Sortition – Part 2: the book, the AGM, and a strategy

The End of Politicians screeenshotHere’s the latest on the new book on sortition, and two events in London next week: the Citizens’ Parliament strategy meeting, and the Sortition Foundation’s first Annual General Meeting.

Read on for more details on all of the above.

Continue reading

Why do we need common goods? (with some concessions)

Deliberately constructed public or common goods differ in what they require of participants in several different ways. The following are typical of their diversity:

1. To solve conflicts of interests that tend to produce disadvantageous results for all the participants if they fail to cooperate, but positive goods if the do.

2. To produce positive goods that benefit almost everybody, but which private enterprise cannot as easily produce.

3. To provide coordinated action to avert evils that are the result from unregulated action.

Examples and discussion:

1. A simple example: Jack and Jill from Leeds want to go on holiday together and enjoy each other’s company. But when it comes to making arrangements Jack says he wants to go to Prague, while Jill wants to go to the Costa Brava. Being sensible people the do not adopt the facile solution of tossing a coin to see who wins this year, with the promise that he or she will be given first choice next year. That simply equalises the misery of being dragged to a place one doesn’t want to go to.
Continue reading

Aftermath of the Irish Election

I recently ran in the Irish general election that was held on Feb. 26th as an Independent (Non-Party) candidate, campaigning on a platform of direct digital democracy.

As some of you may know, this election did not deliver a clear winner or even a clear coalition. A month on, a government has yet to be formed. While some prefer to see this as an argument in favour of the need for stronger government and an end to Independents like me, my view is that it is but one further indictment of the party system. The major parties did badly because they refused (for years) to listen to the people who voted for them, and utterly failed during their campaigns to credibly address any of the mistakes they had made or even to present reasonable solutions for the future. Despite these failures, rather than getting on with the business of governing the country, we are left in limbo waiting to see whether any of them (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein) will condescend to form a government with each other. This is a distinct possibility for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, who between them received nearly 60% of all seats with less than 50% of first-preference votes. The constantly trumpeted line that the public voted for the establishment parties is thus wildly over-stated, and there has definitely been a serious push towards alternative politics.

I definitely noticed this while out canvassing, with most people at least open to the idea of more participatory politics and a surprising number already fairly well-informed about participatory initiatives at home and abroad. Most surprisingly of all, I could knock on people’s doors out of the blue and they would not only answer the door, but read through my literature there and then and really engage with the issues.
Continue reading

Why Chance Matters

Just saw the following event announced on PHILOS-L. Anyone know the speaker?


Why Chance Matters
with Prof. Mauricio Suárez
(Complutense University of Madrid & UCL)

Tue 12 April, 18.00 (drinks from 17.45)
@The Conservatory, Bloomsbury Publishing
50 Bedford Square, London.

Organised by UH Philosophy & Bloomsbury Philosophy

Free entry- all welcome – no booking required.
Please arrive early to secure a seat and enjoy a drink on us!

Facebook group for the event:


Chance has been raising intellectual passions at least since the concept of probability emerged firmly in the 17th century, in connection with both evidence in jurisprudence and regularities in so-called “games of chance”. Probabilistic thinking soon spread everywhere: from actuarial science to population statistics, from the calculus of expectations to decision theory, from measures of experimental error to quantum mechanics. Ideas of pure chance and randomness infected general culture and even the arts. Yet, there have been many attempts to deny the reality of chance. Those in denial have typically tried to explain away chance in terms of something else, something less “fickle”, “elusive” or “ephemeral”. But there is deep disagreement as to what that something else may be. Objectivists aim to analyse chance in terms of proportions in real or virtual populations. Subjectivists aim to analyse it away as a feature of the architecture of cognition – such as information, or partial degree of belief. Yet none of these denials of chance seems to apply across the board and, as I show, they are all subject to important conceptual objections anyway. I conclude that chance matters, not only to many areas of philosophy but also to social policy, and how we conduct our lives in general.
Continue reading

Publicity, conformity and change

I’ve been having an email exchange with Yoram about how to ensure that people in various roles act as that role requires. Basically my answer is to ensure that what they do is completely open to public scrutiny and assessment.

Yoram replies that the standards in terms of which those assessments are made are set by the establishment. So the scrutiny only serves to keep the bearers of those roles serving the interests of the establishment.

I reply that there are contexts in which that is largely true, but plenty of others where it is not, especially where there is constant open debate about the ruling conventions in particular matters. Discussion of them in completely general terms is mostly futile. Anybody who has had a long life in recent time has very many examples of complete reversals of the accepted conventions in many areas of life arising from small groups of activists succeeding in changing people’s opinions. The establishment had hardly anything to do with it. For the most part it resisted the changes quite unsuccessfully, in spite of raising fears that society was falling apart.

Where the establishment has usually been much more successful is in the case of strictly institutionalised activities like economic and political structures. Mere changes of opinion have much less effect on them. The difference is obvious. Where what people do is dependent only on their personal compromise between what they would like to do and what they think they ought to do, as in matters of sex, parenting, lifestyle, education, leisure and so on, although they are influenced by existing conventions, if enough people choose to defy or evade them, the conventions soon crumble. In many cases the result is to entrench an entirely new convention.

In strictly institutionalised roles, however, the people in those roles enjoy no such freedom. If they do not conform closely to what is expected of them, they are strongly penalised or ejected from that role. If changes are to be made in those roles, they come, not from changes of opinion among the occupants of the roles, but from those who control the sanctions and choose the employees who get to work under them. In a changing world, however, the establishment does need to change, to adapt to new conditions if they are to survive. Rigidly static organisations inevitably destroy the long run. Even in the short run they are grossly inefficient and costly.
Continue reading

Rousseau’s Mistake

A recent article by Hélène Landemore:

Rousseau’s Mistake: Representation and the Myth of Direct Democracy

Abstract: For Rousseau, democracy was direct or it wasn’t. As he famously put it, “the moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no longer free: it no longer exists. The day you elect representatives is the day you lose your freedom” (Social Contract, III, 15). In other words, representative democracy is no democracy at all. Rousseau isn’t alone in this belief, and today the disappointed of representative government have turned to celebrating anew the virtues of direct democracy as more true to the ideal of popular sovereignty, self-rule, and genuine political equality. This paper defends the thesis that Rousseau was, in fact, mistaken and that there is no salvation to be found in the ideal of direct democracy. If democracy as a political regime is always, in fact, representative, then the interesting question is not: direct or representative democracy? But instead: What kind of representation should we aim for? The paper argues that beyond the familiar electoral model there are at least two other models of representation that present attractive features: the first is based on sortition and the other on self-selection.

Continue reading

Representation and what it’s for

Focussing on the importance of tackling specific problems is the key to my claim that in that way we have a much better chance of achieving a broad consensus on what needs to be done in each of those matters. Only such a consensus can lead to that decision being seen as public good, not just a necessary evil.

I further assume that what we want in each case is to get a sound solution to that particular problem. Accordingly I conclude that when it comes to deciding, after full public debate, what is the best solution in the circumstances, the people most likely to reach a good decision are those who, in different ways, are most directly and substantially affected by the outcome. They have to face the actual consequences of a decision. They cannot afford to give too much weight to merely expressive considerations, as people making decisions about public goods are apt to do.

If we care at all about public policy, it is inevitable that we will want it to express the sort of values and aspirations that we would like our social arrangements to exemplify. That is the case in any kind of regime, theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy or democracy. Indeed people accept authoritarian regimes mainly because they think those authorities can deliver the sort of social order they want, because of their religious, social or other beliefs, which all proper members of the community ought to share. The vice of all such authoritarianism is that it substitutes coercion for persuasion, which is the proper driving force of culture. But persuasion is open to change and the orthodox see change as inevitably for the worse
Continue reading

Policy and representation

There are two activities that go under the heading “Public Policy”, one that concentrates on political processes, as we do here on this website, and the other that is the focus of university departments of Public Policy and numerous professional associations. The first group (call them PPs) are concerned with political processes of arriving at political decisions, the second (call them PNs) with identifying needs in the community and devising means of satisfying those needs.

The two hardly ever engage with each other. If they did, the PPs would no doubt say to the PNs: you are at best just paternalists, patching up holes in the status quo, arrogating to yourselves decisions about what others need. To which the PNs might reply: you PPs are just entrenching the power of existing adults to suit yourselves. You completely neglect the fact that the young are in no position to understand what lies ahead of them and many disadvantaged people are deprived of the means of understanding what it is that they need to overcome their disabilities. They depend on the ‘paternalistic’ interest of competent professionals to bring about the changes that will open up opportunities for them. With all due respect, you PPs, however benevolent, are not very good at that. Your concern is framed by your own experience and aspirations, drawn from your past, not by any understanding of the potential of the future. You just want to replicate yourselves.

There is a lot more to be said on both sides. I’m an old PP, but one of my daughters, both of whom I greatly admire, is a very successful PN in educational policy. More significantly, there is a lot of empirical evidence that adult representation leads to decisions that favour the old at the expense of the young. Especially as life expectancies increase, we oldies and potential oldies would outvote the young by large margins, if it were a question of deciding policy by voting. Such arguments as these challenge the supremacy of representation as the unique ground of legitimate intervention on behalf of others. I am talking here of debates on policy, not about the right to legislate or administer programs. Status in public debates is not a matter of authorisation of any sort, but of the validity of arguments.
Continue reading

Sortition: the idea, the meeting, and a strategy

[Latest news from the Sortition Foundation blog]

There’s exciting news from the Sortition Foundation:

  • The idea: A new “compelling, inspiring” book on sortition, The End of Politicians, by director and co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, is being crowd-funded now by book publisher Unbound:


  • The meeting: The first Sortition Foundation Annual General Meeting will be held at 6pm on Wednesday April 6th in central London. Venue to be confirmed depending on numbers, so please RSVP if you intend to come along.
  • The Strategy: A strategy meeting on how to progress the Citizens’ Parliament campaign ( will also be held on Wednesday April 6th from 1-4pm in central London. Exact venue will also depend on numbers, so please RSVP if you want to come along.

Read on for more details on all of the above.

Continue reading

Irish senior coalition party wants more allotted bodies

During a recent presentation of their party’s government reform plans, four parliament members from the Irish senior governing party Fine Gael said that “the party wants ’randomly selected’ members of the public to review issues like climate change, Seanad Reform and the Eighth Amendment”, reports. The report adds:

Fine Gael has previously suggested the issue of the Eighth Amendment could be put to a public forum similar to the Constitutional Convention.

The party has expanded on that with its proposal for a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ consisting of members of the public who could carry out a “detailed review of a limited number of key issues”.

Their findings would be referred to the appropriate Oireachtas Committee and then to the government.

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD insisted that the Citizens Assembly would not be a ‘talking shop’ that would put issues like abortion on the long finger: “Because it would be established by the Oireachtas, you could set specific timelines so there’s plenty of scope there to make the Oireachtas involved to a greater degree with the result of the discussions of the Citizen’s Assembly.”

On the issue of climate change, Corcoran Kennedy said that putting it to a Citizen’s Assembly would help make the issue “part of the dialogue of every citizen in this country”.