Sortition noted by far-right group

Although electoral representation is a discredited system, White Nationalists should not give up on the idea or virtues of democratic representation but should seek alternative ways of achieving this through sortition — the selection of representatives through a randomized process like a national lottery.

The political potential of sortition is virtually unknown in White Nationalist circles. Edgar Steele mentioned it briefly in his book Defensive Racism arguing that juries, which are selected by sortition, should not only decide questions of fact, i.e. whether the accused has broken the law, but also importantly that they also be allowed to rule on the legitimacy of the law in question.[1] This essay goes far beyond Steele’s proposals and argues that sortition should play a decisive role in the political process itself, so much so that bad laws never see the light of day and are killed in their drafting stage.

58 Responses

  1. An interesting combination of an overtly racist worldview and a reasonable treatment of sortition relying on familiar secondary sources: Sutherland and Dowlen.


  2. Yes, I thought it was a pretty fair summary of my book. Interesting that sortition seems to be equally attractive to the left and the right, all we need to do now is get some interest in the middle!


  3. I have a theory as to why sortition can appeal to people from across the political spectrum. A thoughtful person often harbors a belief that he or she has figured out the “good” policy on issue X or the just path for society, and that if others only knew what THEY knew, and thought about it, they would agree. I certainly have this belief (If I could get someone’s attention and adequately explain my thinking and all the “facts” most people would agree with me about X.) I realize, on a rational level, that I might be wrong, but the FEELING that I am right and others would agree persists. Thus on both the left and right (and on other political dimensions) we trust that a well-informed representative group would agree with US and not those with evil intentions or faulty thinking. Of course, some people draw the line at certain class, religious or racial groupings for people who would agree, but they still can support sortition within their preferred group.


  4. That would explain the attraction to the average person; what interests me is the extremes. On the left the attraction is the argument for social justice and against privilege; whereas to conservatives its the rule of common sense, tradition, the moral majority etc. I suspect what interests the “new right” (as the white nationalists call themselves) is that majority interests will not be subverted by cultural and intellectual elites (PC etc). Unfortunately for them they’ve probably left it too late, given the changing demographics of the US.


  5. Sortition would be a radical change to the existing system, so it is not surprising that those who are interested in a radical change are interested in sortition. And vice versa: those who are not disenchanted with the way things currently are would likely be suspicious of such a radical change.

    BTW, I have no expectation that I could get most people to agree with me on most of my opinions. I think anyone with a little experience in online discussion gets pretty disillusioned pretty quickly with the power of “facts” or “logic” to make a difference in people’s minds.


  6. >I think anyone with a little experience in online discussion gets pretty disillusioned pretty quickly with the power of “facts” or “logic” to make a difference in people’s minds.

    That’s certainly true of people with strong convictions like Yoram and myself, but I don’t think it’s the case with most people on most things. We all know pretty much what Y and K think, but it’s hard to say regarding most people who browse this blog but don’t comment regularly (even less so for the vast majority of people who don’t even know, or care, what sortition is). This is the main reason that I’m opposed to volunteerism (which would privilege the likes of Y and K) and insistent on best efforts being made for well-balanced information and advocacy. If there were two full-mandate sortition panels and one group of (say) 300 contained Y and another K (or similarly opinionated persons), there is a chance that the kind of information and advocacy requested by each group would be significantly different and this would seriously affect the representativity of the sortition process. If the two groups ended up with different conclusions on the topic under debate, then there is no way that the decision(s) could be taken as a proxy for the considered judgment of the whole citizen body.


  7. In my interview of a federal judge about the desirability of using sortition, the judge insisted that the voir dire process plus the judge’s guidance and instructions made the jury less random and more competent than sortition alone. I didn’t point out that it also facilitated, sometimes, a ‘hanging jury’ for a ‘hanging judge’…which is what, I surmise, the Counter-Currents group might advocate.

    It’s a bit of a shock, frankly, to think that such a group would not dismiss sortition … because I would expect such groups to be rigidly hierarchical.

    I’ve always expected a sortitioned legislature would, indeed, increase the likelihood of the presence of extremes, both right and left. But I presumed the weight of the middle — always demographically greatest (am I correct in that statement?) — would prevail.


  8. No. Sorry, spoke before thinking through.

    Nazi Germany, Hutu Rwanda, Jim Crow South…

    In those demographically intolerant cases … would it be only courts (with a real constitution) that would be the bulwark? Pretty thin, no?


  9. >Nazi Germany, Hutu Rwanda, Jim Crow South…

    Scenarios like this certainly add to the argument for sortition as one element in a mixed constitution, that includes bulwarks (constitutional safeguards such as bills or rights and supermajorities) against majority tyranny. It also supports the argument for mandatory provision of balanced advocacy, as opposed to the allotted group choosing its own advisors. Kinch Hoekstra’s work indicates how any single of source of power (including the Athenian demos) is tyrannical: Decision makers should be obliged to listen to opposing arguments and this would be unlikely to happen in the case of a full-power allotted assembly in the above examples (assuming the majoritarian principle).


  10. Whatever one may think of ethnonationalism (which is largely viewed as beyond the pale for contingent historical reasons), there are some good scholars working in the field. Simon Lote’s summary of the argument in my book is one of the best that I’ve seen to date, and he gets to the heart of its principal weaknesses. His review led me to read Alain de Benoist’s The Problem of Democracy which I would strongly recommend. It’s also likely, as he points out, that an allotted assembly in an ethnically homogeneous state would probably seek to keep it that way. Alain de Benoist argues that ethnonationalism is the modern equivalent of the Greek polis in that citizenship trumps any fluffy notion of universal human rights. This is also the reason that the “new right” love Rousseau.

    DG>It’s a bit of a shock, frankly, to think that such a group would not dismiss sortition … because I would expect such groups to be rigidly hierarchical.

    Not so. One of the problems with real democracy is that it will seek to overturn any number of liberal nostrums, and this is its attraction to “new-right” theorists who have no time for authoritarian regimes (including current elected governments). So I think David is going to get a lot more shocks!


  11. KS> Kinch Hoekstra’s work indicates how any single of source of power (including the Athenian demos) is tyrannical:

    I didn’t find Hoekstra’s article on the website.

    Isn’t the tripartite judicial-legislative-executive the bulwark against ‘a single source of power’?

    Wouldn’t a sortitionally-chosen, thus demographically representative, body, automatically assure ‘balanced advocacy’ (assuming it were finely-enough composed to include all significant minorities)?

    KS> One of the problems with real democracy is that it will seek to overturn any number of liberal nostrums, and this is its attraction to “new-right” theorists who have no time for authoritarian regimes (including current elected governments).

    If there is a constitution recognizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would not there then be at least judicial protection for those ‘liberal nostrums’, even if the population chose otherwise?

    Do you refer to the extremes of libertarianism? Does that automatically devolve to might-makes-right? Isn’t the a-rationality of sortition a protection against the dominating types who would try to prevail?


  12. Unfortunately Hoekstra’s talk is still notes only — I’ve written a commentary on it, awaiting publication, but have posted the text below.

    The trouble with the doctrine of the separation of powers is that it doesn’t really work — see Hansen, The Mixed Constitution vs. the Separation of Powers, History of Political Thought, 31, 3, 2010. The notion that an allotted assembly will automatically produce balanced advocacy presupposes that every minority will spontaneously generate a representative with the requisite persuasive skills (and that everyone will dutifully listen to what they have to say). In practice majorities will dominate and advocacy will be skewed by those with the charisma and/or perceived social status. Constitutional recognition of human rights play an important part in liberal checks and balances, hence the need to embed them with supermajorities, rather than leaving it all to the whim of an allotted assembly (as Yoram advocates).

    I’m not an expert on libertarian extremism but, as I understand it, the new right distinguishes itself from the old right in abjuring authoritarianism and hierarchy. It’s closely linked to libertarian anarchism and is populist, hence the attraction of sortition. There’s very little in Alain de Benoist’s book that sortitionists would take issue with apart from the (Athenian-style) distinction between citizen and non-citizen.


    Popular Sovereignty – vs – The Mixed Constitution:
    Commentary on Kinch Hoekstra, ‘Athenian Democracy and Popular Tyranny’

    Keith Sutherland, University of Exeter

    The notion of popular tyranny is normally associated with the modern reincarnation of democracy and, specifically, J.S. Mill’s phrase ‘the tyranny of the majority’ (On Liberty, 1859). In this fascinating paper Kinch Hoekstra, while acknowledging that the very term ‘popular sovereignty’ is a quintessentially modern concept, nevertheless finds evidence of the use of all these terms in fifth- and fourth-century Athenian discourse.

    The Athenians’ own account of the rise of democracy involved not the replacement of arbitrary tyranny by popular sovereignty but the replacement of a single tyrant by a collective person. In this sense the democracy did not represent the end of tyranny but the rise of a new tyrant – the dēmos – who was often depicted as a singular character, ‘Demos’, with his own personality (who shared all the characteristic features of the tyrant – gluttony, drinking, sexual excess, joy in wielding unaccountable power etc.). Thucydides’ History recounts both Pericles and Cleon telling the Athenians that their relationship with their empire is tyrannical: ‘You do not see that the empire you hold is a tyranny, and one imposed on unwilling subjects who for the most part plot against you’.

    But Demos also tyrannized the Athenians at home. Aristophanes’ Wasps (422BC) satirised the unchecked power of jurors (one of the key institutions of Athenian democracy) as the harlot’s prerogative – power without responsibility: ‘As far as our power is concerned’, the democratic juror Philocleon tells his son, ‘it’s equal to that of any king. What creature is there today more happy and enviable, or more pampered, or more to be feared, than a juror? . . . And for doing all this we cannot be called to account – which is true of no other public authority.’ Whilst jurors could hold magistrates and politicians to account, no magistrates can inspect or scrutinise them. That demotic authority is characterized by unaccountable power is striking, given that unaccountable and unlimited power is the mark of the tyrant. Otanes may have been Herodotus’s champion of democracy but his question ‘how can monarchy be a Good Thing when the monarch has the power to do as he likes without being called to account’ could have equally been levelled at the unchecked power of democratic jurors (less so voting in the general assembly, which relied on a public show of hands).

    In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate forms of monarchy is that the latter case (tyranny) is not limited by law or ‘right ordering’ (kata taxin). Applying the same criterion to the rule of the many, democracy – at least in the late fifth century – would be a clear case of aoristos turannis (unlimited tyranny), as it was primarily based on the decrees (psephismata) of the general assembly. This was one of the reasons for the fourth century reforms – a return to the rule of law (nomoi), rather than men (the arbitrary and tyrannical volitions of Demos in the general assembly).

    Whilst to Aristotle the ideal constitution is regulated or rightly-ordered kingship (constitutional monarchy in modern parlance), in practice the best we can hope for is politeia – a mixture of aristocracy and democracy, as all singular forms of government – including popular sovereignty – will inevitably become tyrannical. The modern notion of sovereignty has its origins in Jean Bodin’s Six Livres de la République (1576), with its memorable phrase that ‘the sovereign prince is only accountable to God’. All Rousseau did was to alter the numerical composition of the sovereign prince but, as the Greeks acknowledged over 2000 years earlier, a single source of power is still tyrannical, even when exercised by everybody. The paltry constraints on the arbitrary willing of Bodin’s and Rousseau’s sovereigns are identical and, ultimately, religious in nature (Riley, 1986).

    The modern solution to the tyranny of singular sovereignty is to slice and dice political power into separate packages – administrative, judicial and legislative – and to hope that the resulting checks and balances will do the job (assuming that the ‘parchment barriers’ are sufficiently impermeable). Unfortunately the use of the aristocratic mechanism of election to constitute the legislative and executive powers means, as the Old Oligarch acknowledged in his Constitution of Athens, that the dēmos is quickly reduced to slavery. Allowing everyone to speak in the assembly or to serve on the council, rather than the cleverest or ‘best’ men, may not lead to good government (eunomian), but it will ensure that, like the singular tyrant, the dēmos is able ‘to be free and to rule’.

    Although Mogens Herman Hansen is best known for his work on fourth-century Athenian democracy, in a recent paper (Hansen, 2010), he argued that Montesquieu’s taxonomy no longer adequately describes modern states, in which, whilst the people are supposedly sovereign, in practice elected monarchs (George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Anders Fogh Rasmussen being his chosen examples) have powers which would have provoked envy in Louis ‘l’état c’est moi’ XIV. Professor Hansen’s solution is to acknowledge that all forms of singular sovereignty, however thinly sliced and diced, will inevitably become tyrannical and that we should return instead to Plato, Aristotle and Polybius’s theory of the mixed constitution. As Kinch Hoekstra puts it ‘even after the tyrannicides, through the radical democracy of the later fifth century, and through the more moderate “rule of law”, democracy of the fourth century, tyrants continued to rule Athens’ (my emphasis). Plus ça change or, in the immortal words of those wise 1960’s bards, The Who:

    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss
    I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
    Take a bow for the new revolution
    Smile and grin at the change all around me
    Pick up my guitar and play
    Just like yesterday
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
    We don’t get fooled again


    Hansen, Mogens Herman (2010), The mixed constitution v. the separation of powers: monarchical and aristocratic elements of modern democracy. History of Political Thought, XXXI, 509-31.

    Manin, Bernard (1997), The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

    Riley, Patrick (1986), The General Will Before Rousseau: The Transformation of the Divine Into the Civic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).


  13. About far-right and sortition.
    *** The so-called « modern democracies », which are really « polyarchies », give a big power to the lobbies of any kind. But if we consider these political systems in reference to social hierarchies, they give much disproportionate influence let’s say to the 1% top of the socio-economic scale, and the 1% top of the cultural-mediatic scale. The cultural-mediatic elite, since half a century, has been very hostile to the far-right, and therefore it is understable that some segments of the far-right are very negative and vindictive against the cultural elite ; and this can lead them to be interested by the idea of sortition, because this idea is easily distasteful for any elite.
    *** But don’t be mislead. The far-right is basically hostile to the idea of equality, and therefore can’t really like sortition, which is a provocative affirmation of equality. If the far-rightist doctrinarians and militants could really choose the political system, they would not choose the same model (there are many tendancies – and it is the same for the far-left, which includes stalinists or trotskyites, and anarchists) …, but very few, if any, would choose a sortition democracy. The instances of far-right sortitionism or true-democratism are punctual, reactive and vindictive.
    *** That concerns doctrinarians and militants, not ordinary citizens voting for a rightist party. In the 2006 French presidential election, the (somewhat maverick) Socialist candidate made a proposal involving sortition (« jurys citoyens » intended to oversee elected representatives). Opinion polls found a majority of voters approving this unexpected proposal ; but especially voters of rightist « Front National » and of leftish « ecologists », that is the voters more strongly dissatisfied with the established political powers.
    *** But the rightist leader, Le Pen, spoke very strongly against sortition (as « true democracy », he favors proportional representation and referendum …). Beware that the distance between the parties and their electors can be as large for an « extremist » party than for a « centrist » one.


  14. The only thing that de Benoist and Le Pen appear to have in common is the privileging of citizenship, which they would both define in terms of exclusive rather than liberal categories. I would imagine the right is just as fussy as the left in terms of the way various factions seek to differentiate themselves. Stalinists, Trotskyites and anarchists don’t have a lot in common, and this is also true of the right. There is certainly nothing authoritarian or hierarchical about de Benoist’s book, merely a preference for the polis over the cosmopolis, and this would be his crime in the eyes of liberals. But there was nothing even remotely liberal about the political community that invented sortition, so we shouldn’t be surprised about its attraction to the right — a tag that is probably the best description of my own allegiances.


  15. André,

    Very interesting. Again, I would urge you to expand on those points in a post.


  16. KS>: … so we shouldn’t be surprised about its attraction to the right — a tag that is probably the best description of my own allegiances.

    Might I query, then, your position on ethnonationalism?


  17. Ethnonationalism not really a significant issue in the UK, and I’m not in a position to comment on countries with a history of slavery or enforced cohabitation. In general though I think it’s the case that people prefer living with with those with whom they share a common culture and ethnicity can be a salient marker. The last decade or so has witnessed very high levels of UK immigration and this has been against the wishes and interests of most of the indigenous population. The cosmopolis has usually been confined to science fiction, Kantian and utopian literature but political elites have recently sought to implement it in the real world. The word elite is generally used on this forum in the socioeconomic sense, but Andre is right to point out that cultural elites are the bogeymen of the right.


  18. > I think it’s the case that people prefer living with with those with whom they share a common culture and ethnicity can be a salient marker.

    An overtly racist ideology as well then, it seems.


  19. Not an ideology, merely an observation on human nature. Note, also, that ethnicity is only a marker of (likely) cultural differences. As a resident of a tiny Devonshire village, where a foreigner is someone from the next village, I don’t feel entitled to a viewpoint on issues like immigration, but sociologists like me do feel entitled to make generalisations on the basis of observations of human behaviour.

    If anything is an ideology it has to be liberal cosmopolitanism, and a very modern one at that, only adhered to by tiny intellectual elites. Given the general anti-elitist thrust of this forum, we should be wary of purely singling out financial elites for opprobrium and start, perhaps, looking in the mirror. I take that to be the thrust of Andre’s comment.


  20. *** To Yoram Gat about Ségolène Royal’s sortition proposal and the reactions : I will write a memo about it, but I am overworked, therefore it will be in Autumn
    *** To Keith Sutherland about Alain de Benoist : I have read books and articles by de Benoist ; it was rehearsing and modernizing of ancient basic themes of the European far-right, in an intelligent and knowledgeable way. I had no time to read more recent works, maybe he did evolve. I doubt he has become a true democrat. I will try to check.
    *** To Common Lot Sortitionist about « ethnonationalism » : the subject needs thorough reflection about « nation » and « ethnicity », with due distinctions : the Greek « polis » was a psycho-historical community different from a Western nation, and even between the Western nations France, Germany and USA are different. We must, too, consider that the immigration policy must be seen in relationship with the policy of assimilation or « multiculturalism ».
    *** The Greek polis was usually quite close, something as a tribe uniting people of the same ascent ; see Aristotle, Politics III, 2,1-2,4. Naturalization of foreign people, eventually accepted, was something like an adoption. Aristotle, who is anti-democrat, writes in a disparaging way of the penchant of democratic revolutions for openness (VI, 4, 16 ; for Athens in the time of Cleisthenes III 2, 3).
    *** The Greek polis usually accepted naturalization only for foreigners with some « merit », or, collectively, in exceptional circumstances. But racial or ethnic criterions were not crucial, it seems. Athens gave collective naturalization in 427 to the Platean refugees, who were of Eolian stock, not of Ionian stock like the Athenians. The law of naturalization in the second Athenian democracy made the process rather difficult, but did not include any racial or ethnic criterion.
    *** Among the Athenian democrats of the fourth century, closeness and openness were present. At one extreme was Hyperides, who proposed to give citizenship to resident free foreigners (and freedom to slaves) who would accept to fight against the Macedonians (the proposal was voted by the Assembly, but later struck down by a jury as illegal). At the other end of the spectrum we find Lycurgus of Athens, who was deeply shocked by the idea. Both were democrats.


  21. Thanks Andre, that’s very helpful. The interesting question is whether sortition would work in a liberal multicultural state as there are no precedents that we can refer to — from a purely historical perspective the enthnonationalists are right (no pun intended) in this respect. The Greek notion of rule and be ruled in turn was based on homonoia (same-mindedness) — there was nothing liberal or multicultural about Athens.

    One could argue that sortition would be no worse than the electoral alternative. If we take the recent example of Egypt, Morsi based his increasingly despotic rule on the fact that he had a majority mandate, but would not the same principle apply to decisions made by a microcosm of any deeply-divided society, whether it be Egypt of the USA? You can exchange reasons until you’re blue in the face but in the end the decision outcome will reflect the interests, beliefs and prejudices of the majority, as democracy is just a question of arithmetic. Most of the commentary on the failure of Egyptian democracy has referred to the lack of civil society institutions and constitutional safeguards, so this should make us all the more uncomfortable regarding claims for all-powerful legislative bodies, irrespective of how they are composed. Morsi was right to claim a popular mandate, the problem is that it was only 51.7% of the electorate, and it’s not at all clear how an allotted assembly in which 51.7% of the members wanted sharia law and 48.3% wanted a secular state would react differently. I accept this is a crude dichotomy, but you get the point (similar arithmetic comes into play regarding the current divide in the US as how best to resolve the budget deficit).

    Yoram normally ignores my posts, but I would ask him to tell us whether, in the light of developments in Egypt, he still rejects civil-society and constitutional safeguards and other elements of a mixed constitution in favour of an all-powerful allotted assembly. Note that multiple assemblies would not help as the arithmetic would be the same in all of them.


  22. Keith,

    Two points related to your Egypt reference…

    1. In the Egyptian presidential election, there was a first round followed by a runoff between the top two finishers (Morsi and Shafik). More than 51% of voters had voted for one of several OTHER candidates in the first round (so that Morsi and Shafik COMBINED received less than half of the votes). Indeed, many democracy activists advocated a boycott of the presidential runoff election because they considered both finalists to be unacceptable.

    2. Some advocates of sortition approach it from a different perspective than you do. While ultimately, you are correct that some sort of winner/loser scenarios will be inevitable (whether it be a 50%+ majority or some super-majority threshold, which allows some minority to exercise a veto), many advocates of sortition come to it by way of DELIBERATIVE democracy enthusiasm. Rather than seeking a mere majority vote by an allotted jury following pro and con presentations, they hope that in many cases, a process of give and take deliberation (among a descriptively representative group) can find new, previously unconsidered win/win synthesis policies. The lesson of Egypt is that when democracy is reduced to a winner/loser dynamic, where ballots merely replace bullets as a means of seeking victory…we often face a return of tyranny or bullets, since deliberative compromise is not the goal of the winners. When the question is reduced to which team of elites gets to rule, democracy is not genuine, whether there were “free elections” or not.


  23. Terry

    That certainly is an attractive proposition, but it does depend on rather a lot of hoping. How might it be put into operation in the Egyptian example and do you agree that there is a need for civil-society and constitutional checks and balances in case the hopes of the deliberative enthusiasts are not fulfilled?


  24. *** If a majority of the Egyptian people favours theocracy, democracy is not possible. This is not something strange, you have the same for any political system. Let’s consider a traditional monarchy : it cannot work if the heir is theocrat, democrat, or trostskyite ! A totalitarian regime cannot subsist if the totalitarian faith is no more alive : it will explode, as in Soviet Union, or convert into an authoritarian regime, as in China. A « polyarchy », with its equilibrium between main social powers, cannot subsist if some of the main social powers do not accept the model : see Weimar Germany. A democracy suppose at least a majority of the dêmos accepting the democratic model. If not, this model cannot work. And, I repeat, this is not a specific defect of democracy.
    *** Theocracy and democracy are incompatible. For theocrats, the main laws are included in Sacred Books, Traditions, and Authorized commentaries. Free discussion about political subjects cannot be allowed , because it amounts to blasphemy. Democracy means government by the majority after thorough discussion and general right to discuss any political subject (Greek « isêgoria) ; because a sovereign (individual or collective) is not really a sovereign if he is cut of the flow of free information, advices, ideas.
    You have perfect opposition. Theocrats can accept only some form of « republic », with some degrees of freedom only in some areas, in « executive » field, whereas the legislative power is « God’s. ». For them, sovereignty of the people is blasphemous.
    *** For Egypt, and maybe for any country, Keith Sutherland doubts about the « the hopes of the deliberative enthusiasts » ; « constitutional checks and balances » are his preferred recipe. But let’s consider a constitutional checking system . Either the last word is given by some alloted « citizen jury », and we have to trust the enlightening potential of the deliberation. Or the last word is given by a body whose sensitivity and moral interests are deeply different from the ordinary citizens, and we do not have a democracy, but a mixed system with strong elitist leanings. « In some cases, it is better than theocracy favored by the majority ». Maybe, but don’t call the system democratic. Actually, if you are right that the deep choice of the majority is theocracy, democracy is anyway impossible.


  25. Thanks for the clarification Andre. I would describe myself as a republican (in the classical sense) rather than a democrat. The republican ideal is the mixed constitution, in which the various elements (only one of which is democratic) balance and constrain each other. Unfortunately classical republicanism has been unfashionable since Bodin, Hobbes and Rousseau invented the narrative of popular sovereignty. Unfortunately any singular form of sovereignty will be tyrannical and that would include Yoram’s all-powerful allotted committees. The task of modern-day republicans is to imagine a modern incarnation of the one, the few and the many for an age where heredity is ruled out as illegitimate and wealth no longer correlates reliably with education, wisdom and disinterested service (I’m referring to the aristocratic ideal here). I still think Harrington’s Oceana is the best on offer — Harrington was certainly not a democrat and had a realist perspective on aristocratic interests. The problem you democratical gentlemen have is how to do away with the one (ie the state) and the few as they have a nasty habit of popping back up when you are not looking.


  26. The journalist (and Harvard politics PhD) Andrew Sullivan has a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times about the cleavage between urban, secular, liberal cultural elites and the rural conservative masses in countries as diverse as Egypt, Iran, Turkey and the USA. The article is behind a paywall, so here’s some excerpts:

    “In Tehran young Persians are throwing parties and voting for any opposition they can find, while, in the rural hinterlands, gays are hanged and women are hidden . . . In Turkey it’s the same core split — between cities and the countryside, secular western-oriented elites and the silent but faithful majority.”

    Bear in mind that in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood are the moderates, 25% of the population voted for the hard-right Islamist al-Nour party. But Sullivan does not limit his analysis to theocratic regimes:

    “America, perhaps, is one of the most divided [societies], although its political system has absorbed it without violence . . . I’ve heard remarks among liberal New Yorkers about their fellow Americans in the middle of the country [the “red” states] that in any other context would be rightly called bigoted. Their mutual isolation is intensified by the urbanisation of the elites, as many of the most gifted from rural [red state] America leave for the coasts [blue states] for ever, and kick the dust from their heels.” Bear in mind Sullivan is not talking about democratic and republican voters (roughly 50/50 in the US) he is talking about the chattering classes, a tiny subset thereof.

    Sullivan is former conservative, who was turned by Obama. The suggestion of the article is that cultural elites lean to the left whereas financial elites lean to the right and the two elites have little in common. Sortitionists should be even handed in their treatment of elites in their wish to empower the people, but should prepare to be as disappointed as the Tahrir Square activists. Remember also that liberal elites tend to be more educated and persuasive in a discursive (as opposed to mass-media context), hence the need to ensure balanced advocacy rather than assume that speech acts will arise spontaneously in a well-balanced manner. It’s much easier to make a rational case for “progress” than the status quo. The latter may be the natural inclination of the majority of the people, but they will struggle to find their advocates as conservatism is the psychological disposition of the stupid party rather than a coherent set of arguments, the currency of deliberative forums.

    Bear in mind that the judgment of the allotted microcosm is deemed to “stand for” the judgment of the excluded majority, hence the need to take meticulous care to ensure well-balanced arguments. Those who lose the vote will need to feel that their case was presented by the best spokesmen in order for the judgment to be accepted. Those who were present at the debate may have been persuaded, but it’s equally important to focus on the likely reaction of those who are disenfranchised by the allotment process. Terry is right to point out the give-and-take of spontaneous deliberative exchange and this may well lead to the best epistemic outcomes. However it’s equally important to focus on what is acceptable to the excluded majority and this will likely involve other considerations. If our only concerns were epistemic then we would probably not be stuck with the political system that we currently have which, despite its well-catalogued defects, does afford nominal political equality to all citizens.


  27. PS, as an illustration of my last paragraph, bear in mind Sullivan’s:

    “America, perhaps, is one of the most divided [societies], although its political system has absorbed it without violence.”

    My suggestion is that government by full-mandate allotted assembly in a deeply-divided society like the US would lead to violence.


  28. Keith Sutherland says that the Greek model of dêmokratia could work only in homogeneous communities, and would be irrelevant to modern pluralistic societies.
    *** Right, two powerful factors of particularism in modern societies were absent from the ancient Greek Cities. This world was a pagan one, without « great religions » and without distinctive religious collective identities. There were few occurrences of difference of geographic origin linked to visible differences like color skin, and therefore no « racial identities ». But it would be naive to believe that there was no collective particularity likely to be deeply felt by those endowed with, or by the others. In Archaic Greece between the noble families / clans, and their followers, there were feuds, often bloody feuds, leading often to collective exiles. Regional particularisms could run high. Slave status had a strong stigma, leading to a deeply felt difference between the free-born citizen and the citizen of servile ascent. The closedness of the polis gave importance to the « difference » of those with a known foreign ascent. Outside Greece proper, the dêmos of the emerging democracies included strong numbers of natives of Barbarian stock, easily despised by the colonists.
    *** The unity of the « dêmos », necessary for a strong « dêmokratia », was not something given, but the result of the democratic mutation itself, as the founders of democracies had to undertake a « melting » of the « dêmos » – melting is the word of Aristotle (Politics VI,18-19 ;1319b ); the Greek verb is « anamignumi ». This was a very voluntaristic undertaking, which Aristotle describes about the founding of Athenian democracy – maybe mixing what he knew about Cleisthenes with what he knew about democratic mutations in other Cities, including overseas Cities. Cleisthenes took away any political relevance from the traditional entities, except the small local ones ; he divided the civic population, of any ascent, including foreign or servile, says Aristotle (Politics, III, 2,3 ; 1275b) into artificial tribes, each of which had its own public life ; he forbade the public use of family names, to erase as possible the memory of the origins.
    Beware, the mythic way of thinking of the ancient Greeks led them easily to project into the primeval times an homogeneity of the City which was actually the result of voluntarist policies in historical times.
    *** The functioning of the dêmokratia was by itself homogeneizing, through the public life in the artificial tribes, through the interchangeability of the citizens in the allotments processes, through the working of the institutions (for instance in the Athenian Council the seats of the councillors were themselves alloted – a councilor could not choose his neighbours), through the reign of isêgoria (equal right of political advice), through the pervasive political debate.
    *** Keith Sutherland is right : the heterogeneity of a society can be so strong that the dêmokratia would not be able to overcome it, and the result could be civil war, because the democratic experiment would have revealed the deep animosities which were more or less inhibited by the polyarchic system (inhibited but at the same time preserved and often developped), or concealed by a totalitarian or authoritarian regime. In deeply heterogeneous societies, thus, dêmokratia could be an hazardous gamble, giving way either to real integration or to civil war.
    *** But Keith Sutherland is wrong when he takes the electoral political life as revealing accurately and faithfully the real psyche of the people, when he trusts the « arithmetic » of elections – whereas the electoral choices are about ambiguous words and manipulated symbols. Half of Egyptian voters favour pro-sharia parties, ok. But let’s suppose an alloted Egyptian jury having to decide after serious deliberation precise points of law. « A man born of Moslem parents becomes Christian or Buddhist. Must he be sentenced to death ? A young woman born of Moslem parents marry a Christian or Buddhist, must the marriage be struck down by the State ? ». The electoral data of don’t guarantee us that for these precise decisions we will have half of the jury positive, half negative, after serious deliberation. The same is to be said about the divisions of US public opinion. Only the real decisions through alloted juries after deliberation will tell us the real state of the citizens minds at the beginning of a dêmokratia, and will tell us if there is a chance of a successful dêmokratia.


  29. Thanks for the clarification Andre. My scepticism though is not regarding the working of allotted juries, but full-mandate allotted assemblies, where policy proposal and advocacy is decided ‘by bean’. To my mind that could only work in a homogeneous society and would lead to civil war in a divided society. I think there is a much better chance that the verdict of a large allotted jury would be acceptable, even in a divided society, especially if the parallel deliberations of several such juries led to the same outcome. Surely most people would accept it if it could be demonstrated that the outcome would be the same irrespective of whether or not they participated in person. But if multiple deliberative assemblies delivered different outcomes (a likely scenario in the event of full-mandate assemblies) this could not be taken to be a representative process, notwithstanding its epistemic merits.


  30. Andre, just to clarify — we are talking about legislative assemblies, here, rather than law courts? The role of the former is to decide on general legislative principles, rather than particular cases. The examples that you provide look more like the remit of a law court (deciding the fate of particular individuals).


  31. Some answers to Keith Sutherland observations.
    *** In the second Athenian democracy « citizen juries » had the last word about legislation, about constitutional judicial review and about judicial sentences deciding the fate of particular individuals. The General Assembly kept the last word in some areas, mainly war and treaties. I think that a modern dêmokratia could be established by going a step forward, and giving the last word to citizen juries in any area.
    I don’t think necessary to use different words for the alloted bodies depending of their task ; « citizen jury » looks good for all cases.
    *** About legislation and particular cases. « A man born of Moslem parents becomes Christian or Buddhist. Must he be sentenced to death ? » This is about a general rule, a piece of legislation. The application to a particular, personal, case would be a judicial sentence. If the general rule is voted by an alloted body, that means that the majority of the people is theocrat, not democrat, and therefore democracy is impossible (the same : traditional monarchy is impossible if the legitimate king is democrat, or trostskyite)
    *** Keith says : « the verdict of a large allotted jury would be acceptable, even in a divided society, especially if the parallel deliberations of several such juries led to the same outcome. Surely most people would accept it if it could be demonstrated that the outcome would be the same irrespective of whether or not they participated in person. »
    Different outcomes from different citizen juries is a possibility which could arise from different origins. It could arise from sampling randomness ; this can be reckoned from classical statistical laws, and the legislation will have to decide which risk is to be accepted. Non-reproductibility of a decision could arise from exceptional rhetorical abilities from a member of a citizen jury ; this phenomenon will be minimized if the deliberation involves various juries, and if « national orators » are allowed to intervene in the deliberations.
    Note that chance has some weight in representative political processes : Mr Strauss-Kahn would be probably be President of France, i.e. highest representative of the French people, without an incident in a New York hotel…
    Anyway I doubt the chance factor would have a deterrent effect able to prevent the establishment of a dêmokratia through sortition. People usually underestimate any kind of randomness. I checked it often, with interlocutors of any educational level ; very few persons see the role of chance in an alloted jury of twelve men. The general statistical competence will increase once dêmokratia through sortition is established ; but then the more difficult step will be over.
    *** I wanted to underline that the heterogeneity of a society is not something given and immutable. It depends at least partly on the political system.


  32. Thanks Andre, a few follow-up points:

    >If the general rule is voted by an alloted body, that means that the majority of the people is theocrat, not democrat, and therefore democracy is impossible.

    Isn’t this just acknowledging that religion is a powerful force in determining human judgment (as are other ideological factors). Bear in mind that allotted members would vote in secret, so there would be no way that the mullahs could check whether or not individual citizens voted according to their version of sharia or not. Democracy is a set of political institutions, not an ideology — if the majority of the population have been indoctrinated by religious belief, their majority secret vote will still be democratic. This is the uncomfortable truth that President Morsi’s secular opponents have yet to acknowledge.

    >Non-reproductibility of a decision could arise from exceptional rhetorical abilities from a member of a citizen jury ; this phenomenon will be minimized if the deliberation involves various juries, and if « national orators » are allowed to intervene in the deliberations.

    Absolutely, that’s my rationale for separating advocacy/information and judgment. If the decision of the allotted forums is to be taken to represent the judgment of all citizens, then every step possible needs to be taken to ensure that each forum delivers the same verdict. Fishkin’s DPs do show variability between forums and I would attribute that to variations in the information input and/or rhetorical abilities of citizen deliberators.

    The example of chance that you provide (Strauss-Kahn’s NY hotel incident) is irrelevant, because it isn’t subject to the law of large numbers, as would be the case with a citizen jury. We would be very surprised if a large statistical sample were not roughly 50/50 male/female and we would expect political values and preferences to be distributed in a similar manner. If this were the case then every allotted sample would return the same verdict, and this is essential if we are proposing sortition as a system of political representation.

    The only alternative would be to use the word “representation” in a non-standard way and Yoram has yet to tell us exactly the meaning of the term that would enable a full-mandate allotted assembly to retain its representativeness, despite the inevitable variation in its legislative output (for all the reasons that you provide). If you have two allotted assemblies and they come to opposite conclusions on a legislative issue then which one is the representative one?


  33. I partially agree with Keith, that a religious majority, that wishes to impose their religion on the minority through a majority-rule democratic process is undesirable, but can still be viewed as “democratic.” My own society imposes all kinds of religious rules (e.g. banning polygamy) within an electoral majority-rule system.

    The distinction I think Andre is trying to make is whether the members of the allotted body feel free to exercise independent personal judgment. If they feel bound to parrot the policy choices of leaders (who are not even members of the allotted body), then they are not engaging in genuine deliberation, and “democracy” is impossible.

    I think the oath that all members of an allotted body should be required to take is that they will not be beholden to any elites or leaders, but will use their own judgment. My little state of Vermont has a Voter’s Oath that people have to take to register. It says in essence that the voter swears (or affirms) that she will vote for what she thinks is best according to her own conscience, with our fear or favor of any person.


  34. Terry,

    Agree 100%. Going back to Andre’s argument, we need to make a firm distinction between dêmokratia and liberal democracy. The Athenian emphasis on homonoia (same-mindedness) produced the dêmokratia that executed Socrates. Fast-forward 2,500 years and the minority (Tahrir square liberals) have found, to their cost, that they have no taste for dêmokratia, unless offset by the constitutional checks and balances necessary to secure the rights of minorities. These are the checks and balances that have been sneeringly dismissed by radical advocates of dêmokratia on this forum as buttressing elite privileges. The only difference is that the elite in question (in Egypt) is not a bunch of fat-cat capitalists, they are secular, liberal twitterati. It would appear that this sort of “good” elite deserves our support, whereas financial elites don’t. Dêmokratia means majority rule and requires a whole string of supplementary checks and balances (including those suggested by Terry) in order to ensure a form of government that is in tune with modern liberal sensibilities. But democracy is possible in a strongly religious culture so long as balloting takes place in secret.


  35. Keith, ‘twitterati’ is choice. Your formulation?

    Pardon my obtuseness (because I think you’ve addressed this elsewhere) but … How does ‘mixed government’ differ from a government of tripartite checks-and-balance?

    In what way is ‘separating advocacy/information from judgment’ different than having a fully empowered, let-us-say sortitioned legislature subject to the judgment of a Supreme Court?


  36. Hi David

    Twitterati is standard UK media parlance for people who waste their time posting silly comments on the internet. I suppose that makes me a prime example!

    The difference between the ancient theory of the mixed constitution and the separation of powers is that the former involves recognition of the concrete interests of the three estates of the realm (king, lords and commons). The king would be looking after his private (military) interests but couldn’t achieve them without a) baronial support and b) money, and was thus obliged to temper his own will to the wishes of the other two estates. As these estates were hereditary in origin, the model was rejected by the American founders in favour of Montesquieu’s modern version wherein singular “popular” sovereignty was sliced and diced according to the doctrine of the separation of powers. But pretending that we’re all the same merely obscures the fact that modern “estates” (elites of various kinds) still have their own interests and these need to be quarantined (as in Harrington’s proposal) as you can’t legislate them away. In the same way that you can take the kid out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the kid, you can (formally) take the state out of the hands of the elites but will never get the elites out of the state. They’ll just come back in by the back door.

    Since Aristotle, the role of “cognitive” diversity in achieving sound epistemic judgment has been understood (along with the fact that one’s judgment depends directly on one’s own interests), so I would be highly suspicious of a constitution that allocated the (political) judgment role to a supreme court. As for interests, an allotted legislature with policy initiation and advocacy powers would not be representative, for reasons that I’ve given many times before. What you are suggesting does separate the advocacy/judgment functions but, IMHO, gets the allocation of functions the wrong way round.


  37. Thanks, Keith, for taking the time to elucidate the difference between ‘mixed constitution’ and ‘separation of powers’.

    The value of distinguishing differing roles for ‘the one’, ‘the few’, and ‘the many’ is apparent. Nonetheless, it seems there is an obvious analogy to be made between ‘three states of the realm’ and tripartite separation of powers:

    The one = the executive
    The few = the judicial
    The many = the legislative (for the sake of the argument, let’s say it’s bicameral with an elected upper chamber and a sortitioned lower one)

    Your argument that an allotted legislature would not be ‘representative’ can’t be refuted. By their mere selection, they become a minuscule minority. More to the point, as you have pointed out, the information to which they have access and their deliberations would do the same.

    But, as mentioned earlier in this thread (as I recall), isn’t it true that a descriptively representative body could be counted on to make decisions that the whole polis would take, *if* the whole were to have the same opportunity?

    In that case, the challenge from those not chosen to be on the legislative jury would be, wouldn’t it: “Do you believe?”

    Gee, if that’s all we get to, how much different is it than the present situation?


  38. David,

    In the ancient theory, the judiciary is a sub-category of the executive (that’s why the word “magistrate” is used for both roles). Agree that the one equates to the executive — note that in UK courts, the prosecution is still in the name of Rex or Regina, so the judge is an executive officer (she directs the jury on the nature of the law of the state and, ideally, all judges would do this in the same way). But let’s leave the judiciary out of this conversation, as this (necessary, but additional) distinction is orthogonal to political power. “The few”, politically speaking, would better equate to the elected element in a bicameral legislature (not the justices of the supreme court).

    My argument is NOT that an allotted legislature would be unrepresentative per se (as a “minuscule minority”), the problem of representativity only arises if the allotted body has the power of policy initiation and advocacy (on account of the random [in the bad sense] nature of policy proposals and the inevitable imbalance of individual speech acts). If the allotted body is limited to an aggregate judgment role then it would be (descriptively) representative, as it’s decisions would be “the decisions that the whole polis would take, *if* the whole were to have the same opportunity”. (I don’t have any problem at all with the fact that the allotted sample becomes unrepresentative in that it is no longer ignorant, the problem is only to ensure that the information provided is well-balanced, and this cannot be left to happenstance.)

    This can be put to empirical test by setting up a number of parallel samples, providing them with the same agenda, information and advocacy and seeing if they come to the same decision. To my mind this would be sufficient to convince those who are not chosen “to believe”, especially if the legislative outcome was optimal epistemically ( i.e. they took the “right” decisions).

    The problem only arises if the allotted assembly has full powers, hence the need to retain elections (or direct initiative) for agenda setting and advocacy. This way everyone can get to choose the agenda and choose their advocates (or at least the majority do), but laws will only become enacted on the considered verdict of a representative sample.

    This strikes me as the optimal balance between the few and the many. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify all this as we do appear to have been talking past each other.


  39. Thanks again, Keith,

    I had questioned whether ‘the few’ really did apply to the judiciary. Your explanation clears that up.

    I wonder if my American colleagues have an opinion as to why the Senate (more ‘the few’ than the House) seems more prone to nuance and compromise than the putatively more ‘representative’ lower house?

    Fishkin’s work demonstrates the power of deliberation to modify extreme views. Those deliberative conclaves seem to show that even the ‘inevitable imbalance of individual speech acts’ do not negatively affect the sagacity of eventual decisions.
    Why, Keith, does that not mollify your concerns about a sortitioned legislature with full powers?
    (And regarding ‘ensur[ing] that the information provided is well-balanced’ … might it not be possible to institute a judicial mechanism to certify that?)


  40. When representatives are elected (either directly, or indirectly), one of the selection criteria is the rhetorical abilities of the candidates. Not so with descriptive representation; imagine how you would feel if “your” candidates (ie those with similar views and interests to yourself) failed to convey them in the deliberative exchange because they lacked the necessary persuasive powers. This is particularly problematic if the selection rules are quasi-manditory (as in jury service), as opposed to the self-selection involved with volunteers for deliberative assemblies. Habermasians aren’t too concerned about this problem, such is their faith in the forceless force of the better argument, but a legislative assembly involves the representation of interests as well — it would be naive to think that all members will be motivated just to seek the common good.

    >(And regarding ‘ensur[ing] that the information provided is well-balanced’ … might it not be possible to institute a judicial mechanism to certify that?)

    Absolutely. This is why the provision of information and advocacy cannot just be at the random whims of the allotted members.


  41. *** Theocracy and democracy are incompatible, as I said before. Those who think that the sharia is the voice of God will not accept the blasphemous idea that the people is sovereign, even a religious people ; and they will not accept the freedom of speech implied by democracy, which would mean the right of criticize the word of God. Except maybe if God himself would allow the right of criticizing – but this is not the God of the sharia proponents ! Keith says « democracy is possible in a strongly religious culture so long as balloting takes place in secret » ; we must add « if the sovereign people considers himself able to elaborate political decisions ».and « if any political subject can be freely criticized ». It is not something peculiar to democracy : in a kingly autocracy, if the king is cut from the flow of ideas and informations, even by his own will, or if he follows without deliberation the political advices of the religious authorities, the monarchy is void.
    *** Keith says : « In the ancient theory, the judiciary is a sub-category of the executive (that’s why the word “magistrate” is used for both roles) ». This is not right in ancient Greek democrat thought. The executive agents were « arkhai » (usually translated as « magistrates »); and the councillors, who had a part of executive power, were « arkhai » ; but neither the judges nor the legislators (in the second Athenian democracy) were « arkhai », and their rules were different.
    *** Keith says « the provision of information and advocacy cannot just be at the random whims of the allotted members. » Ok, there must be rules, and specialized institutions. But the alloted body must keep the right to consult the persons he believes useful, in addition.
    *** Keith speaks of « the checks and balances that have been sneeringly dismissed by radical advocates of dêmokratia on this forum as buttressing elite privileges. ». If the last word is said by let’s say a Supreme Court of elite affinities, we are not in true democracy. But the second Athenian democracy gives us a model of democratic « checks and balance ». I don’t say we must always copy a political system operating in such a different context ; but we must take the idea.
    *** Keith speaks of « the likely reaction of those who are disenfranchised by the allotment process ». I note that in ancient political theory (democrat or anti-democrat) I do not remember any example of the idea that political lottery creates « disenfranchised » citizens. Everywhere lottery is seen as the paramount of political equality (a good thing for democrats, a bad thing for anti-democrats). And in contemporary societies people are getting more and more acquainted with the concept of « representative sample », therefore they can accept sortition even with a small probability of being sorted. Actually anyway this probability would not be so small in a modern « dêmokratia » with specialized agencies and a system of checks and balances.


  42. Thanks Andre, very illuminating, as always.

    You’ve convinced me regarding the impossibility of a theocratic democracy.

    Regarding the identity of judiciary/executive instead of “ancient” world I should have said “pre-modern” (or even early-modern) as I was referring to the age of kingship, not dêmokratia.

    >But the alloted body must keep the right to consult the persons he believes useful, in addition.

    Fair point, so long as the baseline is balanced advocacy. You reference the allotted body with the single-person pronoun, which I think is right because it is a single corporate body and we should not give credence to the speech acts of the individuals that comprise it (in order not to compromise its representativity). This makes it problematic when it comes to expressing a volition, but I imagine that could be overcome (although I’m not sure how!)

    I’d be interested to learn more about the checks and balances introduced by the second democracy.

    I agree that ancient democracies would not have viewed the lot as disenfranchising as a) there was a good chance that most citizens could participate at some time and b) there was much greater similarity between citizens than in modern multicultural societies. I agree that more and more people in modern socities are becoming acquainted with the notion of representative sample (any cook who stirs and samples a soup would understand it). But the acceptance of sortition as a legitimate democratic mechanism presupposes that each sample should represent the whole in a similar way, and I am still awaiting an explanation as to how two allotted samples that came to opposite conclusions on the same issue could continue to claim to represent the entire citizen body. Having a portrait in miniature that looks like America is all very well, but it also needs to act like America. To my mind this imposes a (strict) limit on what an allotted body can and cannot do.


  43. Andre,

    PS I should have added that accurate representation would not have been an issue for ancient dêmokratia, owing to the Aristotelian principle of rule and be rule in turn (references to representation are almost absent in the literature from the classical period). But it is a serious problem for a large modern dêmokratia, hence the paramount need to ensure *consistency of legislative output between different concurrent samples*. I’m afraid this principle must trump epistemic factors, given the privileging of equality as the democratic ubernorm. I acknowledge, of course, that reserving the right of initiative and advocacy to cognitive elites is antithetical to this principle, hence the need to ensure balanced information input. This might be referred to as “vector” equality (for every +5, there should be a -5). Random sampling per se would not have the same balancing effect (unless the sample were huge), so legitimising the speech acts of individuals (ie the third person plural pronoun, as opposed to your preference for the singular) would compromise equality.

    I really do wish someone would refute this argument, to put me out of my misery! Yoram describes it as “irrelevant” and Terry’s concerns are primarily epistemic, but Andre has scrupulously addressed my every objection, so I eagerly await his response. If anyone can prove me wrong over this then I’ll happily go away and tend to my back garden.


  44. Interesting phrase, Keith: “…privileging of equality as the democratic ubernorm.’ I recall a scene written by Kurt Vonnegut in which all members of a society must carry a weight of handicap to equalize their physical capacity. That was not a critique of democracy but rather of socialism. (And even brings us, slightly, back to the original topic of this thread!)

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned emergence theory. I’ve considered sortitional selection as a sort of hyped-up Darwinian ‘evolution of ubuntu’. Ha, if that isn’t a mix! Typical of a mongrel American. [Ubuntu (Bantu) = We are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am.]

    More stirring of the soup dissolves those lumps of ‘The One’ and ‘The Few’. The full flavor, then, ’emerges’ in every spoonful.

    And with that kind of determinism, we all can go back to our gardens.


  45. Keith,

    Perhaps my lack of concern about the repeatability of decisions by different allotted groups is simply because I think the law of large numbers will allow a sortition system to be self-corrrecting over time….If one assembly goes too far in one direction, and the next assembly will probably move back in the other direction. Just as “you can’t wade into the same stream twice…the water having moved on.” Any REPRESENTATIVE system will only provide a snapshot of the public will. If one held elections for a legislature on one day, and elected a second legislature the SAME DAY, there is no assurance at all they would make the same policy decisions, right? Even a single elected body might make different decisions if the vote is taken a week apart. Why must you have such a higher standard of repeatability for different allotted legislatures than anyone expects of existing elected “democracies?” By avoiding elite domination, and limiting corruption, while maximizing descriptive representation, we get FAR more representative representation in EACH allotted body, even if they would differ one from another.


  46. David

    Ubuntu — what a wonderful phrase! I did some work on emergence theory when I was editing the Journal of Consciousness Studies some years ago. It struck me at the time that the doctrine that conscious experience simply “emerges” from a lump of protoplasm was nothing short of belief in magic, and I’m inclined to think the same applies to the problem of democratic equality in a full-mandate sortition system. No amount of stirring will overcome the fact that some are a lot more vocal, persuasive and eloquent than others.


    Anticipating your reply I phrased the challenge very carefully: *consistency of legislative output between different CONCURRENT samples*. The problem is the perception of legitimacy amongst those (the vast majority) who don’t participate directly. Whatever the flaws of electoral democracy (elite manipulation, social-choice impossibility theorems, rational ignorance — the list goes on endlessly), the fact remains that in a free and fair election those with the most votes get to have it their way and, in the absence of hanging chads, those with the least votes don’t. If the replacement is to be sortition then we need a direct analogue. If it’s the case that the vast majority of concurrent samples would, with the benefit of identical advocacy, judge in the same way, then who could possibly object? It would be just like elections but with a well-informed and uncorrupted electorate. But if the experiment were done and different concurrent ACs returned different verdicts, then how could anyone claim that the system was representative? The result, as Andrew Sullivan put it in the piece I cited earlier, would be civil war. As for self-correcting in the long run, unfortunately, as Keynes put it, in the long run we’re all dead. I accept fully that public opinion will change over time but assume that informed opinion would be reasonably constant from a.m. to p.m.

    This would all be very easy to test experimentally. Indeed, in order to ensure legitimacy it would be best if the first ACs were run in parallel, with advocates commuting from one to the other. The votes could be kept private for a few days until all ACs had returned their verdict. My hunch is that most citizens would consider this a legitimate democratic decision process.

    So, thanks to both for trying, but it looks like I won’t get to tend my garden any time soon!


  47. P.S. On the topic of a full-mandate AC seeking out its own information/advocates, it’s a little fanciful to imagine that powerful interests (including the media) will just sit in their offices waiting for the phone to ring. Leaving aside the potential for corruption (bribing individual members of the AC to solicit their advocacy), one can imagine newspapers obligingly producing 8-page pull-out supplements providing “impartial” (i.e. highly-biased) information in order to help the AC in their deliberations. The only way to protect the AC from such biased advocacy is for members to deliberate in camera and prohibit them from reading newspapers and watching TV. This would be unacceptable in terms of the need for public debate in a democracy.

    A good example of the alternative that I suggest (impartiality via a balance of pro- and anti- advocates) is the proposed referendum on Britain and the UK. I currently have a proposal doing the rounds (so far mentioned in the Sunday TImes and the Spectator) to replace the referendum with an adversarial public enquiry with the binding verdict delivered by a 501-strong randomly-selected jury. Umbrella organisations already exist for the pro- and anti- camp and these would provide the information and advocacy for the enquiry. The whole thing would be televised live so the media and competing interest groups could watch it carefully for any signs of bias. This already happens in that media-watch groups monitor the output of the BBC for evidence of bias on certain issues. Recent examples of public enquiries (Hutton and Leveson) were marred by two features: 1) lack of opposition advocates to cross-examine witnesses and 2) lack of a jury to determine the outcome. If this can work for a simple up/down decision (in or out of the EU), in principle it would work for other legislative acts as in the end a bill wins or loses on the vote tally.


  48. PPS David’s response reminded me of the need to take a hard-headed approach when designing political institutions. When challenged, Habermasians insist that deliberative democracy is really just a set of norms (approximation to the ideal speech situation) and I’ve never heard of a deliberative assembly with legislative powers or (with the possible exception of the DP) that claims to represent the considered view of the entire citizen body, so there is less need to protect against wishful thinking (confusing normative aspirations with empirical reality). Perhaps ubuntu is the reality of Bantu society, but it’s not really an accurate description of the way most of us live — if only it were! Rousseau would have argued that it was essential “We are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am”; and perhaps this is also a precondition of representativity in Yoram’s schema.


  49. Keith Sutherland considers as a very important issue the possible lack of *consistency of legislative output between different CONCURRENT samples*.
    I think we must consider the point from two sides
    *** As a theme which could prevent people to lean to the model of « democracy through sortition » I said in a previous comment (July 29, 7 :25) that the risk is very low due to current intellectual attitudes about randomness; furthermore Terry Bouricius very rightly said (August 8, 12 :49) « Why must you have such a higher standard of repeatability for different allotted legislatures than anyone expects of existing elected “democracies?” ». I will add the example of the supposed US “representative democracy” : the US people is represented by the President, the House of Representatives, the Senate ; with poor repeatability !
    *** As a theoretical problem – and a problem which could be brought strongly to public consciousness once a democracy-through-sortition established – we must acknowledge this is an important issue.
    *** This issue has two sides : the lack of repeatability implies a randomness which is difficult to accept on important decisions ; and, as Keith justly argues, the lack of repeatability could result from the random presence of rhetorically able persons in the alloted bodies ; as rhetorical ability can be statistically linked to socio-cultural class or ethnic heritage, democracy-through-sortition could be charged with covering class or ethnic domination.
    *** Keith rightly says that the issue « would be very easy to test experimentally. » But, beware, for a given society and for a given field. Specially, the lack of repeatability linked to the presence in the citizen juries of members of the cultural elite could be very different for different fields.
    *** Once the experiments carried, a newly established « democracy-through-sortition » could devise the system of « citizen juries » able to keep the randomness to a low level, by the size of the citizen juries, by possibly parallel juries, by a good system of information and advocacy.
    *** I dont’say we must target « zero level »of randomness, because it is impossible to get. Actually any political system includes some randomness – the problem of a modern dêmokratia would be that its specific randomness can be evaluated from statistical analysis …


  50. Thanks Andre, I think we are in broad agreement on most of this. I’m certainly not proposing zero randomness, merely arguing that for the system to be representative it wouldn’t matter which empirical sample is taken — the result should be the same (subject to a small threshold of tolerance). Note that I’m not specifying consistency between domains — it’s perfectly possible for allotted assemblies to return liberal judgments on (say) fiscal matters and conservative ones on social issues. And these crude categories can be subdivided infinitely, the important criterion being that the allotted samples should represent the informed judgment of the whole citizen body (which requires no consistency between domains). However:

    >the US people is represented by the President, the House of Representatives, the Senate ; with poor repeatability !

    In all three cases the representatives were democratically selected. If voters choose to return a democratic president and a republican House then, although this is inconsistent, that was their choice (and they ended up with the government that they deserve).

    Not so with inconsistency in a randomly-selected sample. We need to consider this problem from the perspective of the vast majority of citizens, who would be disenfranchised by a sortive democracy. This is the reason why a much higher consistency standard applies to allotted rather than elected representation. Given that multiple Deliberative Polls — where Habermas-style open deliberation is already minimal — have returned inconsistent judgments, this would suggest that, if consistency is paramount, the role of the allotted chamber would need to be limited to judgment only (plus a “good” [ie consistent] system of information and advocacy). It would be easy to test experimentally what level of active deliberation is compatible with consistent outcome.

    So it looks like my garden will have to remain in its current state of neglected wilderness (until Yoram breaks his Trappist silence and persuades us all why consistency in legislative output is “irrelevant”).


  51. Keith,

    In defending the inconsistency of electoral :democracies, you wrote:
    “In all three cases the representatives were democratically selected. If voters choose to return a democratic president and a republican House then, although this is inconsistent, that was their choice…”

    This is a stretch. The list of winners is not primarily a “choice” of the voters, but far more dependent on the decision of a handful of potential candidates and “king-maker” campaign funders, combined with gerrymandered districts, winner-take-all plurality voting rules, etc.

    The decisions of elected governments are not “random” in the sense that they could be anything, but they are random-ish as compared to the preferences of the voters (they have tenuous at best control over the policies of their elected government…and if the election were duplicated with different candidates and different gerrymandered districts, then outcome from each elected body would not be repeatable.


  52. Terry,

    I have no wish to defend existing electoral practices, and agree that they are far from perfect, for all the reasons that you provide. However, it is the case that voters have *some* influence on the outcome and have a mechanism (albeit imperfect) that enables them to register a preference. Not so in an allotted democracy, where the vast majority of citizens would be completely disenfranchised. This is why it’s imperative to ensure (synchronic) repeatability as this would be the *only* way of allowing the disenfranchised a say in the political process, as it would make no difference whether or not an individual citizen attended in person, the aggregated outcome would be the same. Most people would accept this as a fair way of implementing the rule of the majority.

    The position that I am seeking to challenge is the doctrine that the interests of “the masses” are automatically guaranteed by allotment. Not so if the AC has a mandate for individual speech acts. Multiple Deliberative Polls, where the mandate is constrained, deliver inconsistent outcomes, so this would suggest that very strict conditions are required in order to ensure consistent outcomes between different samples of the same population. Outcome variations would be viewed in the same light as rigged elections in Zimbabwe etc. Whatever the failures of “free and fair elections”, they do ensure political stability.

    I accept that this will reduce the cognitive-diversity potential of random selection, and agree with you that policy panels might well be a valuable way of setting the agenda, but this would be at an earlier stage in the political process. Our concern here is the final decision panels and I was under the impression we were in agreement on this.


  53. By way of clarification: in theory electoral democracy has the potential to give the (majority of) voters control over policy, as anyone can start a new political party and stand for election. Of course this is not true in practice but most of the abuses that you mention could, at least, be ameliorated. But, however large the gap between theory and practice, every voter at least has some power to influence events, even if infinitesimally small.

    Not so with sortition: a body that looks like America will only act like America if the input of each individual has the same weight, and this is only true in the case of voting. It’s hard to imagine the (highly illiberal) educational policies required to equalise the illocutionary weight of each individual and to ensure that they are all well informed (or know who to turn to for balanced information).* To claim otherwise requires a mystical faith in emergence (or the quasi-Marxist belief that the interests of each of the members drawn from the 99% are identical.)

    * Organisations like the BBC who are required to be impartial have been shown to be highly biased (Latham, 2013). The best (only?) way to ensure balanced information is the dialectical advocacy process.

    Oliver Latham, Bias at the Beeb? A Quantitative Study of Slant in BBC Online Reporting (2013, London: Centre for Policy Studies).


  54. Might it be said that ’emergence’ is the rationalist version of predestination?

    In which case we all ought to be gardening. (How many aphids on a broccoli crown?)


  55. *** Keith Sutherland says that accurate representation was not an issue for ancient dêmokratia. This is said in relationship with randomness and repeatability of citizen juries decisions.
    *** Sure, the ancient Greeks did not have clear ideas about « representative sample », or, actually, about « randomness». Rational understanding of probability began only in the seventieth century in some circles of Western thinkers. Therefore the ancient democrats did not have clear ideas about statistical representation. But they had an intuitive trust that big samples will be more or less representative. In the second Athenian democracy citizen juries, either legislative or judicial (including « judicial review » of decrees and laws) had a big political role, and apparently few persons were afraid that the decisions of these juries would be random due to the lottery device. This for juries with typical sizes of 201 or 501 jurors.
    Should the Athenian people have had no minimal trust in the repeatability of juries, they coud not have accepted this system.
    *** The size of the jury could be increased if the issue was very important ; this idea is related to an intuitive idea of the statistical effect of wide numbers (even if the big size can be justified, too, by decreasing the possibility of corruption)
    *** I remember only a comment about the hazards of political lottery. Isocrates (Areopagiticus, 23) says (transl. Norlin) that election « was also more democratic than the casting of lots, since under the plan of election by lot chance would decide the issue and the partizans of oligarchy would often get the offices; whereas under the plan of selecting the worthiest men, the people would have in their hands the power to choose those who were most attached to the existing constitution ». But we must note that Isocrates was spoking only of « offices » (in the Greek text « arkhai »), which did not include legislative and judicial juries, and which (excepting the very special case of the Council) corresponded to small bodies usually of ten ; and even in some cases to single individuals. Isocrates criticism is therefore limited, and implicitly acknowledges the protective role of large numbers for judicial and legislative juries.
    *** Note that actually Isocrates was against dêmokratia and favored a political model quite akin to « modern electoral democracy ». « True democrats » must have not taken his criticism seriously. For « offices » where wide numbers did not give guarantee, the procedure of dokimasia allowed to exclude people of oligarchic tendancies.
    *** Anyway it is probable that the Athenians, as many people nowadays, did underestimate the risks of « random drift » of an alloted sample.


  56. Andre

    It’s certainly the case that legislative juries were introduced for the sake of consistency (as opposed to the fluctuating decisions of the assembly), but this was on account of procedural changes (Heliastic oath, balanced advocacy and the secret vote). If the procedure in the juries had been the same as in the assembly then the outcome would have been just as random. The move to legislative juries cannot have had anything to do with improving (statistical) representation as the numbers involved in the assembly were far larger. If repeatability is the criterion, then it is those (restrictive) procedures that we should seek to emulate.

    Apart from instances of thorubos (disorder), the role of the jury was entirely passive. This has puzzled modern commentators, some of whom have claimed that the juries were democratic on account of, rather than despite, the heckling (Bers, 1985).

    Does any of the literature from the classical age explain exactly why large juries were used for important cases? I’m a little concerned of the danger of anachronism (assuming it had to do with an intuitive idea of the law of large numbers). In any event the centripetal forces were a lot more powerful than the centrifugal ones, so accurate representation would have been less of an issue than in large modern states.

    >How many aphids on a broccoli crown?

    And (agreeing that emergence is the modern equivalent of predestination) how many angels on the head of a pin?


    Victor Bers, Dikastic Thorubos, in P. Cartledge and D. Harvey (eds), Crux: Essays presented to GEM de Ste Croix on his 75th birthday (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 1985), pp. 1-15.


  57. Some answers to Keith Sutherland
    *** Keith says: “the role of the (Athenian) jury was entirely passive” Right. It was the inescapable result of the big size of the jury. 12 men can discuss, 501 men cannot. But small size destroys representativity, and gives an excessive role to chance (and to corruption). In our “electronic times” we can get out of the dilemma, by using a string of small juries linked by telecommunication.
    *** Keith says: “The move to legislative juries cannot have had anything to do with improving (statistical) representation”. I never said that! The move was certainly intended to have a legislation more stable and more thoroughly thought; in combination with the “action for illegality”, graphê para nomôn, it established the “rule of law”. What I said, it is “Should the Athenian people have had no minimal trust in the repeatability of juries, they coud not have accepted this system”.
    *** Keith asks: “Does any of the literature from the classical age explain exactly why large juries were used for important cases? I’m a little concerned of the danger of anachronism (assuming it had to do with an intuitive idea of the law of large numbers).” Very interesting question, but I don’t know any clear text about the subject. The role of chance is very rarely considered. I quoted Isocrates who seems implicitly considering chance only for the small executive colleges, or unipersonal political offices as archons. Lysias (Speech 26, On the scrutiny of Evandros §11) argues that Evandros must be forbidden to become archon, and says the problem would be much lesser for an office in the Council of 500 where the other councillors would prevent him to do any wrong. This is a statistical consideration, but far from a general thought about statistical representativity. It would be anachronistic to suppose among the Greeks any clear concept of representative sample; but it seems to me that the system of the second Athenian democracy implies some kind of intuitive idea of the law of large numbers, as apparently nobody feared a chance drift in the large juries.
    *** Note that in Athens the fear of corruption is an argument for large juries. This fear is specially understandable in a dêmokratia where very poor people, some at the subsistence limit, had a real part in the sovereign power. But if we can corrupt a jury of 201, we can corrupt a jury of 501, I think …
    *** Keith says: “In any event the centripetal forces were a lot more powerful than the centrifugal ones, so accurate representation would have been less of an issue than in large modern states”. As I said earlier the homogeneity of the ancient democratic polis was largely mythic, and when some degree of melting was got, it was the result of the political system and of a voluntarist policy. Besides, it is strange to say that accurate representation was not a real issue in ancient democracies, whereas it was an obsessional concern, specially in relationship with the pay for public offices. The rightist thinkers were strongly against it, because it led to overrepresentation of the urban poor, whereas its cancellation would have led to their underrepresentation.


  58. Thanks Andre, I’m persuaded by most of your arguments (although I still don’t think Athens was a multicultural society and certainly not a liberal one). Leaving that aside, the only substantive issue that divides us is your argument for juries to have an active deliberative role:

    “12 men can discuss, 501 men cannot. But small size destroys representativity, and gives an excessive role to chance (and to corruption). In our “electronic times” we can get out of the dilemma, by using a string of small juries linked by telecommunication.”

    I don’t understand how a networked system of small juries will help. The fact remains that the speech acts of some people are more persuasive than others and this destroys statistical representativity. Fishkin’s DP small groups require professionally-trained moderators to improve illocutionary parity and this would be ruled out for a legislative assembly on account of the quis custodiet? problem. Trial juries only deliberate in order to achieve consensus, which is neither necessary or desirable in the case of political judgment. We both agree that the 4th-century legislative courts (where juries didn’t deliberate and voted in secret) worked well, so why not model a modern system on something with a proven record?


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