2013 review – sortition-related events

Ahmed Teleb suggested the following as the most noteworthy sortition-related events of 2013:

  • the publication of Hélène Landemore’s book, Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many, which has a section called “Elections versus Random Selection”:

    Random lotteries would indeed produce what is known as ‘descriptive representation’ of the people […] ensuring statistical similarity of thoughts and preferences of the rulers and the ruled.” (p. 108),


  • what was described as the demise of the crowd-sourced constitution in Iceland:

    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,

    although others thought that the failure of the “pots and pans revolution” occurred much earlier and for much more systemic reasons.

Terry Bouricious thought 2013 saw sortition entering mainstream political discourse in Belgium with

  • Belgian MP Laurent Louis offering sortition to the Belgian parliament (and joining forces with Etienne Chouard)

    We realize today, based on the experience of 200 years of elections, that the grand myth of elections and the idea that ​​universal suffrage is emancipatory do not fulfill their promises. The elective system creates corruption, lies, formation of castes and other abuses against which it is impossible to fight, because they are in inherent in the mechanisms of elections, except in establishing another method for the selection of those who make the laws, namely sortition among the citizens.

    and with

  • the publication of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections presenting

    a clear argument that sortition is an effective way to revitalize what has become an impotent democracy to involve the citizens in what concerns us as a society.

Thank you Ahmed and Terry for your suggestions. Happy new year and best wishes to all!

22 Responses

  1. Ahmed,

    Hélène has written a great book, but it has little to do with sortition (or, for that matter, with democracy). Her concerns are purely epistemic outcomes (technical fixes, in Terry’s language) rather than the intrinsic normative case for democratic equality. Notwithstanding footnote 23 on page 112, her case for the emergence of the “right” answer from group dynamics is pretty thin. In her prime example (the New Haven citizen watch group) it only required two people to come up with the fix solar-powered lighting proposal, assuming that a city hall official came up with the suggesting for tapping in to Federal environmental initiative funding. Given that most randomly-selected people would have no particular ideas to contribute to problems that they had little direct knowledge of, a much more efficient way of coming up with suggestions for technological fixes would be crowd-sourcing, e-petitions, volunteer-based e-conferences or awarding a cash award for the best solution (think Longitude for example). Surowiecki’s book opens with just such a case, a prize competition to guess the dressed weight of an ox at a country fair. Needless to say the committee that judged the entries and awarded the prize would need to be selected at random.

    The unique case for sortition is democratic equality — there is no other way of establishing accurate statistical representation (necessary in large widely distributed poleis) other than sortition. This is the one thing that Yoram, Campbell and myself agree completely on, but seems of little interest to Ahmed and Terry. Landemore is very much in the latter camp, as she is concerned about the possibility of “disruptive value diversity” introduced by sortition (p.110) and her primary objection to the oversampling of cognitively diverse populations is that it is “impractical and undesirable” (ibid.). This is entirely on account of the unpredictability of politics (we don’t know what problems will come up so don’t know which populations to oversample), she nowhere expresses traditional normative concerns about fair representation and democratic equality. A book on sortition would have been entitled Democratic Equality not Democratic Reason — the section of Helene’s book on Election versus Random Selection is just a bolt-on to a book on the epistemic merits of cognitive diversity. It has nothing to do with the democratic case for sortition (the principal subject matter of this blog).


  2. Dear sortitionists,

    Without bragging I might add my book ‘All power to the people! Democratic extremism in theory and practice’, which was published by Routledge (London) in November and contains a chapter on sortitionist democracy.

    Paul Lucardie


  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks – sounds very interesting. Why did you keep this a secret?

    Any chance you could post the introduction to the book or a summary of the chapter about sortition or some other synopsis?

    (The entire book seems very interesting from the table of contents as I see it on Amazon and I’d love to read it, but why is it priced at over $100?)


  4. Paul,

    Great to see the book is out now — shame it’s so expensive (although I’ve just bought your series editor Roger Eatwell’s complimentary copy that he was flogging off on Amazon Marketplace for £25!) How about posting an article on this blog about your Aleatoria chapter? Need to send it in to Yoram.



  5. Yoram,
    To clarify, my suggestions were meant as “sortition-related events.” I make no claim to know what “the most noteworthy” events were. I also thought Adam Scarborough’s campaign was interesting though I don’t know what has come out of it: http://sortition.tumblr.com/

    Thanks for initiating this threat and a happy new year to you too!



  6. Keith, H.L.’s book represents the increasing main stream acceptance of sortition as a democratic reform. I won’t make any comments on the book’s arguments here.


  7. Here is a talk about a city that began with a sortition like land lottery, and where it ended up:


  8. Hi John,

    Thanks for the link. I believe that the lottery was quite a common technique to distribute land during the initial European colonization of what is now the U.S. It was also used for the initial land distribution in the city I live in – Tel Aviv. Of course, in all those cases not everybody was in the lottery pool.


  9. Here’s another new book about the use of minipublics. I do not anything about besides what’s on this page: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-1-907301-32-2/deliberative-minipublics


  10. Hi Yoram (and Keith)

    Thanks for your reactions (and happy New Year to you). I agree, the price of my book is outrageous, I should have negotiated with Routledge but did not think about it until it was too late. I will soon send a summary of the chapter on sortition and/or excerpts from the concluding chapter.

    Paul Lucardie


  11. Great. PS I am now a proud possessor of a Roger Eatwell bootleg copy. It seems he has a pile of them because he’s still selling them on Amazon.co.uk for £25.00. Let’s hope Routledge don’t notice!


  12. Great – looking forward to reading your work, Paul.


  13. Because I wrote a short journalism piece about it, I can now give a summary outline:
    1) Belgian Youth Conference Decree
    2) Laurent Louis’s video address and the vote taken (against his proposal)
    3) David Van Reybrouck’s “Against Elections”
    4) Helene Landemore’s “Democratic Reason”
    5) Jon Elster’s “Securities Against Misrule”
    6) Paul Lucardie’s book
    7) The continuing viral Chouard groups

    I attempt to tie most of this together and back to Manin, Burnheim, and Atlee here: http://filasophia.com/2014/01/24/new-french/


  14. […] in the past years (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and […]


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