Sortition Foundation AGM, book launch, G1000 tour and more!

Spring is coming and the Sortition Foundation has an action-packed March chock-full of events, not least of which is our second Annual General Meeting happening on Wednesday March 15 at 8:30pm at Mildreds Restaurant in Kings Cross. If you plan on coming along please send us an email to let us know.

book launch general

Otherwise if you are in (or near) Brighton, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Cambridge then here is an event or two for your calendar:

Brighton: 7pm Monday March 13 @ The Blue Man Cafe: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)

CSDLondon: 6pm Tuesday March 14 @ Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster: Reinvigorating democracy through random selection (Facebook event)

London: 7pm Wednesday March 15 @ Housmans Bookshop: The End of Politicians book launch and G1000 information evening (Facebook event)

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2016 review – sortition-related events

This is a review of notable sortition-related events of the year 2016.

Paul Lucardie wrote to note that sortition has been gaining some momentum in the Netherlands with a proposal from a group of mayors to appoint municipal councils members by lot, a proposal that received some media attention. Paul also reports that the Groningen municipal government is set to have an experiment in 2017 in which a partly allotted body will be granted some limited decision making power in the municipality. Paul and some other academics will be monitoring the experiment.

Going over last year’s posts on Equality-by-Lot, I note the following:

Sortition continues its movement toward the center of the political stage in French-speaking Europe.
The most notable developments this year occurred in France, where two prominent candidates for the leadership of the socialist party made separate proposals for introducing allotted bodies into the French system in a way that would potentially give those bodies significant independent power. Allotment was also used to select delegates for a convention of a Left-wing party. More modest steps were taken elsewhere on the continent: in Switzerland and, as Paul mentions, in the Netherlands.

To a much lesser extent sortition is making gains in the English speaking world. In Ireland, the government expressed an intent to convene allotted citizen assemblies to review various issues. In Australia, allotted bodies were convened to handle corruption in local government, and to consider a nuclear dump in SA. David Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections was published in English and received some attention. In Canada and the UK sortition was discussed by academics. In the US, sortition was mentioned in a workshop of the APSA.

Sortition’s gains are fueled by the ongoing delegitimization and destabilization of the electoral system throughout the Western world. The two outstanding electoral events of 2016 – the Brexit vote and the election of Trump – are both expressions of a rejection of the electorally-generated establishment and status-quo. For the first time, the U.S. presidential elections featured major party candidates who both had negative net favorability ratings. A study reported that citizens all over the Western world – and in particular, rich citizens – are losing their faith in the electoral system and mainstream political scientists re-discover that electoral government is inherently non-responsive. Elites’ frustration with the electorate is manifesting itself in a revival of openly anti-democratic ideas. Van Reybrouck and others offer sortition as an alternative: a democratic mechanism that will furnish the elites with the outcomes they desire.

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.

Crowdfunding Anthony Barnett’s WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit

unboundAnthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:

Dear Fellow Kleroterians!

Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.

There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.
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“Limiting who can vote”

Ripples from Van Reybrouck’s book made it across the Atlantic and into the Washington Post where Dutch professors of political science Eric Schliesser and Tom Van Der Meer see fit to discuss his proposals for using sortition together with a proposal to “disenfranchise the ignorant to slant political rule toward experts”. They write:

Both [proposals] limit who can vote and seek to stimulate apolitical and rational decision-making:

1) Representatives by lottery. Belgian author and cultural historian David Van Reybrouck suggests abolishing elections and appointing representatives by lottery instead. Van Reybrouck’s proposal extends the principle of sortition — how juries are appointed — to the legislature: Randomly selected citizens would reach the optimal decision via deliberation, supposedly without a need to be bothered with politicking. When their term is up, they go home.

2) Experts as representatives. Philosopher Jason Brennan at Georgetown University suggests disenfranchising the ignorant to slant political rule toward experts. His proposal recently received favorable discussion in The Washington Post. Inspired by Plato, the rule by properly trained experts, or epistocracy, would prevent politicians from being easily swayed by moneyed interests and demagogues.

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Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections, in English

An English translation of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections was recently published. The book is blurbed by, among others, J. M. Coetzee, the South African novelist who was the recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature:

Choosing our rulers by popular vote has failed to deliver true democratic government: that seems to be the verdict of history unfolding before our eyes. Cogently and persuasively, David Van Reybrouck pleads for a return to selection by lot, and outlines a range of well thought out plans for how sortitive democracy might be implemented. With the popular media and the political parties fiercely opposed to it, sortitive democracy will not find it easy to win acceptance. Nonetheless, it may well be an idea whose time has come.

With attention from such a luminary it is not surprising that the book was reviewed in several elite media outlets. As Coetzee predicts, the reception is quite cold. The warmest one is Andrew Anthony’s lukewarm response in The Guardian. Anthony concludes:

[W]hen, say, a sortition of the public recommends an expensive transport system that doesn’t work out or cuts a defence system that is later needed, […] where and how is that frustration registered? You can’t vote out the public. One job that elected politicians fulfil is as democratic punchbags. It’s not edifying or necessarily productive, but it may be essential.

Perhaps sortition or partial sortition could be applied in very specific cases. But we also need to look at reviving elections and renewing our belief in them. They remain a vital part of the democratic process. Not its only part, to be sure, but they are an all too rare example of mass engagement. Let’s not vote them out just yet.

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