Sortition versus manipulation?

I have been studying the claims that the Trump election was the product of clandestine manipulation of voters by sending them false information so targeted to their personal characteristics as to have a decisive influence on their voting behaviour.

The data firm Cambridge Analytica claims to have profiles of nearly everybody in the USA, based on information about them collected from the internet. These profiles enable predictions of a very high accuracy of what sort of information will be accepted by particular people and what influence it will have on their voting. It is not very likely that such manipulation would induce many Democrats to change their vote, bit it might leave them less likely to turn out for Hillary. It could easily account for bringing fringe Republicans to vote. The Trump campaign spent relatively little on conventional media. They got so much free! But they are said to have spent heavily on covert manipulation.

A first reaction is that we have another argument against voting and all that goes with it in current practice. But further reflection reveals a danger even to sortition. The members of a body chosen by sortition can be identified and their prejudices cultivated to pervert their view of the facts they are considering. It need not be very expensive, since they are relatively few in numbers, and well worth the cost to a body with big interests at stake. It would be more attractive than lobbying in many circumstances.

The only remedy I can see is insistence that all the proceedings of public decision-making must not only be available to all, but open to comment at every stage so that untruths are challenged and patterns of deceit uncovered.

40 Responses

  1. Members of a mini-public with final decision-making power that serve for a substantial time would inevitably become identified…. And be subject to manipulation and corruption. This is another reason that short duration juries should have the final word. As with existing court juries, we could enforce anti tampering procedures… Even sequestration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Terry

    Short duration juries

    One would expect short yrtm juries to be less vulnerable, if only because it would take much more effort on the part of those using the manipulative practice to cover the rapidly changing situation. But I’m dubious. If these techniques are as effective as their proponents and critics claim, they can be automated to go into action as soon as a jury is appointed at little extra cost.

    On the other hand, I’m very uncertain about how well these things can work in the longer term. I hope people will become more sceptical and wary of such things as unsolicited mailings from news sources. Only people who want to be deceived may be reliable suckers for such stuff. We all like to believe what it suits us to believe and what our slant on things makes congenial, but mere conformation of our inclinations usually has little effect on our choices.

    Also, sophisticated analytics may soon be easily detectable by equally sophisticated programs and countered equally systematically. Stalemate. So I’m not convinced that the new sort of manipulation is much of an argument for short-term juries. There are many other considerations in their favour, but also many on the other side, and probably no point in opting for one side or the other in general terms. Context can be important. Trial and error.

    Most of our discussions are focussed on final decisions that are binding. That is very understandable, but I have suggested, in the parts of my book nobody reads, a number of roles for committees chosen by lot from particular constituencies that perform other regulatory and auditing functions that are very important to a well-ordered society, but not at present adequately performed at present.


  3. Part of the initial education of the selectees for the legislature could include critical thinking skills, political psychology etc. After all we would be selecting these folk to make thoughtful and considered decisions based on each person’s unique life experiences. We would want them all to therefore be highly critical of any and all information either targeted to them or seen in the public discourse. A period of preparation of selectees would seem essentia so that they can resist biased manipulations.


  4. John,

    Ad hoc juries could easily be sequestered, whereas (as you rightly point out) demarchic committees and long-term full-mandate sortition councils would be wide open to manipulation (along with other forms of corruption).


    >A period of preparation of selectees would seem essential

    And quis custodiet the men in white coats? Any kind of preparation is also open to charges of manipulation (by critical theorists and others).


  5. The notion that people are easily manipulated is a standard anti-democratic elitist prejudice. It is a basic democratic tenet, maybe the basic democratic tenet, that given the opportunity and motivation to reach informed and considered decisions, people generally do manage to represent their own interests.

    There is also every reason to expect that an allotted chamber would set up procedures and safeguards necessary to support such good decision making.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yoram,

    Tenets (anti-democratic or otherwise) are one thing, but those of us of a more (social) scientific disposition are more interested in facts. But I guess that’s of no interest to you, as social scientists are just marionettes, manipulated by sinister interests, so their empirical findings (on group behaviour) are of no interest to those who arrive at the truth deductively.


  7. Yoram,

    >It is a basic democratic tenet, maybe the basic democratic tenet, that given the opportunity and motivation to reach informed and considered decisions, people generally do manage to represent their own interests.

    Presumably this is paraphrasing Dahl? If so you should acknowledge that it is a democratic norm, rather than an observation of how actual human agents behave. This puts it on a par with deliberative democracy — Habermas himself acknowledging that his ideal speech situation hardly ever occurs and is as rare as “islands in the ocean of everyday practice”. Whether or not an allotted chamber would (spontaneously/endogenously) set up the necessary procedures and safeguards is an open question, but you have yet to explain why (in non-circular terms) there is every reason to expect that they would. Personally, I think it is highly unlikely, but then I would, on account of my indoctrination by elitist dogma.


  8. By the way, talking about manipulation, it is worth mentioning that the whole “Trump clandestine manipulation” story is really nothing but propaganda. No evidence has been brought to light of any sort of Trump campaign activity that is “clandestine” or illegitimate (by the usual electoralist standards).

    The thing most often alleged, or actually more often insinuated, is that the Trump campaign was in one way or another connected to the leaking of the DNC emails. But again no evidence is ever provided. In any case, if the leaked emails had so much effect on the elections outcome, it is the DNC that should be considered as having engaged in some nefarious activity and then trying (unsuccessfully) to keep it secret.

    The whole thing, as far as can be told from publicly available information, is fueled by nothing more than a collusion between the Democratic party, the US “security” apparatus and establishment media.


  9. Yoram

    . nothing but propaganda

    Likeso many people, especially Marxists, Have argue wither the years you slide from “it is propaganda” to “nothing but”. If you take the trouble to look at the evidence , it is cleat that the Trump camp did attempt clandestine manipulation. It is harder to show that it worked to any significant degree.

    Asfor propaganda, it’s always the other guy.


  10. John,

    > If you take the trouble to look at the evidence , it is cleat that the Trump camp did attempt clandestine manipulation

    Any pointers, or even specific allegations, would be of interest.

    > As for propaganda, it’s always the other guy.

    In general, this seems to be inherent to the notion. If a propagandist is someone who deliberately repeats lies, then having rejected the validity of someone’s arguments, the fact that they keep repeating them tends to make them a propagandist.

    In the particular case of Trump and the Democrats, however, I personally feel that they are both “the other guy” – neither represents idea that I support. So I have no reasons of loyalty to believe or disbelieve any particular allegations made by one against the other or vice versa.

    Sure, Trump is a propagandist: he engages in propaganda in his anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican stances and on many other issues. But the particular claim that you are advancing here (repeating, of course, the claims made in the establishment media) is being made without evidence and for obvious reasons of narrow interests.


  11. John,

    >it is clear that the Trump camp did attempt clandestine manipulation

    I think Yoram is arguing that there is no difference, in principle, between social-media campaigns (aimed at the prejudices of individuals) and the old policy of TV attack ads (aimed at general prejudices), so the distinction is not between clandestine and public but between precisely-targeted and scattergun. This is just a sign of the overall shift in advertising budgets from broadcast to narrowcast and from newspaper ads to social media campaigns — there is no difference in principle. It’s interesting also to note that Jeremy Corbyn’s team used a similar approach, so there is nothing Trump-specific about this. As for the vulnerability of allotted bodies to targeted propaganda, the best solution is for sequestered short-duration decision-making juries, anything else would be wide open to manipulation and corruption.


  12. John, my apologies for being among the minions who have not read your book. [I have read precis and reviews thereof.]
    Apology, further, for asking what I’m sure is a question long discussed.

    Riding the light rail today through long stretches of upscale neighborhood, without any stations … I ask, regarding demarchic committees: WHO are the ‘locals’ to whom you assign the most decision-making weight as to where the stations should be located? [The close-by homeowners or the job-seekers coming from a distance?]

    A citation of your writing or within this blog would do.


    David Grant


  13. Yoram

    >Any pointers ,or even specific allegations…….

    apologies for delay in answering. I’ve been out of the state for a couple of days.

    See Sue Halperinin NY review of Books, Jne 8 reviewing two books, on published by OUP, the other by Cup. There are also accusations in the Guardian and the observer, that are easily found.

    There seems to be a verbal problem. You seem to say that if a statement is not a lie it’snot propaganda. I call propaganda slanted presentations, which often do not rely on false statements, but on weaving a story out of facts that are exaggerated in order to paint a picture that is very misledding. out is not lying. The originators are very sincere, bu blindfolded by dogmatically held generalities.

    The latter sort is much mot effective than lies.


    the difference between dubious TV advertising and what Trump is accused of its clandestine nature. It is not up for public dispute. I don’t know whowserious its effects are. People who would believe some of the lies said to have been disseminated, mist already be pretty strongly prejudiced.


  14. John,

    This is the relevant section of your post:

    clandestine manipulation of voters by sending them false information so targeted to their personal characteristics

    By “clandestine” do you mean that it was a social media message? Surely the only difference between this and an attack ad is that it is targeted to meet the specific prejudices of the recipient. Other than that I don’t see there’s a difference, as many attack ads are also based on false information.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. PS whether or not a propaganda item is up for public dispute is of no particular consequence. People will believe what they want to believe, and are prone to the confirmatory bias. Public dispute is water off a duck’s back as Trump and other propagandists have discovered to their advantage as few citizens have been trained in philosophy and other forms of critical thinking. The rapid decline of the mainstream press should be lamented as more and more people obtain their political information from highly partisan online sources (at least MSM have to attract the support of a broad coalition to ensure their survival.) Trump’s strategy is likely to be followed by all political parties as that is the only way to survive in the new media ecology. This really is the biggest threat to modern democracies, hence the need for political decisions to be taken by stochastically-representative juries who are obliged to listen to their opponents’ views.


  16. Hi John,

    These are specific claims, which is much more than can be said about the “Trump Russia collusion” allegations that are endlessly repeated. Still, these play toward the same goal: trying to portray Trump’s electoral success as somehow being illegitimate. That Trump somehow managed to dupe the voters to elect him.

    As for the substance: Even if all the claims are true, I don’t see the tactics supposedly used by the Trump campaign as being unusual. Tailoring the message to the recipient is standard campaign practice. When Obama, supposedly had an effective online campaign everybody was singing his praises. The sinister tone here is simply the bias of the authors, and/or a tactic to interest their audience. The only thing that is supposedly underhanded here is the collection of people’s Facebook data via their network connections. This, I imagine, is standard practice, but even if it is not, Facebook sells this data, so this is probably more a matter of saving money than anything “clandestine”.

    It is also worth mentioning that (a) all the claims made about the effectiveness of the targeting should be met with a skeptical attitude since all those involved have an interest in overstating their effectiveness, and (b) the whole Trump-duped-the-voters campaign is quintessentially a conspiracy theory. Something to remember next time the mainstream dismisses unwelcome or unfamiliar claims with this label.


  17. To Yoram and Keith

    It isa change to find oneself up against both of you on the same issue. The core of the disagreement is that you both see the motives of the Trump-haters, like me, as magnifying what is at worst just a relatively minor weapon in a galaxy of more or less similar weapons in the endless battles of politics as war by other means than naked force.

    I point to the difference that the Cambridge Analytics crew claim to be able to manipulate people without their lies being open yo challenge. You reply, plausibly, that fact checking has never made much difference in political battles. So why is the difference important? From your points of view, as committed warriors in those battles, each given to emphasising what he takes as the iniquities of the other, not much.

    But I have this idiosyncratic idea that it may just be possible to whittle away at the scope of adversarial politics by setting up a process in which open and persistent discussion of very particulate problems we must solve or suffer unacceptable consequence. I don’t imagine that people, including me, will cease to wear blinkers. Just that even the narrowest of blinkers have to let us focus on some aspects of our situation.


  18. For David Grant

    demarchy and transport etc

    I have not written any comprehensive treatment of how to deal with local problems such as transport. In recent years my focus has bee much more on the big problems that affect the viability of our situation: climate change, regulating the global money market, disarmament, population and development and so on.

    My major consideration has been how to get better decisions about such matters by encouraging completely open discussion about specific aspects of specific problems in such matters. I see such thorough public discussion as an essential step towards an effective process of community self-education about them, leading to acceptable decisions.

    In general my orientation is towards governance at every level by functional rather than geographical communities of interest, often conglicting interests.. So I would want the decision about transport policy to be in the hands of admixture of people who are concerned to maintain and develop existing facilities and of people who are concerned about the needs of a growing population. I think that simple sortition is heavily inclined to favour existing interests at the expense of our children, often unwittingly, through lack of imagination. Sortition is superior to voting, but not the whole prescription.

    The question how to represent future generations is obviously difficult. I’m inclined to fall back on initial self-nomination, modified by some such tests of suitable ability as are proposed by my Viennese colleague Hubertus Kirchner, who has had considerable success in testing people from all sorts of backgrounds for their ability to predict. See his website, prediki. Email me at if you want to continue exploring this matter.


  19. for DavidGrant.

    Sorry, I goy Hubertus’s surname wrong. It is Hofkirchner.


  20. John,

    I agree it’s worrying when Yoram and myself agree on something — time to start counting the spoons! I applaud him for applying his analysis in an even-handed way (I doubt very much if he is a Trump supporter).

    >I have this idiosyncratic idea that it may just be possible to whittle away at the scope of adversarial politics by setting up a process of open and persistent discussion of very particulate problems

    It’s not idiosyncratic, it’s a dream shared by all deliberative democrats. But we should be aware that DD is little more than a set of normative standards, even Habermas acknowledging that it has little chance of traction in the real world. Perhaps what makes your approach idiosyncratic is your provenance as a priest, a Marxist and a philosopher and your reaction against the chaos resulting from experiments in participatory democracy in your university department in the 1970s. Yours is a laudatory ideal, but you are swimming against the tide of recent developments in political communications, so the wise advice of your deliberative council is almost certain to be ignored. By contrast statistically-representative citizen juries (who decide but who do not deliberate) are much more likely to be accepted in the current democratic ecosphere.


  21. Keith

    >priest, Marxist

    It is with great annoyance that I read your persisting, in spite of my protestations, in describing me as having been a Marxist. Noby else who knows mw, friend of foe has ever inputed that description to me. It is true that I at one stage made a serious study of Marx’s views, but at the same time I was also studying F A Hayek. My interest in both was the same, namely that both had something interesting to say about the social processes and structures that arose out of certain social practices. If my subsequent work bears more affinity with one rather than the other, it is with Hayek, but I was never a fan of the political visions of either of them, One thing I shared, and still share, with both is a strong aversion to the power of the state.

    Why the Marxist imputation offends me is that it goes with dismissing my thinking on the old ground that I’m just another example of the sort of person who is deeply insecure and constantly looking for an Absolute truth. The temper of my thinking has always been pragmatic. What held me so long in my religion role was not believing the dogmas, but believing into efficacy of religious practices, of prayer, worship and reverence for what is admirable, as making us better people. As I record in my autobiography, I abandoned religion because I came to see that those practices do not deliver what they purport to do. The decline in relies practice shows that more and more people are coming to the same conclusion. There is little point in attacking religion. It no longer holds people captive.

    The post-religious task is to develop social practices that will sustain and develop the better strands of the ragbag of potentials with which evolution has endowed us. It is not an exciting vision like Liberation or some ultimate destiny. I am careful to characterise all my suggestions as just that, offering reasons why they might be worth trying. Perhaps I am swimming against the tide, if Trump and the other nationalist chauvinists are the tide. “Make America Great ” like its old British predecessors, is all about military glory, which is the ultimate catastrophe. The first major Trump move is to strip money from social services and increase military spending instead. The absurd rhetoric of war on this and that appeals to the illusion that improving our lot is just a matter of crushing the forces of evil. Destruction is easy, but just a waste. Construction is difficult and never flawless. All the more reason to swim against the tide.


  22. I’m sorry John, I’m just struggling to understand why you believe your system will work. Oakeshott claimed that Hayek’s faith in rational providentialism put him in the same camp as Marx, with the following verdict on The Road to Serfdom:

    A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics

    He might well have viewed your faith in a “process of open and persistent discussion of very particulate problems” in a similar manner. Stochationists, by contrast, rely on nothing more than Mercier and Landemore’s description of two, apparently innate, aspects of human cognition — one that drives rhetorical persuasion and the other that can discriminate between a good argument and baloney. This would suggest that a randomly-selected group of ordinary citizens are capable of judging the outcome of a rhetorical skirmish in a manner that is a) sensible and b) representative of the informed prejudices of their peers. No faith in deliberative rationality is required and the procedure is grounded in actual practice (4th century Athens), whereas deliberative democracy is just a set of ideal norms.


  23. Cambridge Analytica claims to have profiles of nearly everybody in the USA, which enable predictions of a very high accuracy… yeah, sure. They would claim that, as that’s the snake oil they’re selling.

    Fact is, Google and Facebook have far more and higher quality data, and far more skill and computation power available to draw conclusion for it. And guess what, they both were close to Hillary (and Obama before her). How come some slick corporate analytics company, of the sort that puts Cambridge in their name to sound serious, outplays the largest, most well-equipped machine learning companies?

    Predicting people is hard. Manipulating people is harder. CA is good at influencing journalists who want a sinister explanation for how their candidate lost, which by comparison is easy. I’m not convinced they’re good at anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Keith

    Top-down versus bottom-up

    To a certain extent I agree with Oakeshott about Marx and Hayek and their respective disciples, but that does not cancel my remarks above that both had interesting things to say about social practices. So had Oakeshott, with whom I share an interest in the importance of conventions.(I was very surprised when you added a footnote to my appendix on the subject, pointing out that I was not talking about meetings but about what is taken for granted in a certain social group.)
    Such agreement is usually tacit, made explicit only when it is disputed.

    Our societies have a vigorous process of public discussion in which specific hard cases highlight inconsistencies between conventions, almost invariably leading to their being modified. In my lifetime the conventions about most aspects of sexual morality have been so targeted by this sort of discussion that the results have constituted a revolution. In the early fifties I spent two years as a pg student in Ireland. If you had predicted that in my lifetime the Irish would legalise same sex marriage by a substantial majority vote, I would have thought you crazy, and so would anybody else.

    It is not just a matter of old dogmas crumbling. Attitudes to children and to the disabled have also changed quite radically, imposing obligations of much more consideration for them and attention to their needs.

    I am very confident that, faced with the particular ways in which certain proposals would affect certain groups of people, ordinary people will quite readily find the resources in the conventions they share to work out what they see as fair in the circumstances.

    The efforts of the fabricators of ideal principles, such as Kantians and consequentialists will never reach agreement. Political theorists similarly lose the particular in the quest for abstract rigour. But in practice we can do very well by sorting out the relevance of cases on which we are agreed to cases we are facing anew. That is why I characterise as suggestions what you look on as theses. My philosopher is Wittgenstein. There are no theses in good philosophy.


  25. John,

    >Our societies have a vigorous process of public discussion in which specific hard cases highlight inconsistencies between conventions, almost invariably leading to their being modified. In my lifetime the conventions about most aspects of sexual morality have been so targeted by this sort of discussion that the results have constituted a revolution.

    I’m a little sceptical. An alternative explanation would focus on the shift of emphasis of the “progressive” left from the commanding heights of the economy to socio-cultural critique. The subaltern interests to be re-privileged are no longer those of the indigenous proletariat but other minorities (women, racial and sexual minorities etc.) From a UK perspective, the prevalence of Oxbridge PPE graduates in circles of governance (both MPs and their advisers) is well documented and the Oxford syllabus (as Jeremy Waldron pointed out) still focuses on 57 varieties of luck egalitarianism. The Blair project did appear to provide economic policies that appealed to its core constituency but they were bundled together with social policies that were anathema to many traditional Labour voters, who had to accept them (and subsequently got used to them). So the social changes that you laud were not a product of vigorous public discussion, they were smuggled in by the back door. Demarchic committees, which are not based on statistical sampling of the whole demos, would continue this (deeply anti-democratic) trend.


  26. keith

    I’m sure that you would be just as shocked as I if somebody we otherwise respected advocated criminalising homosexuality. We pretty well all accept that change, even though you see it as a result of the machinations of you enemies and I see it as social change. On such things PPE etc have little effect, They jump on the bandwagon.
    They certainly can’t claim the credit for the better treatment of children and the disabled.


  27. This sort of social change is always the result of a tiny (and culturally powerful) vanguard elite along with self-appointed lobbyists. Whatever the merits of the changes, they do not result from popular pressure, which comes only after they are accepted as the new normal. The smoking ban in pubs, restaurants and the workplace is a good example.


  28. Keith

    Yes, sometimes it is that way, sometimes popular pressure. It is no less popular pressure if it comes from a minority. Feminists get treated as a minority, but dyed-in-the wool traditionalists. They, who are certainly a minority, kid themselves that they represent a mythical “silent majority”. Of course any social change begins with a minority and takes time to spread, so that it certainly did not originate from majority agreement. But when popular agreement arrives it is not because th self-styled “opinion-makers” endorsed it, but because people saw the changes justified by cases they came to understand in the light of resemblances they had not previously notices..

    The feminists won many battles because daughters who were sick of being patronised shamed their loving fathers into seeing they were being treated unfairly. Husbands had to recognise that their wives deserved equal pay for equal work, and all that implied. Ordinary people did not want their cousin Bill to be threatened by nasty homophobe cops. That sort of thing is grass roots pressure from below. To attribute such changes to the people who come along to invent theories to explain them is a symptom of the collective self-importance of intellectuals.
    It all starts with hard cases, which conservative wisdom tells us make bad laws. Why bad? Because they upset things.


  29. John,

    From my recollection of early feminism (and your experience in this is longer than my own), it was a distinctly minority movement that was resolutely opposed by the silent majority (including most women) and the same is true of the gay rights lobby. The one exception to this general rule is the civil rights movement in the US (although highly educated activists played a large part in this as well). But I do agree that the last stage of significant social change is when the general public finally get round to accepting it as a fait accompli. That is until the backlash starts (The Handmaid’s Tale) is currently being serialised on Channel 4.


  30. Keith

    All serious movements for social change have a hard task to convince the majority, which is almost always lazily conservative. Once they get a bit of momentum the journalists and there smart money often help the cause by giving it publicity. My point is that in the sort of cases I’m talking about it starts from below, generated by the mechanisms I instanced, notably progressivist dogma.


  31. Now I’m really confused! How can something that “starts from below” (i.e. from the contradictions in everyday lived experience) be generated by progressivist dogma? Of course I agree that conservatism is temperamentally lazy, but Burke insisted that we need to be open to change in order to preserve the best of what we have. However all change has unanticipated consequences, hence the need for the precautionary principle. The triumph of feminism has been a double-edged sword, especially for the vast majority of ordinary working women who do not benefit from the high salaries and flexible working arrangements that academics and writers (the feminist vanguard) enjoy.


  32. Keith

    sorry for the confusion. I use a system that prints what it thinks one s saying. I find it useful because my combination of senile clumsiness and macular degeneration means I make an inordinate number of misprints. I check the results, but errors oftenesacape me. In this case, of course, I intended “not by progressivist dogma.”[


  33. OK, but I still think you have the causation the wrong way round and that the progressivist dogma of the intellectual vanguard has a huge role to play in all movements for social change. The Frankfurt School has a very long tail. Ideas really do count (it’s only old Marxists who argue otherwise!)


  34. Colourfull synonyms for Clinton’s basket of deplorables include:

    A chalice of chaff
    A menagerie of mendicants
    A plethora of peasants
    A conclave of klansmen
    A redoubt of Russians
    A gathering of gauche
    A coffle of contemptibles
    A vat of venomous, vituperative, venal vladimirs


  35. Keith:
    1. “Ideas really do count” – Agreed and it takes but one good head to come up with a good idea. For an idea to be proven “good” it requires that the many buy into it – of course preceded by early adopters as some form of elite – which does not diminish the genius of the one good head.

    2. “This sort of social change is always the result of a tiny (and culturally powerful) vanguard elite along with self-appointed lobbyists.”

    The elite attribute definitely does not apply for:
    1. Rosa Parks
    2. Mohamed Bouazizi
    3. In Austria, women’s right to vote was debated for many years practically from 1848 in the “culturally powerful vanguard elites” to no avail.

    During 1914-1918 Austria became depleted of men by House Habsburg’s WWI. More and more ordinary women started to provide the labour for the war economy and emancipated themselves from their traditional role. Women’s right to vote (albeit only partially due to the notable exception of prostitutes) was officially introduced in 1918.

    I see no reason why demarchic committees made up of foresight-weighted stratified “ordinary” people could not judge ideas for social change and, by their sheer numbers, will produce much more and better functioning social change than tiny elites.


  36. Hubertus (hjh)

    Must correct your history. Women were given the right to vote South Australia in 1895, in the Fedration at inception in 1902 and in all the states before 1908. The story you tell relates to most other countries.


  37. John,

    I have no doubt that your dates are correct for South Australia. The story I told about women’s right to vote in Austria is also correct. So I am not sure what must be corrected.

    In any case, my three examples (Parks, Bouazizi, Austrian suffrage) were intended to challenge to the theory expressed above that “social change is always the result of a tiny (and culturally powerful) vanguard elite”.

    At a minimum, the word “always” seems too strong.

    At a maximum that theory may have it the wrong way round. It is just as plausible that these “elites” are rather a conservative force, relatively speaking, preventing faster social change due to their narrower and distinct interest when compared to a – still hypothetical -large number of parallel foresight-weighted and stratified demarchic committees.


  38. HJH,

    >Rosa Parks [etc]

    I acknowledged that the principle did not apply to the US civil rights movement. I’m no expert on the Arab Spring, but while Bouazizi was the catalyst it was the Tahrir Square twitter elite who launched the revolution (with disastrous consequences). You’re right in general about female emancipation (it was more WW1 than the Pankhursts), but my reference was to the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s which was the work of a tiny vanguard elite. But my main point is that social change is not the inevitable consequence of contradictions in lived experience (John’s neo-Marxist explanation), ideational factors play a crucial role.


  39. Hubertus

    I’m sorry, but look again. If you like, check the article Suffrage in Australia on Wikipedia. Women had equal voting rights with males in every jurisdiction in Australia by 1908. The war had nothing to do with it. It was not even a hard fought battle, as it was in the UK.

    We always prided ourselves on being leaders in democratic procedures, and that was the main reason for early acceptance of “female Suffrage”. For a while the combination of secret voting with a system of checking voter enrolment was known as “The Australian Ballot”. We also have prided ourselves in our systems of preferential voting, as opposed to “first past the post” as in UK and USA, or proportional voting, as is usual in EU. Now er probably have greater interest in sortition than most other countries, which is not all that much.

    However the facts I have just enumerated certainly support you rejection of of the view that “social change is always the result of a tiny ( and culturally powerful vanguard”.

    A great deal of the power of elites is a matter of social, religious, military and economic history supplying the venerated Imagery to which radical, conservative and reactionary elites appeal in promoting their proposals. That sort of ‘spin” gives their views a popular appeal when it latches on to widespread fears, of enemies, or decline or disintegration, or hopes of triumph, or liberation, etc. It then appears to be, and often in fact becomrd a popular movement that requires no manipulation to spread.

    But many of the most important social opinion changes in the modern world are due to simple changes in what people can do. The decline in religious belief is largely due to the decline in religious practice, because people have so many other things they can do on a Sunday and so few activities are entered on churches. Beliefdeclines when practice no longer relates it to activity.

    Conversely beliefs that are associated with flourishing practices, like rock music events, flourish and inyurn indorse the practices that instantiate them. So democracy has become defined as mass voting.


  40. John,

    “Women had equal voting rights with males in every jurisdiction in Australia by 1908”.

    Sure but you are writing about Australia, I was writing about Austria, the country without kangaroos.


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