A Mixed Constitution

Keith Sutherland posts a sortition-related piece on Open Democracy:


7 Responses

  1. The general thrust of the argument of Sutherland’s post is a throwback to the Madisonian argument for a “republic”, as opposed to a “democracy” (e.g., Federalist Paper #10).

    The system proposed leaves the people (represented by the allotted body) in a position of viewers in a reality show. The viewers have an up-or-down vote, but the entire show is scripted and run by elites.

    The notion that “the competent and experienced” (the elected [competent?! their main competency is in getting elected]) and the “wise and well-informed” (experts, as selected by the elected – i.e., people who received the stamp of authority by the elites so they can credibly advocate the positions of the elites) can be trusted to run the show as long the “representatives of the diversity of the electorate” can vote their initiatives down is reactionary. It is exactly the official rationale behind the current arrangement – where the people supposedly can check elite policy by voting them out of power. It is true that the allotted body suggested, with its veto power, would be better able to monitor elite action than the electorate as a whole, but it would still be a passive body with the elites running circles around it.


  2. I think the trickiest part of this proposal–as with any proposal for sortition (or for that matter, any proposal for any kind of democracy)–is how to get expertise in the system in the right way. Figuring out how to have a “diverse and balanced chamber of independent advocates” is a huge problem, as is the problem of making sure that citizen juries/planning cells/deliberative polls get accurate presentations of all sides of an issue in the event that they start getting real power.

    Oh, and whatever Thomas Sowell might say, I’d say the last problem either the U.S. or the U.K. has right now is a surplus of intellectuals in positions of power.


  3. I think the trickiest part of this proposal–as with any proposal for sortition (or for that matter, any proposal for any kind of democracy)–is how to get expertise in the system in the right way.

    This sounds interesting – I am not quite sure what you mean. Since you see this issue as so difficult, please consider writing a post to lay out your view on the matter.

    To me it seems that the natural and reasonable way is that, having vested the allotted delegates with power and resources, they would seek advice from whoever they see as having relevant expertise. It is thus not something that needs to be designed into the system a-priori in a formal manner.

    As for lack or surplus of “intellectuals”, I think that would depend on your definition of “intellectual”. If we use a wide enough definition – something more-or-less synonymous with “an expert” – then surely we are inundated with them. If we use something more akin to “a man of wisdom”, then we are in very short supply. There are probably not that many such people around to begin with and, on top of that, wisdom is not commensurate with electability.


  4. Peter, please do add a post on how to get expertise into the system. I’ve proposed a structure and I would appreciate it very much it if you could provide a critique.

    The same request to you, Yoram. Your position represents a critical test that I think the system has to pass. Please let me know what you think.


  5. Martin,

    I’d be very happy to comment – could you point me to an exposition of the system you propose?


  6. There is an outline buried amongst the cannon fire between you and Keith Sutherland in the openDemocracy MIxed Constitution thread, possibly over about three separate posts.


  7. Thanks, I’ll have a look.

    It would be useful, however, to have a systematic one-piece description posted somewhere. If you wish to post such a description on this blog let me know and I’ll add you as a contributor.


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