Interview with John Gastil on Legislature by Lot

3.3 Legislature by Lot with Professor John Gastil

Above is the link to a podcast interview by Real Democracy Now! John Gastil is a Professor in the Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University as well as a Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He studies political deliberation and group decision making across a range of contexts.

In September 2017 John and Erik Olin Wright, as part of the Real Utopias project, held a three-day workshop called Legislature by Lot. Participants included several contributors to this  site, Equality by Lot.  John was interviewed shortly after this workshop to learn more about what was discussed.

John described this workshop as ‘a deliberation about deliberation’.

John spoke about

  • the origins of the Legislature by Lot workshop [1:32]
  • the different ways to implement sortition (random selection) [3:54]
  • some of the arguments in favour of a legislature selected by lot [5:44]
  • different models of sortition [7:40]
  • responding to criticisms of legislature by lot [10:11]
  • how to design an oversight body to support a legislature selected by lot [14:10]
  • the prospect of institutional change and transition strategies [18:34]
  • moving the agenda of using sortition forward [23:43]
  • how much work is happening around the world to test and promote the use of sortition [28:35]
  • what representation and accountability means for bodies selected by sortition [30:29]
  • deliberation, consensus, contention and voting [34:35 and 38:50]
  • what the workshop agreed on [43:18]
  • what might happen after the workshop: building links between researchers and practitioners [45:34]
  • responses to critiques of empowered mini-publics [49:35]
  • when the book arising from the workshop will be published [53:07]
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The other point of view of the debate at La Croix

The French newspaper La Croix has recently published two pieces under the title “Of what use is the senate?”. A translation of one of those pieces is here. Below is a translation of the opposing view.

Jean-Philippe Derosier: “The senate is in the DNA of our institutions”

Jean-Philippe Derosier is a professor of public law at Lille 2 university and the author of the blog “The constitution decoded”.

Personally, I do not dispute the utility of the senate, even if some changes could surely be considered. There are three reasons for the utility of a second chamber. First of all, a logical reason. The parliament represents the nation, and the nation is the people but also something else. The people are represented by the assembly and other thing, in our system, is the regions (territories). In countries which made the choice of bicameralism, this other thing can be different, for example in England the history of the British nobility is incarnated in the House of Lords, or the civil society in Ireland.

The second reason is biological: there are always more ideas in two heads than in one and the second chamber completes the role of the first through a permanent dialog instituted between the two assemblies.
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Welsh Assembly Member proposes Citizens Juries

From the BBC News:

Compulsory Welsh citizen ‘democratic duty’ call

Welsh citizens should be called-up for compulsory democratic service in the same way as “jury duty”, an AM has said.

Conservative David Melding said a second chamber of the assembly should be created for residents to influence decisions and laws.

Mr Melding said introducing a “citizens service” in Wales would help narrow the gap between politicians and the public.

He said it would help keep politicians and officials “rooted”.

The AM for South Wales Central said the growing distance between politicians and the public, and the lack of engagement was “very damaging”.

Speaking on BBC Wales’ Sunday Supplement programme Mr Melding said a “citizens’ service” should be introduced, in a similar way to jury duty, with residents randomly selected to sit on panels, including local health boards to look at how hospitals and GP services are run, and local town and county councils to have their say on new leisure facilities and bin collection changes.
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Debate at La Croix: Of what use is the senate?

La Croix has recently had an interview with Loïc Blondiaux about the idea of an allotted senate. A few days later, La Croix published two more pieces on this subject, one supporting the idea and one opposing it, under the title “Of what use is the senate?”.

Here is a translation of the ‘in-favor’ side of the debate. A translation of the ‘against’ side will be published in the upcoming days.

Fatou Tall : “The time has come for a citizen senate”.

Fatou Tall is a lawyer and a member of the Citizen senate collective.

What is useful is the bicameralism which divides Parliament into two distinct chambers. Within this framework we consider the way to respond to what appears to be currently a real emergency: revitalising our democracy, “radicalizing democracy”, to use the words of the constitutional scholar Dominique Rousseau. The senate seems to be the appropriate tool for introducing a citizen assembly and the mechanism of sortition at a time when many are questioning the appointment of senators via indirect elections. The idea is therefore to make the senate a chamber of allotted citizens which would be charged with co-creation of the law in concert with the National assembly, as is now the case.
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Loïc Blondiaux on a citizen senate


A France Insoumise rally at the Place de la République in Paris, July 3rd 2017, Thomas Samson/AFP

La Croix has a short interview with Loïc Blondiaux on the idea of a “citizen senate”. Original in French here. My translation, corrections welcome.

What could a citizen senate look like?

Compiled by Béatrice Bouniol, Sept. 22nd, 2017

On the eve of the senate elections, Loïc Blondiaux, professor of political science specializing in participative democracy, discusses the idea of citizen senate and the questions it raises.

La Croix: Why does this idea of a “citizen senate” come up in political debates?

Loïc Blondiaux: The idea of a citizen senate indicates two major developments. First, the return to consciousness of the idea of sortition, which was suppressed for centuries. More and more political players and thinkers are considering the possibility of using it in different ways: citizen juries in a more-or-less ad-hoc setting, citizen assemblies aimed toward an institution change or a new sortition-based institution. Secondly, we witness today an increase in proposals that aim to modify the workings of government bodies, to open them more toward civil society and toward discussion with citizens.
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Cutting through the Brexit cacophony

In April 2016 — before the Brexit referendum — I posted an article on Open Democracy calling for a deliberative alternative based around a citizen’s jury. The UCL Constitution Unit has now adopted a similar approach to deciding what form Brexit should take, as reported by James Blitz in the Financial Times:

The Constitution Unit at University College London has tried to fill this gap. Together with the think-tank UK in a Changing Europe, it recently brought together a “Citizens Assembly” of 50 voters. The group reflected a careful cross section of how people voted at the referendum (25 voted leave, 22 voted remain and three did not vote). The group spent two weekends listening to, and taking part in, a balanced debate on Brexit with the involvement of political speakers, academics and other experts. They were then asked to decide how Brexit should proceed in four votes on specific aspects of the negotiation.

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Ranciere: What times are we living in?, part 3 of 3

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. Parts 1 and 2 of the translation are here and here. [My translation, corrections welcome. -YG]

05. The question today is that of rethinking forms of organization, ways of being together for the long term, outside of the electoral forces.

Aude Lancelin: Your book is also a severe blow to those who today are pinning their hopes on the famous cortège de tête: the group of young people who clash with the police after the demonstrations. You have some ironic words on this subject. For you it is primarily a varnish of radicality which is applied to quite traditional demonstrations. The political meaning of all that and its future are not at all assured in your eyes. Do I misinterpret your thinking?

Jacques Ranciere: First thing: the cortège de tête is not simply the professional revolutionaries who think that it is necessary to radicalize the struggle and who radicalize the struggle by breaking shop windows. There are also people who think that breaking windows is the time of assembly of people who come from different horizons, who come from the political struggle or who come from delinquency in the suburbs, and who suddenly discover themselves. That is a way of gathering people that is classic anarchist or revolutionary politics, and suddenly the people that the movement appeals to and who are involved, who arrive with their own actions, their own revolt or their own ways, are coming first from the world of delinquency rather than from the world of politics. The cortège de tête are not simply people with a specific strategy. Another thing that I am trying to say is that the violent actions of the cortège de tête are also symbolic and not any more strategic in fact than the assemblies of the Nuit debout. Because, in fact, what is it that they are really doing? They take aim at symbolic targets; an ATM, a shop window, a nice car… But that is not at all a strategic action. There is this idea that it is necessary to radicalize, to create an irreversible situation. In my experience, that is not irreversible. It is not that some actions create an irreversible situation. I don’t think that existing conditions create a great realignment. Basically, the question is knowing how to manage this interaction between gathering the greatest number and striking the enemy. But what does “striking the enemy” mean? I don’t really know. I think that in the so-called “radical” thinking, there is always a double logic. On the one hand, the logic of confrontation (“we are going to confront them and it is through the confrontation that we rattle the enemy”) and at the same time a logic of desertion (“if we secede the system will collapse”). In the texts of the Comité invisible there is always this double logic. I think that neither of those two logics is really proven. But I am not trying to give lessons, I am just responding to the questions.
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