This short and readable essay is critical of sortition, or at least of the proposals currently discussed in France, but is not completely hostile to the idea. The authors avoid some of the most common knee-jerk anti-sortition arguments and make some interesting and valuable points.
Taking political chances with sortition
29 November 2016, Franck Dedieu and Charles Toulemonde
Machiavelli attributed to chance more than half of human actions. Free choice and individual will would therefore control the minor part of history. Miserable fate! And yet, over the last several years, and more so over the course of the present presidential campaign, the idea of drawing by lot representatives of the people made a breakthrough in the political agenda.
A proven system
In 2012, Ségolène Royal imagined citizen juries supervising the elected officials. Today, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of France Insoumise, has relied partially on chance last October for selecting delegates to his convention.
Arnaud Montebourg, a candidate in the primary of the left, wants to do the same for selecting the members of the senate. The environmentalists of the EELV, the activists of the Nouvelle Donne party and the members of the Nuit Debout movement of the spring of 2016 have crowned sortition with all the political virtues. This idea of a horizontal Republic is based on a simple argument: the elected, having become the professionals of politics, are living in a closed vessel in an increasingly inbred system and do not represent the social and sociological realities of the electorate. However, as usual in politics, we must be wary of silver-bullet ready-made solutions.
On reflection, this stochocracy (from the Greek stokhastikos, randomness, a term used by the philosopher Reger de Sizif) moves away from democracy, rather than approaches it. There is a risk that sortition would strengthen the foibles of the very “electoral oligarchy” is denounces. How will the two political classes share power? Will the “elected deputies” regard themselves as equal to the “loto-senators”? The “chosen” will have the upper hand of the electoral legitimacy while the “commoners” will only have the legitimacy of the lucky draw. What a distance between the Oath of the Tennis Court of the deputies of the Third Estate and the oath of the casino of the Mélenchonists!
Fundamentally, the political women and men, the advocates of sortition, not only are unlikely to lose their power but are finding in the pretense of sharing it a convenient tool for extinguishing the fire. The casino game is their means of redemption… Machiavelliesqe. Furthermore, politicians drawn from civil society, supposedly the source of a better representation of the people, are more often lost in the partisan maneuvers and end up deceived.
Not democratic then, and in addition not really republican. Sortition carries a part of the “divine”. Providence guides the hands of the innocent, and it is Providence that arranges the grains of sand that determine the lives of each. Théophile Gautier saw “chance [as] the pseudonym for God when He chooses not want to give a sign”. This horizontal democracy contains above all a vertical, supernatural, miraculous dimension. This reverses the most basic republican principles. In fact, universal suffrage is the opposite, being grounded in the real and the tangible, the counting of votes, in the the enumeration of the ballots according to a simple law of arithmetic rather than the law of heavens.
More trivially, sortition itself can be contested according to its own principal argument, that of the faithful representation of society. In fact, allotting representative is extracting at random balls from a bag. Like in all good magic shows, the public’s attention is directed toward the drawing of the balls, but not really toward the nature of the bag. Or, the “container” plays a key role in this story of the the democratic “content”. If the bag is rather large, the results of the allotment are therefore very faithful, and representative as argue the advocates. The power is therefore with those who determine the contents of the bag from which the sortition is to be carried out.
When Jean-Luc Mélenchon decided to select the majority of the delegates to the convention by allotment among the activists of France Insoumise, it certainly diluted in theory the power of the leaders of his movement, but it doubtless reproduced the sociological biases of the activists (under-representation of certain professions and of age cohorts). This raises therefore the questions of representation of different groups of citizens such as those of the gender parity or of minorities.
As a solution, France Insoumise has therefore to apply statistical methods that are more advanced than the simple allotment procedure also known as the “Monte Carlo” method. Alluding to the games of chance in the a district of the principality, not known for its socialist values, this method of sampling long used by engineers and researchers. Applied to politics, the more modern methods create a sampling method according to quota rules in order to assure a more faithful representation of each minority. This fragmentation could be used without limit. Thus, it applies equally to voting!