Cons of Election by Lot

Joshua Laferriere is graduating in December from Cal State University Dominguez Hills (Business Analytics). He is a hobbyist in philosophy and classical history with a focus on the Greeks but covering most Mediterranean civilizations. He has a basic understanding of voting systems (ironically). He has arrived at an independent conclusion that allotment is the best form of expression of the “will of the people” (the idea coming from statistics first, Greece second). He has done some work in the field of information systems and follows US politics closely.

There are a lot of pro’s to Election by Lot.  For sure it beats elective democracy.  It draws its representatives from the pool of people, effectively doing away with partisan politics and lobbyists.

Obviously we have issues like Socrates being executed.  So we have a potential for the mob rule being easily swayed this way and that.  We have the Sophist movement which was spearheaded by Protagoras who believed rhetoric was the key to success in life, because it allowed one to sway public opinion.

Plato was rebelling against Athenian Democracy with his work the Republic, some of it directed at the very issues the Sophists were manipulating.  What is interesting is the Demagogue was something that benefited from the ideas of Sophistry (sway public opinion with fancy arguments, but not necessarily arguments that are for the betterment of the people) in a system that didn’t even have elections.  Where as today there is more ripe for abuse by sophistry than in Athens where the rhetoric abuse was just kept within the voting on issues itself.

The Peloponnesian war ended before the Republic was written (by at least 20 years) and Athenian Democracy was in decline.  After the fall to Sparta, the 30 tyrants were instated. Athens had reclaimed their democracy from the 30 tyrants (miraculously), and shortly after condemned Socrates to Plato’s dismay. Socrates had rubbed this democracy the wrong way with his constant inquiries (probably because of his gadfly status, but also his penchant for questioning the established norm, which certainly would have rubbed the 30 tyrants the wrong way).  This may have been a backlash against old Athenian inquiry and questioning the norms during the Athenian Empire’s expansive golden age.  This new reduced Athens probably wanted a scapegoat for their past ways, to set an example against those who try to push the envelope of accepted norms.

Later, Protagoras himself was ostracized from Athens for his works (primarily his agnosticism, but possibly due to his relativism).

The cons I’m trying to draw attention to is the radical sway that the electorate has.  It seems to be at the whim of the moment, and this is what concerned Plato and was something Protagoras thrived on.

That there should be a systematic way to measure the truth and vote as a boule towards achieving that truth rather than just using the opinions of many.  This I think is what Plato was hoping to strive for.

How do people make an informed decision?  Election by Lot implores Aristotle’s Wisdom of the Crowds, but there should be a system for the pro’s and con’s of each issue being voted on to be put forth clearly and not in a manipulated or ignorant way.


2 Responses

  1. Joshua,

    > there should be a system for the pro’s and con’s of each issue being voted on to be put forth clearly and not in a manipulated or ignorant way.

    Do you think that the procedure for information provision in a Deliberative Poll would meet this standard?


  2. Joshua,

    A starting point for discussing your post could be a piece of advice from Roslyn Fuller’s essay “Democracy — Too Much of a Good Thing?”: you should not rely on Plato for an account of Athens. The whole essay is well worth reading – highly informative and entertaining. A longer democratic-minded treatment of Athens and Socrates is I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates.

    I would also say that Protagoras, as he emerges from Plato’s eponymous dialogue is very different from the sketch that you draw. (I’ve read it somewhere that Protagoras was the only Sophist that Plato held in any esteem.)

    Substantively, it appears that you are hoping to have a system that is guaranteed to be “good”. No such system can exist. At best a system can foster good results, but it cannot guarantee them. Yes – procedures for reaching informed and considered decisions in an allotted body rather than mass politics that are based on ignorance and manipulation are certainly the way to go. But no matter how well designed your system would be, bad decisions can, and probably will, be made. The idea that some sort of a guardian elite would help the people do the right thing (as Plato advocated) is at best delusional.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: