C. L. R. James: ‘Every Cook Can Govern’ (1956)

Marxist theorist and activist C. L. R. James, in his 1956 essay ‘Every Cook Can Govern‘, did not offer any specific plan for incorporating sortition into modern government. Instead, James forcefully offers sortition as a radical tool for democratizing government, reflecting in practice the idea that served as the title of his essay.

James began as follows:

The Greek form of government was the city-state. Every Greek city was an independent state. At its best, in the city state of Athens, the public assembly of all the citizens made all important decisions on such questions as peace or war. They listened to the envoys of foreign powers and decided what their attitude should be to what these foreign powers had sent to say. They dealt with all serious questions of taxation, they appointed the generals who should lead them in time of war. They organized the administration of the state, appointed officials and kept check on them. The public assembly of all the citizens was the government.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Greek Democracy was that the administration (and there were immense administrative problems) was organized upon the basis of what is known as sortition, or, more easily, selection by lot. The vast majority of Greek officials were chosen by a method which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out.

Now the average CIO bureaucrat or Labor Member of Parliament in Britain would fall in a fit if it was suggested to him that any worker selected at random could do the work that he is doing, but that was precisely the guiding principle of Greek Democracy. And this form of government is the government under which flourished the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

4 Responses

  1. Why Sortition?

    First, what is sortitioned leadership?

    Sortition is a grass roots finding tool. It mathematically and scientifically duplicates, in smaller populations, the larger America. It does not discriminate, period. There is no gender, ethnic, economic, religious, or political discrimination. It goes a big step further. There is also no discrimination by “resume”, “education”, “intelligence”, “beauty”, or “charisma”. Sortition finds 100% grass roots America, the bottom line, the common sense, the no-holds-barred America.

    The primary mission of government is to set priorities. Priorities determine law, policy, and enforcement. Faulty priority creates failed law, bad policy, and misguided enforcement. Faulty priority leads to failure.

    The primary mission of sortitioned leadership is not law, policy, or enforcement. It is the input and maintenance of proper government priority and genuine grass-roots civilian culture and civility. Priority maintenance is no small task. Witness Massey and BP slide away from safety. Witness war on terror morph into nation building. Witness financial markets morph into casinos. Witness democracy warp to oligarchy. Priority maintenance is no small thing. Faulty priority leads to failure.

    The primary asset of sortitioned leadership is scientifically represented citizen life experience, knowledge, and values. “Resume”, “education”, “intelligence”, and “beauty” are “weighed in” only at existing population levels. Priority is determined by life experience, belief, and values. Priority maintenance is the specialty of sortitioned leadership.

    Sortitioned leadership is the “conscience” behind government. It is grass-roots values, beliefs, and motives empowered to guide, mentor and coach government.

    Government without “conscience” is tyranny. Sortitioned leadership provides government with both “conscience” and a “soul”.

    Step it up, America.

    Citizen is coach to team democracy. Coach is responsible for success. It’s your call, coach.


  2. […] Vergne defined a corpus of 199 texts starting with 2 published in 1956 (one of which presumably is C. L. R. James’s ‘Every Cook Can Govern’) and ending with 9 texts published in 2008. The texts are about evenly split between […]


  3. […] sortition from a tool of radical democratic reform (as presented by C&P, or earlier by C.L.R. James) to an add-on to the electoral system. Such a retreat is certainly not warranted by the theoretical […]


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