Short refutations of common objections to sortition (part 1)

1. It would be madness to appoint public officials by lot. No one would choose a pilot or builder or flutist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft.

The problem with this ancient argument against sortition (attributed to Socrates) is that it implicitly assumes that there is some consensus around who should be running the state (those are the pilots, builders or flutists of politics). If there was such consensus politics would be very simple. Politics to a large extent is about identifying whose advice should be taken on which subject. The pretense of elections is that the voters can identify such people. This is a fantasy.

A small group, meeting together and discussing and examining matters in depth, would be able to do a much better job of getting the best advice than the citizens can do as isolated individuals. In fact, most voters already know that – they tend to be very disapproving of elected officials – the very people whom they supposedly selected as being the best suited to handle statecraft.

2. Average people suffer a great many shortcomings (some combination of stupidity, laziness, apathy, greed, selfishness, lack of education, lack of experience, inability to work together with others, etc.).

This dismissive view of the average person is offensive and unsubstantiated by the facts. However, even if we assume such views are justified, they are still not a good argument for preferring elections to sortition, since both ultimately rely on the judgment of the average person. The difference is whether this judgment is the snap judgment of the voter which is based on slogans and prejudices or the informed and considered opinion of an allotted delegate. No matter how competent that average person is, a superior decision can be expected under the latter, more favorable conditions. The allotted delegate should not be seen so much as an improvement over the elected delegate but as an improvement over the voter.

3. The allotted delegates will be easy prey to various professionals (bureaucrats, advisors, lobbyists, the media), The government will therefore be run by those unrepresentative groups and will not be democratic.

It is true that professionals in the political system always have the potential of usurping representative power. However, in the electoral system the power of professionals is much greater, since the delegates themselves – the elected officials – are professionals. In a sortition based system the representatives have much better control over the professionals than the voters have over the elected delegates in an electoral system. Again, the question is not whether the allotted delegates would be easier to manipulate than elected officials, since elected officials are themselves the manipulators. The question is whether allotted delegates would be easier to manipulate than the voters.

4. It would be easy for powerful organizations to bribe the allotted delegates.

There is no reason to think this is true. The existing laws against bribery of state officials would remain in effect.

In any case, officials are usually not bribed outright by having money passed around in envelopes. This is not effective because a single official has limited power and large-scale illegal activity is hard to keep secret.

Officials are usually bribed legally by rewarding them in various ways once they move through the revolving door from official office to private business. This can only be stopped by strengthening the bribery laws, which elected officials, who spent their lives fighting for power and come to see it as their hard-won prize, have not done and show no indication of doing. An allotted legislature, on the other hand, is more likely to reflect public sentiments and crack down on legal bribery.

5. The core of democracy is mass participation. Elections provide at least some form of participation, even if a limited one. Sortition doesn’t.

The core of democracy is equal say. Mass participation is at best a tool, and is often no more than a sham. Voting in “free and fair” elections is only marginally less of a sham than voting in a single party system (which is also “some form of participation”). While voting gives the illusion of choice, the real choice is made long before the voters arrive at the voting booth, when a short list of candidates is created. If this short list contains only a single name, or contains the names of a few people all of whom agree on the major points of policy, then voting is no more than a theater of democracy.

Meaningful mass participation in government can be imagined, but it will take very different forms than mass voting. The chance that a mechanism of meaningful mass participation is developed and implemented is much higher when the decisions about such an issue are in the hands of a representative sample of citizens rather than in the hands of a power hungry elite.

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44 Responses

  1. Yoram,

    These short refutations aren’t compelling for me. And I AGREE with some of your core points (though not all). Points 2 and 3 seem to oversimplify and falsely equate the tasks of voters and “delegates” (and I agree with Keith that that term is not ideal since it has a different meaning in political science literature than you are using here meaning “member”). The claimed shortcomings such as greed, inexperience and inability to work together are far more crucial in the task of legislating than in the task of picking legislators. It’s not apples to apples. You miss the opportunity to raise the issue of rational ignorance, where the voter has little incentive to learn and weigh information, while as part of a relatively small group a member of an allotted group HAS that incentive.

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  2. I agree with a big part of Yoram Gat’s refutation but I think the text has some defects.
    *** As Terry Bouricius I object to Yoram Gat’s use of « alloted delegates ». Democracy-through-stochation is not « delegation of power » but « exercize of power » by the people through a minipublic, or minipopulus (minipeuple, minipueblo ..). I don’t understand why Yoram avoids the use of these words, which are simple and clear.
    *** In §2, Yoram Gat writes : « This dismissive view of the average person is offensive and unsubstantiated by the facts. ». Better to cancel « offensive », kind of political correctness. « Offensive » is not a rational argument.
    *** Yoram’s §3 gives too much weight on the role of the elected officials – whereas polyarchy is basically the rule of lobbies, sometimes very diverse ones ; including lobbies acting through the administrative networks. Centering the criticism of polyarchy on the elected officials, who are only an element of the polyarchic system, is dangerous – that will give weight to the populist parties who claim they are able to establish true democracy by changing the political class (or bypassing it through referenda).
    *** About Yoram’s §5 : please let’s omit the reference to « voting in a single party system (which is also “some form of participation”) ». The polyarchic model is basically different of totalitarian ones, both are undemocratic, but any hint of identification is not a good idea.
    *** About Yoram’s §5 : the reference to « a power hungry elite » is not very good – if only because it may be different elites ; we could say that the forces dominating the polyarchic system have no interest in serious political mass participation, which would heighten the clout of the ordinary citizens.

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  3. *** Terry Bouricius says we must « raise the issue of rational ignorance, where the voter has little incentive to learn and weigh information ». This is somewhat dangerous, because some will ask for virtuous citizens with a moral incentive « to learn and weigh information » – whereas in a modern society it is impossible to imagine citizens able to learn and weigh information about all the main political topics. Direct democracy by general votes is impossible in a modern society, at least if « democracy » means the reign of popular will – « will » implying deliberation and serious choice. I think we must underline the impossibility of democracy by general votes, especially given the risk of « digital illusion » : modern technology may give us a much better democracy-through-stochation than in Athens, but not a modern democracy-through-general-votes – this part of the Athenian model is dead, because our modern world is much more complex that the world of Demosthenes, and the days have still 24 hours.
    *** Terry Bouricius underlines that legislating and picking legislators are very different tasks. Right. But the problem of deliberation is crucial in both tasks ; and practically serious deliberation needs a citizen jury / minipublic, in both cases.

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  4. Terry, Andre,

    I’ll respond to your other points later, but regarding the term “delegate”: My audience is normal readers, not political science professionals, so political science standards are not really relevant, as far as I am concerned.

    I don’t see what a good substitute to “delegate” would be. “Representative” is misleading (since it reinforces the false notion that elected officials represent their voters). “Minipopulus” is a neologism and therefore by definition requires clarification. In any case it is not a term describing a single person, which often what is needed.

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  5. Andre,

    > please let’s omit the reference to « voting in a single party system (which is also “some form of participation”) ». The polyarchic model is basically different of totalitarian ones, both are undemocratic, but any hint of identification is not a good idea.

    I agree that there are some fundamental points of difference, but there are also important similarities. I added a couple of sentences to clarify why the single party system elections analogy is relevant to the issue of participation in “free and fair” elections.

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  6. > rational ignorance

    Rational ignorance is one of the reasons that “a small group, meeting together and discussing and examining matters in depth, would be able to do a much better job of getting the best advice than the citizens can do as isolated individuals.” (§1).

    It is not, however, the only, or even the primary reason for the disadvantage of the voters relative to the allotted delegates (I am sticking to this term until a better one is offered).

    > The claimed shortcomings such as greed, inexperience and inability to work together are far more crucial in the task of legislating than in the task of picking legislators.

    Why is that?

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  7. Yoram,

    If your purpose is to persuade (refute), you must appreciate the assumptions most people will start with… The belief is that legislating SHOULD involve deeply understanding issues, researching minutia of policy, developing arguments, drafting bills, having good interpersonal skills, building coalitions within the chamber, etc.(the fact that many existing legislators is beside the point…we are talking SHOULD.)
    But the belief about what voters SHOULD do is far more narrow…they should read about candidates, be a judge of character, study the issues the parties present in their platforms at least a bit, examine incumbents’ voting records, and then cast an “informed” vote. This concept requires no interpersonal skills, ability to draft legislation or any experience beyond what one learns in school. It is also viewed as okay if the individual voter is greedy (and votes her interest) as long as it doesn’t go so far as taking a bribe.
    If you want to go deeper and point out (as Andre does) that learning enough about policy to make an informed vote between a couple of candidates is impossible in the modern world, you need to explain why.

    In short, MOST people see the tasks of IDEAL legislators as far more challenging than the tasks of IDEAL voters.

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  8. Yoram

    In (1) you refer to “a small group, meeting together and discussing and examining matters in depth”, whereas in (3) you refer to “the representatives” in a “sortition-based system”. The political scientist John Garry insists that the minimum size of a statistically-representative group is 1,000, so that would rule out (1), as the maximum size of a deliberative discussion group is 12-24. You need to decide whether you are arguing for sortition or stochation — you can’t have it both ways. (Socrates, of course, was arguing against rotation, so you appear to be conflating three different things.)

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  9. Yoram

    >I am sticking to this term [delegate] until a better one is offered . . . [minipopulus] is not a term describing a single person, which often [is] what is needed.

    In what sense could a single allotted person be a “representative” or “delegate”? The reason that there is no better term is because the concept of an individual statistically-representative person is oxymoronic. The only thing one can refer to meaningfully is minipopulus (Dahl’s term), statistically-representative decision-making body (your term) or stochation (Andre’s term). Individual “delegates” are always nominated or selected by preference ballot — the term is meaningless when stochation is involved, so if you insist there is such a creature as an individual allotted representative then you need to coin your own term to refer to her. In my view you are sticking to the term delegate as it’s a key part of the rhetorical strategy (deliberately conflating stochation, sortition and rotation) that is necessary to achieve your political goals.

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  10. There are times when it is necessary to talk about an individual member of a mini-public, and we need a word for such a person. A quick look through a thesaurus came up with no ideal term but I would offer these:
    1. Member (as in Assembly Member, Member of a Mini-public, etc. Note that in the U.S. many legislators routinely refer to each other as “the member from Athens (town or district name)”)
    2. Selectee
    3. Deputy (def.: a person appointed or authorized to act as a substitute for another or others.)

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  11. Terry,

    I think you are unrealistic about the expectations people have from their legislators. I don’t think people expect elected officials to be some sort of domain experts on every issue on which they vote, or in fact that they would be outstanding along any dimension. I would imagine that honesty, commitment, and average competence is all most people would expect. I believe that in most cases when people are apprehensive about putting power in the hands of average people it is because they fear that they would not meet those minimal standards. (Perhaps people who consider themselves better than most may put the standard for service high enough to exclude most people from power.)

    Of the terms you offer, I think “deputy” is the best – about as good as “delegate”, so if people here find this a superior substitute, I have no problem using it.

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  12. André,

    > Better to cancel « offensive », kind of political correctness. « Offensive » is not a rational argument.

    I have no problem with political correctness. Part of democratization of society is changing the attitude of tolerance toward such ideas. Someone who makes such arguments should be willing to face the fact that they are offensive and are unacceptable in civilized society and should be expecting to pay the price associated with it. Would you be willing to take antisemitic claims at face value? (It is true that this is not evidence that the arguments are wrong.)

    > too much weight on the role of the elected officials

    Sortition-based reform aims to democratize the system by moving away from elections. Elected officials may be just servants of others, but it is their function that is being targeted as the pivotal point of power. Other aspects of the existing system (e.g., lobbying) are therefore understood as being ancillary to electoralism.

    > we could say that the forces dominating the polyarchic system have no interest in serious political mass participation, which would heighten the clout of the ordinary citizens.

    This is what I meant to say. Those forces are the power hungry elite.

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  13. The core of democracy is resolution of conflict and fostering cooperative action through consensual dialogue. Tyranny of the majority is not democratic. Electing overlords is not democratic. Sortition entrenches dialogue between equal citizens at the heart of decision-making. It becomes a model for reforming institutions and structures throughout society in line with this central notion of decision-making by consent and dialogue rather than by submission and force. I think we need to stress that sortition models would incorporate avenues for citizen consultation and input such that anyones good idea can more easily be brought to the attention and the benefit of society as a whole.

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  14. Terry,

    >There are times when it is necessary to talk about an individual member of a mini-public, and we need a word for such a person.

    Agreed, let’s look at your suggestions:

    1. Member — this is descriptively accurate, but suggests a degree of permanency, renewability, tenure etc.

    2. Selectee — descriptively accurate but tells us nothing about the nature and remit of the appointment.

    3. Deputy — nobody has selected or authorised the selectee to act as a substitute for others, as the selection was by machine.

    If we want a name for the individual selectee then we need to know whether the selection process is stochation or sortition. In the former case the obvious name for the individual selectee would be juror, in the latter kleristocrat or klerarch in the sense of a ruler appointed by lottery machine. Yoram’s oxymoronic proposal for a small but “representative” deliberative group is neither one nor the other.

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  15. Satkhalsa,

    Agree with what you say, but what you don’t address is how to obtain the consent of the vast majority of citizens who don’t get to participate in the dialogue, as they were not selected by the stochation or did not seek to volunteer their ideas. We are talking here of 99.999999999999% of all citizens. With our current arrangements they do at least get to elect their overlords, not so in a kleristocracy, where the choice is made by a machine.

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  16. satkhalsa,

    > avenues for citizen consultation and input such that anyones good idea can more easily be brought to the attention

    Can you give examples of what you have in mind?

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  17. *** I agree with Bouricius proposal about « member of the minipublic » (or « member of the citizen jury »). Because the basic entity is the minipublic. Randomness is an important factor for the selection of the individual members, but lesser for the minipublic itself, where chance will play a limited role – but it plays likewise a role in elections (date of election, character of the politicians, events just before the election etc…)
    *** We must concentrate the discussion on the collective qualities of the minipublic, not on the individual qualities of its members ; and therefore it is better to use collective wording.
    *** Keith Sutherland says (May 26) that « member » « suggests a degree of permanency, renewability, tenure etc. ». Well, as you may have found, I am not a good English speaker, but I find in Wikipedia article about jury the words « individual members of the jury » ; and not only here …

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  18. *** To the argument « Average people suffer a great many shortcomings » Yoram wants to oppose that such an idea is « offensive » and he adds (25 May) that it belongs to ideas which should be excluded from the intellectual debate, following the political correctedness style.
    *** Actually it is practically very difficult to exclude and idea of the debate and also to refute it. We must choose, we cannot have it both ways. I am convinced it is better in this case to choose the way of refutation of the antidemocratic use of the theme of the « shortcomings of the ordinary citizens » (maybe better wording) in supporting oligarchizing systems.

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  19. *** Terry Bouricius writes (May 24) « the belief about what voters SHOULD do is far more narrow…they should read about candidates, be a judge of character, study the issues the parties present in their platforms at least a bit, examine incumbents’ voting records, and then cast an “informed” vote »
    *** But to study the parties platforms and evaluating the incubents’records we must first study the issues. How evaluate the policy of our leaders about the Middle East without a good idea of the situation here and the possible policies ? How evaluate the economic policy of our leaders without a previous idea about the economy itself ? Etc … « Narrow » !!

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  20. Unfortunately, Yoram has history when it comes to shutting down the debate, e.g. refusing to engage with the politically incorrect, aka “Sutherland”.

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  21. André,

    > « member of the minipublic » (or « member of the citizen jury »)

    The problem here is with “minipublic” and “citizen jury”. These are new and vague terms. I want to be specific – the term and authority of the allotted delegates are analogous to those the elected delegates. Member of parliament or congressmember would be good, I think, but both are local (the first doesn’t work well in the US, the second doesn’t work well outside the US).

    > Actually it is practically very difficult to exclude and idea of the debate and also to refute it.

    To me this is quite similar to the cases of racism and sexism. These ideas are offensive and promoting them should carry some cost. That doesn’t mean that they cannot be discussed and refuted rationally.

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  22. *** Keith Sutherland asks, rightly, for a distinction between stochation and sortition in restrictive sense (May 25). The Athenian juries (judicial and later legislative) fell under stochation, the « magistrates » (small colleges with administrative and executive functions) fell under sortition (when they were not elected). The alloted magistrates (as the elected ones) could be excluded through dokimasia (authorization procedure), whereas it was not possible for jurors.
    *** The stance of Socrates against allotment is specifically documented in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, I, 2, 9. It is actually a subsidiary accusation during the trial of Socrates, officially based upon other motives. Everybody, as far as I know, believe Xenophon’s information basically genuine. But the accuracy of the exact wording is less sure. Socrates « said it was madness to appoint public officials by lot, whereas no one would choose a pilot or builder or flutist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft ». « Public officials » translates « tous tês poleôs arkhontas » and in the restrictive legal sense that means the magistrates. But the more general sense is « the rulers of the City », and therefore the idea could be extended easily to the jurors, whose political weight was much bigger than the alloted magistrates’weight.
    *** The Athenians used election (by the Assembly) whenever they thought a technical capacity was needed – military, financial, even rhetorical (the defenders of the old law in the later legislative procedure). What Socrates asks for is not a technical capacity, but a basic political capacity – the political power must be given to the best in political capacity, as we choose the craftsman best in his craft. This is really a stance radically opposed to the democratic principle of equal weight in sovereignty.
    *** Therefore I disagree with Keith: as far as we can judge, Socrates was really developing an anti-democratic stance, and not only disputing about rotation between the citizens in (mostly minor) alloted « magistracies »

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  23. Yoram:

    >the term and authority of the allotted delegates are analogous to those [of] the elected delegates.

    I wonder just what it takes to get Yoram to listen to an argument without prejudice (that allotted persons are not “delegates” because no-one has chosen and despatched them to act on their behalf). All one can say about his “analogy” is that it’s entirely false as it fails to acknowledge the entirely different kinds of agency involved in the two forms of representation (substantive and descriptive). Voters choose parliamentarians and congresspersons to act on their behalf; all one can say about a large allotted group is that its aggregate judgment is indicative (Pettit’s term) of that of the population that it describes (hence the terms minipublic and citizen jury). We are yet to be informed as to why these terms are “vague”.

    But there’s no point arguing with a brick wall, you just hurt your head.

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  24. Andre, I agree that Socrates was opposed, in principle, to democracy, and this included jurors. What therefore is the political significance of the passage in which he praises the wisdom of crowds? Jeremy Waldron has taken this to indicate collective intelligence (the pot-luck supper argument) but this claim has been disputed. Given Aristotle’s preference for the mixed constitution as the best (practical) option, what role is aggregate wisdom to play if not via the jury?

    PS, notwithstanding this further puzzle, I think you would have to agree that the immediate target of the argument in the Xenophon passage is magisterial skills (hence the examples choses), as opposed to the collective judgment of large groups.

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  25. Keith,
    two points:
    1. you wrote
    >”I wonder just what it takes to get Yoram to listen to an argument without prejudice (that allotted persons are not “delegates” because no-one has chosen and despatched them to act on their behalf).”

    I believe Yoram has heard your argument repeatedly, he simply rejects your analysis. You insist that the allotted body should not be allowed to propose and deliberate, because no INDIVIDUAL member can represent the whole… only listen and vote. You argue that the reason that ELECTED members may propose and debate is because they were selected by a different method (election). But this is a difference without any difference in REAL legitimacy. If I did not vote for the person elected to be my representative, why should that person be allowed to propose and debate “on my behalf” in direct opposition to everything I believe? Merely because the RULES in place grant the person selected by the agreed upon procedure that power. Indeed in the UK and the US, with plurality winner take all elections, a large majority of the voters in my district may have voted against the person elected (splitting their vote among several preferable choices). The legitimacy for proposing and debating does NOT come from the voting process, but from the RULES that specify how the members will be selected. Likewise, if the RULES in place used a different method for selecting the members (such as an allotted legislature), there is NO DIFFERENCE between the legitimacy of this body and an elected body. Since arguably the GOAL of having elections is to create an aggregate body that fairly represents the population as a whole, there is no special reason to give individual elected members speaking rights while denying those rights to members of a sortition (or stochation) body. And if that is the goal, clearly sortition (stochation) will almost always generate a more representative body, thus enhancing its legitimacy.

    2. You refer to Socrates and the potluck argument for the wisdom of crowds. I know that Aristotle used this analogy, but did Plato mention that Socrates preceded Aristotle with this same argument? (Its been 43 years since I read the Republic.)

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  26. Terry,

    1. It’s important to distinguish between a) the decision rule and b) the legitimising principle. In the former case this is usually some form of majoritarianism (a principle that Yoram endorses) and the decision rule is not dependent on how the assembly is constituted (the legitimising principle). Being in a minority is being in a minority, whether the selection principle is election or stochation. But you would need to be an out-and-out legal positivist to claim that the legitimacy of a selection process depends purely on rules (or, as you have previously suggested, some kind of initial social contract). In the case of election the legitimising principle is voters choosing from a range of options (candidates, parties, policies etc) on the basis of their own salience criteria. Persons/parties then act as representatives for those who chose them and (ideally) attempt also to represent the interests of those who didn’t. At least that’s how it works in theory. In the case of stochation the legitimising principle is equally simple — the aggregate judgment of a sufficiently large (c.1000) group of people selected at random will reflect the informed judgment of the target population on an issue-by-issue basis (assuming balanced information and advocacy). But this argument doesn’t apply to small groups of persons and doesn’t extend to individual speech acts. The only “rule” that pertains to stochation is the law of large numbers, and this is a natural law, not just a human construct. Yoram, unfortunately, continues to ignore this point and your argument on rules confuses natural and positive law.

    2. Andre would be in a better position than me to answer the question on Plato. I haven’t even read the Republic!

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  27. to Keith Sutherland
    Jeremy Waldron has ascribed to Socrates an idea of collective intelligence of the crowds? Could you give me the Socratic reference of this idea (I know the Aristotelian one)

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  28. Keith,
    I see where Terry is coming from. There was a time when rule by the eldest male son of the previous ruler was unquestionably “legitimate.” I believe Terry is getting at the idea that precedent is the one true legitimizing principle. Other principles such as electoralism or sortition or hereditary rule have force (or would have force) on account of the magnitude of the precedent of actual stable governance behind them.

    I have no trouble imagining a society where it is broadly agreed that the legitimate way of divvying up political power is in a lottery. If it had been done that way for centuries it’s entirely possible no other method would be agreeable. In the English-speaking world, however, electoralism is the legitimizing principle—a principle backed by centuries of precedent. If we wish our reforms to be considered legitimate, we must firmly place ourselves within that tradition by embracing an option which is analogous to the current legitimizing principle. While, in principle, we could have any reasonable system we could imagine, we would first have to undermine all that precedent and begin again. Not something to be suggested lightly.

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  29. Sorry Andre, my mistake, it was Aristotle that Waldron was referring to, but even that has been disputed as an anachronism (the Athenians did not have pot luck suppers!)

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  30. Oops. I suppose ‘male son’ is redundant. One of these years I should probably learn the fine art of proof reading.

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  31. Naomi,

    >There was a time when rule by the eldest [male] son of the previous ruler was unquestionably “legitimate.”

    Yes, but there was always a legitimising meta-narrative, in the early-modern case the divine right of kings, which was in turn derived from the medieval imperative to discern the will of god (the general will was also derived from the Christian notion of the will of god to save all men). These ideas may strike us moderns as nothing more than fairy tales constructed to cover the brute facts of patriarchy and realpolitik, nevertheless most people believed the narrative to be true. Even the notion of precedent was part of the worldview of pre-modernity, less likely to be viewed as a legitimising principle in our restless modern age. The social contract had its own legitimising narrative — in Hobbes’s case the need of prudential man for physical security. I agree that pragmatism is a legitimising principle, but the positive legislative act (voting for disenfranchisement in a referendum) could only be a legitimising move if kleristocracy had already been shown to work for a significant period of time. Jane Mansbridge discusses the legitimisation of sortition in her commentary on Fishkin’s last book and epistemic and precedence considerations do come into it, but only along with an understanding of the principle of statistical representativity (law of large numbers) which doesn’t apply to the form of government by small groups advocated by Yoram and his (delegated?) spokesman on planet earth (Terry).

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  32. About Yoram Gat’s argument nb2 «(deemed as offensive ») and and its refutation
    *** Political ideologies are systems (often fuzzy systems) including many extra-rational entities – for exemple feelings (of love, of hate, of contempt, of identity …), symbol-heavy lexicon, and myths … – but including likewise rational or pseudo-rational ideas. These can be discussed rationally. You can refuse to do that, because they appear factually absurd or ethically monstruous. But if you are afraid that these ostracized theories will have a subterranean life and come back on the surface under dangerous forms, you may prefer to refute them in a rational debate, and then it is difficult to close the mouths of those who expound these bad theories under a rational or pseudo-rational form, i.e. of the other side of the rational debate. Anyway, to discuss these ideas, you have first to develop them clearfully before showing their defects – and you become an expounder of the theory you want to be excluded of the debate ! Yes, there is a way to avoid that, actually a most current one : you present the theory in a biased and dishonest form, before the refutation. But that weakens your discourse ; the low-politicized citizens may agree only superficially, and it will be a very bad solution for more politicized minds, specially in contemporary societies with internet virtual flow of uncensored arguments.
    *** Coming back to the precise subject of « the shortcomings of the average people » I think the possible counter-arguments are :
    *1 Shortcomings exist in various social groups. The main qualities to exercize sovereignty, i.e. common sense and common moral sense, do not seem to be concentrated in a specific group. They may be low in some very bright minds (the most famous German philosopher of the last century supported « the Nazi revolution », the most famous of contemporary French philosophers supported until the end the Khmer Rouge regime).
    *2 Any endeavour to select citizens with few shortcomings would be very arbitrary, and would lack legitimacy.
    *3 Any such selection could easily go wrong : if you want to select angels, you could come to select monsters.
    *4 The idea of selection anyway would lead to political models as an aristocracy of philosopher-kings, or the rule of a vanguard of politically conscious and devoted militants, but it is strange to use it to justify a electoralist model – I agree here with Yoram’s refutation.
    *** I insist on the argument nb 2 because I encountered it often, in open or covert form, in discussions (well maybe it is my singular experience).

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  33. André,

    I generally agree. I also think that the elitist ideas are quite common, although often coming in disguised forms. On this blog, for example, this kind of thinking often underlies the arguments for limiting the powers of the allotted bodies in various ways.

    Regarding the “subterranean life” of elitist ideas, I think those ideas are already leading some sort of life in the shadows. They used to be living in the open up until the third quarter of the 20th century, when “elite theories of democracy” (a-la Schumpeter) were the norm in academia. Together with racism and sexism they were driven to the edges of respectable discourse by the civil rights struggles of the 60’s.

    However, unlike racism and sexism, elitism is fundamental to modern power structure. Therefore, despite the contradictions and unease this generates, it cannot be eliminated from official dogma altogether and has to be accommodated within it in various ways.

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  34. Yoram,

    >On this blog, for example, [elitist] thinking often underlies the arguments for limiting the powers of the allotted bodies in various ways.

    The problem with the term “elitism” is that it covers a wide variety of sins. If you examine the arguments for limiting the remit of allotted bodies more carefully, you’ll see that they take three forms:

    1. The need for specialist knowledge in modern governance and the concern that restricting the choice of specialist advisors to the knowledge and experience of randomly-selected citizens will give rise to partial and sub-optimal (ie “random” in the pejorative sense) outcomes.

    2. The need, given the majoritarian principle underlying democratic governance, to preserve the rights of minorities (via constitutional safeguards).

    3. The need to preserve the representativity of the allotted sample vis-a-vis the target population from the bias introduced by speech acts.

    I won’t go into these arguments (as they’ve been well covered before), but to write them off as “elitism”, disguised or otherwise, is an example of the rhetorical tactic that Andre deplores (presenting the argument in a biased and dishonest form, before the refutation).

    Focusing now on clarifying the language that we are using in this debate, elitism is often conflated with privilege. The former, however, simply refers to persons who are acknowledged experts in any particular domain (athletics, mathematics, chess, rocket science, diplomacy, public administration or whatever), whereas privilege generally refers to giving a person rights purely on account of contingent factors (birth, wealth, celebrity etc). I think we are all committed to minimising the effects of privilege in democratic politics, but this has no entailments for the ongoing requirement of elites, for the three reasons given above. But I do agree entirely with Andre that the judgment over policy outcomes should not be in the hands of elites, notwithstanding any claims that they may have for philosophical excellence.

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  35. Following Naomi and Keith Sutherland comments on legitimacy.
    *** Lottery is not a strong legitimizing principle in our world, right. An absolute monarchy with the ruler chosen by lottery has been only a sci-fi idea. But the democratic principle is one of the legitimizing bases of our polyarchies, through the representative-electoral idea. To ordinary citizens democracy is commonly presented as the basic principle of the system. Thus the proponents of democracy-through-minipublics don’t have to introduce a new principle of legitimacy – they have only to introduce the minipublics as a new way of realizing democracy.
    *** The existing criminal juries, even if they are far from the requirements of dêmokratia, are often seen as an example of democracy outside of election. That « precedent » will make easier to accept the minipublic model. At least in France very few citizens would like to elect judges, but the jury model is popular, and among those who are against criminal juries I did not encounter one who said to me he felt disenfranchized not to elect the criminal judges (the arguments against criminal juries are actually classical arguments against dêmokratia)
    *** The polyarchic system uses three legitimacies. The traditional legitimacy, specially in English-speaking countries where polyarchy evolved from previous systems. It can be circonvened by a modern dêmokratia along the same tactics used by polyarchies in front of old monarchic and aristocratic models. (And if you want take tradition in your side, you can have even a British House of Lords recruited by stochation, and add some hereditary peers with consultative voice !) The principle legitimacy, which, at least in the version most often presented to ordinary citizens, is democracy (« modern democracy », the « ancient democracy » being deemed impossible in a big modern State) – as I said, the same principle may be used to promote « democracy-through-minipublics ». And a pragmatist legitimacy : the system works, and is better than its modern competitors, authoritarian and totalitarian systems. Here the modern dêmokratia has the handicap of novelty – but at the same time it has the advantage to be the one option of sovereignty model competing with polyarchy which is clear, simple and without the dark image legacy of the authoritarian and totalitarian models.

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  36. Andre, I think we would all agree with you, but I’m having a little difficulty unpacking the last paragraph — what exactly are the three legitimacies — tradition, principle and pragmatism? Tradition — I agree the house of lords might well be a way of introducing a stochastic check on electoral power, especially as nobody really seems to know what point it serves. Principle presumably refers to the principle of statistical representation? Regarding pragmatism, the wisdom of crowds is an ongoing social science research programme which is beginning to show promising results.

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  37. *** The principle is the principle of sovereignty of the People, therefore not new; minipublics being only a way of practicing it.
    *** Pragmatic legitimacy may be supported by social science research, but will need prove at real scale before being strong; for now a democracy-through-minipublics is only a new model, the drawbacks of which we can only guess, whereas we know quite well the drawbacks of polyarchic, authoritarian and totalitarian systems.

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  38. Andre

    Agree. On the issue of pragmatic legitimacy, that’s why I’m focusing on the deliberative minipublic as an alternative to the public referendum. If it works on an ad hoc basis, then it would be easier to build the argument for permanent institutions.

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  39. […] attention. The one about the professionals in the system wielding power is to some extent discussed here, but surely merits additional […]

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  40. […] couple more facile arguments conclude the […]

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  41. […] offers a modern version of the Socratic argument against […]

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