The Demarchy Manifesto


Many kleroterians are bound to be disappointed in my new book The Demarchy Manifesto, due to be release from Imprint Academic on March 1, because it makes no proposals for replacing voting in favour of sortition in existing institutions, but only in the new voluntary institutions I propose. I believe it is necessary to start this way, since it is extremely difficult to persuade people to give up their vote, but they are prepared to consider sortition where it gives them access to a chance of participating that they do not at present have. This is just an instance of a general pattern in the way that the presentation of options makes a great difference to the evaluations people make of alternatives. You might like to look at this article in the US edition of The Conversation for February 6.

The book suggests that we can snatch the initiative in discussing and formulating public policy from the political parties and produce proposals that they have to accept on pain of voter backlash. I think that there is just a chance that my proposals would consolidate the middle ground whereas the existing procedures encourage the extremes. More fundamentally I aim to move attention from “who gets what” to the sort of public goods that we all can take pride in.

An excerpt from the Introduction to the book:

What I call ‘demarchy’ is primarily a process of transferring the initiative in formulating policy options from political parties to councils representative of the people most directly affected by those policies. The task of those councils would be to distil from public discussion the most acceptable policy in a particular matter. It would be up to voters to insist that the politicians heed them. There is no question of constitutional change, no new parties or new laws, no call for a mass conversion of opinion, but a suggestion about how to initiate a change in accepted practice, starting with actions that may seem of little significance in the big picture, but are still justified by their specific purposes. My focus is on how policy is produced and adopted. I am not concerned with questions about the philosophical basis of state power, or human rights, or crime and punishment. The precise forms these things take in practice are a matter of conventions, which I do not propose to challenge. There is already much debate about these matters. I am concerned about what I see as a more important, but neglected, question.

I begin by concentrating on how to establish some new practices and initiatives in policy formation, empowering those most affected to take the initiative in formulating what they want. It is no advantage to have a choice of products if none of those on offer meets your requirements. The best situation is to be able to say exactly what you want and commission specialists to supply it. Or is that analogy anachronistic and inappropriate in the era of mass production and distribution? I try to analyse our unique problems. My ultimate aim is to transform our political culture. I intend to show how different practices of policy formation are appropriate to different problems at every level from the local to the global and how they might come to be accepted.

Changing the paradigm

I am attempting to do three things:

• Show how to improve policy formation in government at the local and national levels, using procedures that confront politicians with an authoritative expression of what informed public opinion believes needs to be done in specific policy matters. The aim is to constrain politicians to legislate and administer in accordance with those policies.

• Propose that similar procedures could be used in establishing specialised global authorities strong enough to constrain national governments to conform to their decisions without anything like a world state.

• Suggest that we need to change some of the assumptions underlying much of our political thinking and practice in the light of the global ramifications of so many of our activities.

A central idea is to change the model of political communities that has dominated traditional thinking and practice. Political communities, typically nation-states, have been personified and taken as complete in themselves. All the diverse components should act in unison under the direction of the head, the brain. In a top-down sequence the design of the society is decided by a single authority and the other elements of the whole are forced to conform. In a constitutional state what the head is entitled to do is limited. Democracy also gives people a say in choosing those who exercise supreme authority. Each state is entirely independent of all the others. Relations between them can only be regulated by mutual agreement. There is no authority with the power to alter or enforce the set of conventions that constitute international law. On occasion groups of nations agree to punish other nations for what they see as breaches of international law, but they have no institutional authority to do so.


Generating policy

People have become increasingly aware that the existing political processes cannot be relied on to produce sound decisions about matters of public policy. What is wrong with politics? Many things: reliance on expensive and misleading advertising to sell package deals to the electorate; the power that gives to the media and to big money; the adversarial party system which limits and distorts people’s choices, and so on. But the basic one is that many important matters are decided, not on the specific merits of the case, but according to the strategies of professional politicians seeking to maximise their power. Whether the politicians are motivated by a desire to serve their constituents or some philosophical ideal, as politicians they have to win the contest for power. I shall return to this problem in more detail later. In both the struggle to attract key sections of the voters and the struggles for power within parties and coalitions, poor decisions are made and entrenched. Politicians are driven to make rash promises, to play on imaginary hopes and fears and to misrepresent the issues. There is much talk of accountability, but that usually reduces to getting politicians to make very specific promises and trying to hold them to fulfilling their undertakings. As the saying goes, sometimes the problem is that politicians break their promises, but often the problem is that they keep them. In the struggle for power in the legislature, politicians have to make deals for support in which they undertake to support measures and politicians they don’t like in return for those others giving them support that would not otherwise be forthcoming on other matters that are usually irrelevant to that issue. To assure that particular policy proposals are assessed on their specific merits rather than on their tactical advantages we have to find ways of disentangling them from the struggle for power.

The political process has four stages or aspects: policy formation, legislation, execution and judicial enforcement. At present policy formation is in the hands of political parties, which, by a very poor set of decision procedures, attempt to present themselves as preferable to any of the other contestants. The electors are faced with a take-it-or-leave-it choice of packages that entrust the parties with many blank cheques. What my proposals aim to do is unscramble the packages and give people an effective say in policy formation, especially in matters that affect them directly. Public discussion of specific issues will be effective to the extent that it focuses on considerations directly relevant to those issues. By entrusting the task of formulating best policy on each issue to a distinct group of people who form a representative sample of the various people most directly affected by the outcome, we can ensure that no proposal is adopted for reasons that are irrelevant to its merits.
On the other hand, any authority these decisions might claim would not rest on any formal status, but simply on their being seen as the best decisions available.

What I envisage is that the parties seeking election to legislative and executive office would present themselves to voters, not on the basis of promises or ideologies or sectional interests, but as willing and able to implement the policies that emerge from a sound decision process. At least the most important policy decisions would be made by the people, not the politicians. Instead of the public being offered whatever choices the politicians give them, the public now can make specific proposals and challenge the politicians to implement them. That should put an end to the cult of the leader as the guarantor of public policy. Creative leadership is needed in every activity, but it cannot be monopolized by a single person.

A new perspective

What I suggest, then, is that ‘we’ (just relatively small groups of people like you and me) can, if we so desire, initiate a revolution in the way our communities make decisions about public policy and public goods and services at every level, from the very local to the global, without a revolution in the classical sense of seizing state power and reforming things from the top down. Instead I argue that it is not just possible but necessary that we start from very specific problems and approach them in a new perspective, making much more use of practices that are already in use in limited contexts. Getting started does not presuppose any legislative change or official authorisation or even general agreement. The aim is to win recognition, not assume it. We have to support bodies that stimulate sound discussion and are capable of producing good, practical policy decisions.

The change of perspective I want to persuade you to adopt is as follows. Set aside for the moment the democratic obsession with giving everybody a vote on every matter that could possibly affect them, however little they know or care about it. Set aside visions of national self-sufficiency. Concentrate instead on how to get the best practical decisions on the very diverse matters where it is advantageous to make collective decisions. I am not saying is leave it to the experts, especially the producers. What I advocate is putting specific areas of policy in the hands of councils that are representative of those who are most substantially affected by decisions, the key stakeholders in those matters, and getting them to coordinate their decisions with other councils by negotiation rather than direction from above. The point is to develop the ecosystem by ensuring the flourishing of its diverse constituents rather than to fit them into some preconceived design.

Present political practice acknowledges the fundamental importance of public opinion, as well as of expert opinion. Effective social policy has to be endorsed and valued by the community generally. Politicians are driven by polling and tie themselves in knots attempting to put an attractive spin on the policies they advocate, while their opponents attempt to vilify them. Public discussion is too often dominated by such adventitious factors. The results of answers to poll questions at best reflect what people see as particularly salient, not some balanced and informed discussion of the question. What we lack is a sound process of discussion and decision that is directed by concern about specific problems, enlightening public opinion about them, attempting to get beyond uncritical assumptions and ideologies. Bodies that can do that will have an authority that present forms of ‘consultation’, as well as partisan think-tanks and lobby groups, lack. The attitude that needs to dominate discussion and decision is that we are faced with a situation of diverse and often conflicting considerations, needing to find a practical, generally acceptable, solution to the problems of doing something constructive about them. Not everybody is going to agree with that solution, but nearly everybody will be prepared to accept it as the best we can do at the moment and look forward to reviewing its performance in due course.

My strategy is strictly practical. All that is required to get enough politicians to take notice of any proposed solution to a particular problem is that most uncommitted voters are in favour of it. The ‘rusted-on’ party faithful will tag along, once they recognise that accepting the proposal in question is preferable to losing power. It is not even necessary that most swing voters be convinced of the merits of my overall proposals. If they see the merits of the solutions that the councils devise to a number of important questions, they will gradually come to see those procedures as the best way of bypassing the partisan politics dominated by the struggle for power. The crucial task is to get a number of such councils up and running, each addressing some specific problem, independently of political parties and vested interests. They need to be adequately designed and funded so that they get the chance to prove themselves. I need to persuade enough people with the necessary resources to devote to that task.

I expect that the existence of impartial councils will have a salutary effect on public discussion. Interest groups in urging their cases will not concentrate on defeating their adversaries, but on reaching some acceptable compromise with them. They should try to influence the bodies that are working to evolve such compromises rather than relying on politicians to favour them over their adversaries. Power struggles will go on as long as there are institutions that operate by bloc voting, but those procedures will become increasingly irrelevant to the substance of our decisions and the perspectives in which we frame them. I shall delay discussion of objections to my proposals until the third part of this text. For example, an obvious danger is that the orientation towards consensus favours feeble compromises at the expense of bold and incisive policies. My hope would be that concentrating discussion on very specific problems would minimise the effect of vague and familiar conceptions that often obscure more relevant considerations. If concentration on specific policies is seen as an experimental procedure, a process of collective learning by trial and error, policy-makers should be encouraged to try bold approaches where politicians are inclined to play it safe.

49 Responses

  1. John,

    I don’t think all kleroterians will be disappointed by your new book. Most of the modern proposals for sortition are bicameral in that they propose adding an allotted senate to existing elected lower houses. The principal difference between these proposals and your own is temporal — they view the role of the allotted house as reviewing/vetoing legislation proposed by the elected house whereas you have reversed the direction of causality. The other group of theorists who will approve of your book are (old-style) Habermasian deliberative democrats who would be very comfortable with your exclusive focus on the informal public sphere (the domain of demarchic councils) and would approve of your separation between the forum of public opinion and the (electoral) institutions of governance. I guess your final answer to the rhetorical question posed by your first book (Is Democracy Possible?) is yes, in that existing democratic mechanisms would be unchanged, the only difference being that public policy would be better informed by the presence of demarchic councils.

    Disapproval will come from kleristocrats (e.g. Yoram and Terry), who see no ongoing role for election, and those who focus exclusively on accurate descriptive representation (impossible in small voluntary councils). Advocates of mixed governance (e.g. Naomi and myself) would be perfectly comfortable with initiatives in the public sphere like your own, just so long as parallel steps are taken to ensure accurate statistical representation as part of a tricameral system (demarchic opinion councils; elected legislature; allotted senate).

    I think though that some degree of scepticism is in order as to whether demarchic councils would flourish in the competitive ecosystem of the public sphere. Demarchic councils are, in effect, think tanks (albeit of a non-partisan nature), so why should the public and politicians pay any more attention to them than any other think tank? No doubt your answer would be that their policy proposals would be better, but how can that be demonstrated without putting them into practice? This is a bog-standard chicken-and-egg problem. It’s also the case that compromises (no matter how reasonable) end up pleasing no-one at all, apart from those who have invested hours and hours thrashing them out. Why do you envisage the media taking a different line on a demarchic compromise to, say, David Cameron’s negotiated settlement with the EU?

    PS Although the book won’t be available on Amazon etc until March 1st. it’s available for immediate despatch at An ebook version will also be available in March.


  2. Keith,
    As I have repeatedly said, I do not see houses of review as incompatible with my proposals. They may be necessary to ensure the politicians get the message.
    I’m just taking one step at a time, not designing utopia..

    I have continually emphasised that only practice can find our whether my proposals will work.
    I am totally sceptical about a priori argument in these matters.

    The demarchic councils are NOT there to decide what is to be done, but to stimulate open public debate in which anybody can take part and attempt to sum it up. Only if they are seen as making a reasonable fist of that can they claim to represent public opinion. I think a panel of people who are variously affected by the outcome will appreciate that that is the only sensible way of influencing what happens.

    Our present practice encourages people to plump for what they want, without attempting to meet what others want, Others can do the same, and we leave it to the political process to sort it out. A wrong approach, as I argue at some length.

    The scope of politics is public goods, most of which look after themselves. But in our highly artificial societies deliberate action to ensure certain public goods is necessary. Public goods are most of what constitutes our communities and even our personal identities. The processes by which we come to plan what needs to be done that we can all accept and most of cherish has to resolve a host of diverse and often divergent considerations. There is rarely just one right answer, but in a process of open debate we can hope to learn from our mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John,

    But why do you think the demarchic council will have any more influence on public opinion than any other think tank? The participants are self-nominating and the numbers are so small that no claim can be made for representativity. So they will have to rely on the “reasonableness” of their recommendations, and it’s hard to see how that can overcome the chicken and egg dilemma as politics is a practical endeavour, so “reasonableness” can only be judged with the benefit of hindsight. I know that you want to publish all the deliberations online, but nobody is going to bother to read it.


  4. Keith,
    They are not like think tanks, which typically are fairly private in their processes and generally represent a point of view. Of course, they can contribute. The essence of my proposals is complete publicity and accessibility. I’m assuming that any relevant consideration will find some advocate, often somebody concerned about an inarticulate minority or future generations. It is considerations that matter, not just existing people, and validity of argument, not numbers. Of course there have to be procedures for selecting the best cases for each view and drawing attention to them in order to make the process feasible. But that has to be completely public.


  5. Good luck! As you know I’m less convinced than you regarding the reasonableness of our fellow citizens en masse (in the sense of the public’s response to reasoned debate triggering politicians to respond accordingly). If what you say were true then the sale of newspapers taking a dispassionate perspective would be greater than partisan rags.


  6. I welcome this proposal as a way of building appreciation of random selection (as John notes, this is not his vision of an end-point, but rather a way to get started and learn from trials). In some sense this is sort of the opposite of Keith’s proposal, in that the random group does the deliberating and the elected body does the deciding. And if this is combined with a new body… a three-chamber system (an allotted or volunteer body for drafting proposals, a second (elected) body for reviewing them and a new chamber mini-public (senate) that makes the final decision, it has some similarities to my design of multi-body sortition.

    I have a few core questions (which I might be answered in the book)

    1. How, and by whom is it decided who are people “most directly affected” by a policy decision? And isn’t there a risk that such a group would usually fail to find a consensus, where a majority vote of the group would undermine the goal. Take an example of an expansion of an airport, where various airport officials, developers, and commercial interests have lined up against local farmers who would have to sell some land and far-away environmentalists. While a diverse group of relatively UNaffected citizens might find a common-sense compromise, these MOST affected groups would probably fail to agree. Whichever side thinks they have the best chance of swaying the elected legislators through traditional (corrupt) means would simply stonewall or withdraw and resort to power instead. So my question is… Why not use broadly representative mini-publics scientifically sampled, and only bring in those MOST affected parties as witnesses instead?

    2. Like Keith, I have a hard time seeing how such advisory groups would get any attention or public awareness of their findings. And why would a voter who cares only slightly about the issue vote against a party they agree with on most other issues, based on the politicians’ ignoring of the recommendation? Why would politicians expect any ramifications? In short, without decisiveness, why would the media, the public, or politicians pay any attention to the results at all?


  7. John,

    First, regarding “taking away voting” vs. “adding sortition”: an “additive” way to introduce sortition into the existing system has been discussed here before: creating allotted supervisory bodies that are charged with regulating and monitoring elected bodies. What do you think about this idea?

    Regarding your own proposal: I agree with the objections raised above. In addition, I think that it would be very difficult for the public to develop trust in the allotted bodies. Whoever organizes the councils will have a lot of power to set agenda, to influence the membership, to influence the information presented, and to influence the deliberation.

    If the allotted councils ever do start to get traction with the public, I can easily see how competing councils would be set up by opposing organizations, each accusing the others of manipulating the process.

    I also disagree with the idea that bad policy is generated by elected politicians despite their best wishes due to the vagaries of the electoral process. The reason for the bad policy is more straightforward. The policy which is bad for the public is good for the politicians and their allies.


  8. Keith

    Yes. Luck is needed. I agree about the attitude of most people to the hard work of rational discussion, but it is sufficient to get a relatively small number of people involved in the actual debate, provided a majority accept that a rational approach is called for and can recognise one when they see it. The popular press exists for entertainment. It is not true that most Sun readers agree with rupert.


    The short answer to your first question is that the choice of problem and the way it is depicted are up to the Foundation, which depends on convincing people that their decisions are appropriate and fair. Ina case such as a regional health structure the kinds of need that it has to serve are pretty clear and it should not be hard to ensure that most of those needs are represented. In the case of such a question as whether we should set up an Emissions Trading Scheme the variety of ways in which different people will be affected is highly unpredictable. We might have to settle for a profile of the population.
    Probably people who nominate to be on the panel from which the council is drawn would be asked fairly searching question about why the nominated, partly to eliminate people with no legitimate interest, but also to provide some guidance about the ways in which people see themselves as affected.

    Once again I emphasise that the councillors are there to draw together the outcome of the public debate. Their having any standing depends entirely on their being seen as doing just that, not on any claim to be representative. The point of handing this task to those most affected is that they are not likely to neglect relevant consideration or be seduced by simplistic proposals. Experience counts. They will be under pressure to hammer out an acceptable compromise between competing considerations, because they will only be listened to if they succeed in doing that. You have to read what I have to say about the difference between the vicious reduction of politics to “who get what ” and constructing genuine public goods.

    2. It is not necessary to convince a majority of voters, but only swinging voters, who are largely the sort of people who understand the need to get well considered answers to specific common problems. From this distance it is hard to believe that responsible voters are sucked in by the sort of specious rhetoric that characterises the recent debates in the Us. Surely there must come a backlash against it!


    In part my answers to Keith and Terry are relevant to much of whay you say. I think you misunderstand my view of politicians. It is a question of what they have to do to win power, which they have to do if they are to get anything done. (Your last sentence is cut short.)

    Of course, it is likely that attempts will be made to set up rival foundations and manufacture accusations of partiality. The answer is public debate. obviously any text published will be brought into the debate in the original council and discussed along with all the others. So there is nothing that supporters of the competing foundation can say on the topic under examination that is not addressed by the original foundation. If everything that is said is fully public, accusations of manipulation have no rational basis.
    Of course, some people love occult conspiracy theories. If the majority takes any notice of them, the situation is hopeless.

    About other proposals, as I said earlier I’m just looking at a first step that we can take now without authorisation.


  9. John,

    > About other proposals, as I said earlier I’m just looking at a first step that we can take now without authorisation.

    Supervisory bodies which monitor elected bodies for corruption of various kinds can be set up on an unauthorized basis as well. In fact I think it is more likely that such bodies would be able to focus public attention than bodies that pick up arbitrary areas of policy. This is a suggestion I made to Luca Belgiorno in the past.


  10. John,

    >In a case such as a regional health structure the kinds of need that it has to serve are pretty clear and it should not be hard to ensure that most of those needs are represented.

    I believe it’s the case that Regional Health Authorities in the UK are structured to include all affected interests — I know someone who was co-opted onto one as a token housewife. Yet most people have no idea they exist or what they are intended for, so I don’t see why a voluntary equivalent would attract any more attention or be deemed authoritative in terms of its deliberative conclusions.

    >it is sufficient to get a relatively small number of people involved in the actual debate, provided a majority accept that a rational approach is called for and can recognise one when they see it. . . . It is not necessary to convince a majority of voters, but only swinging voters, who are largely the sort of people who understand the need to get well considered answers to specific common problems.

    You have a touching faith in the reasonableness of human beings en masse.


  11. In Australia we have a lot of official supervisory bodies, which apply very strict standards of conduct to many governmental and non-governmental bodies. They can be very effective even against top politicians. Nick Greiner, a premier of NSW, introduced our Independent Commission Against Corruption. A few years later the commission investigated a deal he made in all innocence, without hiding what he was doing. He was forced to resign and quit politics, becoming a very successful businees person.. He is a patron of New Democracy. A couple of years ago, having been apponted advisor to the NSW government on transport planning. he proposed to set up a citizen council to make the final decisions. He was shouted down by a chorus of “That’s what we are paying you to do”.
    I think it would be hard to compete with the official bodies, particularly as they have powers to demand information and exemptions from libel claims that unofficial bodies would never be given.
    They are focussed on misconduct rather than broader issues of policy, which are what I am concerned about.
    In the section of the book on auditing 103ff I do attempt a preliminary exploration of possible ways to introducing audits by voluntary bodies that range over broad questions of policy, not just adherence to rules. There is certainly an important field here that needs a lot more attention.
    My fundamental reason for starting with policy is that logically, and, I think, dynamically, it is the thing that we have to snatch from the party system. The role of public debate is too often left to vested interests and to crude polling dominated by badly constructed questions. We certainly can do better, and I hope change the political culture in the process.


  12. Keith, ( the previous comment : In Australia….. should have been addresses to Yoram)

    On the question of the rationality of people en masse, you seem to have lost your enthusiasm for the wisdom of crowds. I have been critical of that thesis , but I think we can agree that when faced with a specific limited problem of a sort they are familiar with, people can often be relied upon to show surprisingly good judgement, especially of they are strongly motivated to do so in the particular circumstances. Most people are quite capable of rationally assessing managable questions, but find doing so difficult and irksome and prefer to pas s the back to somebody else.

    That tendency is greatly reinforced by consumerism. We buy everything we consume and have got used to a mixture of factors ranging from market reputation to government regulation to absolve us from the task of assessing each purchase. It is going against the grain that we should engage in detailed assessment of political proposals instead of buying the packages put up u under political brand names. But I hope that enough of us will engage in that activity in particular matters if they have the opportunity and incentive to ensure that every relevant consideration in each matter is taken into account.

    I agree that the isolated council is unlikely to attract much attention. There have bee successful citizen juries used on policy questions on odd occasions all around the world, but nowhere have they shown any sign of becoming established practice. It won’t happen without the deployment of a lot of determined, professional, well-resourced organisation. People have to come to realise that while the market gives us a host of choice in consumer goods, public goods are quite different. They have no market value to the individual, since they are freely accessible to all, The parts of the book that people find tedious and obscure analyse that problem.


  13. John,

    My application of the wisdom of crowds thesis is restricted to the aggregate judgment of a well-informed minidemoi, not to mass society. In this respect the term is an unfortunate misnomer — the Condorcet Jury Theorem being much more suitable.

    >I think we can agree that when faced with a specific limited problem of a sort they are familiar with, people can often be relied upon to show surprisingly good judgement, especially if they are strongly motivated to do so in the particular circumstances.

    Absolutely, but that’s the case for decision-making by minidemoi, and has nothing to do with the formation of public opinion. How do you square your opposition to decision-making by a representative sample of the citizen body with the above paragraph?

    >I agree that the isolated council is unlikely to attract much attention. . . . It won’t happen without the deployment of a lot of determined, professional, well-resourced organisation.

    Unfortunately at that point the process will cease to have the confidence of the public (and the media), for the reasons that Yoram has outlined. I believe that the Australian foundation that you lionise is bankrolled by a real-estate construction group. Other “determined, professional and well-resourced” [lobby groups] will want a slice of the action and will find it very easy to disguise their pet councils as representing all affected interests. This would suggest that the demarchic councils should be funded by the taxpayer but this would open another can of worms (as the government would hold the purse strings). And I do think you should respond to Terry’s (Madisonian) argument that the aggregate judgment of those least affected by any particular issue is likely to be wise in the (impartial) disinterested sense.


  14. Keith (and others) THIS IS CORE STUFF!

    I believe that on reflectiona nd discussion most people can come to recognise the various considerations that are relevant to getting sound decisions about a specific public good. Left to themselves they naturally tend to concentrate on what they attach most importance to, leaving it to others to push for what they favour. They then hope that the national political process will sort out the problem of reconciling competing or conflicting considerations. In the optimistic decades up to the early seventies confidence in the political process remained high, in spite of deep problems in the dynamics of the political system, but it has since collapsed, partly because of those defects, partly because of social changes and changes in the role of global problems, and partly because of massive developments in the economic system. outside national control.

    What I see as needed is that we find a way of tackling the problem of reconciling competing considerations by direct public discussion, aimed at finding ways of giving as much as possible to the various considerations we come to acknowledge as relevant to the problem requiring action. There is no chance of our being able to evolve precisely applicable legal and administrative procedures applying general moral or scientific planning to solve such problems. Moral principles can enable us to exclude many proceedings as unacceptable, but leave open a huge range of options. Applying scientific procedures of analysis and theorisation is dependent on procedures of isolating and quantifying distinct factors, and we have only very disputable means of doing that sort of thing in social contexts. Besides, science tends to concentrate on the properties of components of a complex. But complexes can have properties that their components do not, in virtue of their organisation. The same molecules of H2O form ice, water, steam, clouds and rainbows. We have to deal with things at the macro-level. It is very misleading to reduce our problems to micro-economics, for example.

    When it comes to practical organisation of a process of public discussion and negotiation I have come to the conclusion that only a public, transparent foundation dedicated to doing that can in practice get it going. In our situation that is likely to involve help from some philanthropists, and that of course, invites the suspicion that the foundation will be rigged to suit the economic and political interests of the donors. If that suspicion is based on the view that ultimately people have no genuine interests in public goods, but only in “who gets what”, it is just plain false. Nevertheless, it is certainly desirable that the funding of the public discussion process be impersonal and outside political manipulation. A system of an anonymous donations or a small levee on income tax dedicated to it could work, once public opinion was convinced of its value. THEY FIRST HAVE TO BE SHOWN THAT IT WORKS

    Amore fundamental question is that raised by Terry and urged by Keith, the choice between entrusting decisions about contested issues to those who have no interest in the matter versus entrusting it to those who are clearly affected. This is the sort of question one can debate ad infinitum. In my view that is because neither is better in every circumstance, and there is absolutely no chance of formulating a workable principle that will determine
    which procedure fits which context. Roughly, my take on the question in the contexts I’m discussing is as follows.

    Where one has very specific interest and aspirations, it is fatal to leave them to disinterested judgements. The disinterested will apply well-established moral and scientific principles to the issue. They revel in abstractions that studiously ignore what is particular about your concerns, treating them as the same as those of others. The old communist regimes were not just Stalinist dictatorships. At many levels conscientious bureaucrats consulte what people wanted and tried to find strictly fair ways of meeting their needs. Equality meant rigorous uniformity. Historically impartiality tends to moralistic stasis and scientistic reductionism. When it comes to certain legal contexts, especially basic rights, strict impartiality is necessary. In other contexts it is stifling. The impartial, faced with a deviant demand tend to ask “what if everybody did the same” and conclude that that would be disastrous. In fact a live society depends on people doing a variety of things that nobody else wants to do.

    By contrast an open, forward-looking process of negotiation between competing views on a shared problem can and often does constitute a learning process in which attempting to come to grips with the considerations that are most important to others leads people to enlarge their perspectives. The changes that have come about in the last few generations in the social patterns of family life have come about through ubiquitous negotiations between partners in their struggles to find acceptable arrangements to accommodate their diverse aspirations on the basis of recognising the specificity of each other’s concerns. That process has ultimately resulted not only in legislative and institutional changes that have accommodated flexibility in relationships, but in significant changes in moral sensibility. I think it obvious that where possible it is best to leave social problems to such micro negotiation, but in our utterly artificial social systems that is no longer possible. We have created for ourselves monstrous problems that call for decisive action in very specific contexts.

    I am suggesting initiatives that may help in some cases, because the offer the possibility of evolving new roles for people.


  15. John,

    >I believe that on reflection and discussion most people can come to recognise the various considerations that are relevant to getting sound decisions about a specific public good. . . What I see as needed is that we find a way of tackling the problem of reconciling competing considerations by direct public discussion.

    You appear to be arguing here that everyone can, and should, deliberate, and that the role of the demarchic councils is to reflect and guide the debate in a reflexive manner (a similar ideal role to the postmodern political party). That’s a lovely aspiration, but it’s not going to happen, on account of rational ignorance (it just requires “too many evenings”) — that’s why kleroterians argue the case for the deliberative minipublic. Opinion in the public sphere has always been the domain of the chattering classes, as documented by Habermas in his study of its origin in the 18th century bourgeois coffee house. And liberal societies will always be characterised by a wide variety of competing opinion-shaping bodies — your wish for a (single) authoritative council in every public policy domain, sponsored by a (single) “public, transparent foundation”, is a reflection of your own background in Marxism and the Catholic Church. As for the funding issue, I have great respect for the Democracy Foundation and its principal sponsor and have no problem with capitalist philanthropy (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing excellent work); I was only pointing out that well-resourced lobbyists, with less benign intentions, will be quick to get in on the act.

    On the subject of disinterested judgment, the kleroterian case is for the aggregate judgment of a large jury that adequately reflects the cognitive diversity of the whole citizen body, so the example of the old communist regimes doesn’t apply, however much they were staffed by well-meaning functionaries. Equality by lot does not mean “rigorous uniformity”, it just means equal chance and stochastic representativity. Once again, your views betray your own formative background.

    I think it’s fair to say that there are three, mutually compatible, approaches to deliberative democracy: 1) Deliberation in the public sphere (Burnheim and early Habermas); 2) Deliberation in existing political and judicial institutions (Cohen and later Habermas); 3) Deliberative minipublics (Kleroterians). The first two are part descriptive and part nomative; only (3) involves any significant innovation — namely the replacement of existing upper houses with a House of Lots. Although Kleroterians differ on the remit of the House of Lots, we all agree that the innovations required are compatible with increased deliberation in (1) and (2). So good luck with your demarchic project, I just don’t think it’s feasible in the radical form that you advocate (or radical in its feasible form).


  16. Keith

    i take it that when you refer to my struggles with Marxism and Catholicism you are assuming that I’ m dominated by an ideal of unanimity, in spite of the fact that everything I say is directed to the contrary ideal. What matters is whether what i urge is supported by sound analysis. One of my major themes is to suggest that we can arrive at a provisional practical agreement to try a certain approach to a specific problem in a particular context. Such provisional agreement may just accept the desirability of giving the proposal a trial, even though we may have divergent views on many of the more general questions to which it is related.

    I consistently reject the traditional personification of the political community. My appeal to the model of ecosystems is intended to show how different organisms and groups of organisms interacting with each other can come to form a relatively stable but dynamic pattern, ultimately on a global scale, without the traditional assumption that such an order can only exist if there is a upreme authority to keep order with some overriding purpose

    Hardly anybody seems to get my point that a completely thorough and open public debate that takes the initiative in public policy is needed. Nobody offers any comment on the substance of what I say about public goods and the problems of decision-procedures about them about them.

    It is not enough to have a house of review that can disallow what the politicians come up with. In the sort of democratic community that is equipped to think constructively about the totally unprecedented problems that face us the first necessity is awaken public opinion to those problems and the possible means of dealing with them. The political process must be guided by public opinion. It certainly won’t ever be unanimous,but I hope that suggestions will emerge that are generally acknowledged as worth trying.

    It is in that spirit that I offer my proposals, but people seem to look for any reason to dismiss them, without paying any attention to why. That is very understandable, because in one aspect what i am trying to do is take the focus of political thinking away from the traditional focus on power, based on rights to enforce acceptance of authoritative decisions towards seeing authority as gar as possible as a matter of pragmatic agreement to carry out certain experiments in the ongoing search for solutions to specific problems.
    As geoff Gallop says, my approach is deeply pragmatic.


  17. John,

    >Hardly anybody seems to get my point that a completely thorough and open public debate that takes the initiative in public policy is needed.

    How could anyone possibly disagree with this (motherhood and apple pie) aspiration? The problem is the difficulty in putting it into practice (which requires operationalising the “we” and “us”). Kleroterians argue that this will require a statistically-representative minipublic. Fortunately there is no conflict between this approach (3 in my earlier taxonomy) and demarchy (1); I just don’t think you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting demarchic councils to work, on account of the well-known problems of mass opinion.

    Demarchy seeks to influence public opinion reflexively and will therefore be in competition with a myriad influences. Why do you think the public will pay any particular notice, given that the “rightness” of the decisions of the demarchic councils (their only claim to authority) cannot be demonstrated without first putting the decisions into practice? If the only transmission mechanism is the force of public opinion over elected politicians then other factors will come into play. For example, the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership is likely to be determined by whether or not the “out” campaign can get the support of a charismatic leader like Boris Johnson and will have little to do with the strength of the competing arguments. That’s why I’ve argued for the referendum to be replaced by a public enquiry with the outcome determined by a large randomly-selected jury:


  18. John,
    I agree with many aspects of your argument… I just think the whole design needs decisiveness to make it work. It is definitely ideal if all sides (of directly affected people) on some contested issue can get together and hash out an agreement they can all support. But this only happens when there is no option of an end-run for one side to appeal to an elected government to instead support THAT sides favorite policy.

    When I was in the Vermont House of Representatives, sometimes in some empty committee room an orchestrated meeting of the lobbyists on opposing sides of some issue would be brought together … often with no legislators present to see if they could work out a compromise they could all support. This sometimes was successful (because both sides feared that without such a compromise the OTHER side might win a floor vote on their amendment). When the opposing sides agreed, their joint proposal would sail through the Legislative committee and House with nearly unanimous votes. However if one side felt they had the upper hand with a majority of legislators, such meetings would be fruitless.

    So, yes, there is value in having the most affected try to agree on an optimal policy. A key need is that these opposing sides need to fear losing BIG if they don’t agree… and the best way to establish this is by having their proposals go to impartial judges (a mini-public) rather than elected judges, who can be bought with campaign contributions, or who have party platform constraints, etc. This begins to approach my design where the direct interests develop proposals, but knowing that they have to pass muster in front of mini-publics.

    As an aside…One sort of terminology point… You wrote “The political process must be guided by public opinion.” Kleroterians generally object to this idea, due to rational ignorance, etc. Some writers have taken to making a distinction between “public opinion,” referring to uninformed knee-jerk opinion on a matter that few have even thought about, and on the other hand the term “public judgment,” (or perhaps “considered public opinion”) referring to the result of focused deliberation (whether internal or external), education and Kahneman’s “system two thinking,” which can only be achieved by a mini-public, since the mass of society can never give the required attention to the vast array of issues needing public decisions.


  19. John,

    Obviously, the problem with appointed supervisory bodies is that they are not representative – they can be expected to reflect the ideas and the interests of the elites to which their members belong and which appoint them. As always, the advantage of allotment is representativity.


  20. Terry,

    >This begins to approach my design where the direct interests develop proposals, but knowing that they have to pass muster in front of mini-publics.

    Yes I think most of us agree on this point, the only difference being whether or not elected politicians are needed as intermediaries.

    PS on a related issue, would you agree that if Bloomberg decides to stand as an independent that this would add support to the median voter hypothesis — when the two main parties move to the extremes this creates a vacuum in the middle and nature abhors a vacuum? (I know you don’t view your friend BS as extreme, but that’s certainly how he is portrayed in the media.)


  21. Terry and others

    A friend of mine, a retired professor of physics, joined alocal discussion group. In the course of discussion he explained that certain physical limitation made a certain proposal impossible to implement. One of the people who was pushing the proposal objected: “That’s just your opinion”. Friend replied : I can assure you any physicist will tell you the same. Objector: ” I don’t have to accept what physicists say. I’m entitled to my own opinion”. With such people discussion is impossible, but particularly when it comes to political matters, there seem to be a lot of them around and there is ample evidence that they are easily manipulated by saturation advertising and specious claims that are clearly false, but play on hatreds and fears.

    Shocking as it may seem, I do not think the rest of us are obliged to regard such views as deserving consideration. That is not to say that we are not obliged to give them an equal opportunity to express their view, however frivolous or even noxious it may be. It is an unfortunate effect of making collective decisions by counting votes that he decision process accords the views of such people the same weight as the most well considered views.

    People engaged in serious discussion try to find common ground and give serious attention to what others are concerned about. They look for decision procedures that are appropriate in the circumstances and tend to produce outcomes that all concerned can accept even though many of them think that there is some way of achieving a better outcome. People can take such an experimental attitude only if they are confident that they are not taking an irrevocable step. They must be able to expect that the results of the experiment will be carefully evaluated and contribute to a more adequate understanding of the problem.

    There is no denying that only a small minority of people have the talent and skills for active participation in such a deliberative process. To guard against institutionalised elitism, it must be open to anybody to contribute. In addition there must be firm safeguards against treating those whom a proposal affects as guinea pigs. That is why I want to entrust the practical conclusions to be drawn from an open discussion to people who are typical of the various ways in which implementing them could affect people. Those conclusions in any case remain suggestions. It is u[ to the elected government to accept or reject them.

    Nevertheless, I postulate that in communities that are well educated and concerned to discover better ways of providing specific public goods the outcome of a fully open and serious discussion will have a strong title to attention from the government. If they neglect if public discussion they will pay the price. In the past public opinion in policy matters has not needed to be formulated explicitly. It has consisted largely in expectations and conventions about proper behaviour that politicians and political commentators felt had to be respected. Political rhetoric often evoked such tacit assumptions.

    For a variety of reasons people have largely lost the confidence in existing practices on which this tacit consensus rested. I think that very many changes will be called for to deal with our problems. In my view the first necessity is to involve the thinking public in a n ongoing process of self-education about our problems and the procedures we can use to tackle them. Just as we have discovered tha many illnesses can be understood and treated effectively only in terms of factors and processes that involve knowledge that is inaccessible at the level of direct observation, so many of the economic, ecological and social problems we face can only be understood through analysis that goes beyond what is accessible to “common sense”. If we are to deal with those problems effectively we are inevitably faced with accepting or rejecting expert opinion about their causes and the consequences of various interventions we might make.

    We may have good reason for distrusting this or that piece of expert advice or just take the risk of ignoring it, but we cannot pretend that there is no risk in doing so, but the problem of dependence on knowledge we cannot verify from our ordinary experience remains. My thesis is that we must get the discussion of such questions out of the hands of political power-traders into the public domain if we are to put ourselves in a position to decide rationally on what direction to take on problems we inevitably face.

    Now that does mean that the people who are going to have most influence on the outcome of public discussion will be those with the equipment and motivation to devote close attention to what is relevant to understanding them. Such a minority is going to dominate proceedings in any minipublic just as surely as in an open forum. And they will have ideas and aspirations that are in some respects untypical of most citizens. To refuse rto accept this is to bury one’s head in the sand. The best we can do is to try to ensure they are not treating the rest of us in unacceptable ways.

    There are, of course many other aspects of this problem that I advert to in various places.


  22. Keith : on the chances of the snowball in hell

    It is,of course, unlikely That my proposals could succeed without changes in our situation. As I say in the very last two sentences of the conclusion, it needs people with the flair and the resources to give life to it.

    However, it may be possible to pick on a few very specific hot issues inwhich it can demonstrate the ability to bring the specifics into focus, and get away from the ideological generalities that so much political rhetoric relies on I think that people might find it very attractive if it could establish its pragmatic potential. People realise the old ideologies are dead ends.


  23. Keith: re “yo appear to be arguing that everyone can and should deliberate…

    NO, no! all I argue is that most people can deliberate, and are therefore able to participate in a public debate if they have something to say. I constantly say that what matters is that all the relevant considerations on the particular question at issue in a public debate get a fair hearing. Further I argue that if the people actively involved in the debate want to get their deliberations accepted as a fair assessment of the problem they will be anxious to cover all the considerations. This is most important many of our decisions affect people who cannot speak up for themselves or perhaps are not yet born.

    Crucially, the constructive role of discussion is to get away from the zero sum frame in which the adversarial politics we are used to confines discussion. It reduces every question to who gets what. Many goods that can be private property are of that sort, but public goods are not. We do not as individuals own the but identify with them even if we do not derive any personal benefit from them.Constructing a public good that is open for anybody who is interested to use is a matter of discussion in which the various kinds of interest involved are brought into relation to each other in such a way as to make the good that is owned in common as useful as possible to all who can profit from its use.

    With many private goods we just need to consider our own desires. Public goods have to give as much as possible to divergent desires. Designing really good public goods involves, empathy, imagination and flexibility. But the rewards are magnificent. We can and do shape our identities around the things in which we can take pride, quite independently of any specific benerit to us. Sydney siders take pride and pleasure in the Opera House, even if they have no interest in elite cultural performances.

    More substantially, it is a great advantage to anybody to live in a secure, well-served, well regulated community that offers many possibilities for anybody who is interest, however impecunious to enjoy the best achievents of our common cultural heritage. It we can take the initiative in proosing public goods out of the hands of the state we might have a much ha[pier society.


  24. John,
    I agree with one of your main points
    >”Crucially, the constructive role of discussion is to get away from the zero sum frame in which the adversarial politics we are used to confines discussion. It reduces every question to who gets what.”

    But, we seem to have very different views on who can and should deliberate on behalf of society on public decisions. I DO deny the implication of your statement
    >”There is no denying that only a small minority of people have the talent and skills for active participation in such a deliberative process.”

    As for “talent” (implied in-born ability) I think many people who THINK they have such talent do not, and many who assume they DON’T have such talent DO. So those who step up and volunteer are often NOT the best for this task. There is no easy way to assess this ahead of time, and the individual is almost always a poor judge of their own talent in this realm. What’s more the IMPORTANT “talent” is not an individual trait, but an emergent group phenomenon, such that a homogeneous group of experts does worse than a diverse group that includes people with little personal “talent.”

    As for the “skills,” they are easily taught and can be learned by almost everybody. A key factor is opportunity and motivation (such as can arise when drawn for a mini-public) to learn them. I believe almost anybody CAN productively contribute to a group deliberative process (in some circumstances this might best be done by simply listening to balanced presentations, and voting without debate, and other circumstances through active give and take either among experts, or a mini-public). A key element includes giving participants time, resources, expert advice and motivation for deliberation (as in a mini-public). There are also skills that should be taught (how to understand probability and risk, etc.) that are not natural to common sense.


  25. Keith: > you appear to be arguing that everyone can and should deliberate…

    John: > NO, no! all I argue is that most people can deliberate, and are therefore able to participate in a public debate if they have something to say.

    We are conflating two senses of deliberation. Your reference is to the Germanic notion of deliberative voice, which is clearly applicable to the workings of a demarchic council, whereas I’m referring to the Latinate notion of deliberative judgment. Your claim that demarchic councils should both reflect and shape deliberation in the public sphere and that public opinion should be the medium for political change (via its effect on elected politicians) does indeed suggest that all citizens need to deliberate in the Latinate sense. Kleroterians argue that this is impossible, hence the need for representative minipublics.


  26. Keith (and everyone)

    I’m very sceptical about confections like your Germanic versus Latinate senses of deliberation. Of course there is both individual deliberation that is focussed on judgement and individual and collective deliberative processes that are focussed on influencing collective assumptions and practices in every culture. And it is important to understand what the difference consists in.

    In my book I use the analogy of the relations between the properties of molecules of H20 and the properties of water, ice, steam and clouds to illuminate the relation between individuals and various forms of social activity. in particular I point to the folly of reductionism, the ubiquitous temptation to think that complexes cannot have properties that their components do not have. Ice acts as a solid where water is liquid and steam is gas-like. They are all the same stuff. What is different and the ways those organised properties interact with certain contexts. It is simply amazing, and very difficult to explain, why ice floats and clouds weighing thousands of tons stay up in thin air. Similarly, it is amazing how certain ways of organising ourselves enable us to produce scientific knowledge that is completely accessible to anybody of average intelligence that enable us to explain precisely and definitively how such things happen.

    My focus is on understanding and developing ways of instituting collective learning procedures that will enable us to deal constructively with certain political problems. I believe you are fundamentally mistaken when you want to construct a procedure as the aggregate of individual judgements, as far as possible insulated from the bad influences of others. That way, I believe, you only get a depressingly poor reflection of established views. On the contrary I want to institute a process of highly interactive thinking that overcomes the myopia and limitations of our necessarily limited personal judgements, not by imposing norms on the but by supplying them with sound feed-in from all the sources we can muster.

    The obvious objection is that various forms of distorting prejudices, many of them powerfully institutionalised, are going to mar the process. And there is no sure way of avoiding them. That is indeed true. Escaping them is very difficult even in scienc. I have a couple of very old friend, both of them distinguished scientists in their own fields, who are climate sceptics. Both are laboratory scientists who are reluctant to acknowledge as science any claim that cannot be reproduced under controlled conditions in the lab. They are both very right-wing politically, easily accepting such fables as that the whole beat up is a conspiracy to empower a world government. They both are misanthropic in their dotage and explain the judgement of their fellow scientists as a matter of getting research grants for fashionable purposes. Fortunately, the scientific community is sufficiently robust to survive such onslaughts. Even if the cognitive enterprise I envisage can be constructive of better understanding in the way I postulate, it is not very likely to be able to sustain the sort of assaults that the dissident can mount even in science. But we can only try and see what happens.

    Part of the robustness of science is due to everything being out in the open and evaluated by peers. Previous to the internet similar openness about the facts and analyses that affect political decisions were too cumbersome and costly. Now we can put it all out there, readily accessible to anybody. Of course, as in science, it is quite unnecessary for the vast majority of us to access most of it, provided there is a process of peer review that we can trust. Of course any such check is less than definitive, and there will always be people like my friends who don’t like what’s going on and assure us we are being taken for ride. And sometimes that may be right!

    Reflecting further on the question of my involvement with Catholicism and Marxism. I am forced to acknowledge that those involvements do betray a certain bias in my character. It is pretty clear that why I thought them worth attention, and what remains their attraction to so many people, was that both offered hope of a decisive improvement in the way we live. Clearly, even in my old age I’m still on the same quest despite continued failure!


  27. Another aside…I think there is an interesting parallel between the practice of “peer review” in science by a representative (though small) subset of fellow scientists and the “peer review” kleroterians are seeking for civil society by a representative (larger) subset of the citizenry in a mini-public.


  28. Terry and others

    One is always being trapped by failure to anticipate how what one says with one intent looks to people with other preoccupations.

    There is no doubt that some people are genetically endowed with more than average ability to develop skills in certain matters. Of course the actual development of those talents is a matter of acquiring what social activity has achieved in that area. I am immensely impressed by the importance of mathematics and have tried in vain to master certain mathematical knowledge with little success. In any context the more talented are likely to contribute much more than others. That does not imply that others can’t judge their achievements. Many people who have no talent as composers are good judges of compositions. In a live context we respect the judgement of those who prove their ability in specific contexts and try to understand what they tell us.

    In any area of endeavour the bright ideas are going to come in a process where those who are good at the job lead the way. Of course, most bright ideas are wrong, and it is important that a much wider circle than any leading group be involved in assessing their worth. My proposals are designed to take account of these crucial facts. My big point is that the process of debating ideas must be completely open and the reasons people have for or against various proposition be expressed as explicitly and accessibly as possible, so that anybody can comment on any of it. There is no question of any scheme of representation in this enterprise. My big assumption is that when all the relevant consideration are brought into focus on a particular problem, it is usually possible to reach a large measure of agreement that deserves to be recognised as public opinion.

    Then the task of trying to suggest the practical conclusions that can be drawn from the debate is entrusted to a small group of those most strongly affected by whatever is done. Their business is not to represent anybody, but to derive a practical conclusion from the debate. Any force that their decision has rests solely on the MERITS OF THE ARGUMENTS ON WHICH IT IS BASED, as tested in open discussion. My hope is that a sufficiently large group of swinging voters will insist that the politicians are guided by public opinion so expressed and that it trumps the outpourings of lobby groups etc, which, in any case have had their opportunity to participate in the public debate like everybody else. If they refuse to participate that surely raises suspicions about their having something to hide.

    In many matters of great importance the public discussion must take full cognisance of expert opinion. Our ability to do that depends largely on our being able to trust the procedure in whidh experts submit their claims to peer review. Most of us are simply incompetent to judge the arguments of experts in many matters. What we can insist on is that the experts are theoreticians and that they are not always the best judges of the implications of their findings in a particular practical context. So economists who agree on the theory often differ widely, and are often wrong about the practical conclusion to be drawn from it in particular cases. That is no reason for ignoring the theory, which is often relevant to avoiding certain mistakes that are very easy to make if one is not aware of the correct analysis.

    I agree that to keep politicians up to their pretence to follow public opinion a house of review is likely to be necessary, and, like you I have an open mind about how that might proceed. But I am very suspicious of the sort of procedure that has the members listening passively to proposals and voting on them in isolation from each other. It reduces public involvement to making a choice between the limited options the proponents care to offer them. i doubt if many people would be content with such a role.


  29. Yoram: re supervisory boards

    I don’t think it is necessary for supervisory boards to be representative. Their core task is to see that bodies do what they profess to do, which has previously been decided elsewhere. That is a quasi-judicial role in which their competence and integrity are what matter. Take a look at my section on auditing.

    I think that much democratic thinking is stuck on the idea that representation is the key to all problems. My emphasis is that all relevant considerations are considered, and many of those can only be represented by people who are not typically themselves affected by those considerations. There are a host of problems here, including posterity (too many people in effect say: what has posterity ever done for me? including many climate deniers).

    Also mere representation of people does not guarantee that many systemic problems are recognised and addressed. Emphasis on aggregating individual opinions produces a very limited perspective. From the very beginning I have always emphasised the importance of systemic factors. It needs an open discussion in which anybody can contribute to ensure that many factors that do not loom large in the experience of individuals are identified and analysed.

    I think any decision process that is worth its salt must challenge people to spell out and examine the reasons for the preferences they have and relate them to the considerations that affect others.


  30. John,

    I fundamentally disagree with the notion that judicial roles don’t require representativity. This is no more true for judicial roles than it is for legislation or execution. None of these roles are mechanical. They are all political – reflecting the views and interests of those carrying them out.

    The idea that a judge is merely mechanically applying laws to particular cases is extremely naive. I would think it is so self-evidently false that it hardly needs refutation, but if there is any need to refute it, one can look at the occurrence of split decisions in multi-judge courts. There should have been no such splits if no discretion was involved.

    (I would add that allotted supervisory bodies should also have a legislative function. They should be empowered to set the regulations that they apply, rather than have those set by the same elected bodies to whom they apply.)

    I agree that formal representation (as in elections or referenda) does not automatically translate into substantial representation. Achieving substantial representation is a difficult task. However, entrusting political power to a non-representative body is a non-starter. The notion that some elite group can be relied upon to represent the ideas and interests of the population is a transparently elitist self-serving falsehood.


  31. John,

    >I’m very sceptical about confections like your Germanic versus Latinate senses of deliberation.

    This is precisely the division of labour in the law courts — the advocates exchange reasons and the jury determines the outcome. The only difference in a legislative court is that the jury decides on the basis of informed preferences, rather than purely epistemic considerations. Your analogy of phase transitions in compounds like H20 is irrelevant as the two forms of deliberation are chalk and cheese.

    >I believe you are fundamentally mistaken when you want to construct a procedure as the aggregate of individual judgements, as far as possible insulated from the bad influences of others. That way, I believe, you only get a depressingly poor reflection of established views.

    That’s Rousseau’s project not mine. The judgment of the legislative court is fully informed, and in a balanced manner. Your suggestion that the only views under consideration are “establishment” is a telling sign of the long tale of (cultural) Marxism. Peer review (your own model for evaluation) is about as establishment as it gets, whereas the proposals for information advocacy that Naomi and I are suggesting are considerably more democratic in the agonistic and pluralistic sense (unlike to your dream to replace the existing elite hegemony with the new consensus of public opinion derived from demarchic deliberation.)


  32. Yoram on supervisory bodies

    This is all very complicated. To explain my view properly would take thousands of words that i’m not up to at the moment, particularly because I did not commit myself on supervisory bodies in the book and would have to do a lot of work to sort out my views on the problems.

    For example i see umpteen reasons for rejecting your idea of giving supervisory bodies legislative power and every reason for referring that tak back to the legislature.

    I suspect that my views on what constitutes elitism are different from yours.
    I am very concerned about the importance of relations between certain professionals such as teachers and their charges, and more generally relations of trust in society, which involve certain people in exercising a degree of discretion and being expected to live up to relevant standards. Destroy all such relationships and insist on close supervision of everybody as if nobody could be trusted is just destructive.

    I’m not imputing that to you, but I suspect there are lots of differences in this sort of area due to cultural and age differences..


  33. John,

    Elites have enjoyed a long – much too long, in my opinion – grace period of trust by the people. They have thoroughly abused this trust and indeed, as you say, one of the reasons this abuse was destructive for society is because it reduced the general level of trust within society. However, the way to re-introduce trust is by setting up a system that justifies the public’s trust, not by preaching the need for trust in a system that is abusive.

    History of the last few decades shows that any reform proposal that relies on the good faith of the elites is unlikely to succeed in improving policy outcomes for the average citizen. For this reason at this point such a proposal is also unlikely to garner the support of the average citizen.


  34. Yoram:> History of the last few decades shows . . .

    I’m with John on this. The ultimate cause of the UK junior doctors’ dissatisfaction is the move by the Labour government to convert an independent professionial elite into salaried wage slaves, subject to intrusive management, assessment and box ticking, and all in the name of transparency and accountability. Onora O’Niell’s Reith Lecture book, Trust, is very good on this.


  35. Keith, Terry, Yoram

    I’m trying yo make a serious case for a proposal that nobody has considered seriously before. The obvious comment on that claim is that there is no fool like an old fool, and that only a very old fool would think it worth considering. I am immensely grateful to you fall or giving me the chance to defend my folly. However, it is as much asI can do at the moment to work on that defence. So I must decline to be drawn on other issues that are not directly relevant to my proposal.

    However, I’m permitting my self a brief comment on Keith’s response to my comment on his Germanic-Latin duality. He takes me to be referring to his advocacy-judgement distinction, which I fully accept. The difference between us is that he has a view about the way to arrive at good judgements in certain contexts that I disagree with for both theoretical and practical reasons.

    I suspect that he thinks I am critical of his position in this context because of some a priori view about open discussion. That is not the case. There are very good reasons I believe, for the modern procedure of discussion among members of the jury prior to voting on a verdict. There are, of course, dangers in the modern procedure, but I think that it would be difficult to change in the case he has in mind.

    This question has nothing to do with my proposal.


  36. Yoram
    re >The idea that a judge is merely mechanically applying laws is naive..

    Or ideologically loaded like the ‘letter of the law’ stuff. as i discuss in my appendix on conventions. The insinuation that judges and the like could be trusted only if they were mere cogs in wheels is very dangerous people cannot be reduced to robots.

    In a healthy institution or field of practical activity there are always conventions about how powers and liberties of various kinds are expected to be used and under what conditions. In a self-conscious community these conventions are continually being modified in the light of changing public opinion and especially criticisms that emerge from particular cases. It may seem a slow and erratic process, but in my long lifetime I have seen it at work to produce amazing changes in attitudes and behaviour.

    Its enemies try to deride it as “political correctness’ and a form of tyranny, unfortunately with some success. I believe that a society where public opinion played the sort of role I want to assign to it healthy conventions would flourish without the need to reduce public functionaries to robots. ordinary people rely very much on often tacit conventions and are very unhappy with strictlegalism, for good reason.


  37. Yoram

    I heartily agree that we cannot and must not rely on elites to reform themselves. What we can rely on in the area of public services is the pressure of public standards of behaviour, set in an ongoing interaction between the expectations and aspiration of vocal members of various sub-communities and the public servants who are supposed to serve them.

    Most professionals, even in the context of rampant capitalist fundamentalism, do want to do and be seen to do a good job according to genuinely accepted and justified community standards. But they must not be allowed to think that they can set those standards themselves unilaterally or simply defer to their “superiors”.

    As for questions of systemic changes, I strongly agree that they are certainly not going to arise naturally from social changes alone. They are not going to be addressed by existing economic and political power elites, without very strong and well targeted pressure. I am trying to suggest a way of exerting that pressure.


  38. John:> There are very good reasons I believe, for the modern procedure of discussion among members of the jury prior to voting on a verdict.

    Absolutely — in judicial trials, jury-room discussion is on account of the need for consensus and (ideally) unanimity. This is not only unnecessary but (arguably) harmful for legislative trials, as there is no fact of the matter when it comes to political preferences and beliefs.


  39. Keith

    All this is enormously complicated. If you are going to introduce sortition into existing houses of review people, both lay and professionals of various sorts will expect the reformed house to be able to perform all the important functions that the old house performed, In Australian practice, for example, much like the US in happier days, the upper house frequently sends back a piece of legislation to the lower house in amended form. This may be better in ways that many in the lower house would have liked to achieve, but because of certain vested interests could not. The upper house based on representing states has a different spread of vested interest influence, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. The lower house frequently accepts some of these amendments for various reasons, especially when they are backed by vocal opinion.

    One would expect that a sortition upper house would often try to sponsor amendments removing provisions that favoured vested interests. It seems a pity to limit the upper house to accepting or rejecting what is sent to them from the lower house. I dont want to pursue this problem. I think we agree that reform always has to start from the existing institutions, and my point is simply that what is a viable reform in one case may appear as a retrograde step in another.


  40. John:> If you are going to introduce sortition into existing houses of review people, both lay and professionals of various sorts will expect the reformed house to be able to perform all the important functions that the old house performed.

    Given that the members of the allotted upper house will be amateur conscripts, and serving for a short period of time, the procedure would need to be slightly different. If a new law is rejected, the defeated advocates could suggest an amendment which would be voted on by the upper house but, if it passed, would then need to be ratified by the lower house. So the outcome would be the same. How would the advocates know what sort of amendment might be acceptable? It would be partly down to reflecting public opinion (ideally better-informed as a result of the influence of demarchic councils), partly a consequence of the debate itself (taking on board the arguments of the advocates who defeated the proposal), and also perhaps via a questionnaire completed by the jury that rejected the proposal. Questionnaire responses can be aggregated in an equal manner, thereby retaining the representative mandate of the jury.


  41. Keith

    I’m still trying to avoid getting drawn away from dicsusion of my book into areas where I can’t refer people to answers that are wel thought out.

    However, one of your comments does draw attention to a consideration that involves serious problems for all kleroterians, namely the importance of experience in practical matters. It is a problem for any proposal that interferes with existing legislative and administrative problems.

    Recently one of Oz’s better political journalist published a booklet entitled Political Amnesia deploring the bad effects of supplanting permanent public servants with contractors who were more likely to do what the politicians wanted. ( The older among us will remember the BBC comedy series Yes, Minister in which Sir Humphrey the permanent bureaucrat demolishes the minister with:”I i may say so, that is very brave decision” and proceeds to point out a host of likely consequences that never occurred to him. )

    For a while after WW2 many of thew bureaucracies were innovative an effective. Of course, the bureaucracy soon ossified. It is inevitable that the pattern of activities of any organisation will be dominated over tim by the interests of those who have executive power in the organisation. Careerism, empire building, growing closer to the vested interests they are supposed to restrain and so on.

    Nevertheless, Sir Humphrey was often right. From the outside implementing policy looks simple: all that is lacking is the political will! Contrary to what some have imputed to me I am very conscious that embodying broad policy decisions in legislative and administrative practice is a very complex and skilled task, much harder than running most businesses.

    That is why, even if my proposal about the public seizing the initiative in public policy, the devil is still in the detail, and it will also be necessary for the public to review what the legislators and bureaucrats make of it. I have argued long ago that one of the advantages of sortition is that members of public regulatory bodies can be replaced one at a time, instead of all at once, thus preserving continuity of collective experience, that is vital for effectiveness. I do think that the people chosen for such roles need to have a long enough term to enable them to acquire a lot of experience and insight into what is going on, but at the same time be open to the new take on the situation that new blood can bring. Of course, it is essential that the proceedings of such bodies be accessibly public and actually discussed in the media.

    The pillars of demarchy are open discussion, attention to the specifics of problems, sortition to give prominence to those most affected by those specifics and, I’m happy to add, effective review, also based on appropriate sortition. In my view a house of review would need to do most of its work through specialised committees each of which could get down to the dtail of a specific area of activity and understand how things work in practice.


  42. John,

    You bring up some very important points.

    I agree that the large sortition-based juries that I advocate are unsuitable for the formation of parliamentary committees — either to scrutinise legislation (in detail) or the conduct of ministers and bureaucrats. One of the principal arguments against sortition is that amateur conscripts would be easy meat for the Sir Humphreys. My proposal for sortition would increase the power of the permanent bureaucracy and this would be a mixed blessing — there would be a net gain in practical experience and continuity but at the expense of ossification and a reduced protection of all affected interests. So I think demarchic councils could play a role in the scrutiny and accountability process. The existing Westminster model involves two kinds of committees:

    STANDING COMMITTEES: These are set up on an ad hoc basis for the detailed scrutiny of legislation and they are not particularly effective (for details see Ferdinand Mount’s book The British Constitution Now. The whips select the members and, according to Bernard Weatherill** deliberately exclude MPs with any experience in the bill being scrutinised. Bills used to be subject to greater scrutiny in the (unreformed) House of Lords. So there is a potential role for demarchic councils in the scrutiny of legislation.

    DEPARTMENTAL SELECT COMMITTEES: This innovation of the Thatcher era has proved surprisingly successful as DSCs have developed a reputation for non-partisan scrutiny, in particular since the selection process was transferred from the whips to backbench MPs. However this could be an obvious role for demarchic councils and rolling membership would be necessary to ensure experience and continuity. Whether elected ministers or permanant bureaucrats would be held to account would depend on the effect of the introduction of sortition on the other elements of a mixed system of governance. My preference is for the de-politicisation of executive functions, in which case the demarchic council would have hire-and-fire authority over civil servants. To my mind that would provide a working balance between competence/continuity and the protection of the interests of those affected by the work of the department in question.

    I appreciate this is a long way from your own proposal (and my own), but would sit well with Yoram’s oversight suggestion and would provide a necessary complement to an allotted upper house with purely veto powers. I also think that demarchy is likely to be more effective in such a manner than in just exerting an influence (among many others) in the public sphere.

    ** See Keith Sutherland & Michael Beloff (ed), The Rape of the Constitution (2000), espec. contributions by Lords Weatherill and Carrington.


  43. John,

    I don’t understand how you can on the one hand assert that the elite cannot be relied upon to monitor itself and on the other hand express so much confidence in elite-appointed and elite-staffed supervisory bodies. (Or, for that matter, in elite-managed citizen-juries.)


  44. Yoram> elitism

    In a complex society involving many specialised activities those engaged in a particular activity will always have a lot of practical knowledge about what can and can’t be done that is not easy to formulate or communicate to people who have no experience in the field. That applies to electricians and plumbers just as much as judges.

    We have to expect them to explain to us as far as possible why they are doing this or that when it seems to require justification, but we may have to take the word of the professionals that a certain procedure won’t work, and allow individuals who make such claims to appeal to the judgement of their peers.

    Of course, grounds of this sort are notoriously likely to be self-serving, to guard a collective monopoly, to buttress a set of vested interests. Particularly when professional practice gets insittutionalised, those practices acquire enormous inertia.

    My view is that changes in social practices come about mainly by changes in the way people deal with particular cases. There is a gradual process of changes in one case leading to questions about analogous cases that often in modern conditions produces very big and unforeseen changes to which people adapt without fully realising how much is different. I want to insist that that is the best way of getting real change without regimenting people.

    But it is often not enough to change the practice of elites with a vested interest in the status quo. In many cases there will be a need for supervisory bodies that watch over certain institutions. Often that is a matter of insisting that they live up to their pretensions. In many other cases it cuts much deeper. Bur where I find myself differing from many radical critics is in insisting on looking at the practicalities in a constructive way, positive procedures that can change things in the circumstances. The rhetoric of adversarial warfare against capitalism of sexism or racism or whatever too often allows people to evade the hard work of getting processes of change up and working.

    That approach is often derided at reformism, that hides the need for radical change. I think such purism too easily blames others for the consequences of their failure to tackle the practicalities of change.


  45. Keith

    This is all interesting stuff that I shall file away for attentionlater. I hope sOon to post a new discussion iece on THE PRACTICALITIES OF DEMARCHY.


  46. Keith

    I dont agree that sortition as you envisage it is sufficient or necessary to guarantee the authority of a particular body to perform some function in the public domain. It is not only possible but even likely in many cultural traditions that most people would much prefer some other decision procedure.
    Even among those who favour some sort of democracy, if has rarely been seen as desirable. People have generally preferred to choose their epresentative themselves rather than accept the luck of the draw.


  47. John:> People have generally preferred to choose their representative themselves rather than accept the luck of the draw.

    Agree — the reforms that Naomi and I propose complement, rather than replace, the electoral process. But I don’t need to give any lectures on the inadequacies of electoral democracy (including the approximate nature of the preference aggregation involved) to you or anybody else on this forum. Demarchy seeks to address these inadequacies ex ante (via the shaping of a consensus of well-informed opinion in the public sphere), whereas stochation works ex post, by ensuring that legislative proposals can be vetoed by the silent majority. Both approaches include a pivotal role for elected representatives, but seek to check the tendency of the political class to become detached from popular preferences. Demarchy, preference election, and stochation are three different forms of political representation and there is no reason to insist that we have one without the others. My concern with demarchy is that a) it gives an even greater role to the self-selecting aristoi of the chattering classes in the formation of public opinion and b) it is unlikely to work, in that there is no reason to believe that a demarchic council will be seen as anything more than yet another think tank. This is why I made the suggestion that parliamentary committees might well be structured along demarchic principles. Your disdain for stochation (I suspect) is that it puts too much power in the hands of the great unwashed. Your new book asks not whether democracy is possible, but whether it is desirable (answer: no).


  48. Keith > demarchy and democracy

    It is true that I am not in favour of giving everybody an equal power to determine decisions on everything. From the very beginning I have argued that specific public goods, even when they belong to everybody in a national community affect particular partial communities most strongly. I think that in general a decision process that pays most attention to what those people have to say is more likely to produce good decisions than one that gives equal weight to the view of everybody in the nation. That is one of the major themes of Is Democracy Possible? but it has been generally ignored.

    I am well aware that such a thesis appears to favour elites when it is interpreted in the light of the prevalent assumption that all expenditure on public goods must be justified by giving equal say on it to everybody, since everybody is equally subject to taxation. I admit that assumption has some force, but I fear that if one presses it too far one arrives at the conclusion that people should only have a say in proportion to the tax they pay, as some rich people seem to think. My contention is that what is sensible for us each to want is that each specific public good should be as good as possible. In the long run that should produce a good society in which we can all take pride and from which we can all benefit.

    It is too easy for those who have only a very inadequate knowledge of the ramifications of some particular problem to decide, with the best intentions, that some radically counterproductive proposal is the answer to all its problems. I have always insisted that each specific problem needs to be dealt with in its own terms and that those who are most strongly affected by and involved in the outcome are usually the people who are best motivated and equipped to evaluate proposals on that matter. In present practice those who are particularly affected by certain decisions only have a distinct voice to the extent that they can dress up their concerns in a way that either puts direct pressure on the rulers or evokes a powerful reaction from the public. That favours vested interest on the one hand and sensationalism on the other.

    Demarchy is directed both to give everybody a say by making it easy for them to participate in discussion of every aspect of public policy by engaging in discussion of any particular problem on which they think they have something to say. At the same time it leaves the final decision about the practical conclusions that are best in the light of full discussion to the people who have to bear the major impact of those decisions. In some cases, especially in our very technical society, that will involve listening to elites such as scientists and even bankers, but only to the extent that what they have to say can stand up to critical debate.


  49. John,

    >specific public goods, even when they belong to everybody in a national community affect particular partial communities most strongly. I think that in general a decision process that pays most attention to what those people have to say is more likely to produce good decisions than one that gives equal weight to the view of everybody in the nation. That is one of the major themes of Is Democracy Possible? but it has been generally ignored.

    Not so. I have rehearsed Madison’s argument in favour of disinterested decision making and Terry has pointed out (on the basis of his own experience as an elected official) that these “particular communities” are least likely to agree, unless they are constrained to compromise by real executive power (ie the need to keep the trains running). There is no reason why a demarchic council with power only to influence debate in the informal public sphere should come to a compromise agreement, as such a boring outcome is unlikely to generate the publicity necessary to attract the attention of a mass public. It may be a rational way of making decisions but that isn’t how the world works in a demotic age. That’s why I’m warming to Yoram’s view that the best opportunity for demarchic committees is in parliamentary oversight.


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