Found It!

I am obliged to confess that I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

-William F. Buckley, Jr., Rumbles Left and Right: A Book about Troublesome People and Ideas (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963), p. 134.

I know this quote has been mentioned here before, but this is the first time I’ve ever had in my hand an actual primary source by Buckley for it. Thanks to Ralph Keyes’ The Quote Verifier (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006) for directing me to it.

7 Responses

  1. The encouraging thing is that Buckley was a leading light in the conservative firmament, a position not normally aligned with sortition.


  2. However, he was not endorsing sortition so much as bashing Harvard liberals. He was implying the random sample was a poor choice that would still be better… to show how horrible he thought such academics would be.


  3. Yes. As I mentioned in comments to the previous post regarding this quote Buckley must have been concerned that liberals are leading to the demise of civilized society – some of those liberals probably even support racial equality. In the face of such nihilism, even the prospect of democracy starts looking appealing.


  4. I wouldn’t totally dismiss the possibility of those of a conservative inclination (such as myself) from having a genuinely positive attraction to sortition. Take a look at Lord Hailsham’s book The Dilemma of Democracy: Diagnosis and Prescription (1978). Hailsham was famous for declaring the UK to be an elective dictatorship: his principal concern was legal positivism and majoritarianism, which empowered governments that were effectively “caucuses and cadres” dominated by “a tiny minority of activists and apparatchiks, relying on the apathy of the rest of us as a passport to office”. Hailsham had faith in “the instructed conscience of the commonality” although he never translated it into an appeal for sortition. (I would prefer the word “informed” to “instructed”).

    However one of his successors Geoffrey Howe (Margaret Thatcher’s first Chancellor) read my book The Party’s Over and sent me a long sympathetic letter. Lord Howe’s only criticism of the book was that I failed to take myself sufficiently seriously.

    So, in the interests of outreach, I would urge everyone to take on board any allies they find, and resist the temptation to appropriate sortition exclusively as part of the left’s social justice agenda. Some of us might even believe that it will help to get the trains to run on time.

    At times like this our enemy’s enemy is often as good as it gets, so grit your teeth, hold your noses and get used to working with Madisonian reactionaries like me.


    PS I suppose my visceral objection to a small allotted group having an agenda-setting role is basically Hailsham’s concern about a “tiny minority of dedicated activists relying on the apathy of the rest”. It strikes me as plausible or even inevitable that allotted mini-publics would share these characteristics of the public in general.


  5. I certainly hope that the Kleroterians would dialogue with anyone with an interest in lotteries. But it’s also important to remember one thing. Anyone with an interest in lotteries probably has their own diagnosis of what’s wrong with our current political system. If someone has a different diagnosis of the problem, then it’s natural to be a little suspicious of them.

    In the case of Buckley, I think that he was frankly as elitist as they come. I know that’s one of those “e” words you can’t stand, Keith, but there’s no two ways about it–Buckley was a man born to immense wealth and privilege, a man who by his own admission never went without a servant in his entire life. It’s natural to think that he favored policies that benefited him and other wealthy white guys. (His racist attacks on the civil rights movement are a symptom of that.) If that’s right, then it’s also reasonable to be suspicious of his expressed desire to be governed by “ordinary people.”

    I say this in part because it’s clear that the Kleroterians have a diversity of diagnoses as to what’s wrong with contemporary democracy, and a diversity of ideas as to what sortition might do to cure it. There’s some overlap, of course, but starting from different assumptions will lead you to different conclusions. And so I encourage everyone on this blog to be ready to clarify, sharpen, and defend their own views on the diseases and cures for modern democracy.


  6. “And so I encourage everyone on this blog to be ready to clarify, sharpen, and defend their own views on the diseases and cures for modern democracy.”

    Hear Hear (as they say in the mother of parliaments)

    PS I’ve no problem with “e” words, other than their use as trump cards (as an alternative to argument).


  7. I posit that a long-term outcome of a sortitionally-selected Citizen Legislature will be broad, more evenly-distributed leadership experience (across all classes) … leading inevitably to stronger local self-government and (Tea Party conservatives, welcome!) diminished need for Big Government.


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