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.