A good link on new ideas for ‘democracy’

Apologies if this has appeared before, but there is a very good article from a French site about new ideas for Democracy, including some we would recognise here


Dunbar’s number

We have in the past discussed the issue of the desirable size of an allotted chamber (or more generally, the size of the set of decision makers). The two contrasting constraints are the need for representativity on the one hand which demands the chamber is not too small, and the need to avoid mass political effects which demands that the chamber is not too big.

One important factor which determines the size at which mass political effects become influential is the ability of the group members to have face-to-face social interactions. Once group members are unable to interact with others personally, the system becomes opaque, promoting new ideas becomes increasingly difficult for the average member, and power brokering emerges. In such a situation, power is no longer equally distributed in the chamber.
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Right-wing conservative proposal to use sortition

Coming from the right-wing in Texas, interesting to see they suggest using sortition to select a ‘super grand jury’ for the sake of, possibly, resisting federal enforcement of what any citizen might want to declare as unconstitutional.

In the lecture by Étienne Chouard, he makes much of the fact that Athenians distrusted each other and therefore had several ‘controls’ before, during and after final decisions made in the Assembly.  I have found myself sometimes agreeing with inquiries that say “Well, you must believe in the essential goodness of human nature if you trust just anyone to deliberate upon policy issues.”

This proposal from the Tenth Amendment Commission could be a sensible citizen control. I’m glad to see sortition considered by the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ folks.

[The Tenth Amendment in its entirety: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”]

Sortition for the Irish constitution rewrite

Martina Devlin writes in the Irish Independent:

[T]he Constitution, which forms the basis of our self-government as a people, definitely needs an overhaul. Not some tinkering, but the level of in-depth, bonnet-to-boot servicing a vintage Rolls-Royce dating back to 1937 could expect.

The decision to use significant citizen input into this exercise is a welcome approach, and the Government deserves credit for reserving two-thirds of the 99 available seats for citizens.

It’s these 66 citizens who interest me, rather than the political figures assigned to the remaining 33 places. The success of the constitutional convention, and the level of popular support it attracts, hinges on who is chosen to join the Class of 66. Handpicked individuals who can be relied on to play follow-the-leader or slip into someone else’s version of the green jersey won’t fit the bill. We need transparency in the selection process.
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90 minute lecture on sortition from Athens to today – by Ètienne Chouard

One of the impediments to instituting sortitional selection is, I believe, the *dispassionate* nature of the proposal.  It is such a rational and egalitarian idea that I don’t see it igniting the fire of emotional conviction that seems to accompany major social change.

Ètienne Chouard’s lecture “Sortition as a sustainable protection against oligarchy” changes my opinion about that.

Some of his ideas appear on his website (in French): Centralite du tirage au sort en democratie:

La catastrophe financière et monétaire actuelle PROUVE tous les jours que les pires crapules, pourvu qu’elles soient RICHES, n’ont rien à craindre des élus. Je répète : la preuve est apportée tous les jours, partout dans le monde, que les canailles RICHES n’ont RIEN à craindre des ÉLUS.

Ce sont des FAITS. Chacun peut vérifier ces faits lui-même.

Je signale d’abord que les riches et autres aristocrates, eux, le savent depuis longtemps : dès le début du XIXe siècle, Alexis de Tocqueville avouait déjà : “Je ne crains pas le suffrage universel : les gens voteront comme on leur dira.” Étonnant, non? Ils le savent depuis longtemps, eux. Bien.

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Quirky French presidential hopeful offers clerocracy

Quirky hopefuls liven up French presidential race

(Reuters) – From a peroxide-blonde stripper who wants to get bankers meditating to a Rastafarian advocating tantrism as a national religion, a string of colorful outsiders are vying for a place in France’s 2012 presidential election.

One wants to bring back the monarchy, another says leaders should be picked by lottery and a third is a clown who doesn’t actually have any campaign proposals.
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Role for Sortition in Selecting the Executive?

Most of the discussion on this site has understandably been focused on the legislative function. What about the executive branch, whether a single president, or full executive branch?

In ancient Athens, we know, the executive magistrates (typically operating in boards of ten) were selected by lot, as was the Athenian president (though this office was primarily symbolic and rotated daily.) We also know that sortition was used as a step in a convoluted process of selecting executives in several medieval Italian City Republics.

Is there a beneficial role for sortition in selecting government executives in a modern democracy?

Some of the ideas that I have come across include:

1. Having an allotted body interview, hire, and fire the state executive, similar to the way that many city councils appoint a city manager.

2. Having a pool of voters selected by lot elect the executive, as a way of overcoming rational voter ignorance in  a mass election.

3. Selecting an executive by lot from among a pool of candidates who achieve a given threshold in a popular election.


Emma Goldman on suffrage

In 1911, Emma Goldman wrote the essay Woman Suffrage. It opens as follows:

WE BOAST of the age of advancement, of science, and progress. Is it not strange, then, that we still believe in fetich worship? True, our fetiches have different form and substance, yet in their power over the human mind they are still as disastrous as were those of old.

Our modern fetich is universal suffrage. Those who have not yet achieved that goal fight bloody revolutions to obtain it, and those who have enjoyed its reign bring heavy sacrifice to the altar of this omnipotent diety. Woe to the heretic who dare question that divinity!

Toward the end of the essay, Goldman writes:

History may be a compilation of lies; nevertheless, it contains a few truths, and they are the only guide we have for the future. The history of the political activities of men proves that they have given him absolutely nothing that he could not have achieved in a more direct, less costly, and more lasting manner. As a matter of fact, every inch of ground he has gained has been through a constant fight, a ceaseless struggle for self-assertion, and not through suffrage. There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot.

We the Citizens

A story in the Irish University Observer leads to an organization called “We the People“. The organization is apparently led by a group of politicians and academics.

The organization held a meeting of randomly selected people (“citizen’s assembly”) over a weekend in which various policy issues were discussed. The general structure seems very similar to that of a Fishkin DP – a limited, pre-defined scope; a term measured in days; expert opinion presented; small group discussions alternating with large group sessions.

The organization released a report in December. It describes the process as follows:

We the Citizens was a pilot project to test whether a more participatory form of democracy could work in Ireland. The model tested was a Citizens’ Assembly, which is a form of deliberative democracy.
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