Elect leaders by lottery suggests David Van Reybrouck

The Soapbox feature on BBC2 Daily Politics was today (29/10/2014) handed to Dutch historian David Van Reybrouck.

Electing leaders via a lottery may be a crazy idea, but it is being carried out now in parts of Europe, says a Belgian author and academic. David Van Reybrouck said with trust in politicians at a record low, and party memberships and the number of voters falling, it could be an idea to renew interest in politics again. He said lotteries have been a longer-standing tool of democracy than elections, which he claims could be an “obstacle to democracy”, and only been around for 200 years.

Full version with Q&A starting at 01:16:45. Truncated YouTube version.

14 Responses

  1. Says full version not playable outside UK.


  2. Yes, that’s the problem with the BBC iPlayer licence. The discussion didn’t add anything much of value.


  3. Reblogged this on Citizen Participation Network.


  4. The Q&A session showed how difficult it is to present an argument for sortition in under 3 minutes. But I think David made his task more difficult by using words that could be taken to suggest (although this is not his view) that lotteries were an (either/or) alternative to elections (hence the misleading title of this piece) and for saying at the end that “the right to vote should be supplemented by the right to speak”. Given that sortition can only give this opportunity to a tiny number of people (and sortition was not used to establish isegoria in Athens [this was a right of all citizens in the assembly]) this is clearly misleading. In the Q&A David spent some time discussing Fishkin’s Texas utility DP, but this is not an example of the right to speak, it’s an illustration of the ability of a well-informed microcosm to express a considered and representative judgment. I think this would be more sympathetically received than a proposal to “elect leaders by lottery”. David is not actually proposing this, but his emphasis on the right to speak could be interpreted in such a way (as leaders do a lot of speaking). The DP, by contrast, focuses on the right to listen carefully and make a considered judgment and this was the reason the Athenians introduced the legislative courts.


  5. You wrote, “The Q&A session showed how difficult it is to present an argument for sortition in under 3 minutes.”

    Do you – or does anybody who might be reading this – have good examples of such a summary?


  6. The problem is there could be no single summary as those arguing for the blind break and the invisible hand have different priorities (and within the latter camp there are disagreements as to the mandate that an allotted chamber should have and to whether sortition should supplement or replace election). But I think we all agree that we don’t want to elect leaders by lot — that’s why I was concerned by David’s concluding remark which possibly led to the misleading headline on the BBC website.


  7. Subtitled French documentary about real democracy and sortition! Please share! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYYR0tfcSQs


  8. David > “Do you – or does anybody who might be reading this – have good examples of such a summary?”

    Here is my suggestion for a summary which I call Demarchy 101 V1.0. Comments?

    Imagine a decision making body that is the statistical mirror image of the voting population – 50% women and a representative percentage of age groups, minorities, occupations, levels of wealth, religious and non-religious beliefs and political views. Use the same fitness and eligibility rules as jury selection.

    Now imagine that body is tasked with reviewing all legislation put forward by the relevant elected body or bodies. The randomly selected members would hear relevant evidence from scientific experts as well as input (sometimes scientific evidence, sometimes perhaps not so much) from other directly affected parties. The demarchic body could approve the bill with a simple 50% + 1 majority.

    Non-approved bills would be returned with recommended improvements that would allow the demarchic body to approve it. An impasse would be resolved by a second and final demarchic vote requiring a 60% majority. Failing that threshold the elected body would be free to pass the controversial legislation. If the 60% threshold is achieved, the elected body would have to go back to work on the bill.

    Over time the demarchic body might prove more efficient and effective leading to the dissolution of the now redundant elected bodies.


  9. I can certainly live with that, though phrases like “relevant evidence from scientific experts” and “other directly affected parties” might be difficult to operationalise from a democratic perspective.


  10. It is not difficult to present a case for sortition in 3 minutes, but it is difficult to present this case in any length of time if you are unwilling to question the foundations of the existing electoralist system. This segment shows the weakness of van Reybrouk’s timid approach. Since he is unable to present a clear agenda he is easily dismissed by the established powers.


  11. Kejamo presented a very clear agenda without questioning the foundations of electoralism (or he would have done if he had omitted the last paragraph). Clarity merely requires that the project be well thought out — if the intention is to supplement election with sortition then the distinct roles of each body have to be clearly mapped. David’s proposal was a lot more vague — the need for the people to have an ongoing voice in between elections. But if we don’t want to be dismissed by the established powers we would be well advised not to argue that they are going to be put out of a job by the people’s revolution.


  12. Great comment Keith. The last paragraph is not needed. Thanks for the feedback.


  13. […] Michael Schulson has published an article about sortition in The Daily Beast. Schulson’s presentation is short but hits several important notes. It is certainly a good candidate for being the proverbial good three-minute introduction to sortition. […]


  14. […] While Chouard’s more militant message seems to be limited to French media, Van Reybrouck’s softer message made it through the language barrier and was featured on the BBC. […]


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