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.

Pourtant, les plus généreux militants progressistes, les plus sincères humanistes, semblent éprouver un attachement quasiment religieux à l’élection de représentants politiques au suffrage universel, en dépit de toutes les déceptions, en déni de toutes les trahisons. Le suffrage universel (réduit à la seule élection de représentants) ressemble à un MYTHE, un peu comme une vache sacrée qui serait devenue absolument intouchable, en vertu d’un dogme qui ne se discute plus, alors que, DE FAIT, elle rend possible —et même scelle durablement— l’impuissance politique du plus grand nombre, toujours et partout.

Je vous propose de donner une heure de lecture à une idée alternative méconnue, d’une puissance considérable, le tirage au sort des serviteurs politiques de la Cité. Ne lâchez pas prise avant la fin: plus on lit à ce sujet, plus on y pense librement, plus on comprend qu’on n’avait pas assez réfléchi en faisant confiance à l’élection. Nous serions tous bien mieux protégés par des institutions (démocratiques) organisées autour du tirage au sort que par des institutions (oligarchiques) fondées sur l’élection.

La principale racine de nos problèmes politiques modernes est que nous appelons démocratie son strict contraire: l’élection est aristocratique, par définition : on élit le meilleur, le meilleur = aristos.

29 Responses

  1. Yes, an interesting and inspirational lecture — would recommend everyone to listen to it in full. I wonder if Gil has considered inviting Chouard to speak at the next sortition workshop? I think he was particularly good on the problems of media monopoly, enabling the rich and powerful even more influence and this certainly needs addressing. Nevertheless I think his position is slippery on a number of issues:

    1. He suggests that the public-service ethos in Athens was a consequence of democracy, but there is as much evidence to suggest that it was the other way round. All Athenian citizens had to bear arms to defend the polis and there was an overwhelming sense that participation in politics was also a civic duty. Given the onerous nature of public service that Chouard describes, it’s plausible that the republican ethos was more of a cause than an effect. How to recreate the republican ethos in large, rich, multicultural, liberal societies is something of a challenge.

    2. He claims that sortive democracy would be pacific, but I don’t believe the Athenian record bears this out.

    3. I’m uncomfortable with the emphasis he places on the role of the police in maintaining the purity of the system — much better to aim for integrity via self-correcting ‘liberal’ mechanisms.

    3. He acknowledges that in Athens one out of four people would be able to claim that they were President (for a day), yet denies that sortition is better suited for small societies. He does this by making the valid point that election is unsuited for large societies (as you would be unlikely to know the candidates), the implication being that therefore sortition would be an improvement. But I’m afraid you cannot prove a positive via a negative.

    4. He emphasises throughout the talk that allotted office-holders would NOT be decision makers, this role being reserved for the Assembly. This is clearly drawn from Rousseau, however in Rousseau’s case all citizens would be members of the Assembly, whereas in Chouard’s case the Assembly would be the aggregate of allotted office-holders. Although he baulks at claiming that an allotted assembly would be a representation-in-miniature of the entire citizenry (this would be hard seeing that he is in favour of volunteering [albeit ex-post]), it’s hard to see how such a body could have legitimate policy-making powers unless it does represent the whole population — including those who choose not to serve. Unfortunately this brings us back to the old problem of how policy proposals would be formulated and advocated without breaching the aggregate statistical mandate that such a body would have and how to keep the process pure from covert corruption from elite influences without undue recourse to the police.

    5. In sum Choard is so intent on attacking the notion of electoral representation that he fails to acknowledge that an allotted assembly would be another form of representation and that this has significant entailments for the kind of democratic mandate that it can claim. Reference to the legitimacy of the Athenian assembly is too slippery, as all citizens could attend and speak. Not so in a polity that is entirely reliant on sortition and rejects any notion of representation. As such, in order to claim the democratic mandate, sortition could only ever be part of a mixed constitution. Whether the other elements would involve election, votation or direct democracy is another matter, but sortition alone will not suffice.


  2. Regarding #4: Why is ‘proportional representation of the willing and the able’ de-legitimizing? Given that ‘able’ would be a very low bar (e.g. the citizenship test required of immigrants). Under such a regime, nearly all citizens would have the opportunity to be in the lot if they wanted to. For those who chose to opt out, they would be saying, in effect, ‘we leave it to you others’. That would be their choice.

    Regarding #5: Again, ‘…rejects any notion of representation..’ … if the pool is essentially open to all?

    I take it ‘votation’ is a typo for ‘rotation’.


  3. #4: Because this privileges the judgment of activists at the expense of the silent majority (I suspect this is why Chouard is attracted to it); this would appear to be just like elections (leaving it to “you others”) but it’s actually worse, because in elections you can at least choose the others that you would have represent you, on whatever basis you wish (character, ideology, past record, personal charisma, class loyalty, media persona, physical appearance, gender, ethnicity, religion or whatever factor you deem salient).

    #4: Voluntarism and statistical representation are antithetical concepts, that’s why Fishkin goes to such lengths to ensure that everyone who’s lot is drawn actually turns up, as volunteers are anything but typical of the general population. Chouard is so opposed to the principle of representation that he ignores this point. Government by volunteers is a form of oligarchy; if volunteering is to an allotment pool, then the resulting system of government is klerotocracy, not democracy, as the latter (in large states) requires some form of representation. The representative model preferred by most advocates of sortition (eg Callenbach and Phillips) is statistical (aka descriptive/mirror representation), and this is completely antithetical to voluntarism.

    “Votation” is not a typo, it’s a concept from Swiss democracy that has been discussed at length on this blog. Essentially it’s a process of choosing between a number of citizen proposals that have been introduced by some form of direct democracy (initiative, petition etc.). I’ve made the suggestion that votation should be the second stage in the generation of policy proposals for consideration by an allotted assembly — who would determine the outcome of debates triggered by the proposals selected in the public votation by deliberating and voting in a way that mirrors the judgment and interests of the subset of the population that they REPRESENT statistically. Those who argue that we should do things the Athenian way, should acknowledge that the prime institution of Athenian democracy was the Assembly, not sortition. In Athens this was open to all citizens; this is impossible in large modern states, hence the need to take on board the rather obvious point that size requires some form of representation — making the point that elections don’t work in large states does not constitute a legitimising argument for sortition, as you cannot prove a positive by a negative. Sortition replaces elective representation by descriptive representation and volunteering ensures that the draw no longer statistically represents the general population.


  4. Keith,

    How do you respond to the point that the Athenian Assembly was not, in fact, the whole citizenry, but rather a REPRESENTATIVE body (6,000 out of 30,000) of VOLUNTEERS. Any citizen who VOLUNTEERED had a chance to participate in the Assembly, but might be excluded if there was no more room. The Athenian democracy was thoroughly one of volunteers who were willing and able (at the level of the Assembly, the Council of 500, the Courts, the Nomothetai, and the magistrates).


  5. Yes that’s true, however:

    1) There was a very strong public-service ethos according to which active political participation was the default position. This also took the oppressive form of homonoia (same-mindedness), in stark contrast to the liberal multicultural societies that we now have, where politics is only for acitivists and other odd people. Volunteering in Athens was very different from its modern analogue. Although Choard implies that the Athenian ethos was a consequence of democracy, it’s just as plausible to argue that it was a consequence of the martial republican spirit engendered by the need for all citizens to bear arms in defence of the polis.

    2) Every citizen had the right to attend the assembly, albeit that there were space constraints. This would not be the case with a sortive assembly in a large political community, hence the need for representation.

    3) The Greeks had no concept for (political) representation and no scholars have argued anything other than that it was a direct democracy. The role of sortition was rule and be ruled in turn, the implication being that this was the role of all citizens.


  6. […] the lecture by Étienne Chouard, he makes much of the fact that Athenians distrusted each other and therefore had several […]


  7. (Disclaimer: I didn’t watch the lecture yet)

    I’m not sure volunteering is necessarily so bad. Let’s thing it through. I think that at least in it weakest form it should be allowed: if a selected member doesn’t want to be in the allotted body he can refuse. Even in a direct democracy I wouldn’t say that if people don’t care and don’t really participate that is sufficient to make the system undemocratic. Not participating is like saying that whatever decisions the others take is ok. Yes you are, like in elections, relying on others, but you have a choice to actually don’t do that, that’s a big difference. (By the way, a mixed system could be: you decide to either vote or to be available to be selected by lot. If enough popularity could be reached it could even be possible to kind of create such a system by creating a party whose members are selected by lot, it’s better if such a party first internally votes for their position, and that unitarily back that position in the electoral body. A variation would be to vote for anybody, included yourself, and the number of votes of each determines the chance of being drawn by lot).

    It’s worth speculating about what kind of bias would occur. It could be argued that people and those that are not self confident would be less likely to volunteer. This in itself, apart from symbolically, isn’t too bad, it must be seen how their opinions are different from those who decide to accept to stay. On the one hand it might be positive because the people who really are interested will have more will power and be probably more interested in getting more information. They could however, having stronger opinions, be more biased and less accepting of the fact of having been wrong in the first place. It could be that the people refusing to participate are not confident because they are part of a ethnic minority or are poor. So the resulted body could penalise the interests of the poor and the minorities.

    (Does anybody knows how public juries work in this regards?)

    I think it comes down to analysing what the effects would exactly be, it might be that some of them are so small that they are irrelevant. An idea I once had (which doesn’t necessarily mean I endorse it, but at least it’s interesting to think about it) is for the people who want to be selected, or having a bigger chance to be selected, (or want to vote, the system could work for electoral systems too) have to do some hours of public service a year. This would create a big bias, but the bias could be towards people who care about politics, and in general are more altruistic. This altruism is because the chance of being selected (or the effect of the vote) is so small that egoistically it’s not worth bothering, only if you have a a strong public service sense and want to make the world, or the country, a better place you will do it. The system of course doesn’t lack weak points, if not implemented accurately it might be easily corrupted by elites and private interests, positions like religious extremism might me over represented, and in general the system cannot really be considered democratic. But even if minorities are under represented, the altruism nature of the selected might still make sure their interests are taken into proper consideration, and those who decide to not care have not much ground to criticise the bias because they could just have done the public service hours if they thing they would do better.

    (what happened with the post about the French clerocracy presidential candidate? it seems to have disappeared…) [I just found it in the “Trash” folder and restored it. I must have somehow hit the wrong button at some point and moved it to the Trash. -Yoram]


  8. Why would altruists and those who care about politics be the best legislators? (elected legislators would probably adopt a similar self-description.) One reason why epistemic diversity is so important in a legislature is that people tacitly assume that everyone is like themselves, so altruists might well assume a higher level of altruism in the general population than is the case and therefore adopt unworkable policies. For example rehabilitated convicts have much more robust views on penal policy than well-meaning liberals, based on their own life experience (that’s why poachers make the best gamekeepers).TerejP has told us that his attraction to sortition is in order to stem the flow of legislation from activists and other meddlers. I’m inclined to agree with him, hence my preference for truly random selection as a way of enfranchising the silent majority (at the expense altruists and those who care about politics). Much better that the legislature should accurately reflect the whole population, warts and all.


  9. Keith, I don’t understand:
    1.) why you conflate ‘activist’ and ‘volunteer’?
    2.) why you assume that sortitionally chosen legislators would be altruists?

    On the first point, I assume that the requirement to register for the allotment pool would be something most people would do. Yes, I would think that *civic duty* would be an impulse. But another impulse would be to insure that one’s opinions counted … which could only be insured by making sure enough of ‘people like me’ registered.

    On the second point … with ‘adequate compensation’ I would think ‘altruism’ would not be a factor. I’ve come to think that a salary at 90% of the median income would make it most likely that most of ‘the willing and the able’ would be willing to serve.


  10. Keith, forgot to comment on ‘votation’. Sorry, I haven’t been regularly following the blog recently. When I thought it was a typo, I had looked up ‘votation’ in my online dictionary but it does not exist there.
    What section of this blog discusses ‘votation’?


  11. On an “interest in politics” continuum with activists at one end and the disengaged an apathetic at the other, volunteers would be somewhere in the middle. I think your assumption that most people would register for the allotment is optimistic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that in most past experiments where a large number of randomly-selected people are invited to participate in a sortition for a citizen assembly, most people fail to take up the invitation. My point is that the judgment of those interested in politics should not be privileged over others. Unlike voluntary enterprise associations, civil association is compulsory, so the rules should not be decided by volunteers (activist or otherwise).

    The altruism assumption was made by Fela, not me, but I would agree with him that many (most?) people are (at least initially) attracted to politics for altruistic reasons, but I don’t agree that this would make them better legislators, for the reasons given above.

    Votation has been discussed several times, for example, section 2 of


  12. One reason why people who care about politics beyond their personal gains could make better legislators is because they would be more motivated to try to understand what is the best option for the people and its future generations. This is under the (I think reasonable) assumption that being more interested in knowing the truth yields higher probability of success in seeing through false and misleading information spread by special interest groups. If one doesn’t really care, he is more likely to accept whatever he already believes as true, or whatever he happen to read, and will not really try to listen and understand the various voices on a given subject.

    That is not to say that more altruistic people would be all good. They could have opinions like wanting to save whales, being friendly to other countries which might not be shared by the majority and thus be undemocratic. It could be that people are interested in public policy because they believe in some strong but irrational ideology. At the end it comes down to how strong the various factors are, it’s difficult to say.

    I’m convinced that a society where solidarity is a fundamental value would work better. Think about the prisoners dilemma, the solution best for all is for the single actors to be irrationally altruistic. A more realistic example is taking care of the minorities, in a purely egoistic democracy their interests would always lose, even though everybody might me part of some minority (let’s kill all Jews and take their money, why not? works for any random minority).

    To David: my assumption that more egoistical people wouldn’t apply holds specially supposing citizens have to do something before the draw to be selectable. I’m also not so fond about mandatory elections, like in Australia, I have the feeling that people who vote just because forced won’t make a very informed decision (of course that doesn’t mean the same has to happen in sortition, where at least people will have a lot of time to dedicate to the task).

    All this being said, I guess that the safest bet might still be to try to get the biggest participation possible, specially seeing how some here seem to be sceptic about volunteering. I wouldn’t however go as far as to make in mandatory (and what should the punishment be: fines? jailtime?), and I think it’s not needed: if I remember correctly in an Australian sortition experiment (I read about it on newDemocracy some time ago) something like 30 percent accepted. This might not seem like a big number, but consider they didn’t have any real decisional power, they weren’t being paid, and sortition is not a known idea, so to most it must have sounded as some quite weird experiment. We could furthermore think about paying those drawn by lot something like what they earned last year + 30% or a fixed amount, whichever is higher. The fixed amount would be in proportion of the median or average income. Making sure that they will continue getting this salary if they lose their job because of the allotment. This way I don’t see many people refusing, sure there could be people not wanting to leave their home or really thinking they are not be able to, I don’t see that as a positive thing, but it’s probably not worth forcing them. I don’t think they will be so many anyway.

    I still think that more restrictive criteria could be interesting and are worth thinking about.


  13. Fela,

    Your argument how best to arrive at disinterested judgment is the exact opposite of the one deployed in the Federalist Papers. Madison was very aware of the conflict betweeen interests and judgment but argued that the enlarged republic would lead to a situation where most members of congress would not usually be bothered one way or the other (on anything other than local “pork” issues) and would therefore vote on the merits of each individual case. The problem is that most people who are “interested in politics” (unlike people who are interested in history, fishing, stamp collecting or table tennis) are actually wedded to some sort of political belief system, whereas ordinary folk, “sitting on the fence”, are in a much better position to adjudicate political issues dispassionately.

    To bring this a little closer to home, Yoram and myself are both “interested in politics” (and we would probably both see ourselves as altruists. Why else would we waste such a lot of time debating this sort of stuff? — it’s certainly not for fame or money) but occupy positions at opposite poles of the political belief spectrum, with the result that we are both largely impervious to reasoned debate that would shift us from our entrenched positions. People like us would make the worst sort of members of a discursive assembly — much better to fill it with ordinary folk who would be more inclined to make up their minds after listening to the debate.

    There is a place for activists, anoraks and other strange people like us who are “interested in politics”. Their place is to innovate policy proposals, but the advocaces should never be allowed to judge the outcome, that should be left to lay people. This is the principle behind the trial jury and the same should apply to the legislative process. We would never accept a trial jury made up of volunteers, so why would we want that in a legislature?


  14. Fela,

    I agree – I think if the material rewards for participation are reasonable (on the same order of what elected officials now enjoy) then the participation rate would likely be very high. Making service mandatory would be counter-productive.

    I would not favor having differential pay, however. Paying different people different wages for the same work is both unfair and detrimental to the equality of power within the allotted body.


  15. What does Chouard do? I visited his website, but I couldn’t find anything in English, and with my limited French skills, it’s better to ask this cosmopolitan bunch!

    As I see it, the point being debated here is a critical one for sortition fans. Is a random selection of volunteers better, worse, or equivalent to a random selection of the entire eligible populace? If you believe that legitimacy depends upon a real cross-section–Keith, I think you believe this–then you have to say “worse”, at least in one respect. (You might still believe the volunteers would make higher-quality decisions.) But as I’ve indicated a number of times, I’m wary of that claim. We can all come up with reasons to believe an AC of volunteers might outperform an AC of draftees (the former would be more highly motivated, probably better informed, etc.), and possible reasons to believe the former would do worse than the latter (more likely to have an axe to grind, etc.) It’s a tough question determining which factors dominate, and why.

    Would it make sense to say that a random selection of the whole should be the default assumption? In other words, take random selection from all, volunteers or not, as the baseline, and only sanction moves away from it (by letting people decline and/or requiring them to volunteer for the draw) if we could provide sufficient evidence that it would be better? Random selection (as my book points out) ensures that people are selected for no reasons. Volunteers would be self-selecting on the basis of reasons that might be good or bad. Perhaps we might demand proof that the reasons would, on average, be good ones before sanctioning their admittance to the process.

    One more point. I agree with Keith that Chouard seems to dance lightly over the topic of direct democracy–i.e., oh, these guys weren’t really representatives in Athens, because the assembly had all the power. There’s a benign explanation for the conflation of electoral representation and democracy in the modern world by virtually the entire political spectrum, from left to right. All sides agree that in large nation-states, direct rule by the people in any meaningful sense simply isn’t an option. The whole population might occasionally vote for a ballot proposition, but that’s so far from direct rule that it scarcely deserves mention in the same sentence as the Athenian ekklesia. If we accept this–and I think everyone on this list does–then we either admit that “democracy” as the Athenians knew it is a pipe dream today, or else admit that “democracy” need not involve any regular activity by the people acting as a whole.


  16. Peter,

    One side note on your query about theoretical advantages of volunteers — their likely being “better informed.” That is a double-edged sword. Studies show that people who follow the news, are indeed more informed, but also more MISS-informed. That is, they are certain they KNOW certain things that are in fact false. What is more, these “better informed” people tend NOT to retain correcting information when they hear it. Indeed, people going into the study who were less informed were able to perform BETTER at the end of it on certain tests of information received during the study, because they didn’t have false information to unlearn. This is an additional argument for casting as wide net as possible, rather than narrowing it to those who already think they know all the answers.

    On the other hand, I think the task and length of service members of an allotted chamber are being asked to commit to is the controlling factor. You can nearly draft people for extremely short terms (like a jury), but probably not for a year.


  17. Peter/Terry,

    My objections to volunteering are twofold:

    1. Normative: Given the default assumption that democratic legitimacy requires statistically-accurate representation, any deviation will reduce the legitimacy of the assembly as a portrait in miniature of the whole.

    2. Epistemic: There is some evidence that diversity is an essential component of decision-making in anything other than restricted domains where technical expertise is the deciding factor (randomly-selected groups would be unlikely to design better airplanes than Boeing engineers). Terry’s points on misinformation and groupthink reinforce the case for cognitive diversity.

    I agree with Terry that it’s only reasonable to require citizens to serve in an allotted body for a term similar to jury service and that this would further suggest the jury-style judgment model, rather than a body with full powers, that would require members to serve for a much longer period. It’s hard to imagine how the latter would work on anything other than a volunteering basis.

    Regarding Chouard ignoring the primacy of direct democracy in antiquity, I think our prime goal should be to find a modern analogue of the Athenian ekklesia. This is the reason why I argue that the adoption of raw policy options needs to pass through some direct-democratic filter (election manifesto commitment, petition, initiative, referendum, votation or whatever) prior to deliberation and passage into law in an allotted chamber. Otherwise the adoption of sortation could not possibly be seen as democratic.


  18. I would not favor having differential pay, however. Paying different people different wages for the same work is both unfair and detrimental to the equality of power within the allotted body.

    I was proposing that because otherwise rich people might be less likely to accept as it would not be economically advantageous for them. That being said, I don’t necessarily think this would be a bad thing: the wealthy have already too many means by which to push their goals.

    Studies show that people who follow the news, are indeed more informed, but also more MISS-informed

    Can anybody link to such studies? I’ve always thought as more informed decisions as one of the big advantages of sortition vs. direct democracy (and in some sense vs. elections, where the little say we have about public policy is also non informed). I think it’s quite obvious it’s better to first try to get some facts and opinions about some topic than to give an opinion straight away, just according to “feeling”, and which will be anyway based on the few information and prejudices you have been exposed to until now. I think the more motivated the selected members will be to listen to the various voices and find out studies and facts on the topics, the better it would be. And if they have been exposed to such information already on your own is that really so bad? Sure you might be less likely tho change your mind, and it’s reasonable that it’s that way. You might be convinced of the wrong, contrast that with a person who also has it by the wrong end but never got much information so is not so sure. Their votes have the same value, so I don’t see how it matters, and arguing that he might change his mind means that he will have been exposed to some information, so means going against the initial assumption: they will now both be be informed and be more sure about their opinion.

    I think this point of having more time and resources to be correctly informed is an important point to discuss (quite independently from the volunteering issue). I’ve based much of my assumptions about sortition on it and would value your opinions on the matter.


  19. People who are interested in politics will tend to select information sources that accord with their own prejudices (few people in the UK subscribe to the Guardian AND the Daily Telegraph). The crucial design issue for an AC is to ensure that members are, as you put it, “correctly informed” and balanced advocacy is normally achieved dialectically. Although this can result in a rather crude division between Pros and Antis, this may well be the price that has to be paid for balance. I think the point Terry is making is that those who are NOT interested in politics will be more likely to judge dispassionately than those who have been MISS-informed, and this correlates to Madison’s proposal for the separation of judgment and interests.


  20. Fela,

    I can’t find the article I had in mind (about the difficulty well-informed people have unlearning false information)… but Keith explained a related basic dynamic…When people become “well-informed” on politics on their own, they tend to go down one side of a pyramid that involves remembering information (whether true or not) that supports their initial biases, and to forget or dismiss information that would lead to cognitive dissonance. When these people are later presented with true information that does not match their (often faulty) beliefs, they tend not to absorb it. But people who haven’t followed the news, can more easily absorb this information, simply because it won’t trigger rejection due to cognitive dissonance. Thus it is GOOD to include people who are not already “well-informed” in deliberative bodies.

    This also supports Keith’s notion of having carefully balanced pro and con presentations and education of allotted legislators. Yoram’s concern is that this risks corrupting the process by an elite permanent secretariat. That is true, and why I advocate the staff that arranges these presentations be overseen by a separate allotted body that is focused on assuring balance of presentations. They would hear complaints from the public and interests about alleged bias by the staff, and judge. Like the Athenian public prosecutions (Graphe) of individuals who had misled the people in the Assembly, this body could punish staff who were found to be intentionally stacking the deck.


  21. That sounds like a very sensible compromise between professional expertise and allotted judgment that even Juvenal might have approved of.


  22. Your argument how best to arrive at disinterested judgment is the exact opposite of the one deployed in the Federalist Papers.

    I don’t know what the Papers exactly state, so I will contrast your and Terrys view with mine. I think the arguments are not mutually exclusive, it’s just not clear (to me at least) which effects will be stronger.

    I understand that people who are already informed about a subject will need a stronger reason to change their mind. It’s a reasonable strategy, deciding if new information should challenge our opinions takes effort, we should try to remember everything that made us take our current position in the first place and than weight it against the new arguments. Usually it’s not worth it, we already made the investment of finding the information, and we will just trust our original judgement. If however we have to legislate on the subject we might have an increased motivations to check our facts again. Of course there will he also much less rational processes to be taken into account, people tent to like being right and, as has been pointed out, read information they already know will only confirm their own ideas. Still, I’m not sure how much the average citizen is more likely to change his mind, on many topics he will already have an opinion and I’ve found people make up their mind quite quickly for no reason at all, and will make up reasons as you challenge them. I think that educating the allotted members will be essential, and the education should include topics like logical thinking, group thinking etc.

    Even if they might need more to change their mind, the information they have could be useful, as normal citizens might not be able to receive enough new information or not be motivated enough: they will need to make decisions on a lot of topics. I also think, based on my own experience here in Italy, that those who have almost no information still receive the propaganda, while those who are a little bit more informed get at least a little bit of more independent information. In the case the less motivated people have an opinion too, which might be just as hard to change, this might be a less well informed one. On many topics, the people with more civic sense, might not have a strong opinion yet, but will probably make a bigger effort in trying to become informed.

    So I’m not convinced yet that volunteering would be bad, I’m quite sure it would be a lot better than using elections. (It would be interesting to know if there is any study/poll about what the effect of mandatory elections, as in Australia; as you might now imagine, I’ve never been to fond of it, but it would be interesting to know what the effect actually is). But, as I already said, I’m also quite ok with a system where everybody is urged to participate, I just wouldn’t totally exclude the possibility of alternatives.


  23. Fair enough — I agree that for an assembly with a general-purpose and long-term mandate some prior interest in or familiarity with politics might be of practical advantage. But this will adversely affect the descriptive representativity of the assembly and this is why my preference is for ad-hoc single-issue assemblies, where the parallel with trial juries is quite close. Fishkin’s experiments have indicated that ordinary citizens are able to make informed judgments in single-issue deliberative polls and that significant changes of viewpoint occur as a consequence of the deliberative process, so for this sort of assembly there would be little case for basing the sortition on a volunteer pool and every good reason for taking every reasonable measure to enable allotted individuals to take up the challenge. I don’t think anyone is arguing for mandatory service, merely that the default should be yes, as in jury service (unless there are very good reasons for being unable to attend).


  24. Fella,

    I have several points in response…

    1. you wrote “they will need to make decisions on a lot of topics. ”
    This problem of having to become knowledgeable about a lot of topics is why I propose that allotted panels be created for distinct issues, or even single bills.

    2. I agree that there are dynamics at play that make both well-informed and motivated volunteers and the uninformed beneficial and problematic. Rather than figuring out where the optimal balance point is, I propose to have my cake and eat it too (do you have such an expression in Italian?) My idea is to have VOLUNTEER allotted bodies draft and review legislation, and then have a separate, more fully descriptive jury vote on passage or defeat of a bill.

    3. As to the absorption of new (contrary) information, here are two studies that supports both sides of the argument.
    It shows the difficulty of unlearning false information.
    But this study

    Click to access gilens2.pdf

    shows that politically well-informed people have serious gaps in knowledge that make them take positions contrary to what they would otherwise, AND that giving them correct information has a BIG impact on them.


  25. Thanks to everybody.

    No democracy is possible without sortition
    (to protect people against “power robbers”).


    Étienne Chouard



  26. […] Below is my itemized summary of the ideas presented by Ètienne Chouard: […]


  27. I asked Étienne Chouard for the citation from de Toqueville: “I am not afraid of universal suffrage. The people will vote as they are told to do.”
    Chouard replied (my translation below)
    From: Étienne Chouard
    Date: 21March, 2012 9:45:29 AM EDT
    Subject: RE: IMPORTANT, s.v.p….Citation – de Toqueville

    Trets, le mercredi 21 mars 2012, à 14:44.
    Excusez-moi, mais je n’arrive pas à retrouver l’auteur qui me l’a apprise (je pense que c’est Pierre Rosanvallon, mais il faut que je m’en assure et je n’ai pas le temps en ce moment). Ce dont je suis absolument certain, c’est que je suis incapable d’inventer une chose pareille (=> donc, c’est une citation authentique, peut-être sortie de sa correspondance). J’aurais dû apprendre la source en même temps que la citation.
    Bien à vous.
    Good day.
    Excuse me, but I did not manage to find the author who alerted me (I think it is Pierre Rosanvallon, but I need to make sure and I do not have the time at this moment).
    But I am absolutely certain; I am incapable of inventing anything like it (thus this citation is authentic, perhaps from his letters). I should have learned the source at the same time [as when I made] the citation.


  28. […] often accepted by sortition advocates as well. Ettiene Chouard, for example, keeps hammering in his presentation on his claim that in a democratic system the allotted officials would not make important decisions […]


  29. […] Ètienne Chouard (and here, here, and here), Lawrence Lessig, David Chaum, Jacques Rancière, Clive Aslet, Jim Gilliam, Loïc Blondiaux, and Andrew Dobson and other readers of the Guardian. […]


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