2017 review – sortition-related events

This is the end-of-year summary of notable sortition related events for 2017.

Readers wrote that in their opinion the most important sortition-related event of 2017 was the adoption by law in Mongolia of deliberative polling as part of its constitutional amendment process. The opinions in the exit survey of the deliberation poll “help shape the process of constitutional amendment the government undertakes”.

This event seems like a natural part of a decades-long trend of declining confidence in electoral systems and a more recent trend of increasing, if very preliminary and tentative, adoption of sortition-based political devices.

Worldwide, trust in elected government in 2017 remained low and showed no signs of recovery.

As in previous years, French speaking countries showed the most noticeable moves toward seeing sortition as a way to redistribute significant political power. In France, two of the three most successful presidential candidates in the 2017 elections, including the winner, Emmanuel Macron, were politicians who made sortition part of the political agenda. In November, La France insoumise allotted members of its constitutional convention. Sortition was also discussed, again and again in French media. Proposals for using sortition in Belgium and Switzerland received some attention.

Elsewhere in Europe, the allotted Irish Citizens’ Assembly sent its recommendations to the parliament with a referendum to follow. Sortition was also adopted by a branch of Podemos in Spain and was promoted by a party in Austria.

In the English speaking world, academics devoted some attention to sortition in workshops at McGill university and at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Outside of academia, a fairly robust polemic for sortition appeared in the US magazine Current Affairs. A book proposing sortition as an add-on to the electoral system was reviewed in the New York Times.

As another indication of increasing prominence of the idea of sortition in establishment circles, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan mentioned sortition in a speech he gave to the Athens Democracy Forum.

Finally, distribution-by-lot received fairly intense attention in Greece in the context of a debate over the mechanism of selection of flag bearers in schools.

11 Responses

  1. Yoram, Thanks for the excellent compilation of events. I found it very helpful. Were you aware of the Democracy in Practice project in Bolivian schools? From their website:
    “Elections give the wrong kind of civic education. Student government is meant to introduce young people to democracy and develop tomorrow’s leaders. In practice, however, school elections exclude all but the most popular, charismatic, and ambitious students from actively participating. Elections incorrectly teach young people that there are a few natural-born leaders, and that for the rest democracy simply means casting an occasional vote. We wouldn’t use a popularity contest to decide which few students get to learn math or history, so why do we do this with leadership and civic education?” You can learn more about this “Sortition in Action” project at: https://democracyinpractice.org/


  2. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks. I am glad you find this useful.

    Yes – Democracy in Practice is on the “Organizations” page above.

    I generally agree with the sentiment in the passage you quote. The “develop tomorrow’s leaders” bit seems to go against the general thrust, however.


  3. Yoram,
    I’ve written a book on sortition that I haven’t been able to find a good publisher for yet, and my NEXT book is going to be about the illusion of political leadership. I use the word “illusion” to express my understanding that it is akin to a magic trick…something is happening (as there is an impact on the world), but it is not anything like what it appears to be, nor what most people think it is. I believe most political leadership has a net detrimental effect, yet our natural fondness for neat cause-and-effect stories promotes our assigning credit for outcomes onto the vision and skill of leaders, rather than the unpredictable nature of reality.


  4. Hi Terry,

    I think the reason leadership is perceived as a positive idea is because, like many other elitist ideas, it is continually – and self-servingly – promoted by oligarchical forces in society.


  5. *** Reflections after Yoram Gat laudable 2017 review of sortition-related events and his comment about the “increasing prominence of the idea of sortition”.
    *** In Western Europe of late 19th century, a new idea entered the common political mind: socialism, i.e. reining on capitalism through conscious State control. It was an attractive idea, as everybody saw the drawbacks of unstrained capitalism, and as the idea of conscious control was congenial to the modern mind. It was a virgin idea, without recent actual example, and therefore without historical “stains”. It was a fuzzy idea: reining on capitalism through conscious State control, well, but which kind of control (the extreme being total control, with destruction of capitalism) ? and which kind of State?
    *** Once ”socialism” went out of the Limbo, it became “hegemonic”, as says French historian Marcel Gauchet – I don’t think the word is very convenient, I would say “prominent” taking the word of Yoram Gat. Many movements and political endeavors took the label with quite different policies – from the Scandinavian progressive and peaceful polyarchies to the Stalinist USSR, and even some fascisms (including the worst one).
    *** I think that in the early 21st century the sortition idea has a somewhat analogous historical status. It is coming out of the Limbo, it is virgin, it has clearly attractive sides. And we see already how different uses it will possibly have. Clearly it could be the base of a democracy-through-minipublics, and that may appear the “more natural” prospect. But with some steps of selection and self-selection it could lead to some half-aristocratic models (I think we saw the temptation in this forum). And practically it could be used as one of the tools protecting polyarchies from populisms, or from any popular movement, along the “polyphony” line brightly proposed by Rosanvallon ( “A Reflection on Populism” , internet). “Increasing prominence of the idea of sortition”, yes, but let us consider that several ways are open.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Andre. Very interesting analysis.

    > several ways are open

    Very true. The democrats among us must point toward the democratic way.


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