Machiavellian Democracy

John McCormick’s recent book Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011) has already attracted some attention on this blog. Interested readers might like to know that the journal The Good Society has published a symposium on it.

My feeling is that the future of politics doesn’t have any elections in it

The Huffington Post has an article which mixes some standard issue techno-progressivist messages with a rejection of elections and a proposal of government by policy juries:

Jim Gilliam, CEO and co-founder of NationBuilder, […] and his co-founders Jesse Haff and Joe Green created the service to help people organize their own communities. As Gilliam said in the first part of our interview, he sees the primary political divide in our country not as one of “left vs. right. The divide is the people vs. the powerful.” This is something that Gilliam sees as not standing for long in an age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication.

“The internet will reset all of that,” said Gilliam. “There’s no question it has to, because the internet has this really difficult relationship with power. I have deep emotional issues with power, and I believe that the way to deal with it is to give it to everybody. The biggest way to destroy it is that everybody has it. So build tools so that you can build your power base. and everybody wants that. That’s the currency of 21st century, it’s less all the money you have and it’s more how big your nation is.”


“My feeling is that the future of politics doesn’t have any elections in it. […]”

“No elections” runs against the grain of the way we currently think of democracy. Yet our own system already contains the framework of what Gilliam sees as a better, more participatory solution that addresses the issues of corruption and ignorance that he sees as plaguing our current democracy.

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Allotted assembly for budget planning in the city of Canada Bay, Australia

The Australian Daily Telegraph reports:

The buck will stop with you – people power council

More than 1,500 people will be randomly asked to take part in a panel to set the agenda for how Canada Bay council should spend, service and plan its four-year budget.

It puts into practice an idea from independent research body newDemocracy Foundation that a random selection of citizens has the least direct self interest in public decisions.

NewDemocracy Foundation executive director Iain Walker said the randomly selected panel was similar to a jury – only for public decision making instead.
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Eygyptian Christians to choose Pope by lot

In a report in today’s (London) Independent:

Pope Shenouda, 88, [who has just died] was famous as a cautious Coptic leader, all-powerful within his community, who for four decades had dealt with the Egyptian government. … His successor, to be chosen by a synod of bishops, is unlikely to exercise the same authority in defence of Egypt’s embattled Christian minority. The bishops will choose three candidates, whose names are written on pieces of paper and placed in a box. The final choice is made by a blindfolded boy, who picks one of the names.

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Bristol Radical History Group: From Athens to the Electoral Lottery

Dan Bennett, of the Bristol Radical History Group, presents a description of the Athenian democratic system and proposes a sortition party.

Cheerleaders for parliamentary democracy often hark back semi-legendary ‘golden ages’ as a foundation of the modern electoral process. Do these myths have any basis in reality and what relevance do they have today? Dan Bennett uncovers the hidden history of Athenian popular democracy and proposes a modern alternative.

‘Every Cook Can Govern’: From Athens to the Electoral Lottery – part 1, part 2, part 3.

Proposal for presentation at Wikimania in Washington 12-15 July

For those of you who use Wikipedia, notice that ‘Wikimania’ will be in Washington 12-15 July.

I have proposed a presentation: “Why Elections Are the Problem and How To Make Democracy Real“.

IF YOU ARE GOING or KNOW ANYONE WHO IS GOING please encourage acceptance of this presentation.


Plutonomy — how the 1% has hijacked democracy

An excellent paper on the tricks the richest 1% have played to turn our political democracy of ‘one person one vote’ into financial despotism:

It’s a gripping read. So is Sortition the answer? If so, why?

A summary of Chouard’s talk, and links to some concurring posts

Below is my itemized summary of the ideas presented by Ètienne Chouard:

  1. The core of democracy is political equality
  2. Elections are anti-democratic
    • Not designed to be democratic, and no such claims made by its designers
    • History shows that elections put the rich in power
    • The powerful support elections – cannot be a threat to them
    • It is a paradox that the entire political spectrum supports elections
    • Based on a myth – being able to choose the good
    • Rule by the worst – “good people don’t care about governing”
    • Elections are appropriate for small scale – depend on knowing people and being able to follow what they do, in large systems, the voters do not know the candidates and do not know what they do

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Rasmussen: 43% Say Random Choices From Phone Book Better Than Current Congress

Rasumussen has results for a new round of their occasional survey measuring support for sortition (they don’t quite phrase it this way):

With positive ratings for Congress at an all-time low, it may come as no surprise that a plurality of voters nationwide believes a group of people randomly selected from a telephone book would do a better job than the current legislators.

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David Grant talks about sortition

The Reading Eagle reports:

Using a lottery to name the members of a citizen legislature would make that legislature more truly representative of the population and uncouple the link between money and the influence it buys in elections.

That was part of a message David Grant delivered to 17 people gathered Saturday in the Reading Friends Meetinghouse.
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