Poulin-Litvak: Sortition as a means to fight corruption

A new paper by David Poulin-Litvak has the following abstract:

Electoral democracy is in crisis. The use of sortition in our political systems could be a key to renewing and deepening democracy. But how to do so? And where to start? In this paper, I explore the idea that using sortition to address the problem of corruption could be a first step. Why? For two reasons. First, corruption of elected officials is an internal inconsistency of electoral democracy – it cannot be resolved adequately through electoral institutions. Second, there is also a large consensus on the fact – everybody agrees – that corruption is a problem.

I suggest granting the power to convene an Investigation Commission to a randomly selected citizen body. This body should also nominate the Commission’s head and receive its recommendations. I also discuss the idea of a Citizens’ Court to directly address the problem of corruption of elected officials. This broad jury would judge and sanction corrupted elected officials. Taking Quebec’s ongoing corruption saga as an example, I also try to see how the system would work in reality and, finally, where the system, once put into place, could lead to.

The most basic democratic right? Beneficial ownership of natural resources

News about ‘Democracy’ from Iceland

If Iceland demonstrates the possibilities of direct democracy, recent months have also exposed its limitations. A row still rages over the country’s constitution, which was created after its economic collapse. When 950 Icelanders, randomly chosen from the national register, gathered for one day in 2010 to decide its founding principles it was hailed as the world’s first “crowd-sourced” constitution. Continue reading


Tomas Mancebo wrote to point out a proposal for a constitutional system by Stephen Shalom called Participatory politics, or ParPolity, which contains a sortition-based element.

The main part of the proposal is a “nested councils” structure – a standard proposal of a hierarchical structure of elected bodies where each body elects a representative to a higher-level body:

Unlike typical direct elections, a good political system must give people an organic connection to those they elect so they can adequately monitor their performance and remove them when necessary. There cannot be large or remote constituencies that render monitoring impossible or even burdensome.

Unlike typical indirect elections, a good political system must ensure that the people’s will does not get attenuated through each intermediate level of voting.
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Minimal Reforms

“What minimal reforms would you like to see implemented given the reasons you advocate for sortition?”

The subject of this sentence is “minimal reforms”, so this would indicate an emphasis on practical implementation (or, even, incrementalism), as opposed to a blueprint for the New Jerusalem, Utopia, New Atlantis, Aleatoria or the Republic of Politdoche. The latter would require a different strand with a focus on utopian literature, revolutionary pamphlets, polemical tracts, diatribes and science fiction. I suggest also that if we are going to comment on other people’s suggestions we should avoid the use of sarcasm, sloganising and name-calling. (Note, though, these are only suggestions, rather than [authoritarian] edicts.)

Why is sortition a good idea? A participant survey

I am curious–seems it would be helpful for anyone interested in sortition–what the different grounds people have for advocating it are. The idea here is not about particular forms of selection by lot, but why might it be a good idea in general.

Please comment with your personal reason(s) in one or two sentences max. It would be best to avoid comment on other people’s comments.

Write a note to George Monbiot

Update: Monbiot responded as follows:

Interesting: many thanks for this Yoram. G

George Monbiot is frustrated with government:

Most of the world’s people are decent, honest and kind. Most of those who dominate us are inveterate bastards. This is the conclusion I’ve reached after many years of journalism. Writing on Black Monday, as the British government’s full-spectrum attack on the lives of the poor commences, the thought keeps returning to me.

He asks:

So the age-old question comes knocking: why does the decent majority allow itself to be governed by a brutal, antisocial minority?

He is looking for inspiring, transfiguring ideas that will show a way out of this predicament. Please join me and write a note to Monbiot to offer sortition as such a crucial idea.

Here is what I wrote:

Continue reading

A. H. J. Greenidge: Appointment by lot in Athens

In 1896 A. H. J. Greenidge published his book A Handbook of Greek Constitutional History. Greenidge devotes a few pages to sortition (“appointment by lot”). He proposes theoretical justification and analysis of the effects of the mechanism.

At this point we may naturally raise the question, “What is the meaning of this new element in political life which was destined to become almost the most characteristic feature of the Athenian and other democracies?” From the treatment of the lot by Plato and Aristotle we should be inclined to gather that it was a consciously adopted democratic institution, that it was the final assertion of the numerical equality of all citizens and of the principle of equal representation. But to realise this character it must be accompanied by universal admission to office. We know, however, that the use of the lot preceded universal admission; we shall see, when we come to discuss the qualifications for office, that in early Athens it was an assertion of the equal fitness for rule of the members of only a narrow circle; and we are further informed that in some cases of its employment it had other meanings than that of an assertion of equality. Continue reading

Mencken: The two kinds of democracy

H.L. Mencken‘s 1927 book Notes on Democracy is an interesting document. On the one hand it is a candid expression of a proud elitist worldview. Mencken spends considerable space explicitly denigrating the average person. In short:

There are men who are naturally intelligent and can learn, and there are men who are naturally stupid and cannot. (p. 17)

Such views cannot be expressed in polite society today, and although it is pretty clear that Mencken is aware that his stridency is politically incorrect, it is also pretty clear that he is expressing ideas that were acceptable, even conventional wisdom, in elite circles of his time.

On the other hand, Mencken devotes much attention to the problems of the electoral process as well (which he identifies with democracy). His anti-democratic attitude allows him to criticize the electoral system in a way that those with commitments either to the existing system or to democracy usually cannot afford. As Mencken damns voters for being stupid and electoral politicians for being scoundrels, Mencken points at several problematic fundamental characteristics of the system, belying his main thrust which focuses on personal characteristics. Here, for example, is the principle of distinction:

Democratic man is stupid, but he is not so stupid that he does not see the government as a group of men devoted to his exploitation that is, as a group external to his own group, and with antagonistic interests. (p. 197)

Mencken’s treatment of “direct democracy” – the standard remedy for the problems of the electoral system – is rather insightful: Continue reading

Is the word government a problem?

This is a change of pace from the previous posts, and an issue not yet discussed on EbyL as far as I know. To express a new dynamic between citizen and political institutions, through selection by lot and possibly other reforms, would we need a word besides “gov’t”?

The full article is here. I suggest we comment on that site (DaftBlogger), especially explaining sortition or Equality by Lot, as a way to develop some cross traffic and build awareness.

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
William Shedd

Finally, uncannily, a philosophical-linguistic dimension leaves us astounded and open-mouthed.

The word “govern” means to rule over, originating from the Greek kybernân = to steer and kybernḗt = helmsman, tillerman! The word “cybernetics,” by the way, shares this root.

Mr. Tillerman is no appraisal of contemporary government, or American isolationism, or American imperialism. Mr. Tillerman stands for 2500 years of a conception of government as controlling, disciplining machine. To some, it means controlling the masses or keeping their hands off the property of elites. For others, it means checking the abuse of the weak by the strong. For some, it means limiting the influence of social organizations like the church. Again for others, it means curbing the economic power of moneyed elites.

Continue reading

Putsch: Iceland‘s crowd-sourced constitution killed by parliament

Extracted from Thorvaldur Gylfason’s blog:

Following its spectacular plunge from grace in 2008 when its banking system crashed, Iceland invited the people of Iceland to draft a new post-crash constitution designed inter alia to reduce the likelihood of another crash. A National Assembly was convened comprising 950 individuals selected at random from the national registry. Every Icelander 18 years or older had an equal chance of being selected to a seat in the assembly. Next, from a roaster of 522 candidates from all walks of life, 25 representatives were elected by the nation to a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution reflecting the popular will as expressed by the National Assembly. Believe it or not, the Supreme Court, with eight of its nine justices at the time having been appointed by the Independence Party, now disgraced as the main culprit of the crash and in opposition, annulled the Constitutional Assembly election on flimsy and probably also illegal grounds, a unique event. . .