A recent article by Hélène Landemore:
Rousseau’s Mistake: Representation and the Myth of Direct Democracy
Abstract: For Rousseau, democracy was direct or it wasn’t. As he famously put it, “the moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no longer free: it no longer exists. The day you elect representatives is the day you lose your freedom” (Social Contract, III, 15). In other words, representative democracy is no democracy at all. Rousseau isn’t alone in this belief, and today the disappointed of representative government have turned to celebrating anew the virtues of direct democracy as more true to the ideal of popular sovereignty, self-rule, and genuine political equality. This paper defends the thesis that Rousseau was, in fact, mistaken and that there is no salvation to be found in the ideal of direct democracy. If democracy as a political regime is always, in fact, representative, then the interesting question is not: direct or representative democracy? But instead: What kind of representation should we aim for? The paper argues that beyond the familiar electoral model there are at least two other models of representation that present attractive features: the first is based on sortition and the other on self-selection.
From the body of the article:
If democracy as a political regime is always, in fact, representative (in the sense just defined of involving some form of authority delegation), then the interesting question is not: direct or representative democracy? But instead: What kind of representation should we favor? The real opposition is thus not between ‘direct’ and ‘representative’ democracy but between more or less democratic forms of representative rule. At the most democratic extreme, one finds a representative system in which ordinary people actually get to rule, though in turn and never all at once (as in Ancient Athens); at the other extreme the representative system is only accessible to an elite few. Our contemporary “democracies” fall somewhere on this continuum and, arguably, rather close to the elitist side (see Gilens and Page 2014).
What are other ways for “making legitimate claims” besides being elected? The Athenian example immediately suggests an obvious alternative: being randomly selected to be a part of a Council. Lotteries are arguably the ultimate democratic selection mechanism (Plato, Republic Bk 8, 557a ; Aristotle, Politics IV.9, 1294b8; Hansen 1999; Manin 1997) and, as a result of this historical fact being recently re-advertised, are now enjoying a bit of a conceptual revival among various so-called “kleiroterians,” sortitionists, or “lottocrats” (e.g. Burnheim 1985, Bouricius 2013, Carson and Martin 1999, Dowlen REF, Guerrero 2014, Landemore 2012, Leib 2005, McCormick 2011, O’Leary 2006, Saunders 2008, Stone 2011, Sutherland, Warren and Pearse 2008).
It is worth noting that Landemore makes heavy use of Terry Bouricius’s “Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day,” Journal of Public Deliberation, 2013.