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.
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Le Parisien Magazine: For or against allotting senators?

Nicolas Priou, January 18th, 2017

Appoint some of the senators by chance. That is one of the proposals of Arnaud Montebourg, for “rebuilding the lost confidence” between the citizens and the institutions. More precisely, the candidate for the primary of the left (on the 22nd and the 29th of January) would like to allot 100 senators in an assembly reduced to 200 members. This means on citizen for each department, drawn from the electoral registry, as is already the case for judicial juries.

A system created in ancient Greece

The goal? “Assure the involvement of citizens in the political system” and making the Senate “a chamber with oversight powers over the public purse, public commitments, political promises to the public, and European decisions”. The idea is as old as the Athenian democracy – or rather klerocracy, as the Greeks called the political system where the representatives of the people and the rulers are selected by lot. But this method is rarely applied other than for selecting juries. More recently, it was Iceland that went farther. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, an assembly of 1,000 allotted citizens was formed to create the basis for a new constitution. Which was eventually rejected. In France, in addition to Arnaud Montebourg, various think tanks, philosophers, and researchers have been promoting the idea of sortition of senators for several years, proposing different numbers of people designated by lot. But are the French people ready?
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Monbiot: Sortition is “a formula for disaster”

George Monbiot, a Guardian columnist and a regular critic of the status quo, has finally opined about the potential of the use of sortition to address the ills of the established system. He is not too enthusiastic:

There are plenty of proposals to replace representative democracy with either sortition (randomly selecting delegates) or direct democracy (referendums and citizens’ initiatives). Such systems might have worked well in small city states with a limited franchise (sortition was used in ancient Athens and medieval Venice and Florence). But in populations as large and complex as ours, these proposals are a formula for disaster. It’s hard to see how we can escape the need for professional, full-time politicians. (Perhaps, in a fair and accountable system, we could learn to love them.)

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Canadian Senator advises against an allotted Senate

Paul J. Massicotte, a senator representing De Lanaudière, Quebec, responds to a piece by Prof. Arash Abizadeh advocating changing the selection procedure of the Canadian Senate to sortition.

Massicotte offers a modern version of the Socratic argument against sortition:

Who wants to play hockey for Team Canada at the next Olympics? Who knows — there could be plenty of openings if the NHL won’t let its players take part in the 2018 Winter Games. But imagine if Team Canada just randomly grabbed people from the lineup at Tim Hortons for its Olympic hockey squad. The results would obviously be disastrous. So, why would we expect anything better if we replaced the Senate with an assembly of citizens picked at random?

Forget skill and hard work — this may be your lucky year if your name is drawn from a hat.

Sounds silly, right?

It is an indication of the precarious position of the Canadian Senate with its non-electoral appointment procedure that the Senator feels that the proposal to appoint the Senate using sortition requires a refutation. It is a feeling that, as far as I am aware, no elected member of parliament has ever shared in modern times. With some luck, however, it may not be too long before arguments against sortition are offered by elected parliamentarians in the French-speaking world.

Let’s reimagine democracy: replace elections with lotteries

An article by Joe Humphreys, in the The Irish Times, November 19th, 2016:

What’s happening to our democracies? Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory in the United States, after a bitter campaign characterised by deceitful and incendiary rhetoric, is not an isolated episode. It’s the natural outcome of what David Van Reybrouck calls democratic-fatigue syndrome.

One of the most worrying facets of electoral democracy is what political scientists call rational ignorance. Citizens have negligible chances of influencing which candidates get elected and of influencing those candidates once elected. “Citizens thus have no incentive to become well-informed regarding political affairs,” says Dr Peter Stone of Trinity College Dublin.

The answer, says Stone, is to find new ways of invigorating democracy, suggesting a much greater role for “citizen juries” randomly selected to serve public roles. This notion of governing by lottery rather than election is at the heart of Van Reybrouck’s book, which has sought to popularise a concept that stretches back to ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy. In Athens, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the most important governmental offices were appointed by sortition, or the drawing of lots.

Double Review: ‘Against Democracy’ and ‘Against Elections’

I recently reviewed two books ‘Against Democracy’ by Jason Brennan and ‘Against Elections’ by David van Reybrouck for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I wouldn’t say that I loved either book, but I did give Terry a shout-out in the review :-)

“Against Democracy” and “Against Elections”: Where Do We Go From Here?

AS THE UNITED STATES APPROACHES a most divisive presidential election, it is hardly surprising to see an upsurge in literature proposing to diagnose and cure the ailments of modern politics.

Against Democracy and Against Elections both fall into this category. Despite their provocative titles, they each present detailed plans regarding what they are for rather than focusing solely on what they are against. This willingness to explore alternative politics is a clear strength of both books and what sets them apart in a market clogged with tomes that tend to be heavier on rants than original thinking.

Antoine Bevort: Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud

The following is my translation of a recent article Antoine Bevort in the online French publication Mediapart. Like Tommy Lasserre’s Sortition in politics – the false good idea, which appeared in Mediapart two years ago, the article is a critique of Chouard and his proposals. Bevort makes some similar points, but, unlike Lasserre, doesn’t focus solely on sortition, and when he does discuss sortition he often deals with implementation details rather than with the principle itself to which he is not wholly hostile. Bevort also relies much less than Lasserre on canned Leftist rhetoric. As a result of those differences more of his punches land on target.

Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud
29 June 2016 Antoine Bevort

Étienne Chouard presents himself as the scholar of “real” democracy. His proposal of allotting of a constitutional assembly is however a fraud. It incorporates general principles which can be embraced, at least in part, but rests on largely specious argumentation, eventually leading to a strange and dogmatic conception of democracy.

Chouard considers himself the guru of “real” democracy. He feels he has found the “cause of causes” of the political crisis (“the political disempowerment of the citizens”) and proposes as a solution the allotment of a constitutional assembly. In his analyses, Chouard invokes general principles which can be embraced at least in part, but advances mainly through theoretical and historical shortcuts, simplifications or even misinterpretations, and through blunt claims and assertions. His dogmatic propositions are based on largely specious argumentation and lead eventually to a strange philosophy of democracy.

In order to deconstruct this rhetoric of mystification, we use a conference video available online[i], a text on the Gentils Virus website whose contents are very similar to those of the conference, as well as on the wiki of this organization, and particularly on the constitution drafted by Chouard. We first discuss his analysis of the existing political system, his claims that “we are not living in a democracy yet” and that “an electoral system is not a democracy”. Then we examine his conception of the “true democracy”, and his proposal of drawing by lot a constitutional assembly. We conclude with the mode of action which Chouard, the Gentils Virus (GV) and Les Citoyens Constituants (LCC), two organizations which promote his ideas, are pursuing.
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