Senior French politicians propose allotted institutions

Back in June Arnaud Montebourg, who had served as Minister of the Economy in the years 2012-2014 and who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2017, proposed, among other reforms of the French system aiming to “rebuild the trust” between the French people their political class, to have the Senate re-purposed to serve as a supervisory body and have its members selected by lot:

Could not the Senate, instead of being an end-of-the-career institution, be an allotted assembly, without legislative power because it is not representative, but with a supervisory role?

[My translation here and below.]

Now Emmanuel Macron, Montebourg’s successor as Minister of the Economy and possibly a presidential candidate in 2017 as well, has his own proposal for creating an allotted supervisory body:

The creation of a citizens’ commission

Each year, the president of the Republic has to appear before a citizens’ commission to be held to account, possibly supported by the Court of Audit. The former minister envisages the possibility of using allotment. This would allow the recreation of a little “political hygiene” in the system. For creating a democratic debate “which does not exist today”.

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13 Responses

  1. *** I remember that Montebourg, defending in 2006 Royal’s proposal of citizen juries, quoted a much ignored example of sortition, a proposal by Pierre Leroux during the 1848 revolution (in Projet de constitution démocratique et sociale, Paris, 1848). Actually, Leroux did not propose use of sortition for legislative power, but only for high criminal judicial power. His draft of constitution would have establish an allotted court to judge the representatives accused for their political functions (corruption, treason, …). This “jury national” was to be formed by 3 allotted citizens by department, therefore 258 jurors; and 42 jurors from the colonies (the “old” colonies which are now French “overseas departments” and where the 1848 revolution converted slaves into citizens); thus 300 jurors.
    *** Interesting, but Leroux limited the idea to high criminal court, which could be seen as an extension of a criminal court jury. In his constitution, all other bodies are elected.
    *** Montebourg, who seems afraid of looking antiquarian or futurist, was pleased to quote a “precedent” in French republican history. Actually Pierre Leroux, an eccentric romantic and utopian socialist philosopher, is not much known in France today – except maybe as the supposed creator of the word “socialism” – but it was the one precedent Montebourg could find.
    *** There is a serious possibility for Montebourg to become the Left candidate in next French presidential election; and thus the sortition idea could appear in the more followed French political event. That shows that the sortition idea is getting out of the limbo.
    *** Montebourg and Macron are very different, but have some common points; there are known as former ministers, they have personal charisma, but without solid faction behind us.

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  2. Andre,

    >the sortition idea could appear in the more followed French political event. That shows that the sortition idea is getting out of the limbo.

    The widespread dissatisfaction with electoral politics (and direct democracy) is a huge opportunity for sortinistas. See, for example, the latest issue of Monitor from the widely-respected Constitution Unit at University College London:

    the referendum and its aftermath demonstrate that popular sovereignty, not parliamentary sovereignty, is now the central principle of the UK constitution. The doctrine that parliament is the ultimate sovereign power in the UK (or, at least, in England – Scottish nationalists discern a different heritage north of the border) was asserted by the nineteenth-century constitutional theorist A. V. Dicey. The emergence of referendums since the 1970s had eroded that principle. The referendum in June, however, was the first in which the popular vote went against the clear will of the majority in the House of Commons. That most MPs feel bound to accept that decision shows where ultimate power in UK politics actually lies. There has been great debate over the summer as to whether parliamentary approval is needed to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin formal talks on Brexit. But this has been something of a sideshow: even if the courts deem that parliament’s consent is needed, it is all but certain to be granted.

    . . . If popular sovereignty is now the founding principle of our constitution, much greater thought is needed as to how that is best exercised when referendums are held. . .Thought should also be given to how the public can be enabled to participate more deliberatively in politics.

    The head of the Constitution Unit, Prof. Robert Hazell is well aware of sortition — in fact he provided some nice puff for my first book, The Party’s Over.

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  3. *** Sorry, a small historical correction
    *** I quoted Pierre Leroux proposal of sortition for a “Jury National” by memory, and I made an error: 300 members is the maximum size of the jury, not the precise size, and the exact number of jurors coming from the colonies was not given by Leroux (quoted text, p 57). Such lack of details is curious for an utopian-minded thinker. Maybe there was an underlying problem with the “new colonies”, as Algeria the indigenous inhabitants of which were not French citizens. I do not know Leroux ideas about the subject.

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  4. *** Keith Sutherland quotes which may be considered the quasi-official stand about political legitimacy in Britain: “the referendum and its aftermath demonstrate that popular sovereignty, not parliamentary sovereignty, is now the central principle of the UK constitution.”
    *** People may accept or support a political system, not from allegiance to a kind of legitimacy, but from pragmatic reasons : considering the policies are not so bad, and being afraid of alternative. I do not know about the level of popular support to contemporary Chinese system, but I suppose it is anyway linked to pragmatic reasons – any messianic legitimacy must be dead.
    *** Polyarchies may enjoy in some countries some amount of historical legitimacy: the Founding Fathers of the American Republic were likewise the founders of the American Nation-State, the British contemporary system may be seen as the last step of a continuous evolution, the French Fifth Republic is the fifth avatar of a republic linked to national history since the Revolution (which gave to France its national flag and its national anthem).
    *** But in the contemporary polyarchies the main part of legitimacy is usually an essential legitimacy linked to the democracy myth, and Keith’s quotation express well that fact for Britain.
    *** Keith Sutherland likes to underline how a mutation from polyarchy to democracy-through-minipublics would be a discontinuity, easily seen as a dangerous event as many discontinuities in the 20th century. But such a mutation at least would not imply a discontinuity in the basic legitimacy. It would only combine the official main legitimacy reference with the idea of “representative sample” which is now a popular one.
    *** Politicians as Montebourg and Macron are very cautious and do not want to appear as proposing a basic political mutation. But they dare to propose as institutional political actors some kinds of minipublics. They would not dare to introduce hereditary power, or to restrict strongly the political franchise, or to claim a messianic legitimacy immune to suffrage. Their cautious endeavors are ideologically possible because they are under the umbrella of the democratic myth which is a basic element of the contemporary polyarchies.
    *** That is felt by many of the polyarchic ideologues, and after the Brexit we could see many comments who were attacking officially the referendum device, but actually the democratic legitimacy itself, rehearsing themes of the old antidemocratic intellectual tradition, Aristotle’s style. Such a “hard” response may have its drawbacks: attacking the democratic idea helps to get out of the lazy political thought and to think about democracy.

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  5. André,

    > Their cautious endeavors are ideologically possible because they are under the umbrella of the democratic myth which is a basic element of the contemporary polyarchies.

    Yes. On the other they are possible because they are positioning the allotted bodies as regulators of the elected ones – leaving the elected bodies with the initiative.

    Despite that fact, those proposals are valuable (unlike the Australian “citizen juries”) because they do place the allotted as an authority which passes judgement on the elected (rather than as merely a tool of the latter).

    > after the Brexit we could see many comments who were attacking officially the referendum device, but actually the democratic legitimacy itself, rehearsing themes of the old antidemocratic intellectual tradition, Aristotle’s style.

    Yes. Interestingly, Van Reybrouck expresses a similar sentiment (e.g., here), even if couched in quite different terms. He is offering sortition to the elites as a way to maintain their political power in the face of the rebelling masses.

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  6. Why not extend this to the executive branch itself?

    P.S. – I can’t recall if I’m able to post a new Equality By Lot blog, much less the mechanics of how to post a new blog for this site. Let’s just say the planned blog has to do with the executive branch.

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  7. Hi Jacob,

    You can post – in fact you did so once in the past. You should be able to log in at http://wordpress.com with your username (kjk2v1) if you remember your password.

    Let me know if you need help.

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  8. Andre,

    >Keith Sutherland likes to underline how a mutation from polyarchy to democracy-through-minipublics would be a discontinuity, easily seen as a dangerous event as many discontinuities in the 20th century. But such a mutation at least would not imply a discontinuity in the basic legitimacy. It would only combine the official main legitimacy reference with the idea of “representative sample” which is now a popular one.

    The only thing that would be seen as dangerous is the pure (sortition-only) schemes proposed by the likes of Campbell, Terry and Yoram. Incorporating legislative decision making (or vetoing) by a representative sample could be easily presented as a legitimate mutation that would be a big improvement on decision making by plebiscite. The important point is that there should be no attempt to overthrow the existing system and abolish the role of elected officials.

    Yoram,

    >[cautious sortition] proposals are valuable (unlike the Australian “citizen juries”) because they do place the allotted as an authority which passes judgement on the elected (rather than as merely a tool of the latter).

    >Van Reybrouck . . . is offering sortition to the elites as a way to maintain their political power in the face of the rebelling masses.

    Then we should embrace these cautious proposals wholeheartedly, if only for tactical reasons. It may well be that polyarchy depends for its legitimacy on a democratic myth, but it’s the institutional arrangements that matter, not philosophical navel gazing. As Moses Finley put it political theory always involves “adumbration after the facts”.

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  9. *** Keith Sutherland writes (October 30): “It may well be that polyarchy depends for its legitimacy on a democratic myth, but it’s the institutional arrangements that matter, not philosophical navel gazing.”
    *** Keith is blending two different things, the ideas of political philosophers and the feeling of legitimacy by more ordinary citizens. They may have interactions, but they are different. Legitimacy feelings are not to be discarded, they are an important factor in political history. Not the only one, but an important one. One of the various factors of the end of communist regimes in Europe was the vanishing of their messianic legitimacy: nobody, including in the ruling elite, believed in it anymore. The democratic myth is one important factor of the strength of polyarchies – but it is without effect, or worse, against dêmokratia.

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  10. Andre,

    >The democratic myth is one important factor of the strength of polyarchies – but it is without effect, or worse, against dêmokratia.

    I agree with you regarding the need for democratic legitimacy, but I don’t agree that the democratic myth contains any antipathy towards demokratia. The “myth” that you are referring to is that electoral representation is democratic, but all we are seeking to do is to introduce an alternative (or additional) principle of representation. Voters accept that, in principle, elected politicians can act for them and it would not involve a conceptual revolution for people to understand that the aggregate judgment of a descriptively-representative minipublic could also represent them. The jury principle is well established (at least in the Anglophone world) and the decision of a judicial jury is not that far removed from the decisions that parliaments make when the division bell sounds. Since the advent of party democracy it is accepted that politicians act on behalf of their constituents vicariously, and that the mandate that they possess is (partially) bound by manifesto commitments etc., so the principle that a statistically-accurate minipublic should make legislative decisions is not that dissimilar.

    If legitimacy is important to us we should stop make the hard distinction between Polyarchy and Demokratia, especially as sortition was an important element to Dahl for Polyarchy III. We should also stop pretending that sortition can do everything and accept that for sortition to be accepted as politically legitimate its role should be limited to jury-style functions. It’s significant that in the Italian Deliberative Polls elected politicians argued that the DP increased their perceived legitimacy and this was also one of the reasons for the local Communist Party to accept without question the verdict of the Zegou province DP.

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  11. Message from Gil Delannoi (Sciences Po, Paris):

    I presented sortition and the possibilities of using sortition in Parliaments (inner organization) and for electing representatives (on the basis of Universal Suffrage for a third chamber or on the basis of a selected pool for the Upper Chamber) at the Assemblee Nationale in October. They suggested the theme.

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  12. […] year occurred in France, where two prominent candidates for the leadership of the socialist party made separate proposals for introducing allotted bodies into the French system in a way that would potentially give those […]

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