Equal Participation in the Post-Democratic Age

Forthcoming book chapter by Dirk Jörke and Anthoula Malkopoulou

Equal participation is a sine qua non of democracy. Yet, today equal voting rights are insufficient for embodying this principle. On one hand, the use of voting rights is not equal among the population. On the other, elections have increasingly become a post-democratic facade, because decision-making has shifted to unelected bodies or non-transparent network meetings. Are more direct democratic procedures the solution to this predicament? This chapter argues that they are not. For once, deliberative citizen assemblies bring inequalities in from the backdoor, as they permit knowledge, skills and other resources more available to advantaged citizens to weigh in positively. Likewise, introducing random selection as a way of distributing public office may allow advantaged citizens to dominate, if the pool of candidates is voluntary and thus self-selected. We argue that reforms should generally focus not on introducing more direct participation, but on reducing the inequalities of participation in representative systems.

The other alternative being large non-deliberative juries with mandatory participation.

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30 Responses

  1. “deliberative citizen assemblies bring inequalities in from the backdoor”

    The authors put priority on a solution for inequality of participation in decision making. For them it follows that leaving the decision making to “advantaged” citizens is a problem. The opposite is true.

    1. Is the problem of representative democracy really the inequality of participation after elections? I say no. The whole legacy election process is designed to achieve exactly that – even if often does not – to put the best possible person in charge in the opinion of the electorate. The real problem is the subsequent negative impact on decision making tactics representative politicians must employ to win elections or consensus.

    2. As long as sortition democracy can only offer to put “random citizens” in charge, i.e. average persons, it will appear, and probably is, visibly inferior to representative democracy with its “professional” decision makers.

    Therefore, sortition democracy needs the opposite: we must put the most capable citizens for any decision topic in charge, with the limiting condition of randomness in selection and sociodemographic representativeness.

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  2. hjh:

    >Therefore, sortition democracy needs the opposite: we must put the most capable citizens for any decision topic in charge, with the limiting condition of randomness in selection and sociodemographic representativeness.

    The problem being a) how to identify the “most capable” citizens and b) how to distinguish them from, and dissuade them from advancing the interests of, the socio-economically advantaged. This, IMO, is impossible, hence the need to quarantine the cognitive elite to an advocacy role, leaving final judgment in the hands of a representative sample of the whole citizen body. This dualism has the advantage of historical precedent, both in 4th century Athens and the bicameral proposal of James Harrington’s Oceana. In Harrington’s neo-republican model if the elite advocated proposals that were against the interests of the demos, they would be rejected by the minidemos. Such a process would also resolve the contradictions between “most capable”, “random selection” and “sociodemographic representativeness”.

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  3. Thanks for posting this.

    Key parts: “Even if the mechanism of sortition offers an innovative and illuminating new way for correcting the ills of post-democracy and granting political influence to a greater part of society, the scope of applying such a mechanism makes sense only within a larger system of political representation that combines sortition and election. For it is not elections as such that constitute the problem of contemporary democracy, but the regulations that govern them (esp. with regard to campaign finance), their non-idealistic implementation (such as in semi-democratic states), and above all their monopolistic use as the sole mechanism for designating office-holders. A radical replacement of elections with another single instrument of selection risks creating new and different problems, such as the lack of continuity, political talent and expertise in government. It is therefore optimal to add sortition as a complementary measure to a democratic system, rather than as successor of elections. For example, randomness can become a way of selecting the Lower House of Parliament and elections the Upper House. The tasks of the two houses can then be appropriately adjusted, without of course reducing the ‘People’s Assembly’ to a mere rubber stamp.” (p. 16)

    “[A]ny process of random selection of citizens for public office (sortition) is doomed to duplicate the inequalities of participation in elections. Therefore we draw attention to the importance of having regulations in place that alleviate the crude realities of unequal participation and underrepresentation.” (p. 19)

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  4. Thanks Jonathan, those two passages nicely encapsulate the democratic diarchy. In Dahl’s view democracy is a complex concept which can only be realised by multiple political institutions.

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  5. Jonathan,

    For it is not elections as such that constitute the problem of contemporary democracy, but the regulations that govern them (esp. with regard to campaign finance), their non-idealistic implementation (such as in semi-democratic states), and above all their monopolistic use as the sole mechanism for designating office-holders.

    This idea can be called the “electoral reformist dogma”. This idea is the conventional wisdom for the loyal opposition, people such as the Australian sortitioninsts, David Van Reybrouck, George Monbiot, Zoe Williams, the Guardian editorial board and Valentine Daval. For obvious reasons this idea gets amplified in establishment press and academic circles, despite having no evidence for it, and the existence of significant evidence against it.

    If sortition is to become a political force of any value, it must reject this dogma and present itself as an alternative to elections rather than as an add-on.

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  6. Yoram: If sortition is to become a political force of any value, it must reject this dogma and present itself as an alternative to elections rather than as an add-on.

    As Yoram ignores “dogmatists” like me, let’s leave the response to Dahl:

    Perhaps the greatest error in thinking about democratic authority is to believe that ideas about democracy and authority are simple and must lead to simple prescriptions . . . if you think there are simple prescriptions, then we cannot hope to understand one another. (Dahl, 1990, p. 73)

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  7. Yoram,

    >the loyal opposition, people such as the Australian sortitioninsts, David Van Reybrouck, George Monbiot, Zoe Williams, the Guardian editorial board and Valentine Daval.

    What do you mean here by “the loyal opposition”? Opposition to who — yourself and the other couple of sortition fundamentalists who are trying to hijack this forum?

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  8. Yoram points out in his excerpt above from the authors nails the key assumption that the authors simply assert without evidence… that it is only the details of implementation that cause elections to come up short for democracy, and that campaign finance reform and the like will fix those. While it is plausible that reforms like that will reduce the level of blatant corruption, they cannot “fix” the fundamental unrepresentativeness of electoral schemes.

    As one example, I did research into the effects of the adoption of public financing of campaigns for state legislative races in Maine (where MOST legislators now rely exclusively on public financing for their campaigns). While I haven’t published my findings in any journals (so you can discount this if you demand peer review — but the research is solid). I compared the employment backgrounds and gender of legislators BEFORE public campaign finance was implemented and AFTER (when over 80% of legislators used it). There was no significant change at all, and the state still closely matches the occupation and gender balance of the surrounding New England states… which is to say dramatically under-representing citizens with working class occupations and women. Addressing the problem of bribery through campaign donations is a good thing, but the illusion that such reforms will make an elected legislature genuinely representative is an illusion.

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  9. Further on Dahl’s view, what do you think about his book A Preface to Economic Democracy?

    Dahl: “If democracy is justified in governing the state, then it is also justified in governing economic enterprises. What is more, if it cannot be justified in governing economic enterprises, we do not quite see how it can be justified in governing the state. … Of course, we do not expect that the introduction of the democratic process in the government of economic enterprises will make them perfectly democratic or entirely overcome the tendencies toward oligarchy that seem to be inherent in all large human organizations, including the government of the state. But just as we support the democratic process in the government of the state despite substantial imperfections in practice, so we support the democratic process in the government of economic enterprises despite the imperfections we expect in practice. We therefore see not convincing reasons why we should not exercise our right to the democratic process in the government of enterprises, just as we have done in the government of the state.”

    I saw the piece by Terry Bouricius, A Better Co-op Democracy Without Elections?: http://www.coopwatercooler.com/discussions//4m79q1m88fwktufew30pyeg3k4i9zh

    Is there any example of sortition being used in workplace governance?

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  10. Terry,

    You are conflating descriptive representation and the active representation of interests. Notwithstanding Martin Gilens’s rhetoric, there is no necessary connection between occupation, gender, ethnicity or any other descriptive category and the representation of interests. The majority of poor white American voters (and 60% of white women) accepted the representative claim of a misogynistic plutocrat, as he appeared to be shaping some of his policy proposals around their preferences and interests (as they perceived them). The active representation of interests is, and always will be, a crucial element of the democratic diarchy and there is no reason to believe this can be realised by sortition, for reasons made clear in Hanna Pitkin’s The Concept of Representation.

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  11. Jonathan,

    “Is there any example of sortition being used in workplace governance?”

    Sure, it is omnipresent and good practice. Market research, which guides strategy, innovation and marketing decisions in companies, is implicitly using sortition: Sampling for market research is a random draw from the intended target segment.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Terry,

    Yes. There is also considerable variation between countries in the way campaign finance is regulated. At a minimum, then, some sort of demonstration of a correlation across countries between features of the regulation and outcomes should underpin any claims that campaign finance regulation can improve governance. No such demonstration is ever offered AFAIAA.

    Other favorite proposals of electoral reformers are: changing voting schemes (e.g., proportional representation), transparency and informational accessibility improvements, popular initiatives and recallability (often electronically-flavored) and having more power at sub-national government levels. None of these proposals, repeated ad nauseum with an air of proposing a never-before-attempted innovation despite in fact covering very old ground, is ever backed up by either a thorough theoretical analysis or systematic empirical evidence aimed at showing promise for improving governance.

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  13. Hubertus,
    Those are very interesting uses of advisory groups of randomly selected individuals, where the randomly selected individuals provide input but do not have an official, binding say over decision making. I wonder what examples there may be of sortition being used for binding decision making in economic governance, such as a cooperative or other enterprise using sortition in a binding way (Terry Bouricius suggests “representative juries that select the board members are an excellent way to assure ultimate authority and regular oversight by the ordinary members as a whole”) or any use of sortition in determining worker participants in codetermination/Mitbestimmung who then have part of a binding say in decision making.

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  14. Keith,
    Representation of interests and descriptive representation (which should include mirroring interests… not just physical traits) are two inter-related aspects of good representation… I did not conflate them. I observed first hand the interconnection while serving in a legislative committee. When considering a bill on the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, I noted that NO members of the committee were renters. The effect was significant on how they absorbed testimony from witnesses. I attempted to poll the rest of the 150 House members, and as far as I was able to determine only ONE member of the House was a renter (while over one third of the “represented” population were tenants). The impact on legislation was fundamental.

    Yoram,
    I think there IS evidence that jurisdictions using proportional representation are on average better governed, and come closer to descriptive representation (such as more female legislators) though I can’t give you citations. I also favor public campaign financing as an improvement. Such reforms ARE worth supporting, even though I agree they cannot solve the problem adequately.

    Jonathan,
    I don’t know of any enterprises using sortition as part of their governance system, though I haven’t done a detailed search… maybe somebody else invented the system I thought up independently, such as in the Mondragon cooperatives or somewhere. The German co-determination laws exist only in large firms, which are generally unionized, and it is plausible (though I don’t know) that the iron law of oligarchy would encourage the union officials to see sortition as a threat to their role. I have had discussions with a co-op activist locally who is pursuing sortition in a large consumer co-op. But the most exciting prospect is the possible use of sortition in large “platform co-ops” — vast consumer owned online services (like an Uber or Facebook). Co-op advocates for such diffuse mega-entities have had no good means for democratizing such an enterprise, and the idea of sortition is now being looked at by a few platform co-op activists.

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  15. Terry,

    As you know, in my hybrid model legislative decision making bodies would be a statistically representative microcosm of the target population. But this would not involve replacing election with sortition as proposers and opponents of new bills would be required to argue the case for and against, and election is the tried and tested mechanism. This being the case efforts are required to improve the process, as suggested by this paper.

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  16. Terry,

    > I think there IS evidence […] I can’t give you citations

    As I wrote, such claims are endlessly made (including on this blog) but never with compelling evidence. You’d think that providing such evidence would be very high on the priorities list of political scientists – this matter is at the core of what they supposedly study. And yet – nothing.

    In fact, since the general sense of non-representativity cuts across many countries, each with its own variety of the electoralist system and its own set of regulations, the effect, if any, would have to be rather small.

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  17. Keith, off topic for a breath:
    Thanks for adding to my acrynomial knowledge, As Far As I Am Aware.
    Maybe I should add: STS (So To Speak).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. David, I think you’ll find AFAIAA is an element of Gatspeak.

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  19. Jonathan: “I wonder what examples there may be of sortition being used for binding decision making in economic governance”

    What free economy governance problem are you trying to solve with the tool “sortition”?

    In a free economy, suppliers are free to produce what they think that consumers want, which decision is sometimes informed by prior market research.

    In a free economy, consumers are free to buy what they want. No governance problem there.

    This is fundamentally different to political decision making, where allegedly representative politicians decide and force on citizens what they believe that citizens want (or believe they should want) while politicians get what they want.

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  20. hjh,
    I presume Jonathan is not speaking about markets vs. planned economies, but rather is speaking about the level of the enterprise. While many people simply accept the custom of ownership entitles control over the work lives of employees (within decency set by law), others argue that large enterprises are essentially social inventions and as Dahl argues, humans who spend much of their lives at work perhaps has as much right to democracy at work as they do in the rest of society. I realize this runs counter to standard capitalist ideology, but there is certainly room for argument.

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  21. Thanks Terry,

    I did get that.

    It is just an unsuitable analogy, like the hammer for which every problem looks like a nail.

    Not for ideologic reasons but from plain horrible experience with this wrong understanding of democracy on a corporate level during the Internet bubble. We and many other internet companies experimented with supposedly “more democratic” concepts in various forms in the late 90ies up to the collapse in 2000. It resulted in a schizophrenic intermingling of incompatible goals with an inbuilt maddening conflict of self-interests which were straightjacketed to act as if there was a decision to make, ignoring the true nature of the process: a negotiation between counterparties.

    For this experience: Individual companies compete for free-willed employees, so will strive to attract the best employees anyway. Any systemic flaw on a social level is best dealt with for all companies alike, i.e. by setting legal limitations.

    In the corporate world, information gathering can and should be broad (almost “democratic”). Successful companies will survey customers and employees regularly. That’s informational participation.

    However, decision making is for each side to make on their individual expectations, values and priorities: suppliers sell or not – customers buy or not, employers hire or not, fire or not – employees accept or not, resign or not.

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  22. > not for ideological reasons, but from plain horrible experience with this wrong understanding of democracy

    This should make us cautious regarding proposals to replace electoralism with”real” democracy, especially in the light of the Marxist background of many of its advocates (and, indeed, the concept itself).

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  23. > cautious regarding proposals to replace electoralism with”real” democracy

    Regarding an improved democracy, I envisage a sortitionist party which adheres to a knowledge-weighted sortition process and the connected rules how deliberating citizen samples approve or disprove of political proposals.

    If people elect the new sortitionist party, its process will be democratically legitimised by elections. So yes, there will be elections. But no more elected representatives.

    Electoralism in the sense of “let’s elect supposedly superior beings to decide political matters instead of citizens” is definitely inferior to such a sortition process. It must be replaced because citizens lose their say in actual decisions. Whereas in the commercial example, buyers and employees remain fully empowered which keeps suppliers and employers in check, and vice versa.

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  24. hjh,

    >Electoralism in the sense of “let’s elect supposedly superior beings to decide political matters instead of citizens” is definitely inferior to such a sortition process. It must be replaced because citizens lose their say in actual decisions.

    In my proposal, the elected get to advocate policies and the allotted have the final say in the decision process. This would retain a permanent role for elected politicians, rather than just what would in effect be a referendum legitimising the new social contract. I think, frankly, that it’s unlikely a plurality of electors would seek to permanently disenfranchise themselves and the losing minority would be even more unlikely to accept the outcome peacefully. Unlike the world of business, where customers can always choose to shop elsewhere, membership of the state is compulsory.

    Bear in mind also that your knowledge-weighted sortition process would also select supposedly superior beings.

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  25. “the elected get to advocate policies”

    Can you elaborate why you would introduce this exclusivity? It would appear that anybody should be able to advocate a policy or other collective proposal, and if approved get a go (and funding) to implement it. As the allotted have the final say, elections of a select few for proposal initiation seems a redundant restriction.

    ” electors would seek to permanently disenfranchise themselves”

    Not permanently, just to the next general elections. Then the electorate can decide whether they want more or less influence for a demarchic party.

    “the losing minority would be even more unlikely to accept”

    The minority would be better off, as they will be represented in the stratified demarchic committee which in addition decides with a significant supermajority, not just 51% like now.

    “knowledge-weighted sortition process would also select supposedly superior beings”

    I’d contest “supposedly”, because the process would destil more foresightful decision makers (still stratified of course) in an objective fashion.The average person thinks with a 90% likelihood that s/he is more capable and knowledgeable than the average person, which is absurd but nonetheless a big issue when it comes to popular acceptance. Knowledge-weighted sortition would not be perceived as “average” i.e. inferior but have the fame of winners in topical foresight competitions.

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  26. hjh:

    >As the allotted have the final say, elections of a select few for proposal initiation seems a redundant restriction.

    Dahl insists that democratic norms require that the people should also have control of the agenda-setting process. Ho boulomenos is the appropriate form for a small direct democracy, but in extended states policy proposal also require a representative mechanism — which should be a combination of election and direct democratic initiative (plus a votation filter). Ho boulomenos in large states only empowers individuals with a big mouth, a committed following and/or a large bank balance as weaker voices will be drowned out in the torrent of proposals pouring in. As such ho boulomenos in large states has no epistemic or democratic merit.

    >The minority would be better off . . .

    The problem is one of perceived legitimacy — you acknowledge this is problematic as “the average person thinks with a 90% likelihood that s/he is more capable and knowledgeable than the average person.” As such any process that disenfranchises everyone apart from a tiny microcosm is unlikely to be perceived as legitimate (especially by those who vote against implementing the process).

    >Knowledge-weighted sortition would not be perceived as “average” i.e. inferior but have the fame of winners in topical foresight competitions.

    I’ve just finished reading Brennan’s book and he offers no insight at all regarding the objective mechanisms that would be required to uncover the epistemic elite. Little or no progress has been made on this project since originally proposed by Plato 2,500 years ago.

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  27. *** In the quoted text by Dirk Jörke and Anthoula Malkopoulou, we read that « deliberative citizen assemblies bring inequalities in from the backdoor, as they permit knowledge, skills and other resources more available to advantaged citizens to weigh in positively ».
    *** We must see that in any society where discussion is free – discussion between friends, inside families, in the Web, in the workplace – there will be some kinds of deliberation where different persons will have different rhetorical resources.
    *** The hard-equalitarians who ask for equality of influence as perfect as possible will have either to suppress as far as possible informal deliberation or to compensate it by giving more formal weight in the political process to the rhetorically disadvantaged persons, or practically the classes of persons (socio-economic classes, education-level groups, ethno-racial or ethno-religious groups, genders).
    *** The first way is not possible in a free society, and especially in a dêmokratia where common citizens have a strong sense of political power.
    *** The second way is contrary to one of the basic principles of dêmokratia (ortho-democracy, democracy in the Athenian idea), i.e. isonomia, formal political equality of the citizens.
    *** It is therefore interesting to underline the basic incompatibility between dêmokratia and hard-equalitarianism.
    *** I remind that among the reasons which may be put for isonomia and dêmokratia is the fact that any formal difference between the political powers of citizens will have some level of arbitrariness and will be suspect of hidden strategies, which will undermine the legitimacy of the political process.
    André Sauzeau

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  28. *** About the inequality of influence, we must remind that inequality of rhetorical skills is not the one parameter.
    *** A strong one is inequality of life span. And this will act in a dêmokratia, a citizen with a longer life will have more chances to be allotted, and will have finally more political power. We know that there are strong collective differences in contemporary advanced societies. We can think that dêmokratia will reduce them, but at least in the beginning we know that a middle class female citizen will have statistically a longer life than a low class male citizen.
    *** Hard equalitarianism would lead to reducing the formal political power (for instance reducing the allotting chances) for people with an estimated longer life span ; which is clearly contrary to isonomia.

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  29. Andre,,

    >The hard-equalitarians who ask for equality of influence as perfect as possible will have either to suppress as far as possible informal deliberation or to compensate it

    You are conflating formal institutions (the pnyx) with informal exchange (the agora) and your example of a single (middle class, female) citizen with a longer life having more chances to be allotted indicates that you are ignoring the representative nature of modern political institutions. If we are seeking a sortition democracy for a large state then we need to focus on the ongoing descriptive representativity of the allotted chamber. As deliberation will drastically undermine this, then the two alternatives are either a) to proscribe deliberation, or b) (as you have suggested previously) to aggregate the output of a large number of small independent deliberative forums, so as to average out the inevitable rhetorical imbalances.

    This is not a case of hard egalitarianism, merely taking sufficient steps to ensure that a sortition-based democracy would not introduce further inequalities to electoral democracy. The fact that elected representatives do not resemble average citizens (on account of the principle of distinction) does not mean that they are thereby incapable of acting in their interests. We should also seek to learn from history and acknowledge that there was probably a good reason for the fact that Athenian juries were not deliberative.

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  30. Keith
    I was not discussing your proposals (I don’t think you are a hard equalitarian), but the hard equalitarian principle
    implied by the quoted text by Dirk Jörke and Anthoula Malkopoulou

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