Hugo Bonin: Using sortition in order to resolve the crisis of representation

The French-Canadian newspaper Le Devoir has an interview with Hugo Bonin with the publication of his book, La démocratie hasardeuse (Éditions XYZ, Montréal, 2017, 150 pages).

Using sortition in order to resolve the crisis of representation

The essayist Hugo Bonin proposes to rid democracy of that which ails it: elections

Guillaume Lepage, October 28th, 2017

On November 5th the municipal elections in Quebec will take place. In the previous elections fewer than one citizen in two exercised their right to vote, a turnout which despite being slightly higher than that of 2013, remains steady under the 50% mark. Is that evidence of a dysfunctional system?

“Our political system is in crisis, almost everybody agrees about that. A crisis of institutions, of democracy, of citizenship, a crisis, finally, of politics,” writes author Hugo Bonin in the opening of his first essay, “The uncertain democracy” (XYZ publishers).

In 150 pages, the political science doctoral candidate at UQAM and the University of Paris-VIII proposes to introduce chance in our seats of power. In allotting among the citizens our next rulers we eliminate, according to him, the principle reason for the ails of Western democracies: elections.

The author therefore invites the readers to think beyond electoral reforms. If sortition in politics appears audacious, this idea was not created yesterday but rather is an echo of antiquity in our days.

Fundamentally “elitist” by reproducing “relations of domination”, the system in place is aimed at limiting the power of the citizens, emphasizes the author, when we meet in a the Plateau Mont-Royal cafe. “And elections were seen as one way of assuring that the better people in society, or those who were already at the top, continue to be there.”

Rather than electing the people who “are considered the most competent”, sortition places its bet on the idea that anyone can carry out political roles. In this selection mode of representatives of the people “there are no better candidates. What is important is allocating political responsibilities in an equal manner and assuring that everybody can govern.”

Nor are elections “a measure of competence”, Bonin asserts. “Donald Trump seemed in the eyes of the majority as being a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. Does this mean that he is more competent?” he asks amusedly.
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“Maybe they expected to have more influence on projects”

An article by Sabrina Nanji in the Toronto Star is an interesting mix between the standard citizen-jury PR and facts that undermine this standard narrative. There is also an appearance by the familiar elite discourse of the struggle of diversity promoting liberalism against conservative white-supremacist ideology.

The story of Toronto’s Planning Review Panel shows one very important aspect (even if a completely foreseeable one) of the surge of sortition in the 21st century: it is being experimented with by established elites for their own purposes (i.e., for its usefulness in buttressing their power) rather than as a tool of democracy.

City of Toronto is looking for your input on urban planning issues

The city is looking for regular folks interested in studying and informing municipal planning policy and projects on the Toronto Planning Review Panel.

Calling all wannabe urban planners and civic champions — Toronto’s planning department wants your advice.

This week 10,000 letters were randomly sent out across the city soliciting regular folks interested in studying and informing municipal planning policy and projects on the Toronto Planning Review Panel, which is wrapping up its first-ever experiment in diverse citizen engagement, to mixed reviews.

Two years after they were recruited, the original 28 panelists will meet for the last time next Saturday and the search is already on for the next batch of volunteers to take up the mantle in January.
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The allotment for the convention of La France insoumise has started

La France insoumise (“France Uprising”, FI) is a Left-wing French political party which was founded in 2016. In the 2017 presidential elections its candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won almost 20% of the votes in the first round and narrowly missed making it to the second round. FI has presented a platform it calls L’Avenir en commun one plank in which is having a constitutional convention where a certain proportion of the delegates would be selected by lot.

FI is now in the process of having its own internal convention “for setting its new objectives, improving its tools and modes of action and specifying its principles of organization.” This process involves allotting delegates to the convention. FI has now announced that it has sent invitations to those allotted:

The first phase of the sortition has taken place. A list of the first 1,200 people has been drawn. Each one of those people has received a registration form. Those women and men who fill out the form before November 13th will participate in the convention. The unclaimed slots will be redistributed in the second phase of the sortition on Friady, November 10th. There is therefore time for you to participate in the allotment if have done so yet.

P.S.: For the curious, here is the script which we used to implement the sortition.

“The flag should be held by a student who has achieved and not randomly”

It was reported in August that a lottery is going to be used in Greece to distribute the distinction of carrying the flag. This decision is now being taken to court:

A group of parents wants the state’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, to overturn a decision by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA for flagbearers in school parades to be chosen by lottery and not to the best student as had been the custom.

SYRIZA doesn’t believe in excellence in education nor standards for university admissions but the parents who protested said the flag should be held by a student who has achieved and not randomly.

Education Minister Costas Gavroglou issued the lottery scheme but the parents said it is unconstitutional and was driven by ideology and not merit, nor by popular demand or social necessity. He said the lottery makes the process fairer even if it excludes top students for their work.

The random selection of “an Afghan boy” as flag bearer made him the victim of violence:
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Arturo Íñiguez: On the meaning of the word ‘democracy’

Arturo Íñiguez, an occasional contributor to Equality-by-Lot, recently published a rather beautiful essay touching upon sortition which weaves together history, linguistics and political philosophy (English, French, Spanish). Well worth reading in its entirety even for people familiar with the idea of sortition, here is an excerpt from the essay:

[R]epresentative regimes can be either aristocratic, if they rely on election, or democratic if they rely on sortition.

According to my experience, a lot of people, when exposed to these truths, will react in complete denial. But the fact is that this has been completely trivial knowledge for political scientists for most or recorded history: from Plato and Aristotle to Montesquieu and Rousseau, in the mid XVIIIth century, all of them wrote the same: elections are aristocratic and sortition is democratic. How come, then, that we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated as to believe the exact opposite of something that was crystal-clear for the greatest human thinkers?

Well, the change began in the late XVIIIth century, when the rich bourgeois in France and North America decided that they would be better off in the future by breaking free from the existing monarchic regime (which after all had not been so bad with them, or they wouldn’t had got so rich in the first place). Needless to say that sharing any power with the poor masses was always completely out the question. The masses would be used to fight the royal armies and then abused into thinking the the victory was also theirs. Both the Founding Fathers and the French revolutionaries were adamant in opposing democracy. Suffice to read what they said and wrote to understand that democracy was for them a very bad and ugly word.

But calling their elective system aristocracy, which would have been the logical thing to do following the philosophical tradition we have just mentioned, was also a no-go. Was not the aristocracy the despised enemy recently destroyed? And at the end they had to settle for a word like ‘republic’, an empty signifier which can mean anything you want it to mean.

A lively discussion followed the essay in the comments and Arturo exhibited the proper democratic mindset and engaged in conversation with some of the commenters. Here, for exmaple, is one comment by a reader and Arturo’s reply:
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Why Executive Power Matters

It’s a bit surprising that this sortition blog hasn’t ventured much into executive power.  Most of the time it’s focused on either legislative power or some other non-executive power.

Not for nothing did one example from Paul Lucardie’s book on radical democratic theory (Democratic Extremism), the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, decide a century ago to appoint a truly revolutionary provisional government to “get things done”: the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom).

That said, sortition today could be applied to traditional cabinets. It could be applied to multiple cabinets in some proposals (state, social, economic, industrial). It could even be applied to the topmost consultative bodies headed by individual ministers, collegia.