Callenbach/Phillips Sighting

This blog…

…makes a case for sortition by relying on Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips’ A Citizen Legislature (reprinted by Imprint Academic, 2008).

The Callenbach/Phillips case, which this blogger repeats, stresses the fact that a randomly selected legislature would “look like” the public at large, and therefore would “truly” represent the people. It’s the second half of that claim which leaves me a bit unsure. Is it really true that a random sample of “the people” speaks with the same voice as “the people?” Maybe, but it seems to me that it requires an argument. And the argument might prove hard to make. After all, we all would presumably justify at least some exclusions from a random draw–children and the insane are the obvious candidates–but then those exclusions mean that a random sample will no longer “look like” the population-at-large. So I think there’s more theorizing to be done here. (Of course, I do political theory for a living, so it’s not surprising that I’d say that.)

For further reflections on this topic, see the introduction I wrote to the reprinted edition of Callenbach and Phillips’ book.

7 Responses

  1. Since children and the insane are excluded from the electorate, justifying their exclusion is not a sortition-specific issue (as it would be if if these groups were included in the electorate but would be excluded from a putative sortition scheme).

    A theory of sortition needs to motivate the use of the method for representing the interests and ideas of the set of fully enfranchised members. The theory bears on the criteria for inclusion in that group only indirectly. Thus, the theory should apply even in the case of Athens where the body of the fully enfranchised was a small minority of the people who lived in Athens.

    I find the argument that “a random sample of ‘the people’ speaks with the same voice as ‘the people'” pretty convincing. It may need some careful theorizing to buttress it, but it is essentially the idea behind sortition. Do you believe that the issue of exclusion of children and the insane and similar relatively small groups (whose inclusion will probably have only minor implication in terms of policies adopted) is the main obstacle toward a theory of sortition?


  2. I’ve made a half-hour video speculation on this topic

    In March I’ll be making a trip to the midwest USA. I recall reading some time ago about the Thomas Jefferson Center in Minnesota that had run experiments using randomly-chosen citizen panels. In googling it now, though, I only find the TJ Center for Constitutional Studies in Minnesota … and I’m fairly certain that isn’t it.
    I’ll also be at Washington University in St. Louis. And in Milwaukee.

    Do you know of any organized interest in this topic? I’d think there would be interest from one end of the spectrum to the other, from Tea Partiers to Chomskites.


  3. I believe the Jefferson Center is still around, although for some bizarre reason their website…

    …doesn’t list a street address or a phone number that I could find, just an e-mail address (democracy at I know that Ned Crosby, the founder of the center, is no longer working there.


  4. David,

    Could you share a synopsis of your film? How do you plan to distribute the film?

    The Kleroterians (the group behind this blog) is a group which is organized around an interest in sortition and distribution by lot. You are invited to join the group, contribute comments and posts to the blog and suggest other efforts to disseminate the idea of sortition.

    As for broad spectrum interest – I agree. That was the point I tried to make in a recent post: Most Americans trust people, not leaders.


  5. […] Common Lot Productions Posted on February 23, 2010 by Yoram Gat Google Alerts notified me about the appearance of the Common Lot Productions website. We have already had the founder of Common Lot Productions drop us a note. […]


  6. […] Comments Common Lot Productions « Equality by lot on Callenbach/Phillips Sighting45% Say Random Group From Phone Book Better Than Current Congress « Equality by lot on Most […]


  7. The links in this post are almost all broken.

    A random sample from a any list represents THIS list. So for instance if you sort from the electoral list you’ll be representative of the electoral list and nothing else, it might be interesting to see for instance the gender ratio of these electoral lists. In france it may contains insane people but no children (you need to be at least 18 to be on this list).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: