Karatani on sortition

Kojin Karatani writes in his book, Transcritique (2001, translated by Sabu Kohso, p. 182ff):

There is one crucial thing we can learn from Athenian democracy in this respect. The ancient democracy was established by overthrowing tyranny and equipped itself with a meticulous device for preventing tyranny for reviving. The salient characteristic of Athenian democracy is not a direct participation of everyone in the assembly, as always claimed, but a systematic control of the administrative power. The crux was the system of lottery: to elect public servants by lottery and to surveil the deeds of public servants by means of a group of jurors who are also elected by lottery. […] My point is that the core of the system invented to stop the fixation of power in Athenian Democracy lay not in the election itself, but in the lottery. Lottery functions to introduce contingency into the magnetic power center. The point is to shake up the positions where power tends to be concentrated; entrenchment of power in administrative positions can be avoided by a sudden attack of contingency. It is only the lottery that actualizes the separation of the three powers. If universal suffrage by secret ballot, namely, parliamentary democracy, is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the introduction of a lottery should be deemed the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Disappointingly, Karatani steps away from sortition, without providing a real reason – off-handedly blaming “the people” for not being ready for a radical solution:

Can we choose all representative by lottery in all elections? That is not realistic; the system itself would be too arbitrary to gain the trust of the people.

Instead, he offers a lottery among top vote getters, claiming it will reduce factionalism, and making a vague unexplained promise that such a mechanism will “free the power center from fixation in the long run”:

[W]hat is preferable to us would be to choose the most crucial post by lottery: namely choosing three candidates by secret vote (three in one choice) and then finally electing one by lottery. Because the last and most crucial stage is determined by contingency, factional disputes or conflicts over successors would not make sense.

One Response

  1. I don’t agree with his shying away, but that doesn’t delegitimize his introductory point.

    The specific system he describes isn’t even a full version of random balloting a la Moshe Machover, and I don’t think Karatani is aware of Condorcet winners (by limiting random selection to just three candidates).


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