Le Forme della Politica: Improving Democracy

Roberto Barabino writes the following:

Le Forme della politica” (Forms of Politics, abbr. FDP) is a an Italian non-partisan association whose objective is to analyze the forms, i.e. the rules of the game and the conceptual premises of the political decisions, in order to make proposals and take action for their improvement. The FDP is based on the teachings of the philosopher Giuseppe Polistena, who is also a co-founder of the association. He intends to correct “Aristotle’s mistake” (his statement that “the man is a political animal”), because politics is the pursuit of the common good and this is not a natural attribute of men and women, but requires a difficult effort in order to be achieved.

The FDP was founded in 2012 and up until 2016 focused on the Italian political sphere. The main themes were: the criteria necessary to guarantee the democratic functioning of political parties, the differences between institutional and political leadership, the limits to parliamentary mandates, and the study of foreign experiences regarding direct democracy and participation.

In 2016 we read and discussed David Van Reybroucks’s outstanding book “Against elections” that showed the intrinsic weaknesses of the electoral-representative democracy and proposed a bi-representative democracy in which sortition plays a relevant role. This was the inspiration for creating the international branch of our association, called “Improving Democracy” (ID), and to launch the “International Sortition Project” (ISP), in which we propose that a small proportion (e.g., 10%) of the members of the elective assemblies at various levels (parliament, regional council, town council, etc.) should be reserved for citizens, who will be able to put themselves forward as candidates for such roles without being part of an organized political force.
Continue reading

Democracy, public opinion and sortition

Democracy is a disputed term. Many totalitarian regimes have claimed it in the name of the true destiny or real interests of the people, assuming that in all major decisions all those who are committed to that destiny or those interests must agree. Whether they know it or not, deviants are working against the people and must be discredited. These regimes devote great efforts to constructing a facade of unanimity among almost all of their citizens.

This demand for unanimity is not limited to dogmatic Communists and Fascist movements. It also characterises populist movements that appeal to segments of a population who feel that their way of life is threatened by the dominant elites within their society or by infiltration by sinister enemies. These enemies are identifiable by their lack of enthusiasm for the right values.

In opposition to these disastrous regimes, liberal democrats insist on freedom of opinion and on political practices that ensure there is a real choice between rival occupants of positions of political authority. This view assumes that the competition between aspirants to power takes place against a background consensus about the limits of legitimate power and the sort of considerations that are relevant to choosing between opposing policies. People who prefer one set of candidates to others can accept their opponents as legitimate occupants of public office, at least for their term of office.

Such a society depends on a strong public opinion being understood not as fixed agreement about everything of importance to public life, but on a confidence that the process of public discussion will deliver practical conclusions that are certainly fallible, and by no means universally agreed, but open to correction in the normal course of events. What is largely agreed is what sort of considerations are to be taken into account in particular kind s of decisions, even though people will differ about the relative weight to be attached to different considerations.
Continue reading

Criteria for the application of sortition in a political system


Representation by sortition is defined as “democratic” while representation by election is defined as “aristocratic”. Sortition is a democratic instrument because this way people are represented by “their peers” while in an election-based system people are choosing “the best” as “leaders” (= electoral aristocracy).

To illustrate the aristocratic nature of the electoral system, we can take the example of (what may be a somewhat romanticized description of) pirate ships. A hundred years before the French Revolution, pirate ships were run on lines in which liberty, equality and fraternity were the rule. On a pirate ship, the captain was elected and could be deposed by the votes of the crew. The crew, and not the captain, decided whether to attack a particular ship, or a fleet of ships.

The ancient Greeks (circa 400 BC) used the electoral system for the designation of “the best” as military generals. The legislative institutions, however, were based on democratic instruments: representation by sortition and the people’s assembly. Using an electoral system for legislative institutions mainly finds its origins in the Roman Republic [1].
Continue reading

New sortition videos

Here’s two new short sortition videos. The first is about my new book:

and the second is promoting the G1000 project which the Sortition Foundation plans to hold in Cambridge this September:

And a final reminder that next week I’ll be touring the UK promoting both of these in Brighton, London, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Cambridge. I hope to see some of you there!


Hartz-Karp: Unlike the Athenians, we don’t believe that every citizen is capable of participating in important decision-making

Janette Hartz-Karp, a professor at the Sustainability Policy Institute at Curtin University, has a sortition advocacy piece in The Conversation. It covers well known ground: history, diversity, deliberation, applications in Australia, etc.

The opening of the “What’s the obstacle to reform?” section is interesting:

So why isn’t deliberative democracy happening more often? Simple. Those in power are wary about sharing their power.

Unlike the Athenians, we don’t believe that every citizen is capable of participating in important decision-making. We assume most people are too self-interested to make decisions for the common good.

This seems to conflate two different ideas:

  1. Resistance by the elite,
  2. Anti-democratic sentiments in the population.

The first idea is clear and presents a general phenomenon. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

The second idea, however, is more intriguing. How resistant are the people themselves to democratic rule? If they are, why? An empirical study of this question could be useful.

The article also generated a lively conversation in the comments.

New Report: A Citizens’ Assembly for the Scottish Parliament

citizensassemblyA paper I’ve co-written with Common Weal Scotland and newDemocracy Foundation has just been published, proposing a sortition second chamber for the Scottish Parliament.

Initial (somewhat inaccurate) press coverage by The National was okay, except for the unhelpful headline.

A (sold out) talk at Edinburgh University will discuss the merits of the proposal.

The full paper is here.

Hague and Harrop: Would we really want a parliament containing its due proportion of the ignorant, the inarticulate and the corrupt?

The following excerpt is from the 2004 edition of Rod Hague and Martin Harrop’s textbook Comparative Government and Politics (The “Functions of legislatures” section, p. 253):

We have suggested that the essence of assemblies is that they ‘represent’ the wider society to the government. But how can we judge whether, and how well, that function is fulfilled? What features would a fully representative assembly exhibit?

One interpretation, plausible at first sight, is that a representative assembly should be a microcosm of society. The idea here is that a legislature should be society in miniature, literally ‘re-presentating’ society in all its diversity. Such a parliament would balance men and women, rich and poor, black and white, even educated and uneducated, in the same mix as in society. How, after all, could a parliament composted entirely of middle-aged white men go about representing young black women – or vice versa? To retain the confidence of society, the argument continues, a representative assembly must reflect social diversity, standing in for society and not just acting on its behalf (Anne Phillips, The Politics of Presence, 1995).
Continue reading