Lasserre: Sortition in politics – the false good idea, part 1

André Sauzeau referred me to a polemic against sortition by Tommy Lasserre. This text is the most elaborate argument against sortition ever written (as far as I am aware) and it is therefore of significant interest to sortition advocates. In view of that, and despite my essentially non-existent French I have undertaken to translate it from the original French to English. The first part of the outcome is below. If your French is better than mine I’d be happy with any corrections.

Sortition in politics – the false good idea

By Tommy Lasserre, September 2014

Immersed in scandals, disconnected from the realities of the majority in society, demonstrating every day their total submission to finance and the dogmas of liberalism, and therefore their complete incapacity to pull us out of the crisis, the political caste today is largely discredited, in France as in the rest of Europe. This is expressed well in record low turnouts and in the rise of false alternatives, but equally, fortunately,, reflection, shared by increasingly significant number of citizens, about the ways to change politics. Suggestions for changing the Republic through a constitutional process, proposals for giving citizens greater control over our elected officials, in particular opening the way for recallability, garner, therefore, significant response on the Web.

Among all the ideas that emerged in the blogosphere or on the social networks, one idea, that could appear absurd keeps appearing frequently: putting the reins of power in the hands of an allotted assembly. It is often mentioned in conversations on Facebook, or in argument between bloggers, the controversial intellectual Étienne Chouard has made it his battle cry and the political party Nouvelle Donne (“New Deal”) even made an argument for this idea during the European elections.

The advocates of allotment in politics start from the observation that the existing system of representative democracy amounts in reality to the seizure of power by a tiny caste of politicians, sharing the same interests, and completely cut off from their electorate. On this they can hardly be refuted. However, agreeing with this observation does not imply that sortition would solve the existing problems. On the contrary, we are entitled to think that implementing this idea would make things worse, and we will counter here this archetype of the false good idea by using arguments, not curses or caricatures.

Of course, it would be easy to utilise the profile of the most well-known advocate for this proposal, Étienne Chouard, a defender of Alain Soral (from whom he “learned so much about Zionism”), of Holocaust denier Paul-Eric Blanrue (a “courageous” man), of Iran’s friend Thierry Meyssan (a “pacifist” and “anti-imperialist”), and even of Jacques Cheminade (“a first rate dissenter”) to try to discredit the idea. This would however show little respect for sincere advocates of the idea, who do not require a person such as Chouard to think in their place and could do well without a “champion” so heavily encumbered.

Similarly, to do justice to the proponents of sortition, we remember that they do not plan to use the method to select a single person, but an assembly with the view that it would represent the social diversity of the country.

During heated discussions of this subject, the proposal that was offered by an advocate of this mechanism of selection was of an assembly of 2,000 people having executive power rotated yearly. It is this proposal that we address.

In order to avoid reasoning by absurdities we are not discussing the situation where against all likelihood 2,000 neo-Nazis are drawn to sit at the assembly. While this remains a possibility (it would be admittedly very bad luck), weighting schemes exist that would result in true representation of the structure of society. But primarily it should not be a matter of avoiding the general case by considering the exception. If we oppose this idea it is not because of this issue but because we consider the system entirely bad.

Having made those clarifications, we will try to settle accounts definitively with the idea of sortition in politics before sketching some directions for truly desirable democratic alternatives.

Sortition is not in essence democratic

Referring to the etymology of the word, democracy is simply the political regime where the people are sovereign. However, it is difficult to give a precise definition of democracy since the concept of the sovereignty of the people could be open to different interpretations at different times and places. In France, the notion of the sovereignty of the people materialized with the revolution and finds its origins in the writings of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Rousseau gives the following radical definition in his book The Social Contract:

Sovereignty cannot be represented for the same reason it cannot be alienated; it consists essentially of the general will, and the general will is representable.

For Rousseau democracy cannot be, therefore, a system based on representation. This distinction between democracy and representation was notably reprised in 1789 by the Abbé Sieyès [one of the prominent theorists of the French revolution, -YG] who rejected Rousseau’s democratic model in favor of a system where the people elect their representatives who legislate in their place. Subsequently, through a curious fusion of concepts, this system of representation was wrongly named “representative democracy”, even though it is described by some as aristocratic or oligarchic, due to the fact that sovereignty is in reality exercised by those designated as “the best” by the electors, whose sole power is to elect these representatives. The model advocated by Rousseau was called “direct democracy” which is redundant. However, since this two terms are commonly accepted today, we will use them below.

But, in all this, what about the appointment of an assembly by lot? Is it a system that approaches Rousseau’s direct democracy? Certainly not. It too is based on a form of representation, unrelated to the electoral procedure, but one well known to pollsters, the one of statistical sampling. Therefore, claiming that a system based on allotment is democratic, so long as we know the meaning of democracy, is making a fundamental error: the one of confounding the whole and the sample. It may seem obvious, but a part of the people, even if it is representative of the diversity of the whole, is not the people. Also, without passing a judgment value, it can be said that appointment by sortition is not democratic.This is why the philosopher Roger de Sizif, a supporter of the system, invented the term stochocracy (from the Greek “kratein”, govern, and “stokhastikos”, random). We could go farther and state that if representative democracy does not correspond to Rousseau’s ideal of direct democracy, it at least has the merit of allowing the citizens to select the ones who exercise power in their name, keeping a small part of the sovereignty, then stochocracy deprives them of any possibility of taking part in decision making, even indirectly.

While it is certainly true that stochocratie was partially introduced into the Athenian democracy, notably through the reforms of Cleisthenes at the end of the 6th century B.C. This example is often cited by sortition advocates as evidence that sortition is democratic. This overlooks the fact that the use of sortition was in fact extremely limited, and was analogous to the transfer of power to the archons or the generals (elected), while the allotted were subjected to an examination of morality and competence, the entire pool of allotment candidates was made of those who put themselves up as candidates and met specific criteria. This is above all an idealization of the Athenian democracy, overlooking 2,500 years which separate us, and the difficulty of using as a model a political system that was constructed in a context that was radically different than ours (that apart from any debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the system).

Similarly, defending the democratic character of sortition using a quote from Montesquieu is puzzling. It seems unconvincing to base an argument on a theoretical categorization made in an epoch when words did not have the same meaning they have today, and which was not submitted to the test of reality, as well as to use the prestige of an author solely as an argument from authority. At the risk of shocking some, just because Montesquieu said something does not mean it is necessarily true…

For our part, we believe that the non-democratic nature of sortition is well established. But fundamentally this is not necessarily our concern. In fact, the principal debate is concerning changes that could have advantages for the political life of the country, from the most concrete point of view, whether regarding popular participation in political processes, reduction in corruption and clientelism, or the promotion of the general interest. But here again, as regarding the popular sovereignty, it seems that adopting a stochocratic system is capable of producing only setbacks.

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48 Responses

  1. >This is why the philosopher Roger de Sizif, a supporter of the system, invented the term stochocracy (from the Greek “kratein”, govern, and “stokhastikos”, random)

    Yoram, is stochocracy your translation, or is it de Sizif’s term? Can anyone (Andre?) tell us anything about his work?

    >Similarly, defending the democratic character of sortition using a quote from Montesquieu is puzzling. It seems unconvincing to base an argument on a theoretical categorization made in an epoch when words did not have the same meaning they have today, and which was not submitted to the test of reality, as well as to use the prestige of an author solely as an argument from authority[?]. At the risk of shocking some, just because Montesquieu said something does not mean it is necessarily true…

    Hear hear

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  2. Lasserre attributes the term “stochocratie” to de Sizif. It turns out de Sizif has a book by that name.

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  3. It’s funny that he makes a point of dismissing Montesquieu’s connection of democracy with sortition (saying it doesn’t make it true), yet he accepts on faith Rousseau’s assertion that democracy cannot be representative…even though the inventors and users of democracy who coined the term (the Ancient Greeks) used exclusively representative methods (not only the courts, council, nomothetai and magistrates, but even the assembly was a small fraction of the full citizenry, and served as a representative of the full demos).

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  4. Terry,

    I agree. In this and in other ways this part of Lasserre’s case is oddly self-contradictory. For example, at the end of this section he says that whether sortition is “democratic” (according to his definition) is not his main concern. Why then does he spend so much effort making this argument? Why does he give it first billing in his polemic?.

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  5. I am also troubled here – as elsewhere – by picking one proposal for the use of sortition and, through critique of that individual proposal, critiquing the entire idea of sortition. It is like saying that because winner-take-all majoritarianism in the US generates a polarized political culture, that all voting creates dysfunctional democracies. What would happen if we asked, instead, “What is the best role of sortition in democratic systems?” and included such innovations (just for example) as Canada’s Citizen Assemblies and Oregon’s Citizen Initiative Reviews in which the findings and recommendations of a randomly selected body are submitted for consideration to the whole electorate, thus combining the collective intelligence potential of a small deliberative (but demographically representative) body with the assumed popular sovereignty (despite limited voter turnouts) of the franchise? This kind of discourse seems to me far more useful for building visions of better democracy. (I reiterate that the CA and CIR are offered here only as examples for reflection, not as THE proper focus of discussion. Sortition has dozens, if not hundreds, of possible uses and forms.)

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  6. About « Montesquieu as authority ».
    *** Montesquieu, in « The Spirit of the Laws », book 1, chapter 2, studied the use of sortition in democracies, with especially reference to Athens. We may regret some confusion between the use of lot for « magistracies » and for big juries, and no awareness of the 4th century reforms. But given these flaws (the learned intellectuals of this time were more knowledgeable about the Roman facts than about the Greek ones), it was a serious scholarly study, corresponding to the intellectual standing of the author. Montesquieu noted the link between democracy and sortition; nothing strange, this link was noted by Herodotus, by « Theseus », by Aristotle. He saw and wrote that the political use of lot could be a useful device for a democracy.
    *** Rousseau considered likewise seriously the use of lot in politics. But, not much later, sortition began coming out of the « serious thought », and during two centuries it was considered as absurd; a self-evident absurdity which did not need even a demonstration. In 1928 the highly esteemed French historian Gustave Glotz could express this view by writing « Appointing rulers by lot seems so absurd to us today that we find it difficult to imagine how an intelligent people managed to conceive of and sustain such a system »
    (Glotz, La Cité antique, 1928, part. 2, chap. V, section I).
    *** But the same intellectuals could see, in much known books, that Montesquieu and Rousseau did not have the same idea. Well, Rousseau was a genius, but a mad one…. But Montesquieu ? The most current attitude was to ignore what he wrote about sortition. The « self-evident absurdity of lot » was protected by systematic blindness to a text which was in every learned library – a very strange and disturbing intellectual phenomenon.
    *** The old view about « the absurdity of lot » is not dead. You can find it easily, in blunt statements or in slanted expressions – see Lasserre « one idea that could appear absurd keeps appearing ». Therefore it is logical for « kleroterians » to say: « absurd? we are lunatics ? … and Montesquieu too ? »
    *** This is not taking Montesquieu as « authority », it is taking Montesquieu as argument against the « impersonal authority » of the supposed self-evident absurdity of sortition.

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  7. Andre,

    Yes – very good point, I think.

    The same can be said about the position of Aristotle – which reflects, it appears, convention in antiquity – and about the Athenian democratic ideology as expressed in their politics. These are at the very least irrefutable evidence that the appearance of obviousness of modern electoralist ideology is wholly attributable to indoctrination. Anyone who, in the face of this evidence, refuses to carefully and skeptically examine modern ideology is a dogmatist.

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  8. Andre,

    >Rousseau was a genius, but a mad one

    That’s a little unfair — he was impractical, pessimistic and paranoid, but certainly not mad. The central question of the Social Contract — how is it possible for us all to live together and at the same time be free — remains to be answered (at least with respect to large and complex modern states). Rousseau argued that it is by uncovering/discovering the general will and realising that it was also your own will. Although he accepted that this could be determined by a majority vote, he nevertheless insisted that all citizens should participate in the formation of the general will on all matters deemed worthy of law-making. But he acknowledged that this was impossible in large modern states, but I think that this is possible by stochation — but only if everyone can understand that their own presence of absence makes no difference to the determination/uncovering of the general will. And that presupposes consistency between different samples and, if necessary, statistical measures to ensure that the margin of error is such that it makes no difference to the outcome. My hunch is that this will require the adoption of Rousseau’s recommended deliberative style (keep schtum and then vote).

    Yoram,

    >the appearance of obviousness of modern electoralist ideology is wholly attributable to indoctrination.

    That’s quite some conspiracy theory, especially given the information technology challenges at the time (especially in America). Who was the Grand Indoctrinator and why do you think Manin did not even consider that possibility in his book? I disagree with Manin’s explanation (the growing interest in Natural Right theory)**, but sought to persuade him in my paper at the Paris workshop on this topic that there were a variety of factors that extended well beyond the self-interest of the political class. But I guess if your political philosophy is entirely focused on the (competing) interests of the elite and the masses then any other explanation has to be ruled out a priori. Exactly why this means everyone else is a “dogmatist” escapes me.

    ** People believed in natural right theory because they thought it was true, not on account of indoctrination or false consciousness. It was at the core of Thomas Rainsborough’s agument at the Putney Debates that “the smallest He that is in this kingdom hath a life to live as the greatest He”. So who was to blame for “indoctrinating” the Levellers?

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  9. My compliments (a bit late) for Yorams translation! Only one very minor correction, in the first paragraph I understand Lasserre noticed that ‘a more important number of citizens shares reflections on the system’, and not ‘more important citizens’.
    As to the content, I feel Lasserre raised some interesting but not very new questions. However, his own alternative (not in the text above but in his complete article) looks to me like a return to the old ideal of the Paris Commune, Marx and Lenin (in State and revolution): revolutionary councils electing and recalling delegates with binding mandates. It has been tried in 1871 and 1917 and a little in 1968 but did not seem to work very well.
    My ideal would still be a combination of sortition – not only for legislatures but also other bodies, as John Burnheim advocated – and direct (referendum) democracy to correct (possibly) outrageous decisions of the allotted bodies.

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  10. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the proofreading and the correction (which I now incorporated into the text).

    Yes – I agree that Lasserre’s proposals (in the second half which I hope to finish translating soon) are old and unconvincing. Naturally I am also unconvinced by his critique of sortition, but I still find it quite interesting and useful.

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  11. *** To Keith: when I said, “Well, Rousseau was a genius, but a mad one….”, it was not personal assessment, but indirect speech; maybe I should have put commas. I described how commentators could avoid considering Rousseau’s reference to sortition.
    *** About the factors of the strange slip of sortition into the status of self-evident absurdity. An ideological “indoctrination” (I don’t like the word, but it seems established in English) following the political interests of some influent social groups, as thinks Yoram ? This is a reasonable theory, we don’t need to suppose a “conspiracy” – ideological biases can appear and act without “conspiracies”. Since the Atlantic revolutions of the late 18th century, the Western political life was dominated by two kinds of groups, activist minorities and bourgeois elites, which disliked sortition for different reasons. Keith says that actually there were a variety of factors of different kinds. But this is not totally contradictory. I think that pure ideological creations ex nihilo are not so usual. More often themes are taken from the mental landscape as it evolves, and hardened into ideologemes. For instance the encounter between white-skinned Westerners and dark-skinned Africans with strongly different ways of thought and behavior could easily induce propensities to “racialize” the differences; but converting that in hard racist ideologies was a specific endeavor, corresponding to specific “necessities” (the first one was defending a slavery institution which was losing its non-racial roots of legitimacy). I think personally that the Enlightenment dream of rational control of nature and society, becoming a strong element of the Western intellectual landscape, could induce fear and contempt of any kind of randomness. That factor, and others, could act to create a spontaneous bias against sortition. But probably the socio-political factors were necessary to convert this bias into an ideologeme of an exceptional efficiency.

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  12. The idea that ideas reproduce based on inherent fitness in an objective landscape of rationality is a counter-example to itself. This idea is flatly controverted by the evidence (historically ideas come and go), and yet it maintains its popularity.

    It is obvious that an overwhelming factor in the ability of ideas to reproduce is their usefulness to those with power. Of course, the relationship is not a simple one since the popularity of certain ideas is part of what makes a certain set of people powerful, so in fact the landscape is one of metastability involving both material and mental coordinates.

    Sortitionist advocacy aims to shift the mental coordinates with the expectation that this will push the state of society into a different metastablity basin which in turn will result in a shift in the material coordinates.

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  13. Andre:

    >Since the Atlantic revolutions of the late 18th century, the Western political life was dominated by two kinds of groups, activist minorities and bourgeois elites, which disliked sortition for different reasons.

    Manin argues that the triumph of election was on account of Natural Right theory (which long antedated the Atlantic revolutions). Was it this ideology that became the focus of indoctrination? Indoctrination normally focuses on attacking some form of existing consciousness, but hardly anyone was aware of sortition at the time — it just wasn’t even considered as an alternative to monarchical and oligarchical rule. In my paper I offer a number of alternative causes for the triumph of election, including institutional path-dependency, geography, technology, republicanism, class interests, religion and meritocracy. To attribute it to a single cause (indoctrination by sinister interests) strikes me as dogmatic.

    Yoram:

    >Sortitionist advocacy aims to shift the mental coordinates with the expectation that this will push the state of society into a different metastablity basin which in turn will result in a shift in the material coordinates.

    That sounds like an ambitious project. I would prefer simply to perform ad hoc experiments (ideally on referendum replacements) and see what pans out.

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  14. […] is the second and final part of a translation of an article by Tommy Lasserre. The first part is here. Again, proofreading and corrections of the translation are […]

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  15. About the three ages of sortition.
    *** Keith Sutherland says that sortition was never in proto-modern West «considered as an alternative to monarchical and oligarchical rule ». Right, nobody proposed a democracy-through-minipublics, but there were utopian dreams of modern dêmokratia, and such model was more or less linked with some content of sortition. The strange fact was that during the Atlantic Revolutions « democracy » might become an element of revolutionary myth whereas losing sortition. An instance: Robespierre. He was a Jacobin leader, with an idea of a provisional quasi-totalitarian state (« revolutionary government ») until the victory. But after the victory, for the age to come of « constitutional government »? His model was a representative democracy (of which he was I think one of the first explicit supporters). No idea of sortition, even after the victory, even in small doses. That needs explanation.
    *** There were many causes which worked against the idea of political lot with the beginning of modernity and it is uneasy to write the « formula » with the respective weights. But I doubt we can explain such a drastic phenomenon as the slipping of sortition into absurdity without considering the political leanings of the dominating political minorities.
    *** Since the end of 18th century the Western political life was dominated by two kinds of groups, bourgeois political elites and activist minorities, and each one was the result of a selection. « Distillation » in representative bourgeois systems, with the « principle of distinction ». Another kind of selection for activist minorities. Both groups tend towards antipathy for sortition, because it is the perfect opposite of selection. Note that sortition can be used in a dêmokratia, but it can be used likewise in some aristocratic commonwealths, where the nobility does not feel « selected », but considers itself a natural elite, with membership by birthright, as citizens in democracy.
    *** I think we must distinguish three phases. The classical age, ending more or less with Montesquieu and Rousseau, where political lot was a part of serious political thought. Afterwards, a time where lot became an intrinsically feeble idea for various reasons, and where the groups dominating the political life had antipathy for sortition: this situation led to the slipping of sortition into absurdity. We are in the third age: the concept of representative sample gives intrinsic strength to the sortition idea, the antipathies are always here, but there is likewise fear, and there will be in some elements of the elites temptations to use the idea in political maneuvers. This is a very new situation.

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  16. *** When I consider the ideological leanings of dominating groups against sortition and its effects on the intellectual life, or the convergence of bourgeois elites and revolutionary minorities in some antipathy towards sortition, ir must not be considered as a « conspiracy theory ».
    *** A conspiracy implies a conscious agenda, secret meetings, usually disregard of law. Ideological leanings of influent groups may work and have a powerful effect without any element of this set. And a convergence on a precise point between very different groups is something distinct of a secret alliance.

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  17. Andre,

    >Keith Sutherland says that sortition was never in proto-modern West «considered as an alternative to monarchical and oligarchical rule »

    I was just quoting from Manin’s book.

    >There were many causes which worked against the idea of political lot with the beginning of modernity. . . We are in the third age: the concept of representative sample gives intrinsic strength to the sortition idea.

    Agreed

    >When I consider the ideological leanings of dominating groups against sortition and its effects on the intellectual life, or the convergence of bourgeois elites and revolutionary minorities in some antipathy towards sortition, it must not be considered as a « conspiracy theory ».

    Fair point. My objection is to Yoram’s “the appearance of obviousness of modern electoralist ideology is wholly attributable to indoctrination [my emphasis]. Anyone who, in the face of this evidence, refuses to carefully and skeptically examine modern ideology is a dogmatist.” This is a (Gramscian) conspiracy theory as it presupposes the existence of an entity with the hegemonic power to indoctrinate in such a comprehensive manner. (It’s also completely nonsensical.)

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  18. > This is a (Gramscian) conspiracy theory as it presupposes the existence of an entity with the hegemonic power to indoctrinate in such a comprehensive manner. (It’s also completely nonsensical.)

    First, there is nothing conspiratorial about electoralist indoctrination. It is done openly and ubiquitously without any attempt at disguise or subtlety.

    Second, there is no single “entity” carrying out the indoctrination unless you mean to describe society as whole by the word “entity”.

    Third, what is nonsense is your idiotic attempt to deny the obvious. Ancient Greeks thought elections are oligarchical. Either they were a bunch of idiots, or there is a good reason to examine the supposition that elections are democratic. This supposition may still be found to be true after the examination, but denying that there is reason to carry out the examination is pure dogmatism.

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  19. Direct democracies reserved election for magistracies that involved high levels of expertise, as anyone who wished could introduce and argue in favour of or against policies. It’s significant that the Athenians never considered sortition for this role, which was dominated by semi-professional ‘politicians’, as it was simply not necessary — Pericles, Cleon, Demosthenes etc could simply address the assembly and they were judged directly (and often harshly) on their words. This is not possible in large modern states, hence the need for representative mechanisms. A mechanism that was oligarchic in a small polis may well have other characteristics in large complex states. To claim otherwise is anachronistic and (dare I say it) somewhat dogmatic.

    I’m not sure what to make of your claim that society as a whole is indoctrinating itself. The word normally assumes some distinction and agency difference between the two parties — i.e. it’s the Jesuit who is indoctrinating the child and not the other way round. The reason I referenced Gramsci is that his notion of hegemony is possibly what you are looking for (although this is equally dualistic, as there is no hegemony without subalternity).

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  20. While “indoctrination” may not be the ideal term, it is fairly accurate. I definitely participated in indoctrinating my fellow citizens on the matter of electoralism for decades… first as a candidate and elected official repeatedly stressing how important it was to vote, that “your vote is your voice,” “voting is your civic duty,” “voting is the bedrock of democracy.” I later was on the state board of directors of the Vermont League of Women Voters (what the women’s suffragist movement turned into after winning the vote around 1920)…(by the way, I am a man, but the League integrated males over a decade ago, but kept the name), where we ran countless indoctrination campaigns, voter registration drives, etc. All VERY well intentioned and completely oblivious to any alternative to electoralism.

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  21. Terry,

    >I definitely participated in indoctrinating my fellow citizens on the matter of electoralism

    The confessions of the gamekeeper turned poacher! — St. Paul (and Fr. John Burnheim) would be impressed by your contrite metanoia. But I wouldn’t beat yourself up quite so much (hair shirt and flagellation not required), voting will always have an important role to play in representative isegoria. All we need is add the magic ingredient (the representative jury), there is no need to repent for past sins.

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  22. Terry,

    > I definitely participated in indoctrinating my fellow citizens on the matter of electoralism for decades…

    Every living human, certainly every human living in the West, has been exposed to such indoctrination, and many of us have participated in propagating this dogma – thinking ourselves being responsible and community-minded citizens.

    Have you thought of writing some sort of an account of your intellectual journey from electorlist dogmatism to skepticism to sortition advocacy? Sounds like it could make a very interesting story. I’d be curious to read it.

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  23. >many of us have participated in propagating this dogma

    Yes, we are all sinners, called to repentance. Let us now renounce the devil and all his works and take up the crusading for righteousness. (Needless to say the risk is that we will simply trade in one dogma for a shiny new version.)

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  24. > Yes, we are all sinners, called to repentance. Let us now renounce the devil and all his works and take up the crusading for righteousness.

    Do not despair. As the Maimonides said:

    One who has repented should not imagine that he is distant from the high level of the righteous because of the transgressions and sins that he did. The matter is not so. Rather, he is beloved and precious before the Creator — as if he had never sinned before. Not only that, but his reward is great, for he has tasted sin and separated from it, conquering his evil inclination. The Sages said, ‘The place that repenters stand, wholly righteous people cannot stand.’ Meaning, their level is greater than the level of the those who never sinned before since they have conquered their evil inclinations more than they.

    > the risk is that we will simply trade in one dogma for a shiny new version.

    Holding false beliefs is, of course, always a risk, no matter what one believes. The only remedy is to be always willing to critically examine one’s beliefs.

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  25. Agreed (that’s why this forum is so valuable). I see the number of followers has now grown to 414 — it would be really nice to see some new commentators rather than just the usual suspects.

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  26. Yoram,

    You asked:
    >”Have you thought of writing some sort of an account of your intellectual journey from electorlist dogmatism to skepticism to sortition advocacy? Sounds like it could make a very interesting story.”

    Yes, I have just about finished writing a book about the failings of elections and the value of sortition, which includes a bunch of anecdotes from my elected official times….unfortunately I have been unable to find a substantial publisher (just a tiny one that is barely a step above self-publishing.)

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  27. Terry,

    If you have a chapter describing how you made your way from an active elections promoter to an election-skeptic, please consider publishing it here.

    I have my own (rather straightforward) story of how I made this journey but your story would probably be more interesting since you started out more active in the electoral world – both as an elected official and as an activist.

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  28. >unfortunately I have been unable to find a substantial publisher (just a tiny one that is barely a step above self-publishing.)

    How about Imprint Academic’s sortition and public policy series? http://books.imprint.co.uk/collection/?collection_id=3

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  29. About Sizif’s book on “stochocratie”
    *** The complete title is (I translate) “Stochocracy, modest proposal for the people of France to be happily governed through the establishment of a random political selection » (Paris, 1998) ; by Roger de Sizif
    *** I have not this book. I read it, a long time ago, and was not specially interested. I will read it again, soon, in a library (a rare book, actually) and I will give an idea of it on this blog

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  30. Andre – thanks, that would be great.

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  31. You can buy it new for 10 euros: http://www.lesbelleslettres.com/livre/?GCOI=22510100689650 Here’s the back cover blurb:

    ” Stochocratie, n. f. Polit. Système dans lequel parlementaires et gouvernants sont désignés par tirage au sort. Ce système, inventé en France à la fin du XXe siècle, fut graduellement adopté par l’ensemble des pays occidentaux, du fait de son excellence et de son efficacité. Syn. démocratie-loto, lotocratie. ”

    Extrait du [fictional] Dictionnaire universel du XXIe siècle.

    Fantaisie, cette définition, ou simplement visionnaire? A vous de vous faire une idée… Dénonçant une situation critique dans laquelle ” les politiciens ne sont plus issus du peuple, ne sont plus élus par le peuple et ne travaillent plus pour le peuple “, Roger de Sizif propose de supprimer les élections pour les remplacer par un système de tirage au sort profondément égalitariste. Un texte faussement sérieux où point, derrière l’ironie du propos, le plaidoyer pour un sursaut de la citoyenneté.

    Trente-huit ans, HEC, diplômé en Philosophie, Roger de Sizif est membre du groupe Jalons au sein duquel il anime le Cercle Philosophique d’Action Contemplative (Ce.P. A. Con.).

    Édition Première édition
    Éditeur Les Belles Lettres
    Support Livre broché
    Nb de pages 144 p.
    ISBN-10 2-251-39029-4
    ISBN-13 978-2-251-39029-1
    GTIN13 (EAN13) 9782251390291

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  32. Thanks, Keith. I will buy it (it is my publisher, and I did not check !)

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  33. *** When Keith says (Nov. 3) that Greek democracies « reserved election for magistracies that involved high levels of expertise », he is clearly right, at least for the Athenian dêmokratia, the one we know with some details. I will add that the Second Athenian Democracy, which developed sortition, likewise developed election, establishing election for financial managers and not only for military one (Aristotle, Constitution of Athens 43-1,) and the most important of financial managers were, thinks Hansen, elected « probably for four times at a time » (Athenian democracy, p 263-4) –actually there is discussion on this point. Euboulos and Lukourgos were not far from « finance ministers », and apparently it was very good for Athenian finances.
    *** Yoram Gat’s sentence « Ancient Greeks thought elections are oligarchical » is an excessive statement. In the (small) democrat theoretical corpus, we find strong presence of sortition, but no outright rejection of election. What Demosthenes deems oligarchical in « Against Leptines » (§ 107), it is the use of election to transfer sovereignty to a selected body (here, the Spartan Senate).
    *** Nomination is a necessary procedure when the sovereign needs both high level of trust and high level of expertise; it is true for an absolute king or a sovereign dêmos (and the necessity exists even in a totalitarian system). Nomination by a collective will usually be an « election ». In a modern dêmokratia, the standard procedure must involve an alloted sample, for the same reasons of deliberation time and work than for the laws or the policy choices. But it is conceivable that in some cases the nominating body would be the entire dêmos, if there is possibility of adequate deliberation, which would be rare – as for laws or policy choices; some will think it barely possible, but it is debatable.
    *** Anyway, in a dêmokratia the elected person will not be a representative, he will have only a « magistracy » in the ancient sense, the dêmos keeping the last word on any major decision.

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  34. *** De Sizif, the author of “Stochocracy”, is a member of an humorous group named “Jalons”, which is specialized in pastiches, parodies … The author’s name looks like a play word (de Sizif = décisif = decisive). His book could be a joke.
    *** There is a comedy by French playwright Jean-Claude Grumberg « Si ça va, Bravo » including a sketch about sortition – two friends talk, one of them has just become President of the Republic, chosen by lot. The sketch is funny.
    *** Kleroterians may think that jokes or comedy about sortition are not a bad thing. It is an indication that the idea is becoming alive.

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  35. Andre,

    Is there any other evidence de Sizif exists? All I can trace are references to the book. Would your (mutual) publisher tell you? If we are going to credit him as the ultimate source of “stochation” it would be useful to know if he’s just a hoaxer!

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  36. Andre,

    > *** Yoram Gat’s sentence « Ancient Greeks thought elections are oligarchical » is an excessive statement.

    I don’t think so.

    As you are surely aware, Aristotle explicitly makes statements that are almost word for word the same as the one you quoted me as saying (notably Politics book 4 part 9). Would you say that he was making an excessive statement as well?

    Yes – elections were used in some limited contexts, but these were considered (justly or unjustly) professional and “non-political” contexts. In the same way it could be said that hereditary transfer of political power is accepted in modern systems because money, which is confers political power, is commonly bequeathed. The point is that in both cases, this was/is perceived as not being of political importance.

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  37. *** Yoram Gat writes, about ancient Athenian elections : « Yes – elections were used in some limited contexts, but these were considered (justly or unjustly) professional and “non-political” contexts. »
    *** This assessment cannot be accepted historically. It is a clear error about 5th century stratêgoi. When Pericles and his friend Sophocles were elected as stratêgoi, it was not « non-political ». Or, later, Phocion, elected 45 times it is said. They were statesmen, not professionals. Right, in the Second Athenian Democracy, statêgoi were more often specialized military men, sometimes some kind of condottieri. But the financial managers of the 4th century, as Eubulus (Eubulous) or Lycurgus (Lukourgos) were statesmen, kind of finance ministers, enforcing as « magistrates » the policy they had advocated in front of the Assembly (Lycurgus became one of the ten « canonic » Attic orators).
    *** As I said, in the (small) democrat theoretical corpus, we find strong presence of sortition, but no outright rejection of election. Theseus in Euripides’ Suppliant Women explicitly considers sortition as a way of exercising sovereignty (by this way « ho dêmos anassei, the dêmos reigns »). Election of managers is not the subject of theoretical concern because it is not related to sovereignty. Election of Senators in the Spartan commonwealth is seen as oligarchical by Demosthenes (« Against Leptines », § 107), because it transfers sovereignty to a selected body. Therefore there is dissymmetry between both procedures: sortition, intrinsically democratic (if made from the entire civic body) and election, which is either a necessary device to nominate managers, or an oligarchizing way to create an institutional elite. In the first case it is limited, specialized, individual, accountable and renewable.
    *** When Aristotle, arch-foe of democracy, writes (Politics, IV, 9,4 ; 1294b1) « it is considered (dokei) democratic for the magistracies to be allotted, for them to be elected oligarchic », he deliberately overlooks this dissymmetry. Election is oligarchic, he says, general franchise is democratic, and, he goes on, the middle course (the good one, « in medio stat virtus ») is to combine ; a kind of good commonwealth would be « to take one feature from one form and the other from the other », a formula of no property qualification and elimination of sortition (a very modern formula !). He was alluding to one of the anti-democratic discourse of these times, the Isocratic one, which kept general franchise but rejected sortition and gave dominant power to an Areopagus somewhat akin to the Spartan Senate.
    *** The supporters of a modern dêmokratia must consider information from Aristotle ; but beware of the strong bias in his discourse. Remember that he does not consider seriously the role of the illegality procedure for the « rule of law », that he neglects the 4th century reforms, that he does not mention the legislative juries etc…

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  38. Andre,

    > Election of managers is not the subject of theoretical concern because it is not related to sovereignty.

    I agree. That is indeed my point – as far as Athenians were concerned (and this included both democrats and anti-democrats), “managers” did not have, or at least should not have had, political power. (Of course, this could not have been true in fact.) Transferring political power through elections was deemed oligarchical. However, appointing managers was not a political act (like choosing the best flutist or pilot is not a political act) and therefore its mechanism didn’t matter.

    It may simply be that what you call “related to sovereignty” I call “political”.

    Regarding Pericles, etc.: I suppose that the fact that some elected officials were very influential politically was attributed to their power as rhetors in the assembly rather than to their office.

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  39. We should also take seriously Thucydides’ claim that Periclean Athens although ‘in name a democracy, became in fact rule by the first citizen’ (2:65). As Pericles was elected strategos fifteen times there is clearly a link between election and (de facto) monocracy. We’re about to publish a book by Michael Arnheim (Two Models of Government) which claims that 5th century Athenian “democracy” was actually a monocracy with popular support, notwithstanding the use of sortition for appointment to (minor) magistracies — “no responsible function was entrusted to a random cross-section of the citizen body” (Arnheim, 2016, p.83). Appointing the council by sortition may have kept power away from aristocratic factions but it also helped cement monocratic power — this is perhaps the only way of making sense of Herodotus’s claim that Cleisthenes “took into his own faction the people”. This would have meant that the council was dominated by his own faction, whereas Cleisthenes dominated the “debate” in the assembly.

    One of the reasons for Arnhart’s claim is that Aristotle lumps the “champions of the people” together with the tyrants: “Solon, Peisistratus, Cleisthenes, Themistocles, Ephialtes, Pericles, Cleon and Cleophon” (5:6). The tyrant Peisistratus was popular with the demos and, according to Arnheim, most members of the above list were “anti-aristocratic aristocrats”. Plutarch tells us that Pericles refused all invitations to dinner from his (aristocratic) peers and turned down all hospitality — “Pericles deliberately eschewed the company of his own class” (Arnheim, 2016, p. 86). And the direction of causality between the demagogue and the demos is decidedly two-way (“there go the people, I must follow them because I’m their leader”, as Ledru-Rollin put it). I think Arnheim over-states his case, but the link between charismatic leaders and the hoi-polloi runs as a strong current in history.

    Arnhart’s analysis is functional — i.e. in terms of power, whereas Aristotle’s classification was more formal. This is the reason that monocracy did not appear in his typology. Pericles was, formally speaking, primus inter pares, but then so was Augustus and the stream of tyrants that have followed in his wake (Robespierre being the most obvious example).

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  40. *** Keith Sutherland asks us to take seriously an analysis which is ”functional — i.e. in terms of power, whereas Aristotle’s classification was more formal. This is the reason that monocracy did not appear in his typology. Pericles was, formally speaking, primus inter pares, but then so was Augustus and the stream of tyrants that have followed in his wake (Robespierre being the most obvious example). »
    *** The idea that the differences between Robespierre, Augustus and Pericles are “formal”, that these names correspond to varieties of “monocracy” is basically wrong.
    *** Augustus was really the master of an authoritarian regime, which he succeeded to establish through intelligent maneuvers and remarkable absence of scruples. The republican appearances of the new system, with Augustus only “princeps”, was an ideological mask.
    *** Robespierre dominated the Convention by fear; fear of trials and fear of the “Sans-Culottes”, the Parisian revolutionary crowds. He conceived his “tyranny” as provisional revolutionary government of which he was the informal leader; very possibly he was sincere, at the conscious level (sincerity being a problematic concept for this kind of mind).
    *** Pericles was the charismatic leader of a democracy, with influence through his personal qualities (and a good understanding of the political sensitivities of the “dêmos”). He had many political enemies, who acted against him by slandering campaigns and through legal indictments. Given his personal charisma, they attacked rather persons in his circle: his second (un-official) wife Aspasia (she was acquitted after a defense speech by Pericles himself), his friend Phidias, accused of embezzlement and impiety (he died in prison before trial, or flight into exile, the sources are contradictory), his friend the philosopher Anaxagoras, accused of impiety (he had to flee). Strange “autocrat” unable to protect his friends – and the wife and friends of “autocrats” usually do not undergo legal harassment by political opponents!
    *** We may think the Periclean policy of “intelligent imperialism” was basically wrong, but Pericles did not create the imperialist tendency in the Athenian dêmos. And this tendency went along until the middle of 4th century.
    *** In any system may occur exceptional cases of charismatic influence. Richelieu is one example in French absolute monarchy. I suppose we can consider the case of Franklin Roosevelt in the US polyarchy, elected president four times. Pericles case is a democratic example, and we must not conclude from this exceptional case that democracy is especially subject to this risk.
    *** Keith Sutherland confuses personal appropriation of absolute power and strong charismatic influence – in the second case, there is always a possibility of control by the system, in the first case there is none (the leader may be stopped only through coup or assassination).

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  41. Andre,

    Fair point (from a systemic point of view). I did say that Arnhart over-states his case but I still think we need to take Thucydides’ remark seriously and that the link between charismatic leaders and the hoi-polloi runs as a strong current in history. The main point is that there is no necessary connection between election and oligarchy, it’s just as likely to be connected with monocracy (and it’s flip-side: democracy). Napoleon’s rule was based on the nigh-unanimous votes of the French people — although there was only one candidate in the “election”, they could have voted no (and a tiny number did so). And Napoleon was, like Pericles, a charismatic strategos.

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  42. Maybe, but the Napoleonic regime was not a democracy. Popular support is not democracy. Peisistratus may have been a popular tyrant, or a “populist” one. But once the Athenian dêmos was offered by history the possibility of dêmokratia, he never came back to a “populist tyranny” option.

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  43. *** Keith Sutherland reminds us that Plutarch tells « that Pericles refused all invitations to dinner from his (aristocratic) peers and turned down all hospitality — “Pericles deliberately eschewed the company of his own class” (Arnheim, 2016, p. 86).
    *** The relationship of the Athenian elite with democracy, and the divisions inside the elite about it, is a very interesting subject, and a very difficult one. But I don’t think we can use so dubious data as anecdotes in Plutarch’s “life”, written five centuries later.
    *** Pericles was inescapably the target of systematic slandering by the conservative and the oligarchic circles, exasperated by his influence – we have an idea through Aristophanes. He was probably good in his own propaganda. Plutarch was not democrat, but even if we trust his good faith and his seriousness as historian, he was unable to filter the anecdotes, writing five centuries after Pericles and having probably already the same problem as modern historians: lack of data, lack especially of authentic speeches (we have much better data about 4th century, probably because Athens became really a literate society).

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  44. André,
    I always learn so much from your posts… both your analysis and historical insights. I just wanted to thank you for all your contributions.

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  45. Andre,

    First, I want to join Terry in saying that you contribute greatly to the discussions here. Thanks!

    > *** Pericles was the charismatic leader of a democracy

    I think it is important – crucial in fact – to note that Pericles, and the other prominent Rhetores Kai Strategoi probably wielded power primarily through their influence in the Assembly. This element of the Athenian system was not democratic. Being a mass body, the Assembly was similar to the modern electorate – making under-informed decisions and merely responding to an agenda set by others.

    Pericles was thus the charismatic leader not of a democracy but of a mixed democracy-oligarchy system. He would probably have had much less influence in a purely democratic system.

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  46. Andre:

    >Pericles was inescapably the target of systematic slandering by the conservative and the oligarchic circles, exasperated by his influence

    That would tend to confirm the Thucydides/Arnhart case.

    Yoram:

    >Pericles was thus the charismatic leader not of a democracy but of a mixed democracy-oligarchy system.

    That is something of a contradiction in terms (as Pericles is a single person). If Thucydides is right then it is a mixture of democracy and monocracy, rather than oligarchy.

    >He would probably have had much less influence in a purely democratic system.

    Unfortunately such a system has never existed, so we wouldn’t know. The 4th century demagagoi were the direct descendants of the 5th century rhetores/strategoi, the only difference being that they weren’t elected.

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  47. […] article Antoine Bevort in the online French publication Mediapart. Like Tommy Lasserre’s Sortition in politics – the false good idea, which appeared in Mediapart two years ago, the article is a critique of Chouard and his proposals. […]

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