Epistemic Democracy and Sortition

In order to spark a discussion of the significance or relevance of “epistemic democracy” to the use of randomly selected assemblies, juries, or other minipublics, I paste my (very positive) review of Democratic Reason. A short paper by David Estlund called “Introduction to Epistemic Approaches to Democracy” names at least four flavors of epistemic democracy. I believe Landemore’s is it’s “purest” form and therefore a good one to discuss.

How relevant or significant is the epistemic approach? How relevant or significant is the work on diversity and group decision making? How much does all this depend on empirical work not yet done by political scientists?

What empirical studies are out there that Kleroterians would recommend to other sortinistas and to the general public?

Review of Democratic Reason

This book follows the recent trend in democratic theory termed “epistemic democracy” in a novel way. Rather than relying on liberal philosophy or an analogy with science, it begins with results in mathematics, decision theory, psychology and cognitive science. It also mentions an evolutionary basis for the superiority of group decision making.
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Democracy for the USA

Bob Moore wrote to call attention to the website of Democracy for the USA – a new organization that advocates replacing elections with sortition. Democracy for the USA is based in Chicago and bills itself as an outgrowth of the Occupy Chicago movement aiming to rectify the deficiency of Occupy’s platform – the lack of a workable alternative to the electoral system.


The heart of democracy is the community meeting. Of course there are already neighborhood meetings, but these do not determine government policy; they are not effective instruments of popular power. In a democratic USA, by contrast, the people will exercise sovereign rule collectively through regular and frequent community meetings across the country. Unlike the political system now in place, there will be no bodies of politicians–a Congress, state legislatures, city councils–drafting our laws. There will be no lobbyists, no groups such as ALEC, usurping the process. Neither will there be a president, governors, or mayors directing the government. Instead, through Community Assemblies and Executive Councils staffed by ordinary citizens selected by lot, everyone will truly have an equal voice in policy-making and an equal opportunity of serving in government.

In essence it is really this simple. We will not get anywhere flailing away within the confines of the current political structures. We will be like rats running around in a maze, succeeding perhaps in making life a little less unbearable for some people in spots, but ultimately getting nowhere fast. In the meantime the earth will be consumed and we will find ourselves in a condition of serfdom or worse. We have no option: we have to make the necessary change from the current system to democracy.

The website links to Ted Aranda’s The Racket and the Answer, that is apparently based on his 2008 Ph.D. thesis.

Further Italian Discussion of Sortition

A second blog posting discussing the Kleroterians has appeared. It is at


and it focuses upon the workshop held in 2012 at Trinity College Dublin. Among other topics, it mentions an article from the Yale Law Journal that contrasts voting, lotteries, and rotation. Does anyone know which article is being referenced here?

Skin-in-the-game Argument: Citizen Warriors and Origins of Democracy

In First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea, Paul Woodruff argues that democracy became and remained the Athenian form of government for mainly two reasons:

1) It ended class warfare and created a harmonious community.

but perhaps more importantly,

2) It provided free citizen warriors (in the form of naval rowers) who identified with the state and were therefore willing to make sacrifices for it.

Woodruff says that if so many rowers were not needed for Athenian navies’ ships, elites may not have allowed the people (the many) to wield as much power as they did.

Being not at all a historian, I ask those who know more about ancient history to agree or disagree with the above assessment.

Did military need provide the conditions for democracy in Athens?

Does the state (or elites) today need something in exchange for genuine democracy?

What would today’s state (or elites) want from the people in return? Citizen consumers?

[I hope there is something less cynical than my last suggestion.]

Info Tech of Ancient Democracy

This is from a site that contains, among other things: idiosyncratic, vernacular reviews of “Dead Media”. In this case, the technology surrounding Athenian use of sortition. The author does so via a tour of the Agora Museum in Athens.


Typical of the 17-pages’ tone, early on:

(… this seems the proper place for a DISCLAIMER. To wit: I am neither a classicist nor an archaeologist, nor do I play one on television. Any speculations or flights of theorizing contained herein are worth approximately the scrap value of the electrons that convey them, and should not be cited in support of any statements more authoritative than dinner-party chatter. Assertions of fact, however, have to the best of my ability been checked against the documentary sources listed above, and may be taken as gospel.)

Italian Blog Discussion of the Kleroterians

An interesting blog discussion of the need for Italy to join the ranks of nations currently considering experiments in sortition:


Paul Lucardie: Democratic Extremism

Paul Lucardie sent the following excerpts from his new book ‘Democratic Extremism in Theory and Practice. All power to the people’ (London: Routledge, 2014).


Author’s comment: Democratic extremism may appear to be an oxymoron, as ‘democracy’ is usually associated with moderation, pluralism and tolerance. Yet one could also regard democratic extremism as the opposite of autocratic and aristocratic extremism: whereas the latter imply that all decisions are taken by a dictator, a class of landowners or perhaps (in a more modern variety) the Central Committee of a ruling Communist Party, the former means that all decisions are taken by the people and that a political elite does not play any significant role. Examples of extreme democracy are rare, as far as I could find out. More common are cases of what I would call radical democracy: not all decisions but most important decisions are taken by the people, some are left to a political elite. Even more common, however, are mixed regimes where most decisions are taken by an elected aristocracy (professional politicians) and some by the people. In fact most so-called representative democracies are, in my opinion, mixed regimes, if not elective aristocracies.
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The Youth Parliament of Belgium proposes sortition-based government

Commenter ee calls attention to the following.

The Youth Parliament of Belgium is a yearly conference of French-speaking youth in Belgium which is organized by the Parliament of the French Community in Belgium. Every year the Youth Parliament discusses four decrees that are proposed by four “ministers”. The Parliament decides whether to adopt or reject each of the decrees.

The 2013 Youth Parliament adopted a decree titled “Décret visant à réformer l’exercice du pouvoir des citoyens, de leurs assemblées et de leur gouvernement” (“Decree to reform the exercise of power of citizens, their assemblies and their government”), which, if I understand correctly, was authored by Pierre-Yves Ryckaert, a political activist.

The decree opens so (automated translation with my touch-ups):

After more than two hundred years of the representative parliamentary system, one thing is clear: this system which is supposed to derive its legitimacy from the consent of voters appears to create a structural and insidious monopolization of power by a class of professional politicians. The elite politician created by elections is bound to be limited to short-term policies, in a context where they are no longer sufficient to cope with the challenges of tomorrow. This led some citizens and elected officials to question the foundations of this system.
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Boyd Tonkin: We should fill at least some public offices by lottery

Commenter ee notes an article by Boyd Tonkin in The Independent in which Tonkin, after warming up to the issue of popular displeasure with the electoral system, writes:

Most of the sounder proposals to refresh faith in democracy invoke some kind of “deliberative” process. Informed citizens should, in this model, have the opportunity to take part in every link of the decision-making chain rather than simply issue a yes/no verdict at its finale. In practice, how might this noble notion work? Well, here’s one idea that has even less chance of rapid realisation than an 11 per cent pay hike for MPs. We should fill at least some public offices by lottery.

“Sortition”, or the allocation of civic duties by lot, has a distinguished history. If ancient Athens practised it to supply most rotating city offices, then everyone in modern Britain understands it – and almost all respect it. The jury system still commands near-universal consent. People know that jury service modifies the risks of pure “sortition”. It makes provision for reasonable refusal or deferment, for challenges on the grounds of competence or conduct, and above all for guidance from a corps of impartial professionals – in this case, judges. If qualified random selection allows us to send someone down (or not) for life, then why not to decide on speed bumps and swimming pools?
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Brandon Joyce on sortition

Commenter ee points to a couple of videos in which Brandon Joyce makes a presentation about sortition on Channel 9 WPDN Public Distribution Network in Kensington, Philadelphia, PA.

Joyce got to the idea of sortition by reading Rancière. He starts out by pointing out the aristocratic or oligarchical nature of elections. He then puts out up a list of advantages of sortition over elections:

  • Dispenses with elections, campaigns, campaign finance
  • Partially free us from “particratic” polarization, ideologies, loyalties
  • Results in a far more accurate representation of “We, the People.” (“Get politicians out of politics!”)
  • Engages and empowers populace
  • Mitigates the corruption of long-entrenched power an d political class (for a time, at least)

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