48 Responses

  1. The interesting thing about this conspiracy theory is the Apocalyptic figure of the Beast driving the whole complex. It looks as if our modern secular age has the same need to project its own flaws onto demonic figures as our biblical forebears. Yoram, what would be your understanding of the modern Satan? If it is “electoralism” then, if you lance this boil, will this also result in the overthrow of the whole military-industrial complex (and is that a good thing)?


  2. *** The Beast in this picture is clearly Mammon, with classic bovine features through identification with the Golden Calf.
    *** Beautiful picture, but erroneous analysis. The polyarchic system gives much influence to the money elite and to the “business” lobbies, but it does not give them total power. Although the political weight of these elements may vary widely from one country to another, I don’t think that there are many cases where polyarchy is near to ploutocracy; even in the USA which is the subject of the picture (well, I am not a USA expert).
    *** Any serious move towards democracy-through-minipublics will face strong forces, which will be not only in the money elite. Such a simplistic analysis would be a wrong guide for the supporters of modern dêmokratia.


  3. Yes, it clearly is the Beast that is being depicted — and theologians might well dispute whether this was a depiction of a moral flaw in human beings or Beelzebub himself. I was merely wondering why Yoram chose to post this image, as the “poly” in polyarchy indicates that it is an erroneous depiction of modern societies. But it would certainly explain the view that the Beast can be despatched with a single magic bullet (in this case sortition), a delusion that is common to all millenarian and apocalyptic visionaries.


  4. Andre,

    This image is – like any image – an abstraction, a metaphor. That said, I can’t think of a historical example which is a purer example of plutocracy than the electoralist system.

    To me what is missing in this image, like in much of the Left-wing critique of “bourgeois democracy”, is a convincing proposal for the mechanism – how plutocratic power is maintained. Without such a theory it is hard to move toward a solution.


  5. Yoram:

    >I can’t think of a historical example which is a purer example of plutocracy than the electoralist system.

    So is Syriza the exception that proves the rule? In the Greek case it’s the non-elected agents (IMF, ECB, EU commission etc) who are defending plutocracy against the elected Greek government. And if Syriza are the exception, then what about Podemos? And if Podemos, then what about right-wing populist parties like the Front National? It’s beginning to look like the connection between election and plutocracy is entirely contingent — an artefact (primarily) of the US political system.

    To put it another way, what if the modern Greeks had decided to adopt the sortition-based system of their fourth-century ancestors, but had still chosen to adopt a fiscal stance that led to bankruptcy? What difference would sortition have made? Or is “[sortition] in one country” not a viable option? Do you need an international revolution to overthrow the “business-electoral complex”?

    These are all serious questions, so I’d appreciate a reply.


  6. Sutherland,

    Your grasp of reality is comically idiotic. Trying to inform you is pointless since you have no interest in telling facts from dogma. You are an unrepentant habitual liar. I don’t know why other people on this site are willing to tolerate such behavior, but I am not.

    If anyone other than Sutherland thinks there is any validity to the arguments made above, I’d be happy to discuss.


  7. Goodness me. All of my sentences (apart from two) ended with a question mark — not normally taken to signify an argument, but clearly intended to elicit a substantive response (rather than a torrent of abuse).


  8. Really? “Dogma”? I half expected the word “sheeple” to be in that comment somewhere.

    I can’t speak for anyone else but I would appreciate a thoughtful reply.


  9. Naomi,

    > thoughtful reply

    Let’s start with the fact that Sutherland’s entire message has essentially nothing to do with the sentence he quoted from my reply to Andre. He doesn’t even attempt to offer an actual regime that is a better example of plutocracy than electoralism.

    Thus, what we are supposed to be discussing thoughtfully has nothing to do with what I wrote. We are supposed to be discussing the cliches Sutherland is regurgitating from mass media.

    If you really find this interesting, we can do that (as I wrote, “we” doesn’t include Sutherland) but let’s first either state clearly that you are ignoring the point I made or state clearly that you accept it. Let’s not pretend we are discussing something we are not. Such pretense is Sutherland’s standard modus operandi but it is not compatible with a productive discussion.

    Another point I would like to clear up before we get into substance is your stand regarding Sutherland’s unrepentant habitual lying. Do you accept that as a legitimate part of a conversation? (I am not talking about him having opinions I disagree with. I am talking about situations where he makes flatly false attributions, such as the one I linked to above.)


  10. Yoram:

    >“we” doesn’t include Sutherland

    I’m sorry, I thought this was a public forum, not a private fiefdom of the convenor. The cliche that I am regurgitating from the mass media is that this weekend’s events are best described as the crushing of the democratic will of the Greek people** by unelected bodies such as the IMF, ECB and EU Commission. These bodies are clearly plutocratic and linked to the European Union, a body routinely criticised by both political scientists and the media as suffering from a democratic deficit, so I don’t see how you can blame this particular crisis on “electoralism” without thereby aligning yourself with these three plutocratic (and unelected) bodies.

    ** An allusion to the crushing of the democratic will of the Czech people by the tanks of the Soviet Union in 1968. At the time this perspective was dismissed by some commentators on the hard left as a mass media cliche.


  11. *** To Yoram Gat I will object that there is no “ electoral system”. Election is a process, which may be found in different political systems, including the Second Athenian Democracy for managers of military and financial affairs. Representative-electoralism is specific. And it is only one side of the polyarchic system. Even the official political powers of polyarchies often include non-elected entities as Courts or “independent Central Banks”.
    *** Sure, the electoralist-representative idea is very important for the polyarchic system, as it gives it a strong part of its legitimacy. But we cannot reduce the polyarchic system to it.
    *** Keith Sutherland is perfectly right when he reminds us about the European institutions, which exhibit a notorious “deficit of democracy”, i-e a deficit of pseudo-democratic legitimacy through electoralist representation. We are here at an extreme point of polyarchy, where it dangerously reduces its pseudo-democratic legitimacy.
    *** Yoram writes (July 12) ”I can’t think of a historical example which is a purer example of plutocracy than the electoralist system”, meaning apparently our contemporary polyarchic system. Well, I will mention, in French history, the July Monarchy (1830-1848). There were representative elections, and all the contemporary phenomena about representative elections did already exist. But furthermore, the electoral franchise depended on the tax amount and was restricted to the richest fraction of the adult male population (it did vary, but between 1 and 3%); and the power of the upper money elite (bankers) was partly due to their links to the king, a new dynasty. The system was not polyarchic, as it excluded many social powers of the political game.
    *** One of the weak points of the July Monarchy was its lack of legitimacy. And it is, more generally, an intrinsic weak point of plutocracy, which explains that systems near pure plutocracy are rare.
    *** The upper money elite would dream of pure plutocracy, but practically it prefers polyarchy (drifting to authoritarian or totalitarian models in cases of extreme class warfare, real or feared). That does not mean that polyarchy is a disguise for plutocracy. The upper money elite has strong influence in polyarchy, but we cannot say it has absolute power. If France would be a plutocracy, the welfare system would be quickly destroyed.
    *** The culture elite in Western contemporary societies is different from the money elite, even if there is connection. And as an elite it will exhibit spontaneous hostility towards dêmokratia. We must be aware of that, and Yoram’s equation of polyarchy and plutocracy would lead us to neglect this point, erroneously.
    *** The probability of a mutation of a Western polyarchy to a modern dêmokratia is not nil, as for instance the culture elite is not homogeneous, with many elements, especially young ones, having jobs part-time, or unstable, or low-paid; their elite conscience is fighting with anti-Establishment bitterness, leaving space to autonomous thought, and to possible leanings towards dêmokratia. More generally, the advanced contemporary societies are complex ones, and from this complexity may arouse a chance of political mutation.


  12. Andre,

    >More generally, the advanced contemporary societies are complex ones, and from this complexity may arouse a chance of political mutation.

    Yes indeed, and I like your use of the term “mutation”. This is most likely in the case of legacy institutions that have no obvious functional or representative legitimacy, such as the upper house. This is why I think we need to take Naomi’s proposal on the parallel thread seriously. In her perspective a reborn Senate would cause the existing “electoralist” institutions, over time, to move to the dignified side of the constitution, “there to command the reverence of the population”, as Bagehot put it. Natural systems are inherently complex; simple, unitary systems being only of interest to engineers.


  13. *** Keith Sutherland asks (July 13): “ is “[sortition] in one country” not a viable option? Do you need an international revolution to overthrow the “business-electoral complex”?
    *** The reasonable answer to the first question is “it depends of the country”. If a democracy-through-minipublics would be established in Greece, I am afraid that the behavior of European powers would be even harsher. Maybe it would not be a good idea for a weak country to be vanguard in an democratic mutation. A democratic mutation in China would face many problems, I suppose, but external pressure would not be a major factor.
    *** Seeing Keith alluding to “an international revolution”, I think necessary to remind that in history we can see different kinds of political mutations. Some are part of a ”revolutionary” phenomenon, the “model” of which is the French Revolution. But there are many other kinds (look to the strange end of the Soviet State).
    *** Plato in the “Republic” describes dêmokratia as the result of a bloody revolution. Maybe it was often like that in ancient Greece. But at least the Athenian dêmokratia was not the result of such a “revolution”. In Athens a nobiliary feud, as there were many in Archaic Greece, resulted into a new system, through local factors and the intellectual presence of a new model. If the model of modern dêmokratia belongs to the political thought, it will make possible a mutation in cases of deep division between the dominating actors of a polyarchy.
    *** Such a mutation could depend on the world situation, considering the risk of external pressure; but likewise the political ideas landscape. If a modern dêmokratia is founded in a country big enough and modern enough, and if it works (even in an imperfect way), that will cause a tremendous change in the landscape of political thought everywhere, and heightens strongly the probability of political mutations of any kind leading to dêmokratia.
    *** What Naomi and Keith consider is an evolutionary mutation from polyarchy to dêmokratia, the mini-publics taking more and more place and gaining more and more legitimacy. It is a possible path, which implies that the dominating actors of polyarchy will be unable to unite and react efficiently. But other kinds of mutation might result into the same political system.


  14. Andre,

    The Stalin allusion was just part of my general (and highly successful) rhetorical strategy of winding Yoram up. But there is a serious point as to whether sortition will come about through an evolutionary mutation of current political arrangements or requires the sort of popular revolution that he has always called for. Your description of the introduction of demokratia in Athens as the result of a nobiliary feud is explicitly denied by Ober, from who (presumably) Yoram takes his cue.


  15. Andre,

    > Election is a process, which may be found in different political systems, including the Second Athenian Democracy for managers of military and financial affairs. Representative-electoralism is specific. And it is only one side of the polyarchic system. Even the official political powers of polyarchies often include non-elected entities as Courts or “independent Central Banks”.

    Elections are not merely one aspect of the Western system. They are its fundamental feature. In Athens elections had a limited role. Elections, together with Assembly resolutions, were the oligarchical element of the Athenian system, which was countered by the democratic element – the allotted Council and magistrate boards. In the Western system, elections are its pivot, with all other institutions dependent upon it.

    > the electoral franchise depended on the tax amount

    It is not clear to me that property-qualified franchise elections are inherently more plutocratic than universal franchise elections. For example, if the franchise becomes exclusive enough, it may be that the power of money within the electorate is mitigated due to its small size. In any case, the main effect in either system is the electoral effect so this is really neither here nor there. The interesting question is whether there is a non-electoralist system which is more plutocratic than an electoralist system.

    > Yoram’s equation of polyarchy and plutocracy

    My point is not that the Western system is equal to a pure plutocracy but that the latter is a powerful element of the former.


  16. Yoram:

    >It is not clear to me that property-qualified franchise elections are inherently more plutocratic than universal franchise elections. For example, if the franchise becomes exclusive enough, it may be that the power of money within the electorate is mitigated due to its small size.

    If the criterion for inclusion is wealth (property, tax amount), how would that be possible? I understood your model to be based on people pursuing their own interests, so if the franchise is restricted to the wealthy then public policy will be designed to further the interests of the wealthy.


  17. *** Keith Sutherland writes “the introduction of demokratia in Athens as the result of a nobiliary feud is explicitly denied by Ober”
    *** I followed Herodotus; but clearly the nobiliary feud was only one factor, the igniting one; that it resulted into dêmokratia implied other intellectual and social factors.
    *** Can Keith give me the reference of Ober’s article he mentions?


  18. Andre,

    This is a long-standing dispute between Hansen and Ober. Hansen takes the standard translation of Herodotus 5.66.2 — that Cleisthenes “took into his faction the ordinary people” — to indicate that the demokratia was the unintended consequence of the opportunistic behaviour of an aristocratic faction. Ober denies this, arguing that the events of 508/7 constituted a popular revolution. The key text is his The Athenian Revolution, Princeton, 1996.

    This dispute between historians is particularly relevant to recent exchanges on this forum: Naomi, Andre and Keith argue that sortition might well be introduced opportunistically, by means of an evolutionary mutation of existing democratic institutions, and that this could mean the political class ceding power accidentally. Yoram (who clearly sides with Ober) denies that this is possible, arguing instead for a popular revolution in which the masses rise up and overthrow their oppressors. If Yoram is right then our primary role is educational, to overthrow the false consciousness resulting from hundreds of years of indoctrination by “electoralist dogma” and there is no reason to worry about antagonising the existing polyarchy in the process.

    To my mind last week’s Greek referendum and its aftermath are of particular interest as the UK government are proposing having a referendum on our own relationship with the EU. But they run the risk that they will lose the referendum (ie a majority may vote to leave the EU) and why should people bother to vote if their democratic will is subsequently ignored (as was the case in Greece)? So replacing the EU referendum with a deliberative poll involving an allotted microcosm might well be of considerable interest — especially if advocacy rights are limited to the existing polyarchy.


  19. *** That the igniting factor in the Athenian democratic mutation was a nobiliary feud seems clear from Herodotus. Was there an element of “popular uprising” likewise? It is possible, and even at some extent probable. But it seems clear it was not a revolution along the French Revolution model, with intense class warfare and sequences of wholly unexpected events.
    *** I am not sure an evolutionary path from polyarchy to democracy-through-minipublics will be an easy thing, but it is a priori possible, and it must be tried.
    *** My point: there are many kinds of political mutations; we must not think in a binary mode, the French Revolution way, or the British (well, after Cromwell) evolutionary way.


  20. Andre,

    Chapter 4 of Ober’s book offers a comparison between the French and Athenian “revolutions”, his main argument being that “focused and effective revolutionary activities can be carried out by masses of citizens in the absence of established leaders or traditional structures of leadership” (p.33). I’m not a historian, so I’m not qualified to comment, but I have the sense that Ober’s take on Herodotus is viewed as an eccentric one, even by historians like Rhodes who are hostile to Hansen’s focus on institutions as opposed to ideologies.

    Agree completely that evolutionary paths must be tried and that they are, due to the random nature of mutations, entirely unpredictable. I’m also resolutely opposed to binary models that artificially simplify the messy state of human affairs.


  21. *** I said that there were many kinds of political mutations, and that the process which led to Athenian dêmokratia was different from the revolutionary phenomena along the French Revolution model. Then Keith Sutherland mentioned Ober’s comparison of the “Athenian Revolution” and the French Revolution (Ober, The Athenian Revolution, 1996, chap. 4). Actually there is no basic contradiction between the views. When I spoke of the French Revolution, I considered the whole sequence of events from 1789 to the end of the First Republic, a sequence of unexpected events, escaping control by any actor. Ober considers only the “first stage” of the French Revolution (p 48 line 9); explicitly excluding which followed, as what he calls “Jacobinite Terror” and “Thermidorian reaction” (p 49, line 14).
    *** Was the beginning of the Athenian democratic mutation akin to the first stage of the French Revolution? Well, it can be argued; but with a clear difference. In 1789 there was (simplistic description) clash between two competing elites, the nobiliary elite and the bourgeois elite. In Athens the initial clash was inside the nobiliary elite, between families and “clans” of the same elite. (And later there was not in the beginnings of Athenian dêmokratia the intense and open class warfare which can be seen in the French Revolution – or in some ancient Greek revolutions).
    *** Ober observes that the popular uprising against Isagoras and his Spartan allies occurred when Cleisthenes and his nobiliary allies were in exile; for him, therefore, they were spontaneous popular riots without elite direct implication. Well, it is quite possible, but maybe some Cleisthenes’ friends were left in Athens…..
    *** Ober insists on this popular uprising, and on what he considers the psycho-social factor behind them: the Solon reforms and the policies of the Tyrants had lessened the traditional ties of dependence and encouraged political self-consciousness among the ordinary dêmos (p 38). I think he is right, without this situation the mutation to dêmokratia would have been impossible. But rather than centering on one factor, I would rather favor the “tree of causes” (as in accident analysis)). We must consider:
    • the political mind situation of common citizens as described by Ober (which, in other configurations, could have resulted into a populist tyranny)
    • *the deep feud inside the nobiliary elite, which initiated the whole process (the “igniting factor”)
    • The “theoretical tool set” factor, including the ideas about the sovereignty of the dêmos, the use of lot, especially for Council, ostracism (a soft democratic adaptation of the archaic “politics of exile”) and the idea of “melting” the plural Athenian population into a strongly coherent civic body (“to melt”, “anameixai”, is the verb used by Aristotle to describe the Cleisthenic process – “Constitution of Athens”, XXI, 2).
    *** The last theoretical point is especially significant. Melting the population, distributing it into artificial “tribes”, blurring the old identities (including foreign and servile origin), even cancelling the official use of family names – this endeavor, “abstract and somewhat utopian” (I use Habermas’ words about Dahl’s minipopulus proposal) cannot be easily seen as the spontaneous result of popular feelings. It needed a lot of previous intellectual elaboration (which, I suspect, many of our contemporary political thinkers would spontaneously dismiss as artificial, utopian, if not totalitarian-style, and doomed to failure).
    *** Considering this point would be enough to doubt that the Cleisthenic dêmokratia was only “the unintended consequence of the opportunistic behavior of a aristocratic faction.” The Alcmaeonid lineage feud with others “clans” was one factor in the configuration which led to the democratic mutation.


  22. Andre,

    I’m happy to acknowledge that Hansen and Ober are both half right with regard to the causes of the Athenian “revolution”. But what about the changes to sortition in modern democracies that we all eagerly anticipate? Should we advocate the path of evolutionary adaptation of existing polyarchies (in which the nature and consequences of mutations are hard to anticipate) or do you agree with Yoram that it will require a popular revolution?

    I think the one thing all historians agree on was that the transition to demokratia did not involve the abolition of elite politicians — the likes of Cleisthenes, Pericles and Demosthenes continued to play a key role. In Naomi’s modern proposal this would also be the case, but they would increasingly be moved to a “dignified” role in the political process. Of course this is already happening, and I don’t just mean the diminished role of elected politicians in bankrupt countries like Greece. In the UK all parties are seeking to bind their hands regarding their future fiscal options, leaving them in (effectively) a managerial role. The unfortunate thing (from the politicians’ point of view) is that there are better ways of appointing competent managers than election, but the election of the chief executive does maintain the facade of democratic control.


  23. Answer to Keith Sutherland about “the path of evolutionary adaptation of existing polyarchies”.
    *** The laws of chemistry are known through experimental science. But let’s consider a big polymerization reactor with inside chain reactions. To control it is a difficult task, and sometimes we have to stop the process to prevent explosion. Too many parameters, and chain reactions inside, that gives a system the behavior of which we are not able to predict accurately, at least not always.
    *** The same can be said of human societies. We cannot predict everything; and especially I believe the political mutations. Any kleroterian who would say “a mutation of polyarchy to dêmokratia is impossible except by revolutionary uprisings” seems to me exaggerating his ability in historical prediction.
    *** Therefore I agree with pushing trials of mini-publics in polyarchic landscape, in the perspective of evolutionary transition to dêmokratia. And if other kleroterians are convinced it is hopeless, well, maybe they are right, but let’s try.
    *** But as kleroterians we must be careful. I see three main risks. The first is to give democratic legitimacy to undemocratic entities, as some clearly intend in the “deliberative” field. We must approve only authentic minipublics, without members elected or nominated, without additional volunteers coming from associations etc… The stochation authenticity must be an absolute requirement.
    The second risk is some experiments could be designed intentionally by mischievous minds to lead to failure.
    The third risk is minipublics being used to decide only about some symbol-loaded decisions without real power on the concerned field, facilitating symbolic manipulation of public opinion.
    *** I understand some may be afraid that too aggressive attacks against the current systems could prevent the political class to support trials of minipublics. I doubt this is a big risk. If politicians become afraid of a democratic mutation, they will rather behave in a positive way towards the new model. Generally the political class is prone to adapt. The risk is from some lobbies and elite elements, and they will react to the perspective of losing power to common citizens, not to the aggressiveness of some kleroterians!


  24. Andre,

    > Any kleroterian who would say “a mutation of polyarchy to dêmokratia is impossible except by revolutionary uprisings” seems to me exaggerating his ability in historical prediction.

    Sure, but the same thing of course can be said about anyone who claims to know that the opposite is true. (I think the only commenter or author here who may come close to asserting the necessity of revolutionary uprising to achieve democratization is Jacob Richter.)

    I agree with the rest of your comment as well. I think the risks you enumerate are spot on.


  25. André,
    As a chemist, seeing a chemistry analogy on this blog delights me to no end.

    >We cannot predict everything; and especially I believe the political mutations.

    No, but like chemical systems it is reasonable to postulate that political systems move inexorably toward a more stable state. If we can predict what more stable states would look like and what the transition states leading to the various outcomes would be, just as we do in chemistry, then we can get a feel for the odds of the various possible outcomes.

    Take a look at the growth of executive power around the world. Regardless of geopolitical pressures or cultural issues or even institutional structure, executives have done a fine job of growing in scope at the expense of the legislature. The only good counter example I can think of is Switzerland. My gut feeling is that political power, deriving from a common source, will tend to consolidate over time. There are other possible explanations, of course. This one appeals to me because it accounts for the Swiss counter example. Representative democracy is effectively direct democracy by proxy (as Keith has pointed out). If you put it in parallel with actual direct democracy it is reasonable to expect the real, more fine-grained, thing to end up being the preferred means of making decisions. But direct democracy in a modern nation-state is by necessity limited in scope and so instead Switzerland may have found a natural equilibrium. The idea of consolidating direct democracy and electoral democracy into a single, more capable, chimera is nonsensical. Mixing principles has left them with an equilibrium condition where power must remain diffuse.

    Now, allotted, elected, and hereditary officers are quite capable of carrying out the same basic tasks, so perhaps the growth of the House of Commons at the expense of the hereditary elements of the British Constitution would make for a better example. If there had been a hundred Britains with identical constitutions (let’s say starting at around 1500ce) and identical environmental factors, in what percent would conventional electoral parliamentarianism have developed? If the principle of popular government is a more robust legitimizing principle than the hereditary principle, it seems as though the imbalance will result in pressure which will need to be resolved at some point. Was a Cromwellian revolution necessary? The Glorious Revolution? If they were wiped from history would they have been replaced by analogous events? I have no idea. My feeling is that they would have been, but I’m not fool enough to claim as much.

    If, however, we do take as a general rule that institutions founded on a more robust principle will, in the fullness of time, edge out parallel institutions *more often than not,* then if a single house were reformed into our model senate, and stochation were to prove more robust and better able to prevail in direct conflict we would probably—eventually—end up with the elective elements of the constitution being reduced to a role deemed appropriate by the model senate. That said, I don’t disagree with your assessment of the dangers. Vestigial upper houses are appealing in part because they are perhaps the easiest targets for meaningful near-term reform.


  26. Speaking or Switzerland … Does anyone on this Blog know much about the initiative getting under way in Switzerland to replace the elected legislature with one selected by lot? I don’t think petition gathering has started yet (they need something like 100,000 in one year, i think) Here is a link… you can use Google translate (built into Chrome), to change it into awkward English.



  27. Andre:

    >I understand some may be afraid that too aggressive attacks against the current systems could prevent the political class to support trials of minipublics.

    I’m sure that the political elite will not be remotely bothered by the online ruminations of a tiny group of theorists and activists, but the goal of some members of this forum is mass consciousness-raising by overturning centuries of indoctrination with electoralist dogma. The goal is the replacement of preference election by the selection of politicians by sortition, thereby leaving the existing political elite without a job, I agree with Yoram that is is unlikely to be well received by the political elite.


    >I think the only commenter or author here who may come close to asserting the necessity of revolutionary uprising to achieve democratization is Jacob Richter.

    Revolution does not have to involve the violent overthrow of the political system, only a sudden and dramatic change, rather than the evolutionary development that we might anticipate through supplementing the existing polyarchic institutions with a body appointed by stochation.


  28. Naomi:

    >Representative democracy is effectively direct democracy by proxy (as Keith has pointed out). If you put it in parallel with actual direct democracy it is reasonable to expect the real, more fine-grained, thing to end up being the preferred means of making decisions.

    Yes, I think that’s true, but we must beware of the Whig theory of history. What generally happens when democracy fails is the move in the opposite direction, as we have seen in Greece.


  29. *** Then we have, under the same word, three different concepts of “revolution”
    ** the wide definition by Keith Sutherland (July 19th, 2:46 pm): “sudden and dramatic change”
    ** Obers definition, corresponding to the advent of dêmokratia in Athens or to the first stage of French Revolution, which adds the idea of support by violent popular uprising
    ** the definition I used, related to long sequences of events more or less akin to the French Revolution.
    *** I conclude we must be precise when using the word (I tried).
    *** I think that for Keith usually the best way is the evolutionary one. He may be right. Some people say that the mutation from communism in Soviet Union, revolutionary in Keith’s wide sense, induced a some years decrease of the (already bad) health level and therefore quite a cost in human lives, more than some revolutions in Ober’s sense ( I am not able to evaluate the statistical argument); and therefore an evolutionary mutation (under Gorbatchev’s guidance ?) would have been better. They may be right.
    *** I think that usually it is not so easy, anyway, to control the events; and actors have to make choices (the status quo is a choice).
    *** For some people “revolution” has a kind of romantic aura. I saw that recently about the “Arab Spring”. The revolutionary path may be sometimes the best, but I am wary of any kind of romantic aura in political thought.


  30. *** Keith Sutherland says (June 19, 2:45 pm): “The goal (of some kleroterians) is the replacement of preference election by the selection of politicians by sortition, thereby leaving the existing political elite without a job, I agree with Yoram that is unlikely to be well received by the political elite “
    *** There was a political class in the Second Athenian Democracy (it seems it was more distinct from the social elite than before), and there will be a political class in any political system – except in pure totalitarian system where a militant vanguard sect has the power. There will be always roles of advisers, formal or informal, and of “ministers” (= managers politically trusted).
    *** Personally, even if some fellow kleroterians don’t agree, I think it is better to acknowledge it institutionally; as it is easier to control what is acknowledged.
    *** Facing the minipublics idea, the first spontaneous reaction of an ordinary politician of a polyarchy will include some amount of hostile distrust: he was selected as good in a political game and may logically worry about a very different political game. But even here there will be various reactions. Some politicians may believe they will be more successful than their competitors in front of citizen juries, rightly or not – political mutations may be helped by false expectations. Some others may find here a way to be distinguished by sticking to a new and popular idea.
    *** The one proposal of minipublics I know by a mainstream important politician (Ségolène Royal during the 2006 French presidential election) caused an uproar among the political class (and a strong approval in opinion polls). But the idea – a “citizen jury” to check the activity of any elected representative – could look specifically “hostile” to representatives, and challenging them directly. (Later, Ségolène Royal buried her proposal in more vague “deliberative” discourse). Even then some fellow politicians were more cautious than others, and I am convinced they would have joined the movement towards minipublics if it would have been some serious chance of success.
    *** The problem, for me, is not the political class, but the network of lobbies and elites who are the basic actors of the system. Kleroterians may only hope for strong enough conflicts between and inside these entities, avoiding an efficient league against the minipublics idea.


  31. Andre,

    > There will be always roles of advisers, formal or informal, and of “ministers” (= managers politically trusted).

    I agree. I expect that any high powered allotted body would rely on a large variety of professionals of various kinds and organized in various ways. It is important to emphasize that in a democratic system those professionals should be explicitly working for the allotted body or for the individual allotted members and should have no formal independent power.


  32. Whilst we may argue over the various historical and descriptive meanings of the word “revolution”, from a practical perspective a simple binary is involved — either we encourage the transformation of the institutions of polyarchy from within or we seek to overthrow them as undemocratic.** In the aftermath of the disastrous Arab Spring talk of “revolution” is not just romantic, it’s grotesquely obscene.

    Given André’s concerns about where real power lies (the network of lobbies and elites), then kleroterians should embrace elected politicians as potential allies in the transition to a more effective form of democracy, rather than deliberately seeking to alienate them. This would, as he suggests, mean institutional acknowledgement (as opposed to leaving it to the random whim of a tiny group of randomly-selected persons), as elected politicians would be members of the estate of advisers and advocates (as they no longer would have decision power). No formal estate was required in the second Athenian demokratia (although the citizen advocates who defended the existing laws were elected) as it was still primarily a direct democracy. Not so in large modern states where formal mechanisms of representative isegoria are unavoidable.

    ** Note the multiple “we” in this sentence — if the change were introduced by elected politicians “we” would have a democratic mandate, as opposed to the hubristic notion of the heroic and revolutionary kleroterian vanguard. (Sorry, I forgot, our role is purely consciousness raising — the actual revolution would be a spontaneous and leaderless uprising of the masses, demanding “real” democracy.)


  33. Terry, here you can find the site of the initiative:
    and here their facebook page:

    This is an initiative, which means at the federal level in Switzerland that they propose a change in the federal constitution, namely article 149.

    The proposal is to select by lot the members of one of the National Council. One fourth of the members is selected by kot each year, instead of elected by ballot every four years.

    They plan to start signature gathering in April 2016.


  34. Stefano,

    This seems like the Callenbach & Phillips proposal – turning one chamber of a bi-cameral legislature into being selected via sortition. Do I understand this correctly?

    Is there any indication of the magnitude of the political power behind this proposal?


  35. > general (and highly successful) rhetorical strategy of winding Yoram up

    Here we have confirmation (from the man himself) of a fact I long suspected: Sutherland is a troll.

    His sole purpose on this site is to cast fear, uncertainty & doubt.

    Ban him from this site – we’ll all be better off.


  36. Anonymous: you really ought to identify yourself before making accusations like this, otherwise you might be suspected of trolling. My sole purpose of visiting this site is to better inform my day job (a PhD on sortition). You clearly don’t visit this site very often (you are responding to a comment I made a month ago), so it looks like you only have a casual interest in the topic.

    “Winding Yoram up” is a token of my frustration — if someone won’t respond in an open-minded way to discursive deliberation then the only strategy left is ridicule. I acknowledge that I’m interested in casting uncertainty and doubt — there’s nothing more harmful than people who think they are in possession of a magic bullet that will solve all the problems of democracy at a stroke. As for fear, yes it’s true that we should be fearful of all forms of political fundamentalism — you may think that’s trolling, but most people would view it as reasonable scepticism. I’ve always acknowledge my conservative sensibilities, but wasn’t aware that this constituted a thought crime that merited banishment from this site.


  37. Anonymous,

    > Sutherland is a troll.

    Depending on the definition of this term, I tend to agree. Surely either he is a pompous, obnoxious fool, or he makes a very good impersonation of one.

    > Ban him from this site – we’ll all be better off.

    As I have written in the past, I’d be more inclined to simply limiting Sutherland to his fair share of the public space here (he is by far the most prolific author of comments).

    However, I’d first like to see that the popular view here is that he is a nuisance. Given that there is a lot of willingness among commenters to not only tolerate him but also to regard him as a rational, honest discussant, my feeling is that popular sentiment is not there.

    As for Sutherland’s supposed strategy of winding me up, I can assure you it is failing. I now rarely read Sutherland’s comments unless they are essential to understanding comments by other commenters.

    I would like, however, to understand why other commenters here are still willing to tolerate Sutherland despite his habitual unrepentant lying and obnoxious behavior. Despite putting this question to commenters I respect, I have never gotten an answer.


  38. Interesting to hear Yoram’s acknowledgement that he never reads anything that I write; I certainly read all his posts and comments and respond accordingly. As for the sheer volume of my posts this is partly a reflection of the fact that I read everything with interest and partly because I’m probably one of few — perhaps the only? — person on this blog for whom sortition is their day job. I too would love to know why other commentators are prepared to tolerate the behaviour of a “pompous” and “obnoxious” “fool” and “liar” like myself.


  39. *** I think that when people are working to create a specific political thought, as kleroterians are, characters prone to cast « uncertainty and doubt » are useful and actually quite necessary.
    *** Keith Sutherland likes to stress some points that are problems for a democracy-through-minipublics : for instance the repeatability of juries, the rhetorical inequality in face-to-face deliberation, the risk of some people feeling disfranchised. Often I think that Keith Sutherland is exaggerating these problems. But they exist, and it is useful to keep them in mind, if we want to find solutions – even pragmatic ones only.
    *** Let’s suppose some doubts or criticisms have few value after examination. At least it is better to have them developed, to be aware of their potential and establish convincing answers.
    *** As for the characters of the various intervening kleroterians, well, if there are many shades from the « interrogative » to the strongly « affirmative », I don’t think it is a bad thing. And if someone stands with difficulty what he feels « sceptic » discourse, or “dogmatic” one, well, it is a burden to be accepted.
    *** « Scepticism », in the strong sense, may be dangerous for a field of rational inquiry, but only at the periphery, as it may saturate the media, and dissuade people to be interested into new ideas. But I think it cannot bring about strong drawbacks in a blog centred on this field.


  40. Andre,

    I certainly have no problem with skeptics. Even dogmatism and being immune to rational discussion (as Sutherland is) is an intellectual failure rather than a moral failure and therefore not, by itself, a reason for moral condemnation. The problem with Sutherland is, as I have pointed out several times before, that he is obnoxious, and specifically he is an unrepentant liar. Why anyone would be willing to tolerate such behavior is beyond me.


  41. While I find BOTH Keith’s and Yoram’s comments periodically obnoxious (primarily when speaking about each other), I have also benefitted from insights that each has added (and found others to be unhelpful). I think this Blog would be enhanced if you both stopped reading each other’s comments and BOTH of you no longer spoke about the other, since your opinions of each other are unlikely to change, and your attacks (even if well founded) only make reading the Blog unpleasant for the rest of us.


  42. Terry,

    The problem is Yoram uploads most of the new posts, and I read them all. Given that sortition is my day job, I generally have a viewpoint and like to share it with others to benefit from their feedback. If Yoram chooses to ignore them then that’s his right (though a little odd, given that he loaded the original post), but you can understand how the resulting frustration might lead to a sarcastic response. As for his repeated ad hominem, I explained at the time how I searched for the link, but couldn’t find it and asked him to explain in what sense his fundamental perspective on sortition had changed as a result of the exchanges on this forum. I don’t see what is obnoxious or mendacious about that.


  43. Ps, I would add that the accusations of obnoxious mendacity and trolling against me have been limited to Yoram and “anonymous”, whereas a number of other commentators have shared my view that Yoram is somewhat dogmatic in his perspective. Your own views on sortition are not that far removed from Yoram’s yet we have always managed to debate in a courteous and respectful manner. I agree that the mud slinging is off-putting, but don’t understand why my genuine comments and criticisms should be ignored by the convenor of this forum just because he has taken a personal dislike to me.


  44. Terry,

    First, in general I have no problem with ignoring Sutherland. In fact, I have been doing this for quite a while. Sometimes, however, he falsely attributes statements to me, which, if I become aware of, I refute and point out that he has been lying.

    This brings me to my second point: you are creating a false balance between Sutherland and me. This is not simply a matter of us disagreeing and becoming upset. This is a matter of Sutherland repeatedly lying about me and in other ways polluting the public space on this blog. I would expect you and other regular commentators to take a clear stand against this behavior. Ignoring this behavior legitimizes it.


  45. If Yoram refuses to read anything I write, then I cannot effectively respond to this sort of calumny, but I will repeat my response again for the benefit of anyone who is prepared to read it: if Yoram can explain in what respects his fundamental position on sortition has changed as a result of the exchanges on this forum, then I will withdraw my claim and apologise for misremembering his earlier comment.


  46. Keith,

    It is precisely that sort of passive aggressive “request” for Yoram to “explain” a thing you insist he should explain, with the implied agenda that you are laying the ground work to prove that Yoram is not sincerely open to the give and take of debate… that I find obnoxious and un-helpfull. I find both of you to be very inflexible ABOUT CERTAIN PARTICULAR POINTS…as I expect most people would find ME to be (all of us who have spent a long time thinking about a topic tend to become invested in our opinions) And Keith, I don’t need to hear a repetition about which details YOU have changed your opinions on, as the ones you hold that most rankle Yoram have not budged one iota…so…
    I am carefully trying not to state MY opinion about who is MORE at fault, but strongly think that impugning the motives or honesty of each other, whether overtly, or by implication, is not helpful to the rest of us reading this Blog.


  47. Terry,

    > inflexible

    Flexibility is not an objective or a virtue in theoretical analysis. Carrying out analysis is not a negotiation.

    This is quite different, of course, from having pre-conceived conclusions and merely pretending to draw them as the result of analysis. This sort of intellectual dishonesty is detected when refutation of the analysis results in new reasoning for the same conclusion, rather than a reconsideration of the conclusion.

    > I am carefully trying not to state MY opinion about who is MORE at fault

    As I wrote, I think that holding a neutral or passive position in the face of offensive behavior is wrong. Members of a community should prevent behavior that is morally deplorable and destructive for the community.


  48. Terry,

    The only reason that I asked Yoram to explain his position was in order to refute his accusation that I was lying. Having already acknowledged that I can’t find the evidence to support my earlier claim (that he hadn’t changed his substantive position on sortition as a result of the exchanges on this forum), then that was my only recourse. I don’t understand why my attempt to resolve this increasingly unpleasant dispute is “passive aggressive”, “obnoxious” or “unhelpful” — if Yoram would explain to me how his views have changed, then I would be happy to acknowledge having mis-remembered his earlier claim (that they hadn’t). Then we can put this unpleasantness behind us and move on in a constructive way.

    Bear in mind that his attack is a personal one (“obnoxious”, “lying”, “trolling”); this is pretty strong stuff, whereas all I’ve ever accused him of is refusing to listen to arguments in an open-minded way (a claim also made by several other commentators on this blog). I know he accuses me of the same thing, but a) my general position on sortiion has changed greatly as a result of the debates on this forum (that’s why I persist, despite suffering Yoram’s calumnies) and b) my core claim (that “statistical” only applies to behaviour that is open to aggregation) is true by definition and immediately understood by anyone other than a sortition fundamentalist. You, of course, understand the argument, but it doesn’t bother you as your concerns are primarily epistemic, rather than the accurate mirroring of interests. But the definitional claim does invalidate Yoram’s interests-based argument, which explains his determination to shoot the messenger.


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