Double Review: ‘Against Democracy’ and ‘Against Elections’

I recently reviewed two books ‘Against Democracy’ by Jason Brennan and ‘Against Elections’ by David van Reybrouck for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I wouldn’t say that I loved either book, but I did give Terry a shout-out in the review :-)

“Against Democracy” and “Against Elections”: Where Do We Go From Here?

AS THE UNITED STATES APPROACHES a most divisive presidential election, it is hardly surprising to see an upsurge in literature proposing to diagnose and cure the ailments of modern politics.

Against Democracy and Against Elections both fall into this category. Despite their provocative titles, they each present detailed plans regarding what they are for rather than focusing solely on what they are against. This willingness to explore alternative politics is a clear strength of both books and what sets them apart in a market clogged with tomes that tend to be heavier on rants than original thinking.

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46 Responses

  1. Nice review Ros, just a few points:

    Laws, in particular, were always passed through the Assembly, a venue that any Athenian male citizen could attend and vote at, and a place where between 10 percent and 20 percent of the total eligible population could generally be found

    That overlooks the 4th century reforms, which arrogated this function to large randomly-selected legislative courts, while limiting the assembly to passing decrees.

    smaller numbers of citizens would be easier to bribe and influence than, say, 15 percent of the population.

    That may well be the reason why the 4th century legislative juries were a) large, b) ad hoc (randomly selected on the day) and c) limited to voting only.

    Would the population as a whole really accept that a different decision made by a small group of people is legitimate because it is the decision they would have made if they were not so ignorant?

    I think the answer would be yes iff the variance of each sample from the target population was identical (or similar within a confidence interval sufficient to ensure that the decision would be consistent), irrespective of which individuals were chosen for the sample. This could be tested empirically: if each sample returned a different verdict then the decision could not be seen as a legitimate representation of the informed preferences of the target population. If, however, each sample returned a similar verdict (subject to the requisite confidence interval) then people would think it would make no difference whether or not they were included (in the same way that it makes no difference whether on not they vote).

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  2. Based on my own research, I was positive that after the Thirty Tyrants period, nomoi were initiated and approved in Assembly before being passed by a 1000 strong panel of nomothetai. Then, like anything, they could face potential judicial review. I was also certain that according to the present state of knowledge, very few nomoi were passed compared to psephismata, and not equivalent to a simple piece of legislation today, as decrees fulfilled many of the functions that simple legislation now does. Also 1000 Athenians were about 3% of the eligible population. In the USA ca. 3% of the eligible voting population is around 8 million people. Relative to total population the nomothetai still represented a rather large body, which only seems small to us.

    However, since many people on this blog seem to persistently represent the view that laws were at some point passed solely by randomly selected panels in Athens, I decided that I would once again confirm the veracity of my work, despite the fact that I was awarded a PhD for it and, as a trained lawyer, do tend to pay particular attention to how laws are passed.
    So I asked one of the relatively few people in this world who is more qualified on this point than I am: a professor of classical Athenian history at one of the world’s most prestigious universities and an expert in this particular area.

    And it turns out that my understanding was absolutely correct.

    So, no, Keith, it looks like I did not overlook anything.

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  3. Hi Roslyn,

    On Brennan:

    Many I am just mean, but given how I enjoyed your ruthless treatment of Sullivan I was disappointed that you were not as acerbic toward Brennan. (I was also surprised that you only mentioned Plato in the next to last paragraph of that section of the review.)

    You wrote:

    Brennan’s ideas may well be unpopular with the general public, but I suspect we would not be reading about them if they were not wildly popular in some circles. That, in itself, is certainly food for thought.

    Have you seen this?

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  4. Ros,

    The principal source for the perspective of this blog is Hansen’s Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes, but see also Blackwell, C. (2003). Nomothesia (legislation). In C. Blackwell (Ed.), Demos: Classical Athenian democracy (pp. 1-22. When I pointed out the role of the nomothetai to my second supervisor (a classics professor), she was surprised but agreed in the end that Hansen’s and Blackwell’s views are correct. Most historians and classicists focus on the 5th century.

    However, I think we are not so far apart. The assembly had to agree (at two consecutive meetings) to appoint a nomothetic panel to decide on the new legislative proposal and also elected five persons to defend the existing law. You are also right to point out that very few nomoi were passed compared to psephismata. I think it’s also the case that the fourth century reforms were more for administrative convenience than a wish to convert from a direct to a (statistically) representative democracy. It is also important to remember that randomly-selected members made no proposals, offered no arguments and performed a silent (voting-only) role, so modern “deliberative” democrats are wrong to use the Athenian courts as a model for their own proposals.

    The nomothetai lie at the core of my own PhD and I acknowledge that it is more a case of grave robbing than history per se. The truth is we don’t really know why the Athenians used sortition (pace Dowlen, Stone etc), but it’s encouraging for those of us involved in designing a modern system of representation can find a direct historical precedent, even at the danger of anachronism.

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  5. @ Yoram – I didn’t see that graph, but I’m not surprised to see it.
    I certainly reflects the general feeling I am getting in my conversations with people, as well as the editorial lines of many newspapers post-Brexit.

    I was actually hoping to really stir things up on Twitter with Brennan, but he quit a few weeks ago, apparently following a spat with a woman who took, as I understand it, very mild exception to his views. It’s hard to reconstruct a Twitter battle, but he seems to have taken it rather hard that people weren’t dying for an ‘epistocracy’. Which is amazing, because he certainly has no issues dishing it out when he was picking on the weak.
    One of the most interesting things he said on Twitter before he left was that far from hurting his career chances, writing a fascist article would improve them.
    I really think his opponents didn’t pay enough attention to that point, but imho, he’s 100% correct.

    @Keith – needless to say, I didn’t rely on accounts of 5th-century Athens for my analysis of 4th-century Athens…But as long as you acknowledge that there was no point at which the Assembly was cut out of this process I rest my case.
    Re: deliberative democrats – I’m not really a fan of that school of thought, although in an age of mass media, I think that some provision for peer-to-peer debate has to be made. The Athenians didn’t have to contend with mass-produced narrative and 24/7 PR.

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  6. Ros,

    >But as long as you acknowledge that there was no point at which the Assembly was cut out of this process I rest my case. Re: deliberative democrats – I’m not really a fan of that school of thought.

    Agree on both points — much of my thesis is devoted to designing a modern version of the Assembly and sortition has no role to play whatsoever in that. And I also disagree with those on this forum (such as Terry B.) who make the case for deliberative and epistemic democracy via sortition.

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  7. On Van Reybrouck:

    I think you make two objections to his book. The first is

    One way this manifests itself is in a certain naïveté regarding the present political situation, which the author sees in terms of low voter turnout, declining party membership, and increasingly capricious voters. Not much is said about what one could term the deeper issues, like multinational companies drafting laws while providing campaign finance and post-tenure employment for politicians. The author suggests that media and politicians would be hostile to a new form of politics run by lottery-selected citizens because such a system would not provide enough drama for media and because politicians consider themselves more knowledgeable and liberal than their constituents. While those statements seem vaguely valid, many would place them at the tip of the iceberg of reasons for potential establishment resistance to the kind of changes van Reybrouck is proposing.

    This, I think, is very valid. As you say, Van Reybrouck wants to keep the elites in charge and wants to apply sortition as a fix to the growing discontent of the masses. In fact, he almost explicitly pitches his proposals in this way to the elite.

    Your second objection is that Van Reybrouck’s proposals do not involve a mechanism for mass participation. This is not convincing, IMO, for several reasons:

    1. Van Reybrouck does like at least one mass participation mechanism: elections. As you write, despite the catchy title, he does not want to do away with elections. In fact he insists that sortition is always used in conjunction with elections.

    2. Your arguments that translating the Athenian system to the scale of the modern state implies mass participation relies on the one hand on scaling the size of the allotted bodies together with the size of the population. It is far from clear that this is indeed the natural translation. Why would, say, 3% (1,000 / 30,000) be the correct parameter, rather than 1,000 (for any size of population)?

    On the other hand, the Athenian mechanism of true mass participation – the Assembly – was by all indications not a democratic body but rather an arena where the democratic element of the allotted Boule battled the oligarchical element of the rhetors.

    (You are also to some extent blurring the line between the Assembly and the allotted bodies in terms of their size, which is not completely fair.)

    3. Most importantly, are you really arguing that unlike elections other mass participation mechanisms would be democratic? Why? In what way would they be different? Why wouldn’t they suffer from essentially the same problems, generating the same oligarchical characteristics?

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  8. Yoram,

    >the Assembly – was by all indications not a democratic body but rather an arena where the democratic element of the allotted Boule battled the oligarchical element of the rhetors.

    What is your evidence for this claim?

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  9. Well, as we all know ‘democracy’ means ‘people power’. So, do elections give people power? No. Their purpose is actually to confer power on a miniscule number of people for a specific period of time. They are designed to do that. Whereas if people initiate and decide directly on the rules by which they are governed, then it would be fair to say that they had power. This would, I think, possibly never fully wipe out all traces of oligarchy, but far from generating oligarchical forces, it would mitigate the pre-existing ones. If anything, I don’t think the Athenians did enough against oligarchs, which is something I go into in my book. But they did do a lot.
    As far as sortition numbers are concerned – the relevant point is how large those numbers are compared to the general population. We have to think about roughly what kind of resources an oligarch (as an individual or corporation) would be able to bring to bear in any given society. In our society, it would be very easy to bring resources to bear to influence 501 people. That is a very small amount of money, and something that involves such a small fraction of the population could easily go undetected. In fact, in a panel of 1000 people, you could probably swing things your way by bribing as few as 5 or 6 people, as long as they were the right people. Whereas, bribing 4 million people is much more expensive and harder to keep a lid on. So the only way to influence numbers that large is to go indirect – over media – which at least is out in the open and can be contested. I still see this as an issue, but it is something that could be dealt with via democratic laws.

    On another note, just imagine how much we are going to hear about the dangers of democracy after this election. I’m sure enlightened despotism will get a new lease on life.

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  10. Ros,

    >if people initiate and decide directly on the rules by which they are governed, then it would be fair to say that they had power.

    That’s certainly true in the oxymoronic sense — as the people who initiate/decide are the people who have the power. Most deliberative democrats (Elster being a typical example) don’t care particularly who the people are, as statistically “the people” will outnumber “the oligarchs” in a random sample (the focus of this blog). The real challenge is to ensure that those chosen represent the views and interests of the disenfranchised, and this is easier for deciding (an aggregate function) than it is for initiating (an individual function). It’s also a lot easier to corrupt the latter than it is the former, so long as the votes are taken in secret. Of course Trump’s claim is that he represents the views and interests of the people against those of the elite, so sortition has a bit of competition in this respect.

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  11. Roslyn,

    > Their purpose is actually to confer power on a miniscule number of people for a specific period of time.

    You could say the same thing about any decision-making process. Any “popular initiative” process, for example, boils down to having some miniscule number of people writing the propositions that are on the ballot. It is those people who really write the laws – the voters can only accept or reject them. It is the nature of agenda-setting that it cannot be done en-masse.

    The only question is whether the people in the agenda-setting group are representative of the whole population or not. The problem with elections is not that “confer power on a miniscule number of people for a specific period of time”. It is that those people are members of an elite and therefore represent the interests of that elite.

    > In our society, it would be very easy to bring resources to bear to influence 501 people.

    This is a very unrealistic view of the situation. In fact, it is much easier to control a mass of people than to control a small group, because a mass of people cannot set its own agenda (and as a secondary factor, because of the rational ignorance effects).

    Yes – it is possible, in theory, to corrupt 501 people. But the notion that this could be done surreptitiously on a regular basis is sheer paranoia. Do you believe, for example, that this is happening on a regular basis with trial juries?

    > I’m sure enlightened despotism will get a new lease on life.

    Yes. As the data I cited above show (and not surprisingly, historically speaking) fondness for such ideas has been on the rise for some time among elites. However, I doubt that such ideas would be able to gain a foothold in respectable discourse. This is the inherent contradiction in electoralism – it is an oligarchical system that is based on a democratic official ideology. Unless the electoral system is overthrown, such anti-democratic rhetoric will remain in the margins.

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  12. Yoram,

    >some miniscule number of people writing the propositions . . . It is the nature of agenda-setting that it cannot be done en-masse. The only question is whether the people in the agenda-setting group are representative of the whole population or not.

    For a randomly-selected group to be statistically representative of the population it seeks to describe it would have to be several hundred, or possibly 1,000 strong. Only a small proportion of that group would choose to take an active role in writing propositions (most people have little interest in political matters) so it what sense would the propositions be representative of the whole population? It would not be inaccurate to describe the active minority in such a body as a self-selecting elite. At least with electoral democracy people get to choose their own elite actors. Yesterday the American people chose Trump rather than Clinton because they believed his claim to act in their interests.

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  13. >”In fact, in a panel of 1000 people, you could probably swing things your way by bribing as few as 5 or 6 people, as long as they were the right people.”
    I’m fascinated and baffled by the assertion (made also by Keith and others) that bribing a few members chosen by lot is going to be easy. In “Down with Elections!” I’ve given reasons for my belief that this will in fact be very difficult and probably ineffective with carefully-designed institutions. Keith and Ros and others have read this; no-one has attacked my argument at all, except Keith, who has suggested, vaguely, that a corrupt person could bribe an “eloquent” member to speak in the Assembly – without saying how you pick, from a random bunch, a dishonest member of sufficient eloquence to make a difference, or why this would be more effective than a perfectly legal advertising campaign or paying a disc jockey or sporting hero to peddle your spiel. Yet we get the same old assumption trotted out that bribing members chosen by lot will be as easy and as effective – or more so – than bribing an elected member.

    I’d also be interested to know how you arrive at the figure of “5 or 6” for a panel of 1000. This implies an issue where the vote without corruption would be close to 500:500. So to get even five members to change sides, you would have to approach ten or more , since you don’t know how members will vote, and half will already be in favour of it. Every member you approach increases the risk of denunciation; there is no way of knowing what proportion would be tempted, but if four out of five people can be corrupted (unlikely), then you have a chance of one in ten of not being denounced. If even 50% of people are honest, your chances are one in a thousand of getting away with it. Since members will be aware that they also are exposed to this risk, it is likely that fewer than 50% will chance it, and this would make the risk very much higher. And it beggars belief that you could know the voting intentions of all 1000 randomly-chosen members on a particular issue with the sort of accuracy that would allow you to say “five or six will do”, and which five or six. You’re unlikely to know the voting intentions within several hundred!

    If you choose by lot a large number of groups of a thousand, the standard deviation from the expected value of 500 is 15.8, and the “3 sigma” value is 47.4. To be reasonably sure that a vote in favour of a measure is representative, it should exceed the 3 sigma margin, ie be at least 548:452. (If not, the best solution is that the measure proposed should be amended to make it acceptable to this majority.) The “five or six” is far less than the normal variation that we should expect from the random selection procedure: well over half the assemblies chosen would show a greater variation.

    I have to say that this sort of wise-old-owl cynicism is a form of naive credulity: credulity in its own hard-headedness and the universal dishonesty of others. We’re not all saints, certainly, but equally, we’re not all for sale at all times, on any terms, either.

    Where corruption is effective – indeed thrives – is not in voting amongst many others, but in a situation where a single member of parliament can make a decision. Perhaps he is a minister who has the final say on the awarding of contracts, or planning approvals, or can influence party policy because he has, in effect, the casting vote between factions, or can bend another minister to his will, or block other legislation … If an assembly chosen by lot is carefully designed, no member has more influence than any other, no member has authority over a ministry or department, and no individual authority over contracts, planning, procurement, or whatever.

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  14. >” Any “popular initiative” process, for example, boils down to having some miniscule number of people writing the propositions that are on the ballot. It is those people who really write the laws – the voters can only accept or reject them. It is the nature of agenda-setting that it cannot be done en-masse.”
    I disagree. There is no good reason not to permit anyone to make a proposal. There is also no reason to put that proposal on the agenda unless it meets minimum standards of clarity, coherence, etc, and unless there is evidence of very significant support in the community. Signatures on paper, clicks on a button, whatever. These things can be fudged, of course, but it is not necessary that in the initial stage these manifestations should be rigorously honest or accurate; getting a proposal on to the agenda doesn’t guarantee that it will be approved in the final vote, so crowd-sourcing signatures, or sending in zillions of bot-produced “yes”-clicks via Tor is not going to achieve anything if the proposal doesn’t have a reasonable measure of genuine support and consequently is rejected by the Assembly.

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  15. This is a fruitful discussion. I would add a few points.

    On the size of an allotted body: Although the Athenians did not know about probability and representative samples, it is now known as a mathematical fact that a sample does NOT need to grow proportional to the size of a target population. A sample of 1,000 is almost as accurate for a population of 300,000,000 as it is for a population of 30,000.

    So that leaves two other concerns Ros raises in seeking mass participation… the a priori belief that mass participation is simply inherently good (“democratic”) regardless of epistemic evidence; and that mass participation makes corruption through bribery prohibitively expensive.

    There are many problems with the commitment to mass participation through such things as referendums… including rational ignorance, mass media manipulation by wealthy interests, but on an even more unarguable level, the sheer number of public decisions that must be made in a given year make direct participation through referendum voting completely unworkable except for a tiny fraction of decisions that must be made. The ONLY way to have democratic control of government is through SOME sort of representative system because the entire population simply CAN’T spend the time learning about and voting on everything, even if they were inclined to do so. So these representative bodies can be formed by elections (in all real-world cases, subject to elite manipulation and misrepresentation along numerous demographic measures), or by random selection. It is possible that it makes sense to submit some few items to referendum (though I would not favor any), but that still leaves MOST public decisions needing to be made by representative groups of citizens (or by oligarchs)

    On the corruption issue, I largely agree with Campbell (though arguments based on existing criminal juries being relatively free of bribery are a bit weak since there is usually very few people with an adequate interest in bribing when a case only affects one defendant). A well designed jury system with hundreds of members (especially if renewed frequently) could be very resistant to bribery. Jurors could be told that there would be random sting operations (by the organizing sortition agency) attempting to bribe jurors, and they should report any bribe attempts. Jurors reporting bribe attempts could be rewarded, etc. This would make genuine efforts to bribe jurors exceptionally difficult to hide. Under my design, jurors would serve for short duration, making bribery, which is typical of elected legislators, even less appealing (bought elected officials stay in power for decades serving their “sponsors.”)

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  16. This will be my final contribution.

    a) First of all, to use the real definition or etymological source of a word is not an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a term that is, or is perceived to be, self-contradictory. I don’t see how the word ‘democracy or ‘demokratia’ or ‘people power’ is inherently self-contradictory. It is merely returning to the root meaning of the word.

    b) I have never said that I just inherently believe that mass participation is good. In fact, I have written a PhD, many scholarly articles and an entire book explaining my reasoning for supporting mass participation. I certainly did not commence research in order to come to this conclusion. It was very much the other way around. I’ve said so on many occasions. But if you would like to ignore the existence of about a thousand pages of meticulously researched writing, and nonetheless characterize this as a blind belief of mine, go right ahead.

    c) regarding the fact that I suffer from ‘sheer paranoia’. I operate in the field of international law. I don’t think that some of you are fully aware of the kind of thing that goes on at this level, although I did put a few of the more well-known examples in my book for general edification. Just a few. There is way, way more where that came from. Studying international law, gives you an understanding of what the top-level of coercion is available out there and what kind of ‘incentives’, shall we say, are routinely applied. I’d say top level is instigate a civil war in your country, and you can basically pick anything that falls below that level as being in the general toolbox and liable to being pulled out at any time. A mere character assassination or routine blackmail is probably being left to interns at this point.
    If there’s one aspect of my life, I’ve felt that I’ve had to often revise it is to ratchet my paranoia level up substantially.
    However, I understand that most people don’t continually deal with the kind of psychopaths that tend to run countries and conglomerates, and that it can be difficult to fully appreciate the lengths they will go to without batting an eye, as well as come to terms with the kind of success they routinely enjoy. That is to say, they are really good at what they do. I don’t believe that you fully appreciate the kind of talent that is out there. Like criminals everywhere, they are amazingly inventive, and often engage in behaviour that most ‘normal’ people would never even think of. That’s really the crux of the matter. If there is weakness – they will find it, and they will exploit it, and they may well go undetected for years if not decades.
    However, as I say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone has a different experience.
    I did not, however, draw mine out of thin air, but base it on what I have observed up until now. To characterize this as ‘sheer paranoia’, as usual, fails to take account of the fact that I may have any experience at all in this area.

    d) ‘almost accurate’. There is no way I would accept ‘almost accurate’, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Perhaps I am wrong, and there are tonnes of people out there dying to live under ‘almost accurate’. If that’s true, than the more power to you. However, I don’t think that the recent spate of incorrect polls (British election, American election, Brexit) are really helping your cause.

    e) regarding mainstream media. Actually already losing its stranglehold. Something I am actively playing a part in. Beginning to be hopeful this might take care of itself, although likely only after a period of fairly severe backlash.

    f) regarding representation being the ‘only’ way to make decisions. I already did a pilot in my own constituency that uses software to facilitate online decision-making. Similar projects have been run from here to Taiwan with great success. So, I guess it’s not the ‘only’ way.

    g) You all know where I stand on the place of sortition in a democracy (basically exactly where the Athenians put it), and I know where you stand on it. So, why you are so eager to rehash it every time I post something is beyond me. We’ve been through this ad nauseum.
    I am not, contrary to your apparent beliefs, a ‘naive’ little girl who is going to change their mind just because you fatherly figures address your unsubstantiated claims at me in ALL CAPS.
    I was under no obligation whatsoever to review the sortition-oriented book, nor was I under any obligation to mention Terry. I went out of my way to do so, as I understood that while we have different views on the ultimate place of sortition in society, unlike many people we are actually aware of it.
    I didn’t take the opportunity to publicly criticize Terry or his ideas, although I easily could have done so, because I do genuinely disagree with them. However, I don’t think that would be a polite or aboveboard thing to do to another member of this community.

    However, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the point of this blog is merely to bludgeon everyone into accepting a certain very narrow doctrine – a doctrine that I, for what I believe are good reasons – do not agree with.
    I don’t ask that any of you agree with me, because you are more than entitled to have your own opinions, and I don’t believe that anyone can accurately say what shape a modern democracy would ultimately take. I am sure it would be a process of trial and error.
    But I also don’t have either the time or interest to endlessly argue in circles. And I certainly don’t have the time or interest to be constantly talked down to.
    Neither do the vast majority of people I have come in contact with politically. I really wouldn’t call this fruitful discussion, and it is what turns so many people off participation of any sort.

    So – that’s it from me.

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  17. Campbell,

    >I’m fascinated and baffled by the assertion (made also by Keith and others) that bribing a few members chosen by lot is going to be easy.

    Obviously large juries, voting in secret, cannot be bribed, my concern is with the proposal/advocacy role. I think we will just have to disagree as to the extent that individuals, unconstrained by party discipline or the need to secure re-election, would be vulnerable to inducements.

    >If an assembly chosen by lot is carefully designed, no member has more influence than any other.

    That’s a strange, and unworldly claim — I can’t think of a single instance of a deliberative group that manages to ensure complete equality between all participants (including those who don’t choose to speak). Whenever I’ve attended a meeting or departmental seminar, I’m struck by a) the small number who choose to say anything at all and b) the differences in the impact of the speech acts of different persons, reflecting the uneven distribution of knowledge, perceived status and persuasive powers. I don’t see why this would be different in a randomly-selected group.

    >crowd-sourcing signatures, or sending in zillions of bot-produced “yes”-clicks via Tor is not going to achieve anything if the proposal doesn’t have a reasonable measure of genuine support.

    Agreed. That’s why I’m in favour of Swiss-style votation as an additional filter between popular initiative and deliberative scrutiny. It’s better that everybody chooses which proposals should be put before the nomothetai (as in 4th century Athens) than just those who shout the loudest.

    Terry,

    >A well designed jury system with hundreds of members (especially if renewed frequently) could be very resistant to bribery. Jurors could be . . . [various sanctions].

    All you need to do is restrict their activity to voting in secret, then bribery would be impossible.

    Ros,

    I’m puzzled that you feel under attack from members of this blog, all I’ve seen here is robust comments. There is certainly no unanimity or narrow doctrine — the chasm between the Campbell/Yoram camp and my own is very wide and comments on your post have been mild in comparison to some of the abuse that I’ve been subjected to! Terry often resorts to ALL CAPS as it’s easier to do than to manually code for italics, but all he’s trying to do is to make his argument clear. Anyway, sorry if you see that as some kind of personal attack.

    >First of all, to use the real definition or etymological source of a word is not an oxymoron.

    Oops, sorry, I meant the opposite (tautology). Write in haste, repent at leisure . . .

    >You all know where I stand on the place of sortition in a democracy (basically exactly where the Athenians put it)

    The Athenians had two very different uses for sortition: a) collective magistracies (so all may rule and be ruled in turn; and b) juries, which were cut-down versions of the people’s assembly. Whether the latter was for pragmatic or prophylactic reasons or on account of some notion of proto-representation we don’t really know, but (b) is the model that most of us on this blog are seeking to develop as (a) is not possible in large modern states.

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  18. Campbell,

    > There is no good reason not to permit anyone to make a proposal.

    Yes, anyone can make a proposal, just like anyone can run for president. The voters, however, will only ever get to consider very, very few proposals (or presidential candidates). That is, a miniscule number of proposals.

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  19. Roslyn,

    Regarding paranoia: I don’t doubt that threats and bribes are occasionally applied in secret. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that is the standard way things work. There are quite visible forces in action that explain world affairs sufficiently well.

    Note, by the way, that your example of instigation of civil war, or threats of such instigation, would be at least as effective when applied to the population as a whole as they would be when applied to a sample.

    What we are discussing are threats and bribes effectively applied – in secret – to a body of a few hundred people that cannot be applied to a much larger number of people. Again – it seems very unlikely that this is happening on a regular basis without it becoming common knowledge.

    I’d be interested in a few examples of the body of cases you refer to – situations where, say, dozens of parliament members in a Western country (US, Western Europe, Australia) were (illegally) bribed or threatened into behaving in ways that they perceived as being detrimental to themselves before the intervention was applied.

    > I stand on the place of sortition in a democracy (basically exactly where the Athenians put it)

    That is far from clear (of course, even if this were true, the conventional wisdom in Athens may very well have been wrong on very many things).

    As for the discussions on this blog: For better or for worse, there is certainly no dogma or systematic set of beliefs unifying people here, so surely there is no attempt to force anyone into any sort of orthodoxy (such an attempt would of course be silly and fruitless). Yes – people try to convince people that they should see things differently. That seems legitimate.

    I do agree that often the discussions are repetitive. Personally when I find that this is the case, I either refer people to previous discussions or simply refrain from participating.

    I am disappointed to see you go. As I mentioned several times before, I often enjoyed reading your articles (even when I was not in full agreement), and I hope to read more of them either here or elsewhere.

    Best regards…

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  20. >I am disappointed to see you go. As I mentioned several times before, I often enjoyed reading your articles (even when I was not in full agreement), and I hope to read more of them either here or elsewhere.

    Ditto. Ros’s contributions are always valuable and thought-provoking.

    Like

  21. Roslyn,

    I certainly hope this is not your last post on this blog. I think your contributions have been very valuable, and I have a very high regard for your work. “Beasts and Gods” blew me away, in fact. If we disagree about certain points, vive la différence. I like to make my point of view (which is not that of other members here) not bludgeon others into adopting it.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Keith,
    >”>If an assembly chosen by lot is carefully designed, no member has more influence than any other.”
    >”That’s a strange, and unworldly claim”
    OK, I should have been more precise, I suppose. I was not talking of your beloved speech acts. I meant the sort of thing that I gave
    examples of, and the behind-the-scenes party room stuff:”Help me with this, and I’ll see if I can get you…” (the Transport portfolio/ preselection for your son in the next vacant electorate/on the board of … etc, etc)

    Yes, there will be differences in persuasiveness – but haven’t we been here before?

    Yoram,
    >”That is, a miniscule number of proposals.”
    Is there any point in the Assembly spending time on proposals which manifestly don’t attract much support? How much support (ie how many signatures/clicks/phone calls to the special number) might be the best filter for proposals: the number can be adjusted until the Assembly is constantly busy but not overloaded. Is there a better way?

    Like

  23. Campbell,

    > Is there any point in the Assembly spending time on proposals which manifestly don’t attract much support?

    Is there any point in voters spending time on candidates which manifestly don’t attract much support?

    Proposals, like candidates, attract mass support not based on their merits – which can only be understood after attention has been focused – but based on the powers behind them. Proposals and candidates which are promoted by powerful people and organizations have a chance to “attract much support”. All others are essentially doomed from the outset.

    Like

  24. Campbell,

    >your beloved speech acts

    I claim no proprietary rights to ordinary language philosophy, as developed by Austin, Searle etc. In this context the term covers any political behaviour other than the secret vote.

    >Yes, there will be differences in persuasiveness – but haven’t we been here before?

    We have, but you don’t appear to accept the consequences for a model that relies on accurate descriptive representation. If some proxies are more persuasive than others then the minidemos will no longer accurately represent the target population (its only claim to democratic legitimacy).

    >Is there any point in the Assembly spending time on proposals which manifestly don’t attract much support?

    You have to remember that in Yoram’s model all proposals are generated endogenously as anything else is (by definition) undemocratic. According to Yoram’s Syllogism the minipublic will automatically act in such a way as to accurately reflect the interests of the target population, so there is no need for any of the artefacts of mass democracy, including citizens’ initiatives etc.

    Like

  25. Campbell,

    Sutherland wrote:

    > You have to remember that in Yoram’s model […]

    You have to remember that Sutherland is a habitual, shameless liar and his descriptions of other people’s ideas reflect only his own dogma and nothing else.

    Like

  26. Now he’s got that off his chest, perhaps Yoram will enlighten us as to how I have misdescribed his position.

    Like

  27. I’m being attacked by both left and right, here, so I must have got something right!

    Like

  28. Yoram,
    >”Proposals, like candidates, attract mass support not based on their merits – which can only be understood after attention has been focused – but based on the powers behind them.”
    It’s one thing to get something on to the agenda, and quite another to get it approved after proper scrutiny of evidence.

    “All others are essentially doomed from the outset.”
    Not necessarily. There’s a kerfuffle here at the moment (read: going on for 50 years now) about the new airport for the west of France. The government and a very large company (Vinci) want the airport built. Popular opposition to it is probably around 80%. A proposal to cancel it put up by a member of the public would certainly be approved by a large majority. The same would probably apply to the Abbott’s Point coal wharf in Australia, and quite likely the Hinckley Point nuclear power station in the UK.
    ******************************************************************
    Keith,
    >”ordinary language philosophy, as developed by Austin, Searle etc”
    Just as well they didn’t copyright the expression, you’d be up for a fortune!

    >”We have, but you don’t appear to accept the consequences…”
    I have read and considered everything you have to say on the subject many times – it feels like twenty times. If you haven’t convinced me in twenty repetitions, do you think you have the ghost of a hope on the twenty-first? There is a small kernel of truth in what you say: the bleedingly obvious point that when we speak to someone we usually seek to influence that person, and sometimes we do. I don’t need you, Austin, Searle, Peter Stone and whoever else to point that out to me. Do I think this is a sufficient reason to abandon discussion in the Assembly? No, and for reasons I have already given. I’m not interested in wasting any more time on this, as far as I’m concerned, the subject is closed.

    Like

  29. Campbell,

    >It’s [a] one thing to get something on to the agenda, and [b] quite another to get it approved after proper scrutiny of evidence.

    I think we all agree on [b] but there is no emerging consensus on [a]. The three perspectives are:

    1. Campbell: ho boulomenos + a small army of sifters and collaters
    2. Keith: election and direct democratic initiatives + votation
    3. Yoram: emerges from the internal deliberations of an allotted body

    Not sure where Terry and Andre stand on this. It would be great if the 518 followers of the blog were to let us know which of these options they prefer (of course, in the spirit of ho boulomenos, they could also suggest their own alternative). I guess the evaluative criteria are a mixture of democratic and epistemic considerations — we want the best proposals and also those that would command most popular support (although the two criteria might be mutually exclusive).

    Like

  30. Keith,

    On your question about the source of proposals in my design…

    I come closest to Campbell’s idea. I propose several routes for proposal initiation:

    An allotted Agenda Council evaluates ideas that come from any source, picking topics worthy of full drafting as proposals. But they also employ professional staff that seek out issues that are being ignored (aren’t in the public eye – not hot-button issues). The Agenda Council selects some issues as priority for the next time period and issues a “Request for Proposals.” Many, many Interest Panels (of perhaps 12 citizens) can then be created from volunteers by lot (creating diverse groups) or by self-selected like-minded groups. These are the detailed proposal generators.They provide raw material (drafts) for a separate allotted Review body (an issue-specific body) to dissect, amend, recombine into a final bill. Under this scheme ANY citizen can get her proposal heard, but must be able to get a panel of 12 to agree on it to move up the chain. It’s okay if the Widget lobby dominates most of these panels and generates a bunch of pro-Widget proposals… there will also be at least a few Widget-skeptic panels to provide the Review panel with a full range of options on the issue.

    But I also think there needs to be a safety valve of a petition route for citizens to force an issue onto the agenda… but they have to be careful what they wish for, because once on the agenda, the final draft bill may end up the opposite of what they hoped for. Thus this route gets an issue onto the agenda, but it still needs to get through a Review panel and a final large Jury.

    Like

  31. Terry,

    >An allotted Agenda Council evaluates ideas that come from any source, picking topics worthy of full drafting as proposals

    This would be an extremely powerful body and would become the prime target for lobbyists. How many persons are involved, is participation voluntary and how long do they serve for?

    Like

  32. Campbell,

    > It’s one thing to get something on to the agenda, and quite another to get it approved after proper scrutiny of evidence.

    True. Just like in elections – the elite control who is on the short list of candidates, but have less control over which one of them is selected.

    Of course, rejecting a proposal is the same as accepting a proposal to maintain the status quo. Maintaining the status quo may also be unacceptable. The case of Obamacare is exactly such a situation: the new law was terrible, but it was arguably an improvement over the status quo.

    > A proposal to cancel it put up by a member of the public would certainly be approved

    How would that “member of the public” get their proposal to a situation where the public would be able to express their opinions on it? If any member of the public can submit their proposal, then the system would generate many, many proposals expressing the “no” position. The large majority of the voters would never become aware of the large majority of those proposals. The proposal that would be selected among this large set would have to have some outstanding properties – in all likelihood it would be backed by some powerful organization. (It may even be backed in some round-about way by the elite powers wanting to see it defeated.)

    This is simply “the principle of distinction” – it applies whenever a competitive process occurs. It matters not whether the competition is between candidates or between bill proposals.

    Like

  33. Keith wrote about my Agenda Council:
    >”This would be an extremely powerful body and would become the prime target for lobbyists.”

    Not so. The key is the division of tasks among multiple bodies. If bank lobbyists want a law to reduce regulation and they got the Agenda Council to put “Bank Regulation” on the national agenda, the final result might be MORE regulation rather than less. Getting an ISSUE onto the AGENDA does not determine what drafts many Interest Panels might come up with, nor which way the Review panel and Policy Jury will decide. Multiple bodies are a powerful check on risks of corruption. Rather than just dividing power among BRANCHES (exec, leg and judiciary), dividing tasks WITHIN a branch provides a better check.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Yoram,

    > the principle of distinction applies whenever a competitive process occurs.

    In every other domain that would be viewed as a positive (the selection of the best), why not when it comes to politics?

    Like

  35. Keith,
    To answer with one word… “Trump.” It was his distinctiveness that was key to his election… “Distinction” does not mean ACTUALLY best.

    Like

  36. Terry,

    To be more accurate, the effect of the principle of distinction should be summarized as “Trump v. Clinton”. The fact that those two hugely unpopular candidates were what the voters had to choose from is the perverse outcome of the PoD. The fact that Trump was chosen over Clinton is a separate story.

    Like

  37. Terry/Yoram,

    It’s interesting when a candidate is simultaneously described as populist and hugely unpopular. At our departmental seminar last Wednesday the presenter ,(an American academic) dismissed all Trump voters as, “stupid” (aka basket of deplorables). Given his relatively low level of expenditure and the opposition from within his own party Trump’s achievement was impressive and might augur well for his tenure of the white house. Some of the most effective presidents have been the least distinguished.

    Like

  38. >” How would that “member of the public” get their proposal to a situation where the public would be able to express their opinions on it? If any member of the public can submit their proposal, then the system would generate many, many proposals expressing the “no” position.”
    Well, take my example of large public works: in this case, an airport. If the “yes” position, as you put it, is to abandon it, then I can assure you it would have very strong support. The project is in the news at least once a week, sometimes every day. The “no” position, to go ahead and build the damn thing, might attract a few votes from potential sub-contractors and the like, but not many. It wouldn’t matter how many times you put it up, it won’t attract signatures. At this stage “to express their opinions” means only to support its going to the Assembly for a policy committee to be appointed, or to be assigned the proposal, if there is an appropriate existing PC. Once it’s before a PC, of course, you can comment to your heart’s content.
    If you’re thinking of abusive use – spamming – of the “anyone can make a proposal” principal, that’s where the proposal committee comes in: the second identical proposal, like the two millionth identical proposal, goes back to the proposer with a polite note (pre-printed by the thousands) pointing out that there is already a proposal for this measure, we suggest that you sign it, and next time please check the list of proposals before making a new one. Whether you take proposals by mail or with the internet, there are ways of cutting out spammers. I don’t see a difficulty here: if newspapers can handle thousands of letters to the editor, why can’t a proposals committee do it?
    As for the individual who thinks he has a good idea, if his proposal has any chance of being approved later on by the Assembly, then he’ll find people in his street or pub or supermarket or whatever who agree, and who will spread the word. It might take off a little slowly, but if people know that a proposal that has support stands a good chance of being passed, they’ll work on it. The proposals committee could put new proposals on line for signature: limit them to one signature per MAC number would get it roughly right. Or one per machine address, and check that the address was in the country concerned. Yes, these things can be spoofed, but perfect accuracy is not necessary at this stage.

    Like

  39. In case you missed it, from Gallup:
    ” Trump’s 61% unfavorable score is worst in presidential polling history
    Clinton’s 52% unfavorable score is second-worst”

    What’s all the fuss about? Elections work perfectly!
    Has Trump complained that the system’s unfair since the 8th?

    Like

  40. > As for the individual who thinks he has a good idea, if his proposal has any chance of being approved later on by the Assembly, then he’ll find people in his street or pub or supermarket or whatever who agree, and who will spread the word.

    Yes – that’s the standard aristocratic fairy tale of mass politics: the candidates and proposals with merit will bubble up to the top. In reality it doesn’t work for candidates and it doesn’t work for proposals, and for the same reason.

    Again, this is the principle of distinction: regular people cannot be “credible” candidates and cannot make “credible” proposals. There are just too many regular people for that to happen. Candidates and proposals are not selected according to their merits – that would require becoming familiar with far too many people and with far too many proposals.

    That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an occasional candidate that is good (despite being a member of the elite) or the occasional proposal that is good (despite being promoted by some elite powers), but those are the exceptions.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. >” In reality it doesn’t work for candidates and it doesn’t work for proposals, and for the same reason.”
    I think there are plenty of examples where it has worked, in spite of our current electoral systems. The anti-war movement at the time of the Vietnam war eventually won. Women’s rights movements have achieved wonders, so have the environmentalists. I suppose you will say that these movements had a spearhead composed of the “elite” – certainly there were highly educated and intelligent people in them – but if a proposal is to ultimately receive majority support, is it not inevitable that in that majority some will be intelligent and educated?
    I see CW is now an aristocrat as well as being an elite young post-Marxist Legislator. Quo non ascendet?

    Like

  42. >I see CW is now an aristocrat as well as being an elite young post-Marxist Legislator.

    Given you live in France now Campbell, you’d better keep an eye out for the approaching tumbril — although the fact you do some manual work every now and then might get you off the hook!

    PS I think America pulled out of Vietnam because it was losing the war, but the women’s and environmental movements benefited greatly from the reorientation of the New Left cultural elite away from its traditional constituency (for which crime it is now paying the price).

    Like

  43. Campbell,

    Your latest comment argues that elections have the power to influence public policy. However, I have not argued above against this rather weak claim (although it is far from clear whether the examples you gave are actually instances of that happening, and it is worth noting that the famous Page and Gilens study gives strong evidence that any such influence must occur by changing elite opinion first).

    My point was that ordinary citizens cannot become credible electoral candidates and cannot generate credible propositions through the “popular initiative” process (where credible means “recognizable by a non-negligible part of the population”).

    Again, that doesn’t mean that there is no way that popular ideas can be reflected in public policy. It means that the simplistic mass-political story of “popular ideas will win at the polls” is invalid – both when it is applied to elections and when it is applied to the “direct democracy”/mass participation process.

    Like

  44. Yoram,

    >it is worth noting that the famous Page and Gilens study gives strong evidence that any such influence must occur by changing elite opinion first).

    Obviously it’s too early to make a confident claim, but both Brexit (direct democracy) and the Trump victory (electoral democracy) would appear to undermine your argument. If anything elite opinion looks like it will have to change to better align with popular pressure. From the perspective of epistemic democrats the problem is whether or not the judgment of the crowds is wise, not whether or not the tail is wagging the democratic dog. I’m puzzled that you continue to ignore phenomena that most political scientist and journalists view as paradigm changing.

    Like

  45. Yoram,
    I didn’t go so far as to ascribe the glory of instituting reform to elections!
    And I was thinking long-term: women’s rights from 1788 to the present, environment from the first national park, etc. Vietnam was shorter-term, but it became obvious that things couldn’t go on like that.
    “ordinary citizens cannot become credible electoral candidates”
    Quite so, as I have argued in DWE.
    “and cannot generate credible propositions through the “popular initiative” process.”
    Generally speaking, true enough for the current system. I think, though, that you’re unduly pessimistic in the case of government by sortition.

    Like

  46. […] Elites’ frustration with the electorate is manifesting itself in a revival of openly anti-democratic ideas. Van Reybrouck and others offer sortition as an alternative: an a democratic mechanism that […]

    Like

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