Sortition and stronger executive power?

Can sortition facilitate stronger executive power?  I think it can, and in a way that results in more effective implementation of left public policymaking.

The traditional Marxist literature refers to the combination of legislative and executive power as a means of facilitating worker-class rule or broader popular rule, yet has not taken into account a key development in executive power itself in the 20th century: the war cabinet.

It is this particular form of government that poses strategic questions of power, not traditional legislatures, not town hall meetings, and not strike committees.  Its contemporary application is diverse, from the early and wartime Soviet governments, to the early government of the People’s Republic of China, to the first seventeen years of Cuba’s government after the Cuban Revolution, to Churchill’s wartime cabinet.

The initial approach to all this government stuff is this: redefine the relationship between (a) public policymaking, (b) legislative power, (c) governmental executive power, (d), ceremonial and other prerogative power, (e) civil administration, and (f) “legislating from the bench” (judicial review regarding constitutional law) on the basis of random sortition.  Drilling down, I will focus on the combination of (b), (c), (d), and at least part of (f) in either one unified organ or parallel organs.

(For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve broken down the conventional view of “executive power” into its three functional components: (c), (d), and (e).)

Combining legislative power, governmental executive power, ceremonial and other prerogative power, and at least political oversight over “legislating from the bench” has proven time and again to be the basis of effective implementation of substantive left public policymaking.  A partial combination of the first two is seen in Westminster systems, whereby most bills passed into law are government bills and not private member bills.  Political oversight over “legislating from the bench” is based on the recognition that all judicial review regarding constitutional law is political and, as such, needs to be politically accountable (even to the point of “court packing” and “court sacking”).

Before moving to the proposal itself, I mentioned the possibility of parallel organs.  Varied individuals have argued for the creation of a separate economic parliament for economic affairs, ranging from social reformists Sidney and Beatrice Webb to Winston Churchill himself to fascists and other corporatists in continental Europe (Hitler himself mentioned an economic parliament, but only in passing).  There is separation of powers the wrong way (i.e., separating (b), (c), and (f)), and there is separation of powers the right, progressive way, like this historic advocacy.  The forthcoming proposal envisions the realization of such advocacy, but in a different manner.

Making this combination statistically representative and even more democratic would require that the cabinet members themselves are appointed on the basis of random sortition.  Therefore, the full proposal is as follows:

  1. The cabinet, whether called a “class war cabinet” or something else, should mimic the power dynamics of a city council, only at the highest levels of the sovereign polity (whether it is “the state” or otherwise).  It should combine legislative power, governmental executive power, and ceremonial and other prerogative power, and be “enabled” (a la enabling acts) to rule by decree and edict.
  2. The broader system should separate the constitutional court(s) from courts of appeal, and “enable” (a la enabling acts) this cabinet to appoint and dismiss members of the former for any reason.
  3. The cabinet should meet in continuous session, in order to continuously hold subordinate bodies to account.
  4. The official cabinet should have no rival bodies, certainly not ones that are not politically accountable.  Here, I’m referring to the problem of “imperial presidencies” and “kitchen cabinets”: unaccountable chanceries / executive offices / prime minister’s offices that compete with the official cabinet for power, prestige, patronage, etc.
  5. For the sake of public policy priorities, the cabinet should be able to divide itself into a crucial inner cabinet and an outer cabinet.
  6. There should be established separate popular appointment processes for individual members of the cabinet.  These popular processes themselves should be random sortition or even random balloting.  In today’s US political environment, governors and secretaries of state are elected separately in state elections.  This specific part of the full proposal replaces those elections with random sortition or random balloting.  In a unified cabinet, a finance minister would be randomly selected separately from a foreign minister.
  7. The full proposal thus far has assumed one unified organ, but separation of powers the right way means parallel organs.  There’s no reason why 1-6 above should apply to only one cabinet.  A defense-security cabinet could exist alongside a separate economic cabinet and a separate social cabinet, mirroring the three main dimensions of political thinking (economic from right-to-left, social from top-to-bottom, and foreign along a third dimension).
  8. Intermediate bodies that form the cabinet(s) above would merely combine the functions of an “electoral college” (though appointing via random balloting or random sortition) and a political consultative conference.

3 Responses

  1. Jacob, I’m impressed by your honesty in declaring that your interest in sortition is for “effective implementation of left public policymaking” by means of strong executive power. I only wish some of your fellow-travellers would nail their colours to the mast, rather than pretending that their interest in sortition is policy-neutral. Perhaps those of us who are only interested in structural (rather than policy) issues need to find a new terminology in order not to be tarred with the same brush.


  2. Keith, I may have been blunt, but according to my count, there are only two instances where I mentioned “left public policymaking.”

    Questions of government and forms of authority are the main crux of what I wrote. To reject some form of authority is to reject collective decision-making and make oneself powerless. There needs to be a society-wide decision-making mechanism, and this is provided by a government.

    Notable policy-neutral statements made above which you didn’t tackle included my assertion that there is no such thing as politically neutral judicial review over constitutional law, my mention of “imperial presidencies,” and my ditching of the conventional political spectrum (and even the Political Compass) in favour of a political cube.

    I wonder what your thoughts are on the historical development of war cabinets worldwide…


  3. Jacob,

    I devote some of my book The Party’s Over to a discussion of how war cabinets have led to the development of stronger executive power. What interested me about your post was the claim that this is an aspect of sortition that should be of particular interest to those on the political left and the assumption that this will include many commentators and followers of this blog. I think you are right to make this assumption, but most commentators seek to deny their partisan interests. For example I was reprimanded by Peter Stone for referring to Yoram’s approach as post-Marxist.


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