Representative democracy is in crisis. Low voter turnout, abstention, falling party membership, and the phenomenal rise of populist parties – these are the symptoms of Democratic Fatigue Syndrome. Considering democratic innovation from classical Athens to present day, it becomes apparent that our democratic institutions haven’t been updated since the late 18th century. How to renew the centralised, hierarchical party system to reflect the horizontal power relationships of the hyper-connected, interactive society of the 21st century? A bi-representative system, combining elections with the democratic principle of sortition, or drawing of lots, could steer democracy into smoother waters.
Authority changes. Once one had authority – and was allowed to speak. Today one gains authority – through the act of speaking itself. Leadership is no longer a matter of making tough decisions on behalf of the people, but of initiating processes in consultation with that people. Treat critical, outspoken citizens as a voting mob and they will behave like a voting mob. Treat them like adults and they will act as adults. The relationship between the government and its constituency is no longer that between a parent and its children, but of adults working together. Politicians would do well to look further than the barbed wire alone, to trust the citizens, to take their feelings seriously and respect their experience. To make them feel welcome, in other words. Give them power. And, to keep things fair: appoint them by sortition.
In my opinion, the traumatic, systemic crisis that has overcome democracy can be alleviated by giving sortition another chance. The drawing of lots is no miracle cure, no perfect recipe, in the same way that elections have never been that either. It can, however, help to redress some shortcomings. Sortition is not irrational, it is a-rational: a consciously neutral procedure by which political opportunities can be justly distributed and discord avoided. The risk of corruption is reduced, electoral fever abated, the focus on the common good increased. Citizens selected by sortition may not have the expertise of professional politicians, but they have something else: freedom. There is, after all, no pressure on them to be elected or reelected.
In this phase of the history of democracy, therefore, there are sound arguments for no longer leaving legislative power in the hands of elected citizens, but passing it along to allotted citizens too. If we trust the principle of sortition when it comes to the court system, why not with legislation? It would serve to patch things up considerably. Then elected citizens (our politicians) will no longer be hounded to a frenzy by the commercial and social media, but will feel backed up by a second lawgiving body for which electoral fever and audience ratings are completely irrelevant, an assembly in which the public interest and the long term still enjoy pride of place, an assembly of citizens who are quite literally reachable – not because they are better than all the rest, but because the circumstances bring out the best in them.
Posted on October 24, 2014 by tbouricius