McCormick: The new ochlophobia? Populism, majority rule and prospects for democratic republicanism

Contributors to this blog who argue the case for full-mandate, voluntarist sortition will find support for their arguments in a forthcoming book chapter by John P. McCormick, author of Machiavellian Democracy. According to McCormick, electoral representation involves rule (primarily) by the rich, whereas democracy by lot is rule by the poor — a perspective that he derives from Aristotle, mediated by Machiavelli, Montesquieu [and Marx]:

The hoplites of ancient Greece and the plebeians of Republican Rome established institutions that granted ultimate legislative authority to the majority qua the poor . . . Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic exhibited primary institutions intended to insure that the poor would rule over or share rule equitably with the rich. (pp. 2-3)

Given this dichotomy it matters little which individuals are selected by preference election or sortition, as the two mechanisms will privilege (respectively) economic elites and the poor, and the resulting political decisions will (presumably) reflect the preferences of these two socio-economic groups.

McCormick, however, does not view democracy by lot as a form of representation — indeed the heading on page 12 specifically contrasts “Elective/Representative and Randomizing/Direct Institutions” — so its relevance to extended modern states might well be questioned. Leaving aside the questions of whether the classical developments were initiated by the demos or were the by-product of factional struggles within the political elite and why it was that the poor did not privilege economic over political equality, it has to be questioned whether the archaic sociological diarchy of the grandi and the popolo is of much relevance to modern pluralistic and economically developed societies. McCormick cites all the usual suspects (Winters, Picketty, Bartels, Gilens) but the debate on this blog casts some doubt on the hegemonic power of economic elites. McCormick also cites Oliver Dowlen’s Political Potential of Sortition and Peter Stone’s Luck of the Draw in support of his thesis but overlooks the fact that both authors argue that the purpose of sortition is to select political officials impartially, rather than to privilege any particular social class. The absence of contemporary literature (other than Aristotle) on the purpose of sortition leaves modern theorists largely unconstrained in their speculations.

The take-home message of McCormick’s essay appears to be that sortition — both ancient and modern — is a mechanism to enable rule by the poor as opposed to a form of descriptive or statistical portrait in miniature of the whole demos. Indeed his model of Machiavellian Democracy presupposes “the exclusion of the most wealthy and prominent citizens from the tribunate” (p. 31, my emphasis). McCormick is increasingly favourable regarding the possibilities of sortition in large modern states and proposes the rhetorical question: “what if poverty were to serve as a source of citizen empowerment within government institutions?” (ibid.)

Those of us who argue the normative and epistemic case for “stochation” (decision making by a descriptively-representative sample of the whole demos) take as our model the Athenian nomothetai and accept fully the institutional and procedural constraints to ensure that the (silent) deliberation of (large) juries does not adversely affect the ongoing representativity of the statistical sample. Those who argue the case for full-mandate sortition, especially in its voluntarist form, would do well to follow McCormick’s lead and seek another term than “representation” to describe their project, as the term is being used in a way that is unfamiliar to theorists working in the field of political representation.

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40 Responses

  1. *** In Ancient Athens the supporters of democracy did see it as rule by the dêmos with the sense of « civic community », whereas the anti-democrats did see it as rule by the dêmos with the sense of « common people », low classes opposed to elite. The second view may be found from the 5th century Pseudo-Xenophon to the 4th century Aristotle. For the anti-democrats the democrat discurse covers under an high minded theory the self-interest of the low classes, they consider themselves « realist ». Pseudo-Xenophon in his « Constitution of the Athenians » displays a funny (if not totally convincing) example of this « realism » – don’t consider the supposed civic sides of political lot, of the official cults, of the theater, etc, all these institutions are tricks to give material benefits to the low classes.
    *** The ideological situation may have been different in other Cities, specially where there was strong class warfare. But Thucydides at least implies an analogous situation in Syracuse, with Athenagoras declaring (Peloponnesian war, VI, 39, tr. Hobbes) : « democracy is a name of the whole, oligarchy but of a part. Next, though the rich are indeed fittest to keep the treasure, yet the wise are the best counsellors, and the multitude, upon hearing, the best judge. » “Democracy is a name of the whole” appears the standard democratic discurse.
    *** McCormick appears to take the old anti-democratic stance, but with inversed value : democracy is the rule of the poor, and it is good.
    *** Note that Athenagoras’ discourse implied the possibility of distinctions in magistracies, for example restricting finance magistracies to rich people, supposed abler in money field and less sensitive to bribes. In ancient democracies, political equality rested in the two channels of popular sovereignty, the general assembly and the allotted jury.
    *** Mc Cormick seems to consider that the modern advanced societies follow the pattern of Greek Cities along Aristotle (Politics, IV, 4, 22 ; 1291b, 25): a mass of common citizens and an elite (the gnôrimoi) including the citizens superior along various dimensions, as the money dimension and the culture dimension (paideia) – and even if there are distinctions inside this elite, money and culture appear twinned. In our societies, this scheme is simplistic, the elite phenomena are complex, and even if we want a simple model at least we must distinguish two general elites, the money elite and the culture elite, with only partial intersection.

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  2. It is interesting that while in the (semi-)democratic Athenian system anti-democratic ideology existed in the open, in our electoralist (and hence non-democratic) system democratic ideology is such a dominant force that the anti-democrats almost always feel the need to cloak their sentiments behind supposedly democratic arguments. Electoralism is a very strange and powerful creature.

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  3. Andre,

    McCormick’s speciality is Machiavelli, hence the archaic sociological categories. My point is only that the distinction between the elite (singular) and the masses is frequently adopted on this blog by those advocating full-mandate voluntarist sortition. If the archaic categories do not apply to modern polyarchies then the democratic case for full-mandate voluntarist sortition fails — especially when the case relies on the concept of descriptive representation.

    Yoram,

    >the anti-democrats almost always feel the need to cloak their sentiments behind supposedly democratic arguments

    Who is this referring to, McCormick? If so, that would be a highly eccentric claim. Have you read Machiavellian Democracy? I messaged John about this post and he thanked me for drawing attention to his paper and the work we are doing popularising sortition. We have very few friends in the world of mainstream political theory, so we should be careful not to insult those who are taking an interest in our work.

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  4. *** Keith says: « the archaic categories do not apply to modern polyarchies ». Yes , the contemporary French society is more complex I think that Demosthenes’Athens ; including about elite phenomena. And anyway these societies are so different that it would be stupid to believe a modern dêmokratia has only to copy all points of the ancient democratic systems.
    *** But the basic problem of dêmokratia is the same : in any society there will be some elite phenomena, and an oligarchizing tendency of the elites. Those who are, or feel, higher/better along a socially valued or powerful dimension will be tempted to be reluctant towards the formal political equality of dêmokratia. The dêmokratia must work both to rein the primary elite phenomena, and to counter the secundary oligarchizing phenomena. But the specifics will depend on the situation. For example the Athenian democracy took advantage of the highly agonistic spirit of Greek elites to counter oligarchism.

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  5. *** Yoram Gat writes that in contemporary polyarchies « democratic ideology is such a dominant force that the anti-democrats almost always feel the need to cloak their sentiments behind supposedly democratic arguments. »
    *** We must distinguish in the contemporary discourses the democratic myth and the word « democracy ».
    *** The democratic myth is that « the dêmos is sovereign but in representative-electoral systems the dêmos rules through his representants because he cannot rule directly in modern huge States » ; referenda being a complementary way of popular sovereignty. This myth has been one of the two pillars of polyarchy. But as the modern technology allows direct rule, and as the tide of populisms demonstrates that the elites does not control well the electoral processes, this myth is explicitly or implicitely challenged in the elite media – without triggering very strong reactions. Some say that there is political conformity in US universities, maybe, but I don’t fear for Philosopher Jason Brennan when he suggests defranchizing a sizable fraction of citizens and establishing an « epistocracy ». Many items may be taboo, but no more the democratic myth.
    *** The word « democracy » is kept, sure, and highly valued ; but used in a specific sense : an open society, with individual freedom and thought freedom reasonably protected from the State as opposed to the totalitarian, authoritarian and half-authoritarian. The ancient dêmokratia model belongs to this class – Popper was right – as the modern polyarchy, but they are nevertheless very different: dêmokratia is the power (kratos) of the dêmos. The answer : « don’t mind the etymology, we take the democracy in the modern sense ! ». And, worse, the discurse often implies that, given all the political defects found in common citizens, dêmokratia must be excluded from the class of democracies, modern sense !

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  6. Andre,

    >the Athenian democracy took advantage of the highly agonistic spirit of Greek elites to counter oligarchism.

    And this is just as applicable to modern liberty, especially on account of your earlier distinction between the monied and cultural elites. In US politics the former is largely Republican and the latter Democrat (although Democrat politicians like the Clintons have managed to use membership of the the latter to gain entry to the former).

    The constitution was designed along agonistic principles and (arguably) works best with a Democrat president and Republican congress. But this often leads to gridlock or cyclical oscillation, typically when a new president decides to overturn his predecessor’s executive orders. Our nomothetai-based proposal would be more stable as the agonistic exchange between the pro and con advocates would be judged by the citizens’ jury. This is a good example of the (mini)demos dividing and thereby ruling the elite. The competing vision of voluntarist “deliberative” minipublics would lead to domination by the cultural elite, and that’s why the proposal is so attractive to Critical Theorists and other post-Marxist visionaries. Unfortunately the resulting curtailment of democratic liberty would lead to a popular backlash that would make Brexit and Trump look mild in comparison.

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  7. Andre,

    >The word « democracy » is kept, sure, and highly valued ; but used in a specific sense : an open society, with individual freedom and thought freedom reasonably protected from the State as opposed to the totalitarian, authoritarian and half-authoritarian.

    We really must protest that this is an abuse of language — the values that you are describing are liberal, not democratic. It would be perfectly possible for a democratic state, in which the people have power, to be highly illiberal with respect to freedom and openness — in fact that was the principal fear of the American founders.

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  8. Andre,

    I disagree. Modern ideology does not limit itself to asserting the need for freedom of speech, etc. It very much insists that the people should be in power – that government should serve the people, and that it is the people themselves who are the best judges of how to do it and whether this is the case. It is therefore a truly democratic ideology.

    This is the great contradiction inherent in electoralism. On the one hand it is an oligarchical system in its power and policy outcomes. But on the other hand it leads through the competition for votes to politicians asserting that they represent the people. Thus explicitly elitist ideologies such as that of Brennan may live in niches but are marginalized or masked in mass discourse.

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  9. Yoram,

    >This is the great contradiction inherent in electoralism. On the one hand it is an oligarchical system in its power and policy outcomes.

    The evidence for the latter is disputed.

    >But on the other hand it leads through the competition for votes to politicians asserting that they represent the people.

    There is no inherent contradiction involved, particularly in the light of the recent growth of populist movements. However there may well be a difference between representing the people and representing the interests of the people once rational ignorance is factored in.

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  10. *** Keith Sutherland writes : « It would be perfectly possible for a democratic state, in which the people have power, to be highly illiberal with respect to freedom and openness ».
    *** Actually, dêmokratia cannot be separated from speech freedom, implying individual safety, by principle. In any political system of « true sovereignty », i.e. with a defined sovereign, any subject must have freedom when speaking directly to the sovereign, because sovereignty is phony if the sovereign cannot get all kinds of information and ideas. Let’s imagine a supposed sovereign king who can get information’s and ideas only through the channel of a magistrate, thus only filtered by this magistrate ; the king will not be sovereign, we will have a complex political system. In a dêmokratia, therefore, any citizen as individual must freely give information and ideas about any political subject to the whole of citizens as collective sovereign : it is clear that leads to a general freedom of speech, which implies a general personal safety. *** General freedom of speech leads to at least some degree of « openness », specially in a dynamic background : it is very difficult to maintain an ossified or ultra-orthodox culture when, for any new problem, every citizen has right to give his opinion. This was precisely one of the drawbacks of dêmokratia for philosophers as Plato.
    *** The theoretical links of dêmokratia with at least a range of individual freedoms are confirmed by the ancient discourse about dêmokratia ; including the discourse of anti-democrat thinkers who see in dêmokratia too much freedom – Plato compares democratic freedom to drinking pure wine (the Greeks drank wine only blended with water) ; see Republic, VIII, 562c ;562d. And this freedom extends to the children, to the slaves, and even to horses and mules, in a famous passage of Plato – Republic, VIII, 563c. When Aristotle explains the democrat discourse, there is no opposition between individual and collective freedom – see Politics VI, 1317b : [Liberty in democrat discourse] is « the aim of every democracy. But one factor of liberty is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share; so that it results that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich, because there are more of them and whatever is decided by the majority is sovereign. This then is one mark of liberty which all democrats set down as a principle of the constitution. And one is for a man to live as he likes; for they say that this is the function of liberty, inasmuch as to live not as one likes is the life of a man that is a slave. This is the second principle of democracy, and from it has come the claim not to be governed, preferably not by anybody, or failing that, to govern and be governed in turns » (transl. Rackham).
    *** The opposition of dêmokratia and individual freedom is a piece of modern ideology. It can be found of the Federalist Papers, coming from a literary tradition with strong oligarchic leaning (the death sentence against Socrates – an exceptional case of vindictive trial against an anti-democrat thinker – becoming evidence of « democratic oppression ») ; and from a low knowledge of Greek history (Roman history was better known in 18th century) – see Madison (Federalist 63) believing that the Athenian Senate (= the Boulê) was « annually elected ».
    *** Dêmokratia was not possible with the 18th century technology level except in a very small State. The Founding Fathers were rather afraid of a « populist » movement through representative election ; afraid for freedom of thought, and for property. Maybe, rather than a populist tyrant like Peisistratos, they were afraid of some Solon cancelling debts …
    *** It is very possible that a dêmos would choice to cancel freedom of thought and impose some kind of orthodoxy, for instance from religious feelings. That would mean self-destruction of dêmokratia. If the dêmos is not democrat, dêmokratia cannot exist. Likewise in a traditional hereditary kingship if the king is polyarchic-minded, or democrat, or Trotskyite, the monarchic sovereignty will undergo self-destruction. I think such a risk of self-destruction is not so great for a dêmokratia issued from contemporary polyarchies.
    *** The risk of self-destructive dêmokratia is different from the risk of an elected populist demagogue developing an authoritarian or half-authoritarian system. Such a demagogue, reaching political power against the elites by taking advantage of exceptional circumstances, and facing the multifaceted opposition of the elites without the support of ortho-democratic institutions, will be naturally tempted by an authoritarian drift.

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  11. *** Yoram Gat writes : « explicitly elitist ideologies such as that of Brennan may live in niches but are marginalized or masked in mass discourse. »
    *** Anyway it is an important fact that openly elitist ideologies can find safe niches in elite institutions which usually are not absolutely tolerant of any thought.
    *** Next, we must not distinguish too harshly the elite circles and the mass.The elite phenomena are multilayered. You have in the money elite the billionaires, but likewise people less rich, but feeling rich in relation with common citizens, and therefore easily prone to solidarity with billionaires. The culture elite includes people in academic or media circles, but likewise people who feel culturally superior to the common citizens, and are easily permeated by elitist ideologies.
    *** Yoram Gat writes of « masked » ideologies. But in French newspapers following Brexit we could find discourses which actually were implicit attacks against the idea of popular sovereignty and against the political ability of common citizens ; in newspapers as “Le Monde”, which is not a niche, but says wikipedia « one of the most important and widely respected newspapers in the world » ; actually one of the channel towards the lesser layers of the culture elite. I would say « implicit » rather than « masked », because it was not difficult to understand the basic tenets of the discourses.
    *** Thus we have explicit elitist discourses in niches, implicit elitist discourses in “Le Monde”, but yes we have no explicit elitist discourses in our politicians’ speeches or in « popular » mass media. This step would be less easy, sure.
    Anyway the democratic myth has clearly lost the status it had.

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  12. Andre,

    I don’t fully understand your argument about sovereignty but it doesn’t really matter as it’s a bit of a tangent to this thread. But if democracy and liberalism are intrinsically connected then why is there a need for the hybrid “liberal democracy”? It would certainly suggest the possibility of an illiberal democracy.

    I do agree regarding the plurality of elites and the porous nature of the borders. And it’s true that explicitly anti-democratic discourse is becoming widespread since Brexit, Trump and the threat of Wilders and Le Pen. The Brennan book has been widely reviewed and discussed.

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  13. Andre,

    > Actually, dêmokratia cannot be separated from speech freedom,

    Yes – a democracy without freedom of thought and speech is a contradiction in terms. Democracy means that everybody has an equal opportunity for having their ideas heard. Someone cannot have their ideas heard if they are silenced. (This point was well made by Dahl.)

    > Anyway the democratic myth has clearly lost the status it had.

    By “the democratic myth” you mean the claim that democarcy must be achieved through elections? If so, I would call that “the electoralist myth” since it is an assertion about electoralism rather than an assertion about democracy. It is democracy that we desire and the electoralists are trying to sell us elections as a means for democracy. The public is not disillusioned with democracy but with electoralism.

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  14. Yoram,

    >Democracy means that everybody has an equal opportunity for having their ideas heard.

    How is that possible in large states, lacking homogeneity along a number of dimensions (income, culture, religion, language and personal rhetorical and status differentials)? You have ruled out representative isegoria (via election and competitive media), along with any form of direct initiative as it privileges elite interests. A small randomly-selected sample could only be representative at the level of individual speech acts in a highly homogeneous society, so I’m at a loss to understand how everyone can have an equal opportunity to have their ideas heard. Bear in mind that the classical principle of formal equality of opportunity (ho boulomenos) would not cut the mustard with any modern equal opportunities theorist on account of the structural inequalities outlined in my first sentence. The focus of most egalitarians is on substantive equality of opportunity — see for example the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equal-opportunity/

    I think you owe us an explanation as to how substantive isegoria can be achieved in large modern states, along with exactly what you mean by the concept of “representation”.

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  15. PS, assuming Yoram refuses as usual to respond, I would be curious to know if anyone else can answer my question, as the status of substantive isegoria in large, pluralistic and multicultural modern states is seriously problematic. The problem certainly cannot be resolved by philosophical fiat or appeals to authorities like Aristotle and Montesquieu. Substantive equality of opportunity has to successfully cope with the problem of how to represent the views of the vast majority of people who choose (for whatever reason) to remain silent. This is a relatively simple matter in an electoral regime, where such people may well choose to outsource their isegoria rights to a bombastic plutocrat (other candidates being available), even though he does not ‘describe’ them in any shape or form. It should be borne in mind that such ‘deplorables’ will be serious disadvantaged by full-mandate voluntarist sortition, and I’m beginning to suspect this is why this model of sortition is supported by soi-disant democrats on this forum.

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  16. *** Keith Sutherland writes : « why is there a need for the hybrid “liberal democracy”? It would certainly suggest the possibility of an illiberal democracy. ».
    *** The twinned name « liberal democracy » refers to the two ideological pillars of polyarchy : the democratic myth, and the idea of « checks and balances ». The democratic myth, with « representative electoral democracy needed by the size of modern States », allows lobbies influence through processes well discussed in this blog. The « checks and balances » multiplies the points of the political system where the lobbies may act in discreet ways.
    *** Was this name coined in contrast with « illiberal democracy » in the contemporary sense of hybrid systems half polyarchic half authoritarian? I am not sure.
    *** Was the name used in contrast with the dêmokratia, supposed (falsely) to be indifferent to individual freedoms ? Sometimes, probably. But it may have depended on the thinker and on the time. Interesting subject for an academic study, but I don’t remember such a study.
    *** We must remember than among the supporters of “representative republic”, “liberal democracy” etc some opposed their model to ancient dêmokratia – best example, the “Federalist Papers”, whereas others conflated both – best example, Popper in his “Open society”; depending of the contemporary ideological situation and political fears.

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  17. Answer to Yoram Gat.
    *** What I call the « democratic myth » is the idea of the dêmos as collective sovereign ruling the society. In the dêmokratia, Athens-style, the political reality will correspond roughly to the myth (roughly, if only because of the imperfection of any human thing). In the polyarchies, the reality is so far from the myth that it is next to a hoax.
    *** But any movement towards dêmokratia (ortho-democracy) in contemporary polyarchic societies will take much strength from the democratic myth enshrined in dominant ideology.
    *** Likewise, the movement to dêmokratia in ancient Greece took ideological strength from the myth of the « Polis » as community including all clans in a kind of super-clan. In Athens the myth of the « Polis » was not developed by democrats, they found it developed previously, specially by Peisistratos, the populist tyrant. But it was useful for democrats, allowing them to say: « democracy is a name of the whole [Polis], oligarchy but of a part. »
    *** It is a strength for a new system to be able to use a myth which is enshrined in the previous dominant ideology.

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  18. Andre,

    >It is a strength for a new system to be able to use a myth which is enshrined in the previous dominant ideology.

    Yes, that’s why it’s better to present ortho-democracy as a development, rather than a revolutionary overthrow, of existing arrangements (Polyarchy III, Dahl’s terminology).

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  19. Andre,

    > What I call the « democratic myth » is the idea of the dêmos as collective sovereign ruling the society.

    I am still unsure whether you are referring to a positive assertion or to a normative assertion:

    (1) The claim that the dêmos is the collective sovereign ruling the society that we now live in (a positive assertion), or

    (2) the claim that the dêmos should be the collective sovereign ruling society (a normative assertion).

    The name “the democratic myth” would be more suitable to the first, while the second may be called “the democratic ethos”.

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  20. Answer to Yoram Gat.
    I use the word “democratic myth” because precisely it conflates a positive assertion and a normative one. The positive assertion may be near the reality, or far from it.

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  21. Answer to Keith Sutherland.
    *** Isêgoria in ancient dêmokratia did not ensure long speeches by somebody who said horrible things, incomprehensible things, or simply was unable to express his ideas in articulate ways : he would have been shouted down. Let’s read Xenophon Memorabilia III, 6, 1 : « Ariston’s son, Glaucon, was attempting to become an orator and striving for headship in the state, though he was less than twenty years old; and none of his friends or relations could check him, though he would get himself dragged from the platform and make himself a laughing-stock. » (transl. Marchant).
    *** Isêgoria was, at the individual scale, a formal right (and explicity presented as such by Theseus in the « Suppliant Women », v 438-441, ), but at the global scale it meant the absence of filtering : any idea (at least not horrible or not absurd) could be put in the debate even if the idea did not please prima facie to some category, even to some strong lobby or faction, even to those who see themselves as the wisest, as, with the freedom of speech, a citizen with low rhetorical skill will find at least one other citizen with both the same idea and some level of rhetorical skill (and that even if this idea was statistically impopular among the skilled speakers as a statistical class, which must partly have conflated with the social elite).
    *** Supposing a dêmokratia in a modern society, deliberation may occurs in different fields.
    *** Field 1 : Informal macro-deliberation, through commercial media or internet.
    *** Field 2 : Formal macro-deliberation, through public agencies and institutional debates.
    *** Field 3 : Informal micro-deliberation, by discussion in families, between friends, in working sites, in small forums.
    *** Field 4 : Formal micro-deliberation, through internal deliberations inside the minipublics.
    *** Keith Sutherland, considering Field 4, writes : « I’m at a loss to understand how everyone can have an equal opportunity to have their ideas heard ». Yes, an idea with a small minority support will often not get a skilled defender among a small jury. But the jurors will get ideas from the three other fields.
    *** Conversely, if we cancel Field 4, some ideas could get no serious hearing, specially some which are not supported by a strong lobby or faction, or which are too « moderate » to attract fiery defenders.
    *** I agree isêgoria is a problem in a modern dêmokratia. It must get an empirical optimal solution considering the four fields of deliberation.
    *** The criticism by Keith underlines an important point : a minipublic must not be a closed deliberating body, the minipublic deliberation must include hearing of external orators whose diversity must be ensured by adequate procedures.

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  22. Andre,

    I think we are in broad agreement on this topic.

    >a citizen with low rhetorical skill will find at least one other citizen with both the same idea and some level of rhetorical skill

    This is the principal justification for the political party. One of the key principles of liberal democracy is that everyone is free to join whatever party they choose, or to form a new one to articulate a new representative claim.

    >[Field 4]: an idea with a small minority support will often not get a skilled defender among a small jury. But the jurors will get ideas from the three other fields.

    True, but the representation (of ideas) would be arbitrary and would not conform to the notion of arithmetic or proportional equality. Given that the overwhelming majority of citizens would be entirely excluded, this will not deliver ho boulomenos (either direct or representative), it’s just random in the pejorative sense. We still need Yoram, or his appointed representative on earth, to explain in what sense the speech acts of a randomly-selected small group would automatically represent the target population.

    >Conversely, if we cancel Field 4, some ideas could get no serious hearing, specially some which are not supported by a strong lobby or faction, or which are too « moderate » to attract fiery defenders.

    That’s why I’m increasingly attracted to your suggestion of a plethora of small groups deliberating independently in parallel and then voting in secret. Unfortunately the independence criterion would mean that minority discourses would be disadvantaged, but I can’t really see any way of getting round that, if we acknowledge that majority rule is a fundamental democratic norm. To my mind minority interests can only be protected by the “liberal” element in liberal democacy (i.e. by extra-democratic means).

    >a minipublic must not be a closed deliberating body, the minipublic deliberation must include hearing of external orators whose diversity must be ensured by adequate procedures.

    Agree, and the key phrase is ensuring diversity by “adequate procedures”. Such procedures would not include the random whims of a few individuals drawn by lot.

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  23. Keith,

    two points…
    1. You wrote of the ability of an inarticulate citizen finding an orator who shares her views
    >”This is the principal justification for the political party”
    That is the JUSTIFICATION, but it is also a myth. A lot of political science research has proven that (at least in the US and the UK) party affiliation has very little if anything to do with policy opinions, and everything to do with self-identification and a sort of team loyalty. People adopt policy opinions because their favored party advocates it, and rarely the other way around. Daniel Kahneman gives the example that there is no rational policy reason why in the US, people who are opposed to abortion are also overwhelmingly correlated with denying climate change. For a variety of historic reasons groups with those separate agendas came to dominate the Republican Party, so those two issues are linked… but for no rational reason. As long as there is a strident partisan campaign environment most people will rely on heuristic short cuts rather than genuine hard-work internal rational deliberation. that is… electoralism short circuits mini-public deliberation (whether active or mute internal).

    2. Liberal checks and balances…
    There is no reason these cannot be established using mini-publics (separate from immediate policy making mini-publics). People can agree on fairly good checks and balances, processes for mini-public education, protection of unspecified minorities in general, and protection from corruption as long as they are one step removed from any particular immediate public policy. The key is to have safeguards (like the bill of rights) established in advance as general rules, with a procedure for change that requires a new special mini-public taking the long view, rather than a current policy mini-public that might seek to change the rules as an expedient way to move forward on some current issue. In short, there is no justification for having an undemocratic check… other than perhaps some new creative design that allows persecuted minorities to recover from historic disadvantage.

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  24. Terry,

    1. I agree this is true more in theory than practice. However there is nothing to prevent people forming new political parties to campaign for particular policies — the Green Party and UKIP being obvious examples. And Trump’s re-orientation of the Republican Party has been towards voter preferences that had been overlooked in the recent past (Sanders attempted something similar). But my principal question remains unanswered:

    We still need Yoram, or his appointed representative on earth, to explain in what sense the speech acts of a randomly-selected small group would automatically represent the target population.

    2. I don’t have any strong views on how minority interests can be preserved, but I think you are being optimistic in assuming that the deliberations of a randomly-selected sample of citizens would automatically take the long view and not choose to design an illiberal Bill of Rights. If the demos at the time is gripped by a particular prejudice, passion or madness, then the constitution will reflect that.

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  25. Andre,

    > I use the word “democratic myth” because precisely it conflates a positive assertion and a normative one.

    I see. But then when you write “Anyway the democratic myth has clearly lost the status it had”, do you imply that both assertions have been put in doubt?

    Maybe this is indeed the case: as the masses begin to doubt the positive assertion, the elites lose faith in the normative one.

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  26. Yoram,

    >as the masses begin to doubt the positive assertion, the elites lose faith in the normative one.

    Not so. Because the positive claim is increasingly true, elites are abandoning the normative assertion underlying electoral democracy. As a result of the Trump victory both cultural and financial elites have lost faith in the normative assertion precisely because the positive claim has been increasingly realised. The myth was just fine and dandy until the arrival of a candidate who attempted to operationalise the claim that the dêmos [or the plurality according to the electoral rule in place] is the collective sovereign ruling the society. A similar story can be told regarding Brexit, and elites are awaiting developments in the Netherlands and France (in particular) with baited breath. This is also the reason for the recent elite interest in sortition — if they have to relinquish the reins of power then the considered verdict of the (mini)dêmos is clearly an improvement on ignorance (rational or otherwise).

    If you disagree with this, then you would need to produce some evidence in support of your claim that the masses have begun to doubt the positive assertion, as this flies in the face of recently published work on the populist backlash against elite rule. Mick Hume’s Revolting!: How the Establishment are Undermining Democracy and What They’re Afraid Of is a good example of the recent fear and loathing for the new wave of populism within the establishment.

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  27. Given that this is the keystone claim of hardcore democracy-by-lot polemicists, I’m puzzled (and disappointed) that nobody is prepared to rise to the challenge:

    [Will someone please] explain in what sense the speech acts of a randomly-selected small group would automatically represent the target population.

    The ongoing silence is deafening.

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  28. *** The Trump election was a good reason for elites to not trust anymore elections. But we must likewise consider the good results in the Democrat primaries of the leftish populist Bernie Sanders. The USA was not far from a match Trump-Sanders… Horrible prospect !
    *** In France the far-right Front National, becoming under Marine Le Pen more and more a rightist populist party, is nowadays the main political party. But on the left we see the Melenchon far-left movement evolving clearly into a leftish populist party.
    *** The surge of populisms demonstrates that the elites do not control anymore the elections. But that does not imply that the popular sovereignty is becoming real. Will the US policies under the Trump four years correspond to those which would be decided in a democracy-through-minipublics ? It is very doubtful. The elites control on elections is only a point among the undemocratic characters of polyarchic systems.
    *** Will some populist electoral victories reduce the doubts of the common citizens about the reality of popular sovereignty ? Maybe for some time, and this will work against the dêmokratia idea. But on longer time (perhaps not so longer), we may have both a disappointment towards the populist alternatives and a lingering animosity towards the oligarchizing elites, leaving space for the dêmokratia (ortho-democracy) idea.
    *** Let’s consider the Athenian history : there was not a direct change from the ancient « mixed constitution » dominated by the oligarchizing elite to the Cleisthenes dêmokratia. Between them, there was the populist tyranny of Peisistratos.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. *** Keith Sutherland, considering « the recent elite interest in sortition », gives this reason : « if they have to relinquish the reins of power then the considered verdict of the (mini)dêmos is clearly an improvement on ignorance (rational or otherwise) ».
    *** I propose another explanation. The polyarchy has two pillars : the representative- electoral one, the « checks and balances » one. With the surge of populisms, the elites are losing trust in the first pillar. Logically, they will put more emphasis on the second pillar. The risk here is to contradict too much clearly the democratic myth. Hence the idea to resort to « democratic sortition » – an highly controlled form of it, clearly. They will sometimes give veto power to an authentic minipublic, or more often they will establish mixed political bodies with part allotted members, part members coming from more conventional polyarchic ways. What they will avoid is to give the last word to an authentic minipublic for a relatively autonomous field, even in a minor one – such a case would mean establishing an hybrid system, and I think that generally the idea is not this one.
    *** Conversely if some supporters of dêmokratia (ortho-democracy) favor a progressive way, with as intermediate step an hybrid system, they must support proposals with an authentic minipublic for a relatively autonomous field.
    *** I don’t want to reignite here the debate « conscripted juries vs voluntary juries » but I am afraid that the sortition-friendly poyarchist will favor not only voluntary juries, but procedures ensuring the least representative ones (if only as a precaution if the allotted body turns out too much presumptuous).

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  30. Andre,

    >They will sometimes give veto power to an authentic minipublic, or more often they will establish mixed political bodies.

    That’s why we should all endorse the burgeoning campaign for allotted upper houses, with full veto power. Such bodies would be autonomous in the Harringtonian sense (the elected lower house would be obliged to introduce measures that the upper house would support).

    >the sortition-friendly poyarchist will favor not only voluntary juries, but procedures ensuring the least representative ones (if only as a precaution if the allotted body turns out too much presumptuous).

    Exactly. That’s why advocates of voluntarist, full-mandate sortition need to explain exactly what they mean by “representation”, and why such a body would be representative of the target population.

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  31. > « the recent elite interest in sortition »

    The explanation is very simple, and it is quite plainly expressed by sortition advocates like Van Reybrouck and the Australian sortitionists. As people lose faith in the current system, sortition is being explored as a tool for shoring up legitimacy for an oligarchical system.

    > Conversely if some supporters of dêmokratia (ortho-democracy) favor a progressive way, with as intermediate step an hybrid system, they must support proposals with an authentic minipublic for a relatively autonomous field.

    Very true. And the most promising field for an allotted body to handle is addressing corruption of the elected. This would put the allotted body in direct opposition to the electoral system and in this way would build its independent political power.

    > the sortition-friendly poyarchist will favor not only voluntary juries, but procedures ensuring the least representative ones (if only as a precaution if the allotted body turns out too much presumptuous).

    An oligarchical constitution writer would try to make sure that any allotted body is powerless. This can be done in many ways, such as forcing the allotted to choose from a fixed menu set by an elite, keeping them as captive audience for some privileged speakers, forcing them to remain silent, keeping votes secret and forcing unwilling people to serve. It is easy to concoct some pretentious, transparently false, supposedly democratic, arguments for advocating those ideas.

    The opposite of forcing unwilling people to serve in an allotted body is not to have people choosing not to serve, but to make sure that the prestige, the material benefits and the terms of service are such that few would turn it down. (At the same time, the terms of service would have to be such that those accepting them would be obliged to maintain and enhance the prestige and legitimacy of the body rather than degrade them.)

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  32. Yoram,

    Your reply to Andre leaves a large elephant in the room — namely the representativity of a voluntarist, full-mandate allotted body.

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  33. Yoram,

    >shoring up legitimacy for an oligarchical system. . . direct opposition to the electoral system. . . pretentious, transparently false, supposedly democratic, arguments

    Although I should be flattered to find myself vilified alongside David Van Reybrouck, New Democracy and pretty much every elected politician and inhabitant of politics departments, I would still like to ask the convener of this blog not to go out of his way to deliberately alienate anyone with the slightest sympathy for sortition. With friends like you, who needs enemies? Are you being paid by the descendants of the Old Oligarch to ensure that the modern sortition movement is stillborn?

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  34. *** Keith Sutherland writes: « [Will someone please] explain in what sense the speech acts of a randomly-selected small group would automatically represent the target population ?», which he deems essential to « democracy-by-lot ».
    *** The Brexit debate was far from an ideal one, say some. Maybe mainly those who did not like the resulting vote. But let’s suppose an idealized vote : all citizens hearing dutifully the relevant orators, and face to face discussions between friends, co-workers, etc. following the best ways of rational debate.
    *** I support democracy-through-minipublics because I think that, even if we could get close to this idealized debate conditions, it would not be possible to generalize such ways to all the important policy, legislative, and judicial decisions, considering the burden of necessary political work.
    *** If decisions are made by a huge jury divided in small fractions, or by a string of small juries, they can follow procedures ensuring both hearing of orators and face to face discussions. I consider that the output would be close to the one of an idealized general vote. It is why we can reasonably speak of a form of dêmokratia (ortho-democracy).
    *** Right, the face to face discussions between jurors will not exactly
    « represent » a general face to face discussion across the whole citizenry ; but such a discussion is practically impossible ; and even in the idealized debate previously mentioned, discussion between friends and co-workers will not have the « representativity » alluded by Keith ; it will be even less « representative », because the group of my friends or my co-workers will be usually less diverse that an allotted group of co-jurors.

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  35. Andre,

    >If decisions are made by a huge jury divided in small fractions, or by a string of small juries, they can follow procedures ensuring both hearing of orators and face to face discussions.

    I agree, so long as the number of small juries was huge enough, participation was (effectively) mandatory, the oratory balanced and exogenously specified, and there was no communication between each group. But this is not that far removed from DP methodology and DPs have recorded widely divergent decision outcomes on the same issue. Perhaps these inconsistencies can be overcome through numbers alone (although it would be very expensive). My concern, as always, is representative consistency — and this is an empirical, rather than an in principle, matter.

    >discussion between friends and co-workers will not have the « representativity » alluded by Keith ; it will be even less « representative », because the group of my friends or my co-workers will be usually less diverse that an allotted group of co-jurors.

    We need to make a firm distinction between the pnyx and the agora, our concern being with the former alone. What citizens get up to in private is up to them. Given that the overwhelming majority of citizens would be stripped of any political influence whatsoever, it is essential that the political representation is accurate and consistent — otherwise it will be viewed as even less legitimate than current electoral practice.

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  36. Andre,

    Just to be clear, I’m not opposed to the form of democracy by multiple minidemoi that you are suggesting. The problem I have is with the claim that the actions of a small, voluntarist and all-powerful group of lot-selected citizens would automatically reflect the interests of their “constituents”. Terry has described such a group as oligarchical and you don’t appear to approve either. The convenor of this blog claims that such a group would be axiomatically representative, but I think we would need a lot more than that to take such a proposal seriously.

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  37. *** Keith says: We need to make a firm distinction between the pnyx and the agora, our concern being with the former alone. What citizens get up to in private is up to them.
    *** I disagree. The political system must be considered as a whole, as it works really.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. *** Terry Bouricius proposes, February 26, « mini-publics (separate from immediate policy making mini-publics) », « taking the long view », able to protect basic rights or other high principles from « current policy mini-public that might » neglect these higher principles « as an expedient way to move forward on some current issue. »
    *** What Bouricius proposes was actually the established institution in the Second Athenian Democracy, through the « graphê nomon mê epitêdeion theinai » (to be distinguished from the « graphê para nomôn », which was about the conformity of decrees to laws). A law, voted by a legislative jury, could be canceled by a judicial jury as contrary to higher principles. The extant speeches by Demosthenes give us an instance, with the « Law of Leptines », voted by a legislative jury, and intended to solve the fiscal problems of Athens by cancelling all fiscal immunities. Demosthenes attacked the law, asking a judicial jury to cancel it as contrary to some higher interests and principles, through a « graphê nomon mê epitêdeion theinai » (arguing about ingratitude and breach of faith, for such a sweeping cancellation without specific survey of cases). The law was probably canceled, but it is not sure.
    *** There was in Athens no written list of higher principles (we may only deduce them from the orators’ speeches). There was no written constitution in Athens, as there is none in contemporary UK. I think a written list would be better, especially in a modern dynamic society where even the « higher principles » have to evolve.

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  39. > The convenor of this blog claims that such a group would be axiomatically representative

    Every so often I make an unfortunate mistake and read one of Sutherland comments. In such cases I am often exposed to one of his lies. This is one of those cases. I will not bother to ask Sutherland to provide evidence for his false claim because there is no such evidence, and Sutherland always declares himself to be too busy to deal with evidence anyway.

    Again – I am disappointed that other commenters on this blog – Andre and Terry in this case – are willing to ignore such blatant cases of lying and keep an exchange going with such a shameless liar.

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  40. Yoram,

    If you would just explain what you mean by political representation and how this is achieved by a small, voluntarist, full-mandate allotted group then I would no longer need to speculate. You appear to be using the term in a sense that is alien to everybody else working in this field.

    And you still need to respond to Terry’s claim that your vision is oligarchical.

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