A theory of sortition, part 1 of 2


In his Introduction to A Citizen Legislature by Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips, Peter Stone commends the authors for doing “an excellent job of presenting the idea of a representative House — a House that will truly be “of the people” — as an inspiring piece of democratic reform.” On the other hand, such inspiring presentation does not meet the philosopher’s standard of a good argument: “Their [C&P’s] efforts to defend their proposal, however, have a number of shortcomings.”

Stone rejects the implied argument that descriptive representation is a desirable end. Descriptive representation is a means, not an end, Stone argues: “descriptive representation is desirable because — and only to the extent that — it contributes to the goal of good lawmaking.” And while some may reject this point of view, and argue that the symbolism of microcosm is indeed an end in itself, I think that would be an evasion of the main point. The essential function of government is to generate good policy – i.e., policy that promotes the interests of the population – and, as Stone asserts, sortition is a useful tool if and only if it can be expected to produce a government that generates good policy. (By “interests” I mean to encompass whatever a person, or a group of people, perceive, upon informed and considered reflection, as important or desirable.)

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