Sortition, Sovereignty and Democracy in Modern Government

I would like to persuade people who are interested in sortition to take more interests in other aspects of public decision-making. I believe it is not enough to think of remedying our means of choosing the personnel of existing authorities. In some respects those authorities have too much power. In others, the problem is that power is not the right means to deal with some vital issues. These issues are not questions of what we would like, but of how to avoid impending catastrophe. It is essential for us to understand what we can and cannot do in these matters. We must think in functional terms and on a global scale, not in terms of what we have the power to do, but of what we must do to survive. Those who want to persuade us to hand over power to them try to trick us into thinking we can have what we want. We have to face the real situation and get it right.


A great deal of the thinking about the potential of sortition to replace voting in existing political institutions is based on the Athenian practice of using a lottery to fill some public offices, thus removing those offices from struggles for power. Some proposals I have made at times have been of this sort, choosing a few people for a particular task. But much of the work done by kleroterians refers to using sortition as the basis for a representative system of government, something the Athenians never considered. It raises problems that have no precedents in their practice. Once you have representative government the question arises of what it is entitled to do. The assembly in Athens could do whatever it wanted, including some atrocious things.

As the Americans discovered in seeking for ways of constructing institutions to replace British rule, the Roman republic offered much more relevant precedents for representative government, but none that involved sortition. In any case, Roman practice was based on stratified and contentious citizen rights. The city-state proved unable to handle the problems of imperial power, which soon abolished any shred of democracy. Citizenship came down to a right to a share in the spoils of conquest. Bread and circuses. Political power rested on control of an army. Out of centuries of chaos the medieval monarchies set up a system of territorial rights that prefigured modern nation-states. Hereditary monarchs emerged to claim authority over a territory, conceived as the property of the monarch. Other occupants of that territory were seen as subjects of the monarch, whose will was law. Such titles to property as they had were enforceable only against each other, not the monarch.

Almost all democracies, ancient and modern, had their origin in revolutions that seized power from a sovereign and transferred it to the people. In fact, of course, some organisation claimed to represent the people. Most attempts to arrive at a theory of what constitutes genuine representation of the people have assumed that what we call a people in this context is some special portion the population of a certain territory, sharing exclusive rights to the resources of that territory, a common ethnicity and a common culture. The community had a collective identity, a sort of extended family. In contemporary democratic theory and practice it has usually been assumed that each such people has a right to sovereignty over its own territory. This is a late development, but it has proved a very powerful force in delegitimising many culturally or ethnically complex states, even the United Kingdom! In traditional practice the boundaries of a given sovereignty were decided by its capacity to enforce its decisions by superior force. There was no incongruity in the British queen styling herself “Empress of India” and expecting all other sovereigns and their subjects to respect her title. They did. Most of the boundaries of the old system survived its demise.

Along with a more democratic view of sovereign rights there emerged a belated tendency to dismantle the accepted view of sovereignty. The difficulty was much more complex than establishing just what communities had a right to a specific piece of real estate. The whole conception of the community as a single entity began to crumble amid growing emphasis on the rights of individuals as primary. It was possible for some imperial powers to delegate limited components of the internal regime of power to local bodies, while claiming sovereignty over that territory on the basis of conquest. Many new nation-states emerged as the creations of imperial legislation, against a background of unresolved cultural traditions and complete lack of understanding of how democratic institutions worked. That solved the problem of the title to power in the new government body to certain legitimacy, but left a legacy of internal conflict.

The result of such imperial disintegrations together with demands for local autonomy has been a variety of institutions claiming very precisely limited powers in the name of democracy. The formal status of such claims varies from devolution of elements of sovereignty from a superior power to federations in which formerly sovereign states have relinquished part of their powers to the federal body. In neither case is there a distinct Demos that is making these decisions simply on the basis of a total and exclusive sovereignty. Where power is delegated, the precise identity of the body to which it is delegated and the interests it is supposed to serve have to be negotiated between the various parties involved, and the powers of a federation obviously need to be constituted in many ways. Inevitably, the bodies that are involved in negotiating such changes construct the identity of the peoples they claim to represent.


So much for practice. In theory since the seventeenth century, an entirely new conception of the basis of power has been introduced, according to which the specific powers attributed to political authorities must be legitimated by the consent of the citizens, whose prior natural rights political powers must respect. This conception proved rhetorically powerful, but difficult to apply in practice. In early versions it assumed that the natural order was based on patriarchal families, self sufficient in their own property. Such people could be relied on to preserve the interests of the political economy that was also the in the interest of the rest of the rest of the population, even if they did not know it, much less agree to it explicitly.

In such conceptions the Demos no longer appeared as a political agent. Its proponents often preferred the name “republican” to “democrat”. Gradually a more egalitarian conception of citizenship won out, as first those without property and then women gained the franchise. A much more ample conception of human rights emerged. The socio-economic change that encouraged claims to human rights was the disappearance of dependence on the patriarchal family. Now almost any adult could support herself in employment outside the family. Democrats now stressed not just the right of all adults in a territory to vote, but their right to an education and independence that would allow them to exercise that vote effectively. Even conservative republicans came to support such claims, because business needed a well trained workforce.

In the more politically and economically developed countries these obligations came to be recognised quite generally, but social democrats promoted even more comprehensive conceptions of equal rights in social practice. One by one practices of discrimination on the grounds of religion, sex, gender, ethnicity and social status lost any moral or political legitimacy. Old cultural practise that had traditionally been part of the identity of the Demos as a distinctive entity were abolished in the name of equal rights. At the same time social democrats sought protection for citizens not just from the random hazards of unemployment, serious illness, but from the systemic effects of relative poverty. Equality of opportunity became a democratic right.

The icon of this conception of democracy is the equal right of each citizen to both a vote in the jurisdictions to which s/he is subject and to stand for election to any public office. In some countries voting is seen not just as a right but a duty. It is compulsory to at least go through the motions of voting, in order to achieve a truly representative vote. Similarly, some kleroterians, advocating randomised representation in particular jurisdictions insist that those selected must be obliged to serve. Such views often rested on an antiquated and simple model of democracy that neglects the complexity of the modern state. Although immensely powerful in more fields than ever before, the modern state has been greatly disempowered in regard to the considerations it is permitted to invoke in dealing with the matters it decides. The scope of the popular vote has been reduced accordingly; even conventional morality has changed beyond recognition.

The role of civil society in moral and cultural matters continues to grow, and in general it has endorsed liberal individualism in everyday practice, removing many traditional constraints on personal relations, family obligations and cultural diversity. Folk beliefs and practices have lost authority. They succumbed to the international community of science and education. In both its procedures and content science has revolutionised our understanding of out relations to the world and each other. Rational decision procedures supplant traditional authorities in the contest fro legitimacy. The state is subject to their authority in many ways and constrained to support them. In many communities all these changes are seen as destructive of their identity. They strive to restore the power of the coir communities to resist disintegration. “Liberal” becomes a word of abuse among such people. Reaction has twin stretches. Rationality is mainly dreary, but the old tunes and myths sre still exciting.

On the other hand the state, though stripped of glory, is expected to provide a an increasingly diverse range of public goods and services, partly because of lingering traces of the idea that the citizens owe their very life to the state and the state in turn is required to care for them. Such views take any forms. At one extreme stands the Communist goal of a family in which tasks and benefits are distributed according to the maxim, to each according to needs, from each according to capacities. At another extreme the state is seen as requiring its citizens to be prepared t die for it and needs to display just how basic to people’s lives it is. Such conceptions are totalitarian and as such both theoretically and practically dangerous and anachronistic. In practice that means that the particular policies the state pursues in specific matters need to be justified by evidence off the needs they claim to serve and their efficiency and effectiveness in comparison with rival proposals. In this perspective, democracy means primarily making the representatives of the people the judges of those rival claims.


In practice, there is one reason why the provision of such a heterogeneous lot of public goods has fallen to the state: the users are not required to pay for each use of them, so the money to provide them must come from taxation, which is a state monopoly. Where the supply of many public goods and services has been “privatised” under ingenious arrangements such as insurance schemes, there is no difficulty in each portion of the task being left to a different firm. In fact a major argument for privatisation has been that it allows competition between providers, allegedly in the interests of efficiency. The merits and demerits of various schemes of privatisation can be sensibly argued only in relation to specific situations. I would like t insist that the geographically defined nation-state is not and should not be the sole public authority in a particular area. The dilemma: state or private is a false dichotomy. It should not be allowed to persist in the era of constitutional states that have only a certain limited range of powers, not exclusive and all-embracing sovereignty. There are plenty of instances of professional, cultural, economic and religious associations providing certification that is recognised as necessary for certain purposes, for example. Authority is a very multi-faceted social phenomenon.

How states consolidated power and used its proceeds varies greatly in different constitutions. It is well exemplified by the West minster type of constitution, with its key institution of cabinet government. (Curiously, even in written constitutions, like the Australian, it is often not mentioned. Yet another example of the importance of conventions.) All major legislative and administrative proposals that originate in the various branches of the bureaucracy are tabled, with their cost of implementation by the minister concerned, and re subjected to the scrutiny of other ministers. They are passed on to parliament only if cabinet agrees. The cabinet discussions are strictly confidential in order to allow other ministers to speak frankly without endangering their relations to their supporters. A key function of the cabinet discussion is to activate decisions about what programs are to get what amounts of money.

This is not the place to attempt an assessment of cabinet government. In fact I believe it offered a better regime of public goods than its presidential competitors. The point of mentioning it here is to illustrate the complexity and variety of the issues that arise in modern government. Any structures of sortition that are to seek with these issues will, I believe, have to find ways of assuring dedicated sponsorship to the particular needs of particular groups of people and the practicalities of meeting those needs in competition with the needs of others. In the long run, the cabinet management of public enterprises broke down because it failed to control rising costs of provision. Margaret Thatcher reverted to a presidential style, treating cabinet members as her agents, not colleagues. Probably the old welfare state’s attempts to cover all needs by bureaucratic provisions was doomed from the start. People need to be engaged with the specific problems that threaten them. How this is to be done must respect the organisational problems involved in meeting different needs.

My suggestion is that we should start with particular problems in particular current arrangements, looking closely at what can be done to remedy defects in the provision of a specific public good in the way that I have suggested in TDM. We advance to considering particular cases where policy change fails to considering what structural changes are needed, I do not believe one can set up particular demarchic arrangements on very general grounds, such as views of what constitutes genuine representation. Much less that omni-competent sortition bodies should set their objectives and the explore ways of achieving them.

That is almost inevitably to decide what we would like and then look for ways if supplying it, as if nothing had ever been done or nothing else mattered. Real people out there are dependent on many particular arrangements that need to be improved in particular ways. Social and economic changes abolish jobs on which whole communities depended to survive. New jobs are often created and elsewhere, but the unemployed have neither the skills nor the opportunity to get them. Any scheme for dealing with an instance of such a problem must be resolutely hard-headed rest on a clear understanding on the part of those affected of what can realistically be done, rather than on some general provision for unemployment relief.


Voting is a useful substitute for violence in deciding who wins some particular contest. Instead of fighting each other until superior face wins, and destroying so much on the way, we give each participant a vote and ask then to cast it for one alternative. We count the votes and declare the alternative that gets the most votes the winner. It is much superior to violence where the alternatives are clearly mutually exclusive and the proponents abide by the rules. Often there are conventions governing the behaviour of the victor that enjoin a degree of respect for the interests of the losers. In many such cases the differences between the winners and losers are simply a matter of more or less subjective preferences, reflecting different relative weight different individuals and groups place on shared values in the circumstances. People cast there voted simply on what looks to them to be the mast attractive alternative available

Such has been the character of liberal democracy as it has flourished in most affluent countries over the past hundred of so years. It has been in domestic matters by far the most successful regime ever known. It has flourished on practices of universal dependence on the exploitation of the earth’s resources that now threaten to degrade the ecosystems on which we rely for survival. World population growth, stable in the affluent countries, is putting unsustainable pressure on resources and the monetary system that manages those resources becomes increasingly counterproductive. In these and many other respects the simple adjustments that we have made in domestic contexts are no longer adequate. Uses of money, resources and organisation that seemed sustainable and beneficial on a smaller scale now threaten disaster.

In these circumstances it seems vital that we see that the problem is much more than a matter of giving more power to the people, the will of the people, but a problem of deploying our collective wisdom to get a high level of agreement to a well informed and comprehensive range of attempts to find agreed solutions to these urgent problems. Authorities must deal with specific problems in terms of what those problems involve. If we are to have democracy we have to be able to make our point in public discussion where we have something to say and rely on others to make other relevant points in a way that leads to a genuine understanding of the various situations in which er find ourselves.

60 Responses

  1. John, your thoughtful analysis is very well taken but, given the historical evolution of the state, your project strikes me as Quixotic and unduly reliant on moral exhortations — “it seems vital that”; “We must think in functional terms . . . what we must do to survive . . . we have to face the real situation”. This is the language of the pulpit, whereas those of us working at the coal-face of constitutional design are more concerned with practical schemes that are likely to prove acceptable — both to politicians and ordinary citizens. Can you think of a single instance of political change that was brought about by moral exhortation?


  2. “Can you think of a single instance of political change that was brought about by moral exhortation?” Um, the abolition of slavery springs to mind.


  3. I think that would be more true for the abolition of the slave trade. By “political” change I was referring more to constitutional issues, and the American civil war was certainly not fought over the abolition of slavery. Abolition was a consequence of the Confederate defeat, but political and economic considerations were just as important as moral exhortation.


  4. Another example: the introduction of demokratia in Athens was not on account of any wish to realise egalitarian norms, it was the accidental result of a struggle between aristocratic factions. Ditto with the expansion of the franchise in 1867 to include the majority of the male working class — this was Disraeli’s attempt to put one over on Gladstone. So there is no good reason to believe that John’s moral exhortations will find an eager audience unless there is a direct appeal to interests. For this to happen Armageddon (environmental or otherwise) would need to be really imminent.


  5. Keith & co

    My understanding of the abolition of the transatlantic trade in slaves is that it was a British initiative and taken at a time when most of the trade was in British hands.

    Of course getting things done in legislatures is necessary a matter of politics and so of interests, but politics considerations often do include restraints on political power in the name of genuine political values like the abolition of indefensible privileges and powers.

    The rule of law is never morally perfect, but most of its scope is enforceable only on the grounds of fairness as commonly understood. So a great deal of prosecution and litigation concerns fraud, making false claims, not in breach of specific bits of legislation, but in breach of normal expectations. If I sell something as pearl which is in fact plastic, the law can be invoked on moral grounds, even though there is no legislation on what is a genuine pearl.

    We re hypnotised by the role of the law in suppressing violence, because it makes good dramatic news,, and most of us are acutely aware that we are incapable of deriding ourselves against it, but in fact we rarely encounter it, since violent crime rarely pays, even when people get away with it.

    Disraeli was a very perceptive politician. His rise as an ethnic Jew to the top of the tree and his success in transforming The Tory consistency was due principally to his perception that the “Two Nations” structure of British political and social elite was no longer morally sustainable in the face of the rising liberal consensus that was rapidly delegitimising privilege.

    The history of British politics since then has been a struggle between organisations attempting to grab the high moral ground, often hypocritically.
    But then theocracy is the tribute that vice has to pay to virtue. Sincerity is often impotent, but deviousness self-defeating.


  6. John, I agree that human beings have (to varying degrees) a natural inclination to do the right thing (or at least to be seen to do so in the eyes of their neighbours) but this is not a sufficient foundation for the radical changes in our political arrangements that you are suggesting. When I argue that your approach is a product of your background as a priest and philosophy professor I do believe you are being unrealistic. We have to take the world as it is — including citizens’ allegiance to the nation state — and build on that foundation, rather than abstract arguments against the notion of sovereignty. Anarchism has never had much popular appeal, and people are more interested in who wields power than purely epistemic considerations. especially since the notion of disinterested decision making for the general good has been subverted by Marx, Freud and Durkheim.


  7. John,

    > I do not believe one can set up particular demarchic arrangements on very general grounds, such as views of what constitutes genuine representation. Much less that omni-competent sortition bodies should set their objectives and the explore ways of achieving them.

    The alternative, however, is that some other mechanism is used to set particular arrangements and objectives. Is there any reason to believe that other mechanism would be “better”?

    > That is almost inevitably to decide what we would like and then look for ways if supplying it, as if nothing had ever been done or nothing else mattered.

    “What we would like and look for ways of supplying it” seems like the definition of a proper public policy process. On the other hand, “as if nothing had ever been done or nothing else mattered” seems like an utter non-sequitur. Why wouldn’t an allotted body be able to consider the historical record, weigh competing considerations and act accordingly?

    It again seems like you are working from elitist assumptions that you are unwilling to state and defend explicitly but which are nonetheless central to your thinking and argumentation.


  8. *** Keith Sutherland has a questionable use of the concept of « accidental ». I am in Provence now, with many fires in the countryside around. Some are criminal , but most are « accidental ». But the high frequency of fires is determined by the very hot and dry weather of this summer, and the wind. We must distinguish « deep » factors and « contingent » factors.
    *** The abolition of slavery in USA may be the accidental result of the Civil War. But there was a deep factor, which explains the long chain of abolitions, since the French one (by the revolutionary Convention, decree of 16 Pluviôse an II = 1794, February 4) until the abolitions by Christian Ethiopia and Muslim Saudi Arabia. We can discuss the base of this deep factor, but we cannot ignore it.
    *** Keith writes : « the introduction of demokratia in Athens was not on account of any wish to realise egalitarian norms, it was the accidental result of a struggle between aristocratic factions. » Actually, as can be seen by the Cleisthenian reforms and their highly « artificial » institutions aiming to « melt » the dêmos , the « accidental result » was overdetermined by a democratic ideology ; and the egalitarian side of this ideology was grounded on the old egalitarian norm of the family : equality between the legitimate sons as heirs, an old norm (with lot as a way of egalitarian sharing, see Odyssey XIV 209). The rise of democracies in Archaic Grece (Athens is the one much known, not the one) was the result of deep factors, projecting on the civic level the old egalitarian family norm.

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  9. Andre,

    Fair point. But would the demokratia have been born in 507 absent the particular circumstances? Both Cleisthenes and Disraeli were acting out of personal/factional interests and I think John is being a little pious in his hope that the fundamental change he is advocating will come about as a result of his rational arguments or the epistemic merits of his proposals (absent the aforementioned Armageddon scenario). I would hazard a guess that most readers of this blog have not even bothered to read his very long post. In our demotic age the sovereignty of the demos must prevail and the best we can hope for is to demonstrate that the sovereign will can be reasonably well informed via the deliberations of a representative sample. It’s fanciful to imagine that people will abjure the very notion of popular sovereignty in favour of the rule of a wise committee of guardians.


  10. Keith

    < the world we live in

    We like to think of ourselves as persons whose lives are lived in relation to other persons and to the satisfaction of our needs and aspirations. Not so long ago at the level of ordinary human activity that looked fairly realistic. Most people lived in quite small agricultural communities depending on near-subsistence farming that produced a small surplus that enabled those in power to confiscate it in a protection racket and engage in their power games.

    But now the number of people engaged directly in agriculture is minuscule. For practical purposes nobody produce anything they consume in food, shelter, travel , entertainment or security. They perform some routine operation that forms part of an intricate global network and receive a sum of money that enables them to buy all the things they consume. How that network operates so effectively is simply a matter of people doing what they are paid to do, with only the foggiest of notions of how the plethora of what is on sale at the local supermarket get there.

    At a more basic level all these functions depend on a physical and biological order that is incredibly dynamic and unstable, but which we can understand and contrrol with amazing precisions and effectiveness, using forms of gathering, coordinating and applying information that we could hardly have suspected of even being possible just a few years ago. All of this development, economic, socia and technological, has had very little to do with our understanding of ourselves and our relations to each other and to the cosmos as persons.

    What we in fact do collectively is a matter of the way our little bits of activity are linked together in huge networks of information that nobody in particular understands or controls. Unfortunately some of those activities that look harmless or even beneficial on a small scale have cumulative results that threaten the viability of the system. We can identify and understand the mechanisms involved, but we lack a system of using that understanding to produce the required collective action.

    Of course that is not going to come about by people trying to reach agreement about what they as persons would like to happen, but by a process of information processing that it impersonalise science.
    I'm trying to suggest how that might work, involving anybody who has relevant things to say having the opportunity to do so.


  11. Yoram

    >my elitism

    I’m against elites that claim to be right simply on the basis of their social status. But I a m in favour of elites that claim to be right on the basis of information and argument.

    Of course there is no hard criterion separating the one from the other . Science is generally in the latter kind of elitism , but scientific organisations cans like into claiming special social status.

    The fact is that I’m being elitist whem I argue that I am right and nearly everybody else is wrong about certain matters. The fact is that nearly everybody has usually believed a lot of garbage that we now know to be demonstrably false, but was first challenged only by tiny minorities who had the temerity to say all the others were wrong.


  12. John,

    > I’m against elites that claim to be right simply on the basis of their social status. But I a m in favour of elites that claim to be right on the basis of information and argument.

    This distinction is useless. Elitists always claim to have a rational basis for their privileged status.

    > The fact is that I’m being elitist whem I argue that I am right and nearly everybody else is wrong about certain matters.

    Trying to convince others to see things your way is not elitism – it is in fact the opposite since it assumes that people can be convinced and furthermore that convincing them is the way to promote proposed polcy. Elitism asserts that most people cannot be relied upon to see sense and therefore decisions should be made according to the views of an elite even when opposed by most of the people in society.


  13. John,

    >I am in favour of elites that claim to be right on the basis of information and argument. . . Science is generally in [this] kind of elitism

    But there are procedures that are built in to the scientific method that are able to judge which claims are wrong and there is no such mechanism in the case of politics. The best we do is apply the argumentative theory of reason, whereby competing elites make their claims that are then judged by a representative sample of the people. Demarchy (and deliberative democracy in general) is predicated on the classical (Cartesian) theory of reasoning as a way of updating and correcting one’s own beliefs. Unfortunately the mind doesn’t work that way, so if you’re going to appeal to science you need to update your understanding of human psychology. The new book by Mercier and Sperber, The Enigma of Reason, would be a good place start, as it would appear the vast majority of human agents are much better at evaluating than producing arguments and these two functions are based on distinct cognitive modules. The jury, unlike the university seminar room, is a well-honed product of evolutionary forces, so science would suggest this as a suitable template for democratic political institutions.

    PS what puzzles me is that Helene Landemore claims that the argumentative theory of reasoning supports her perspective on deliberative democracy, although it validates the categorical distinction between advocates and judges that underlies the competing DP model.


  14. Yoram,

    >Trying to convince others to see things your way is not elitism – it is in fact the opposite since it assumes that people can be convinced and furthermore that convincing them is the way to promote proposed polcy. Elitism asserts that most people cannot be relied upon to see sense and therefore decisions should be made according to the views of an elite even when opposed by most of the people in society.

    Yes, that’s a good summary of the argumentative theory of reasoning. According to Hugo Mercier the confirmatory bias has a valuable role to play in those producing the arguments and explains why the likes of John, Yoram and Keith are never likely to modify their own views. In the case of democracy by stochation that doesn’t matter because the decision power is in the hands of the minidemos not the (elite) persuaders. Note that I use the word “elite” to refer to those with the convictions and rhetorical gifts — in Athenian direct democracy this was the self-selecting rhetores, in the modern case representative mechanisms would be required.


  15. Keith

    > but there are procedures…

    And there are procedures built into rational political discussion that relate to its proper object, public goods. People generally agree about what these procedures are, namely a process of appealing to considerations that nearly everybody sees as relevant to some significant public good that calls for collective action.

    A large range of important public goods, including our languages, most of our everyday knowledge and technology, customs and conventions, standards of acceptable behaviour, ideas of what is worthy of praise or blame and so on are byproducts of living, but in a regime where we all depend for survival on buying everything we need in a highly artificial system of monetary exchanges, where we possess enorrmaoulsy powerful weapons of destruction and of apparently harmless activities that have very dangerous effects, the question of controlling many public goods and the processes that endanger them must be faced.

    There is genera agreement about the most obvious considerations that are relevant to the functioning of our system? a set of property titles that are respected, a monetary system that ensures access to the things we need over a lifetime, a competitive market, provision for those wha re unable to provide for thesaelves, a set of labour markets that ensure minimal unemployment and wages that are adequate to their needs.

    We also generally agree about the importance of respect for our environment and its sustainability, about decent treatment of other animals and plants, about historic legacies, about having a well-founded pride in what we all have access to as members of of the networks we call communities. there is little disagreement about what factors have positive or negative effects on these things. We have largely abandoned magical thinking about them and are mostly aware that violence and threats of violence are almost invariably counterproductive in all of these matters.

    Rational discussion of these matters is dependent on focussing on specific problems where there are a few clearly identifiable factors a t work. So far that is what the sciences do. However the physica sciences have the enormous advantage of having the means of quantify in those factors precisely and being able to calculate precisely what their effects should be. In social matters we are left guessing about the relative significance of the various factors we can identify. We have to develop decision-procedures for arriving at agreement to take some course of action, at least by way of experiment, in the hope that by trial and error we can reach more adequate understandings and decisions.

    This is only half the story. The EU bureaucracy is devoted to rational procedures and has produced many good decisions along the lines I have indicated, but it has failed miserably to involve people in the decision process, provoking a reaction towards magical thinking. I want to remedy that.


  16. Yoram

    my elitism

    If you think my proposals are in some way elitist, say exactly in what respect. I’m not getting into some general discussion of elites. I have a big enough task in meeting the objections and misunderstandings thrown at my position.

    My position certainly does not envisage imposing the decisions of an elite on a majority that disagrees with those decisions. My whole emphasis is on a processing which anybody can participate and everybody can have confidence.


  17. Keith

    Reason is as old as humanity and mathematics. People dislike it, because it makes it more difficult to believe what every they want to believe.So they invent excuses for ignoring it.


  18. John,

    >The EU bureaucracy is devoted to rational procedures and has produced many good decisions along the lines I have indicated, but it has failed miserably to involve people in the decision process

    The EU bureaucracy are very aware of the democratic deficit, that’s why they are enthusiastic about the Representative Claim model and its attempt to substitute panels that are very similar to demarchic councils as a substitute for the demos. This outrageous pseudo-democratic ruse has been rumbled — see for example Lisa Disch’s forensic analysis (I don’t have the reference to hand, but can send you the paper if you like).

    >provoking a reaction towards magical thinking

    As someone who voted for Brexit, I find this condescending, if not downright rude!

    >Reason is as old as humanity and mathematics

    Yes indeed, but it is a product of evolutionary forces not a transcendental standard. The very fact that neither Yoram, John or Keith are prepared to shift their fundamental position is a good indication why those with the greatest interest in a topic should be the last ones to determine the outcome of the deliberations. Partisans will always employ the confirmatory bias to interpret any evidence in the light of their particular cause (and ignore evidence that would prevent them from believing what they don’t want to believe). The idea that the wise souls manning your demarchic councils could rise above this is quixotic.


  19. John,

    > If you think my proposals are in some way elitist, say exactly in what respect.

    I believe I already did.


  20. Yoram

    Do you hold that there is no difference between holding a proposition to be true because some elite group a;l;ebes that it is true and holding proposition to be true because you have good evidence that it is true?

    If so I cannot understand how on your view it is possible for a person to change their mind for good reasons. Are you so surer that when I changed my mind I was deluding myself, and just falling for a different elite? Od this what you mean when you speak of y “secret” elitism?
    I have made some very basic changes in what I believe on many matters, in many cases in opposition to elites with which I earlier agreed.


  21. Keith

    Seminars etc.

    You keep reviving the claim that my model of deliberation is a university seminar. There is a crucial difference: there is no orientation to a practical conclusion in the case of a seminar. It is just an exchange of ideas among people who hope to learn something from the other participants and perhaps to contribute to that process. There is no question of a decision to be drawn from the discussion.

    By contrast contributions to discussion in the open forum I advocate are expected to be directed to clarifying the various considerations that participants want to claim are directly relevant to constructing an agreed solution to the particular problem to be solved. The process of making and discussion submissions on various points is advanced by participants attempting to convince each other that a sound solution to the problem should pay attention to certain factors for reasons that participants generally acknowledge to be relevant to the particular public good at issue. (see my earlier comment about the nature of public goods.)

    One would hope that there would be the sense of willingness to consider other’s views and ensure that all relevant factors were attended to that one might look for in a seminar. The participants will be aware that if their conclusions are to be regarded as having some practical value, they must rest on their claim to be fair and realistic.

    Take an example: a particular problem is what steps should be taken to reduce carbon emissions over the next five years in a certain jurisdiction. A host of questions arise. What actions are feasible, legally possible, least costly and disruptive, most easily enforced and so on.
    What is being done or likely to be done in other jurisdictions? What relation should what we do bear to that situation?

    Most people will have some interest in following debate about an aspect that interests them, and may be drawn into making particular points about it, but hardly anybody is likely to have a claim to be well-informed about every aspect to the problem. Certainly the pay-offs and costs of various alternatives are going to involve a lot of guess-work. The element of gambling must be freely acknowledged.

    Why take thee risks? Because what is pretty well certain is that if we do nothing the results will be catastrophic.


  22. John,

    >One would hope that there would be the sense of willingness to consider other’s views and ensure that all relevant factors were attended to that one might look for in a seminar.

    Why is it then that John, Yoram and Keith have (judging by the outcome) significantly failed to so on this forum? You would claim that it is because we are not charged (by whom?) to come to a decision. Yet we all want to see sortition implemented in the real world. My explanation is that, as highly interested parties, we are all three subject to the confirmatory bias which renders us incapable of fairly evaluating each others’ views and that is why it’s better if the decision outcome is judged by a statistical sample of all citizens who have invested less intellectual and emotional capital in the project. Such people would be excluded as they would fail to nominate themselves for your demarchy project. So I guess the question is which theory of reasoning you go by — in your case the classical Cartesian model; in my case the (evolutionarily-plausible) argumentative theory of reasoning that draws a categorical distinction between judges and advocates. According to the latter, demarchic reasoning is simply impossible as human cognition did not evolve to work in the way that you expect it to — that’s why deliberative democracy is little more than a series of procedural norms for the “ideal” speech situation.


  23. Any procedural reform must work for human beings as they actually are, not a population of philosopher kings. For such a population pure sortition might work, provided that all of the citizens could make a living while serving. But populations are not uniform in knowledge or wisdom. Trying to pick a ship captain by pure sortition would result in the ship never arriving at its destination, as Plato pointed out.
    Jefferson once said that “there is a natural aristocracy of talent and virtue,” by that he meant an aristocracy or merit, not of inherited status. Consider how leadership is established among young children, before wealth or connections are a factor. We can all remember how that worked. Among children we see a kind of reputocracy in which talent and virtue are important. Team captains are chosen not on the basis of personality but on how well they can lead the term or victory.
    The early American society was agrarian, Most people were mainly busy in the spring (planting season) and fall (harvesting season). That left them the summer and winter for public business. Since the typical county had a population of less than 3000 (and cities seldom exceeded 20,000), they could all know one another personally and evaluate one another’s talent and virtue. Most settlers were not truly randomly selected, as they self-selected before they settled, and almost all were literate (unlike today). Talent and virtue were distributed evenly enough that juries could work, but even juries elected a foreperson.
    Deliberation needs to be structured around particular decisions to be made. In a parliamentary body members have to decide motions. If there are enough motions having similar issues, the body will typically divide into a system of standing committees, and a good chairperson will assign members to committees based on how will they each represent important factions, not on the basis of “representivity”. That results in a kind of rough representivity.
    All this are instances of fetura, or alternating phases of random selection and merit selection. That is what actually works for real people.


  24. Hi John,

    If people make an informed and considered decision to support a certain policy then it matters not whether this is because they arrive at this decision based purely on their own logic and observations or because they come to trust some elite that promotes this policy. (Anyway, a completely independent position is not something that really exists in a mass society.)

    Elitism on the other hand means wishing to force people to accept the judgement of an elite whether they trust it or not.


  25. Yoram,


    I agree with your first paragraph. We can examine very few matters on our own, and need to be able to trust others having done a reasonably good job. Developing knowledge is a cooperative activity.

    I had not understood elitism in the sense you define it. I am not sure how prevalent it is, but I do think that in matters of public policy it is absolutely vital that people generally have a well-founded confidence in a completely free and open discussion in which nobody is permitted to claim the right to impose their opinion on others who do not trust them.

    However, when it comes to action it is always possible that very small minorities will reject the general decision. But such dissidence cannot be allowed to paralyse community activity. There is no completely satisfactory way of drawing the line between well-based dissidence and sheer self-obsessuibs.


  26. Jon,

    >Trying to pick a ship captain by pure sortition would result in the ship never arriving at its destination

    In antiquity sortition was used for both the appointment of magistrates and the manning of political juries. It’s important to remember that all of us on this site are arguing that sortition should only be used for the latter role in modern states. And the notion of juror presupposes the separation of function between judge and advocate, as described by Madison in Federalist 10, 8. Unfortunately these two roles — democratic and aristocratic respectively — have been conflated in modern governance, leading to the corruptions that Madison predicted. Your proposal to combine sortition and election within a single body of men (Madison’s term) would not solve this problem and would remove the very raison d’etre of the former — if the jury is not representative then there’s no point using sortition in the first place.


  27. Wrong. Can’t get to perfect representivity, nor is it important to do so. Some level of representivity is needed, but only enough to avoid overlooking quality solutions. In other words, a kind of diversity (not what SJWs mean by that term). That is what happens, ideally, in real world systems. Start with what works and improve it. Sortition is to avoid the public choice problem. It can do that, but perfect representation is not attainable or what is needed.

    The test of any system is whether it produces near-perfect solutions. Not perfect. The process is heuristic, a partial search strategy, like a good chess or go program does. It an age when we are teetering on the edge of many disasters with almost every decision we make, what matters is getting it right, not getting it “representative”.

    “Representative” does not get it right often enough.


  28. I confess that I’m astonished how far the epistemic virus has taken over this debate. The whole thing about democracy is the right to take the “wrong” answer. If you want to understand democracy then read the Old Oligarch, not Plato (or Burnheim).


  29. There is nothing sacred or magical about “democracy. It is a nice ideal but reforms need to solve real world problems, and do so well. So yes, it is about getting right answers, or at least near-right answers, to critical policy problems. Representivity is for distributional decisions, where it is not critical to get a “fair” distribution.

    Dilbert: “Fairness is a concept invented so kids and idiots can have debates.”

    Now representivity does have some importance to get public support and participation in carrying out the solutions. If solutions are perceived as being too “unfair” people won’t make them work.


  30. For constitutionalism

    > fairness for idiots.

    On the contrary, “smart” hard-headed critics systematically misunderstand such concepts as fairness, equality, well-being and almost all discourse in moral matters. They need to read the great Adam Smith’s Theory of Mora Sentiments.Aristotle may also help.

    There can never any state of affairs that is the or even an “ideal” instance of any such concept. There is nothing mathematical about such matters. A moral consideration is always a matter of the point of certain social relationships and the ways in which in a particular context they may be significantly impaired by some features of the conventions that govern them.

    Morals are a matter of three broad kinds of considerations, !) the maxiisationof the goods accessible to everybody who wants to participate in them, 2 ) drawing limits to the ways in which people may treat each other and 3) positively what kinds of behaviour we find admirable in a person in a context.

    Theorists try to oversimplify these things using economic or legalistic or stereotyped models in the hope of producing hard and fast-t conclusive answers to such questions. But the liberating, enriching fact of the matter is that while there are actions that are clearly bad in almost any context, what is morally valuable , like what is beautiful or interesting is something where new discoveries are continually being made.

    I believe that we have made enormous moral discoveries in my lifetime in the treatment of children, of women and of those who suffer disabilities, in getting away fri a legalistic “commandments” casuistic view of morals and freeing moral refection from dogmatism. Not everybody has seen the light.


  31. Keith

    epistemic virus

    Politics has alias been about arbitrary power. In its crudest version, democracy simply transfers the exercise of arbitrary power in some limited jurisdiction from the old sovereign to a particular procedure os tallying votes, without any thought of doing anything more than providing a decision-procedure that its power in the hands of the majority.

    That his a good recipe for self-destruction. I hope that people can participate actively in a process of trying to get right answers to policy question and that in a n educated scientific and morally sophisticated age enough people will see the value in separating the struggle for power from discussions about what needs to be done to constitute a sound body of public opinion that will prevail for the most part and get us closer to avoiding self-destruction.


  32. Jon:

    >Fairness is a concept invented so kids and idiots can have debates. . . representivity does have some importance to get public support and participation in carrying out the solutions.

    I admire your candidness and consistency, especially on a forum devoted to the establishment of equality by lot. But given the long struggle for universal voting rights, how do you plan executing your “feturatory” coup? It strikes me that it would require a military putsch, or are you hoping the disenfranchised masses, effectively deprived of political representation, will be persuaded by purely epistemic arguments? This seems unlikely, given the recent electoral success of Donald J. Trump.


    >Politics has always been about arbitrary power

    I agree, especially regarding the “always”. But we need to start from where we are, not some imaginary ideal, and the best we can hope for is to make the exercise of power less arbitrary and better informed.


  33. Keith

    < where we are

    Yes, we must start from where we are, and that is where all the empires based on the ancient rights of power have crumbled. Claims to legitimate power have to be based on some sort of claim to the interests of the people, as I demonstrated in mu last post. It is not a qestion of an ideal, but of the universally accepted norm.

    Alll polities now accept that even dempocrtocally authorised power is limited by human rights and restraints on the use of violence. Morality, including political morality is much stronger than it used to be.But there is a long way to go.


  34. Yes, but democracy is still taken to mean that the people have power (albeit limited by constitutional and other liberal constraints). Brexit and the election of Trump means that the will of the people is primary (granted the particular electoral rule in use) and this is what we mean by democratically authorised power. The best you can hope for is to make the exercise of this power better considered. The very fact that the outcome of elections in liberal democracies is accepted, even when on the basis of a minority vote, is a precious and rather remarkable fact and should not be put at risk by purely epistemic considerations.


  35. PS, note that I’m no fan of demos tyrannos, my preference is for the mixed constitution, but agree with Dahl that in a democracy the people must have the right both to determine the agenda and to decide the legislative outcome (warts and all). I’m happy with demarchic committees as part of the informal public sphere, but your last few posts have trespassed into the domain of power and political will.


  36. John:
    Fetura is not some radical innovation that would require a coup to establish. Variations on he merit selection phase are already in use in thousands of ways embedded in most governmental systems (including the parties that feed the selections). What is missing is the random selection phase that would precede the merit selection. That is where the opportunity exists to filter out public choice factors.
    What is also missing is analysis that identifies these subprocesses and seeks to refine them, and that gives a name to them.
    So to introduce sortition rationally we need to find these pre-merit selection phases and insert them there.
    It also does not matter if the complete process occurs within a single body. That’s what was done, more or less, in the successful Republic of Venice system from 1268 through 1797.
    You cannot have equality if you have representation, and you cannot have deliberation unless you do have representation. The best that can be done is to maintain a rough statistical representivity so that significant factions have a voice. So forget “equality by lot” as the goal. That is one standard out of several.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Jon,

    What is missing is the popular will (the sovereignty of the demos). This can be achieved via stochation iff the verdict of each sample of citizens is the same. Although this will require a tightly-constrained deliberative mandate (weighing arguments, rather than unconstrained speech) it will be representative of informed public opinion. “Rough statistical representivity” and “significant factions” doesn’t cut the mustard. As for the recognition of merit, this is (as in classical Athenian democracy) a function of the advocates and statespersons, not the jury.


  38. We cannot expect samples to arrive at the same verdicts consistently. Trial juries don’t. We will be lucky if they at least form some kind of normal distribution.
    You introduce “advocates and statespersons” without a way to select them. A complete systematic reform must provide for all functions and processes, including selection processes, for each.


  39. There would be a necessary connection between confidence factor, sample size and the level of supermajority required — a simple majority would need a very large jury. As for the selection process for advocates and statespersons these are two long chapters of my PhD. For the sake of this forum suffice it to say that Rousseau was right when he argued that there was no necessary relationship between the appointment mechanism for the government and the legislature; the problem with modern democracies being that all the different functions are conflated.


  40. John,

    PS: according to Oliver Dowlen’s book, the Venetian Republic used sortition purely as a prophylactic against factionalism, not as a representation mechanism. If descriptive representation is your rationale then sortition cannot be combined with election. Clearly that is not your aim (neither is it John Burnheim’s) and this explains why we are always talking past each other.


  41. Keith:
    You cannot expect samples of citizens to arrive at the same verdict consistently. That doesn’t work with trial juries, for example. We will be lucky if they are not scattered all over the field. We might get a composition of them into some kind of Bell curve,
    You introduce “advocates and statespersons” without a way to select who they are or how they are to function within a complete system. We need a comprehensive system with all the functions and selection of each.


  42. If the outcome is not consistent then the plan will fail — if a few hanging chads could invalidate an election result then outcomes that are “scattered all over the field” cannot possibly be viewed as expressing the will of the people. As I explained earlier, two long chapters of my PhD thesis are dedicated to the selection of advocates and statespersons. From the point of view of this blog suffice it to say that the selection process has nothing to do with sortition.


  43. Trial juries (especially in criminal cases) are considered to represent the will of the people because of the way the process is conducted. They have little to do with being “representative”. But statistical studies suggest that verdicts are not internally consistent, but tend to fall in a statistical distribution, which for criminal trials are bimodal. If 75% Of criminal trial juries find “guilty” and 25% “not guilty” (which is typical, ignoring hung juries), what do we consider an aggregate verdict to be? A statistical mean would be “guilty”, but 25% suggests “reasonable doubt”. See Jury size matters at

    So no, consistent results are not required for such verdicts to be “acceptable”. It is enough that they decide an issue one way or another, because the public is more interested in getting some verdict than in getting the “right” verdict.

    I’m happy for you that you are fond of the selection process in your PhD thesis. If I had such a thesis I would put it online and link to it.


  44. Jon,

    There is a big difference between trial and legislative juries. The role of the former is to establish the facts of the matter, whereas a legislative jury is required to express an informed preference. The selection mechanism for a trial jury is only to ensure impartiality (via the Blind Break), so the numbers (12) are unimportant, whereas a randomly-selected sample of 300-1,000 would be expected to reflect the informed preferences of the target population proportionately (the Invisible Hand). If the judgment of the jury is to be converted into law, then it is important that all samples return the same judgment. For the difference between these two principles see

    My PhD thesis will be examined in November, and should then be published as a book after the necessary revisions.


  45. I understand the difference between trial and legislative juries. Just argued that public acceptance of their “verdicts” does not depend on them coming to the same conclusions. For one thing, if each is done only once, there is no basis for comparison by the public.

    And yes, trial jury size does matter, because one issue in a jury trial is whether the charge is lawful. Most jurors will just assume it is, likely misled by the instructions by the judge. A jury size of 12 improves the odds of getting at least one juror who thinks more deeply.

    For legislative juries everything depends on how the questions are framed. That is why the entire process needs to be embedded in a parliamentary process that can debate how the questions are framed as well as on what the preferences should be.


  46. Jon,

    >if each is done only once, there is no basis for comparison by the public.

    Agree, that’s why initial experiments in sortition would be needed with juries voting in parallel. If they came to different conclusions then sortition would not be accepted as a form of political representation, as there would be no way of knowing which sample represented the informed decision of the demos.

    >the entire process needs to be embedded in a parliamentary process that can debate how the questions are framed as well as on what the preferences should be.

    Agree. I devote two long chapters of my thesis to outlining a suitable parliamentary process.


  47. kwiththesus. Look forward to seeing the thesis. In sone ways we seen to be getting closer particular points.HoweverI do think that posing political problems in terms borrowed from the greeks is of very limited use. It applies on a towner municipal scale in matters that are mainly of local significance. But there is not much os a problem about such matters

    The modern nation-state now inadequate to deal with even many problems that it handled a couple of generations ago. It no longer has any financial or economic autonomy since Bretton Woods was scuttled. War is no longer effective tool of policy. If anybody seriously threatens a community with nuclear destruction the only rational response is to meet their demands m as on would when threatened by an assassin.
    The invader will soon discover that it is not possible to gain any long term advantage by threats o force. And so on. Force solves no problems. Much less does it free those who use it from being left with worse problems than they started with. There is no substitute for understanding our problems an what, if anything, might be tied in an attempt to solve them.

    The voters are well aware that the current system is not working well. Unfortunately they blame the politicians and fall for the rhetoric of personalities whose e only attraction is that hey tell the voters what , nostalgically, they like to hear


  48. John,

    All that is true. Unfortunately the popular reaction to the increased structural irrelevance of the nation state is to seek to reaffirm it, that’s why I insist we take people as they are, rather than as we might wish them to be in an ideal world. It’s hard enough arguing the case for stochation, so let’s not add other lost causes (such as anarchism).


  49. The attraction of sortition is that in the long run it cannot help but be representative, whether it comes up with actions we agree with or not. Equally, exactly how it is used is central. If it simply replaces one over-powerful body with another, why bother? In New Zealand the single chamber parliament essentially permits rule by the PM and cabinet, with few effective checks. Greater use of sortition needs to be coupled with constitutional change. And change will probably only come with massive pressure from citizens at large, of which there is no sign at present even in this election year.


  50. jolot39

    >The attraction of sortition is that in the long run it cannot help but be representative, whether it comes up with actions we agree with or not.

    That may be true in the tautological sense (assuming both rapid rotation and quasi-mandatory participation), but the goal of democratic politics is to come up with actions that the plurality of citizens agree with. Whether or not the decision body “looks like America” (Bill Clinton’s term) is of little relevance.

    >change will probably only come with massive pressure from citizens at large

    The only example I can think of of a major constitutional change resulting from this sort of mechanism is the Brexit referendum. Whether the resultant shift from parliamentary to popular sovereignty will result in “actions we agree with” remains to be seen. I suppose the election of Donald J. Trump was also the result of massive pressure from citizens, as the political establishment was united against him. I’m no historian, but I imagine the rise to power of the Nazi party would also fit this pattern. You need to be careful what you wish for.


  51. jolot39,

    > If it simply replaces one over-powerful body with another, why bother?

    Doesn’t it matter very much whether if one powerful body promotes narrow interests while the other promotes public interest?


  52. *** Keith Sutherland says : « initial experiments in sortition would be needed with juries voting in parallel. If they came to different conclusions then sortition would not be accepted as a form of political representation, as there would be no way of knowing which sample represented the informed decision of the demos. »
    *** I do not agree that contradictory decisions must lead to giving up democracy-through-minipublics. That must lead to the conclusion that, for now, the will of the dêmos is indetermined. The procedures (size of the juries, competence of the juries, debate procedures etc) must be modified until this determination vanishes.
    *** Is it possible that the will of the dêmos is indetermined with even the most sophisticated procedures reasonably available ? I doubt these cases will be frequent. The dêmos must decide which rules to follow in such cases. He could decide, for instance, that in a criminal case the final decision is the one more favorable to the defendant; that in a legislative case the present law is to be preferred, etc ; or choosing by dice, for instance for election of a manager (anyway the two candidates must be good).
    *** An individual mind may be indeterminate. You know the story of poor Buridan’s ass who, placed midway between hay and water and equally hungry and thirsty, had an indetermined will and died of both hunger and thirst. He should have decided a procedure in case of indeterminate will.
    *** Keith thinks about indeterminacy caused by speech-acts in juries. But indeterminacy may come, likewise, from Condorcet cycles (which can occur in any collective decisions, as the decisions of a Parliament, or of the Central Committee of the Party). It may come from the specialization of juries – as in Athens (ex : law of Leptines) when a judicial jury, through a judicial review, crushed a law voted by a legislative jury (here the Athenian rule was : the judicial jury decision prevails).
    *** Indetermined dêmos will would be a definitive argument against the democracy-through-minipublics model only if contradictory jury decisions, resilient against any modification of procedures, are frequent and important, without availability of reasonable procedures used to break the indeterminacy. Well, it is theorically possible, but frankly it is not the main problem I am afraid of.
    *** Right, the dêmos cannot be as « rational » as the ideal individual ruler, the Perfect King whose will is never undetermined. But let’s consider the political processes in our polyarchies : they are usually very far from the Perfect King. We must not require rational perfection from a modern dêmokratia. I think only that its level of rationality would be higher than for the other available models (polyarchic, autocratic, totalitarian)


  53. Andre,

    >The procedures (size of the juries, competence of the juries, debate procedures etc) must be modified until this determination vanishes.

    I agree, it’s an empirical matter — my argument that the variation in outcomes is caused (primarily) by illocutionary speech-act imbalances is currently only a hypothesis.

    >We must not require rational perfection from a modern dêmokratia.

    It’s not a case of rational perfection, it’s perceived legitimacy. We currently accept the winner of elections according to the decision rule in place, even when this means the candidate with the smaller share of the popular vote winning. John, Jon, Hubertus etc argue that epistemic outcomes will suffice (I very much doubt that). In the symposium on Fishkin’s last book, Mansbridge argued that it will require a combination of public understanding of statistical theory and benign outcomes from experiments — I take that to mean a combination of epistemic and statistical factors, with the latter pivoting on the notion of stochastic determinism. That, to my mind means a consistent and demonstrable relationship along the following lines (table will probably not display properly):

    Margin of error Decision threshold Sample size
    2% 52/48 6,766
    5% 55/45 1,083
    10% 60/40 271
    Table 8.1: Margin of error, decision threshold and sample size


  54. *** Keith Sutherland seems afraid of a move to minipublics through « massive pressure from citizens at large ». He mentions, in this kind of phenomena, the Brexit, the election of Trump, the rise of power of the Nazi party. He could have added the end of Berlin Wall and of Communist East Germany, or the end of dictatorship in Tunisia. Massive popular pressures towards constitutional changes may be very diverse, sure. Such a pressure will head towards dêmokratia only if the people knows the (ortho-)democratic model and has ideological values, as freedom of thought, compatible with it.
    *** In this case, I do not see a big risk of some dramatic unforeseen outcome. Giving power to a man or a party is dangerous, because only God knows really the character of the man, and because a party may drift – we remember some italian Jews supported the fascist movement, which ended furiously anti-semitic.
    *** If a popular movement succeeds to establish a democracy-through-minipublics in France, I may be afraid of dramatic unforeseen outcome only if I think there are some ghastly sides of the minds of common French citizens that will then prevail. I don’t think.


  55. Andre,

    >Keith Sutherland seems afraid of a move to minipublics through « massive pressure from citizens at large »

    I’m not afraid of it, I just think that it’s unlikely. In the case of the Berlin Wall etc the protest was because the public was aware that life was better under capitalist democracy, the very system that you think the masses will now spontaneously rise up to overthrow. The problem is that there are no existing examples of democracy by minipublic, hence the need to demonstrate the workability and representativity of our proposals. This will require a lot of work amongst intellectual and political elites.


  56. Agreement among multiple policy juries is not needed for them to be perceived as legitimate. The public itself may be divided on what is the right policy, and any decision against their preference is likely to be perceived as illegitimate.

    Consider public welfare spending, and a bill to increase it. It might have 75% support among the public and within each (large) policy jury, and strong opposition from the other 25%. If you were to pit the question to policy juries, large juries are like to divide proportionately, and small juries to each come down on one side or the other, and leading to a bi modal distribution. How to aggregate the factions in each mode? Taking an arithmetic mean would get a decision, but the right one? The wise policy is likely to be less or no spending. But no method of aggregation is likely to produce that, and spending keeps rising until the economy collapses.

    This is the kind of difficult policy problem a sortition proposal is going to have to enable. We can see it working out in the U.S. Congress, and the polarized process does not seem amenable to reconciliation.


  57. Jon:

    >Agreement among multiple policy juries is not needed for them to be perceived as legitimate. The public itself may be divided on what is the right policy, and any decision against their preference is likely to be perceived as illegitimate.

    You appear to be confusing majority rule with unanimity. So long as the preferences of the plurality win the vote then the result is perceived as legitimate (assuming democratic norms). Exactly the same thing is true for a sample of the whole population. I gave an example of the maths earlier on:

    Margin of error Decision threshold Sample size
    2% 52/48 6,766
    5% 55/45 1,083
    10% 60/40 271
    Table 8.1: Margin of error, decision threshold and sample size

    Multiple juries of 1,000 would generate a judgment with a 5% margin of error, assuming quasi-mandatory participation, identical advocacy and zero communication between the jurors. If that can be demonstrated experimentally, and if the jury verdict is epistemically acceptable then the decision process should be viewed as legitimate. Who could possible object?


  58. I am just pointing out that perception of legitimacy is far more complicated than having multiple policy juries reaching the same conclusion, because such perception does not expect close agreement. The people are aware that is matters of policy there is not always one right policy, and whether they accede to the decision has more to do with process than with results.


  59. Keith

    > unanimity?

    What I was talking about was the opposite of unanimity, namely where there is an even split between sections with equal claims according to whatever is the recognised procedure. The parties must settle on a tie-breaker. In a normal democratic community getting an accepted decision is much more important than the content of the decision.

    My more substantial point is that if a divided community cannot accept such compromises it cannot be democratic in the contemporary sense of the term, according to which there is a voting procure for removing a government from office and installing another that is sufficiently robust to does actually work in regular practice.

    That exchange of legislative and executive powers normally supposes a background of agreement about the business of government in relation to which the differences between groups of candidates are largely a matter of emphasis. When citizens say that they are not interested in politics, it is usually that they see the functions of government embodied in an array of institutions which operate according to the various practices appropriate to their diverse social functions. These practices are embodied in the professional expertise and experience of the bureaucracy.

    In this view the business of politicians is to supervise the bureaucrats, be ready to be called on to intercede with them and change rules and procedures where necessary.

    It is a law of nature that any organisation tends to be run in the interests of those who have legislative and executive power in the organisation, protecting their turf, enlarging their powers and rewards for performance, avoiding unpleasant responsibilities and so on.The result is a loss of efficiency and of public approval. Politicians seized on the opportunity to decry the institutions of government and substitute market provision for public provision wherever possible, often at the expense of the poor and of a sense of community based on a shared conception of its common goods.

    As you know, for many reasons I think the way forward is to separate the various public services and put them under the supervision of those most directly affected by their particular functions. I want to abandoned the futile attempt to vile community from the top down and build it from the bottom up. One must start by focussing public discussion not on the vacuous ideological generalisations so dear to current political divisiveness, but on in-depth discussion of the real changes that face us and what might be done about them.l


  60. Jon,

    >whether [the people] accede to the decision has more to do with process than with results.

    Absolutely, and I’m glad that you no longer adhere to the view that legitimacy will be determined by epistemic outcomes. Democracy is a procedural (“process”) standard — in the case of elections the procedural rule is that all votes are (in theory) equal. In the case of democracy by minipublic, the procedural rule would be that the outcome will be the same (within a specified margin of error), irrespective of which concrete individuals were included in the sample. I’ve already cited the relevant mathematical model.



    My comments were directed to Jon Roland (without the H), aka “constitutionalism”, not yourself. I’m glad that all three of us now appear to agree that democratic politics is largely a procedural matter.


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