The 2019 Annual Meeting of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) will be held on 20-22 June in Belfast next year. I’m organizing the Political Theory panels for this meeting. I know there are plans afoot to organize one on sortition and related democratic institutions, as well as another democratic theory panel (on epistemology and democracy). Unfortunately, the deadline is a bit tight–17 December. (I meant to post about this earlier, but was distracted by other matters. Apologies.)

If you might be interested in joining one of these panels, please drop me a line ASAP. (Or just go ahead and propose a paper–I can add you to a panel later.) The website for the meeting is at



Citizens’ chambers: towards an activism of selection by lot

In a paper, previously linked to on this blog, James Fishkin identifies some potential shortcomings of citizen’s chambers which justify his own preference for ad hoc, and temporary citizens’ panels. I think he makes some good points. I think his arguments need further exploration which I do in the first half of this post before articulating a more general unease at where Fishkin and many protagonists of sortition are coming from.

His central concerns with a citizen’s chamber are that it might:

  • have insufficient technical expertise
  • be susceptible to corruption and
  • not maintain the high quality “conditions for deliberation” that have been achieved in more ad hoc citizens’ juries.

These are legitimate concerns. But they have a ‘theoretical’ ring to me. Firstly Fishkin doesn’t provide much evidence that these problems would arise or if they did how bad they’d be. Secondly, he also fails to compare the likely problems with existing similar problems in the existing chambers. I’ll go through these arguments regarding each of the claims in a little more detail below before proceeding to my more general concern.

Technical expertise

If someone can suggest a means by which one or two hundred people can represent the polity and not lack expertise in all the functions of government, I’ll be interested to hear it. Perhaps a random selection from the great unwashed will be less technically expert than elected representatives. For instance, in wealthy countries today, over 90 percent of elected political representatives are university educated compared with around half the population. But that greater level of education comes with its own blind spots as we’re discovering. Moreover, a university graduate in law or psychology won’t be much help in steering fiscal policy and in that regard, the people’s elected representatives often rely in such matters on delegation to independent experts and being advised by experts. But this comes with the territory.
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Gordon Brown embraces citizens’ assemblies

In a thoughtful contribution to considering the governance of Britain in the context of the still running Brexit fiasco, Gordon Brown offers this suggestion:

We must renounce the unsatisfactory, inward-looking, partisan and inevitably piecemeal decision-making process of the past 30 months.

In the old days, political parties saw their role as aggregating and then articulating grassroots views. But to the British people the parties seem – like social media – to be dominated by those with the loudest voice.


I envisage bringing together in each region a representative panel of a few hundred citizens, engaging them in a day’s dialogue to deliberate on arguments presented by informed opinion leaders and advocates from both sides — and testing whether pro and anti-Brexit voters can find any common ground.

Thought Cages: a Parliament by lottery

Readers of this blog may be interested in this brief documentary radio program that recently went to air on BBC Radio 4.

A Parliament by Lottery

Could we fix the disconnect between the public and its politicians – by selecting our MPs by lottery?

In today’s episode, ad guru and expert on human behaviour Rory Sutherland explores how a “House Of The People”, comprised of a random cross-section of the British public – might be better at truly reflecting the considered will of the British people.

Rory is joined by the Australian political economist and expert on innovation Nicholas Gruen – who explains how the idea dates back to the Ancient Greeks – and the MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Philips, an elected parliamentarian who’s keener on the idea than you might expect…

The Justice Initiative: Appointing the Federal Judges by Sortition

Collection of signatures for the Justice Initiative has been going on over the last month. By autumn 2019, the initiative must be signed by 100,000 citizens for it to qualify for the Swiss ballot. Although social networks are playing an increasingly important role in politics, the collectors of signatures on the street need convincing arguments.

The website is in French, German, Italian and Roman. I translated the German text using automatic translation and made some minor corrections. For those who can read German, here is the original text:

Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter sollen Entscheide frei von Interessenkonflikten und politischen Einflüssen fällen können. Das ist heute nicht möglich.

Um von der Bundesversammlung als Bundesrichterin oder Bundesrichter gewählt zu werden, muss eine Person heute de facto einer politischen Partei angehören und über gute Beziehungen zu Entscheidungsträgern verfügen.

Dieses Beziehungsgeflecht besteht auch nach der Wahl in das Bundesgericht und kann die Entscheide der Richterinnen und Richter beeinflussen. Zudem kann mit der Drohung der Abwahl, Druck auf Richterinnen und Richter ausgeübt werden.

Deshalb sollen Juristinnen und Juristen alleine aufgrund ihrer Fähigkeiten – auch ohne Beziehungsnetz in die Politik und Verwaltung hinein – Bundesrichterin und Bundesrichter werden können. Und als solche sollten sie auch bei unbequemen Entscheiden keine Nachteile zu befürchten haben und nicht abgewählt werden können.

Diese Ziele werden mit der eidgenössischen Volksinitiative «Bestimmung der Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter im Losverfahren» erreicht.

Richterkandidatinnen und -kandidaten dürfen einzig aufgrund ihrer fachlichen und persönlichen Qualifikation am Losverfahren teilnehmen. Das Losverfahren garantiert eine faire Besetzung des Bundesgerichts, ohne Rücksicht auf allfällige Parteibücher. Die im Losverfahren bestimmten Bundesrichterinnen und Bundesrichter, bleiben bis zur Pensionierung im Amt.


Federal judges should be able to make decisions free from conflicts of interest and political influences. That is not possible today. To be elected by the Federal Assembly as a federal judge or a federal judge, a person today must de facto belong to a political party and have good relations with decision-makers. This network of relationships also exists after the election to the Federal Supreme Court and can influence the decisions of the judges. In addition, with the threat of dismissal, pressure can be exercised on judges. That is why lawyers should be able to become federal judges on their own merits – without a network of relationships in politics and administration. And as such, they should not have to worry about consequences of uncomfortable decisions and about being voted out. These goals are achieved with the federal popular initiative “Appointing the Federal Judges by Sortition”. Judge candidates may participate in the process solely on the basis of their professional and personal qualifications. The sortition system guarantees a fair composition of the Federal Court, regardless of any party membership. The federal judges, who are determined by lot, remain in office until retirement.

This might be a very important step for the use of sortition in present society.  And not limited to the appointment of judges. Let’s hope they get the 100,000 signatures in time.

Fishkin: Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits

James Fishkin’s contribution to the September 2017 workshop “Legislature by Lot” was titled “Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits”:

A randomly selected microcosm of the people can usefully play an official role in the lawmaking process. However, there are serious issues to be confronted if such a random sample were to take on the role of a full-scale, full-time second chamber. Some skeptical considerations are detailed. There are also advantages to short convenings of such a sample to take on some of the roles of a second chamber. This article provides a response to the skeptical considerations. Precedents from ancient Athens show how such short-term convenings of a deliberating microcosm can be positioned before, during, or after other elements of the lawmaking process. The article draws on experience from Deliberative Polling to show how this is both practical and productive for the lawmaking process.

Athens, corruption, Deliberative Polling, elections, minipublics, nomothetai, representative democracy, sortition

In arguing for short term “Delibertive Polls”, Fishkin offers three problems with long-term allotted chambers: (1) lack of technical expertise, (2) potential for corruption, and (3) not maintaining what he calls “the conditions for deliberation”.
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A Niftier Neologism: “Citocracy”

I’ve just come up with a better name for a system of government that employs sortition: “Citocracy.” I defend it in my latest comment in my thread, “Demiocracy—a Nifty Neologism,” at https://equalitybylot.com/2018/10/17/demiocracy-a-nifty-neologism/#comment-24489. Here is its first 20%:

In response to the criticism above, I withdraw “demi-ocracy” and “randemocracy.” In their place I submit “CITOCRACY,” my best and final offer. It means “Power to, and in, the Citizens.” This meaning is broadly the same as democracy’s meaning, “Power to (and in) the People.”

But it’s not a mere redundancy, because It implies that that power will be exercised significantly by persons who have not been elected—i.e., by ordinary citizens—and not, or not only, by elected intermediary professional politicians. And also not exercised by such unavoidably accompanying afflictions of mass democracy as political parties, propagandists, pressure groups, the press (aka the middleman media), and pelf-possessors, whose character and interest notably differ from citizens’—for the worse. 

I hereby dub our current system “POLOCRACY”—“power to and in the politicians (“pols” and the “political class”).” It is a neatly orthogonal term that covers the remainder of “the people”—i.e., elected citizens and their minions.

(Perhaps, for clarity until familiarity has been achieved, the terms might be hyphenated, thus: “cit-ocracy” and “pol-ocracy.”)

“Citocracy” is ordinary English and doesn’t suggest anything off-puttingly foreign, archaic, esoteric, academic, or radical. (And yet it has a satisfying hint of radicalism in its allusion to the French Revolution’s battle-cry appeal to “citoyens!”) So, persons hearing the word might be willing to hear more about it. At which point a proponent could say:

  1. Citocracy implies a system in which “citizens panels” (advisory) and/or “citizens juries” (proposal-evaluators and/or legislator-electors) and/or “citizens assemblies” (legislators) would play a major role. (The “cit” prefix in “citocracy” builds naturally upon those three commonly used terms.)
  2. Citocracy implies the elimination or curtailment of the six above-listed Pernicious P’s (which a proponent could describe and denigrate), starting with professional party-system politicians, who reign under “polocracy”—a system that our Founders didn’t intend. They had in mind instead a system of amateur citizen legislators—though “notables,” to be sure—i.e., a citocracy.