Voting but not talking

I just wanted to recommend a working paper by Daniela Cammack entitled “Deliberation in Classical Athens: Not Talking, But Thinking (and Voting).” It’s available online here. It’s not directly about sortition, but it deals with a number of themes discussed on this blog. The paper argues that the Athenians maintained a careful distinction between the function of presenting arguments and the function of evaluating those arguments, and assigned the latter, but not the former, to the assembly. This distinction, Cammack argues, is conflated by those who use the term “deliberation” for both functions.

I found this passage particularly relevant to contemporary politics:

In Athens, then, as in modern democracies, an overwhelming majority of non-speaking voters attempted to control a minority of prominent political actors who took primary responsibility for advocating and carrying policies. The key difference between Athenian and modern democracy was not that all or even many Athenians took part in political discussion, but first, that large samples of ordinary citizens had the opportunity to vote on every political decision, and second, that the barriers to becoming politically influential were relatively low, while the risks associated with this position were high. This is the reverse of the situation today, where a high barrier to entry as a politician–largely financial–is combined with a low risk of losing one’s position once established. To be sure, one can fail to be reelected, but this pales in comparison to the mechanisms of accountability available in Athens, such as routine annual audits (euthynai) covering both moral and financial issues. In many modern systems, by contrast, a feedback loop is set up in which corruption becomes endemic, since the high costs of running for election are in large part met by supporters whose opportunity to shape policy then becomes significantly greater than that of ordinary voters, with very little way for those ordinary voters to hold the politician in question to account, either before or after the next election.

Worth a look.

David Grant’s play about sortition to be read in St. Louis

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports:

Global movement towards representative legislatures

St. Louis, Missouri, 18 October: A world-wide movement towards establishing legislative bodies that are fully representative finds expression in the staged reading of “Our Common Lot” by David Grant. The short play is written for an international conference, “Democracy for the 21st Century,” to be held in December at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt.

In the play, Marisa, Alma, Sami, and Ali live in a city embroiled in conflict and violence — the Regime, the Opposition, the Opposition to the Opposition. When the fighting stops, they ask themselves: What is the best way to move forward? “Our Common Lot” argues for choosing legislators in the way that the first democracy did – by random lot, known as ‘sortition.’

In the original Athenian democracy, sortition was regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy. Most recently the city of Melbourne, Australia has used a random sample of citizens to determine its ten-year financial plan. Two-thirds of the recent Irish Constitutional Convention was composed of sortitionally-chosen citizens.

The reading of “Our Common Lot” is its world premiere. The ensemble includes Adam Flores, Carl Overly, Jr., Erin Roberts, and Jacqueline Thompson.
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