Wang Shaoguang: Representative and Representational Democracy, Part 2

Part one is here.

A useful part of Wang Shaoguang’s article “Representative and Representational Democracy” (2014) is his critique of the arguments for elections as a democratic mechanism (and in fact as the most fundamental component of democracy). The whole matter of the justification for elections in terms of their expected outcomes is usually avoided by electoralist dogma. Instead the discussion is framed using formalisms: elections are judged as being “legitimate” because they follow some supposed principles of “representativity”. The issue of how those principles themselves can be justified other than in terms of system outcomes is not addressed.

On the rare occasions when the expected outcomes of elections are addressed, two mechanisms are offered as connecting elections with desirable outcomes – Wang refers to these as the “authorization theory” and the “accountability theory”. These arguments go at least as far back as the Federalist papers. Wang first presents and critiques the authorization theory:

According to authorization theory, during elections each political party puts forth its policy positions and promotes its candidates, while the people have the right to choose to support whichever party or candidate they want, and they will vote for the party and candidates of their choice. In the sense that those who are elected start governing only after they have been invested with the authority of the people, this system is of course democratic.
Continue reading

MeRA25 and sortition

MeRA25 is a Greek party headed by former Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. MeRA25 has recently made two moves pushing sortition forward in the Greek political agenda.

First, in July MeRA25 tabled a bill proposing that senior public servants would be elected by an allotted committee. The bill calls for

Establishment of a new, autonomous General Secretariat for Public Revenue, whose General Secretary will be selected by neither the government nor the lenders. Instead, they will be elected by a Social Committe for Selection of Senior Personnel, 1/3 of which is comprised of parliamentarians, 1/3 by judges selected by sortition and 1/3 by tax professionals – accountants selected by sortition.

Secondly, MeRA25 is selecting its own central committee members with some of them selected by election, some by appointment and some by sortition:

The 1st Central Committee is comprised of the members of the current Extended Political Secretariat, 15 members chosen by sortition amongst all MeRA25 members (who are also DiEM25 members), 2 members from every Administrative Region (excluding Attica) put forward by the Secretary in concert with the Committee for the Organisation of the Congress and Movement Outreach, and 1 member from every electoral district, selected by the members of that district through e-voting.

Community Cooperative in Australia Conspicuously Selects Board via Sortition

The Kyneton and District Town Square Co-op set up as an umbrella organization of community groups to democratically manage a historic school building / town square in Australia has a constitution that requires some board members be chosen by sortition.

Scroll down on their home page to see a video of Nivek Thompson speak about sortition and pick five board members out of a hat. Also, several of the activists pose with a placard “Lottery Democracy Lunch” and a sign reads “Lottery democracy arrives in Kyneton.”

Deliberation seminar

What happens once a congress, a regional legislature or a citizens’ assembly is created with sortition? Some (many?) feel that deliberation should be the guiding principle behind operating the resulting body.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation and the Deliberation Gateway Network are co-hosting the first of a series of seminars called “Unlocking Deliberation” to help individuals and groups learn how to bring the wide range of modern deliberative techniques to bear on the collective problems that confront them. This first event is titled “Why Deliberate?” and is online this Sunday at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern US time. More information and registration can be found at here

A proposal for using sortition in a women’s party in India

An op-ed by Sucheta Dasgupta in the Deccan Chronicle.

The Women’s Party: An opening manifesto
Aug 2, 2020

The case for an all-women party becomes all the more urgent seeing as the women’s reservation bill has been hanging fire for 12 years and at the panchayati raj level, where 33 per cent reservation has been implemented, many of the elected are being seen as stooges of their husbands, or worse, more malevolent forms of patriarchy.

Clearly, whether equity of outcome or equality of opportunity is the goal, reservations are not the final answer.

Say, we form a women’s party. Luck (sortition), and not election experience or ‘winnability’, will be the criterion for handing out tickets within this women’s party (it will perhaps make for grooming of many good leaders and save it from the trap a certain young Delhi-based, and now Delhi-confined, party has fallen into).

Turncoats may avail party membership but will be barred from this draw of lots. The left/right nature of electoral politics excludes perspectives and concerns falling outside particular party agendas — these are deliberately kept out for fear of misperception of ideological dilution on the part of the electorate.

One advantage of sortition over intra-party elections will be that, not being partisan in the old sense of the word, new members will bring to the table many more of these perspectives and concerns.

Burnheim and Gruen on the path toward sortition

An exchange between John Burnheim and Nicholas Gruen on the way to introduce sortition into contemporary political systems.

Burnheim:

Scrap attempts to reforming politics as a whole. From a practical point of view attempts to do so by legal constitutional change have no possibility of succeeding from a theoretical point of view, it is folly to assume that if we agree broadly about principle and are motivated to act we will reach a practical agreement. As soon as you analyse the range of possibilities that emerge once one envisages ways of putting all those abstract principles into practice, the more one runs into a host of incompatible proposals.

IIUC, Burnheim argues that the political system either fails to recognize “known and recognised needs” or fails to recognize that established policy does not address those needs. Bodies that are supposed to recognize and address the needs “operate primarily in the interests of those who have power […] rather than the public interest”.

My view is that while it’s no panacea, [there] is likely to be a very effective role for specialised committees of citizens chosen by sortition. I also think that sortition for very specialised tasks is the way forward for many public activities. Don’t concentrate on what juries can’t do, but on instances where they are likely to do something useful.

Gruen:

There are three ‘poles’ of democracy. Direct democracy is one way to do democracy – but it’s both impractical and ill-advised even as an ideal in my view. This leaves representative democracy and I can think of two very different ways of selecting representatives. Competitively through elections and via sortition.

My entire program revolves around finding whatever ways might be possible to inject the latter into a system dominated by the former – whether those ways are large or small.
Continue reading

60% of the French perceive the Citizen Climate Convention as legitimate

Soon after the release of the proposals of the French Citizen Climate Convention, the Elabe polling institute conducted a poll regarding the attitudes of the French population to the Convention. Like the Odoxa poll, the Elabe poll finds [PDF] that large majorities among the French see the convention’s work as useful and support most of the proposals. Notably, the proposal for a 4% tax on big businesses in order to invest in environmental transition – a proposal that was rejected by Macron – enjoys the support of 83% of those polled.

Most interestingly, the Elabe poll goes farther than the Odoxa poll in asking about the legitimacy of the Convention process itself rather than merely about its outcomes. By a margin of 60% to 39%, the French see the Convention as having legitimacy to make proposals in the name of all the citizens. Support is even higher among the young: 70% in the 25-34 age group and 78% in the 18-24 age group.

The French overwhelmingly support the proposals of the Climate Convention

An opinion poll conducted by the Odoxa polling institute after the release of the proposals of the French Citizen Climate Convention reveal that large majorities support the proposals made by the convention.

Among the top billed proposals, amending the constitution to include preservation of the environment was supported by 82% of those polled. 74% supported mandatory environmental retrofitting of buildings, and 52% supported the creation of “ecocide” as a new form of crime. On the other hand, the proposal to lower the speed limit on the freeway to 110 km/h was met with disapproval by 74% of those polled.

Generally, 62% of those who have heard of the proposals made by the Convention supported them, and majorities felt they were realistic and effective. While 81% of those polled supported putting the proposals to a referendum 73% believed that only a small part of them would be put into effect.

Wang Shaoguang: Representative and Representational Democracy, Part 1

As a powerful state which is not electoralist, it is not surprising that China produces political theory which rejects the equation of democracy with elections. It is characteristic of the weakness of Western political science that it makes no serious attempt to explore and engage with this theory.

Wang Shaoguang is a prominent Chinese political scientist. His article “Representative and Representational Democracy” was originally published in the Chinese language social science journal “Open Times” in 2014. A translation to English of the article appears on the website “Reading the China Dream” which regularly translates articles by Chinese establishment intellectuals. The article makes several intertwined arguments regarding democracy and elections. While focusing, naturally, on the Chinese system as an alternative to the Western electoralist system, Wang does make a mention of sortition as well.

In the following excerpts Wang first notes the crisis of the Western government system and makes the straightforward observation, often avoided in the West, that the Chinese system enjoys more popular support than most Western governments. Rather surprisingly, it seems to me, instead of translating this fact to a frontal attack on the Western system, Wang then makes the apologetic (and fairly familiar) multi-culturalist argument that democracy is perceived differently in different cultures. Wang asserts that while the formality of elections is a main feature of the Western or American conception of democracy, in the East “substantive” aspects are considered essential.

Today, even though Thatcher’s “There is No Alternative” and Fukuyama’s “End of History” have already become standing jokes in academic and intellectual circles, their variants proliferate and circulate constantly. Though most people no longer use these particular expressions, many still firmly believe that the “today” of Western capitalist countries is the “tomorrow” of other countries (including China).
Continue reading

Malcolm Gladwell on sortition

Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known popular science author. Gladwell has a podcast called “Revisionist History”. A recent episode of the podcast is devoted to sortition, with much of it being about Adam Cronkright’s work in applying sortition to student bodies in schools in Bolivia. Gladwell himself visits a school in the US and finds that the students are receptive to the idea. He also mentions the idea of using a lottery to allocate research funds.