Roslyn Fuller educates Andrew Sullivan

It used to be a mainstream, respectable occupation to theorize about the horrors of popular rule. Socrates and other Athenian aristocrats have been upfront about the fact that the average person should not be trusted with power. This clear-headedness and frankness has been maintained over many centuries. The water began to muddy as the aristocrats were being challenged by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie. Now there had to be some rational criteria explaining why it was not the aristocrats who should be holding power. Talk about natural aristocracy became fashionable, but outright rejection of democracy was still part of the mainstream discourse.

Then, in the 19th century, the term “democracy” was rehabilitated and the ideological water became so thick it was impossible to know where one was heading. In the middle of the 20th century Schumpeter and the elite theorists tried to clear the water by explicitly redefining the term not to refer to popular power after all but simply to a competition between elites for popular vote.

This moment of clarity passed when the 1970’s saw the ideological victory of the Civil Rights movement. At that point popular rule became the only defensible meaning of “democracy”, and since then theorists are in the unpleasant situation of having to reconcile an oligarchical practice with a democratic ideology.

This brief history is presented as an introduction to a recent exchange between Andrew Sullivan, a British author, editor, blogger, conservative political commentator, former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books, and prof. Roslyn Fuller, an Irish academic, legal expert, columnist, electoral candidate, author of the book Beasts and Gods, and an Equality-by-Lot contributor.
Continue reading

Sortition merchandise


One way to advocate for sortition is to wear its messages or display them on your bag, phone case, etc. It turns out that there are various websites that make it quite easy nowadays to create merchandise with your favorite designs and distribute it worldwide.

I just created T-shirts with the “voting is the problem” cartoon that I made some time ago. Feel free to buy those shirts for yourself or for your friends and family and wear them proudly to disseminate the sortition message. Please let me know if you would prefer different merchandise with the same design.

Admittedly, this is a very amateurish design, but if Equality-by-Lot readers see fit maybe we can raise some money to fund the creation of professional designs. Also, if readers have designs they made that they would like to contribute, please let me know.

BTW, I make absolutely no money from the sale of those shirts. Things could be set up, however, so that some money from the proceeds of the sales go to the designer and such money can then be used to fund various activities associated with promoting sortition, such as the creation of more and better designs.

Griffiths: Seven potential problems with sortition

Edmund Griffiths has a post about concerns he has regarding sortition. The post is quite interesting in its originality and in avoiding most of the standard anti-sortition talking points.

Griffiths is generally sympathetic to sortition and starts out with a long list of “well known” advantages of the system. The first few of these are:

it is likelier than any other system to produce representative bodies that are sociologically representative of the people;

• it removes the need for any specific positive discrimination;

• it forces political parties, campaign groups, etc., to address themselves to the public as a whole if they want to have any consistent influence on policy;

• it transforms political representation into a genuine public service, carried out by people who would often not have chosen it: a matter of duty, not ambition[.]

In terms of potential problems, Griffiths is much concerned about the validity of the sampling procedure and raises the questions of both deliberate tampering and non-intentional error as well as the question of whether the public will have faith in the procedure.

Griffiths lists four additional potential problems:
Continue reading

Democracy In Practice’s newest project

We are happy to announce the launch of our newest project focused on democratic experimentation and innovation in collaboration with the R.V. High School in Bolivia. Check out our launch video below, and stay tuned for more updates! Happy to hear any of your questions and comments.

Democracy In Practice


Somin: Sortition won’t solve political ignorance


Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University, is the author of the book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter. Somin opens an opinion piece in the Washington Post thus:

Widespread political ignorance is a serious problem for modern democracy. In recent years, many scholars have argued that we can overcome it by relying on “sortition”: delegating various political decisions to jury-like bodies selected at random from the general population. In this post, I explain why such proposals are unlikely to succeed.

Before going into the substance of Somin’s arguments about sortition, it is important to realize that ignorance is actually only the second most important problem with the current system, the first being the difficulty of mass scale agenda setting. More details here. The emphasis on ignorance rather than agenda setting is typical of the “rational choice” line of political argument which ignores the complexity of organization largely for ideological reasons. That said, the ability of decision makers to become informed about their subject matters is important and worth discussing. Some of the considerations that are discussed below apply also to the matter of agenda setting.

Continue reading

Threlkeld: Electoral system should be decided by jury, not politicians or referendum

Simon Threlkeld has a new article in the Canadian National Observer advocating against having electoral reform decided by referendum. An excerpt:

Electoral system should be decided by jury, not politicians or referendum

Politicians should not decide the rules under which they are elected, because fair and democratic decision-making requires that those who decide do not have a conflict of interest. All of Canada’s political parties should accept this.

The Conservatives say that whatever electoral system parliament decides on, it needs to be ratified in a national referendum. Rather transparently, what concerns them is not giving the public a say, but rather preserving the status quo which in the 2011 election gave them a majority of the seats with just under 40 per cent of the popular vote.

Rule by the people needs to be well-informed, because only informed views provide a good basis for a decision.

A referendum is highly unsuitable for ensuring an informed decision about Canada’s electoral system. The public would only learn about the option(s) on the ballot voluntarily in their spare time, and most people are not especially interested in learning about electoral systems. In B.C.’s 2005 referendum on a proposed new electoral system, shortly before voting day 66 per cent of those surveyed by Ipsos-Reid said they knew “nothing” or “very little” about the proposal on the ballot. In another survey, over half of those who voted “no” said they did so because they did not feel “knowledgeable.”

Sortition as a business opportunity

In Australia, sortition is a business opportunity:

Combining a shrewd business acumen with a philanthropic social conscience, the SA-based start-up – which formally launched last week – aims to work with governments, business, not-for profits and communities to broaden democratic engagement.


“It’s really nice to be able to set the boundaries of what’s authentic and inclusive, and what’s not … we’re really only interested in those (clients) that are actually sharing decision-making.”

Even before its official launch, the fledgling company has already made a splash; it managed the recent Citizens’ Jury process that reviewed policy prescriptions for the management of unwanted dogs and cats, and is now engaged with the Premier’s Taskforce on Healthy Kids’ Menus.

But both Lawson and Jenke are confident the long-term success of their venture isn’t predicated on political whim.
Continue reading

Reminder: “What is a G1000?” this weekend

G1000-style assemblyWhat is a G1000? Two free events, in Cambridge and London, organised by the Sortition Foundation, are happening this weekend.

We have been inspired by the Belgian G1000 and the Dutch G1000 and aim to hold one G1000 in London and one in Cambridge in late 2016 or early 2017, where a truly representative sample of 1000 people gather, deliberate with each other in a respectful environment, and decide together what is best for their communities. It is a way to do democracy differently.

Come along to find out all about a G1000 and how you can help make a G1000 happen in the UK!

For more information visit

Cartledge: Crypto-oligarchy

Paul Cartledge is continuing his assault on the modern conventions about democracy:

To an ancient Greek democrat (of any stripe), all our modern democratic systems would count as “oligarchy”. By that I mean the rule of and by – if not necessarily or expressly for – the few, as opposed to the power or control of the people, or the many (demo-kratia).

That is the case even if – and indeed because – the few happen to be elected to serve by (all) the people. For in ancient Greece elections were considered to be in themselves oligarchic. They systematically favoured the few and, more particularly, the few extremely rich citizens – or “oligarchs”

[…T]here are a number of ancient democratic notions and techniques that do seem highly attractive: the use of sortition, for instance – a random method of polling by lottery that aimed to produce a representative sample of elected officials. Or the practice of ostracism – which allowed the population to nominate a candidate who had to go into exile for 10 years, thus ending their political career.

And comparison, or rather contrast, of our democracies with those of ancient Greece does serve to highlight what’s been called creeping crypto-oligarchy in our own very different (representative, not direct) democratic systems.
Continue reading