Ranciere: What times are we living in?, part 2

What to save from the drifting French political system? The philosopher Jacques Ranciere was the guest of Aude Lancelin in “The war of ideas” of June 20th, 2017. Here is the transcript of this interview. Part 1 of the translation is here. [My translation, corrections welcome. -YG]

04. It is paradoxical to work through institutions in order to demolish them.

Aude Lancelin: Let’s remain with France insoumise and the phenomenon of Mélenchon during the presidential elections. You are very sceptical regarding the figure of a tribune (Mélenchon) who is going to speak in the name of the suffering of the people and champion their cause. This posture is suspect in your view. What is the basis of your criticism?

Jacques Ranciere: There are several things. First, adopting this posture means also adopting the posture that the system imposes, namely the posture that there is an official political game and that there are the people of the depths who are not represented, or are represented by the extreme right from which they must be separated. It is this idea that the people exist, that there are those who represent the people, that is what de Gaulle pretended to do. I don’t think that this is a democratic idea that makes it possible to mobilize and advance. That is the first point. The second point is that I find it paradoxical to become a candidate of the supreme office of the system saying: if you elect me, here is my program. And at the same time to say: but pay attention, this system is bad and therefore everything is going change. I think there is a fundamental contradiction. You are saying to me that my anti-presidential stance is somewhat paradoxical or difficult to follow. But I think it is still more difficult to follow a stance which on the one hand asks to be vested with the powers of the president of the 5th republic and at the same time says I want to 6th republic and i am going to throw all of this up in the air. It is either one or the other. If we say: it is necessary to throw the 5th republic up in the air, we say: I am here to throw the 5th republic up in the air. Period.
Continue reading


Legislature by Lot

[Note: this has been adapted from an orginial blog post here: http://www.bretthennig.com/legislature_by_lot]


From Friday to Sunday this weekend (September 15-17) the co-founder and director of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, will be joining a group of academics, researchers and activists gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the pros and cons of a “Legislature by Lot” – a parliament, senate or congress selected by sortition.

The workshop is being organised by Professor John Gastil (Penn State) and Professor Erik Olin Wright (University of Wisconsin-Madison) who have drafted the principal proposal that attendees are responding to. Their proposal is for a bicameral legislature where one chamber is elected and one is selected using sortition.

Deepening Democracy CoverThe intended outcome of the workshop will be a book whose prospective title is “Legislature by Lot: An Alternative Design for Deliberative Governance”, to be published by Verso as part of of the Real Utopias series.

The workshop will be attended by many well know academics and practitioners in the field of deliberative and participatory democracy, including Lyn CarsonNed CrosbyJim FishkinArchon FungJane MansbridgeYves SintomerGraham Smith and many others.

Workshop session titles include “Legislatures by lot in the context of major democratic reforms”, “From deliberative to radical democracy? Sortition and politics in the 21st century”, “On democratic representation and accountability” and “Random assemblies for law-making? Prospects and limits”.

It promises to be an interesting and stimulating weekend of discussion about if and how sortition should be introduced into the legislative branch of government – and the resulting book (probably appearing in late 2018) should make a major contribution to the debate about radical but achievable changes that could be made to better our democracies.

Athens as a democratic precedent

Athens of the fifth and fourth centuries BC is often brought up in discussions and polemics about sortition, both in support of the idea and against it. However, since this is often done in rote or knee-jerk manner rather than as reasoned argument the results provide more insight about modern conventional views than about the mechanism of sortition. It is therefore of interest to make an orderly account of the properties of the Athenian system as they are relevant to the question of using sortition in a modern political system and then use this account to evaluate the relevance of the system to the modern debate: the lessons that can be drawn from the historical record, if any, and whether in fact Athens should be a prominent part of the discussion of sortition today.

The historical facts

The institutional arrangements in Athens are pretty well known. My understanding is that the main source for the details is Aristotle’s The Athenian Constitution, but the general institutional picture and the conventional political theory behind them is clear from multiple sources. In addition some background facts about the Athenian society can be established including both facts about the demography of Athens and about the conventional ideology of the Athenians. For our purposes, the following points (“stylized facts”) are the relevant ones:

  1. Athenian citizenship was very restrictive. Of a population of about 300,000 people, only 30,000 were fully enfranchised citizens (adult males of Athenian ancestry). The rest were women, children, foreigners and slaves.
  2. Despite some vestiges of formal political stratification among the citizens, conventional Athenian ideology saw citizens as deserving equal political rights and in practice no formal distinctions were enforced.
  3. The set of Athenian citizens was largely made of two groups – small farmers and city-resident workers. There were two elite groups: landed Aristocracy, and the wealthy city bourgeoisie.
  4. The rich were taxed by the city and money was given in various ways to the poorer citizens, but significant economic inequality persisted in Athens.
  5. The day-to-day governing of the Athenian city was carried out by the Council – a body of 500 citizens allotted yearly. The council oversaw a large number of magistrate boards, each made of ten 10 citizens allotted yearly. There were also a few specialized offices (military generals and high financial officers) that were elected.
  6. Continue reading

Sortition within cooperatives

I am conducting a research project on sortition in cooperatives, and am wondering whether anybody in this community has come across any research or practice in this domain. The only work I am aware of is Terry Bouricius’s article titled “A Better Co-op Democracy Without Elections?” Thanks in advance!

G!LT Party in Austria to use sortition

This sortition community may be pleased to hear that a new party employing principles of sortition was recently founded by Austrian Comedian Roland Düringer. The new party is called “Meine Stimme GILT” (translates as: “My Vote Counts”) and is now highly likely to get sufficient popular support to run at Austria’s national parliamentary elections in October.

Roland Düringer has puzzled media and pundits by declaring himself not eligible for election, which of course sounds absurd for party system adherents. In fact, however, he is not a candidate and will not accept a mandate. Also, the party has declared that it has absolutely no political program which adds to journalists’ head scratching but is a logical consequence of a commitment to crowdsourcing all future policy proposals and decisions with full neutrality.

Once sufficient supporting signatures have come in from all Austrian federal states, expected to happen at the end of next week, G!LT will allot 50 parliamentary candidates for its election lists from a group of 1,000 vetted volunteers. These volunteers committed to donate most of their salary (anything above 2017 Euros) to social or democratic causes and to represent the General Will in parliament. This will be determined by “Open Democracy“, a multi-stage process mixing elements of several democratic approaches:

  1. Participative democracy — broad public participation during initial opinion and prediction gathering, open for all citizens
  2. Sortition democracy — stratified random sampling for demarchic committees from volunteers vetted by prediction success
  3. Deliberative democracy — demarchic committees will vote after a multi-phase hearing of innovators, the pro and the con side, and deliberation
  4. Anticipatory democracy — all committee decisions will be backed and tracked by falsifiable impact predictions

(Here are the principles of this process in English.)

The party decided to adopt this model for the upcoming elections, over two other competing ones (Liquid Democracy and Sociocracy), after research by a combination of questionnaire and prediction market forecasts drawing on a representative sample of 1,000 Austrians.

Democratic legitimisation will be effected by vote share in general election. Or not, as a 4% hurdle applies.

If there is sufficient interest, I can keep this community posted on new developments and of course on actual election results.

Sortition, Sovereignty and Democracy in Modern Government

I would like to persuade people who are interested in sortition to take more interests in other aspects of public decision-making. I believe it is not enough to think of remedying our means of choosing the personnel of existing authorities. In some respects those authorities have too much power. In others, the problem is that power is not the right means to deal with some vital issues. These issues are not questions of what we would like, but of how to avoid impending catastrophe. It is essential for us to understand what we can and cannot do in these matters. We must think in functional terms and on a global scale, not in terms of what we have the power to do, but of what we must do to survive. Those who want to persuade us to hand over power to them try to trick us into thinking we can have what we want. We have to face the real situation and get it right.


A great deal of the thinking about the potential of sortition to replace voting in existing political institutions is based on the Athenian practice of using a lottery to fill some public offices, thus removing those offices from struggles for power. Some proposals I have made at times have been of this sort, choosing a few people for a particular task. But much of the work done by kleroterians refers to using sortition as the basis for a representative system of government, something the Athenians never considered. It raises problems that have no precedents in their practice. Once you have representative government the question arises of what it is entitled to do. The assembly in Athens could do whatever it wanted, including some atrocious things.

As the Americans discovered in seeking for ways of constructing institutions to replace British rule, the Roman republic offered much more relevant precedents for representative government, but none that involved sortition. In any case, Roman practice was based on stratified and contentious citizen rights. The city-state proved unable to handle the problems of imperial power, which soon abolished any shred of democracy. Citizenship came down to a right to a share in the spoils of conquest. Bread and circuses. Political power rested on control of an army. Out of centuries of chaos the medieval monarchies set up a system of territorial rights that prefigured modern nation-states. Hereditary monarchs emerged to claim authority over a territory, conceived as the property of the monarch. Other occupants of that territory were seen as subjects of the monarch, whose will was law. Such titles to property as they had were enforceable only against each other, not the monarch.
Continue reading

On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction

On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction is a novella of ideas in the form of socratic dialogue wrapped up in a road trip. Formatted as a proto-screenplay, description is sparse, characterization thin. Dialogue and visuals dominate.

The Citizen House is the world’s first national legislature chosen as the original Athenian democrats did — by sortition (by random selection). Two representatives face the challenges of advocating for their disparate views (eugenics / universal basic income) in a legislature demographically more reflective of the entire population than any other.

Amazon e-book: http://tinyurl.com/yao8lckx

68 pages, single spaced. 22,800 words.