Creating a Framework for Sortition

Dr. Roslyn Fuller is a lecturer in International Law based in Ireland. She is a regular contributor to Irish and international media on world trade, privacy, whistle-blowing and the War on Terror. A great fan of the classics, she has been researching democracy for over a decade and is the author of Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed its Meaning and Lost its Purpose, to be published by Zed Books in November 2015. [Welcome to Equality-by-Lot! -YG]

When I first started researching ancient, democratic Athens, I was struck by the layers of randomness built into the political system. Sure, it wasn’t a utopia, but under Athenian democracy wresting control of the decision-making process was at least a difficult and continuous task, because the thrust of the system worked against what Robert Michels would have termed ‘the Iron Law of Oligarchy’.

Lottery selection for most office-holders, as well as for Athens’ enormous juries was one aspect of that randomness. The more I read, the more I was impressed not just with the practice of sortition, but the way the Athenians went about it: dropping their pinakia (identity-tickets) into baskets, having them shaken up, the presiding official randomly drawing a ticket, that person becoming the pinakia-inserter and in turn randomly drawing tickets, dropping the kyboi, or coloured balls, randomly down the kleroterion’s funnel. The Athenians were clearly determined to bastard-proof their system. In my view, their paranoia was justified, and represented nothing more than healthy respect for the criminal (or oligarchic) mind.

But there’s not much point in creating such a fool-proof sortition system if the overarching politics doesn’t change as well. As we all know, in Athens the process of sortition didn’t run in parallel to a sophisticated and expensive electoral system; it ran in parallel to the Assembly. Whatever else one may want to say about Assembly, it was the national focal point for the issues of the day. Assembly attendance was also somewhat random (if self-selecting) in that it generally depended on who showed up of their own volition. A rhetor never looked out on the exact same Assembly twice, and while the ‘professional’, often affluent, rhetors certainly wielded a great deal of influence, they never did know when some unknown citizen would pop out of the woodwork and carry the day against them. Power was possible; power consolidation more of a challenge.

It was this Assembly that was down with sortition in its various forms. It’s hard to look at Athens and see how sortition could have existed side-by-side with the kind of entrenched and powerful electoral politics practised today.

Elected politicians are invested with significant executive power and therefore just have too much to lose. As much as they like to talk about ‘participation’ and ‘freedom’ and whatnot, the unspoken word is often ‘controlled’. Local issues, cultural issues, social issues – those are the kind of thing where some participation might be welcome by a vested elite that learned the secrets of winning and retaining their power long ago (gerrymandering + campaign finance). It’s in their nature to try to mitigate the effects of any sort of mass or random participation.

The recent Irish Constitutional Convention is a case in point. Two-thirds of the Convention’s members were chosen randomly and they agreed a number of measures to update Ireland’s woefully outdated legal order (blasphemy, for example, is still ‘unconstitutional’ in a land that surely enjoys one of the world’s highest standards in the discipline of creative swearing). The Constitution’s members famously decided that a referendum should be held on same-sex marriage. This was a good thing. I liked it so much that I personally went out and canvassed people to vote ‘yes’. The referendum passed. The world applauded. However, it was just one point on the Constitutional Convention’s agenda. The Convention made a LOT of recommendations for change, 18 of which would require a referendum to pass in Ireland. Some of these recommendations were on central issues like social and economic rights.

But there are no further referenda on the horizon and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Ironically, one of the more popular calls of the Constitutional Convention (more popular than the Marriage Equality point) was that citizen-initiative referendums should be allowed, but there’s no sign at all that any of the major parties are remotely interested.

It’s been a similar story elsewhere. Iceland’s attempt at constitutional change followed a very similar pattern, participatory budgeting has been kept as local as possible, citizen juries are generally so small as to not even be statistically representative, calls for third citizen chambers are, of course, an interesting development, which I think would expose a lot of dissonance between elected politician and average citizen views, but they remain ‘calls’.

Of course, some activists embrace the glorious struggle, celebrating every hard-won victory. I’ve never really gotten the appeal of that approach. Yes, gay and lesbian people can now get married in Ireland instead of having to go through civil partnership and that is great, but we all continue to live in a country controlled by a dynastic politics of under-qualified people, that is over 100 billion Euro in debt, where national property is being flogged off to the likes of Deutsche Bank for a fraction of its worth, where educational opportunities are deeply unequal, where casual racial and sexual discrimination is the norm, where we continue to let the USA use our airports for whatever military fiasco they’ve embarked on now, etc., etc., etc. We’re not getting a say on any of this or on all the things that have cropped up in the meantime: TTIP; NSA surveillance; ISIS. All very serious issues with immediate ramifications for the average person. I think it’s important to keep this perspective, despite the fact that it can be a bit of a downer to do so.

I also agree with the many critics who complain of the claims that technology will magically solve all our problems. Yes, if enough people tweet about Boko Haram… then….I’m not quite sure. Boko Haram will have been much tweeted about? If you cast an electoral vote over the internet… then… you’ll have saved a bit of time? Yawn.

The only real hope I see is to use technology as a complete game-changer, to create a space where the efforts of sortition-based and/or mass participation movements do not simply result in never-ending trench warfare. That necessitates creating an overarching political framework that doesn’t depend on the fool’s errand of getting long-term agreement from the very people who stand to lose the most from it. In other words, we need something like an Assembly.

Much ink has been spilled in the service of explaining why an Athenian-style Assembly would be impossible today, but I find it hard to believe. In a world where people do as much online as offline, objections of physical presence, expertise or expense are fast becoming obsolete. In fact, most Western countries lose more money to tax evasion each year than would be required to finance an Athenian-style Assembly with similar rates of participation and pay. Compared to that, the software itself is a drop in the bucket. Online decision-making software that could facilitate such a system like Loomio, DemocracyOS and Postwaves is already in the works. It’s not something that requires permission to use. You don’t need government permission to start with it on a constituency level (this is what I am attempting to do in Ireland), which means immediate binding decisions, and it is a powerful way to de-legitimize unpopular government decisions.

Moving from an electoral-oligarchical system to a democratic system is a very chicken-and-egg scenario. The Athenians started with economic reform and some would argue that economic change needs to precede political reform. I would argue that it is more important just to start somewhere and keep going (democracy didn’t happen in Athens overnight, either). However, I don’t see how truly effective sortition mechanisms can survive for too long under an essentially electoral system and think that some kind of mass participation vehicle, however rudimentary or infrequently used, would need to replace it to prevent rollback.

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98 Responses

  1. Dear Roselyn,

    In a very recent (UK) House of Commons Library note, ‘Membership of UK Political Parties’ written by Richard Keen, his intro. states that “In Spring 2015 less than 1.0% of the electorate was a member of either the Conservative, Labour or the Liberal Democrat parties”.
    So even though the Conservative party won a majority, it doesn’t look like that adds up to much of a mandate if you ask me.

    “We need a revolution” you sallied to Max on the Keiser Report while he asked you about your work on Athenian democracy.

    I say let us be fed, not fed up.

    I’ve made some progress of my own re. confronting our own constitutional shortcomings as I alluded to above, but as you say – preventing rollback will require a regular & very long-term form of [mass] participation.

    So from today I will make great efforts to start a local community monthly picnic/pot-luck. With a clearly stated purpose it could be entertaining & enlightening. Celebrating and embracing different cultural challenges through the medium of cuisine, & engaging neighbours in well informed conversation ought to do us all a world of good. Imagine then it catching on…world’s citizens’ natural picnics!

    Instead of rollback of democratic debate we’ll be rolling back risk! At last!!

    Sounds pretty yummy to me. Anyone for crumpets?

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  2. Roselyn,

    Four observations on your post:

    1. You understate the role of elections in classical-era Athens. Pericles was first elected strategos in 458 and remained Athens’s ‘first citizen’ until his death in 429. During the 5th century the term for politicians was rhetores kai strategoi, so these were largely elected persons (less so in the 4th century). Melissa Lane has recently described Athenian democracy as ‘proto-Schumpeterian’.

    2. Your notion of a modern-day electronic assembly as an analogue for the Athenian assembly is flawed. A good proportion of Athenian citizens attended assembly meetings, although there was a slight bias towards the leisured and those who lived in the city. A modern assembly, even if as large as the Athenian assembly, would be mostly composed of political anoraks and would not be a portrait in miniature of the target population as the silent majority would (by definition) self-exclude. Or are you suggesting random selection and quasi-mandatory service, as in juries?

    3. The assembly lawmaking process was flawed, that’s why the 4th century reforms arrogated this function to nomothetai (legislative courts), and opted to elect the advocates to defend the existing laws. As the juries were selected by sortition this is a good example of election and sortition working together in the same institution.

    >the fool’s errand of getting long-term agreement from the very people who stand to lose the most from it.

    4. I’m unpersuaded by the argument that politicians act purely out of self-interest. Another explanation for the rejection by elected politicians of proposals made by self-selecting citizen assemblies is that they reflect the views of activists rather than ordinary citizens. Another explanation is the less than benign effect of citizen initiatives where they have been implemented.

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  3. Hi Keith,

    thank you for your comments and questions.

    I have answered below point-for-point.

    1. I think you overstate the importance of elections in Athens. Winning election as strategos did not give an Athenian anything approaching the authority that an elected politician today enjoys, even over matters directly relating to warfare. A strategos could not declare war, for example. He could speak in favour of it, he’d probably be listened to with respect, but he couldn’t make those basic decisions, even together with the other strategoi. The Assembly had the power to fine, exile and even execute strategoi. In fact, the very Pericles you speak of was at one point fined and exiled. And we know all about Pericles largely thanks to Thucydides, another Athenian general who was exiled, maybe just for not being a very good general, maybe because he was suspected of oligarchic sympathies.
    Pericles was a very influential citizen, but he wasn’t the only one and he had to constantly fight to maintain his influence. That is a huge difference to only ‘fighting’ once every four years and doing what you like with no brakes on in between.

    A lot of highly successful rhetors were generals. No kidding. The Athenians spent a lot of time engaged in existential warfare. I’d be pretty curious to hear what a general had to say under those circumstances myself. I’d be inclined to take what they said seriously. Being a general still wasn’t a requirement for speaking in Assembly, much less voting. And that is a fundamental difference.

    The role of elections was extremely muted compared to today, which is what I am explicitly comparing it to, because this is the system we’re trying to navigate.

    Re: ‘Melissa Lane has recently described Athenian democracy as proto-Schumpeterian’
    So what? I can go around calling the sun ‘the moon’ for the rest of my life, or the sky ‘the ground’. Not sure what this very brief quote is supposed to prove.

    2. I see that you think my ‘notions’ are ‘flawed’ and thank you so much for that nuanced insight. However, it isn’t true that Assembly attendance was slightly skewed in favour of those living in the city. It was massively skewed in their favour. Although how this would be remotely relevant in a digital Assembly escapes me. Assembly attendance would also have been massively (not slightly) skewed in favour of ‘the leisured’ had the Athenians not paid people to attend. As it was, the eyewitnesses seem to agree that pay-for-participation certainly had an impact on moving Assembly attendance down the social scale. However, I would still describe the ‘bias’ in favour of the leisured as more than slight.

    But again, much less biased than it is today, where even the average TD in tiny Ireland will spend at least Euro 18 000 getting elected. That may not sound like much, but it’s certainly the kind of money 99% of people don’t have to burn.

    When I speak of mass participation, I mean ‘mass’, as in similar to Assembly levels, i.e. 10-20% of the total population, not 6000 people. That would certainly come closer to approximating the population than a paltry few hundred or even a few thousand citizens. And yes, the tax evasion levels are literally high enough to bankroll this at comparable levels to Athenian pay, whereby this again places one in the extremely difficult scenario of getting the ball rolling without compensation and then rolling things out more equitably later on. Very, very hard. No one denies this. Still, a much more effective thing to be doing than sitting around waiting for someone else to miraculously fix things by suddenly spontaneously acting counter to their own interests.

    Those millions of people may or may not be willing to listen to the benefits of sortition for executive positions. Certainly there is a higher chance they will than someone who just spent their life savings (or worse, someone else’s money) clawing their way to electoral victory.

    3. Not sure where you are going with nomothetai as they only did nomoi, not the more common psephismata, were randomly selected in large numbers and had to have everything passed in Assembly, anyway. Not an earth-shattering difference, imho. Certainly not one that proves that the previous Assembly law-making process was ‘flawed’.

    Just an aside here: every process ever invented by man needs to be constantly updated and adapted to the changing circumstances around us. You never get ‘finished’ and just because you adapt slightly or try something new doesn’t mean that what you did before was flawed or that what you are doing now isn’t. Over the 140-period of Athenian democracy, they slightly adapted to do what they felt better met their needs, is all. Such is the human condition. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Re: the judicial process. You are referring to the times here when the Assembly chose someone to defend a law? Please elaborate. At any rate, someone who speaks for one side or the other in a court process has no power over the decision-making of the jury, and that is the fundamental point. It’s very similar, in fact, to the role of elected positions vis-a-vis Assembly.

    So, perhaps elections that do not result in any decision-making power (a very, very different kind of election) can exist side-by-side with sortition, but you are still missing the point, which is who is going to legislate for that? Oh yeah, the ones we did elect, who do have decision-making power. You always come back to that and you always have to get around it somehow.

    Also sortition and mass decision-making are two sides of one coin. Nothing simpler than bribing a couple thousand people today. That’s an absolutely do-able situation. Sortition, mass participation, randomness, it’s all one, really. Small group of people = eminently easy to turn, threaten, etc.

    So elections for advisory purposes plus mass participation on randomized basis could work. Not if you’re doing sortition on a small scale, though. And if you’re going big, you may as well open it up to the whole society.

    4. Re: ‘Politicians don’t act purely out of self-interest’.

    The ones on top do. In a system where attaining power precedes the ability to do anything with it, you must, logically and by necessity, always put acquiring and maintaining that power first. Everything else must ultimately bend to that.

    Also, it’s quite hard to say, taking the concrete example from the original post, just how the Irish government knows that the Irish Constitutional Convention only reflects the views of self-selecting activists since ‘ordinary citizens’ (as a whole) were never polled. Maybe Irish people do think that blasphemy should remain unconstitutional and that the woman’s place in the home should be protected, as it was when the present Constitution was passed in 1937. I suppose by not permitting referenda on those points, they are merely bowing to the superior, ineffable and unknowable wisdom of the common man and not eg. trying not to offend the extremely tiny but hyper-religious minority for whom they still represent the best option and that could cost them a seat or two in what will probably be a very tight election otherwise.

    No one is suggesting we implement the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention without referenda.

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  4. Also, thank you to Barnaby as well, for your comment :-)

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  5. Roslyn

    The relationship between the (partly elected) rhetores kai strategoi and the 5th-century assembly was a dialectical one and this relationship in the 4th century was simply transferred to the nomothetai where the making of laws was concerned (I phrased this carefully in my original comment). Melissa Lane’s work on Athenian democracy is generally well regarded and my point is simply that election and sortition co-existed in the 4th century and there is no reason to believe this might not be the case in large modern societies.

    I think you will be hard pressed to find scholarly support for your view that attendance at the assembly was skewed to the extent that it ceased to be a reasonable sample of the Athenian demos. Assembly pay enabled the poor to attend, who would have been excluded otherwise, so it simply remedied a factor that would have made the assembly unrepresentative. Most of the participants in this forum would be unsympathetic for your call for a return to an analogue of 5th century practice on account of the epistemic disadvantages (rational ignorance) and the ease of manipulating the decision process in mass democracy.

    The 4th century legislative process was long and complicated and involved a minimum of two assembly decisions, the last of which elected the defenders of the existing law. But the nomothetai juries had the final call on legislative decisions (unless they were challenged in the courts). I agree with you that there is no fundamental difference between the relationship of the rhetors to the assembly and the juries, the only difference in the latter case being the increased time allocated for deliberation added to the fact that (unlike in the assembly) each juror’s vote had significant causal power.

    >So elections for advisory purposes plus mass participation on randomized basis could work. Not if you’re doing sortition on a small scale, though. And if you’re going big, you may as well open it up to the whole society.

    Not sure what you mean here — my own proposal is for elections of advocates (advisors) but decisions by randomly-selected juries of 500-1,000 citizens. Elected advocates have no decision powers, exactly as in a court of law where the jury determines the outcome. This is a direct analogue of 4th century practice.

    >So, perhaps elections that do not result in any decision-making power (a very, very different kind of election) can exist side-by-side with sortition.

    Happy to agree with that.

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  6. There were comparatively few, very, very different elections with mass participation and within a framework of mass participation, not sortition of a few hundredths of a percent of the population, as you are suggesting. Double-digit percentage numbers at least.
    It truly doesn’t matter how utopian your personal model is – if it doesn’t include the means to achieving it, it’s pointless. How are you going to get from politics today to your personal model?
    Also, if you keep participation numbers as small as you are suggesting, bribery is a foregone conclusion.

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  7. I would like to respond to several points, but will start with just one… the issue of mass participation vs. relatively small groups (selected by lot).

    Roslyn Fuller wrote:
    >”When I speak of mass participation, I mean ‘mass’, as in similar to Assembly levels, i.e. 10-20% of the total population, not 6000 people. That would certainly come closer to approximating the population than a paltry few hundred or even a few thousand citizens.”

    Sheer numbers make absolutely no improvement in representativenss … depending on the selection method, with self-selection being typical and resulting in dramatic distortion. A scientific sample of 6,000 , or even just 1,000 or fewer can fairly and accurately represent a population of 500,000,000 as well as a population of 50,000. This is basic statistical sampling reality (as the sample size increases the hoped for additional accuracy quickly becomes diminimiss).

    Adding more numbers merely increase the rational ignorance and free-rider problems where most participants will not put in substantial mental effort of their own and will instead use heuristics to almost blindly follow the lead of some elites. Large participation thus dramatically increase the danger of elite influence and control (rather than decreasing it as you assume). This same dynamic applies to mass election of representatives AND to mass participation in referendums.

    A relatively small representative sample that serves for a relatively short duration and is then rotated out can be rather easily protected from bribery with good procedures (I can explain if necessary, but this would probably involve generous compensation, sting operations and large rewards for reporting attempts at bribery, etc.)

    Like Keith, I have my own (quite different) Utopian design, but agree that a discussion of transition is important (though I think establishing a North Star to aim for is also valuable.) I will address that in a subsequent comment.

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  8. Roslyn,

    Again – welcome! It is great to have you and it would be great to see you become a regular contributor.

    Do I understand correctly that your argument is that the most likely way of establishing a sortition-based system is by first establishing what may be called an e-assembly? That the e-assembly is not so much a desired end but a tool for achieving a sortition-based system?

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  9. Sorry Roslyn, I don’t understand your first paragraph, so can’t respond to that — I think you are possibly conflating my observations on Athenian practice with the very different numbers involved in large modern states.

    >How are you going to get from politics today to your personal model?

    I’m resolutely opposed to utopianism and have suggested a number of ways of introducing my model — the most recent being replacing the forthcoming EU referendum with a nomothetai-style procedure. This is practical because politicians don’t like referendums and they would have a key (advocacy) role in the nomothetai. The really utopian vision is that the political class can be abolished by institutional design.

    >Also, if you keep participation numbers as small as you are suggesting, bribery is a foregone conclusion.

    My mechanism to prevent bribery is to have large ad hoc allotted juries whose role is limited to voting in secret, exactly as in 4th century Athenian practice.

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  10. @yoram – thank you for having me. It is my pleasure. I think you have summarized the essence of my argument. A little more contained below, after my response to Terry.

    @keith – I am glad to hear you say it, as I have to admit that I also find your arguments somewhat incoherent and hard to follow.

    @terry – thanks for your comment, although I don’t think that I have ‘assumed’ as much as you seem to think. Modern nation states have tens of millions of registered votes, so you will get some margin of error, which I think many of those voters will find hard to accept. It’s not a poll, but a decision that will have real consequences, so even slight variations are potentially very fraught, especially if something really, really goes down to the wire. If you go larger to reduce that, the question then becomes why don’t you go very wide and allow everyone the chance to participate? If people were selected nationally, they wouldn’t be able to meet up too easily in person anyway, so going online seems inevitable in any event.
    You’ve answered that question in saying that people are easily led by the ‘elite’ and so forth. I couldn’t agree with you more. We are all very subject to the information we receive from other sources. But that won’t stop just because there is a randomly-selected panel deciding things.
    And I think that is really the rub, because imagine this scenario: there is a panel of 1000 or 6000 people who are tasked with deliberating and deciding on a very contentious issue. Let’s say raising income tax. They think long and hard and finally decide that it is just and right to raise everyone’s taxes by three percentage points. Perhaps there is even some extremely worthy cause that this money is supposed to help. However, the whole time they’ve been deliberating, the conversation in mass media has been along the lines of ‘They’re coming for your wallet! Let freedom reign! The Founding Fathers would be turning in their graves!, etc., etc.’. Then people get their new tax bill. How do you think this is going to turn out? People aren’t going to shrug and say, ‘Well, I suppose I have been statistically represented within an acceptable margin of error.’ If they don’t get to the conclusion that there is now a dissonance between themselves and those allegedly representing them, I’m sure the pundits will help them.

    And if you say panelists don’t deliberate, but are just randomly polled (so slight deviations unlikely to surface), it doesn’t really help much, as they also are then just subjected to the same media influence, and you come back to, ‘why not just let everyone decide then?’ It’s become cheap and easy.

    I would say, we should start by involving more people in decision-making – it will certainly convey greater legitimacy – and also let everyone be involved in deliberation. Personally, I would favour not letting anyone vote without first sitting through a few hours of online peer-to-peer discussion. Not by any means ideal, but at least some sort of start.

    Perhaps in time (and this ties in to my response to Yoram), once participation has become more fully established, or rather we’ve successfully removed the distorting bottleneck that elections are, sortition would be increasingly rolled out, perhaps even to the point where e-assemblies (or other forms of mass participation) would seem irrelevant and fade into the background. I feel that that is so far down the road that it’s hard to see from this vantage point, and at any rate, I do think that sortition for administrative and some executive functions is feasible and desirable in the relatively near-term. But going cold from this to decision-making via small sortition panels with very real power, I find hard to imagine.
    It’s hard to see established politicians taking to it, and almost even harder to see the public accepting its legitimacy.

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  11. Roslyn,

    Two topics here…
    1. The psychology of rational ignorance (the less relative strength of my ONE vote, the less I will invest in figuring out the wisest way to use it… and thus when part of a group of a few hundred, participants have an incentive to study issues carefully, which evaporates when they are one of millions of voters. Yes many people in a smaller group will still have biases, and mental shortcuts, etc…. but they have the incentive, time and opportunity to overcome those in a small group that they forfeit if just one in millions.

    2. TRANSITION scenarios:

    It seems prudent to think of relatively small steps that might pave the way…

    A. Oversight of politicians is a potentially popular demand that politicians would be unable to fight off. This might start as simply a legislator ethics enforcement panel chosen by lot. In South Korea randomly selected panels (like juries) were created to review allegations of corruption of some legislative candidates, and those they found to be corrupt nearly all withdrew or were defeated at the polls. This was not initiated by the elected politicians, but outside that power realm… yet was consequential in the real world.

    B. Removing some proscribed issue area from the realm of politicians…for example, deciding what the common health care benefits package for a society should be…Many politicians recognize this as a no-win area of policy making (damned if you make it to generous and costly, and damned if you make it too cheap and limited). People on the left don’t trust insurance executives to decide, and people on the right don’t trust government bureaucrats, but ALL might prefer letting a large jury of their fellow citizens decide without making it a political football.

    C. Many municipal budgetary decisions are already being made by randomly selected juries in Australia…Seeing the success, popular support for this model may grow with some politicians seeing support for the model as a good way to win their next election.

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  12. Roslyn:

    >And if you say panelists don’t deliberate, but are just randomly polled (so slight deviations unlikely to surface), it doesn’t really help much, as they also are then just subjected to the same media influence.

    That presupposes that the media are consistently biased in one particular direction. An alternative perspective is that of J.S. Mill — given a vibrant and competitive marketplace, the media are an important aspect of representative isegoria and would legitimately participate in seeking to influence the votes of the allotted jury. In other words the media would help to ensure the jury doesn’t go native, by keeping it better aligned to popular sensibilities. Given the important role Habermas assigned to the press in the establishment of the public sphere, I’m puzzled as to why everyone [on the left] now assumes that the media are part of the problem. Presumably Russia Today is the exception that proves the rule?

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  13. Ah Keith, you crack me up.

    I presume J.S. Mill made these portentous statements about media while channel-surfing and checking his Twitter account? Things have changed a wee bit since his day. If you’re in the US, your ‘marketplace’ only has six stalls, where you can get many different packages, but they all ultimately contain the same thing. Like some kind of disappointing Christmas. No fact-checking of this content, of course.
    No one assumes anything on the bias front. This is the product of study after study after study ad nauseam. ‘Tis in the book.

    Habermas is, frankly, a well-meaning idiot. if you want to see a lot of international lawyers roll their eyes, just bring up his name. It’s lovely that he set out to reform our international system – too bad he didn’t do any research into it first. And I’ve never yet heard a media organization use the phrase, “All right, lads! Let’s get going on the important role Habermas assigned to the press in the establishment of the public sphere!” It’s more like “Drive up the page view count, you minions! We’ve got to turn a buck here!”

    Which brings me to RT. I don’t even know what you’re driving at with RT being ‘the exception that proves the rule’. Presumably this is supposed to count as some kind of a jibe, although in a world where you can turn on your television and watch people saying that lawyers who disagree with US policy should be legitimate targets for drone strikes and that everyone who has ever had any connection with RT should never be permitted to work again, it frankly just doesn’t rate. Up your game, man.

    If RT wants to publish something I’ve written, on say, the legality of WTO sanctions or the law-making process in the EU, I’m cool with that.
    My writings are generally all pretty cut-and-dried stuff and I try to work constructively on a way forward to whatever the issue of the day is. We’re talking textbook material here. If anything, I’ve been surprised at how willing Russians have been to listen to this kind of thing.
    That’s all I can do, since oddly, the media moguls of this world haven’t turned up at my door yet, asking me to ‘assign them an important role in the establishment of the public sphere.’

    So, I suppose at the end of the day, your criticism is that I have acted in an imperfect world and thus become tainted with that imperfection myself. And, as I’ve indicated above, I’ve heard worse.

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  14. Roslyn,

    My reference was to Habermas’s historical study of the creation, and structural transformation, of the public sphere, not Between Facts and Norms. My own work is hostile to Habermasian deliberative theory but that doesn’t diminish my respect for his work in historical sociology.

    Regarding the role of the press in representative isegoria, this assumes a vibrant and competitive media marketplace. These conditions clearly do not apply in the US, where local monopolies reign unchallenged, so I wouldn’t dispute the conclusions of C. Edwin Baker’s book for the US. But the media play a crucial role in representative isegoria in the UK, and I’m glad to include the contribution of RT to the mix. My only rider would be that in order for a media outlet to claim representative isegoria it should have subscribers prepared to put their money where their mouth is and this rules out free-to-air broadcasters (including the BBC) along with internet publications that operate without a paywall.

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  15. @Terry

    I also get excited about the things I see happening in places like Australia. I sometimes also think, ‘Hey maybe, this will really take off!’. Perhaps in some ill-quantified way, millennials are different, or some kind of critical mass will be reached and everything will just unfold from there. Maybe some of these golden children have literally grown-up in an atmosphere where money is no object, they’ve never actually had to compete for anything and therefore they’re just more willing to share and share alike and this will all be no big deal to them.
    Maybe. Nothing’s impossible.
    But hope for the best, plan for the worst.

    I also have to remember all the other things I’ve seen, the relentless pattern that says, if you’ll keep things small, you’ll be praised and petted, but seriously challenge my power and you’re a dead man.

    You could take virtually anyone, but Julian Assange is a good recent example. Hard to believe now, but only a few years ago he was a highly decorated activist with an impressive list of awards for all of the transparency he was bringing to Africa. And now…he’s the world’s only ‘rapist’ who’s never even been charged with rape, much less convicted. You’re always A-MA-ZING right up until the moment you’re not. Hence my caution.

    Also, one other point is that as long as you go around dealing with problems that crop up, eg. corruption, you’re always behind the curve. Everyone will celebrate how that kind of corruption has been stopped, but they’ve found something new already and you’ll hear about it ten years from now once the damage has been done. I’d rather just get off that hamster wheel.

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  16. Roslyn,

    Indeed – established elite will (and does) resist any real attempt to democratize society. That, as you write, justifies skepticism toward various “experimental” sortition-based setups – Fishkin’s DPs(tm), Melbourne’s citizen jury, etc. However, it also means, of course, that objecting to a proposal simply because it is likely to meet with elite resistance makes no sense – the only steps that will not meet with such resistance are those which do not lead to democracy.

    What we should be looking for are avenues for democratization that can garner enough popular support and energy to make them feasible despite elite resistance.

    I think allotted bodies meet this criterion: not only can they be a basis for democratic power, but the idea can also gain enough popular support to make it feasible. As Terry mentioned, a natural place to start with allotted-bodies would be as anti-corruption bodies overseeing established elections-based government. The issue of corruption of various kinds (both legal and illegal) is one that is often at the boiling point. I think it would be relatively easy to present having an allotted body handling these matters as a natural extension of the function of a jury, and the power relations with the elections-based bodies would be such that this would be an effective stepping stone for encroachment upon the powers of the oligarchical electoralist system.

    E-assemblies, on the other hand, are not a promising reform agenda because assemblies are a mass body and as such cannot be democratic. In a mass body the agenda is inevitably controlled by an elite. This is the case in elections (where the agenda is the candidates) and in the various Swiss-style popular proposition systems around the world.

    The agenda was also controlled by the elite in Sparta and other oligarchical Greek cities which had regularly convening assemblies. This is the reason that ancient conventional political theory saw sortition rather than assemblies as the differentiating feature of democracies.

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  17. Yoram: >This is the reason that ancient conventional political theory saw sortition rather than assemblies as the differentiating feature of democracies.

    Not so:

    ‘When Herodotos describes the birth of Athenian democracy it is isegoria [equal speech rights] and not isonomia [equal voting rights] that he singles out as the principal form of democratic equality’, (Hansen, 1999, p. 83).

    The difference between Sparta and Athens was the lack of isegoria in the former, and had nothing to do with sortition (the same principle applied to Rome). Stochastic representation by sortition (stochation) is a viable way of instituting isonomia in large modern states, but the challenge remains to find representative mechanisms for isegoria. Sortition cannot have a role to play here as the law of large numbers does not apply to individual speech acts.

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  18. Sutherland,

    As usual, and as you did in your exchange with Roslyn, you argue from authority. I know you really can’t be bothered, but if you read the primary sources you will find yourself much better informed. Here is Herodotus (3.80), for example:

    The rule of the many, on the other hand, has, in the first place, the fairest of names, to wit, equality before the law; and further it is free from all those outrages which a king is wont to commit. There, places are given by lot, the magistrate is answerable for what he does, and measures rest with the commonalty.

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  19. Argument from authority means leaving history to the historians. The alternative is cherry picking the primary literature for snippets that happen to confirm one’s existing prejudices. This is the preferred methodology of religious fundamentalists.

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  20. You are welcome to present any evidence for cherry picking on my part. Otherwise, you are simply, as usual, being your obnoxious mendacious self.

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  21. As I’m not a historian, I’m not in a position to judge whether or not you are cherry picking, I’m merely refuting your claim that we should not base our arguments on authority. I’m an amateur when it comes to ancient history, so I have to rely on the likes of Hansen (and I also benefit from a PhD supervisor who is a professor of ancient history, and can tell me whether or not his views are disputed). I recommend you take a similar strategy.

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  22. In other words, you have accused me of cherry-picking without any basis in fact. You are an obnoxious habitual liar.

    > I have to rely on the likes of Hansen (and I also benefit from a PhD supervisor who is a professor of ancient history, and can tell me whether or not his views are disputed). I recommend you take a similar strategy.

    You are also a joke of scholar.

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  23. There are two ways to avoid cherry-picking the primary literature:

    1. Devote a considerable amount of time to studying the primary and secondary sources, under the supervision of an expert in the field.

    2. Accept the “argument from authority”.

    Hansen is a leading authority on Athenian democracy. Whilst he fully acknowledges the important role of sortition (primarily in protecting the political process from factionalism and corruption [Rosyln’s opening gambit]), his interpretation of Herodotus is that the prime difference between democracy and oligarchy is isegoria not klerotoria. Although he argues that the 4th century randomly-selected legislative courts were an important development, he still claims — as do the vast majority of historians — that the assembly was the most important institution. Your conviction is that sortition is the most important factor in a democracy (in fact you generally claim it is the only factor) and you then pillage the primary sources for evidence in support of your practical project to create a kleristocratic form of government. That isn’t history, it’s grave robbing.

    >You are also a joke of scholar.

    I make no scholarly claims in any domain other than political theory — I switched from history to sociology during my first week at university — that’s why I have gone for option 2. As to whether or not I have any expertise in political theory we will have to await the verdict of my examiners.

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  24. Whether all-citizen assembly, right to speak (isegoria), or sortition is the crux of “democracy” is intellectually entertaining, but not necessarily helpful for deciding what we SHOULD seek for our own societies’ futures, nor a sacred standard from on high that must be followed.

    However, since I find it entertaining, I will note that Sparta (which most do not consider a democracy) had an all-citizen assembly of equals, with isegoria in which any citizen could participate in debate…and the decision of the assembly was final (unlike Athens where an allotted court might over-rule the assembly). But the UNDEMOCRATIC element of Sparta was the kings and council of elected elders (the Gerousia) who served for life… and were the ONLY people allowed to make proposals for the assembly to vote on. In a democracy like Athens, ANY citizen could make a proposal (not just speak), and an allotted council of 500 managed the agenda (not an elected body). Since Sparta did not refer to its system as a democracy and the Athenians did, it is clear that, although the assembly and isegoria were important elements of the Athenian democratic system, neither was the defining feature.

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  25. Just a few remarks here:

    While I think that Athens is an extremely useful example to us all, I wouldn’t recommend copying it down to the ground just for the sake of it.

    That being said, I also view some degree of sortition as a central but not exclusive characteristic of democracy. I think the Assembly (or other mass participation vehicle) is also a very important component since:

    a) I actually cannot imagine how Athens (or we) would function on a system of sortition without an Assembly. Would there be some kind of interlocking system of sortition panels? Who would call them into being? Who deals with a crisis? Do the courts continue to operate in parallel to this system, bearing in mind that we’ve got a pretty different legal system than the Athenians did?

    b) Without Assembly there will be crises. In fact, there will be a huge crisis of legitimacy. Just imagine: Quebec separates from Canada via random sortition panel. Or doesn’t. The USA declares war on Iran via sortition panel. Northern Ireland decides to reunite with Ireland via random sortition panel. My shiftless neighbour gets called into a sortition panel that raises MY taxes. Or takes away my gun. (Just for the record, I’m not a pro-gun, anti-tax person, but these are the things many people get very upset about).

    c) The act of participation is important. I’ve always thought that this was why the Athenians were as robust as they were in the face of adversity. They participated all the time. They were in the practice of democracy and noticed quickly if that were disrupted.
    Sortition and sortition alone is just too passive (unless it happens so often and in such large numbers as to actually constitute mass participation).

    People (myself included) like to feel that they matter, and I don’t know if that deep psychological need is going away anytime soon. It is very important to me to know that I did what I could to influence decisions that are important to me, however restricted those actions may be. I still did them, and this is my life, and I will sit back in satisfaction knowing that I told everyone of my friends my opinion on XYZ. It’s not just about the outcome – it’s about me and the actions I chose to take. Those actions may ultimately prove futile (and then again they may not) but staring down a vast black hole that dooms one to statistical irrelevancy is a Total Perspective Vortex that the human mind isn’t programmed to cope with.
    We all need to develop a relationship with ourselves and with the society we live in and this is how we do it. The more active we are, the better we tend to feel about it.

    d) What about the development of fringe ideas? I.e. if an idea is so fringe (but maybe 100% objectively correct) that initially only a tiny proportion agrees with it, it won’t get any airtime passed the sortition panels. Whereas if you’ve got a national assembly, you can broadcast that idea and it may have a chance of catching on.

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  26. Roslyn

    Agree with much of what you say. On a) and b) I’ve always argued that a switch to sortition in the legislature would involve a significant increase in power for government ministers, as they would provide the consistency and accountability that would be missing from ad hoc allotted panels (the Athenian assembly did not have a good record in this respect). This increase in executive power would not be to everybody’s taste.

    Regarding c) I agree that participation is important for psychological and legitimacy-related reasons (that’s why Rousseau insisted that all citizens should attend the assembly), my preferred solution being an ongoing role for election in the selection of policy advocates.

    d) Fringe ideas are tricky — Terry argues that sortition panels (rather than a general assembly) would be a better way of getting them off the ground, whereas my preference is for online initiatives followed by public votation.

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  27. Terry: > I will note that Sparta (which most do not consider a democracy) had an all-citizen assembly of equals, with isegoria in which any citizen could participate in debate…and the decision of the assembly was final.

    I don’t know a lot about the Spartan assembly, but this is the relevant section from Wikipedia — you really should edit it if it’s wrong.

    “The gerousia presented motions before the apella. The apella then voted on the motions. However, unlike the ecclesia in Athens, the apella did not debate; it merely approved or disapproved of measures. Moreover, the gerousia always had the power to veto the decision of the apella.”

    And the term isegoria generally included the rights of proposal, not just speech, hence my claim for the centrality of the assembly and isegoria in the constitution of the demokratia. Most historians agree that the council was little more than the assembly secretariat. Note also that this row was kicked off by a historical, rather than a normative, claim by Yoram.

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  28. Roslyn,

    a) I don’t see why it is any more difficult to have an allotted legislature without an assembly than to have an elected legislature without an assembly (as we have today). I suppose that a sortition-based government would tend to have various allotted bodies – including courts. However, just switching to an allotted legislature, keeping the rest of the system as it is today, seems like a completely viable system which would be significantly more democratic than the existing system.

    b) I don’t see why an allotted legislature would have any more difficulty, or diminished legitimacy, making decisions on gun control or taxes than does an elected legislature. Of course, any decision is likely to make someone upset, but this is true for elected legislature just as much as it is for an allotted legislature. In general, I expect that decisions by an allotted legislature would be more popular and seen as more legitimate than do decisions by an elected legislature.

    c)-d) Nothing would stop you or anyone else from discussing your ideas (mainstream or fringe) with other people. You could also, alone or with others, write up legislation proposals and lobby for them with the allotted legislature, or promote them in any way you see fit. In that sense you could certainly have your e-assembly. It doesn’t even have to be a formal part of the system – it could be a non-governmental grass-root activity. (I would go further by the way, and propose having public financing of mass media based on democratic participation.)

    The only thing that should not be part of such mass activity is agenda setting and decision-making based on mass voting. In most situations mass voting is not a democratic activity and should be avoided in a democratic society. This basic fact should be an important part of the curriculum in civics lessons.

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  29. But who or what makes the switch from elected assembly to sortition assembly? I mean, the future is unpredictable, but I’d say that the day an elected legislature agrees to dissolve in favour of an allotted one will be a cold day in hell.

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  30. That last comment above was me, Roslyn. My phone didn’t sign me in to my account.

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  31. It is impossible, of course, to draw a precise path from here to there. However, certain features of that path can be suggested.

    First, it is clear that nothing will happen unless the existing popular sentiment for against the status quo is channel into an anti-electoralist, pro-sortition movement.

    Second, a transition from electoralism to democracy could look in very broad features somewhat like the transition from monarchy to electoralism.

    It is likely that a transition to a sortition-based system would be gradual. The elected system will, over time, under popular pressure, incorporate various, allotted bodies with various circumscribed functions. Naturally, there would be an attempt by established power to make sure those bodies are nothing more than a distraction – some sort of a fig leaf without any real democratic power. There will also be attempts to discredit the idea of sortition by setting up situation in which allotted bodies are perceived by the public as having failed. If, however, the pro-sortition movement manages to avoid those pitfalls and force the hands of the establishment into creating allotted bodies with real democratic power, then there is every chance that over time popular support for sortition would reach a point where elections would be abolished altogether or restricted to ceremonial functions.

    (BTW, I am well aware that all of this is speculation. I don’t pretend to have a Marxist-like theory of history. It is just that as speculative as this is, this seems to me the most likely path toward democratization.)

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  32. Yoram: > a transition from electoralism to democracy could look in very broad features somewhat like the transition from monarchy to electoralism.

    This claim is couched in historical terms so what exactly are you referring to? Perhaps you’re a better amateur historian than me, but I’m not aware of any overarching pattern for the transition from monarchy to electoralism. According to Manin, election in Athens was simply a way of securing expertise and in Rome just an integral part of the republican system — in neither case does he make any reference to monarchy.

    Regarding the modern use of election: “there are good grounds for thinking that the electoral techniques employed by representative governments had their origins in medieval elections, both those of “Assemblies of Estates” and those practiced by the church” (Manin, 1997, p.86). And there is no reason to believe that this had anything to do with popular pressure, as both Manin and Pitkin argue that election was preferred by monarchs for purely ascriptive purposes: “you elected these representatives so you must abide by their decisions” (mostly related to taxation). Manin does claim that the Putney debates involved some sort of popular pressure for election but, as I pointed out to him at one of the Paris sortition workshops, this is not the case as the Levellers were merely seeking to extend the franchise, not demand “electoralism”. Ditto with the Chartists.

    Andre is much better equipped to comment on the French transition to electoralism, but my impression was that the French revolution was largely caused by fiscal issues, nothing to do with a demand for electoralism. The American revolution was over franchise issues and a rejection of “virtual” representation by election — in fact Eric Nelson recently argued that it was a revolution in favour of a monarchical style of governance and against electoralism.

    The only event that possibly supports your thesis is the Arab Spring, which certainly was on behalf of electoralism, but whether the uprising was “popular” or not is a matter of debate as it was organised on Twitter by a handful of students and Western-leaning intellectuals. And the direct result has been over 4 million refugees is Syria alone, so we should be careful regarding any further calls for change fuelled by popular pressure.

    >I don’t pretend to have a Marxist-like theory of history.

    Then you should stop making sweeping historical claims (whether Marxist or just Whiggish) and recognise the entirely contingent nature of historical events. Would “electoralism” have become ingrained in England were it not for the fact that the early Hanoverian monarchs couldn’t speak English and had little interest in their new realm? And given that monarchs were attracted to election for purely ascriptive purposes you should give due consideration to the arguments made by Naomi, Andre and myself as to how elected governments might welcome with open arms the outsourcing of unpopular decisions to allotted bodies and that this could act as a Trojan Horse for an evolutionary path towards sortition. No need for another Tahrir Square.

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  33. Roslyn,

    three topics here…

    1. How might a system function without either an assembly or elections? A paper I published in the Journal of Public Deliberation sets out a theoretical scheme (for the legislative branch) In brief, a huge number of one issue allotted mini-publics, at all levels of government, each tackling a specific piece of the legislative task. It can be downloaded here:
    http://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol9/iss1/art11/ ,
    and David Schecter and I have also written about how sortition could be used to replace elections for the executive branch… viewed here:
    http://stwj.systemswiki.org/?p=1717
    In brief, mini-publics, rather than mass elections responsible for hiring and firing executives.

    2. Your point about the psychological desire for at least the FEELING of participation is challenging. Elections generally fail to satisfy this. Most Americans do not vote in most elections. Alienation from the political class is rampant. That may also be linked to social alienation. In a multi-body sortition system the likelihood of serving on some jury at least at the local level on some issue, may better satisfy this psychological longing for agency than either election, or mass assembly, because the individual will ACCURATELY feel that participation really mattered (which it mathematically does not in mass participation scenarios).

    3. Transition: The task at hand is simply to increase general awareness that sortition is a democratic tool that should be added to the tool box. People have to KNOW about it before any change is possible. Once that is accomplished, there are countless unpredictable ways that sortition might supplant elected legislatures… probably in a piecemeal manner as Yoram noted. I think the two most promising paths are
    A.. a mini-public might be given oversight power over some aspect of an elected legislature (ethics rules and corruption trials, voting rules, redistricting, etc. In other words, the mini-public is seen as superior to the legislature in some area…and over time this area might expand. The other is
    B. in the area of government reform or constitutional conventions…with the caveat that unlike Ireland, the recommendations need to BYPASS the legislature as they did in British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly… The recommendation went directly to referendum without needing additional permission from the legislators. It is CONCEIVABLE that instead of recommending single transferable vote proportional representation (the case in BC), such an assembly could have said, use scientific sampling to form the legislature. This sort of over-reaching of delegated power is exactly how the committee charged by the Congress of the United States to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation, instead proposed an entirely new constitution to be ratified by state conventions in at least nine states in distinct violation of the amendment process specified in the Articles of Confederation themselves, which required unanimous ratification by all 13 states..

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  34. Terry,

    Your model appears to be close to Benjamin Barber’s “strong” (participatory) democracy, with an added stochation-based veto. You would ague that the “huge number of one issue allotted mini-publics” are more representative than existing electoral mechanisms as they are composed of “typical” or “ordinary” people rather than persons selected according to the principle of distinction. I would argue that the voluntary principle is less representative than election in that the general public (other than the relatively small proportion who volunteer) is entirely excluded from any say regarding the laws that are proposed. This process will be psychologically unsatisfying (no illusion of participation) as well as epistemically flawed (given Naomi’s hunch that it is likely to be a portrait-in-miniature of the Tea Party).

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  35. @terry

    I’m comfortable with the idea of a lot of small sortition-based panels taking care of all of the more minor but still necessary aspects of political life, recognizing that a) this is the lion’s share of the work and b) their power is not so slight because the devil is often in the details.

    However:

    1. Mass participation is not an illusion as long as it is direct. Your vote really does count. Yes, it may only be one of millions, but then again, you also, are one of millions, so fair enough. You do contribute to the final result in a manner directly proportional to your stake in society as an individual.

    2. No matter how much you (in my view somewhat erroneously) downplay the role of the Assembly in later Athens (which I would, in any case, describe as ‘post-razed-by-oligarchic-nutcases’ instead of as ‘mature’) you can’t get around the fact that it did exist.
    Also, your ‘transition’ proposal does include a referendum, so mass participation, so there you go. That’s all I wanted. If people were to choose your system, I’d respect that, although I do think it may be setting up problems for the future.

    3. In your view (and I agree with you), some citizens were able to hold a disproportionate influence over an Assembly of 6000 people in Athens, despite isegoria, etc. Why would that not be the case in a randomly-selected panel of 6000 citizens? Why would it be any less subject to the influence of the ‘elite’ within its ranks?

    4. Perhaps unlike anyone else here, I don’t really have a problem with people self-selecting for participation, while fully recognizing that this skews results, as long as measures are put in place to ensure that people are not excluded for lack of resources, etc. People have different priorities and interests in life and participation should be geared to reflect that. Assembly was great for this, because it let you choose when you showed up. Sortition in Athens also depended on citizens putting themselves forward for selection.
    There are people out there whom no amount of encouragement will transform into interested citizens, and absolutely everyone is apathetic on certain topics.

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  36. Roslyn: >Perhaps unlike anyone else here, I don’t really have a problem with people self-selecting for participation

    Whilst that (arguably) may be legitimate regarding equal speech rights (isegoria), it doesn’t apply to the other aspect of demokratia — equal votes (isonomia). This is particularly problematic in large polities, where representation is essential. Self-nominating attendees cannot be assumed to represent those who don’t attend.

    >Sortition in Athens also depended on citizens putting themselves forward for selection.

    There are important differences: 1) The jury pool of 6,000 constituted a large proportion of all eligible citizens, so was far more representative than the modern analogue. 2) Sortition was based on the principle of rotation — all should rule and be ruled in turn — and this is impossible in large states. 3) Athenian culture was dominated by homonoia (same-mindedness), not so with modern diverse, multicultural states. 4) Athenian political culture was republican — direct participation in politics was the norm rather than the exception — hence the term idiotes for those who did not participate, and this is entirely absent from “modern” liberty.

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  37. The issue of self-selection (volunteerism) is quite tricky, with no a priori “right” answer. Imagine a society of 100 shipwreck survivors. Suppose 20 of them, after giving careful consideration decide they don’t want to participate in group decision-making and will go along with what ever the rest decide. Does the spirit of democracy require that the opinion of these 20 must be incorporated? Perhaps not. What if 80 decide to opt out of all decision-making? What if those 80 are simply too busy hunting for food and resources to participate?

    I think we would agree that all adult members of a society should have genuine equal opportunity to participate, but that society should not compel participation. This raises the difficulty of self-selection WITH A CONSISTENT BIAS (rather than informed abstention). The fact that Athens had 6,000 (perhaps 20%?) participation in the assembly does not make it ANY more representative (contrary to Keith’s statement above), and the requirement that people step forward to proactively volunteer for Council and court service, probably made those bodies less representative.

    I come down on this quandary at the point that ANY and ALL who wish to contribute to decision-making should have a way to plug in by helping to craft proposals (not merely an equal chance). Many such proposals will be rejected, but being able to craft proposals is key.This requires time and interest. Then all who are willing should have an EQUAL CHANCE to participate in finalizing proposals.. and that all should have EQUAL CHANCE to participate in final decision-making, and to maximize descriptive representativeness this final stage should involve very short duration service — like a jury. I can imagine this last stage being nearly mandatory, but always with a way to be excused.

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  38. Roslyn,

    > In your view (and I agree with you), some citizens were able to hold a disproportionate influence over an Assembly of 6000 people in Athens, despite isegoria, etc. Why would that not be the case in a randomly-selected panel of 6000 citizens? Why would it be any less subject to the influence of the ‘elite’ within its ranks?

    The control the elite holds over a mass body is achieved primarily by controlling the agenda of the mass body through the elite’s ability to command mass attention, something the average member of the body cannot do. This inherent power inequality is much attenuated in a small body. (More here.)

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  39. Terry,

    I provided four reasons as to why the voluntary principle distorted representativity in Athenian democracy far less than would be the case in large modern states, and I don’t see your refutation of any of them. And it remains the case that the equal right of any citizen (ho boulomenos) to craft proposals was immediately checked by the equal votes of all citizens in accepting or rejecting the proposals. Given the inevitably representative nature of modern politics there is a need for a modern analogue of both strands of Athenian democracy (“any” and “all”). I can understand the attraction of mass participation, but if the participation is not representative then it cannot claim to be democratic. The analogy that you provide to illustrate your argument (100 shipwreck survivors) is an example of direct democracy, so of no relevance to this issue.

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  40. *** The ancient democratic model had two intrinsic problems. First, the size problem. It was possible only in small societies. Even Athens was too big: let’s consider the time needed by a peasant around Marathon if he wanted to go to the Assembly or to a Court in the town. And even Athens was not big enough to resist a big kingdom as Macedon. The era of Greek democracies was short, because only an exceptional qualitative military superiority could allow the democracy to resist quantitatively superior States. This first problem is solved in our world by the electronical communication technology.
    *** But the second problem is even more difficult in a contemporary society; it is the “deliberation time problem“, i.e. the size of time necessary to be enlightened” – by getting information, by hearing orators, by face to face discussion with other citizens and with concerned people. Democratic deliberation was always time consuming, but the problem is much bigger in a modern society with complex and moving issues. Democracy may work through general vote or through minipublics, and the formula of the mix depends on the “deliberation time parameter” It is this parameter which compels modern dêmokratia to be principally a democracy-through-stochation. General vote may be accepted, but only about a specific issue where the “deliberation time problem” may be seriously managed.
    *** A French intellectual wrote some decades ago “electronics gives us back Athens”, and he thought probably “the Athens of Pericles”. But in a complex modern society the “deliberation time problem” leads to a system even more loaded with minipublics than the Athens of Demosthenes.
    *** If not this parameter, we could imagine an “electronic democracy”. Every morning after coffee and before going work the good citizen opens his computer and finds the daily question. Voting is quick – as answering an opinion poll. Actually, it will be an opinion poll, the principle of which is “the polled must answer without thinking”. I doubt any society will establish so foolish a sovereignty system as this kind of “e-democracy”. But I am afraid it could be included into a “modernized” polyarchic system, as an element, “evidently to be restricted as dangerous but improving the democratic level of the system”. Answering-without-deliberation is especially sensitive to the ideological influence of the faction and elite lobbies, and therefore it will usually be under “good control”. Should the morning poll system go out of control, it will be restricted easily as evidently dangerous.
    *** I don’t have any doubt about Roslyn Fuller democratic feelings. But I am upset by any modern reference to the Athenian model which seems to give a small role to allotted juries, and I am afraid that it could postpone modern democracy rather than prepare it.

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  41. *** Terry Bouricius wrote (September 4): “Whether all-citizen assembly, right to speak (isegoria), or sortition is the crux of “democracy” is intellectually entertaining, but not necessarily helpful for deciding what we SHOULD seek for our own societies’ futures, nor a sacred standard from on high that must be followed.” I agree, we must study the ancient democratic experiment, but what we seek for our societies must be considered in relationship with the parameters of modern societies.
    *** We can discuss about the “crux” of ancient dêmokratia, but we must acknowledge that we have only two democratic theoretical texts which came to us (written by democrats), the Herodotus’ debate on the constitutions and, in Euripides’ Suppliant Women, the debate between Theseus and the Theban herald; and in both texts both general deliberation and sortition are included in the description of the democratic model.
    *** These texts were written before the 4th century reforms. These reforms transferred much of the political power to allotted juries. I think it is not possible to describe them as did Roslyn Fuller (September 2) “[The Athenians] slightly adapted to do what they felt better met their needs”. It was not a “slight” change in the institutions. But, I acknowledge, it was a change keeping the same political values and the same formula, only with a different mix of general vote and allotted juries.
    *** Which mix will be good for a modern society? Here is the question.

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  42. Yes – this is by no means some sort of proof of what democracy is, rather it is merely one piece of evidence, but it seems to me that the extant Greek texts indicate that as far as institutional design goes the conventional ancient Greek view (both of advocates and opponents of democracy) was that sortition was the distinguishing mark of democracy rather than an assembly, or an assembly with formally equal speaking rights.

    (Naturally, other conditions were also associated with democracy, e.g., no property qualifications for political rights, and politics being carried out publicly rather than in secrecy.)

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  43. Andre: > the “deliberation time problem“, i.e. the size of time necessary to be enlightened” – by getting information, by hearing orators, by face to face discussion with other citizens and with concerned people.

    Yes, the Athenians appeared to view the 4th century legislative courts as a delegated sub-committee of the Assembly that had more time to get enlightened. Although they had no concept of stochation they clearly believed that the decision of the sub-committee represented that of the assembly (i.e. all citizens). Hansen, though prefers to focus on the epistemic value of the dikastic oath, the higher minimum age requirement for jurors and the desire to return to the patrios politeia (the rule of law, rather than the rule of men).

    Roslyn: >“[The Athenians] slightly adapted to do what they felt better met their needs”.

    I think that is also true, in that the original democratic principle (assembly rule) was preserved, albeit vicariously. My PhD supervisor argues that the 4th century changes were for administrative convenience rather than a change of principle.

    Yoram: >it seems to me that the extant Greek texts indicate that as far as institutional design goes the conventional ancient Greek view (both of advocates and opponents of democracy) was that sortition was the distinguishing mark of democracy rather than an assembly, or an assembly with formally equal speaking rights.

    But can you find any classics scholars who agree with how it “seems to you” (aka wishful thinking) in any respect other than the selection mechanism for magistrates? The scholarly consensus is that the council was randomly selected in order to protect the assembly from factional interests and other forms of corruption. And, as we have seen above, the legislative courts were seen as a sub-committee of the assembly, designed to overcome the deliberation time problem. So the assembly rules — especially as there were far more assembly decrees than changes to the law in the nomothetai.

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  44. @Yoram and Keith – I agree with much of what Keith says, whereby when i comes to courts, I’d tend to think more in terms of a loose judicial review than ‘sub-committee’. However, that’s neither really here nor there.

    @ Andre – keeping an Assembly while selecting previous elected and bureaucratic offices by sortition is hardly ‘giving a small role to sortition’. By that logic, you’d have to say that the Athenians gave a small role to sortition, whereby I’m fairly certain that no society on earth has ever given a greater role to sortition. In regards to deliberation, there is already quite a lot of deliberation going on in our society on the major points of policy, but I am an advocate of pay for participation to ensure that people are given the time they need to spend on these matters.

    In general, Terry is the only person who has offered a clear idea of how a system of pure sortition might come into existence, to wit, a referendum which abolishes either a pre-existing Assembly or electoral system to do so. If such a thing were to happen, I would accept it. Possibly at some future time it would seem the logical thing to do, whereby, I think it is a much more likely outcome if the pre-existing system is some model of direct participation (Assembly) rather than an electoral system.

    From my vantage point at this time in history, I still think that several points militate against devolving ultimate power to sortition panels at any point, while maintaining an open mind that these may seem more resolvable in the future and that the more we experiment the more info we will have:

    a) the legitimacy points I brought up above. You’ll get a divergence of opinion between small groups of deliberators and society at large. Often (but not always) this is because the small group is more rational. I doubt that’ll cut much ice with society at large, though. And sometimes, the smaller groups aren’t more rational but go off on weird little tangents of their own.

    b) small groups might be controlled by more petty elites, but they are elites just the same, generally just less competent ones. The more time you spend deliberating, the more control they’ll have. Also, consider the effect one or two ‘experts’ will have on a panel’s deliberations. You could get around that by excluding experts from being on a panel in their area of expertise (as lawyers and cops are excluded from jury duty), but it still leaves a few points. For one, there is always your non-expert celebrity. You’re definitely going to get the odd panel with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie or the local equivalent on it. I’m sure rational debate will ensue. For another, panels with a lot of decision-making power will need expertise on some points, and even experts who are not given decision-making power can exercise a lot of influence. Large groups, of course, are subject to the same issues (we’ve covered the influence of the strategoi in Athens), but it does mean small vs. large is neither here nor there. At least in huge groups the elites tend to be more competent and there’s a somewhat better chance of having the worst BS unearthed.

    c) bribery. So easy to bribe or otherwise intimidate a small group, especially if you limit yourself to a small but decisive number within that group. No penalty on earth will dissuade people from doing so if there is enough at stake, plus, you can always find loopholes that allow you to legally bribe if only you try hard enough. With bigger groups you have to do this indirectly by making sure they’re fed a steady diet of propaganda. Still, referenda seem to indicate that the more often you hold them, the less effective this is (there’s a limit to how many times you can fork out those millions for PR and it generally takes a few months at least to wear away support for anything that is really popular).

    d) What is the ultimate source of legitimacy in a pure sortition society? what is the anchor point of your society? What happens in the event of entrenched disagreement among panels that decide they each have competency over the same matter? Another panel? What if one of the original panels refuses to respect that? What happens if a protest movement arises against a decision of a panel – one that is a minority, but nonetheless enough to cause a serious crisis? How does the legal system interact with these panels, all of whom, presumably have the power to change the law? I’m sure you could figure out a labyrinthine solution to all of this: the question is why you would want to when you could do things more easily in Assembly.
    if the ultimate source of legitimacy is the will of the people, then there has to be some forum where they can clearly express that will. Take away Assembly and when you hit the wall of some unforeseen crisis, you’ve got nothing.

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  45. Roslyn,

    References to “the courts” on this forum generally means the 4th century legislative courts (nomothetai) rather than the dikastai. The nomothetai were a regular part of the 4th century legislative process, whereas judicial review in the dikastai was exceptional. A good source for 4th century nomothesia is Chris Blackwell’s article: http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/legislation.pdf

    >You’ll get a divergence of opinion between small groups of deliberators and society at large. . . sometimes, the smaller groups aren’t more rational but go off on weird little tangents of their own.

    Agreed, that’s why I’ve always argued for the DP process (large sample, balanced information and advocacy, followed by silent voting), minus the small-group deliberation stage. Although this is an impoverished form of deliberation, if the different samples come to different conclusions, then which is the representative one? There are good reasons to believe that the small-group deliberation is the source of variation between the decision outcome of the different samples, for all the reasons that you provide at b).

    On the bribery point (c), it would be hard to effectively bribe a silent group of 500-1,000 (my model) whose only function is to listen to arguments and then vote in secret.

    Agree also with your concerns at d), that’s why I propose the retention of elections (for political advocates) and a stronger role for the executive. Regarding the perceived legitimacy of decision-making by allotted group it would be necessary to demonstrate (by experiment) that n samples came to the same conclusion, along with a rudimentary education of the public in stochation (the law of large numbers). The reason that I’m opposed to a (voluntary) assembly is the need for stable principles of representation in large-scale modern states and this requires election, votation and stochation.

    >In general, Terry is the only person who has offered a clear idea of how a system of pure sortition might come into existence, to wit, a referendum which abolishes either a pre-existing Assembly or electoral system to do so.

    Indeed, however a) pigs are more likely to be seen flying over Battersea power station and b) this would be on a par with the decision of the Athenian assembly to abolish itself, as the result would be kleristocracy, not democracy.

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  46. Roslyn,

    It does seem that the essence of our disagreement is the matter of scale.
    You suggest that a decision process involving a huge number (perhaps millions) such as in an electronic assembly has 1. a higher calibre of elites/experts, 2. a “somewhat better chance of having the worst BS unearthed,” and 3. more resistance to bribery (simply because of the cost),
    while small representative samples will 1. develop their own (probably inferior) elites, 2. risk going off on tangents that the mass society would object to, and 3. be more easily subject to bribery (fewer members means the cost and risk are tempting for would be bribers.

    Most of my discussions and presentations have contrasted sortition with election, so contrasting it with mass participation in direct democracy is different.

    I guess the first point is that in modern society there are a HUGE numbers of public policy decisions to be made, so it simply in terms of aggregate hours of effort (assuming participants put in any effort at all) it is impossible to have ALL decisions made by mass participation. Some decisions must be delegated… but to whom?

    Secondly, contrary to your thought that mass participation allows BS to be uncovered, because most participants will spend very little time or effort, all of the available evidence indicates just the opposite. A smaller group, that is paid, has time, and resources and knows their decision will be consequential have repeatedly shown that they are MORE capable of unearthing BS than any mass participatory process.

    Thirdly, in smaller groups it is possible to establish procedures that limit the undue influence of a few “elites.” time limits on speaking, rotation, the use of professional facilitators, the hiring of staff, random sampling of outside expert testimony, etc., etc. can assure the smaller group has BETTER quality information and more time to consider it than in any mass participation process.

    Fourthly, bribery (if we include things like a new road for one’s constituency as a bribe) can be MORE easily prevented in a smallish group (look at jury tampering laws as a possible method) IF that group is not immersed in an election framework. It would even be possible (though I doubt it would generally be necessary) to resort to sequestration of a jury. All of these anti-corruption procedures would THEMSELVES need to be approved by a separate random sample, rather than imposed by a self-serving bureaucracy or elected officials, etc.

    Rather than responding to all of these points, maybe we should tackle them individually…I am most curious about number ONE above. If society has millions of local, state and national decisions to make, what portion of these should be made by referendum/assembly process?

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  47. *** About the “last word” given by the Second Athenian Democracy to allotted juries in many fields, Keith Sutherland writes “Hansen, though, prefers to focus on the epistemic value of the dikastic oath, the higher minimum age requirement for jurors and the desire to return to the patrios politeia (the rule of law, rather than the rule of men)” and, later, ”My PhD supervisor argues that the 4th century changes were for administrative convenience rather than a change of principle.”
    *** We do not have any text about this institutional change. Herodotus’ Otanes and Euripides’ Theseus give us the democrat reasons for democracy, but we have nothing equivalent for the Second Athenian Democracy reforms. It would be useful to collect all possibly relevant passages in the orators speeches – a big work. As impressionistic feeling, I would say the ideas of “rule of law” and “rule of basic principles” are especially present.
    *** The absence of ancient theoretical text explains that a serious historian as Hansen and the (I suppose) serious supervisor of Keith may give different weights to the different factors.
    *** Note that if we focus on “the epistemic value of the dikastic oath” and “the higher minimum age requirement for jurors” we move away from the idea of “convenience”, or of court as “sub-committee of the assembly”. There is a contradiction. But we know that political systems may live with contradictions, especially when there is no strong intellectual criticism. There were circles of strong intellectual criticism in 4th century Athens, but they were against democracy per se, and not interested in its variants.
    *** Something at least is sure: any decree of the Assembly could be crushed by an allotted jury, who had the last word; and I don’t remember any orator deeming the fact as undemocratic. It seems that at least in Demosthenes’ time there was no serious “democratic legitimacy” criticism of the jury system. I am not sure that in a modern democracy such a criticism will be as strong as some believe.

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  48. Roslyn,
    It’s wonderful to see a contributor who supports retaining some element of mass participation. Many (most?) people here are rather hostile to the idea. This has been an interesting thread so far, I’m sorry for not participating sooner.

    I’ll jump right in.

    Keith and I are both fond of splitting the legislative role into separate proposal/advocacy and voting roles. These days I like to imagine a fairly conventional assembly, but with with two types of member, advocates (who are largely elected) with the power to make and debate—but not vote on—proposals and a statistically significant number of randomly drawn citizens who exclusively have the power to vote on proposals. Instead of the balance of power between the parties being the direct result of the most recent election, it is decided on an issue-by-issue basis by productive debate in chamber. Elections merely decide who gets to present their case to the statistically representative sampling of the people. There’s no need to form a majority. Any advocate can make a proposal. As such we can opt for an extraordinarily proportional electoral system. Your chances of finding a politician/party you identify with and can genuinely support are exceptional if the threshold for entry is less than 1%.

    What’s more, politics can be framed in more ways than is possible at present. Even when proportional systems are used today, winning parties must come together to govern. Their ability to frame the debate is limited by their coalition options. A fringe party that sticks to its beliefs rather than moving to a more mainstream stance is marginalized in a conventional electoral democracy. For what it’s worth, I consider this tendency to domesticate fringe movements a great strength. But in light of Condorcet’s jury theorem perhaps the ability to support an arbitrary number of political frames in the public sphere is a still greater strength. If nothing else, most people will have an easier time finding a party that embodies and fights for their beliefs, improving the public’s sense of belonging in the system.

    I am inclined to believe that all systems require some sort of “center” that is consciously aware of all the pieces in motion at any given time. It could take the form of a conventional elected assembly or some analog of the Athenian Assembly (assuming the participants are largely the same from vote to vote). I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you bring up the coordination problem. I’ve been pontificating on this issue for the longest time. The challenge is—and I believe this is were Keith and I diverge—is in making this center democratic in nature. If there’s no need to form a majority the elected politicians cannot fill this role. Keith favors using the executive, but I can’t see how that would work without giving the executive some sort of leverage over the legislative process. I would like to see short but fixed terms for the randomly drawn voting members. Maybe three to six months with continuous rotation. This way average member will have their legislative sea legs, so to speak, and should be reasonably aware of the big picture. The members will have a good idea of what the assembly as a whole wants and will be in a position to act accordingly. The advocates will have the opportunity to “test the water” and can construct proposals and policy plans one amendment at a time. An equilibrium can be established iteratively.

    I’d also require proposals to either pass either by a modest supermajority or by a simple majority twice with a delay between the two votes. The delay should be whatever the term of the voting members is. That way, two samples would vote on each proposal, unless of course the proposal gets supermajority support. This *dramatically* decreases the chances a proposal will pass due to a statical fluke (by several orders of magnitude, actually) at the cost of a modest status quo bias. Since the members of the second sampling won’t be known when a proposal is drafted, policies can’t be tailored to the non-statistically significant preferences of individual voting members and changes in policy are only likely when they are likely to be reflected across multiple samplings.

    Regarding implementation… vestigial upper houses may well be an ideal target, one that could conceivably find support from politicians. After all, how can a politician be blamed for the negative consequences of their policies when such a rigorous review process is in place? How could they have known better? It’s easy to see how a government facing a legitimacy crisis might might want to set up a little policy court to better justify their actions. If the powers of the house/policy court were fairly limited it might not be seen as much of a threat. At least not in the lifetimes of the politicians who actually set it up. Regardless of the initial powers of the allotted house, the stage is set for further constitutional rebalancing (a la the Lords and the Commons).

    >You’ll get a divergence of opinion between small groups of deliberators and society at large. Often (but not always) this is because the small group is more rational. I doubt that’ll cut much ice with society at large, though.

    Agreed. Even large groups suffer from this. A statistical sampling that spends all its time listening to advocates argue the details of military policy will end up with a different set of priorities than an otherwise identical sampling that spends its time listening to the finer points of education reform. Both will differ from the population at large. In the past I favored a conventional initiative/referendum mechanism specifically to resolve this problem. If the mechanism is not used, implicit consent is given by the citizen body to the actions of the primary legislative system (whatever form that system may take). I’ve gotten away from that recently, but I do not have terribly strong feelings either way. The proposals that pass through referenda are unlikely to constitute a very large portion of the acts passed in a year, judging by the US states with initiative/referendum mechanisms. And the legitimacy boost should be considerable. So I have little objection.

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  49. > a system of pure sortition might come into existence, to wit, a referendum which abolishes either a pre-existing Assembly or electoral system to do so

    A referendum could certainly be part of the process of transition, although on the one hand it doesn’t have to be and on the other hand this begs the question how such a referendum would come about. In any case, it is clear that the mechanics of the transition are secondary to the mobilization of popular support for the replacement of elections with sortition.

    > You’ll get a divergence of opinion between small groups of deliberators and society at large

    I think this is unlikely to happen. If the allotted are open minded enough to be swayed by evidence and reason, then it is unlikely that a majority in the population would feel strongly against their conclusions. I also think you are projecting the current level of distrust in government (which is due to its oligarchical nature) into a different system where there is reason to expect that government would be generally trusted.

    > small groups might be controlled by more petty elites

    Are you claiming this is generally true about small groups? Are groups of friends or other small collaborative group generally controlled by an elite group within them so that they tend to serve the interests of that elite rather than the interests of the group as a whole?

    > So easy to bribe or otherwise intimidate a small group, especially if you limit yourself to a small but decisive number within that group

    Bribing dozens of people, and hoping they all stay quiet about it (and that the transfer of money would not be detected by monitoring) sounds like a very unlikely endeavor.

    > What is the ultimate source of legitimacy in a pure sortition society?

    The source of legitimacy in any society is a sense of the majority of the members that the society is functioning properly, that public decisions are arrived at according to a reasonable and effective procedure. In that sense, legitimacy is an objectively observable fact. Of course, according to this criterion, our current governments are generally illegitimate.

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  50. This is getting very interesting and, despite a rocky start (largely my fault), I think we are now really talking to, rather than past, each other.

    Andre:> It seems that at least in Demosthenes’ time there was no serious “democratic legitimacy” criticism of the jury system. I am not sure that in a modern democracy such a criticism will be as strong as some believe.

    Agreed. Given the existing role that juries play in the criminal justice system, there is no good reason to believe that legislative juries would be received any differently from the time of Demosthenes (the lack of contemporary discussion of their role would suggest that it was uncontroversial). But some people on this forum are arguing for a sortition-only constitution and I think that would go down equally badly in both 4th-century Athens and the 21st-century Anglosphere. This is a utopian project, based on little more than a single sentence of Montesquieu (taken completely out of context), and has no historical provenance whatsoever.

    Naomi:> I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you bring up the coordination problem. . . The challenge is in making this center democratic in nature. . . Keith favors using the executive, but I can’t see how that would work without giving the executive some sort of leverage over the legislative process.

    Yes, I think that’s right. Bear in mind that as little as 150 years ago Mill argued that the executive** should have the monopoly over formulating legislative proposals. Although, as an advocate of the mixed constitution, I would argue this should be shared with democratic proposal mechanisms, I do argue that the executive should have considerable leverage. The executive has to implement the laws and (more importantly) ensure that a) different laws don’t contradict each other and b) that the foundation principles of arithmetic (aka fiscal equity) are respected. I don’t see why that would suggest a democratic coordination mechanism, in fact it could quite easily be done by a computer program (no doubt Yoram could write the software for it).

    All Naomi’s Trojan Horse transition proposals are plausible (especially in the light of the ongoing controversy regarding reform of the House of Lords), but I would add the possibility of replacing referenda with public enquiries modelled along the lines of the Deliberative Poll. Apart from Nigel Farage, nobody in the political class wants the forthcoming referendum on the EU, so this would have been an ideal opportunity (too late now). I suggested this to Farage’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, and he was quite sympathetic (although his position is closer to Roslyn’s). The important thing is that none of these suggestions would put elected politicians out of a job, they would simply find their role a lot more circumscribed. Why should they mind, if they can still pick up their salary and other benefits — and could, like Pericles, attribute poor policy decisions to citizens themselves (“although I advised it, you voted for it”).

    >A statistical sampling that spends all its time listening to advocates argue the details of military policy will end up with a different set of priorities than an otherwise identical sampling that spends its time listening to the finer points of education reform.

    4th-century democrats appeared to view this as an advantage, so there is no good reason to think that their modern equivalents would object.

    >In the past I favored a conventional initiative/referendum mechanism specifically to resolve [the problem of divergent priorities between the sample and the public]

    There clearly would need to be some appeal mechanism, either referenda or judicial review via the modern equivalent of the dikasterion.

    ** as this was prior to the 2nd reform act it would not be accurate to refer to the executive at that time as democratic.

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  51. Yoram: >The source of legitimacy in any society is a sense of the majority of the members that the society is functioning properly, that public decisions are arrived at according to a reasonable and effective procedure.

    Note that these criteria would apply in principle to enlightened monarchy, theocracy and the rule of Plato’s guardians, as they don’t contain a single democratic criterion. The “majority of the members” may decide that an authoritarian society structured along the principle of Sharia law is “functioning properly”. Does that mean such a society is democratic? And I thought you were opposed to decisions being made by a majority of members, given that they are open to manipulation and indoctrination by elites, so how can you operationalise your principle?

    >In that sense, legitimacy is an objectively observable fact.

    It reads to me as purely a matter of perception, as there are no objective, observable or factual criteria involved, only “a sense of”. Going back to my undergraduate days in sociology, would the “objectively observable facticity” be uncovered by ethnomethodologists or participant observers? Or would you resort to quantitative methods like opinion polling or even Deliberative Polling? (much derided by you on this forum).

    PS I’m sure Yoram will, as always, ignore these deeply serious questions as they come from a “habitual liar”, so perhaps Terry, as his unofficial representative on planet earth, might like to address them on his behalf.

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  52. Naomi,

    I have thought a lot about requiring dual votes or a super majority, yet can not settle on a position. the obvious benefit of avoiding a “bad” decision due to a statistical fluke seems valuable. However a dual vote (regardless of a super-majority) also offers a second benefit… Madison’s concern about passing popular “passion.” A perfectly representative group might be subject to circumstantial or orchestrated groundswell… I think of the vote of the U.S. congress on the Patriot Act, or the authorization of military force following 9/11, or the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the Vietnam War…Yes these were taken by elected bodies, but an allotted body would probably have voted similarly. thus the passage of some time, allowing skeptics time to dig into matters, might be GENERALLY useful EVEN IF there were a super-majority.

    However, On the other side is the fact that requiring two votes diminishes the consequences of those votes, making members psychologically less invested in “getting it right.” I can imagine advocates saying to the first body… “All we are asking you to do is to vote to advance the bill so it can get a careful consideration.” and the advocates during the second body debate saying… “This bill has already received a strong vote of approval, so unless you personally have new information to offer us, you should vote to concur.”

    It may make sense for an allotted body that is voting on a law, or some separate allotted coordinating body to declare that the item will or won’t require two votes (based on how divisive, time-critical, or close the vote is). Perhaps they could also declare that the proposal needs to go to a referendum if they conclude that, while it is objectively good policy, it will BECOME a bad law if people refuse to abide by it, and thus needs a second layer of legitimacy…(that last bit should make Roslyn smile)

    Keith,
    Like you, I tend to apply certain procedural principles to deciding if something is democratic or good… but acknowledge that is a bias of mine. Really, the only thing that ultimately matters for people is the RESULTS… that society is well governed, that the decisions objectively AND subjectively are in the interests of the population rather than an elite, etc. Yes, this could hypothetically encompass a monarchy or a selfless dictatorship… but over time, I believe there is no chance such a system could continue to deliver. It is my belief that only a democracy can practically achieve such outcomes and THAT is why I favor democracy… because of the positive outcomes I expect it to achieve… and that is why I oppose vanguard party proletarian dictatorship or monarchy, because I don’t believe that over time they can deliver this.

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  53. Terry: > However a dual vote (regardless of a super-majority) also offers a second benefit… Madison’s concern about passing popular “passion.”

    Madison was not alone here — one of the reasons for the 4th century reforms may well have been that the multi-stage process (which included long gaps for discussion in the agora) would have meant that the final decision reflected the settled will of the people, rather than the changing moods that characterised (some) assembly decisions. Condorcet was equally keen on a multi-stage process, and for the same reason.

    On the legitimacy issue I’m glad to hear you acknowledge that your concerns are purely epistemic, but to link democracy and good outcomes strikes me as little more than an act of faith. Urbinati is adamant that democracy is all about the freedom to make the wrong decisions for the right reasons (or, more accurately, by the correct procedural mechanism). The puzzling thing is Yoram’s position, as he has always rejected the epistemic argument, couching everything in terms of interests. There is no reason, in principle, for the interests of the masses not to be secured by a benign dictator and for the masses to perceive that as both well-ordered and the result of reasonable and effective procedures. No doubt the attraction of the Caliphate has something to do with this mentality, but I don’t understand what it has to do with democracy. The classification of different constitutions has always been based on procedures and the numerical constitution of the archai — Aristotle being careful to distinguish between taxonomic and normative considerations such as “well-ordered”. In fact I can’t think of a single case (other than that of Estlund) where democracy was defined in terms of outcomes rather than procedures, so your “bias” is shared by pretty well everyone else who has thought seriously about this (although most are careful not to conflate “democratic” and “good”). The Skinner article that I cited recently is a good basis for cementing the distinction between procedural and normative considerations.

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  54. @naomi – good to hear from you and thank you for sharing your thoughts! There is more than one way to skin a cat, and it is very interesting to consider all of the approaches that have been brought up here, by yourself and others, to get to that goal.

    @terry and @keith – I agree with you that all people really care about is results, and that for a long time we have conflated the word ‘democracy’ with all that is good and light, when it just describes a method of decision-making. Although I do think that a system that empowers people is, over the long run, more likely to serve their interests than one that doesn’t. It sound like a better shot, anyway.
    I see the basic point that ‘all people really care about is results’ as actually the most likely reason something like a purely sortition-based system could succeed. As long as it delivers results, most people won’t rock the boat. So, indeed, you could kind of slide into it. It’s possible.
    However, as I’ve outlined above, I think there are some systemic issues with that.

    @yoram

    > Are groups of friends or other small collaborative group generally controlled by an elite group within them so that they tend to serve the interests of that elite rather than the interests of the group as a whole?

    Yes, I am in fact claiming that.

    > Bribing dozens of people, and hoping they all stay quiet about it (and that the transfer of money would not be detected by monitoring) sounds like a very unlikely endeavour.

    I have to admit that coming from an international law background, I often feel like I can be the most negative person in the room, and I don’t like being this person. However, in my field, bribing dozens of people and having them all ‘stay quiet about it’ is the norm. In fact, they’re generally not really that quiet about it, it’s just that no one wants to hear the truth. Just FYI: you don’t do it by sending a back transfer.
    We’re not barbarians.
    I feel that a lot of people dramatically underestimate the level of the problem in society, and this is something I go into in my book. It’s like a subset of criminals. Nothing is more fascinating to lawyers than the amount of sheer creative time and energy that crooks put into their crimes. You’ll often hear them saying, “If only they’d put that much effort into a real job, they’d be millionaires by now.” Just because you wouldn’t figure out a way to get away with something, doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t. If it’s possible, they will do it, and chances are they’ll get away with it. It varies from country to country, but a high amount of reported crime is never resolved and, of course, there are all the things that stay under the radar permanently. The ‘unknown unknowns’ as I’m sure Donald Rumsfeld would have called them.

    Maybe millennials are all cut from a different cloth and not capable of the same shenanigans their forefathers are, and this kind of thing will just resolve itself in a generational shift? Maybe. I admit, that they are, at times, a mystifying lot to me. But, you know, plan for the worst, hope for the best.

    I could say more, but feel like my comments have been too wordy, so trying to cut back here.

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  55. @yoram To be fair, I suppose we are aiming at two slightly different scenarios. You do say that you believe the transition to a pure sortition system would be akin to the transition form monarchy to elections, which was a somewhat drawn out process. If you’re looking on a longer trajectory than perhaps the societal changes that would need to occur for your vision to function would indeed occur within that timeframe.
    I’m thinking more of something you could implement rather quickly, because, as I see it, we have a bit of a problem on our hands with the kind of electoral ‘democracy’ and rule of law we’ve enjoyed for the last while rapidly deteriorating. So my idea of mass participation tries to deal with the harsh and oligarchic world we live in right now without needing to count on people being better people and assuming that no intervening events arise to really alter that trajectory. It would be great if they did, but as I said, what I like about the Athenians was their bastard-proofing ways.

    And it does still leave room for that system to develop into something else in time.

    So, bribing dozens? currently possible (we live in a world of extreme wealth inequality). Bribing millions? Good luck with that. Even via mass media you’ll have difficulty keeping it up for too long.

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  56. Roslyn,

    >> Are groups of friends or other small collaborative group generally controlled by an elite group within them

    > Yes, I am in fact claiming that.

    If so, then all is lost – people are unable to represent their own interests and are dominated in most situations in life. An online discussion group in an e-assembly would be no different, presumably, so in this case an e-assembly would not provide representation either.

    I think that luckily this is not the case. I think that in general in formally egalitarian small-group settings people are able to represent themselves well (unlike the situation in formally egalitarian large-group settings, which is what I refer to as “mass politics”).

    > However, in my field, bribing dozens of people and having them all ‘stay quiet about it’ is the norm.

    Could you describe the mechanism?

    It appears that in electoral politics most bribes are of the legal kind. This indicates that illegal bribery is much more difficult than legal bribery. So we should be much more concerned about eliminating legal bribery than the type you are referring to.

    > So my idea of mass participation tries to deal with the harsh and oligarchic world we live in right now without needing to count on people being better people and assuming that no intervening events arise to really alter that trajectory.

    First, I don’t assume that people’s attitudes toward government would change a-priori. I am saying that almost by definition in a democratic system people would be generally happy with the system and have a good measure of trust in it. These are attitudes I hope to see after “sortitionization”, not leading to it.

    Second, my problem with the e-assembly and similar mass participation ideas is that I don’t see them as addressing oligarchy. Both analysis and history show that such proposals have little chance to deliver on the hopes people pin on them.

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  57. Yoram’s example of an online discussion group is apposite. Take for example this forum: the conditions of formal equality apply (everyone is free to post and comment), and the discussions are well managed (by Yoram), yet out of some 200 or so followers of the blog, the debate is dominated by a tiny handful of frequent posters. And there is no way of knowing if the isegoria is balanced and representative, as the numbers are so small. It’s all just random.

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  58. Keith,
    > I don’t see why that would suggest a democratic coordination mechanism, in fact it could quite easily be done by a computer program (no doubt Yoram could write the software for it).

    Whether a conflict exists is not necessarily clear cut. Perhaps it usually is (but not always) when it comes to financial matters. But policies can undermine each other in other ways. A shift in trade policy for example may necessitate more subjective shifts in agricultural and infrastructure policy. If those shifts are such that the change in trade policy was not worthwhile you are in a bit of a bind. Almost every change in policy touches many other policy areas. If the decision makers are not consciously aware of what the tradeoffs really mean they can’t make rational decisions.

    Leaning on a separate entity to get policies that make sense in context neuters the core legislative process. This entity is very likely going to end up being the chief architect of policy. It’s just a matter of practicality. The advocates will no doubt introduce alternatives. Certainly. But the first acceptable proposal to be introduced will be the one to pass and tremendous power will go to whomever schedules votes. And “acceptable” does not necessarily mean good enough. If the voting members do not have an adequate understanding of ALL the policy areas affected we cannot reasonably expect them to judge effectively.

    Furthermore, for the relationship between the legislative process and executive to be hierarchical, rather than transactional, the legislative process needs to be able to stand on its own and function without the executive so that it can turn around and check the executive. This implies sufficient understanding of policy and the executive’s actions in context of policy to be able to see when the executive is acting inappropriately. I have no problem with the various executive offices and agencies welding sweeping delegated legislative power. However, if we make the senior bureaucrats the chief architects of policy we run the risk of bureaucracy run amok as they will no doubt use their leverage to maximize their role in the system.

    >The important thing is that none of these suggestions would put elected politicians out of a job, they would simply find their role a lot more circumscribed.

    Their *successors* would eventually find themselves with a much more circumscribed role than would otherwise have been the case. Their own role will remain largely intact over their tenure, which is an important distinction to note. If a politician loses reelection they lose all their power. If their chances of winning reelection are improved by shedding a modicum of power, it is in their rational self-interest to do so. We must remember that while we are talking about very old institutions the major political actors themselves do not linger for all that long.

    Terry,
    >Madison’s concern about passing popular “passion.”

    Passions will have time to cool somewhat, and, rhetorically, everyone’s cards will be on the table months before the second vote, perhaps allowing for a much more rigorous and balanced exchange the second time around.

    >On the other side is the fact that requiring two votes diminishes the consequences of those votes, making members psychologically less invested in “getting it right.”

    A very fair point. This is one of the reasons why I favor allowing proposals to pass directly into law on the first vote if they clear a supermajority. In both cases there’s a chance you are casting the deciding vote. If we use a double-vote system we can get the same level of statistical significance with a smaller assembly—your chances of casting the deciding vote in either vote would be better than in a single-vote system. Also, the individual voting members won’t get a second chance to consider the bill even if the bill itself gets a second vote. So if they personally care about the job they are tasked with we should be able to expect a decent hearing both times.

    Yoram,
    >>> Are groups of friends or other small collaborative group generally controlled by an elite group within them

    >> Yes, I am in fact claiming that.

    > If so, then all is lost – people are unable to represent their own interests and are dominated in most situations in life.

    If you’ve never been been part of a group of friends led by an “elite” member… chances are you were the elite member of the group. The solution is to separate proposal from voting, keep the voting members from influencing each other, and fight elite fire with fire in the proposal process.

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  59. > If you’ve never been been part of a group of friends led by an “elite” member… chances are you were the elite member of the group.

    “Led” is one thing, dominated is another. Why would a group of friends be willing to tolerate a situation where the group consistently does things that are against their wishes and interests? Could you give examples of this happening?

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  60. This is Roslyn, again. It was precisely my point that you get personal influence either way. I think that in either case (mass participation or non-mass sortition) the biggest obstacle is the effect of mass media. The Athenians had nothing like it.

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  61. > I think that in either case (mass participation or non-mass sortition) the biggest obstacle is the effect of mass media. The Athenians had nothing like it.

    I also think that mass media is an important factor – although I think it has much less influence on an allotted chamber than on a mass audience.

    I think that democratic media is a real opportunity for mass participation – see my proposal here and here. As for Athenian mass media – the orators in the Assembly held a similar status since they had the attention of a mass audience – the thousands who attended the meeting.

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  62. Roz here. No way is one guy with only his oratory skills to help him and subject to isegoria on par with modern media which creates whole new realities for people. Where was Pericles’ dramatic music, panel of think-tank funded ‘experts’ and graphics department? It wasn’t one-way communication to an atomized audience that could quote people and studies out of context at any time knowing that they would never effectively be called out on their behaviour. Nor did they have the ‘benefit’ of decades of research into psychological manipulation behind them. Communication today is qualitatively different.

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  63. Rozlyn,
    It is exactly this highly developed ability to manipulate people psychologically through mass media that is the Achilles Heel of mass participation direct democracy. Elite manipulators benefit from having most participants giving only passing attention to an issue, making them more susceptible to manipulation. It is only when individuals are put in a situation where they have adequate time, resources, and motivation that they can overcome what Daniel Kahneman calls fast “system 1” thinking, and can instead use rational “system 2” thinking. It is only when the number of participants is small enough that they will overcome rational ignorance and system 1 thinking… so the challenge is how to assure that this smaller group will accurately and fairly represent the entire community. The current strategy is to use elections, but the focus of this Blog is the notion that random selection can do much better.

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  64. Roslyn,

    Yes – mass communication and public relations technology have progressed over the last 2500 years. Still, the principle is the same and is inevitable – a small subset can communicate with a large part of the group while the majority cannot. In this sense the one-way communication and atomization are inevitable – they are implied by the cognitive input/output capacity of humans.

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  65. @Terry – which you will never be able to do as long as you allow the rest of society to be continually exposed to mass media where they may (and probably are) having an entirely different conversation. You’ll have a disconnect between their outcomes and preferences and the outcomes of small deliberative groups. It’s not a challenge – it’s an impossibility.
    ‘I’m sure I would have thought just the same way as that random person on their decision to hike my taxes/send my child to fight a war/start fracking my neighbourhood, if only I had thought about it, which I won’t, now or at any point in the future’
    …said no one ever.
    What is your plan for when an independent polling company shows that when asked the average population wants something different than the panel outcome? Tell them all that they are idiots wallowing in ignorance? They just don’t know it?

    @Yoram, the Athenian Assembly was not a one-way communication forum where the hapless citizens were compelled to listen to a Pericles, Demosthenes or other pre-selected rhetor all day long (much less given the ability to do so by themselves in their own homes). The entire purpose of isegoria was to prevent this happening and we know of many instances of little-known citizens making use of isegoria to good effect, a point which you seem to completely ignore.
    Furthermore, because Athens was a small community, atomization even remotely approaching today’s levels was impossible. It would not have been possible for a rhetor to claim, for example, that a battle had occurred in a completely different manner or had a completely different outcome than it did in reality – there were too many people in his audience who would have been there themselves. The same could be said of many similar events. Mass media today constructs reality in a way that many Athenians would probably have found difficult to imagine.

    This is a challenge for any kind of change.
    The challenge for mass participation is that it allows those who control the media to guide public discourse in fairly subtle ways, and indeed, this has been the front that traditional power players have largely retreated to since the civil-rights movement.
    The challenge for pure sortition is that you are going to get a mismatch between panel outcomes and the outcomes that are desired by those who are affected by the decision. In other words, you might think that panels are making ‘better’ or ‘more rational’ decisions (although this is not always the case), but you are running into exactly the same problem that causes people to question the legitimacy of the electoral system in the first place. Sure, you said it yourself, Terry, people only care about results. If the electoral system didn’t produce a disconnect between most people’s desires and policy outcomes we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

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  66. Roslyn,

    > The entire purpose of isegoria was to prevent this happening and we know of many instances of little-known citizens making use of isegoria to good effect, a point which you seem to completely ignore.

    Anyone could speak at the assembly just like anyone today can run for political office and hold political rallies and distribute campaign materials and pay for an advertisement in mass media with whatever content they wish. This is a formal equality, not a substantial equality. You might as well say (as many apologists for electoraliism do say) that we know of many cases where citizens of humble origins were elected and successfully promoted the ideas and interests of average people.

    > It would not have been possible for a rhetor to claim, for example, that a battle had occurred in a completely different manner or had a completely different outcome than it did in reality – there were too many people in his audience who would have been there themselves.

    I think you severely underestimate the epistemic difficulties facing anyone who deals with any matter that is beyond the here and now. For example, claims and counter-claims of treason and embezzlement by leading figures in Athens were common in Athens. How would a person sitting at the assembly for a few hours every 10 days be able to form an independent informed opinion about such matters? All they could do is rely on the evidence presented to them by others. If there was any way for them to acquire anything resembling objective fact it was through the work of the allotted Boule.

    (Needless to say, the many differences between modern societies and the Athenian society have some impact on the role of mass media in those societies. I do think however that there are some fundamental points of resemblance.)

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  67. Roslyn,

    By the way, I just listened to a talk you gave in Ireland about democracy in 2013 (on YouTube). It was good, and I didn’t hear a single thing I disagreed with. You expressed concern about mass participation referendums because they were bought the same as candidate elections. In what way do you think a decision of an e-assembly would be substantively different than a simple referendum. In both cases only a tiny fraction would have given any thought to the matter before voting, and would be effectively manipulated by elites.

    I agree that the participants in a smaller sortition body would have also been exposed to mass media manipulation, but once selected would focus their cognitive abilities at looking for the BS that they wouldn’t put in the effort to look for in mass participation process.

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  68. One more thing – while the impact of propaganda is surely an important one, we should not accept that it is all powerful. If it was, people today would not be so dissatisfied with government and so suspicious of big corporations.

    The real obstacle is not getting people to realize what is going on – to a large extent this is now common knowledge. The challenge is to offer an alternative.

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  69. Naomi,

    My suggestion of policy coordination by computer program was not intended to be taken seriously. I accept your comments about the likelihood of executive primacy, with advocates more in the role of challengers, and don’t find that problematic. But then I’m no democrat, I put my faith in the mixed constitution.

    >If you’ve never been been part of a group of friends led by an “elite” member… chances are you were the elite member of the group.

    That charge certainly sticks when it comes to the frequent posters on this forum.

    Roslyn: >the biggest obstacle is the effect of mass media. The Athenians had nothing like it.

    Yes, but then the small scale of the polis meant that there was no need. Mill argued that the press was essential to the establishment of representative isegoria in poleis which were larger than those in which it was possible to hear the herald’s call directly. So why are the media viewed as the problem? Surely, given a robustly competitive marketplace, they are an essential component of representative democracy. (“Robustly competitive marketplace” conditions apply to the UK, but not the US, where local monopolies reign.) Representative isegoria doesn’t require that everyone should have an equal chance to speak but that everyone should find someone to speak on their behalf who has a reasonable chance of having their voice heard. Election plays an important role here, but so does the media. The requirement is not that the media be “democratic” but that there should be a genuinely free and competitive media marketplace. “Putting your money where your mouth is” cuts both ways, in the sense that media proprietors are also incentivised to adopt the editorial line which will attract the most subscriptions, thereby allowing readers a better chance to have “their” voice heard (as the “clout” of newspapers with a large number of subscribers is greater than minority publications).

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  70. Roslyn,
    >What is your plan for when an independent polling company shows that when asked the average population wants something different than the panel outcome? Tell them all that they are idiots wallowing in ignorance? They just don’t know it?

    I could not agree more strongly. This is absolutely the elephant in the room.

    Even if every panel and every sampling came to the exact same conclusion people aren’t going to say, “aw shucks, I guess I was wrong… I’ll give up.” No. Without a constructive outlet dissatisfaction will build. People remember being wronged far better than almost anything else. Eventually everyone have reason to feel slighted. Such a system is probably not intrinsically stable. The most straightforward solution is to give people a direct, constructive outlet for dissatisfaction in the form of a referenda mechanism. Every person you persuade is another point in your column. Brooding dissatisfaction is replaced with incentive for public discourse. Deincentivising public discourse—as would be the case when the ballot box is eliminated or made unimportant—is probably not healthy. Something significant needs to hinge on a direct vote.

    Low turnout favors the extremes in elections. I don’t see why it would be different in a direct democracy. Voter fatigue is a real problem in some places already. Self-selection… makes me nervous. There’s a danger of introducing a systematic bias in favor of one group or another. People with lots of time on their hands are going to participate more often than the average person. Those who are angry are going to participate more often than those aren’t. I suppose the non-angry people will become angry and move to the extremes if votes consistently go against them, but that’s hardly a good thing. So I’d prefer to have referenda be an occasional thing—perhaps a few items per electoral cycle, on the electoral ballot, when people demand them—rather than a necessary part of the legislative process.

    Thank you for your posts. I sincerely hope to see more in the future.

    Keith,
    > But then I’m no democrat, I put my faith in the mixed constitution.

    I guess what I still struggle to understand is your faith in the judgment of individual executives, even over the wisdom of crowds on certain matters. An appointed executive… is not analogous to a monarch. Its character will reflect the nature of its appointment and dismissal mechanisms. Rather than being separate from the rest of the system, it will instead be representative of those in position to best utilize the appointment and dismissal mechanisms to their advantage, albeit with a significant measure of agency loss. Without precisely spelling out the appointment/dismissal mechanisms to an implausibly detailed degree it is not possible to make an educated guess as to the character of the office or offices in question. The power structure you’ve talked about is completely novel as far as I can tell. It’s probably not possible to know what would happen at this point. I’m just speculating publicly.

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  71. Naomi: >Even if every panel and every sampling came to the exact same conclusion people aren’t going to say, “aw shucks, I guess I was wrong… I’ll give up.”

    Even if it can be conclusively demonstrated by experiment that the outcome would be the same even if they participated themselves? People accept the outcome of preference elections even when the decision goes against them — the only difference here is a change in the balloting mechanism. Of course people could (and would) rightly object if the procedure failed the representativity test, but this is not the case in the scenario that you outline. I think there would need to be some minimal education in sampling and proportionality (not a difficult task, given public familiarity with opinion and exit polling), and decision making by stochastic sampling would also need to demonstrate some kind of benign track record from an epistemic point of view. These are the “percieved legitimacy” conditions that Jane Mansbridge specifies in the symposium on Fishkin’s last book and they strike me as both reasonable and achievable.

    >An appointed executive… is not analogous to a monarch. Its character will reflect the nature of its appointment and dismissal mechanisms.

    Yes that’s right. I’m not a political scientist, so it’s not for me to make detailed institutional proposals, but the general principle is that the tenure of executive positions is in the hands of the allotted legislature — i.e. executives could be dismissed as the result of the censure/impeachment process laid down by the constitution. In practice it would be advocates (including, importantly, the media) who initiate the censure motion and I think the challenge would be to set the voting threshold sufficiently high so that the guillotine would not be operating on a daily basis.

    >The power structure you’ve talked about is completely novel as far as I can tell.

    Surely this was the intention of the designers of the US Constitution, the problem being that the process was unintentionally politicised from the start. I would argue that this is an inevitable consequence of an elected (as opposed to an appointed) executive. But I agree with Eric Nelson that the American Revolution was a revolt against the tyranny of the elected legislature and that the role of the magistrate should not be a political one. If heredity is no longer acceptable as an appointments mechanism, then the obvious choice is appointment on merit.

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  72. Keith,
    >Even if it can be conclusively demonstrated by experiment that the outcome would be the same even if they participated themselves?

    Maybe. Which is more important: the actual will of the public or what the will of the public would be under an ideal deliberative processes? There’s no *objectively* right answer. Those who hold the majority position are not going to react well to being told they only have majority status because people are too ignorant to see any better. That’s the implication being made. There are absolutely, positively no consequences for being pissed off. Wallowing in anger is satisfying. Reevaluating one’s own positions is rather uncomfortable. So why would people—en masse—choose the rational but uncomfortable position? It’s more likely they’ll blame the system. Having a scapegoat who can be dismissed in a public vote might help. It would be a mediocre solution at best.

    >Surely this was the intention of the designers of the US Constitution, the problem being that the process was unintentionally politicised from the start.

    A supreme legislative body with no working memory is completely novel. Its hitherto unexplored limitations will define the behavior of the overall system. As best I can tell you want the legislative process to nominally hold the executive accountable and the executive to nominally hold the legislative process accountable. This should simplify into a transactional relationship rather than a hierarchical one. However, you don’t normally get a transactional relationship when one entity appoints and dismisses the other. I suppose the ad-hoc nature of the legislative process could conceivably make the appointment and lawmaking assemblies effectively distinct. Without working memory a proper transactional relationship will be difficult. The executive also seems to lack formal tools for enforcing some measure of order on the legislative process. Presumably some mechanism will develop out of necessity. So how would things work in practice? I have no idea.

    There’s danger inherent in making an institution dependant on a separate, nominally subordinate, institution. If the legislative process is too dependant on the executive it may find itself unable to move against an incompetent/dangerous executive even with a simple majority threshold for dismissal. In any case, a transactional relationship between the executive and legislative process would make the executive’s subjective values, beliefs, goals, etc., politically significant. If you wish for the executive to be apolitical you need to make its subjective values judgments irrelevant. The way to do that is to make the office unambiguously subordinate. Otherwise securing the office or offices for one’s political/ideological allies will be too advantageous for anyone to ignore.

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  73. Naomi:> Which is more important: the actual will of the public or what the will of the public would be under an ideal deliberative processes?

    The latter. Most people, if pressed, will acknowledge that they know very little about most political issues, and that’s why they’re prepared to leave decisions in the hands of elected politicians — even if the politicians they have chosen are not in power. This is surprising, given that we no longer live in a culture in which people are prepared to defer to the judgment of their social superiors. In the case of the deliberative minipublic, they are leaving the decision in the hands of people like themselves, the difference being that the allotted members will have benefited from having gained the balanced information and advocacy to make a well-informed decision. If it can be demonstrated a) that the decision is representative — that it makes no difference which empirical individuals are included in the sample — and b) that the epistemic outcomes are no worse than our current arrangements, then perceived legitimacy is easily achievable. If people need a scapegoat to rage against then this will be the unfortunate minister in charge of the offending department (even if departmental policy were not of her own making).

    >A supreme legislative body with no working memory is completely novel. Its hitherto unexplored limitations will define the behavior of the overall system.

    Yes, this is a much more serious problem (and is the reason that I don’t believe in “supreme” institutions). The lack of working memory (and accountability) of an ad hoc legislature means that we need to look elsewhere for a) continuity b) ensuring that the various ad hoc decisions do not conflict and c) that the laws passed do not contravene the laws of arithmetic (i.e. that fiscal equity is maintained). As a conservative, I’m disposed to take the precautionary principle and leave this in the hands of the professionals — at minimum they will look to their own interests (continuing employment, a comfortably superannuated retirement and respected historical legacy), so will seek to act (or to appear to act) in the public interest.

    So what’s the alternative — an elected executive? This is the current (formal) arrangement in the US and (de facto) in the UK. It is increasingly the case that politicians are elected on the basis of their “competence”. But very few of them have held down a proper job before, so they are judged largely on the basis of their rhetoric and appearance. And when they decide to do something which is clearly against the national interest (for example invading and destabilising Middle Eastern countries for ideological reasons) there is little that citizens can do to prevent this happening. I would like to think that if my institutional proposal were taken up, that a UK defence minister who decided to support the American invasion of Iraq would not have got away with it. If anything the problem with a professional executive will be the lack of firm and decisive action, rather than the domination of the legislature. Remember these guys are doing it as their day job, rather than following a messianic neoconservative calling, so will be naturally risk-averse.

    >This should simplify into a transactional relationship rather than a hierarchical one. However, you don’t normally get a transactional relationship when one entity appoints and dismisses the other.

    For “transactional” read “cybernetic”. The two institutions hold each other to account by way of feedback loops, rather than command and control structures. “You divide and I’ll choose” means that both parties are motivated towards an equitable outcome. If the executive makes a proposal that is not in the interests of the legislature then it will be rejected, so will be motivated to anticipate the wishes of the latter.

    >The executive also seems to lack formal tools for enforcing some measure of order on the legislative process.

    Yes indeed, and that’s the reason that I would vest formal (legal) responsibility for departmental outcomes with the relevant government officers. The only power they have would be to threaten resignation and this would have serious consequences, including the freezing of government expenditure, including the salaries of public employees (the fiscal cliff in US terminology) and the dissolution of the allotted parliament. Once again the control mechanism is cybernetic (“transactional”) rather than hierarchical.

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  74. @naomi – I agree with much of what you’ve said, especially with regard to ‘the working memory’ point.

    @terry – thanks for listening! Yes, I tried to take a more holistic view, as it were, of Athenian democracy (and present day ‘democracy’) that also took social factors, like wealth inequality, into consideration, i.e. it’s not just about the mechanism (referenda, for example), it’s also about the society you’re trying to use that mechanism in. I started a response a few days ago, but it got a bit lengthy for a comment, so I will (eventually) make a new post elaborating on this.

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  75. >So what’s the alternative

    The alternative is to leave the voting members in office long enough to where they can have a firm grip on everything that happens to be up in the air at any given moment so that they can make a reasonable decision on coordination proposals make by the advocates and the executives. The allotted parliament could sort things out internally without an external coordinating force.

    >The two institutions hold each other to account by way of feedback loops, rather than command and control structures… The only power they have would be to threaten resignation and this would have serious consequences

    Held to account… to whom? One institution can hold another to account. Two parallel institutions can’t. Each has some leverage over the other and each has things the other wants. All they can do is represent different positions and work out mutually acceptable compromises. If you find the positions pushed by one of the institutions more favorable the positions pushed by the other, you may find the overall arrangement agreeable. But that’s all about opinion and values and goals (as realized by the exact mode of appointment/dismissal), not accountability. Herein lies the rub: any tool that can be used to enforce some measure of order on the allotted parliament could just as easily be used to enforce an arbitrary values judgment. Leverage is leverage and what one person might consider a straightforward matter-of-fact another would see as a shameless political agenda. If the executive were limited in autonomy there’d be no problem. They would be held accountable to the allotted parliament. Their personal preferences would be irrelevant and politicization could conceivably be avoided. But instead ensuring that power is exercised in a favorable fashion will take priority over all other concerns in the minds of those involved in the appointment/dismissal process.

    I’m also not sure why the voting members would care if the executive resigned. They get dismissed anyway. Holding the government departments hostage is rather petty and it’s not entirely clear the threat will mean anything the allotted parliament. It’s a headache their successors can sort out. In any case, this would be a novel mechanism (meant to provide a novel legislative system with a—presumably—necessary backbone). It’s not analogous to the parliamentary confidence mechanism which exists (or at least persists) to enforce party discipline.

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  76. Naomi: >The alternative is to leave the voting members in office long enough to where they can have a firm grip on everything that happens to be up in the air at any given moment.

    That would require a very long term of service, bearing in mind that voting members are randomly-selected conscripts, most of whom would have no prior experience of public affairs. And the problem would be that this would require the legislature to “go native” — i.e. it would become a part of the administrative system, thereby losing its original claim to legitimacy. Successful constitutional design presupposes a degree of agonism between the different institutions and this would disappear if an all-powerful legislature went native (or, more accurately, the agonism would be between the legislature and the public, leading to the problem of perceived legitimacy that you raised yesterday).

    >One institution can hold another to account. Two parallel institutions can’t. Each has some leverage over the other and each has things the other wants. All they can do is represent different positions and work out mutually acceptable compromises.

    That’s how it would work in a cybernetic system, but not via verbal exchanges (the procedure of Burnheim’s demarchic committees) but by the executive anticipating the judgment of the legislature and adjusting its proposals in the light of anticipated outcomes. If they get it wrong then the proposal is thrown out and they have to come back with an acceptable one. This is how the executive is “limited in its autonomy” by an allotted legislature. This is similar to the agonism between the crown and parliament in the good old days — if the king wanted to get the funds to go off and beat up the French then he had to accede to the wishes of his subjects’ elected representatives. If he didn’t then parliament wouldn’t pass the budget.

    >I’m also not sure why the voting members would care if the executive resigned.

    Because they will then get the blame for driving the polis over the edge of the fiscal cliff — with all its attendant consequences for taxation and public spending (including public-sector salaries). So it’s not something that they would do lightly.

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  77. Naomi,

    Some interesting points… dealing with two of them…

    1. Regarding a situation where a mini-public made an informed decision, that a majority of the (less-informed) public strongly disagreed with, you suggested the need for an outlet, such as a referendum… you wrote: “Every person you persuade is another point in your column. Brooding dissatisfaction is replaced with incentive for public discourse. Deincentivising public discourse—as would be the case when the ballot box is eliminated or made unimportant—is probably not healthy. Something significant needs to hinge on a direct vote.”

    There DOES need to be an outlet… a means for an aggrieved (perhaps VERY well informed) individual to engage the political system for redress. I agree that this is crucial for the survival of a democratic system.

    The options that occur to me are
    a) petition for reconsideration by another minipublic
    b) campaign during a referendum
    c ) vote in a referendum
    d) organize or participate in demonstrations
    e) write a letter to the editor
    f) write a letter to the next mini-public that will revisit the issue

    B and c are the avenues you discuss, but are probably the least beneficial for society, since they promote having decisions made by the least well-informed. I suspect it is typical (people I ask all agree) if asked “Would you rather have citizens making a decision for all of society without much examination of the issue, or only after careful consideration and presentations by experts and opponents who favor and oppose a proposal?” the “referendum” option will always be rejected… UNLESS the question is asked immediately following an unpopular decision, when the respondent senses that his/her side in the general public is in the majority. The point being that the decision about whether to use a referendum process should be made well in advance BEFORE even the specific issue in contention is known.

    I would propose that aggrieved citizens should be instead encouraged to try to persuade average citizens who might be selected for the next minipulbic dealing with the issue (letters to the editor), or write letters and petitions to be delivered directly to the next minipublic. This encourages the use of deliberative persuasion, rather than the massing of bodies for demonstrations or referendums (a strategy derived from war preparation).

    In short, we want a system that encourages redress through the giving of reasons, rather than amassing brute numbers, which is most effectively done by appealing to irrational emotional triggers (in-group vs. out-group).

    Secondly, on the issue you and Keith are discussing about the executive… The analogy I am drawn to is the city manager system used in many municipalities in the U.S. (I don’t know if it is used anywhere else). The city council hires and fires the manager who carries out all of the executive functions (sometimes with a ceremonial mayor who cuts ribbons). I spent a lot of time combing through Google Scholar trying to find any political science papers that compare the effectiveness of elected mayors vs. city managers and came up with nothing. I don’t know why it isn’t a topic of interest to political scientists.

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  78. Terry,
    Perhaps people could write letters to be delivered to a voting member at random. The members would get thousands of letters a week and surely most would get thrown out without being opened. But every letter would reach the mailbox of someone with a vote. The letters would have to be a matter of public record to prevent their use as a vehicle for bribery. The process might need to resemble casting a ballot to prevent abuse of the system. You certainly wouldn’t want spammers to send a million letters.

    Let’s play with some numbers. How many emails can a person skim in an hour or two? Let’s say each member reads through 100 letters/email-style messages a day. If we have a 300 member sampling that would be a total of over ten million messages each year.

    Keith,
    >That would require a very long term of service

    Not necessarily. The allotted members will be novices but the people bringing forth proposals and the people arguing against those proposals will not be. Expertise would be nice, but we mostly just need good judgment and memory enough to weigh multiple conflicting proposals on each active policy area. I don’t know how long they’d need to remain in office. I’d be content with six months. That could be WILDLY off, for sure. Six months with continuous rotation would mean that the average member at any given moment would have three months experience. That’s three months of listening to policy debates full-time. If necessary we might have to go longer. I could live with a year. If it turns out a few years are needed… I’d have to backpedal and return to the Swiss-inspired bicameral model I used to favor.

    A longer-term sampling will diverge from the public more than a shorter-term sampling. Fair enough. There’s a need to strike a balance. I am perfectly willing to accept an initiative/referendum mechanism to make up the difference when there is public demand for such a thing. Of course, the executive will not exactly have any sort of democratic legitimacy either. If it has a hand in policy then we already have a divergence from the informed judgment of the people towards whatever the informed—but very much personal—judgment of the whomever the executive happens to be. And, again, we are very likely talking about politicized offices here.

    >Because they will then get the blame for driving the polis over the edge of the fiscal cliff

    Ah, but voting is secret. No one will be able to blame any particular member fairly without knowing how they voted. What’s more, the Republicans didn’t seem to suffer any electoral consequences from precipitating the big US government shutdown of 2013. They gained seats despite being held responsible by huge majorities in opinion polls. If the allotted members think a certain course of action is for the best… a year after the crisis almost no one will remember anyway and certainly no one will remember who happened to be in the particular sampling that was threatened by the executive or whether the executive was behaving rationally in attempting to force the issue.

    And what about non-financial matters?

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  79. Terry,

    I agree that appointed city managers are a good precedent for the kind of non-political executive that we both advocate. I guess all we differ on is the degree to which the executive should have the right of initiative. Clearly this would be necessary over minor housekeeping matters, but I would propose a much more significant role than that, relying on a cybernetic model of democracy — as in the Harrington proposal the executives (in this case) would divide but the allotted assembly would choose, and if they consistently chose to divide in a partisan way then they would be out of a job.

    I agree with Naomi’s argument about the torrent of letters and the danger of corruption and would only add the point that this would lead to policy making by busybody — as the silent majority (by definition) don’t write letters or get involved in other forms of campaigning. And what about the allotted bozo who gets a letter from Professor Sir Humphrey Expert FRCS, Prince Charles, Richard Branson or Bono explaining to him how he should vote? I imagine she will give these letters far more credence than one from a total unknown (like herself). Advocacy should always be delivered in a balanced and representative manner, the kind of voluntarism you propose will seriously damage that. This is one of the reasons that I argue it should be the advocates (bad counsellors) and the executives who should suffer the wrath of the disenfranchised and that we need to be equally, or more, concerned about the wrath of the uninformed. Epistemic governance is all well and good, but in a demotic age is unlikely to be well received.

    Naomi,

    I agree that we simply don’t know how long the allotted legislature would need to remain in office in order to offer a policy coordination role, but it would need to be long enough for its members to go native, thereby reducing their representativity. It’s one thing asking ordinary people to listen to balanced information/arguments on a single issue and then decide its outcome, but quite a different thing for them to have the necessary memory and understanding of governance to see how everything fits together. This requires some degree of professionalisation, thereby undermining the representativity of the group.

    >the informed—but very much personal—judgment of whomever the executive happens to be. And, again, we are very likely talking about politicized offices here.

    Once again, I can only repeat the (old) argument that the dividers will be motivated to make proposals that are amenable to the choosers. The judgment function is the prerogative of the latter who also hold all the best cards (they decide the outcome and can dismiss partisan proposers).

    >Ah, but voting is secret. No one will be able to blame any particular member fairly without knowing how they voted.

    Yes that’s true, I suppose I rest my faith in the collective motivation of a jury to deliver the right verdict. And the Tea Party example that you give doesn’t apply as this was the actions of a partisan group (and it resulted from an initiative in the legislature, not a resignation threat by government officers). The allotted sample isn’t partisan and will include a large number of people who will suffer directly from the consequences of bringing the government down.

    >And what about non-financial matters?

    The principle applies to any kind of legislative decision, it’s just that the consequences of the executive resigning would be primarily financial.

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  80. Naomi and Keith,
    The conflicting benefits of longer duration (institutional memory, context, policy knowledge) and short duration (more accurately representative…both by not having “gone native” and short duration means more types of citizens can serve because this will be without disastrous disruption to their other lives)… is the reason I advocate separate allotted bodies… so we can have our cake and eat it too, getting the benefits of both, while avoiding the downsides. Also a short duration jury that serves for perhaps a week, voting yes or no after pro and con presentations on a bill is less likely to make decisions that are way off the mark of what the general population would stomach (Naomi’s issue of repercussions from divergence).

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  81. Terry,

    It’s a long time since I read your JPD paper but I don’t remember one of your allotted bodies specifically allocated to the overall policy coordination function, and who has the difficult job of ensuring that the budget balances. If there is to be such an allotted body it would be an extremely powerful one, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly be viewed as legitimate by the vast majority of citizens who don’t serve on it. (It would be quite likely that such an all-powerful body would be dominated by Tea Party members who have a very particular view on how to balance budgets.) The merit of elected and appointed officials is that they are selected on the basis of (apparent) competence, can be held to account in various ways and can be removed quite easily — not so with randomly-selected persons.

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  82. Keith,
    I was actually experessing my support for the letter-writting concept, though evidently I did a poor job of it. The voting members can clearly handle a vast number of letters without too much trouble. It is true that some will have a louder voice than others. These are the same people with disproportionate influence on public opinion at present. As you’ve said before, people choose who they pay attention to. Control of the media is neither necessary nor desirable. Controlling who gets to speak before the sampling is a necessary ill, the result of assembly-time being a scarce resource and the large number of people who would speak if given the chance. If it is not necessary to control who can contact the members on an individual basis… then great. The people will have the ballot box to influence the advocates and the mailbox to influence the voting members.

    Divide and choose gets you policies somewhere between what the dividers want and what the choosers want. The question is whether the influence of the dividers will effect an even greater divergence from the wishes of the public than simply allowing the allotted members to linger in office for a few months. We will not know the extent to which the executive will become politicized or how well the various mechanisms will actually work until after we have committed ourselves to a certain path. Just as was the case with the American presidency. On the other hand, if the term length of the allotted members is not exactly optimal there is little problem. The issue can be addressed quite elegantly by allowing the members to vote to adjust their successors’ term length.

    Keep in mind the sampling will be statistically significant. It should not matter who is in it. It should diverge from the public will in a representative fashion and should represent how the whole citizen body would vote if it were to gain enough political experience to make these kinds of decisions. It’s not fundamentally any different from informing them on an issue before conducting the vote. We are *seeking* beneficial divergence from the public. As long as the allotted members only vote there should be little problem.

    Terry,
    I, like Keith, am concerned about coordination. I feel like there needs to be an entity in a position to both see what’s going on across all policy domains and to act across all domains as needed. If a week is good enough to make a reasonable judgement on a single matter than presumably a few months would be more than ample for a general-purpose voting sample. At least, given that the general-purpose sampling would simply judge which professional policy-writers/advocates make the most sense in in-chamber debate.

    Like

  83. Naom and Keith,

    Coordination is indeed a huge challenge under my scheme of many single issue and single function bodies. I did propose an Agenda Council with multi-year terms, which will deal with some aspects of coordination….. But also it is worth noting that even in nominally unified systems such as the UK, the law never settles into a steady state, but constantly needs adjusting as new conflicts between existing laws become apparent…and in the US contradictory laws are rampant. But just because the status quo hasn’t solved the coordination problem doesn’t mean we can side-step the issue in a new system. As for budgetary control… Just as in any legislature, there would still be an annual budget bill, that would go through the legislative process like any other bill. Presumably, any bill with new financial consequences in the middle of a budget cycle would have to contain the needed financing mechanism or await implementation until the next budget bill.

    As for letters to sitting members of a mini-public… my scheme has such letters going to the proposal review panels (who are cobbling together a final proposal to present to a jury), rather than to the final jury, which as Keith prefers, would have “balanced” pro/con presentations only. The letters would be randomly distributed to members…which encourages the writers to develop broad common-good arguments, rather than special interest arguments (which only work if you know who is reading the letter). I imagine some sort of scoring system would allow the readers of the letters to dismiss some, and elevate some to be read by more members the way some online comment systems work. If the number of letters is TOO vast, some random portion might be read by staff (as is normal in most national legislatures already), who will make sure the most cogent get forwarded. But staff would only deal with a portion so they could not filter to the point of censoring. (And the staff itself would be monitored by a separate allotted body with power to remove staff deemed to be biased.)

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  84. Roslyn, Naomi and Terry,

    I think we all agree that there are two serious extant problems: 1) having someone to blame when things go wrong and/or don’t go your way and 2) policy coordination and budgetary constraints. To my mind the only way to address these two concerns is via a mixed constitution. Dealing with these two issues in turn:

    1. The buck stops here
    =================
    The classical authors (especially the playwrights) are clear that allotted bodies enjoy the prerogative of the harlot (power without responsibility) — and this is particularly the case for a silent jury that votes in secret. Although we all agree that the decisions of the jury would represent what everyone would think under good conditions there are still practical and psychological reasons for the need to attribute the blame to named individuals. In the Athenian case the buck stopped with the advisors, generals and semi-professional politicians — if they gave bad advice or if events went against the decision of the assembly/nomothetai then they would be subject to some pretty draconian sanctions. Clearly we need a modern analogue, hence my case for elected advisors (who would not to be re-elected if they gave bad advice) and appointed executives (who would be sacked if their departments failed to deliver good outcomes). What alternatives do you propose?

    2. Coordination and budgetary constraints
    ================================
    Large modern states are complex entities and all departments of state overlap, so I’m glad to hear Terry’s acknowledgment that there would be difficulties coordinating the output of the huge number of committees that he proposes. John Burnheim has acknowledged that his demarchic committees are a form of anarchism, and there are very few political scientists who take anarchism seriously. Legislation and governance in general is mostly to do with taxing and spending, so every legislative proposal has fiscal consequences, so an annual budget will not suffice. To my (conservative) mindset this would suggest a strong semi-permanent administration, with ultimate power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary/Chancellor. I’m aware that there is a risk of government ministers taking an ideological position but, given that their continuing tenure would be in the hands of the representative allotted legislature, I believe this constraint will be sufficient to keep their behaviour in line with the considered will of the majority of citizens.

    All this is messy and suboptimal in comparison with utopian proposals for pure democracy, but I would agree with Rousseau that such a system of governance is more suited to a race of gods, rather than the crooked timbers of mankind.

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  85. Roslyn,
    I feel I should apologise for the direction this thread has taken. This is your post, and it would be much more appropriate to use this thread to discuss it. We do like to go off on tangents.

    Keith,
    >Clearly we need a modern analogue, hence my case for elected advisors (who would not to be re-elected if they gave bad advice) and appointed executives (who would be sacked if their departments failed to deliver good outcomes). What alternatives do you propose?

    I’d propose elected advocates and appointed executives. The problem is if the advocates and the executives can introduce conflicting proposals in parallel (as I would most certainly favor) it is not clear how the executives can effect coordination without another tool and any tool can then be used for purposes beyond coordination.

    What is the usefulness of blame in a political context?

    Fear of blame can motivate an agent to behave so as to minimize the consequences when punishment is handed down. A net gain to the principals—at least in terms of policy quality—is had if and only if the agent to blame has a SUFFICIENTLY greater capacity to act in the delegated capacity than the principals themselves so as to make up for the inherent delegation costs (agency losses). The costs are minimized by maximizing the efficiency with which blame can be assigned. This is not at all the case with the sampling itself. It should not be wielding delegated powers, in principle. It’s the embodiment of the principals. It represents what they would think given proper deliberation. Blame and accountability have little meaning with respect to the principal holders of authority themselves. They can act wisely or foolishly. It’s their prerogative. If they do not trust themselves to act well enough they can hire help. It’s exactly what we do in our own lives. If we don’t trust ourselves to do our own taxes or plan for our own retirements we hire someone to help. If we don’t think we can manage moving to a new home on our own we hire a moving company to do it for us. It’s the same here. The sampling can’t manage the finer details of policy, so it will delegate as it deems appropriate. One could attempt to turn things around so that the buck doesn’t actually stop anywhere in particular (just goes around in a circle). At this point it ceases to be about accountability and becomes about effecting a shift in policy from the sampling’s ideal position to a median position between the ideal positions favored by the sampling and the executives. Or, rather, between the sampling and those who happen to be in the best position to take advantage of the executive appointment process. That’s the all-important bit that’s left unsaid.

    Perhaps there is a systematic problem with the way in which the sampling would come to decisions on certain matters. I don’t believe this would be the case, but sure, it’s possible. Not established but possible. Very well. The executives are still very much held accountable to the sampling. They will deviate from the wishes of the sampling only to the extent to which the dismissal mechanism permits. The nature of this wiggle room is such that simple consistency is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Some executives will push things in a direction you would favor. Others will do their best to push them the other way. The bad aspects of both stochation and appointment will present but reduced, the good of both will be present but reduced. Making the case that there will be a net gain is FAR from trivial. You would need to establish an appointment process that would result in appointees with some measure of *wisdom* above and beyond what could prevail when argued well in a representative body built around the wisdom of crowds. Forget sortition/stochation. THIS is the hard part of the whole process. And it’s entirely unnecessary. If all you want is a balanced budget… just have a clause in a codified constitution and be done with it. In the end you would be resting on legalistic mechanisms either way. There is absolutely no need to conflate administration and oversight. At least with judicial review or some other separate oversight apparatus the quality of the decision making process in the sampling will not be contaminated. For the wisdom of crowds to truly shine we need diverse inputs to prevent the judgement of the proposers from being a bottleneck. We need the members of the sampling to have sufficient working memory to be able to weight multiple competing solutions to the same problem regardless of whether the problem is external (and limited to a single policy domain) or whether it is the result of other policies that clash with each other. This way they can pursue the most rigorously defensible path.

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  86. Naomi:> I’d propose elected advocates and appointed executives. The problem is if the advocates and the executives can introduce conflicting proposals in parallel (as I would most certainly favor) it is not clear how the executives can effect coordination without another tool and any tool can then be used for purposes beyond coordination.

    The only tool that they would have is the threat of resignation (leading to everyone falling off the fiscal cliff). I agree that it could be used in a partisan way, but cannot honestly think of a better alternative. The proposals that we are all advocating are pretty radical, hence the need for the conservative influence of the men from the ministry. But the final choice is still in the hands of the allotted legislature, who may well decide to call their bluff and risk the sky falling in. Remember that my proposal is both agonistic and cybernetic — the system will trend towards a stable state on account of the balance between the competing “estates”, none of which has absolute power. I’m proposing a mixed constitution, not a democratic system of governance.

    >What is the usefulness of blame in a political context?

    My concern is the psychological well-being of the vast majority of citizens disenfranchised by the stochation process, and the resultant problems for social order. They cannot blame the jury, for all the reasons the classical playwrights offer, the blame has to be addressed at concrete persons — i.e. the bad counsellors and the incompetent/venal mandarins.

    >If all you want is a balanced budget… just have a clause in a codified constitution and be done with it. In the end you would be resting on legalistic mechanisms either way.

    Yes indeed, but someone needs to do the sums, point out the inconsistencies and offer up alternatives for the legislature to consider (raise taxes, cut spending etc.). The sort of executive agency that I am proposing is not that removed from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (and its civil society shadow, the Institute for Fiscal Studies). These are permanent and highly professional organisations, a necessary counterbalance to the ad hoc juries and snake-oil salesmen (advocates).

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  87. I think Naomi’s question: “What is the usefulness of blame in a political context?” is important. Blame, or accountability are crucial in oligarchy (including electoral democracy) because there is a disconnect between the rulers and the demos. This need is so self-evident and omni-present today that it is hard to imagine a system where this need evaporated.

    A stochation democracy could experience constant adjustment, but I can see how unfortunate decisions (even if well-made, but not anticipating unexpected future circumstances) would be viewed by the general population like bad weather. Yes it can be complained about…but there is nobody to BLAME about the poor weather (well… until recent times with climate change concerns). Faced with flooding, focus on mitigation of runoff, etc. Rather than assuring the existence of a political scapegoat, such a system would be future-oriented…focusing public attention on how to remedy problems, rather than punishing past juries.

    I think the Athenians went overboard with punishments, and that element does not need to be replicated.

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  88. Terry,

    As a liberal mugged by reality (aka conservative) I think you are indulging in wishful thinking. Even if you are right the prudential position would be to hope for the best but plan for the worst. At the root of our disagreement is how we perceive the relationship between human agents and social structures — you appear to believe that the agonism is a product of institutional features, whereas I would argue that agonistic structures are simply designed to civilise and constrain qualities that are part of (biological) human nature.

    >I think the Athenians went overboard with punishments, and that element does not need to be replicated.

    Hansen’s primary criticism of Aquinas’s introduction of the Greek world to modernity is that he omitted to mention the element of punishment, so that modern politicians can mess up and then just walk away into the sunset, leaving everyone else to clear up the mess. I think he’s absolutely right.

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  89. >I think you are indulging in wishful thinking.

    Who exactly is blamed by the masses when a referendum goes the wrong way? Mass discomfort seems to be the actual result. Not blame.

    If you are right, and most people accept the actions of a statical sampling of the people as equivalent to the whole population acting then blaming the sampling for ANYTHING it does (including voting to precipitate a financial crisis) is nonsensical. People would blame the whole population. Or, more likely, they would simply feel uncomfortable about the whole matter.

    Population conflict should be represented well. Indeed it MUST be represented in such a way that population tensions can be internalized within the system and mitigated through institutional action. Interinstitutional conflict is an entirely different matter from population conflict and absolutely is the result of institutional details. There’s enough population conflict to where the advocates will surely be diverse enough to properly scrutinize proposals without the need to conjure up even more.

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  90. Naomi: >Who exactly is blamed by the masses when a referendum goes the wrong way?

    Assuming that you are referring to suboptimal epistemic outcomes, it would be the elite whose arguments won the plebiscite. That’s why Pericles had to remind the demos that although he advised going to war, they voted for it. There will always be a key role for political leaders and they will expect both the golden crowns and the brickbats. Can you provide a single example of this not being the case? If not, then you are signing up to a utopian project.

    >Interinstitutional conflict is an entirely different matter from population conflict and absolutely is the result of institutional details.

    And it’s absolutely necessary for the preservation of freedom. See, for example, John McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy (the author is a fan of sortition and a long way to the left of old crustaceans like me). Inter-institutional agonism doesn’t create conflict, it simply channels it in a more civilised way. Seeking to get rid of it just leads to the killing fields.

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  91. Yes there is a risk that without a scapegoat to blame, a decision that turns out to be bad (even if both the majority of the mini-public AND a majority of the ill-informed general population would have voted the same way) COULD end up being used by a would-be strongman ruler as an indictment of the sortition regime, leading to an overthrow. Like the high priest who arranges to throw a virgin into the volcano to appease the gods for a bad harvest (to deflect blame against the high priest’s leadership), elected advocates could play the role of virgins…but with one big difference…as advocates they can come to dominate the society, by control of the AGENDA, replicating many of the defects of our current electoral scheme. It is possible that power-hungry ego-maniacs MIGHT not fill the ranks of these elected advocates the way they do in current electoral systems…but that is a serious risk.

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  92. >Seeking to get rid of it just leads to the killing fields.

    You mean like the UK’s killing fields? You guys have great gobs of representative intrainstitutional conflict but very little interinstitutional conflict. Heck, Switzerland has a diverse population, a full-blown consensus political system, and no judicial review. Japan has a quasi dominant-party parliamentary system with judicial review in theory only. All three must be wastelands.

    Attempting to suppress population conflict is dangerous and foolish. Not cultivating interinstitutional conflict can run the risk of insufficient review. To some extent interinstitutional conflict reflects population conflict by simple necessity. If the officers are from a given country, presumably they will hold views that are also held by a non-negligible portion of the population. But interinstitutional conflict absolutely builds upon population conflict by leaps and bounds. Remember that the actors in any political system do not flawlessly represent their principals. They represent themselves to the extent that agency loss allows. To give some examples… intraparty conflict is a huge issue that is only suppressed when both tools and motivation exist to manage it. Presidents are often at odds with their own parties despite being elected by the same voters for (ostensibly) similar reasons. It’s also sometimes the case that parties closely aligned in ideological space will refuse to go into coalition with each other due to interpersonal conflict between the parties’ leadership.

    You’ve gone to great lengths to ensure the representativity of the allotted parliament. Great. That’s necessary. Population conflict must be represented fairly within the system to manage tensions. But if the allotted parliament is just one cog in the policymaking machine… what was the point? From where do the non-representative elements of the policymaking process derive their legitimacy? If another cog ends up being a tool for one faction in particular any claim the system might have had to fairness (a prerequisite in managing disputes) is gone. The idea of making the WHOLE balance-of-powers political process representative—especially one constructed de novo as you have proposed—strains credulity. Giving random minorities disproportionate power by simple coincidence (person preferences of the office holders) or giving your preferred minorities permanent disproportionate power (as would be the case if you make a subtle mistake in the appointment/dismissal process) is exactly the sort of thing which would result in mass dissatisfaction and political delegitimization.

    As you know I favor an agonistic advocacy process which leverages population conflict in representative fashion along with a weak(ish) judicial review process. That’s perfectly ample. There’s nothing to be gained by encouraging conflict between those who make the law and those who make the details of the law. If you’d like to give greater voice to conflicts within the population or you simply want to limit the size of government you’d be best off using a supermajority threshold for ordinary lawmaking. At least with a proper elevated threshold in the allotted parliament itself the outcomes would consistently be representative, rather than resting on the non-representative (and to some degree random) personal preferences of individual officers.

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  93. Naomi:> from where do the non-representative elements gain their legitimacy?

    Because they were appointed on merit and their tenure is at the mercy of the allotted assembly. As I’ve said repeatedly I favour mixed government, not democracy, and each estate has its own legitimizing principle: election for the advocates and stochation for the legislature. As the three principles are different, interinstitutional conflict is both inevitable and desirable.

    Liked by 1 person

  94. Terry,

    I’m afraid that I just don’t view all elected politicians as power-hungry egomaniacs. I believe that most of them are just trying to serve the public, under difficult conditions.

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  95. […] topic came up recently. Here is the most thorough discussion of this matter in the primary sources that I am aware of. […]

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  96. > a clear idea of how a system of pure sortition might come into existence, to wit, a referendum which abolishes either a pre-existing Assembly or electoral system to do so.

    Has no one proposed a sortition political party (consisting of electoral candidates who would vote as directed by randomly selected committee from their constituency) ?

    Seems like a feasible avenue of transition …

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  97. Yes, Martin Wilding Davies set up such a party (I was a member) for the Welsh Assembly election a few years ago. The party was called Newid and you should find some posts on it on this blog.

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  98. Reblogged this on Fila Sophia and commented:
    Roslyn Fuller, author of “Beasts and Gods: How democracy changed its meaning and lost its purpose,”: sortition was central to Athenian democracy

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