Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections, in English

An English translation of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections was recently published. The book is blurbed by, among others, J. M. Coetzee, the South African novelist who was the recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature:

Choosing our rulers by popular vote has failed to deliver true democratic government: that seems to be the verdict of history unfolding before our eyes. Cogently and persuasively, David Van Reybrouck pleads for a return to selection by lot, and outlines a range of well thought out plans for how sortitive democracy might be implemented. With the popular media and the political parties fiercely opposed to it, sortitive democracy will not find it easy to win acceptance. Nonetheless, it may well be an idea whose time has come.

With attention from such a luminary it is not surprising that the book was reviewed in several elite media outlets. As Coetzee predicts, the reception is quite cold. The warmest one is Andrew Anthony’s lukewarm response in The Guardian. Anthony concludes:

[W]hen, say, a sortition of the public recommends an expensive transport system that doesn’t work out or cuts a defence system that is later needed, […] where and how is that frustration registered? You can’t vote out the public. One job that elected politicians fulfil is as democratic punchbags. It’s not edifying or necessarily productive, but it may be essential.

Perhaps sortition or partial sortition could be applied in very specific cases. But we also need to look at reviving elections and renewing our belief in them. They remain a vital part of the democratic process. Not its only part, to be sure, but they are an all too rare example of mass engagement. Let’s not vote them out just yet.

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