conducive to ambition, except in the general enhancement of reputation, the members can better focus on making sound decisions.

    This would hopefully trend toward a meritocracy, but the only kind that is sustainable, in which merit and reputation is diffused among most members of the society, not just in a few leaders.

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  3. Jon, many thanks for the clarification. There are indeed members of this forum who argue that sortition is the only democratic principle, election is “obnoxious” and that there should be no compromise with liberals. I was struck by how close your own view for diverse panels is to John Burnheim’s argument for demarchic committees. My concern has always been primarily representativity, which I think has to come before the epistemic benefits that you outline.

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  4. The trouble with most klerotarians is that they buy the pernicious idea that power must be centralised in the nation state so as to bring collective decision-making into the hands of the people. It is assumed that political decisions must be top-down.
    When I was young a lot of people argued that a market economy was inherently wasteful and that a centralised planned economy was inevitable. They were wrong.
    More generally people have always assumed that the orderly universe we know could not possibly have arisen by blind, uncoordinated processes. They were wrong.
    There are many different kinds of collective decisions that need to be made on various matters from the local to the global. If they are made on the specific merits of each case and coordinated by negotiation on specific questions the result will be a sound global political order.
    We have to start at the bottom and discover in each case how this it to be done.

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  5. John, you are pretty much unique in that your apostasy from your earlier Marxist beliefs is thoroughgoing. Maybe Jon and you can convert me to your new faith, but I keep coming back to the need for representation. I don’t see how subsidiarity makes any difference to the fact that most people are affected by most things and yet will not have a direct voice. At least elected politicians have been chosen; not so with policy makers selected at random from a volunteer pool of those who declare an interest. Why should everyone accept the decision of a self-appointed panel (particularly in our non-deferential age)? I don’t think you address the issue of perceived legitimacy and consent in your book.

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  6. LEGITMACY is a matter of convention. Mass voting is our present convention. It used to be dynastic succession. We got our present system by thinking we had to invest sovereignty in some construct that could pass as the Will of the People as sovereign. We are gradually coming to shed that illusion.
    Most wars in modern times have been fought over land and resources. It has been assumed that it is desirable for the nation to be as self-sufficient and autarchic as possible. So it needed to control everything that is important to its well-being. In Australia we used to be dead scared that those nasty Asiatics would come down and grab the place from us, as we grabbed it from the Aborigines.
    Nowadays we are not scared the Chinese or Indians are going to invade us, because we and they know it is much cheaper to buy natural resources on the market than to wage war to get them. As the old saying goes, You can’t mine coal with bayonets.
    What matters to me is not to have a say in everything that affects me in this infinitely complex world, but to have an assurance that by and large the decisions that are made are as good as possible. Sensibly one votes for one or other of the packages that are offered us at election time, not because we can evaluate them critically, but because we think the people in one party are likely to do a better job of running things than the other gang. We are, of course, disillusioned. You get good decisions when the decision-makers are dealing with something they can understand, and have a strong incentive to get it right, because it affects them directly.
    In any matter of public policy there are conflicting considerations that affect most people in that connection. We all want incompatible things, but we have to avoid getting into Prisoner’s Dilemma conflicts, where each adopting some one objective result in their getting a result that is worse for everybody than if they cooperated. What I want is a culture of negotiation where each tries to offer the others as much as possible of what they want at least cost to herself. Against that background there would be no problem for the legitimacy of my proposals.

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  7. John,

    A “culture of negotiation” cannot arise spontaneously. Its existence depends on a powerful agency that enforces the rules. This is exactly what happens with the “market economy”. The notion that a market economy is some sort of a natural bottom-up self-organizing phenomenon is completely wrong. Without central enforcement there is no market.

    Of course, the outcomes of the system depend heavily on the rules being enforced. It is therefore crucial that the rules are decided upon and enforced by representatives of the interests and worldviews of the population.

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  8. JB:> LEGITMACY is a matter of convention. Mass voting is our present convention. It used to be dynastic succession.

    I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I agree that epistemic factors and outcomes are vitally important (the modern version of the need to end the war of all against all), but that would not be sufficient to bootstrap the process in the first instance. I can understand the value of sortition as a way of selecting impartially from a group of equally qualified persons in a particular decision area. But who gets to decide who is qualified? “All those with an interest” is too vague and neglects the fact that most decisions affect most people.

    Dynastic succession was the result of the original seizure of power — people accepted it because a) they had no choice, b) the legitimating principle of divine right and c) the desire to end the war of all against all. Magna Carta and other developments then obliged the dynasts to share power with those whose support they depended on, and parliamentary representation developed as a way of implementing this. Mass voting grew out of electoral systems of corporate representation with a limited franchise — Hegel predicted correctly that this would lead to the problem of rational ignorance but this was a product of “mass”, rather than “voting”.

    The restricted franchise was accepted in a deferential age when educational opportunities were limited and voters would have (reluctantly) accepted the decisions of their betters on issues that they didn’t really understand. What you are (in effect) suggesting is a return to the pre-modern principle of corporate representation, the only difference being that people get to self-select as a member of the cognoscenti before being subject to the aleatorian filter. Given the long and bloody struggle for the franchise, I can’t imagine anyone surrendering their vote that easily to people who just think they know better.

    Even the ancient use of the lot had its own justificatory principle (divining the will of god). The justificatory principle that kleristocrats and moderate sortitionists (like myself) share is statistical sampling, which ensures that decisions are taken by a representative microcosm of all the people. It makes no difference whether or not you, me or Yoram are included in the sample, as the outcome would be the same. Where I part company with the kleristocrats is over the need to incorporate additional principles in the mix in order to ensure democratic representativity, balanced information input and coherent and accountable governance. Like it or not the nation state is the current incarnation of the polis and we’ve yet to hear from you how the different ad hoc demarchic committees would agree between themselves.

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  9. So in Keith’s schema what to we call “moderate sortitionists”? Aleatorocrats?

    “Representivity” is a tricky concept, as has been discussed before in this forum. The process of deliberation itself transforms an initially representative body into one that is no longer representative of the same constituents, who don’t engage in comparable deliberation, and perhaps not of any of them. It presumes they are somehow still representative if they reach decisions the way their constituents would if they could deliberate similarly.

    But representivity is mainly of use for distributive decisions, and not all public decisions are distributive, although most are likely to have at least incidental redistributive side effects.

    If one is really concerned about distributing costs and benefits fairly, when they can’t be distributed equally, the obvious solution is to allocate the costs and benefits at random, rather than trying to insure the decision body is itself perfectly Representative, and that all of its decisions are unanimous. After all, if decisions are not unanimous, and they probably can’t be if there are to be any decisions made at all, then any majority or supermajority can disadvantage the minority and those they represent.

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  10. Unsurprisingly, I agree with Keith.

    Consider the following thought experiment:

    Two sides in a civil war each seek to consolidate their rule by forming a government. Each has access to the list of national citizens. Each is able to assemble an allotted descriptively representative assembly in parallel. As soon as those two bodies assemble, they diverge. They will select (or draw) different speakers, different individuals will end up leading different committees, and different factions will consolidate around different individuals with different ideas. They will, no doubt, take different actions.

    Let’s say you have a dozen such allotted governments. Or a hundred. Or just the one. What’s the difference? Are the acts of an allotted government really made more legitimate by the fact that only one happens to be called? What justifies the laws enacts? Its laws will be the result of the character of the assembly which will be an emergent property. Emergent characteristics would not seem to have any supporting principle beyond simple constitutional convention, a fragile thing at best.

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  11. Back in the 17th century when it was Roundheads against Royalists, a Royalist quipped, “A commonwealth is not fit for the people, because the people are not fit for a commonwealth.” That is a common theme as republicans struggle against monarchists throughout history and into our present time.

    The original article implicitly raises the question of whether the people are fit to govern themselves under any system, electoral or aleatoric. Caliphists don’t think so. They denounce freedom and democratic self-government, and seek to submerge their wills under an all-powerful caliph who alone speaks for Allah. Kleristocrats (or aleatorocrats) may be like neoconservatives in seeking to spread their models of how other people should govern themselves, but that has not always failed to work. In many instances it has succeeded brilliantly, to the long-term benefit of us all.

    Some people are ready for self-government, and some aren’t, and it is not always obvious which is which until one tries, perhaps more than once, until the idea catches on.

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  12. 1. Legitimacy is largely (if not exclusively) a matter of custom. Illegitimacy derives from a perception of power-grabbing. Even dynastic legitimacy is a form of random selection (randomness of birth), which can still cause people to see as illegitimate the power-grab of the uncle who seizes power from the child who is the “rightful” heir in a fairy tale. Given some time (assuming it works well), there is no reason that a sortition democracy wouldn’t come to be viewed as the ONLY legitimate basis for government.

    2. the notion that there is a “right answer” which any genuinely representative body would select to every policy debate may stems from the rationalist wold view of the Enlightenment… I believe that the world and outcomes from selected policies are far more random, and unpredictable than many people assume, and the best self-rule can achieve is to avoid consistent bias that benefits a favored subset of society and harms others. While there are certainly better and worse decisions, the mere fact that different parallel legislatures (whether chosen by lot or by election) will inevitably make different decisions in some cases does not invalidate them…As has been noted elsewhere on this Blog, each individual human would also make different decisions due to random influences in the environment.

    3. What I want from my governmental decision makers is the best they can manage, without consistent bias against people like me. I don’t want to have to weigh in on every issue that affects me. I merely want people of good will to take my interests into account on an equal basis with those of others.

    Elections can’t do this. The only way this can be achieved is by including some elements of random selection within the process. For example, let the warring parties Naomi imagines each make their final offer for a settlement and let a random group of disinterested people choose between those options…thus encouraging each side to propose the most “reasonable” proposal they can live with.

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  13. Reply to Yoram and to Keith and others.
    I agree with Yoram completely about the importance of enforcement.
    But 1. it is unnecessary and dangerous to think that it depends on the state’s monopoly of coercion. Sporting, religious and professional bodies succeed in enforcing rules, not always good ones, where the penalty for defying them is just exclusion from that activity. It is necessary that every backup stops somewhere, but not necessarily in the same locus. Enforcement is best when tailored to the appropriate context.
    I heartily agree that neither the market nor any other major aspect of our lives can be exempted from scrutiny and regulation. But doing anything about it is a matter of finding the key to its specifics. We react to certain effects and try to clobber the”obvious causes” and make a mess of it.
    And 2. Reliance on the punitive power of the state in many matters is not just ineffectual but counterproductive. The big boys skive off to other jurisdictions, and the “wars” on this that and the other are invariably just destructive of the possibilities of more constructive solutions.
    Keith. Of course there are many dimensions to assessing or establishing a convention. And I agree completely that it is above all a matter of patterns of social interaction and communication that are the result of complexities we don’t really understand, let alone control or even have any means of controlling. The knee-jerk reaction to so many problems of making a law against offenders is stupid and dangerous.
    Of course, everything is connected to everything else to some extent. But the way not only to get a good solution to a specific problem, but to find the unsuspected problems, is by looking hard at the specifics of that problem. Newton set out to solve a very specific problem, the stability of the planetary orbits. That led him to the general theory of gravitation which upset the major assumptions of the hard heads of that time, such as that no body could influence another except by bumping into it. Getting rid of that assumption was essential to the whole development of modern physics. And so on for Darwin and Einstein and a host of lesser figures in every field of inquiry.
    Of course there have to be mechanism for adjudicating disputes between particular authorities when negotiation breaks down. But that is no excuse for giving some one body power over everything. In any case, centralised powers often fail to face up to problems and conflicts because they can’t agree about what the problem is, much less what to do about it. There are many more unsolved problems and conflicts than we can possibly realise.
    When I switch on the light I assume that a whole host of processes have gone on effectively and efficiently because they were supervised by a diversity of people who understood the specifics of those processes and were motivated to see that they were properly done.
    In most aspects that confidence rests on the assumption that supervision is in the hands of professionals who want to do a good job. But professionals are apt to collude to exaggerate the need for their services and can be corrupted to serve extraneous interests. So they need to be supervised by people who are really interested in the specifics, and not easily fooled or corrupted. And sometimes we need to ask ourselves about the incidental effects of what from a narrow viewpoint looks fine.

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  14. JR:> So in Keith’s schema what do we call “moderate sortitionists”? Aleatorocrats?

    As we are advocating a mixed constitution I would prefer Polity or even your own Aristotelian moniker.

    >It presumes [allotted citizens] are somehow still representative if they reach decisions the way their constituents would if they could deliberate similarly.

    Exactly: “What everyone would think under ideal conditions”, as Fishkin puts it. Why is that a problematic aspiration?

    >But representativity is mainly of use for distributive decisions

    Why? The (Aristotelian) principle of the wisdom of crowds claims that a cognitively-diverse group is best for any (non-technical) decision function, not just distributive decisions. I may not be an architect/statetesman but I know the sort of house/state I would like to live in.

    Naomi:> As soon as those two [allotted] bodies assemble, they diverge. . . . Its laws will be the result of the character of the assembly which will be an emergent property.

    Exactly, this is a point that natural scientists like yourself understand immediately. That’s why the mandate of allotted assemblies has to be very tightly constrained to ensure that they all return the same verdict. What constraints are necessary would be ascertained by trial and error, but I would hazard a guess that the only “deliberation” that would be permissible would be to listen to identical balanced information/advocacy and then to vote in secret. If the verdict that emerged from two assemblies was the same then the resulting laws would be legitimate. Compared to the rich deliberative exchange advocated by John Burnheim, Yoram, Terry etc this is a meagre offering but it would be necessary for representative legitimacy.

    TB:> I merely want people of good will to take my interests into account on an equal basis with those of others. . . a random group of disinterested people.

    Sure, but that’s an argument for political trustees. Why do you assume that random selection will return “disinterested” people of good will as opposed to election (or any other selection process)? Plato would have claimed that his guardians were quintessentially people of good will, and Burke and Madison argued that election was the best way of discovering the best (Burke) and disinterested (Madison) people. I’m sure that good epistemic outcomes are important to legitimacy, but the jury hasn’t even retired to consider the verdict on the decision outcomes of randomly-selected citizen groups (the claims of the likes of Estlund and Surowiecki are extremely modest — no worse than expert judgment). It’s true that the standards of legitimacy change over time, but our current standards are that everyone should have an equal say. This is currently enabled by election (or at least that’s how the theory goes) and sortition needs an equivalent justification. To my mind this would mean that the verdict would be the same irrespective of which citizens were included in the sample. Who could possibly object to that (from a democratic perspective)?

    JB:> Sporting, religious and professional bodies succeed in enforcing rules, not always good ones, where the penalty for defying them is just exclusion from that activity.

    But the state (unlike a football club or religion [other than Islam]) is a compulsory mode of association, where the only way of excluding people is ostracism/banishment. Of course what you are really advocating is anarchism and that’s all very fine and dandy, but I think we need to address one utopia at a time. For better or worse, the state is the existing reality and the amelioration of this form of association is the question in hand, not a utopian vision. Perhaps my praising of you for renouncing your earlier Christianity/Marxism was a tad premature!

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  15. To Keith, about voluntary associations.
    Any self-respecting modern state allows people to renounce its citizenship. One is not compelled to belong. The difficulty is finding a state that will let you join it. Being stateless in the modern world is difficult, as many Palestinians and others can attest. If you are a convicted criminal many other states will send you back to face punishment by agreements between states.
    In any case, my point was that effective authority does not necessarily come from the capacity to force obedience by threats of violence. Exclusion can be very powerful.
    As for anarchism, it can mean a great variety of different things. My own view is that ultimately it is probably possible and desirable to do without the state, but that question is a matter to be settled by gradually taking from it decisions that are better left to more specific authorities and seeing whether anything is left other than certain purely formal rituals. To talk of simply abolishing it is absurd.
    What is urgently needed in our situation is to get certain specific supranational authorities up and running and eventually constrain all nations to obey them by the force of opinion and perhaps by boycotts. From that point of view the obsession of klerotarians with taming the nation state is myopic. In our global context we are all, like it or not, members of a host of communities of interest that are supranational, but have no appropriate governance. The tragewdy is that many of the problems that threaten us can only be solved at that level.

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  16. John,

    It’s certainly the case that more and more decisions are being taken, or at least constrained, by unelected institutions. These take two forms:

    1) Appointed technocratic bodies such as the various Bank of England policy committees, the Office for Budget Responsibility, Competition Commission, etc etc. Whenever something goes wrong the government rushes to create another unelected commission or judge-led enquiry and citizens have more confidence in such bodies than elected politicians. Is this a sign that citizens might extend this confidence to demarchic committees? Possibly, if it were the case that such bodies were judged in terms of the epistemic value of their decision outputs. Unfortunately it’s only possible to evaluate decision outputs in the long term, whereas it’s much easier to judge on the basis of the qualifications of the members and its unlikely, IMO, that the combination of self-selection and sortition would meet with public approval. I’m nor aware of any precedent for this, whereas appointed technocrats are approved on the basis of (assumed) qualification (certainly not self-selection) — we don’t ask to see our doctor’s medical degree when we visit the surgery, we just assume she knows what she is talking about because of her professional title (impersonating a doctor is a criminal offence). So how would we democratise appointed technocratic bodies? The only precedent I’m aware of is the well-accepted principle of the judgment of the randomly-selected citizen jury. According to this model the appointed experts would need to argue their case in front of a large citizen jury, who would then approve it (or not, as the case may be). It would be very easy to secure opposition advocates (Institute for Fiscal Studies, Institute of Economic Affairs etc). I know you hate this adversarial joust, preferring instead decisions taken behind the doors of smoke-filled committee rooms, but that’s not the way we do it in the Anglophone world.

    2) The other form of non-elected body is supranational institutions like the European Union, where decision are taken by appointed commissioners and then (effectively) rubber-stamped by MEPs. Unfortunately, if the results of the recent EU elections (especially in France and the UK) are anything to go by, voters hate these institutions and seek to repatriate as many powers as possible to the nation state. So those who seek to enhance the powers of supra-national bodies against the nation state have an uphill struggle, especially if their long-term (covert) goal is the Marxian one of dissolving the state.

    It strikes me that if we are going to be successful in our endeavour to re-democratise unelected institutions we need to go with the flow and rely on successful precedents. On this basis the combination of self-selection, randomisation and supranational authorities doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of securing public confidence. But everyone is familiar with the concept of the citizen jury and extending it into the policymaking and legislative domain would be comparatively easy.

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  17. Kleristocracy, with its rhyme with aristocracy, is clearly intended to be a pejorative, which wouldn’t matter if it didn’t seek to conflate aristocratic families and their privileges that have lasted for hundreds of years with allotted legislators who are out of office after a fixed term of a few years, no ifs or buts. So it’s really a bit dishonest.

    >”Neoconservatives argue that the goal of foreign policy is the liberation of oppressed nations from tyranny”

    I have the distinct impression that the mantra is smaller government and laissez-faire economics, except when they want governments to spend huge amounts of money on wasteful projects which offer lucrative contracts, and then any pretext will do if it’s well marketed.

    >”Unfortunately “the people”— with a set of common interests or even a “general” will – turns out to be a Marxist construct.”

    Apart from the clear common needs that we all have; food, clothes, shelter, clean air and water, that sort of thing, of course we have different interests. Sortition offers the best hope that the different interests will be weighed up and catered for equitably.

    >”moderate advocates of sortition argue that stability and accountability, essential to all successful political systems, cannot result from sortition, hence the need for a multi-institutional approach.”

    “Accountability” might be desirable in an electoral system; in practice it is not often achieved and then only in the grossest manner when a more than usually corrupt or inefficient government gets kicked out.
    Accountability has no valid place in sortition; in fact it is highly undesirable if it means members being held to account (punished?) by individuals (eg pundits of the press) or groups (eg religious) outside the assembly.

    “Stability”: I am amazed that you think a system where members are replaced continuously, a few at a time, is less stable than one where one party gets thrown out and another, with a different ideology gets in and throws out wholesale what has just been enacted. One can also ask to what extent stability is desirable. If a law, once enacted, turns out to be a bad idea, is it not better to be able to repeal it without a battle royal involving egos, loss of face, etc? Think of Prohibition, the “War” on drugs, the “War” on Terror, and so on.

    >”Neoconservatism and kleristocracy share the Enlightenment faith in the rationality of human beings”
    I suppose you consider me a “kleristocrat”, or a would-be one. Rest assured that if ever I believed that humans are always rational, some of your posts would convince me of the contrary. Nevertheless, such rationality as we have is our best tool for trying to get a bearable world.

    >”Both approaches are equally unconcerned with history or culture”

    On the contrary. History shows that elections, over many years in so many different states, have consistently given poor outcomes. Better than autocratic rule, usually, but a long way from democracy.

    Keith, your thinking is muddy. You are comparing concepts which are not comparable. Neoconservatism, however you define it, is a political view. Sortition is a mechanism, and is independent of political views.

    >”There are indeed members of this forum who argue that sortition is the only democratic principle, election is “obnoxious” and that there should be no compromise with liberals.”

    I don’t know why the word “obnoxious” offended you so much; I didn’t apply it to you. I’m quite happy to repeat my view that elections are obnoxious (=objectionable) except in the case of small groups like like your whist or crocheting clubs. Incidentally, it seems that there is an old sense of obnoxious: “exposed or liable to harm or evil” This also applies to elections.

    As for the “liberals” – I thought I was one, you apparently don’t – they will be present in an allotted chamber in just the right dosage, and so their views will be taken into account, and maybe prevail. Where’s the problem?

    >”At least elected politicians have been chosen”

    Yes, but by whom? You can only vote for someone who is a candidate; candidates are pre-selected by obscure processes involving financial backers with vested interests, pressure groups and lobbies with an axe to grind, and so on.

    >”Why should everyone accept the decision of a self-appointed panel?”

    Why indeed. But that’s pretty much what happens now, with pre-selection committees etc.

    >”I can understand the value of sortition as a way of selecting impartially from a group of equally qualified persons in a particular decision area. But who gets to decide who is qualified? “All those with an interest” is too vague and neglects the fact that most decisions affect most people.”

    It is precisely because most decisions affect most people that all the people (except children and those physically unable to attend) should be included.

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  18. >”I have the distinct impression that the mantra is smaller government and laissez-faire economics, except when they want governments to spend huge amounts of money on wasteful projects which offer lucrative contracts, and then any pretext will do if it’s well marketed.”

    I would describe neoconservativism as busybodyism. “I expect to have a say in everybody else’s business, but if someone else tries to have a say in mine SO HELP ME GOD.

    >” On the contrary. History shows that elections, over many years in so many different states, have consistently given poor outcomes.”

    Comparatively speaking, elections have done a darn good job. Would sortition do better? Maybe. But you are comparing something for which we have thousands of country-years of experience, with something that it pretty much hypothetical, at this point. When there is no evidence, one can justify almost an conclusion one wishes.

    Terry,
    For what it’s worth, I was not arguing that there is a “right answer” only that the answers given by an allotted deliberative body will be arbitrary, and that two identical, descriptively representative, bodies will give answers that differ wildly in both form and ideological substance due to the different internal dynamics that each body will necessarily have.

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  19. >”As soon as those two bodies assemble, they diverge. They will select (or draw) different speakers, different individuals will end up leading different committees, and different factions will consolidate around different individuals with different ideas. They will, no doubt, take different actions.

    In your example, I would bet that both groups would vote overwhelmingly for a cease-fire!

    You might also have suggested that the same allotted assembly might come to a different conclusion on the same question at different times. Would you suggest that a body that was capable of learning from its mistakes was in consequence illegitimate?

    Suppose though, no civil war, we’re setting up a new sortitionist nation on each of two islands. Comes the question of road rules. Island A decides to drive on the left; island B on the right. The difference is obvious, but does it matter? Admittedly island A might set a minimum age for driving of 18, island B of 17. This clearly makes a difference for those involved, but would this make one or the other less legitimate than the elected governments of, say France (18) and Australia (17)? There might well be a large number of such differences, but these would probably be small (would you expect a speed limit of 30km/hr in one case and 200 in the other?) and would probably even out in the end, in the sense that a similar balance of safety/cost/speed/convenience would be reached in each. If not, you would expect one or the other legislature to fiddle with the laws until a better result was achieved. So also with only one island: its assembly could look at other nations to see if there wasn’t a better way.

    >”What justifies the laws [it] enacts?”
    Presumably the satisfaction of the governed. And presumably if they are not satisfied, the assembly will not be either, and will go back to the drawing board or will be capable of satisfactorily explaining the reasons for its decisions. And if the public is still unconvinced (why would it not be?), the rotation of members will eventually give a new assembly.

    I think you and Keith are demanding an impossible and unreasonable standard with the idea that bodies randomly chosen from the same population should always produce identical decisions. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to be identical, but I would expect them to be a lot closer to the public’s views than Obama’s decision to bail out the banks, rather than the borrowers, or Tony Blair’s involvement in the Iraqi war. And no one would expect two elected governments to pass this standard.

    >”Comparatively speaking, elections have done a darn good job.”

    There’s not much to compare them with except autocracy and oligarchy. It’s like saying a punch in the head is better than a bullet in the nape of the neck.

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  20. Campbell,

    It’s all too easy to project ourselves into a gap in our knowledge. Take the bank bailout. What makes you think that, after spending weeks discussing the matter and listening to experts advocate one position or another, they would give loads of money to borrowers? I’m rather fond of the nationalization, reform, quick turnaround approach to dealing with insolvent banks. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to have the central government be in the business of operating banks (or nationalizing things willy nilly) but nationalization plus a quick turnaround seems to be a best of both worlds approach. In my opinion, that is.

    The point is that the approach that would have been taken would have been arbitrary. It would have depend on the interpersonal dynamic that developed in the body.

    Trivial matters are trivial. Letting matters of substance ride on an arbitrary basis is very questionable.

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  21. >”What makes you think that, after spending weeks discussing the matter and listening to experts advocate one position or another, they would give loads of money to borrowers? ”

    I don’t think that.
    All I said was that the public would probably have preferred a different approach.
    From what I have read, there is a very incestuous relationship between Goldman Sachs and the US administration; a revolving door for top management. So the experts gave pretty much the same advice, GS were “too big to fail” and should be helped, while Lehman Bros – GS’ biggest rival – were allowed to fold.
    “Give loads of money” is your choice of words.
    Guaranteeing deposits and pension funds, and creating an insurance scheme for loan payments might also have been used. A moratorium on foreclosures, buying out some buyers, and letting them stay as tenants . . . There are probably dozens of things they might have done, including your temporary nationalisations.
    Arbitrary decisions: in the heat of a crisis, decisions probably will be arbitrary, in any system. Time won’t permit otherwise. But would the crisis have happened in the first place, if a properly democratic, sortition-based government had been in place? Their were, after all, voices that warned against the deregulation of the banks under Clinton.

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  22. “Their were” -> “There were”. Oops.

    >”two identical, descriptively representative, bodies will give answers that differ wildly in both form and ideological substance due to the different internal dynamics that each body will necessarily have.”

    I don’t dispute that there will be some differences. But what makes you use the word “wildly”? Do you expect that there will be something like an exponential increase in difference with time? Why should that be? Do you have any evidence, or is this just a guess?
    For my part, I would expect differences that tended to cancel out: a higher standard in vehicle inspections, with a longer period of validity, for example. Or higher speed limits, more rigorously enforced. Over a whole packet of measures, I would expect convergence. My reason is that both bodies must have pretty much the same idea of what is “a fair thing”. Otherwise they are not “descriptively representative” of the same thing. Much like the zeroth law of thermodynamics.

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  23. Campbell,

    My use of the word “kleristocracy” is descriptive, not pejorative, as is my use of the word “aristocracy” (in the literal sense), and my comparison is limited to neoconservative foreign policy. To make the comparison clearer, it’s the decision to topple Saddam, then kick out the whole (Baath) administrative regime in the naive belief that order would emerge spontaneously once the people were freed from domination. This parallels with the laissez-faire “leave it all to an allotted committee” argument which has appeared frequently on this blog.

    I agree that accountability has no place in a sortition system, that’s why we need other mechanisms to enable it. Ditto with the need for stability (fiscal responsibility and consistency between different laws). Regarding the call for historical awareness I was referring to respecting different cultures and traditions rather abstracting general principles, such as “elections, over many years in so many different states, have consistently given poor outcomes” from the historical record. My reference to “liberals” was the liberal critique of the neoconservative and kleristocratic agenda (the need for plural institutions and a role for civil society).

    >It is precisely because most decisions affect most people that all the people (except children and those physically unable to attend) should be included.

    I’m glad that you end on a principle on which we both agree (assuming you are referring to a representative sample, rather than “all” the people).

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  24. >Over a whole packet of measures, I would expect convergence. My reason is that both bodies must have pretty much the same idea of what is “a fair thing”. Otherwise they are not “descriptively representative” of the same thing.

    That is certainly true when it comes to weighing the evidence; the differences come in regarding the measures that were introduced and the advocacy and information presented supporting and attacking the measure. If this were left to the internal workings of the allotted group, this would be entirely arbitrary.

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  25. Historical note: Keith wrote:
    >Burke and Madison argued that election was the best way of discovering the best (Burke) and disinterested (Madison) people.

    Madison did not think elections would end up with disinterested people, but that in a “vast” republic merely sufficiently conflicting interests that collusion would be too difficult. In fact his observation of elections in the colonial legislatures convinced him that elections would select bad representatives, who could easily avoid accountability through removal in subsaequent elections.

    Madison simply didn’t have a better alternative than elections to fill up his government — since he opposed democracy because it would threaten the rights of the propertied minority.

    In his own words about the nature of elections…

    “Representative appointments [elective offices] are sought from 3 motives.
    1. ambition
    2. personal interest.
    3. public good.
    Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent. Hence the candidates who feel them, particularly, the second, are most industrious, and most successful in pursuing their object: and forming often a majority in the legislative Councils, with interested views, contrary to the interest, and views, of their Constituents, join in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former. A succeeding election it might be supposed, would displace the offenders, and repair the mischief. But how easily are base and selfish measures, masked by pretexts of public good and apparent expediency? How frequently will a repetition of the same arts and industry which succeeded in the first instance, again prevail on the unwary to misplace their confidence?”

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch5s16.html

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  26. To Keith
    Your point about the proliferation of expert panels and their importance is spot on. As you say, the matters in question can only be understood properly by qualified experts, and the first question is about their expertise. I don’t for a minute imagine that democratic accountability can dispense with that basic necessity.
    Take climate change. We urgently need a recognised authority that would set targets for particular countries, taking account of their capacity to meet them, so that any country would have to justify its recalcitrance or face sanctions from the others.
    The basic science would be a matter of a body like the IPCC assessing all the relevant research. Of course some reject the IPCC as corrupt. What a n independent non-expert body could do is investigate charges of bias, incompetence or corruption as a supervising authority and assure all reasonable people of the epistemic soundness of their work.
    Then another body, with different expertise would be necessary to work out a scheme for sharing in a global response to the problems analysed by Ipcc. It, too would be charged with incompetence, bias and corruption, and an impartial body would be needed to reassure us that these accusations are unfounded or to rectify them at the source.

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  27. Campbell: >”I don’t dispute that there will be some differences. But what makes you use the word “wildly”?”

    >”My reason is that both bodies must have pretty much the same idea of what is “a fair thing”.”

    Neither body will have any idea of anything. Neither is an actor in its own right. Each body will be an assembly of hundreds of individual actors. Each body will have roughly the same number of actors who agree that a particular thing is “a fair thing,” when they see it. But that in no way shape or form constitutes the capacity for positive action to enact the same “fair thing.” The actions of the actors in a body belong to those actors alone and are not a predictable extension of descriptive representativity.

    Those individual actions have a huge influence on the decisions made by a body. Take the US constitutional convention as an example. How much of an impact did Madison have by showing up with a plan and pushing it (thus framing the debate) right from the start? Skill matters. Tactics matter. The strategic posturing of members (and their allies) matters.

    The degree to which a faction is able to influence policy depends on the degree to which that faction is able to organize itself and take collective action. A faction that is well-organized and well-led will have more leverage and more impact than a larger faction that is poorly led. The ability of a person to stand out in a group of people who have differing preferences and perspectives and organize them into a cohesive unit that can act strategically is a non-trivial skill. It is not a given that the members of an allotted body will be able to organize themselves efficiently. Surely some portions of the body will and some portions will not. The deals made in the body will depend on the character of the leaders who arise. If you were to set up two equally representative bodies in parallel you would end up with two different sets of leaders with two different sets of skills and two different sets of ideas. They would forge different compromises and likely build different-looking majorities.

    I’m not saying there’s no use for semi-conventional assemblies drawn by lot. I can think of a few. I just wouldn’t give one the keys to the kingdom. So to speak.

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  28. Terry,

    LIke most thinkers of his time, Madison believed in faculty psychology, with its hierarchy of motives — from creature passions, through interests to dispassionate virtue. As a Calvinist he believed the latter was the province of few souls but argued that an additional benefit of the enlarged republic (over and above the one you describe) was that it would tend to return professionals like lawyers and doctors who (he believed) were not as enslaved to self-interest as landowners and those involved in commerce.

    Naomi’s choice of Madison’s own role in the constitutional convention is a brilliant example of the distinction between descriptive and active representation. As he was chosen by the citizens of Virginia he had a mandate to engage in persuasive speech acts, but an allotted rep who just happened to possess Madison’s persuasive ability would only be representing himself. Pitkin’s book is excellent on the distinction between active and descriptive representation — if everyone took the time to read it it would save all of us a lot of time and hot air!

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  29. >”Neither body will have any idea of anything. Neither is an actor in its own right. Each body will be an assembly of hundreds of individual actors.”

    True. Yes, I used a sloppy expression, but this is nit-picking.

    >”But that in no way shape or form constitutes the capacity for positive action to enact the same “fair thing.”

    It in no way shape or form constitutes the capacity for them to enact materially different things, if they are of a suitable size, and subject to the same influences. Small differences, yes, but convergence in the overall thrust of measures. If body A and body B both accurately represent (have all the characteristics of) the people, then their opinion on any given topic will be similar. Note that I assume that all debate and expert (and inexpert) opinions will be available to both bodies, so that if one is influenced by Keith’s illocutions, so will the other. Presumably you are keeping them in separate test tubes, if you think there will be a difference.
    Descriptive representation will never be perfect. If you have two allotted chambers of two or three members to represent millions, of course you should expect huge differences in their decisions. You can ask Yoram how big the bodies should be; that’s his speciality. My guess is about 500 for good representation, but perhaps as few as 200 would do in what Keith calls “wee pretendy nations”.

    >”Take the US constitutional convention as an example.”

    It would be hard to pick a worse example from your point of view. I am not American, and have very little knowledge of American history, but as far as I am aware, the Framers were not chosen by lot. I have also heard that the process was effectively hi-jacked by a small group of wealthy and very self-interested men, and that the whole business was extremely undemocratic, with for instance people woken in their beds and dragged off to vote at gunpoint. No doubt you know more of this than I do.

    Whether you regard them as the saviours of their nation or a bunch of organised criminals, there is no comparison between them and an allotted assembly. For one thing, they did their best to make it difficult to change the constitution, and succeeded in that very well, you are still cursed with it. By contrast, an allotted assembly such as most people have proposed here changes its membership over time, and the assembly of a particular year has no more or less authority than that of any other year. The allotted members of 2025 would have no problem in changing a law approved in 2018.

    >”Pitkin’s book is excellent on the distinction between active and descriptive representation — if everyone took the time to read it it would save all of us a lot of time and hot air!”

    The trouble with Pitkin is that she starts off with the prejudice that only elections can give a representative government.

    “We would be reluctant to consider any system a representative government unless it held regular elections”. p235

    Her brief mention of selection by lot on pp73-74 gives one the impression that she doesn’t really understand it. At any rate, she doesn’t give it serious consideration.

    And her laborious and ultimately unsuccessful (p238) attempt to find a satisfactory definition of representation only indicates that it simply isn’t possible within the perimeter that she set herself, ie the electoral system.

    “To define representation institutionally, operationally, is to give up all hope of judging, assessing, improving, or reforming it, or even instructing someone in the role of representative . . . . To define representation ideally, on the other hand, to concentrate on its virtue or essence to the exclusion of institutions, is likely to lead to mean embracing all hope of its practical implementation.” p238

    One can only applaud her seriousness and her industry, but her book is not very relevant to sortition.

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  30. Campbell: >If body A and body B both accurately represent (have all the characteristics of) the people, then their opinion on any given topic will be similar. Note that I assume that all debate and expert (and inexpert) opinions will be available to both bodies, so that if one is influenced by Keith’s illocutions, so will the other.

    Naturally I agree that, given identical information and advocacy, the opinion (i.e. aggregate judgment) of two large samples of the same public will be similar, iff (as Condorcet and Surowiecki stipulated) they vote independently and anonymously without attempting to influence each other. As soon as they start trying to persuade each other, then the mini-Madisons, the Gats, the Campbells and the Sutherlands will all seek to sway the aggregate opinion according to their own personal will and the law of the jungle will apply (as in any other social context).

    The selection principle for the constitutional convention (election, co-option, sortition or whatever) is irrelevant to Naomi’s point, which was about the general dynamics of any group process — some animals being a lot more equal than others when it comes to the gift of the gab. I do note, however, your implication that a body chosen by lot would exclude “very self-interested men” which closely parallels Terry’s earlier claim that a body appointed by lot would be constituted by “people of good will . . . a random group of disinterested people”. These are very strong claims for sortition — why do you and Terry feel that drawing straws is a way of separating the sheep from the goats (without, presumably, resorting to religious notions of divination)? Or are you claiming that “the people”, once freed from the tyranny of the rich ‘n powerful are essentially disinterested?

    Although Pitkin’s book does not deal directly with sortition it provides a very clear theoretical understanding of descriptive representation, which she acknowledges as a necessary adjunct to its active form. It’s true that she does consider that active political representation is the most important kind and, in a recent essay, acknowledges the imbalance, but it’s the clarity of the conceptual distinction that we need to establish, not the argument for one form or the other. My suggestion that we read it is simply in order to better understand what each form of representation can possibly do, so as not to conflate the one with the other. That’s where political theorists are of value — clarifying the use of words, rather than making political proposals. Although I think it is the case that once you understand what the words mean that certain practical entailments in the real world are inevitable, if you don’t want to run the risk of incoherence.

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  31. >”I agree that, given identical information and advocacy, the opinion (i.e. aggregate judgment) of two large samples of the same public will be similar, iff (as Condorcet and Surowiecki stipulated) they vote independently and anonymously without attempting to influence each other. As soon as they start trying to persuade each other, then the mini-Madisons, the Gats, the Campbells and the Sutherlands will all seek to sway the aggregate opinion according to their own personal will and the law of the jungle will apply (as in any other social context).”

    If the members of both body A and body B are subjected to the rants of the the mini-Madisons et al of both bodies, (as well as all the other outside influences, of course) there is no reason to expect a (materially) different result. If you don’t allow them to hear “identical information and advocacy”, by letting only orators A address only members A, and only orators B address only members B, then yes, the results may well be different: but what have you proved? Certainly not that allotted assemblies under identical conditions produce differing results, which is what I believe you’re trying to say.
    The whole concept of two competing assemblies appears to be an invention of yours to discredit allotted assemblies.

    >”some animals being a lot more equal than others when it comes to the gift of the gab.”

    Of course they are. I have never disputed this.

    >”I do note, however, your implication that a body chosen by lot would exclude “very self-interested men” which closely parallels Terry’s earlier claim that a body appointed by lot would be constituted by “people of good will . . . a random group of disinterested people”. These are very strong claims for sortition . . .”

    I neither stated that “a body chosen by lot would exclude “very self-interested men” nor is it implied by what I said.
    The method of choice IS important; if all the members start out with the firm intention to write laws purely in their own interest, that’s fine by me, as long as they are not a very unrepresentative group: eg all or mostly wealthy or all or mostly Marxist bus drivers, or whatever. I have the impression that the Framers were in the top 1% for wealth, a large proportion were slave owners, several were speculators, most were lawyers, and that their methods were quite illegal. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I never made those “very strong claims”. I wish you would stop trying to put words in my mouth.

    >”why do you and Terry feel that drawing straws is a way of separating the sheep from the goats”

    I don’t, and Terry can answer for himself. Again, I wish you would stop trying to put words in my mouth.

    >”Or are you claiming that “the people”, once freed from the tyranny of the rich ‘n powerful are essentially disinterested?”

    No. And please let us use the ordinary English word “people” in its ordinary English sense, without being automatically accused of Marxism, cod-, closet-, syndicalist, Leninist or whatever. I refer to:
    >”Unfortunately “the people”— with a set of common interests or even a “general” will – turns out to be a Marxist construct.”

    Keith, if you want to know what I think, read my posts a little more carefully, and don’t concoct a point of view which you wish to destroy, and then ascribe it to me. And spare Terry’s feelings: he’s probably horrified at being lumped together with me.

    Reading Pitkin actually confirmed my view that there is not much to be hoped for from elections. So don’t think you haven’t influenced my thinking, Keith; you have, but not in the way I think you intended.

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  32. Campbell,

    The point is that the ranters are there purely by chance — the presence or absence of mini-Madison, Gat, Campbell or Sutherland is purely happenstance, as opposed to a portrait in miniature of the incidence of the Gatism or Sutherlandocracy in the population that is being modelled. I have no wish to discredit allotted assemblies (I’ve devoted the last decade of my life in advocating them), all I want to do is clarify the range of activities that they can perform without losing their raison d’etre (statistical representativity). If one assembly contained Gat and the other Sutherland and each demagogue managed to secure different legislative outcomes, which one would everyone else be deemed to consent to? For sortition to be a democratic procedure requires that each sample returns similar verdicts and this requires that they all have advocates A and B (and that the advocates are selected to provide a balanced portrayal of the pros and cons for the issue being debated).

    Apologies for putting words in your mouth — Terry did make the very strong claims (and has yet to justify them). All I did was refer to your claim that the elected assembly included “very self-interested men”. As you were advocating overcoming this by allotment, I assumed that you were claiming the converse (sortition would exclude very self-interested men). If not then why replace election with sortition? Madison’s claim was that election in the enlarged republic would return (some) disinterested legislators and that competing interests would counterbalance each other, so your argument that delegates to the Convention deliberately chose to write laws in their own interest and that this was an illegal process is straight out of Beard’s (entirely discredited) Marxist analysis of the framers’ intentions.

    I’m sorry that you find Pitkin’s work so unhelpful — it’s still the seminal text for anyone seeking to clarify the concept of representation.

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  33. Experiments have been conducted in which large numbers of people heard the same evidence in a trial, then were divided into multiple juries to deliberately. Although the verdicts did tend to cluster, when the evidence and argument was not about equally strong, they were not all the same on most trials.

    So even if multiple aleatoral bodies are initially representative of a larger public, they will tend not to all reach the same conclusion on every issue. It is not just the influence of more persuasive members. People also persuade themselves differently on the same evidence and argument, and the process is itself somewhat random.

    So for a system as a whole to be somewhat representative, the solution is not to put all the eggs in one aleatoral basket, but divide deliberation across several bodies, and somehow aggregate the disparate results.

    That is what the system of divided government does. Bicameral legislatures. Executive veto. Supermajorities. Conference committees. Spread of a final decision over multiple partial votes and retries to reach a decision. Lobbying groups that sometimes spring up ad hoc to respond to a particular bill. Commentary by the media and in public hearings and forums. All somewhat messy and uncertain, but it can, averaged over time, approach the ideal of representativity, or at least change what people expect representativity to achieve.

    My experience working with U.S. government leads me to conclude that, contrary to many critics, it is actually more representative than people think. Most of the pathologies we see are not from lack of representativity, but because they are all too representative. The critics tend to think more people agree with their positions than in fact do. They refuse to believe that most people actually don’t support their positions.

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  34. Article on use of multiple juries for a trial https://www.floridabar.org/divcom/jn/jnjournal01.nsf/Author/8CB18D37C73F9A5385256ADB005D6258

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  35. Thanks for the reference Jon, we had a debate on multiple juries recently on this blog: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/on-trial-how-juries-reach-their-verdicts/

    The difference between judicial and legislative juries is that the latter are much larger and the purpose is to sample informed preferences/beliefs rather than to establish a matter of fact (beyond reasonable doubt). My preferred model is the DP (sample size c. 350) and there have been studies on multiple DPs on the same topic delivering different outcomes. If the DP is intended to act as a democratically representative policymaking institution then steps would need to be taken to minimise inconsistent outcomes, and the obvious areas would be variation in advocacy/information between polls and the effects of the small-group deliberations. If consistency requires sacrificing the latter that’s a small price to pay for democratic legitimacy. I just don’t seen how citizens who are not personally involved can be deemed to consent to the outcome of two bodies that delivered conflicting decisions and it would need to be demonstrated to the disenfranchised that their presence in person would not affect the outcome one way or the other. This requires consistency.

    As for the other approaches you suggest I’m all for the checks and balances generated by multiple institutions, but the concern of this particular thread is accurate descriptive representation.

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  36. We’ve been over this fallacious “repeatability” argument many times, but, as always with Sutherland, the discussion never moves beyond the original arguments since he pays no attention to the responses.

    If anyone is interested, see the critique of the “mirroring” argument for sortition and the alternative “extension of self-representation” argument.

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  37. Keith,

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough…I never said that random selection would automatically select disinterested people of good will. I said I would WANT people of good will making decisions that affect me, and implied that elections (due to self-selection of special interests and elite bias) would tend to do far worse on that regard than random selection. My mention of a “disinterested” jury selecting between settlement proposals in a civil war was a hypothetical experiment as a unique use of sortition… using outsiders who were disinterested and not part of the conflict … my point there is that the jury pool would have been filtered to exclude those with an interest in the outcome (perhaps from the other side of the world).

    You do have a tendency to take leaps and assign beliefs to others that they did not actually state, though perhaps most people (including me) do as well.

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  38. Campbell,
    I’m a bit late to reply, but oh well. I would emphasize only that the necessary sample size for a statistical model depends on the level of detail you are trying to model. If the only thing the members do is vote(like an opinion poll), then you don’t need a very large sample size to get consistent results.

    If you have them listen and vote, it seems to me that you will need a larger sample because you have to model the way in which people change their minds in the population on average. I don’t think this is too tough. Anomalies in the composition of the body will have only a small impact if the individuals are isolated from each other. Certainly there is no problem if all they do is approve or reject proposals that were already passed in an elected body,

    Going one step further by introducing the interpersonal dynamic is a whole other ballgame. It’s not enough to have a representative number of brilliant statesman, for example, because there is a big difference between a brilliant statesman who belongs to one ideological group and a similar brilliant statesman who belongs to another. The fine detail we are talking about here would require an extremely large number of participants. The dependency on details that will not be statistically significant will make the results arbitrary.

    “Arbitrary” and “bad” are not the same thing. Were I a proponent of an allotted semi-conventional legislature I would focus on that distinction. I could see myself being sympathetic to such an argument, at least for a body responsible for ancillary tasks. Things like appointing prosecutors, judges, auditors and the like.

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  39. Naomi, as always, gets straight to the heart of the issue. An allotted legislature incorporating interpersonal dynamics would certainly not work, as the disenfranchised masses could not be expected to consent to arbitrary decisions. (This is such a blindingly obvious point that I’m puzzled why we need to keep making it.) I would only consent to the decisions of such a body if and only if it made no difference to the outcome whether or not I participated in person. Needless to say this presupposes the rejection of the view (that I misattributed to Terry) that such a body would be composed of disinterested people of good will or that allotted members would automatically make decisions based on common interests and/or a general will shared between themselves and the wider population.

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  40. Yoram: >as always with Sutherland, the discussion never moves beyond the original arguments since he pays no attention to the responses.

    That’s an odd claim — in both of the posts that you cited I was one of the most frequent commentators/questioners (to the original post and the responses). Both of the posts were your own work and I did find them unpersuasive, but it’s certainly not the case that I “payed them no attention”. I find your reliance on deductive logic difficult to engage with, as political science is an empirical discipline (as are history, sociology and psychology). You cannot demonstrate political verities via the use of syllogisms or other logical devices, all you can do is (cautiously) abstract general principles from observed behaviour and use this for the construction of testable hypotheses.

    Rather than just citing your own back catalogue it might be more constructive if you were to re-engage in the current debate, otherwise some people might think you are paying no attention to arguments that you do not agree with.

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  41. Sutherland,

    Obviously, posting comments and responding to arguments are two very different things.

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  42. Yoram,

    I suppose that qualifies as an argument (or at least a coherent distinction); I could construct a flow-chart outlining my responses to the arguments (or rhetorical claims) in your posts but life is really to short so I’ll leave it to others to draw their own conclusions.

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  43. Keith,
    To be fair, if there is a ratification process that is separate from the allotted legislature, it might be considered acceptable. The choice of STV in British Columbia and MMP in Ontario was arbitrary, but I doubt the arbitrary nature of these proposals would have been considered generally objectionable had they been passed through their respective referendums. Perhaps co-equal bicameralism would be an option. All acts would have be approved by a chamber accountable to the public.

    Again, I don’t advocate such a thing. But in the interest of fostering constructive discourse I feel the need to make the point.

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  44. I’m also worried that few voters would understand or care about the statistical significance of speech acts. A constitutional reform proposal that would let regular people “stick it to the scumbag politicians,” as they would no doubt argue, might carry greater weight.

    Perhaps an option that would make most members of this site happy would be co-equal bicameralism with acts passed by both houses going for ratification in one of Keith’s ACs. While I’m GREATLY concerned about the accountability consequences of introducing unnecessary divisions into the process, only the elected chamber would have a mandate. The factions in the standing allotted chamber could not hope to be as cohesive as the parties in the elected chamber and so would likely lose any true stand-off. They shouldn’t really be a threat to the elected chamber’s ability to fulfill it’s mandate, but they would be able to bring up matters the elected chamber would rather bury, minimizing the chance of collusion between the parties. Likewise, they would look more like the people, so conceivable they could help fill the gaps in the elected chamber’s mandate, which only ever covers the big issues. The elected chamber would then be held accountable through a popular vote for its deals with the allotted chamber.

    I think I could live with that.

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  45. Naomi,

    If the decision of the assembly is ratified by public referendum then it would no longer be arbitrary, but kleristocrats are united in their visceral opposition to referenda. I’m sure Joe Public couldn’t care less about Austinian speech-act theory, but I’m sceptical that electors would trade their vote for the roll of a dice. It’s easy to slag off scumbag politicians, but voters at least have some idea of what to expect once the hanging chads are all counted; democratic theory would also suggest that, in the long run, legislative output will align with the preferences of the median voter.

    I’m coming round to your argument for the decisions of an elected house to be ratified by an allotted chamber. This was the proposal for the House of Lords made by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in their book The Athenian Option. My objections to Anthony’s proposal were largely pedantic — if we are going to stick with Aristotle’s typology then the allotted (democratic) house should be called the Commons and the elective (aristocratic) house the Lords (that’s why I prefer Harrington’s Oceana constitution, where proposals originated in the Senate before being judged by the Prerogative Tribe). The other problem (from a parliamentary perspective) is that there is no effective debate in the Commons, as the government (the majority party) generally gets its business. But the political parties (pro and con advocates) would need to argue their case in the second chamber, so what’s the point of having two chambers? Better to have one house, with the elected element taking the advocacy roll (pro and ante) and the allotted element deciding the outcome. At least this would force MPs to turn up, rather than just sitting in their offices and waiting for the division bell. But if it works out more acceptable to have a pretend debate in the “Commons” and then for the real work to be done in the “Senate” then that’s fine with me (even though anyone with a rudimentary education in the classics would shudder at the inversion of naming conventions). But sticks and stones will break my bones but . . . so no big deal.

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  46. While the in-chamber debate is but a formality, the negotiations between party leaders and between members of the cabinet are very substantial. At least in any country where no party can ever expect to win a majority, that is. I’m very much wedded to the idea of bringing together the leaders of the various factions within society and giving them incentive to work together constructively through good old fashion Lijphartian consensus democracy. It’s a time-tested model that I would much rather improve upon. So I would absolutely keep elected house as a proper house.

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  47. I need to start proofreading my comments better. I’m used to being able to make edits.

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  48. Naomi:
    >”Going one step further by introducing the interpersonal dynamic is a whole other ballgame. It’s not enough to have a representative number of brilliant statesman, for example, because there is a big difference between a brilliant statesman who belongs to one ideological group and a similar brilliant statesman who belongs to another. The fine detail we are talking about here would require an extremely large number of participants. The dependency on details that will not be statistically significant will make the results arbitrary.”

    I think you and Keith are demanding an impractically high level of “fine detail”.

    Suppose you took 500 pairs of identical twins, and put one twin of each pair in an assembly.
    Would you expect the two assemblies always to make identical decisions? I certainly would not, whether they are just voting, listening and voting, or debating, listening and voting. (Might be a good thing for someone with a research grant to study.)
    Would you expect the same assembly to make identical decisions on a number of subjects at intervals of, say, a couple of years? Again, I would not, but I do not believe that this invalidates the idea of a government based on pure sortition,

    You said “Comparatively speaking, elections have done a darn good job”. But what are you comparing them with?. If you compare the better elected governments with dictators like Franco, Salazar, Stalin, Pinochet, or with kings like Leopold II or Wilhelm II then I am forced to agree. Does that make elections an ideal way of choosing a government? Does it make them better than sortition? No, no, no! (to quote Thatcher).
    Your concern for the differences that might occur between two allotted assemblies and the possible “arbitrary” decisions that might come with sortition is bizarre when you look at the decisions made by elected governments. They are occasionally “arbitrary”, more often they serve a hidden agenda: the pollies’ own interests, those of the rich ‘n powerful, those of a foreign government (usually the US). You can see a potential mote in the eye of sortition, but not the very real bloody great tree-trunks in that of elections.

    Can you honestly say that you approve of the choice of every US president since WW1? How about the members of Congress? And even if you answer yes to both questions, many or most people, most of the time, are disgusted with their elected leaders, if we can believe the polls, in spite of Keith’s fairy tales about median voters ruling.
    Have to break off now, it’s late.

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  49. Campbell: >”Suppose you took 500 pairs of identical twins, and put one twin of each pair in an assembly.
    Would you expect the two assemblies always to make identical decisions?”

    This would be an interesting experiment in nature v.s. nurture. Identical twins have different experiences, so no, I would not.

    I would certainly expect two 500 participant opinion polls conducted simultaneously using the same methodology to give the same result, barring some freak statistical fluke. However, the subdivisions within the polling sample will not be statistically significant. There will not be a statistically significant number of carpenters. Or a statistically significant number of teachers. Or accountants. Or statesman.

    Here’s simple example. Let’s say you have one expert electrician drawn into your allotted body. There may be other members who have electrical experience, but not a statistical number, certainly, and none with the experience of this guy. Let’s say he proposes a reform to the home electrical wiring code. He can talk all day about his experiences and give all sorts of personal stories that end with an explanation of why this reform is needed.

    But here’s the thing: he could be nuts. He could be representing a fringe view that other electricians would ridicule him for. But his experience will carry weight. And the other members wouldn’t know any better.

    If you were to conduct an opinion poll with a sample size of ten individuals, would you get the right result most of the time? Absolutely! Could you rely on the results? No. If you rely on statistically insignificant details (like the personal experiences and skills of the members) you might do okay most of the time for most things. But you will still end up getting ridiculous results in every session. The electrician example is a fairly trivial one. The examples of effective leadership and statesmanship, less so, as they will drive the internal dynamic of the body.

    As I have said before, such bodies have their uses. The personal skills and experiences of the members will be valuable. However, I do not believe such bodies are drop-in replacements for conventional legislatures. It’s okay if you do. It’s okay if you have no issue whatsoever with this problem. We all have our own perspectives. It’s a good thing. It makes the discussion more fruitful. If I’ve offended you, or taken an unnecessarily adversarial stance, I apologize. That was not my intent. Trying to win arguments online is a bit silly. We are all here to learn and expand our perspectives. I’m sorry if it looks like I’m trying to make a big deal out of a minor detail, but Keith and I believe it’s an important factor. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things it isn’t. Or maybe it is. We can’t really say for sure without real world experience. No one ever claimed elections were ideal. They are just the best thing that has been tried in the real world. Or at least the modern world. I don’t think anyone here would argue that elections are good enough on their own. The claim we are making is that pure sortition is not better than hybrid systems, and this is one of the reasons why.

    Why do you believe that the results that can be achieved using pure sortition are better than what can be achieved using hybrid systems?

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  50. Naomi:> I’m very much wedded to the idea of bringing together the leaders of the various factions within society and giving them incentive to work together constructively through good old fashion Lijphartian consensus democracy. It’s a time-tested model that I would much rather improve upon. So I would absolutely keep elected house as a proper house.

    You’ve convinced me — looks like I need now to write a third book as exchanges with others (mostly on this forum) have moved me a long way from my views in The Party’s Over. I was so accustomed to UK-style elective dictatorship, in which parliamentary debate has been a charade since at least the time of Bagehot, that this made me over-generalise. Happy to go with your proposed compromise. Thank you! (Whether this will dissuade Yoram from his conviction that “Sutherland pays no attention to the responses” is another matter.)

    >I would certainly expect two 500 participant opinion polls conducted simultaneously using the same methodology to give the same result, barring some freak statistical fluke.

    Agreed. That’s why all I’m proposing for the allotted house is an extension of the deliberative opinion poll (DP), adjusted to ensure that the fluctuations introduced by small-group deliberation (which breaches the principles of the Condorcet theorem) are eliminated. The allotted sample(s) must accurately reflect the considered judgment of the whole electorate as this is the only reason for its existence.

    Campbell:> Keith’s fairy tales about median voters ruling.

    What you are referring to here is the majority view in political science. The median voter theorem states that, in a two-party electoral system where polling technology is available to political agents, both parties are obliged to converge towards median-voter preferences. Bear in mind that there is no such creature as the “median voter” — this is an arithmetic construct — and in a highly polarised electorate it’s possible for a ruling party to adhere strictly to median preferences and simultaneously disappoint every empirical voter.

    >Would you expect the same assembly to make identical decisions on a number of subjects at intervals of, say, a couple of years?

    Of course not, public opinion evolves over time. But the hybrid model would be a vast improvement on Athenian direct democracy, where the demos on occasion changed its mind every day.

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  51. Yay!

    Anyway, I bet we still passionately disagree on the construction of the executive.

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of having two co-equal houses, one composed through election and the other through sortition(with face-to-face deliberation and multi-year terms), with an ad-hoc confirmation step.

    It has multiple checks and balances without conflicting mandates. Thus, it has *constructive* checks and balances. We will have active (explicitly articulated) pressure to make better choices during coalition negotiations. The minor (but still general interest) issues that tend to fall by the wayside in busier campaigns and have little impact on the election (or just fall away in coalition negotiations) will still matter to the members of the standing allotted body. They will surely apply pressure to get them addressed even if there are few electoral advantages in doing so. They will be amateurs, and as such I expect they’ll be all over the place, but I find it hard to imagine they’ll do more harm than good. The active participation will destroy statistical representativity, but we are backed by an electoral mandate in the other house and statistical representativity in the adversarial policy jury confirmation step.

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  52. Naomi,

    The problem, from a real-world perspective, is I can’t see much chance of getting two allotted bodies (ad hoc proposals and confirmation jury) at the same time.

    >The minor (but still general interest) issues that tend to fall by the wayside in busier campaigns and have little impact on the election (or just fall away in coalition negotiations) will still matter to the members of the standing allotted body.

    What’s wrong with direct-democratic initiative for this function? Why leave it to happenstance? If active participation destroys statistical representativity then surely such a body has no mandate.

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  53. Hmm. Fair enough.

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  54. Naomi
    >”However, the subdivisions within the polling sample will not be statistically significant. There will not be a statistically significant number of carpenters. Or a statistically significant number of teachers.”

    Depends how you do it. If you pick them on the street as they go by, probably not. If you have a register of all adult residents and use that, then why would common professions not be present in the right proportion?
    The underlying error IMO is that you speak as if a carpenter is a carpenter and nothing else, as if when the whistle blows on Friday afternoon he disappears, to return only on Monday morning when the whistle blows again. Our carpenter, though, will be many other things beside being a carpenter: perhaps a parent, member of a minority ethnic group, an amateur astronomer, a gay rights campaigner, a coffee-drinker and an abstainer from alcohol, and so on and so on.

    As for the house-wiring example: not a good one, I feel. It would be hard to find someone who doesn’t have _some_ idea about electricity – I’ve wired up a few houses myself.
    The point is, though, that you don’t just rely on the the members’ existing knowledge. Why would an allotted house not have the authority to call for submissions from known experts, the public, interested bodies (eg the Standards Associations, etc?). Why would it not set up a committee to look into the matter and report? I would be all for single issue committees being set up, as needed, sometimes permanent, sometimes for a short-term (something like A Guerrero’s single issue legislative bodies and John Burnheim’s demarchic committees, but without the power to enact legislation, only to make recommendations).

    You might have used the example of a proposal to authorise construction of new nuclear power stations. You can be pretty sure that no-one in the allotted body will have any competence in the matter; but that’s almost certainly true for the US Congress or the UK parliament. Even in France (80% nuclear), nuclear power engineers are surely pretty thin on the ground. The answer, as before, is to set up bodies to enquire into these things and report back.

    >”If I’ve offended you, or taken an unnecessarily adversarial stance, I apologize. ”

    You haven’t offended me, so there’s no need to apologise. I hope I didn’t offend you.

    >”Trying to win arguments online is a bit silly. We are all here to learn and expand our perspectives. I’m sorry if it looks like I’m trying to make a big deal out of a minor detail, but Keith and I believe it’s an important factor. ”

    Trying to win arguments on line at least has the virtue of forcing us to think, and to put our ideas into words and justify them (or change our opinion). It has helped me to “learn and expand my perspectives” as you put it.

    >”No one ever claimed elections were ideal.”

    Oh, but they do, they do!

    >”They are just the best thing that has been tried in the real world. Or at least the modern world.”
    That was Churchill’s view. Time to try sortition!

    >”Why do you believe that the results that can be achieved using pure sortition are better than what can be achieved using hybrid systems?”
    Perhaps I should get around to posting my current thinking some time. I’ve been holding back because (a) some of it I have already posted, and (b) it’s still a bit fluid at the edges.
    The short answer to your question is that I can’t see much good in elections, I can see a lot of objections to them, and I feel that bringing them into contact or contest with an allotted chamber is a retrograde step and dangerous.

    Keith:
    >”What you are referring to here is the majority view in political science. The median voter theorem states that, in a two-party electoral system where polling technology is available to political agents, both parties are obliged to converge towards median-voter preferences.”

    I suspect that there are a few assumptions which don’t necessarily apply in all cases. Rational self-interest on the part of the parties, for instance. I’ll go into it.
    I have the feeling that in a few cases recently we have seen governing parties implement policies which went way beyond the median position into the territory of the opposition. Being a died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist, (after all, I don’t believe in elections, so I must be a nutter) I smell a rat.

    >”Bear in mind that there is no such creature as the “median voter” — this is an arithmetic construct”
    Quite so. I confess to using sloppy language with sarcastic intention.

    >”— and in a highly polarised electorate it’s possible for a ruling party to adhere strictly to median preferences and simultaneously disappoint every empirical voter.”

    I hadn’t considered this. You’ve just given me another reason to rail against elections, Keith. Did you mean to?

    Naomi:
    >”I like the idea of having two co-equal houses, one composed through election and the other through sortition(with face-to-face deliberation and multi-year terms), with an ad-hoc confirmation step.
    It has multiple checks and balances without conflicting mandates. ”

    How can you have “co-equal” houses? If one says “A”, and the other “Not A” which prevails?

    The phrase “checks and balances” tends to make me froth at the mouth: I see it as approval of deliberate attempts to make government inefficient. We’re all in favour of government being fair, I think, but are we trying to gum up the works altogether?

    I fear that partisans of elections would say that _only_ the elected body had a mandate – true in a sense – and that therefore only the decisions of the elected body should be applied. Which lands us back in 2014.

    I would not have an objection to a second allotted house as a “house of review”, provided that its powers were limited to sending bills back to the other house with amendments or suggestions that would then be voted on by the first house. Like the Upper House in some Commonwealth parliaments.

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  55. Campbell,

    The median voter theorem is indeed a product of rational choice theory (that’s why political theorists hate it — they don’t like their discipline being invaded by economists). It’s also true that governments sometimes diverge from median-voter preferences into the terrain of the minority opposition. Whether this is a conspiracy or (more likely) a rare example of principle over electoral self-interest, the government will be punished at the polls. This is also the case when all major parties agree on issues like immigration — this will lead to the birth of new political movements, as we have seen in Britain (UKIP), France (Front National) and the US (Tea Party). The median voter always wins in the end. In an evenly-divided political community, a government that pisses off everyone to an equal degree will be doing its duty (fulfilling its electoral mandate). If it pleased some voters then it would no longer be truly representative. In a deeply-divided society decision making by an allotted assembly would be very dangerous (likely to lead to civil war) as a simple majority will carry it — leaving 51% ecstatic and 49% very angry — this is where Naomi’s normative case for compromise negotiations and dirty deals comes into force. John G. Geer makes a good case that if Lincoln had been able to more accurately gauge median voter opinion in the border states that the Civil War might never have taken place.

    I also dislike the term “checks and balances”, preferring instead Harrington’s cybernetic model whereby proposers (the Senate) are obliged to introduce laws that will meet with the approval of disposers (the Prerogative Tribe). You rightly point out that partisans of election argue that only the Commons has a mandate, but this is in juxtaposition to a hereditary or appointed second chamber, whereas we are proposing a second house with a different kind of representative mandate (standing for, rather than acting for). It would be hard for democrats to argue that a house that stands for the whole political community should not have the final veto on legislative proposals that originated with partisan political actors, especially if duplicate samples of the whole community delivered the same judgment.

    I’m deeply puzzled by your last paragraph — Naomi and myself are both leaving the final decision (the ultimate power) with the allotted house, whereas you seem to want to privilege the primary (elected) house. Or are you suggesting two allotted houses, in which case why would your privilege one of them over the other?

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  56. Keith,

    One can’t really argue about the median vote theorem and specific cases without knowing where that median position was.
    My guess is that T Blair was way to the right of the median position in the case of Iraq; but it’s only a guess, I don’t follow UK politics closely. I don’t think he was punished. “Conspiracy”? It depends what you make the word mean. All parties have a strategy for winning elections, which in a sense is a conspiracy, although their methods may be perfectly legal.

    The Front National was founded in 1972, so it’s hardly new.

    >”The median voter always wins in the end.”
    I incline to the view that no-one wins in the end, in an electoral system. Much like war.

    >”In an evenly-divided political community, a government that pisses off everyone to an equal degree will be doing its duty (fulfilling its electoral mandate). If it pleased some voters then it would no longer be truly representative”

    I shall keep this response and treasure it. If I had had any faith in elections, you would have demolished it by now.

    >”In a deeply-divided society decision making by an allotted assembly would be very dangerous (likely to lead to civil war) as a simple majority will carry it — leaving 51% ecstatic and 49% very angry ”

    Somewhere recently you said words to the effect that you can make any claims about a system that has not been tried.
    I think this last statement is one of those wild, unsubstantiated claims.
    My belief is that we would be unlikely to see a deeply divided society under sortition. I have reasons for saying this, but it will take me a little while to knock my argument into a satisfactory shape, so I’ll pass for the moment.

    >”I’m deeply puzzled by your last paragraph . . .”
    Of course I am suggesting (or rather, not objecting to) two _allotted_ houses. I won’t have a bar of an elected body chosen from more than 100-200 people – your badminton or medieval jousting club, for instance.

    >”why would your privilege one of them over the other?”

    Well, I was talking about a house of review. Upper House, in Westminster-type parlance.

    A house of review should, if you think about it, answer one of your objections. If the house of review always came to the same conclusions as the first or lower house, then you couldn’t argue that an allotted body doesn’t represent the people. If there were a significant difference, as you and Naomi suggest, then it would go some distance to mitigating the inaccuracy of the representation, by sending bills back to be reconsidered.
    As an alternative, you could have more than one allotted chamber of equal power, each one debating and voting separately with the votes of each house added and the aggregate vote taken. This would allow a check on the accuracy of the representation; it would also permit more people to take part, so it might suit a very large country. I would have the arguments made in each house made available to members of the other(s); no-one would have the time to read everything, but that’s what members’ staffs are for.

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  57. This may be a bit of a tangent, but the discussion of two chambers reminds me of one issue (whether an elected or allotted legislature) that has been a consistent stumbling block for me… That is the conflict between democracy as rule by the majority, (where there is a persistent majority), and justice (for a permanent minority). None of the standard institutional designs seem reliable…(typically either an independent, non-accountable constitutional court, or some sort of super-majority requirement which privileges those with more power at the time of the establishment of the status quo). It seems to me that the BEST hope is having an allotted review body charged with the specific task of protecting the rights of minorities…They may sell out this charge, but perhaps a culture of tolerance, and pride of ownership by the group of a solemn responsibility could “prime” (as psychologists say), or infuse average citizens with a commitment to such a noble task…while an elected body(subject to electoral imperatives) could never accomplish this it seems to me.

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  58. Keith,

    I think you have a distorted impression of how widely the median voter theorem is embraced among political scientists. Admittedly it has been a long time since I got my poli-sci degree, but my more recent reading in the field suggests it is often discounted as a simplistic two-dimensional theoretical construct with little or no application for real-world politics. Empirical political scientists point out that the median voter therorem would suggest that government income redistribution would primarily benefit middle class voters and shrink overall income disparity, while in reality the opposite is true. They also note that surveys comparing policy preferences of voters and members of Congress consistently show that members of Congress are more extreme (to the left and right) compared to median voters. etc. I am unaware of much recent research that actually supports the median voter theory, and plenty that undercuts it. It seems to me that empirical research does not support the median voter theory very strongly and that it is more akin to those “political theorist” notions you complain about that are nice and neat, but not fulfilled by reality.

    A couple of examples:
    Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress
    JOSEPH BAFUM and MICHAEL C. HERRON, American Political Science Review / Volume 104 / Issue 03 / August 2010

    Empirics of the median voter: democracy, redistribution and the role of the middle class by Francesco Scervini inThe Journal of Economic Inequality December 2012, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 529-550
    Date: 24 May 2011

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  59. Thanks Terry, I’ll take a look at the two papers that you mention. No doubt I over-stated the case — this is from the Gilens/Page preprint (which attempts [unsuccessfully] to refute the median-voter theorem):

    “A good many scholars — probably more economists than political scientists among them — still cling to the idea that the policy preferences of the median voter tend to drive policy outputs from the US political system” (p.5).

    I’ve been immersed in this empirical literature for the last few months and my own scoring was 31 papers/monographs in favour of the median voter theorem and 26 against, so agree that there is no consensus. My PhD supervisors are all political theorists (solidly wedded to the Marx/Mosca/Michels elite theory) and I have been attempting (so far without success) to find a political scientist at my university to evaluate my interpretation of the literature. My PhD upgrade committee advised me simply to ignore the empirical polsci literature — which led me to smell a very large rat. Perhaps, like Campbell, I’m also a conspiracy theorist.

    The observation that members of Congress are more extreme than median voters is anticipated by the median-voter theorem — many (most?) constituencies are polarised (just think blue/red states) and gerrymandered, whereas the median voter is an arithmetic construct. A like-for-like comparison would require an equivalent construct (the median politician), half way between the Tea Party and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. As for the increasing inequality of income, this is largely a function of the increasingly trans-national nature of capitalism, which sharply reduces the redistributive power of national governments.

    On the tension between majority and minority rights, clearly an elected body will not work. Why are you so sceptical regarding the Supreme Court, given its historical role in the enforcement of civil rights legislation? Was this just the exception to the rule? In the UK and EU the judiciary has repeatedly demonstrated its role in the protection of minority rights (to the increasing fury of elected governments). But our judicial appointments are much less political than in the US.

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  60. Campbell,

    Blair was a long way to the (neocon) right of the median position on Iraq — Although he was not punished personally, his party is still licking its wounds. It’s also (sadly) the case that foreign adventures are less important to domestic voters than the price or bread (or mediterranean holidays). Regarding the Front National I was referring to the huge increase in voter support in the last EU election.

    >My belief is that we would be unlikely to see a deeply divided society under sortition.

    Look forward to hearing your argument in due course. Whilst politicians no doubt exploit existing cleavages to their electoral advantage, are you suggesting that they manufacture them ex nihilo? What about the Sunni and Shi’a, the Prods and the Fenians. Both groups long pre-date electoral machinations.

    >If the house of review always came to the same conclusions as the first or lower house, then you couldn’t argue that an allotted body doesn’t represent the people.

    That would only be the case if they deliberated entirely independently and the initial advocacy was well balanced. If the deliberation in the legislative house was distorted by unbalanced advocacy and information, then the review process would be subject to the same imbalances. It would just amount to increasing the size of the sample, so would be more descriptively accurate of the general population but this would not automatically counterbalance any initial bias. The only way of ensuring balance is via exogenous information/advocacy.

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  61. >”Blair was a long way to the (neocon) right of the median position on Iraq — Although he was not punished personally, his party is still licking its wounds.”

    If you don’t put a time frame on the “punishment” your median voter theorem is meaningless. Sooner or later of course things (policies, voter preferences or whatever) will trend back to the mean.

    >>”My belief is that we would be unlikely to see a deeply divided society under sortition.”

    >”Look forward to hearing your argument in due course. Whilst politicians no doubt exploit existing cleavages to their electoral advantage, are you suggesting that they manufacture them ex nihilo? What about the Sunni and Shi’a, the Prods and the Fenians. Both groups long pre-date electoral machinations.”

    OK. I hinted that my ideas were vague and in flux. I don’t intend this as a rigorous proof, it is just the way I think at the moment, and I would be very surprised if you find anything original, ie that hasn’t been said before by one Great Man or another. Attack it as you will, but I may not have time to give an immediate reply.

    Basically, most people, most of the time, just want to get on with living their lives and letting others do the same. This is the easiest way to get through life: we have enough to do with digging spuds, changing nappies, mending the nets and all the rest of it. We might have the occasional acrimonious discussion in the pub or on this forum, but by and large, it’s live and let live.

    I appeal to Darwin on this; it is the most cost-effective way to be successful in evolutionary terms. People who pick a lot of needless fights are likely to leave fewer descendants, so evolution tames us. Sunnis and Shias after all, have been coexisting since the 8th century CE; Catholics and Protestants for the last 300 years in most places. Christians and Muslims have managed to coexist, so have Muslims and Jews, or Christians and Muslims, except at certain times.

    What times? you ask. Well, until some unpleasant individual or group can profit by rocking the boat, and conditions are right for the trouble to spread. Peter the Hermit might have shouted his message of hate all his life without any effect, but the Pope and the monarchs of the time thought they had something to gain by encouraging him.
    Usually, to get ordinary people involved, there’s some underlying resentment, sense of injustice, etc. Action on one side brings reaction on the other; people become polarised, as you put it, violence breeds violence, and you end up with a war which does not end until it cannot continue: for instance one side is annihilated, both sides are incapable of continuing, some greater threat appears which makes the two sides drop their quarrel to face a common foe.

    Now, what is the relevance of this to sortition/elections? Parties appear to be inherent to the electoral system. (Can you name an elected government without parties?) It seems to be almost impossible to get elected without belonging to one. (Those few independents who do get elected are almost always ex-members of a party who have achieved enough notoriety to be popular in their own electorate, though not in the nation.) Parties, whatever virtues they may posess, tend to polarise, to condemn all ideas that come from the other side, to pretend that all their own policies are light and logic incarnate, even when they are a hodge-podge of compromises. Throw in the usual ad hominem arguments, the smearing and stereotyping of the opposition, the manipulation of statistics, control of the media if you can get it, and you have a powerful machine to make people hate the opponents. All for perfectly sound reasons, of course: they are swine.

    I have said elsewhere that parties might continue to exist under sortition. By this I meant that, for instance, Sunnis won’t stop overnight being Sunnis, nor Shias Shias, cod-Marxists being cod-Marxists, and Neo-cons being Neo-cons or “cons tout court”.
    However, in an assembly whose members (initially all strangers) start off not knowing who has what idiotic beliefs, when it’s addressing such problems as road rules, or the provision of life-belts at public swimming pools, or the standards to adopt for Class ‘B’ electrical appliances, etc, etc, etc, is there any reason to suppose that Conservatives will always vote as Conservatives, or Marxists as Marxists? If it meant that they could hang on to power by so doing, they might, and this is what we find in electoral systems. In sortition, if the members will be out of the parliament in a fixed time however they vote on whatever subject, and if there is no way of knowing how members vote, so that they can neither be rewarded nor punished by a party, why would they follow party lines?

    I suggest that most issues, and many of the most important, are of the hum-drum non-ideological sort that I have tried to exemplify. Where strong differences of opinion arise on these issues, they will mostly not be on the old ideological cleavages. Why should a Sinn Fein power point be different from a Nationalist one? There may however, be sound reasons for it having round pins, flat pins large pins, small pins or whatever. In an allotted assembly a Marxist and a Neo-con might be ardent defenders of big-endianism, while a Green and a Vlaams Blok member might be staunch little-endians, but this is not so in an elected assembly, where the party line will almost always prevail.

    This blurring of lines and allegiances must weaken the party system in the long run. You could object that not all issues will be as bread-and-butter as those I have mentioned. True, but I put it to you that it will be possible, in an allotted assembly, for parties to make concessions without losing face. You can’t reduce the platform or program of any large party to a single issue. Some issues are “core”, some are of less importance in the eyes of the party stalwarts. The “core” issues are not necessarily the same for different parties, so it will often be easy to make a concession that is unimportant in your party’s eyes, but which is of capital importance to another party. This should be a mechanism for defusing conflicts.

    The other thing to consider is “who gains from promoting animosity?” In a system with elections, some party members may get personal advantage from proposing policies that are deeply divisive. Jean-Marie LePen comes to mind (he became rich from it), but there are plenty of others. It paid for some Americans to cynically denounce others with milder views as being “soft on communism”, “soft on terrorism”, “soft on drugs”, etc, which led to a rush to the right. (I suppose right-wingers would say there was a similar rush to the left on such issues as women’s rights, black rights, homosexuals’ rights, etc.) With members not eligible to seek re-election, it is not easy to see how such ideological blackmail could function in an allotted assembly. Of course, furious ideologues might rant and rave outside the chamber, and affect the opinions of the public, to some extent, but parliament would be free to vote without fear and without favour, which would make the ranting less effective than the ideological blackmail which happens now.

    If you add this effect of “removing the advantage from promoting extremism” to the “defusing” effect and the “blurring” effect mentioned above, you will see why I believe we would be unlikely to see a deeply divided society under sortition.

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  62. Campbell, Your sense of average citizen behavior seems reasonable…and I agree that much of what passes for inherent animosity between groups s actually fomented by partisans who desire conflict for there own reasons…this doesn’t necessarily mean electoral. but since elections are merely stnad-ins for violence (where the more numerous would defeat the smaller group), I think the incentive for partisans is essentially the same, whether elections are held or not. I suspect partisans will be a tiny minority in most allotted bodies (as opposed to nearly universal in elected bodies). Also… a historical note, Vermont’s Constitution requires that voters take an oath that they will vote “without fear or favour of any person.” If only.

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  63. Campbell,

    That’s very well argued — I wonder only if your narrative is historically accurate. If Terry’s view — “elections are merely stand-ins for violence” — is correct, then political parties are a way of containing violence within acceptable norms. It may well be an urban myth that the warring armies in the House of Commons are separated by lines two swords’ lengths apart, but it’s historically plausible. Recent history (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria) would suggest that dictators paper over the pre-existent cracks which then re-emerge once the tyrant is removed. Political leaders will, no doubt, attempt to amplify the cleavages, but the electoral system is intended to socialise the conflict.

    I note that the references you make to actual behaviour in sortition-based assemblies focus on exercising the secret vote (“is there any reason to suppose that Conservatives will always vote as Conservatives, or Marxists as Marxists? . . . if there is no way of knowing how members vote, so that they can neither be rewarded nor punished by a party, why would they follow party lines? . . . parliament would be free to vote without fear and without favour”). I’m 100% in agreement that this would be the true value of an allotted assembly, but as soon as active functions (proposing and advocating policies) are introduced then the pre-existing cleavages will manifest themselves. If you look at the history of political parties in parliamentary systems, what started off as loose and informal alliances of like-minded independents then morphed into political parties as we now know them, so there’s no good reason to believe that similar developments would not occur in a sortition-based system. That’s why my preference is to acknowledge the existence of underlying cleavages but to quarantine them in a purely advocacy role, leaving the allotted parliament free to vote “without fear or favour of any person.”

    >People who pick a lot of needless fights are likely to leave fewer descendants, so evolution tames us.

    That’s only true of those who lose the fights. It would be just as easy to come up with a “Darwinian” Just So story for the preservation of aggression. The recent historical record demonstrates that civilisation is something of a thin and superficial veneer that can very easily recourse back to the law of the jungle. If our biological nature were indeed “tamed” then the sentiments of John Lennon’s Imagine would be right:

    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

    My generation really did believe all that nonsense at the time of the Summer of Love, but as we got older most of us followed St. Paul’s advice to put away childish things and accept empirical reality rather than pursuing dreams and imaginations.

    >If you don’t put a time frame on the “punishment” your median voter theorem is meaningless. Sooner or later of course things (policies, voter preferences or whatever) will trend back to the mean.

    It’s only the case that policies will trend back to voter preferences if you have a system that rewards politicians for tracking preferences (and punishes them for ignoring them). Political leaders in the Soviet Union (and other dictatorships) managed to get away with ignoring public preferences for a very long time, whereas the electoral cycle of liberal democracy gives them 5-10 years max.

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  64. Terry,

    I’e just read the Scervini paper and was puzzled by the fact that I didn’t recognise any of the references cited in footnote (1). The reason became clear when I read the author’s eccentric definition of the median voter theorem — “the effectiveness of the middle class in deciding the level of [cash] redistribution” (p.531). The usual understanding of Downs’s theorem is more general — in a majoritarian electoral system the further away the outcome is from the voter’s most preferred outcome, the less likely the voter is to select that alternative. This has nothing to do with the “middle class” per se. I’m also uneasy about the empirics — the dataset covers a range of different political systems, majoritarian, PR, parliamentary, presidential etc. and focuses exclusively on cash redistribution. The author acknowledges (p.540) that in-kind public provision (as opposed to cash redistribution) would produce a very different result as the median voter in social democracies has benefited hugely from this form of redistribution (for example the NHS and free education in the UK — especially before the introduction of student loans).

    The paper by Bafumi and Herron provides a very useful clarification of the median voter theorem. Electoral systems are binary (red and blue), not analogue (purple): “House elections tend to feature two candidates equidistant from a district median as opposed to, say, one extreme candidate and a challenger who adopts a median position” (p.534). This in itself is quite sufficient to explain leapfrogging — if the median voter in a Congressional district is located at (say) datapoint 60 on the left-right axis, then a 1% swing in voter preferences could result in the new elected representative being significantly more blue or more red than the median position. In addition to this simple point of binary arithmetic, we should not forget that politicians are partisan — their behaviour will be a compromise between median voter preferences and those of their co-partisans (and donors). How much this enables a politician to depart from median preferences depends on the nature of the district, the policies of her opponent and the degree of extremism of her partisans. In a highly-partisan (safe) district, the representative can, in effect, do whatever she likes (if the median point of the district is, say 80 — very close to the Republican pole — then a Democratic challenger could not move close to 80 while still retaining a credible party ticket). In terms of the dataset I’m a little troubled by the authors’ comparison of House (district) representatives and state-wide preferences (p.528) as this does not take into account that districts may well be more polarised than state-average preferences. As for the disparity with the preferences of senators (p.520), the absence of leapfrogging is adequately explained by Madisonian principles (larger districts and longer term lengths).

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  65. Keith,

    I think your complaints about the specifics of those two papers are perfectly valid, and these two analyses certainly do not, by themselves, falsify the median voter theorem for the real world. My point is simply that it is my impression that far more empirical political scientists have been piling up more and more evidence on the contra side, and that fewer and fewer believe in the median voter theorem’s validity in the face of multi-dimensional real world politics. I admit this is only my impression, and that may well be biased by what research happens to strike my interest in reading.

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  66. Fair point. I’ll let you know if I find anyone in my university prepared to give me feedback on my own prejudices!

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  67. Well argued, Campbell.

    However, I would point out that parties don’t seek to maximize their vote totals as much as they try to maximize their policy-making power.

    This is NOT a pedantic distinction. In a majoritarian framework (any system using single-seat districts or any system with a powerful president) then yes, hitting that 50%+1 point can mean the difference between total power and utter defeat so winning a few more votes is everything. However, when power sharing is expected, major parties are often more than happy to sacrifice votes (even a few percentage points if need be) to better position themselves to be included in the resulting power sharing arrangement. The parties from whom voters may most readily be persuaded are the same parties that are closest in ideological space and, thus, are the easiest to partner with following an election. Slandering them and their policies may help with gaining votes, but it does a party no good if they struggle to get much above 1/3 of the vote by themselves and they alienate an important potential coalition partner in the process.

    Switzerland is an unusual example, but perhaps it’s unusually relevant for our purposes. Switzerland has a mixed constitution that is partly electoral and partly direct. It is a nation with very deep cleavages, yet they’ve had a grand coalition of all the major parties in place continously for almost two generations. All the really big stuff, the stuff that makes or breaks campaigns inevitably goes to a direct vote, so what is there to fight about? The elected institutions are still extremely powerful and handle the great bulk of legislation. The controversial things go to referendum, so there’s more common ground over the things the elected bodies do handle. Rather than taking turns in office based on modest shifts in vote totals and rather than trying to maximize those totals through superficial means, they just opt to share power continously. No one seems to mind. It works fine… the consequences of direct democracy not withstanding.

    It is manifestly not the case that simply having a powerful elected institution will necessarily exacerbate the cleavages that exist in society. It can… absolutely! It depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is institutional configuration. Politicians, swine though they may be, are rational actors. They will tend to behave in whatever manner will maximize their chances of success in whatever system they find themselves in.

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  68. @Terry
    >”I think the incentive for partisans is essentially the same, whether elections are held or not. I suspect partisans will be a tiny minority in most allotted bodies (as opposed to nearly universal in elected bodies).”

    The incentive may be the same, but I would like to think that the opportunity to seize control of things to would not be.

    @Keith
    >”well argued ”

    Thank you, but obviously not well enough to convince you or Naomi!

    >” loose and informal alliances of like-minded independents then morphed into political parties as we now know them, so there’s no good reason to believe that similar developments would not occur in a sortition-based system.”

    I think that the reason for the appearence of parties is that without them those who disagreed with the Establishment were unable to get their way. If there is no long established gross injustice (or perception of it) the there should be no need for parties.
    However, we live in a world with parties. The questions to ask are: will parties continue under (pure) sortition, and if so, does it matter? I am inclined to think that as the need for them disappears, they will wither away. (Yes, I know, Marx thought that about the state.)

    >”That’s only true of those who lose the fights. It would be just as easy to come up with a “Darwinian” Just So story for the preservation of aggression.”

    There are perfectly good Darwinian (NOT “Just So”!) reasons for the survival of aggression, notably when one feels threatened. Cornered rats are renowned for it. Un-cornered rats generally head for a bolt-hole, or the horizon if none is available.

    Notice that I said _needless_ aggression. In social animals I think you’ll find that while dominance is accepted, undue violence/arrogance/bullying is not. There was a meticulously observed case just recently of a group of (wild) chimpanzees banding together to depose the dominant male. You might also think of Tarquinius Superbus, or of Julius Caesar, or of many others. It’s widely accepted that we have evolved – “selected ourselves” in fact – for co-operation (to some extent) rather than conflict, and don’t well tolerate those who won’t cooperate. To the best of my knowledge, all apes are social, and there’s no point in being social if you don’t cooperate. There are huge advantages in cooperation – we wouldn’t be here to squabble if our remote ancestors hadn’t learnt to cooperate – but cooperation implies social norms, and those who break them are punished by their peers.

    >” . . the electoral cycle of liberal democracy gives them 5-10 years max.”
    I’m not so sure of this, but we have to know where the median preference is to argue about it.

    @Naomi
    >”I would point out that parties don’t seek to maximize their vote totals as much as they try to maximize their policy-making power. ”

    True enough. I suppose this means you’ve caught me using sloppy language again, but I’m not sure where.

    >”Politicians, swine though they may be . . . ”

    Oh dear. I was being tongue in cheek, and voicing the opinions of the converted.

    >” . . . are rational actors. They will tend to behave in whatever manner will maximize their chances of success in whatever system they find themselves in.”

    Except when one blunders, and commits political suicide, to the amusement of everyone else.
    However, this is one reason why I think there is everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by adopting a pure sortition system.

    Regarding Switzerland:
    >” . . . they just opt to share power continously. No one seems to mind. It works fine . . .”

    You make an interesting point. I don’t follow Swiss politics, but are you sure the opposition parties don’t mind? It must seem to them a bit like a conspiracy.
    There are also cases where one party has held power for decades: Mexico and Japan for instance. Mexico has a reputation for corruption on a huge scale, Japan less so, though the government seems pretty dysfunctional in several ways.
    Perhaps it’s possible to have a one-party system where factions within the party take the place of opposing parties.
    None of this makes me favour elections, though.

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  69. Campbell,

    The establishment is just as prone to partisan behaviour as are its critics. Political parties develop as soon as people need to combine together in order to pursue shared interests, so a full-mandate sortition-based system (including policy advocacy) would soon begin to show partisan behaviour. The only exception would be a randomly-selected body whose mandate was restricted to voting in secret, thereby quarantining partisan behaviour to other (non-voting) agencies. I don’t anticipate the abolition of injustice (whether gross or merely perceived) any time soon, especially in the light of John Burnheim’s observation that most political issues are now global in nature.

    My company has published a lot of stuff on the Darwinian basis of co-operation, for example http://books.imprint.co.uk/book/?gcoi=71157105722570 but this is only really a minor corrective to the dominant “selfish gene” paradigm in evo-psych.

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  70. Campbell: > “If there is no long established gross injustice (or perception of it) the there should be no need for parties.”

    As long as there are serious differences between people regarding fundamental goals it will advantageous for those who share the same goals to organize for collective action. It’s more difficult when all the members of a body are amateurs with fairly short terms, sure, but it’s still strategically wise. A concern of mine is that factions that are angry, or that simply adhere to fringe ideologies, may have an easier time organizing their members in an allotted body and thus may have disproportionate influence.

    >”You make an interesting point. I don’t follow Swiss politics, but are you sure the opposition parties don’t mind? It must seem to them a bit like a conspiracy.”

    Well, it’s established convention (but not law) that the executive positions are simply divided proportionally between the parties.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Federal_Council

    It’s worth noting that, while the major parties are formally in coalition with each other, they still disagree publicly. They often campaign in favor of, or in opposition to, various referendum questions. For example, the largest party in Switzerland both proposed and campaigned in favor of the recent initiative to limit immigration while the remaining four parties in the executive campaigned against it. Rather than making an election issue out of it, and threatening their jobs in the process, they would all rather resolve such issues through a popular vote. They accept the results and move on.

    I like this basic dynamic. Just replace the direct democracy elements with Keith’s policy trials and subject the “grubby” compromises made by the politicians to the same sort of challenge. A Swiss-Athenian hybrid of sorts. I’d also opt for a very different executive.

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  71. >I like this basic dynamic. Just replace the direct democracy elements with Keith’s policy trials and subject the “grubby” compromises made by the politicians to the same sort of challenge. A Swiss-Athenian hybrid of sorts. I’d also opt for a very different executive.

    Agree, especially as (according to Headlam), election is the modern equivalent of the Athenian political trial — the way politicians were held to account after the ending of ostracism. There never has been a time in recorded history when there were no politicians, and there’s no good reason to believe they can be abolished by fiat.

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