Tim Dunlop: It’s time to replace voting with sortition

In 2014 Tim Dunlop has just been introduced to the idea of sortition by David Van Reybrouck. He was “not completely convinced by his [Van Reybrouck’s] argument, but [was] sufficiently incensed by our current parliamentary democracy and its many failures to at least consider what he suggests.”

Four years later, Dunlop has written a book advocating sortition, and has an article in the Guardian that opens with an unambiguous statement:

If we want to fix the way our governments work, the first thing we should do is replace voting with sortition in at least some of our governing bodies.

Like many feel-good reformists, Dunlop puts much emphasis on the potential for fostering deliberation, trust and respect amongst the members of the allotted chamber and by extension, in the population at large. However, bucking the norm among such reformists (including Van Reybrouck), Dunlop’s message is very clearly democratic in the most fundamental sense (i.e., making power representative) and his rejection of elections and its elitist implications is uncompromising.

If we are really serious about bottom-up reform of our democratic institutions, then reforming the seat of government itself in this way, a way that installs ordinary people at the heart of power, is essential. Our neoliberal economy and the representative form of government that dominates our societies do everything they can to divide us from and pit us against each other. A People’s House transcends these divisions and brings us together. The basic concept of sortition is pretty straight-forward, and introducing it as a replacement for voting in, say, the Australian Senate, while leaving that body’s other powers intact, represents, at least administratively, fairly minimalist change. But on every other level, the potential effect is explosive. In one fell swoop, you diminish the power of the parties and that of many of the lobbyists who exist to influence their decisions. You transform the way in which the media covers politics. You hand control of at least part of the legislative process to a genuinely representative sample of the population as whole, rather than vesting it in a bunch of elites and their representatives. You empower people in a way that the current system could never hope to do, and you reconnect our chief democratic institution with the life in common.

Nothing is going to change until the main source of power in our society, our seat of government, is populated by people who are genuinely representative of the society at large. We have been taught forever that the way to do that is by voting, but that is simply wrong, and the quicker we unlearn it the better, no matter how counterintuitive it might seem at first. If you want a truly representative government of, by and for the people, then you need to choose it not by voting, but by sortition.

1768: Scheme of a Political Lottery, for the Peace of the Kingdom

The following letter to the Political Register and Impartial Review of New Books, printed in London in 1768, offers sortition of parliament as a way to remedy the corruption of elections. Thanks to Terry Bouricius for drawing attention to this historical piece.

Scheme of a Political Lottery, for the Peace of the Kingdom

It is proposed, on or soon after the breaking up of the present parliament, to open a lottery of 2262 tickets at 1000l. each, three blanks to one prize; which prize shall entitle the possessor to a seat in parliament for the place therein mentioned: by which scheme the noisy and expensive business of electioneering (which puts the whole kingdom in ferment) will be over in two hours, many people have an opportunity of serving their country cheap, and much bribary and corruption be prevented.

The the produce (deducting five per cent. to be set apart for guzzle, and to be equally distributed in every borough) be applied towards paying the national debt. That the lottery be drawn in the court of requests, on the day appointed for the meeting of p——t, and that the members so elected do immediately adjourn to the house of commons, appoint a speaker, &c. and then proceed to business. This will effectually prevent all designs of bad ministers, and more especially if their tools should draw blanks, as no person can have more than one ticket, and that not transferable; lest the courtiers, nabobs, or adventurers, should engrose the whole and buy and sell the nation.

Sortinista Experts: Be a Guest on Talk Radio

To spread our “mini,” or “demi,” message, I urge notable advocates of citizen juries to appear on one or more of America’s numerous talk-radio shows. (These are probably rarer in other countries.)

I Googled for “talk radio guest application” and dozens of places or ways to apply came up; if you Google for that phrase, you will get them too. (I wasn’t able to capture the results-page’s URL and post it here for you to click.)

A four-hour show that usually gives guests a two-hour segment (40 minutes per hour—the rest is news and ads) is “Coast to Coast AM.” It has a large audience—about three million. It often has guests from the UK and Australia. It specializes in heterodox topics (including a fair amount of “woo”). Its downside is its late-night hours: 1 to 5 AM in the East; 10PM to 2AM on the Pacific coast. Here’s its website: https://www.coasttocoastam.com. Here’s its request for guests, on its “Contact” thread:

Be Our Guest

Have you ever wondered how to become a guest on Coast to Coast AM? It’s easy. Just send an e-mail to the Producer stating your name, phone number, the area of your expertise or the nature of your experience. If it sounds like something worth talking about on Coast to Coast AM, the producer will call you. It’s that easy. Write to: CoastProducer@aol.com

The most desirable guests on any show, I suspect, would have one or more of these qualifications, among others: An academic post; a publishing record; a speaking-to-audiences record; a good speaking voice and a smooth presentation; a “common touch,” a lengthy period in the field, … I think it would be best if two or even three guests appeared, for the sake of variety and balance, so maybe you should have a name or two to suggest as your sparring partner.
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Sortition advocate arrested for allegedly planning to blow himself up on election day

On October 10th, various news outlets have reported that the FBI has arrested Paul Rosenfeld in NY, USA for allegedly planning to blow himself up with the goal of drawing public attention to the idea of sortition. The New York Daily News writes:

Rockland County man arrested for building 200-pound bomb, plotting to detonate it in DC on election day

A Rockland County man who cops say built a 200-pound bomb he was planning to explode in Washington, D.C., in an Election Day suicide attack was arrested Wednesday.

Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, was busted on federal charges of manufacturing an explosive device.

“As alleged, Paul M. Rosenfeld concocted a twisted plan to draw attention to his political ideology by killing himself on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — risking harm to many others in the process,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said.

“Rosenfeld’s alleged plan for an Election Day detonation cut against our democratic principles.”

NBC News write:

New York man wanted to blow himself up on the National Mall on Election Day

Paul Rosenfeld was arrested on charges that he built a bomb and planned to kill himself with it to draw attention to beliefs in ancient election system.

The FBI has arrested an upstate New York man accused of building a bomb that he intended to use to blow himself up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Election Day, authorities said Wednesday.

Court documents say Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, wanted to draw attention to his belief in “sortition,” the ancient practice of randomly selecting legislators out of a pool of eligible voters.

The press release by the U.S. Department of Justice is here.

In 2015 Paul Rosenfeld has published an essay on Equality by Lot titled “The Extinction of Politics“. The article has been linked to by some of the reports of the arrest.

Book: The Power of Scale by John H. Bodley

Here’s an intriguing book: The Power of Scale: A Global History Approach (2002), Routlledge, by John H. Bodley. Its price varies depending on format but is generally over $30. It seems to have been overlooked—it has only one Amazon review. But it could be mined for some good Kleroterian ammo; here’s its blurb:

“Throughout history, the natural human inclination to accumulate social power has led to growth and scale increases that benefit the few at the expense of the many. John Bodley looks at global history through the lens of power and scale theory, and draws on history, economics, anthropology, and sociology to demonstrate how individuals have been the agents of social change, not social classes. Filled with tables and data to support his argument, this book considers how increases in scale necessarily lead to an increasingly small elite gaining disproportionate power, making democratic control more difficult to achieve and maintain.”

Its shorty link in the American Amazon site is: https://goo.gl/sxP81t Its link in the UK Amazon site is: https://goo.gl/2nofcS 

Speaking of “scale,” here’s some lagniappe that also might be useful ammo: two quotes on scale’s effect on elections:

”The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.”

—H.L. Mencken, “Bayard vs. Lionheart,” July 26, 1920, in H.L. Mencken on Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (1960), page 21. 

(On U.S. Amazon it’s atop a list of other H.L. Mencken books at this shorty link: https://goo.gl/tvnDs5 On UK Amazon it’s at https://goo.gl/LVAEkX, but thrice as expensive.)

“Something like republicanism or ‘democracy’ will work after a fashion in a village or even a township, where everybody knows everybody and keeps an eye on what goes on. Why not, then, in a county, a state, a nation? Simply because the law of diminishing returns is against it.”

—A.J. Nock, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), page 134. (Available in the U.S. in a $3 Kindle edition at: https://goo.gl/6HGHoM, or in the UK more expensively in paper at; https://goo.gl/Zi7xs7) 

25 Books under “Sortition” on Amazon

Sortition fans can type “sortition” into the Amazon search box (with the setting set to Books) and bring up a list of about 25 books on sortition. (You might also try “demarchy” or “election by lot”.) About one-third of the Kindle versions are under $5.

Americans can get to that page merely by clicking the shorty link https://goo.gl/Jw8Xfg 

Britons can do likewise at https://goo.gl/6RN8R7

Burnheim’s book, Is Democracy Possible? isn’t among the 25, probably because the word “sortition” isn’t in its text (I assume), but its Kindle version can be had in the U.S. for $3 at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IMOCMLG/ref=pe_385040_118058080_TE_M1DP 

Probably its UK version is likewise inexpensive, but you’ll have to type in the title to get to it.

Mencken: A Purge for Legislatures

The book A Mencken Chrestomathy contains a reprint of an article by H.L. Mencken called “A Purge for Legislatures”. The article, originally published in 1926, may be the first modern piece of advocacy for sortition. Thanks to Roger Knights for writing to draw attention to this article.

A MOOD of constructive criticism being upon me, I propose forthwith that the method of choosing legislators now prevailing in the United States be abandoned and that the method used in choosing juries be substituted. That is to say, I propose that the men who make our laws be chosen by chance and against their will, instead of by fraud and against the will of all the rest of us, as now. But isn’t the jury system itself imperfect? Isn’t it occasionally disgraced by gross abuse and scandal? Then so is the system of justice devised and ordained by the Lord God Himself. Didn’t He assume that the Noachian Deluge would be a lasting lesson to sinful humanity — that it would put an end to all manner of crime and wickedness, and convert mankind into a race of Presbyterians? And wasn’t Noah himself, its chief beneficiary, lying drunk, naked and uproarious within a year after the ark landed on Ararat? All I argue for the jury system, invented by man, is that it is measurably better than the scheme invented by God. It has its failures and its absurdities, its abuses and its corruptions, but taking one day with another it manifestly works. It is not the fault of juries that so many murderers go unwhipped of justice, and it is not the fault of juries that so many honest men are harassed by preposterous laws. The juries find the gunmen guilty: it is functionaries higher up, all politicians, who deliver them from the noose, and turn them out to resume their butcheries.
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