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:

Commenter: Thank you for the fascinating post. A pleasure to read.

If you will forgive me the ignorant question, but… how well did that true democracy work? On a practical level, is it really possible to have a system of government where (at least some of) the rulers are people who are not taught politics (or necessarily anything else), and who really are ‘rednecks’? Of course, they might have a more realistic perspective on the world, not coming from that amazing 1st-world-1%-er bubble that most rulers come from, but isn’t there some level of education and intellectual wisdom needed for good rulers? Granted, our current rulers show that an elective system like the one we have isn’t necessarily better… At any rate, thank you for the interesting article.

Arturo: True democracy (i.e. sortition) worked in Athens just fine for almost two centuries, and ended only because of a military defeat due to a tactical innovation (the Macedonian phalanx). It is the only extended period in all of History when the 99% have held the political power against the 1%.

The fact that some allotted members of the parliament don’t have a formal education is not a weakness but a strength. It is called cognitive diversity. A group with high but similar qualifications (how many lawyers are there in Congress?) is worse equipped to face unexpected problems than a group with all kind of different backgrounds and experiences.

And don’t forget that this is the legislative. These are the people making the decisions, but not the ones implementing them. They will choose an executive, president and government, that will answer directly to them, having no legitimacy directly emanated from a popular vote.

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78 Responses

  1. 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?

    Because of the need for representation in large complex states. The descriptive representation afforded by sortition (a quality that would not have even been recognised in the ancient polis) is only one aspect.

    the only extended period in all of History when the 99% have held the political power against the 1%

    I imagine that Pericles would have disagreed.

    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.

    Straight from the Marxist textbook, hence Yoram’s claim that this is a “rather beautiful essay”.

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  2. History is written by the victors, and post-democratic historians made sure that the history of democratic Athens was told for twenty-three centuries no differently that that of any other ancient or modern kingdom: a succession of great men leading the flock. But a serious look at the primary sources will show you that Pericles held very limited powers outside the battlefield: persuading is not the same as commanding.

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  3. Yoram, I am afraid you are committing the very sin I denounce in the third paragraph of my essay. When you wrote that I exhibited “a democratic mindset” you probably meant an open and respectful mindset.

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  4. Thank you Yoram for pointing this great piece of writing.

    I loved the paragraph on the invention of a new word. Speaking of which, I like stochocracy more and more (but I already know that some people here will disagree). Why? I think that democracy is too positively connoted and too misused. Hence we should abandon this old word and use a new one to break free from the ruling of the flock.

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  5. Hi Arturo,

    Again: great article.

    > When you wrote that I exhibited “a democratic mindset” you probably meant an open and respectful mindset.

    I completely agree that there are many things that are “good, fair and noble” that are not implied by democracy, but I was not generically commending you for doing something good. I commended you specifically for having had a discussion on a basis of equality of participants rather than assuming a position of authority. Such an equalitarian discussion is commendable not just because it is part of “all that is good, fair and noble” but specifically because it is a necessary ingredient in democracy.

    But this may be a point of contention: you write that “democracy means ‘allotted political offices’ and nothing else”. To me it seems that democracy is “a situation of political equality”. Allotted political offices are a consequence of political equality. Similarly TV is not CRT. TV is a screen with moving pictures, CRT is (or rather was) a consequence of that.

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  6. > I think that democracy is too positively connoted and too misused. Hence we should abandon this old word and use a new one

    I can see your point here, Romain, but I disagree. I think this a fight worth fighting, and may even be our best chance to wake up our asleep fellow citizens, fully convinced to live in a democracy.

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  7. Romain,

    I agree with Arturo that we should not give up on the term “democracy”. Democracy (political equality) is what we are after. Sortition is merely a tool.

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  8. > equality (…) is a necessary ingredient in democracy

    Now this is getting interesting!

    A screen with moving pictures is what the Lumière brothers had, and that was not television. Similarly, contemporary one-man-one-vote electoral regimes can claim, at least formally, “a situation of political equality”.

    While it is true that the Clysthenian reforms were the consequence of a prevalent mood of what Castoriadis (another red beast, Keith!) called “radical political equality”, in which no Athenian regarded himself as more or less worthy of ruling than any other, that did not in itself directly or immediately bring them an allotted boulé. A spark of genius was still needed (admitedly, built on a quasi-religious tradition of filling certain positions by lot) to take that step.

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  9. Yes – this is getting interesting.

    Yes – the fact that sortition follows from political equality is not at all obvious (certainly not to the modern mind). Still, if it were not for the fact that sortition is a tool for equality, sortition would not be of interest. No?

    BTW, I believe that democracy and sortition pre-dated democratic Athens and Cleisthenes.

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  10. Arturo>: persuading is not the same as commanding.

    That depends on the variety of competing advocates. The reason that the Age of Pericles is viewed as monarchical is because his persuasion usually carried the day — as he put it “I advised, but you agreed”.

    rcase>: I think that democracy is too positively connoted and too misused. Hence we should abandon this old word and use a new one [stochocracy] to break free from the ruling of the flock.

    Two problems: 1) Sortition as a nascent political movement would not (in the eyes of most people on this forum) wish to be associated with anti-democratic thought. 2) Andre and myself use the term stochation in an entirely different way from you (and with a better etymological pedigree), and we would not want to see the term tarnished by anti-democratic associations. Can’t you find another word — how about aleatocracy? This seems far better suited for your project. Bear in mind also that this forum is devoted to effective equality by lot, not just randomness and we really don’t want to add to the confusion over the political potential of sortition.

    Arturo>: While it is true that the Clysthenian reforms were the consequence of a prevalent mood of what Castoriadis (another red beast, Keith!) called “radical political equality”

    I think your sources are both partisan and amateur (Castoriadis is not normally rated as a historian of the classical period). According to Hansen’s take on Herodotus, it was the other way round — “democracy” was the unintended consequence of a dispute between aristocratic factions. As I understand it, the only classical historian to dispute this is Ober {and maybe Euben], and his position has been ridiculed by Rhodes.

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  11. Yoram I fully agree that we live in democracy. The brexit and Trump’s election are, for instance, examples of this democratic regime. I don’t really want to be in the same side as Nigel Farage and Trump as a white horsemen defendor of democracy :)

    ksutherland you can call me Romain.

    We live in democracy, I can use the words I want if it pleases you or not :) And it is maybe because I am French but you have a kind of aggressive way of writing (“partisan and amateur”).

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  12. That’s funny, I’m having the same discussion in Spanish here (in a post on the Catalunya thinghy I shamelessly highjacked a few days ago with the excuse of a couple videos posted at the end, which are subtitled in six languages and could merit on their own another post by Yoram): http://www.lapaginadefinitiva.com/weblogs/club-pobrelberg/2017/10/19/yo-venia-aqui-a-hablar-del-derecho-penal-del-enemigo/969#comment-25771. We can bring the reasoning forward: sortition is not an end but a means towards equality, which neither is an end in itself but a means towards happiness (what Evo Morales’s MAS calls “la vida buena”, which in Spanish is not the same as “la buena vida”).

    Sortition certainly pre-dated Solon and possibly Athens. It could probably be found, with clear religious overtones, in many ancient civilisations. It was nevertheless not so trivial as election, which undoubtedly traces back to the night of times as a tool for political representation.

    But democracy could never pre-date Cleisthenes because you cannot have democracy without demes and those were introduced by him.

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  13. I enjoy reading and commenting in this blog. One thing though, where are the women? It seems to me that this is a great strength of sortitioni is to give the mic’ to people who don’t have it usually. And I am sadly meeting only men defending this idea…

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  14. Romain,

    > Yoram I fully agree that we live in democracy.

    But we do not live in a democracy. Democracy means political equality. Our society exhibits huge disparities in political power and is therefore not a democracy.

    > The brexit and Trump’s election are, for instance, examples of this democratic regime.

    Being able to exert some influence on policy is a far far weaker condition than democracy. In most (maybe all) regimes a majority of the people has some political power.

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  15. Romain> “partisan and amateur”

    This was directed at Castoriadis, not yourself. Arturo has acknowledged that the is a “red beast”, and he is not widely recognised as a classical historian.

    >I can use the words I want if it pleases you or not.

    As Wittgenstein pointed out there is no such thing as a “private language”. If we are going to communicate with each other then we need some mutual agreement on the meaning of terms, otherwise it only generates confusion.

    >I don’t really want to be in the same side as Nigel Farage and Trump

    Perhaps we should call you Remain, rather than Romain? Yoram has pointed out the danger of sortition advocates seeking only political outcomes that meet their own personal taste. There is a significant danger of sortition being written off as part of the backlash of the political class against populism — ironic when you consider Arturo’s remarks on “radical political equality”, a normative project that you appear entirely opposed to.

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  16. Regarding representation for women on EbL: yes, unfortunately the readership, commenters and authors of EbL are groups that are unrepresentative of the world population. I’d love for this not to be the case and if anyone has ideas for getting wider and more diversified participation I’d be happy to discuss them.

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  17. Arturo,

    > But democracy could never pre-date Cleisthenes because you cannot have democracy without demes and those were introduced by him.

    I am not sure why democracy requires demes, but in any case I was referring to Greek cities other than Athens. My understanding is that democracy was not an Athenian invention.

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  18. Keith > The reason that the Age of Pericles is viewed as monarchical

    The reason that the Age of Pericles is viewed as monarchical is because the mere notion that people could have governed themselves without leaders at any given point in time had to be erased from history books at all costs.

    > “democracy” was the unintended consequence of a dispute between aristocratic factions

    True, but Chleistenes’ egotistical, self-interested move (if we want to put it that way) only made sense in the context of a widespead feeling of radical political equality.

    Romain > I fully agree that we live in democracy. The brexit and Trump’s election are, for instance, examples of this democratic regime.

    No, we don’t, and those are only examples of the disfunctions in our regimes of elective aristocracy. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    What you probably mean is that we leave in a pluralistic, as opposed to authoritarian, system. To give you the full taxonomy: pluralistic, representative, elective aristocracy.

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  19. Arturo,

    > We can bring the reasoning forward: sortition is not an end but a means towards equality, which neither is an end in itself but a means towards happiness (what Evo Morales’s MAS calls “la vida buena”, which in Spanish is not the same as “la buena vida”).

    Yes – that matches my understanding. I would note that it could be argued that equality is not only a means toward la vida buena but also a component in it.

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  20. Sortition will bring us legislative bodies with half of women and that will be good. Other than that, I dare say that, sortition-wise, the most important person alive today is Charlotte Girard, a member of Melenchon’s inner circle, even is she is probably not even aware of the existence of this blog.

    > I am not sure why democracy requires demes

    Why, because that makes half of the word! But, seriously, it is a pity that we have so few records from Greek cities other than Athens. Those city-states were not islands (although some may have been, in a purely geographical sense) and their mentalities possibly evolved almost simultaneously to the point that made sortition a realistic option that some chose and some didn’t.

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  21. > Charlotte Girard

    Is she a prominent proponent of sortition? I have been trying to follow the discussion about sortition in France and have never heard of her. Do you have a link to something relevant she wrote?

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  22. Yoram > Sorry it was Arturo who said “fully convinced to live in a democracy.”

    Keith > No worry I have a thick skin, I also thought this was for Arturo the target yet not super positive things to say.

    Yoram again > About women. Guess I have been convinced by the English positive discrimination methods (They were doing that a lot in Imperial College for women in science). To say explicitly that if you are a woman that you’ll be more listened to. I am going to post on FB and specifically write. “Equality by lot is an interesting blog where we discuss about sortition that could be a great tool to favour gender balance in politics. Sadly, we lack women in our exchange a would be glad to welcome more.” I’ll also try to advert the website to as many women as possible.

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  23. > favour gender balance

    I’m not sure if that’s an adequate way of describing having half of all decision-making positions held by women since day one.

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  24. Arturo>: the mere notion that people could have governed themselves without leaders at any given point in time had to be erased from history books at all costs.

    I’m not aware of any serious historians of classical Greece — including Marxists like Finley and de Ste. Croix — who claim that it was a self-governing society without political leaders. Ober would certainly not sign up to such a perspective.

    >Cleistenes’ egotistical, self-interested move (if we want to put it that way) only made sense in the context of a widespread feeling of radical political equality.

    I guess it’s a question of the chicken and the egg but that’s an odd interpretation of Herodotus’s “recruited the people into his faction” — the predominance at that time of terms with aristocratic provenance like isonomia and isegoria would suggest otherwise. Furthermore, many historians claim that there was no Cleisthenic democracy — that had to wait for the reforms of Ephialtes.

    >because [deme] makes half of the word [democracy]!

    So why was the term “democracy” not used before Ephialtes’ reforms? It would be more accurate to say that deme and demos had a common etymology.

    Romain:> To say explicitly that if you are a woman that you’ll be more listened to.

    Why so — what is the relevance of the gender of a sortition blog commentator? For all you know I might be a woman. The biggest problem is that out of the 653 “followers” only a tiny number choose to share their views. Some might argue that this is a metaphor for the fact that there has never been a self-governing society without leadership. Given that the membership figure of this blog is in the same ball-park as a statistically-significant randomly-selected body, the chances are that it would follow a similar pattern, hence the argument that isegoria needs a different form of representation principle (you can’t rely on emergence as the numbers are well below the LLN threshold). You would just end up with random loudmouths like Yoram and myself.

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  25. Thank Yoram, I didn’t know her, I am starting following her on twitter. BTW we could also agree on a tweet to post?

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  26. Keith > You are a woman?

    Making loudmouth quieter is exactly why I am interested by sortition. I observed the 10-20 times we used sortition to designate a moderator that loudmouths speak a LOT less. And it was not only good for them (tiring to be a loudmouth) but also for the others (often quiet women) that were given the opportunity to speak.

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  27. >I observed the 10-20 times we used sortition to designate a moderator that loudmouths speak a LOT less.

    In the case of an allotted legislature (the principal concern of many of us on this forum), this would lead to Juvenal’s dilemma (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes). Representative isegoria is a serious problem is large-scale democracies that couldn’t possibly be resolved by sortition. Bear in mind the problem is how to represent the voice of the vast majority of citizens who have nothing in particular to say. Electoral representation at least attempts to address this problem, as a near plurality of hoi polloi decided that Donald Trump was voicing their concerns (however distasteful this may be in the eyes of some commentators on this blog).

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  28. > the discussion about sortition

    The debate is France is very much where it was, with Chouard (arguably the second most important person alive, sortition-wise) at its head. But, and I hate to say this, these debates are of only relative importance. The two videos I mentioned before have been seen 1.9 million times the first and 1.4 million times the second (which means that half a million viewers were so unconvinced they didn’t bother to follow through), in a world with more than 400 million native Spanish speakers. And that’s without counting the subtitles in English, French, Italian, Portuguese (I’m not impressed by those… :-) and even Chinese!

    The authors of these videos are not yet in a position to make a difference in the real world. Neither is Chouard nor any of us. But Charlotte Girard may have a fair chance. (I don’t know what odds London bookmakers are giving Melenchon for 2022. By the way, bookies outrageously missed Brexit. What an opportunity to have made a hefty sum of money if I only had been a bit bolder…).

    While she is conspicously absent of the public (and by that I mean essentialy Internet-centered) debate, she has been busy drafting parts of the programme of La France Insoumise like the one we referenced here: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-prominent-french-presidential-candidate-makes-sortition-part-of-his-programme.

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  29. >Chouard (arguably the second most important person alive, sortition-wise) at its head.

    Looks like we’re doomed then!

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  30. Thank you for the link Arturo, nice read, are you aware of Francois Ruffin who also proposed to use sortition? (alas not implemented).

    Speaking of Chouard I went to one of these “atelier consituants” where moderators, in theory, are alloted. I wondered: In practise it didn”t work out because they want to select among a list of volunteer(s). First mistake for me, because it completely rigs sortition. Often there is rarely more than a single volunteer…. so no random selection. Second mistake for me, they didn’t think of the case where the moderator does not want to be moderator or if does not do a good moderating job (no rotation). This is why it might be good to follow this method (http://www.stochocratie.org/2016/10/21/sorting-a-moderator/), what do you think about it?

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  31. > the second most important person alive, sortition-wise

    It’s either Chouard or David Chaum. Your choice, Keith… :-)

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  32. Romain, I agree (and most people here also) that relying on ‘volunteers’ is a true and tested way to skew the outcome of any designation process. A fully randomised method like the one you suggest is definitely better.

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  33. Both Chuard and FI seem to focus on a Constitutional assembly, a one-time high stakes event. This is a critical mistake since such situations naturally lend themselves to elite manipulation. Montebourg’s proposal of allotting the Senate seems a much more promising route.

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  34. It is certainly a good idea to have everybody in the allotment pool, as long as people can turn down office post-allotment.

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  35. > the second most important person alive, sortition-wise
    It’s either Chouard or David Chaum. Your choice, Keith…

    Well, that certainly shows the different universes we inhabit. Sortition and stochation are in the pre-paradigm state. Until some fundamental confusions, highlighted on this blog, are resolved there is little value in trying to give it a high profile, so my choices for first and second places include Jim Fishkin and Andre Sauzeau* (self-nomination being ruled out on account of faux modesty). Fishkin has been working on sortition — both theoretically and in practice — for over 20 years (with me it’s only 15). I grant that your nominees have a higher public profile, but that’s of no value at all at this early stage of development as what we need is serious debate as to what sortition can and (more importantly) cannot do. Until these issues are resolved then all we can do is wave our hands around.

    * I exclude Peter Stone and Oliver Dowlen as their theoretical position leads to overly-modest proposals for the application of sortition in political life.

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  36. Jim, Andre, Peter, Oliver, David, Melenchon, Chouard? All men. Guys :) am I the only one annoyed by this statistical remoteness. I sent a message to Charlotte Girard through twitter so she’ll know that we exist.

    Thank you Arturo for the feedback, and about the second mistake?

    I think that we need to think small before big (conversation -> coop -> party). Why do you think we should not follow this method?

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  37. What on earth has this got to do with gender? This is a public forum and if the laydeez haven’t anything much to say, then that’s up to them. Naomi Gibbons is the exception that proves the rule on this blog and Helene Landemore has some interesting things to say on sortition (although her interest is purely on the epistemic value of cognitive diversity). Lyn Carson co-authored a good book on sortition (but it was some time ago), Jane Mansbridge touches on it from time to time and Barbara Goodwin wrote one of the first books on the subject. But I’m sure all these formidable ladies would be outraged at the suggestion that they require some form of positive discrimination to encourage them to speak!

    As for the strategy I agree we need to start with a conversation amongst people working in the field and this blog is as good a place as any.

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  38. Yoram,

    The difference is that Montebourg is not going to be president in the foreseable future by any strand of the imagination and this is not exactly the case of Melenchon.

    I am also convinced that if the Constitutional Convention is convened fully or partly through sortition, it will be unconceivable to exclude sortition in any subsequent rules to designate members of the legislative body.

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  39. You mean sortition? Isn’t it obvious that sortition is a highway to achieve gender equity?

    Thank Keith for these names (I knew none of them, I’ll google them) maybe they need a bit more of advertisement.

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  40. We had Roslyn Fuller here for a short while, but she left in a huff.

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  41. Cannot find who is Naomi Gibbons with google. Could you provide a link?

    Think I found Helena Langmore (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-012-0062-6), Lyn Carson (https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/research/research-notes/417-french-presidential-election-and-sortition), Jane Mansbridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Mansbridge) and Barbara Goodwin (https://www.uea.ac.uk/political-social-international-studies/people/profile/b-goodwin).

    Thank you for pointing these ladies, I am eager to discover their work. Now a more difficult one, find a young black woman. Why? It seems to me than sortition is a obvious way to include “minorities” (even when they are a majority number-wise) but it might not seem obvious to you if you think that sortition could not be already a tool to include woman in politics.

    You are right this blog is a good place and far from the only one. So I
    would be happy to have your feedback on the method described below to designate a moderator using sortition.

    “””
    An arbitrarily chosen person flips a coin. Tail the first person on the left of the thrower becomes the moderator; heads its the second.

    When the moderator resigns or when a third or more of people thumb up a new sortition begins. The former moderator flips the coin to make the power turns.
    “””

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  42. It’s a truism that a large proportional random sample will reflect gender distribution (or any other parameter in the target population) but this has nothing to do with which people choose to study, discuss or advocate sortition as a political programme. The fact that this bothers you would suggest that you haven’t read Hannah Pitkin’s book on the difference between descriptive representation and the active representation of interests. When you choose a doctor, lawyer or policy advocate, why would you care what gender they were?

    >maybe they need a bit more of advertisement.

    Much better to read their books and ponder (and discuss) what they have to say on the topic. The sortition movement (if there was one) shouldn’t get into the advertising business until it works out what it has to say — at the moment it’s just a blooming buzz of confusion, conflation, leftist (and, of late, anti-populist) sloganising and historical wishful thinking.

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  43. Arturo,

    > I am also convinced that if the Constitutional Convention is convened fully or partly through sortition, it will be unconceivable to exclude sortition in any subsequent rules to designate members of the legislative body.

    My point is that democracy requires an ongoing Constitutional process, rather than a one-time convention. Even if some sort of application of sortition is introduced into the system through the constitutional process, unless this application is well designed this could be a way to bury sortition for a long while rather than a first step forward.

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  44. Naomi Gibbons is a research chemist who has made some invaluable comments on this blog.

    >method described below to designate a moderator using sortition.

    If it is for a forum with binding legislative power then there can be no moderator, as impartiality is required. Just because the selection method (flipping a coin) is impartial, that doesn’t mean that it will select an impartial person — there is no such creature, as we all have our own preferences and prejudices. If, for example, you were chosen, then you would not be acceptable to Trump or Brexit supporters. There has been (and can be) no progress on this problem since Juvenenal’s Quis Custodiet? aphorism.

    >sortition could not be already a tool to include woman in politics.

    It’s a truism that a descriptively representative sample would include women (or any other population parameter) proportionately. Collectively they would tend to make an informed judgment on political issues in a manner that reflects the interests, preferences and beliefs of those in the target population for which they act as proxies.

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  45. Cannot find her using the search engine of this blog. Could give a link to her comments?

    Thank you for the feedback. The method described here is to allote a moderator in a conversation.

    “””here is no such creature, as we all have our own preferences and prejudices. If, for example, you were chosen, then you would not be acceptable to Trump or Brexit supporters. There has been (and can be) no progress on this problem since Juvenenal’s Quis Custodiet? aphorism.””

    This is why we need to think on a peaceful way to overthrown a sorted people, for instance: “when a third or more of people thumb up a new sortition begins. The former moderator flips the coin to make the power turns.” So in a hypothetic discussion with Nigel a Donald a single thumb would suffice to change of moderator. Remember that it is often say that a good moderator does not speak her/his mind.

    Do not really see the link with the citation that mean: “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

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  46. > a way to overthrow alloted people

    My personal take on the need for rotation is that it is often overstated. Once the dices have been thrown, let us do with the people we have. Give them time to work, learn and improve. A sample where everyone is clever, nice and polite would be an statistical aberration. Society is not perfect and a mirror image of it shouldn’t be either.

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  47. Naomi never authored any posts — unfortunately the system doesn’t log commentators.

    >Do not really see the link with the citation that mean: “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

    What Juvenal’s aphorism means is there is no way to monitor the impartiality of the person who’s job it is to ensure impartiality (without an infinite regress).

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  48. About the use of the word “dêmokratia” in ancient Athens.
    *** Keith asks : « why was the term “democracy” not used before Ephialtes’ reforms? »
    *** Hansen (“The Athenian democracy .. ” pp 69-70) gives a convincing answer : « We have no sources from before 430 in which you could expect the word “demokratia ” (…) before the middle of the fifth century almost all literature (except natural philosophy) was written in verse, in metres in which the word demokratia does not scan ». And he reminds the verse 604 of Aeschylus’ “The Suppliant Maidens” (around 460) where we find, about a popular vote by show of hands, ” dêmou kratousa cheir” , ” the ruling hand of the dêmos “. The two components of the word ” dêmokratia” could be put in Aeschylus’ verses, not the word itself, because of versification constraints.
    *** But we must acknowledge that the pro-democrat Herodotus, who knows the word “dêmokratia”, prefers the word “isonomia” (”isonomiê” in the dialect he uses) in the famous prose piece which is the first (small) piece of democratic theory (Otanês’speech; Histories, III, 80).
    *** Why? probably because the word dêmokratia itself had a liability. “Kratos” is the power without restrictions. Politically, that means a system with a true sovereign, as absolute monarchy or dêmokratia. But morally, that could mean power without ethical restrictions. Hence “dêmokratia” was not the best word in a propaganda war, “isonomia” was best. I remember, when I was young, in France, Marxists used the word “capitalism”, but Anti-Marxists preferred the word “free market”, which had a better appeal.
    *** Later in Athens there was no more problem with the use of word “dêmokratia”. Democrats had won the war of words (for common people, at least). And there was an official cult of the goddess Dêmokratia. (Some contemporary US neo-pagans proposed a cult of the goddess on … Election Day. They need a kleroterian training).

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  49. About the extensive use (or abuse) of the word democracy.
    *** The “representative democracy” model’s main root is the English model of representation-through-election. But another root is the idea of universal suffrage, more a French one (1792, for a short time, 1848; in Britain I believe 1918) – universal for mature males; extension to women and to youths until some age is later. Only with universal suffrage the representative government could claim to be a “representative democracy”.
    *** Most American and French revolutionaries rejected the word “democracy” either because they rejected universal suffrage or because they had a classical learning which made them too much conscious of the classical sense of dêmokratia. But some of them dared to use “representative democracy” – as in France Robespierre (thus he could reject the idea of a direct vote of Frenchmen about the fate of Louis XVI) or in the USA John Adams.
    *** In Hellenistic Greek “dêmokratia” could be used as a general word corresponding to Latin “republica” – including all systems except autocracy or hard oligarchy. It is for instance the case of the historian Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC). But this extensive use will have no effect in Western elites in the Revolutionary Age or later, more learned about Classical Ages of Athens and Rome. Interesting case, however, of the recurrent use of the “democracy” flag to cover systems where there is no sovereignty of the dêmos. Even in classical Athens Isocrates intended an extensive use of “dêmokratia”.

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  50. Andre:> Later in Athens there was no more problem with the use of word “dêmokratia”. Democrats had won the war of words (for common people, at least).

    Yes, I think that’s right, and it would certainly suggest that Castoriadis’s claim that the onset of democracy in 507 was the result of a “widely-prevalent mood for radical political equality” is incorrect. I was aware of Hansen’s claim regarding demokratia and poetry, but he is opposed to Ober’s claim that the events of 507 were a popular revolution (Ober and Hansen had to resort to an arm-wrestling contest in order to resolve their long-running dispute!).

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  51. PS one of the reasons the early reformers preferred elite words like isonomia and isegoria to demokratia is that they flattered the demos by suggesting they were joining an aristocratic club — “Cleisthenes took into his [aristocratic] faction the ordinary people” (Hdt. 5.66.2)

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  52. > Castoriadis’ claim

    Let’s leave good ol’ Cornelius lie in peace. I just mentioned Castoriadis once to indicate that I borrowed from him the expresion “radical political equality”. He was not, as you rightly said before, a historian. I’ll own to that claim myself.

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  53. > Representation-through-election

    When I am presented with this, my answer is as follows: “you can either have representation-through-election, which is, per Montesquieu, aristocratic, or representation-through-sortition, which is democratic”.

    > Representative democracy

    When presented with this, I have two ready-made answers. One is a joke (maybe not as funny as I’d wish): “when you need an adjective to describe your democracy (representative, direct, organic, participatory, whatever), you can be certain that what you have is not a democracy”. For those who don’t know, “organic democracy” is how Franco called his regime (which probably means that the joke is definitely not funny for a non-Spanish, not old enough audience). My other standard answer is considerably more boring, and involves a lengthy disquisition on “representative democracy” being somehow rendundant, since democracy is essentially a method for representation, and on its apparent opposite, “direct democracy”, being somehow nonsensical since there is obviously no representation here and therefore no need for a representation method and you could simply say direct of self-government, or government by the assembly, and make everybody’s life (ours and the zapatistas’) easier.

    > Universal suffrage

    This is more serious. A distintion has to be made between, on the one hand, a problem of boundaries, of scope, and on the other hand a problem of method. The first problem is the question of who is citizen and who’s not (a very Athenian question by the way). To that question, you can give either a limited (oligarchic) answer or a universal (polyarchic, for lack of a better word) one. Regarding the methods, this can be, as we all know, the aristocratic one and the democratic one.

    When we combine both criteria, we have a matrix with four possible cases: oligarchic and aristocratic (limited or restricted suffrage), oligarchic and democratic (the insaculatory method used in medieval Spain to select majors and municipal counselors), polyarchic and aristocratic (universal suffrage), polyarchic and democratic (the Athenian boulé).

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  54. > democracy is essentially a method for representation

    Again, I don’t think this is how democracy is commonly understood. Democracy is generally understood as a situation where everybody’s ideas and interests are represented equally in the public sphere. Mechanisms of delegation of power are tools and “direct democracy” (i.e., plebiscites) is a tool. Observation and analysis are needed in order to figure out whether a particular tool promotes democracy or does not.

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  55. Arturo:> You can either have representation-through-election, which is, per Montesquieu, aristocratic, or representation-through-sortition, which is democratic.

    The passage from The Spirit of the Laws, Book 2, Chapter 2 is on the appointment of magistrates and states that “suffrage by lot is natural to democracy; as that by choice is to aristocracy” and his source is Aristotle’s Politics, iv. 9. There is no mention of representative government, a notion that would not have made sense to Athenians in the classical era. In another passage in Politics (ii, 2) Aristotle makes clear that suffrage by lot is democratic as it enables all citizens to rule and be ruled in turn, an impossibility in large modern states. Montesquieu is also clear that the Athenians resorted to election for the more important offices. Here is the full passage:

    The suffrage by lot is natural to democracy; as that by choice is to aristocracy (Arist, Pol. iv. 9). The suffrage by lot is a method of electing that offends no one, but animates each citizen with the pleasing hope of serving his country. Yet as this method is in itself defective, it has been the endeavour of the most eminent legislators to regulate and amend it. Solon made a law at Athens that military employments should be conferred by choice; but that senators and judges should be elected by lot. The same legislator ordained that civil magistracies, attended with great expense, should be given by choice; and the others by lot.

    If you must resort to cherry-picking authorities like Montesquieu, you should a) get them right and b) be attentive to context.

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  56. > I don’t think this is how democracy is commonly understood

    That’s precisely the problem, for God’s sake! The rich have tricked us into adopting their “private lenguage” (cf. Wittgenstein) and forgetting about the usual meaning of the word democracy which was unambiguous to Montesquieu and all previous authors.

    By the way, Keith, I entirely subscribe to what Montesquieu said, which is not what you say he said, and I’m only sad that my edition of L’esprit des lois seems to be an abridged one as in it Montesquieu doesn’t mention his aristotelic sources as clearly as in yours.

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  57. >I entirely subscribe to what Montesquieu said, which is not what you say he said, and I’m only sad that my edition of L’esprit des lois seems to be an abridged one.

    Huh? Are you suggesting that Montesquieu was referring to representation and that this has been “abridged” from your edition? If not, then in what sense have I misrepresented his own words? All I did was cite the passage in full and point out the context, whereas you took one sentence and added to it the notion of representation. Please clarify.

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  58. Well, I don’t know if Montesquieu would have shared your judgement about offices “attended with great expense” being the more important ones, since he could have written exactly that and chose not to.

    What seems to be missing in my old edition is the reference in parenthesis to Aristotle’s Politiká that apparently shows in yours.

    More seriously, the fact (which I entirely admit) that the notion of representative government would have been unintelligible to ancient Athenians does not mean that they were not “represented” avant la lettre by e.g. the 50 members of each tribe sitting at the Boulé.

    And I did not resort to Montesquieu in the narrow framework of Athenian history but in the general, universal scope he gives to his words by using the present instead of the past tense.

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  59. About Castoriadis and the onset of the Athenian democracy.
    *** Castoriadis was not an historian, he was a philosopher. But he was not the kind of philosophers who don’t bother about historical facts, and he was a close friend of hellenist and historian Vidal-Naquet, author, with Levêque, of the book « Cleisthenes the Athenian », about the intellectual surroundings of the Cleisthenes endeavour. I did not read all Castoriadis’ writings, but I doubt you can find here historical inanities, but maybe some oversimplifications. If he claimed that the onset of democracy in 507 was the result of a “widely-prevalent mood for radical political equality”, it was a somewhat oversimplification of the « Cleisthenes the Athenian » thesis.
    *** We don’t have the documents to be sure about the detailed political and social events and processes which led to the onset of the Athenian democracy. Ober thinks of something as the 1789 events in France, well, I doubt, but nobody will be able to ascertain which occurred. We can be reasonably sure only of two things. First, it was the result of a nobiliary feud, as Archaic Greece was filled with. Second, it included a « melting » of the civic body and territory, along very artificial and abstract lines, which could not be undertaken outside of a project for dêmokratia including « radical political equality ». Was democratic ideology a « widely prevalent one » ? Possible, but maybe exaggerated. At least prevalent in circles around Cleisthenes, and not contrary to the values of most ordinary citizens.
    *** I am afraid Keith Sutherland uses the word « aristocratic » without the necessary clarity. « Aristocratic » means « supporter of the oligarchic power of a quality elite, usually a nobiliary elite », it must be not used for « nobiliary ». The Cleisthenian circle was nobiliary, but pro-democrat. Why such a preference ? First, we must remember the intense competitive spirit of Classical Greece, which made very difficult a ruling by a solid elite. It was a strong factor for democracy (and the Western contemporary tendency of elite homogenization is bad news for dêmokratia). Second, we must remember that Cleisthenes’endeavour followed a time of Pisistratus populist tyranny, very humiliating for the young or bold nobiliary elements. These elements, unable to conceive a joint power with their nobiliary enemies, rejecting the prospect of a new populist tyranny, could prefer a dreamed democratic system, where the prestige of their lineage, their ability to speak, their « innate» charisma, would make them the natural leaders of the dêmos.
    *** I doubt that isêgoria or isonomia were ever aristocratic words. They may be words used in pro-democrat nobiliary circles, which is another thing.
    *** The Cleisthenian endeavour was not the result of a class war or a totalitarian movement. It could not succeed without support by a part of the elite. And I think that the first (ortho-)democracy , dêmokratia, in a modern society will get out of a situation where a part of the elites will support the political mutation.

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  60. Andre, thanks as always for your nuanced explanation of the classical context. Although all the sources I have read indicate the aristocratic origin of both isonomia and isegoria it’s not central to my argument. I agree that there was no spontaneous Athenian revolution (in Ober’s sense) and that the reincarnation of the demokratia will also require elite backing. This is why I’m opposed to all the talk on this blog of the impending demise of “electoralism”, as we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Arturo, Montesquieu was indeed referring to the election of the most important magistracies (rather than the controllers of the price of flute girls and the location of dung heaps). As for the representative nature of the Boule, accidental or otherwise, bear in mind this was a collective magistracy (secretariat for the assembly) not a decision-making body.

    >And I did not resort to Montesquieu in the narrow framework of Athenian history but in the general, universal scope he gives to his words by using the present instead of the past tense.

    I think you make too much of that. There were no other extant examples (other than the Venetian republic — hardly a demokratia) and he was not proposing sortition in a large modern state. The context of the sentence was the political arrangements of classical-era Athens.

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  61. > « Aristocratic » means « supporter of the oligarchic power of a quality elite, usually a nobiliary elite »

    This is completely true in the context of our current discussion about Athens in the late 6th century B.C. Let me point, however, to a possibly different use by Montesquieu and Rousseau in the 18th century. I doubt Rousseau ascribed any oligarchic character to his depiction of elective aristocracy. Similarly, Montesquieu could have written that sortition was democratic as election was aristocratic. He indeed uses the past tense immediately afterwards when referring to Athens. Hence my conclusion that, by choosing the present tense, he is instead giving us an atemporal, eternal definition of these words.

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  62. Arturo,

    >I doubt Rousseau ascribed any oligarchic character to his depiction of elective aristocracy.

    Presumably by this you mean that oligarchic (unlike aristocratic) is a pejorative term? Rousseau indeed did argue for an elected government but that the sovereign legislature should include all citizens (I wrote a paper some time ago arguing that an allotted legislature would in fact fulfil Rousseau’s insistence on popular sovereignty).

    >an atemporal, eternal definition of these words.

    Blimey, I haven’t heard that sort of language since Arthur Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being (1936). All the work on the history of political thought since WWII has focused on ideas and texts in (historical and linguistic) contexts. I have to declare an interest here, as the publisher of the journal History of Political Thought, but I can’t think of a single living defender of the Lovejoy approach.

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  63. > Presumably by this you mean that oligarchic (unlike aristocratic) is a pejorative term?

    Yes, and I hope you can agree with that.

    > Rousseau indeed did argue for an elected government but that the sovereign legislature should include all citizens (I wrote a paper some time ago arguing that an allotted legislature would in fact fulfill Rousseau’s insistence on popular sovereignty).

    I’m not so sure that’s exactly what Rousseau proposed, but count me in anyway for that mix of democratic (allotted) legislature and aristocratic (elected) government, as long as the government is elected only by the legislative body and not by all citizens (lest we fall in the trap of rational ignorance once again).

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  64. Arturo,

    > That’s precisely the problem, for God’s sake! The rich have tricked us into adopting their “private lenguage” (cf. Wittgenstein) and forgetting about the usual meaning of the word democracy which was unambiguous to Montesquieu and all previous authors.

    Are you saying that democracy used to mean “a system with allotted delegation”? I don’t think so, but even if it is true, why should we adopt this terminology? It is not a useful terminology any more than defining democracy as “a system with elected delegation” is.

    Democracy is commonly perceived as a fundamental ideal (political equality) while the various government systems (existing or proposed) have to measured by how well they promote the ideal.

    As I see things, we were tricked to believe that elections promote this ideal while in fact they are antithetical to it. The terminological trap is that the seeing elections as fundamental to equality has become so ingrained that both are now referred to as “democracy”. The terminological task is not to equal “democracy” with sortition but to distinguish between democracy and elections. (Then we should argue that democracy requires sortition, but that is not a terminological problem.)

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  65. Arturo,

    Often oligarchy (rule by the few) is taken as synonymous with aristocracy (rule by the best), if not in theory then in practice as the “best” were often the few with the financial and time resources needed for education. And exactly what we mean by the “best” would be up to the electors (either mass or allotted). I think it’s a mistake to believe that the choice of a randomly-selected group would necessarily lead to government by the best — it would depend on how the candidates were selected and how they presented their case to the electors.

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  66. > democracy means equality vs. democracy means sortition

    Yoram, you are fundamentally right… but, still, I think that Montesquieu’s terminology (I am not saying that democracy meant sortition in classic times) is a very useful one, to use your own terms. It gives us a clear and unequivocal name for both election and sortition: aristocracy vs. democracy.

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  67. > I think it’s a mistake to believe that the choice of a randomly-selected group would necessarily lead to government by the best

    But you’d at least acknowledge that, ceteris paribus, the result of a mass election would be inferior to that of a randomly-selected subset, be it a legislative body or an ad hoc electorate à la Chaum.

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  68. Arturo,

    Yes, I agree that a randomly-selected subset would be in a better position to judge between the representative claims of the candidates. What I don’t accept is the democratic right (or epistemic wisdom) of the nomination of electoral candidates by a randomly-selected group.

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  69. > It gives us a clear and unequivocal name for both election and sortition: aristocracy vs. democracy.

    I don’t understand why we need aristocracy and democracy as synonyms for election and sortition respectively. Those terms are much more useful describing something different: political inequality and political equality. (Then question of whether the two selection mechanisms are associated with certain political outcomes can be fruitfully discussed.)

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  70. Yoram,

    Again, I am rather convinced by your arguments… From now on, I will say something like this: election is aristocratic because it brings political inequality; sortition is democratic because it brings political equality.

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  71. Maybe worth a new post https://lafranceinsoumise.fr/2017/10/31/premiere-phase-tirage-sort/ or am I the only one seeing that as an almost historical event.

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  72. Although “historical” may be an exaggeration, certainly interesting and worth a post. The link to the randomization script is a nice touch.

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  73. True I had a good day explaining my enrhusiasm. Romain

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  74. About Montesquieu and his atempral comments on democracy.
    *** When reading Montesquieu’s “Spirit of Laws”, one is easily convinced that Montesquieu writing about democracy wanted to use atemporal concepts, as says rightly Arturo Íñiguez. Clearly, we can study Montesquieu writings from an historical point of view, but we can consider likewise their atemporal value. The same, we may be interested by Condorcet’s writings about collective choice for their intrinsic value and from an historical point of view.
    *** That said, even the “atemporal studies” of Montesquieu must be put in the historical perspective of Ancient Times vs Modernity: Montesquieu’s thought correspond to Ancient Times, and we must remind that. For example, when Montesquieu says that democracy implies a small State, he is right – for Ancient Times. Now, with modern electronic message communications, China is smaller than was Athens, for political debate.
    *** For Montesquieu, democracy in a small State was a contemporary possibility, even if there were only few examples in some remote Alpine valleys. We must consider there were plenty of small States in 18th century Europe; in the loose confederacy called Holy (German) Roman Empire, in Switzerland and around, and elsewhere. For instance in which is now the French departments of Vaucluse and Alpes-Maritimes: my hometown of Avignon was a small State the prince of which was the Pope; he was likewise the prince of the neighbor small, but bigger, State of Comtat Venaissin. A new wave of democracies was a possibility, where sortition could be used. Actually there were examples of sortition real or planned in some Alpine democracies, as in the Grisons area. A study (in French language) may be found in Internet (www.afsp.info): Antoine Chollet “Un tirage au sort mixte: sur quelques exemples oubliés du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle”. In these small States a prospect of democracies was not absurd. This prospect vanished, for various reasons, included the fact that these small States either disappeared or fell under the temporal and ideological sway of big States. An interesting fact is the cases of development of sortition followed by its disappearance, as documented in Chollet’s study for some parts of which is now Switzerland.
    *** Montesquieu wanted to be a political scientist above his personal sensitivities. It was easy for him about democracy: he could study without bias the democratic model, without too much interference of his class consciousness, because a true democratic mutation in France, his country, would have implied the fragmentation of France into a thousand of small States, a very dangerous and improbable step, the very low plausibility of which made easier an Ivory Tower study of democracy.
    *** Neither Montesquieu nor Rousseau had any idea of representative unitary republic Sieyes’ style, or “representative democracy” as advocated by Robespierre. They were political thinkers of Ancient Times, before the Age of Revolutions and the two centuries prior to full Modernity where we are. That does not mean their works are without 21st century interest.
    *** Montesquieu’s authority is useful as counter-authority, against those who say that sortition is an irrational idea, not worth of even a moment of consideration. Actually they are less and less numerous in “intellectual” circles, but always strong in “low media” culture.
    *** Montesquieu knew that in 4th century Athens only military and financial managers were elected, I suppose from orators’ works, as Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens was not known. He knew about large judicial juries, but maybe somewhat underestimated their political importance, as often in 18th century intellectual culture; which anyway was more knowledgeable about Rome than about Greece. Conversely he seems to have overestimated the power of the Athenian Council (he says “Senate”).

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  75. Andre,

    > electronic communication

    I don’t see how telecommunication makes a difference in the matter of scale. The limiting factor is not distance but cognitive capacity. An Athenian citizen could not listen to his 6,000 fellow Assembly members any more than a modern Chinese can listen his one billion fellow citizens. That is exactly the difficulty that sortition addresses.

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  76. *** Yoram Gat says “I don’t see how telecommunication makes a difference in the matter of scale. The limiting factor is not distance but cognitive capacity”.
    *** Telecommunication makes a difference, including about allotted juries. An Athenian citizen living in Marathon and wanting to participate in the Athenian jury system had to walk around 40 km to come and the same back. Right, people used to walk in these times, but it made the political work quite heavy. Let’s suppose a 21st century Chinese democratic jury, it can deliberate by telecommunication, or be constituted by a string of local juries united through telecommunication.
    *** Maybe Yoram thinks that an allotted legislative body does not need telecommunication, and could be convened centrally. But a dêmokratia needs more than one central body if the dêmos wants to get the last word on all the policies, the laws, and the major judicial decisions. The prospect of a central Chinese allotted parliament without possibility of any other allotted jury would make popular sovereignty a bogus. A modern democracy is possible in big States only due to electronic communication.
    *** I will add than even out of this institutional requirement, in a big State before Modernity there could not be an enough unified political life to allow democracy, because there was not a real civic community. Let’s imagine in 1793 a French central allotted parliament convened in Paris, it would not have a real democratic meaning because the French “citizens” of Paris, of Vendée or Britanny, of Provence or La Réunion did live in separated worlds; with an idea of common national identity, maybe, but living in separated mental worlds, without sustained communication. To get a democracy, we must get first a dêmos, living in one world, maybe with strong antagonisms, but antagonisms inside the same world.

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  77. André,

    If it is assumed that membership in powerful allotted bodies is a full time job then telecommunication is at best a useful tool, but not a necessary technology, regardless of the number of such powerful allotted bodies.

    As we discussed before, conducting powerful allotted body business through telecommunication is very dangerous (because it reduces cohesion within the body). But even if it is assumed that meeting via telecommunication is a viable way to handle the business of an allotted body, physical contact remains a possibility. The members of the bodies certainly can relocate or travel in order to meet physically as required by their office.

    It is only for bodies that do not require high commitment from their members that telecommunication becomes more of a necessity. But such bodies take us back toward the situation of mass voting and the advantages of sortition are lost.

    (I do agree that telecommunication is a crucial factor in the formation of political identities, although you may be overstating the case for it being a requirement for the creation of political units over large areas.)

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  78. Yoram:> An Athenian citizen could not listen to his 6,000 fellow Assembly members any more than a modern Chinese can listen his one billion fellow citizens. That is exactly the difficulty that sortition addresses.

    What size of assembly did you have in mind for citizens to listen to their fellow assembly members? Both Dahl and the majority of deliberative theorists have in mind groups of around a 12-18, and this would clearly be invalid in terms of statistical representation, which would require at minimum several hundred. Walter Bagehot argued that the British parliament prior to the second reform act was too large to constitute a deliberative assembly, claiming that effective deliberation was confined to the cabinet. There is no evidence that the Athenian council was a deliberative body and the courts certainly weren’t, so how would a deliberative, but statistically-representative minidemos be constituted?

    Andre:> a string of local juries united through telecommunication.
    Yoram:> cohesion within the body

    Thereby breaching the independence of judgment that is a prerequisite for statistical representativity (and the wisdom of crowds). The principles of rich deliberative exchange and statistical representativity are diametrically opposed, that’s why deliberative and epistemic theorists are not remotely interested in representativity or democratic legitimacy.

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