Passerelle

Some consider Switzerland as a laboratory for democratic experiments. The Swiss town of Bienne exemplifies this trend. This city of more than 50,000 inhabitants is home for a movement called Passerrelle.

Having been created in 2008, Passerrelle recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. In 2011, they advocated for the involvement of foreigners in communal policies. This step toward openness demonstrates their philosophy: use everybody’s ideas. In 2017 Passerelle has proposed the creation of citizen assemblies. The assemblies would suggest ideas for solving municipal problems. Like many sortition proponents, Passarelle mentions the reliance on sortition in ancient Greece.

Two bridges which link different landscapes or methods.

Passerelle is putting up a candidate for the March 2018 elections of Berne’s regional council. Ruth Tennenbaum is the name of their candidate. This is an unimportant detail since, as a hack of the Swiss electoral system, Tennenbaum will resign as soon as she gets elected. I already wrote about a method used by Demorun to mix the electoral system with random selection in a previous post. Passerelle aims to go further and make the random selection after the vote to avoid any possible personification occurring during the campaign. Some “technical” details remain to be decided: the list they will pick from and the method used to perform the random selection. On this latter point I contacted a source close to Passerelle who told me that they might use the method I described in a previous post! The election takes place on the 22nd of March. A story to be continued…

Thank you for reading! If I forgot something, the comment section is just below.

This post was originally published on The sortition blog.

30 Responses

  1. Delighted to see this – the more genuine, real-world attempts to push sortition out into public perception, the better.

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  2. Nice try, but I venture a prediction that Ruth Tennenbaum will not be elected. Within the current electoral system this proposition will be absurd for voters. They want certainty (or at least the impression) about what will happen with their vote.

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  3. Elections took place yesterday, they obtained more than two thousand votes. No enough to win a seat, but a modest beginning to congratulate still!. I agree with both of you, it is a real world attempt. And people are not ready to vote for something they don’t know.

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  4. What is the rationale behind selecting one person at random? In the Athenian democracy, random selection was either for boards of magistrates (typically 10-500) or for large juries (501-5001). It strikes me as a poorly-conceived gimmick which will do nothing to further the cause of sortition.

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  5. > two thousand votes

    Out of how many?

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  6. I agree with Keith (I assume) that asking voters to select one representative within an electoral framework by random selection is nonsensical. The fact of the election has already established the principle of distinction. While voters of a certain ideology might be happy to have an entire body selected by chance due to statistical confidence that the overall makeup would be decent, selecting one person by chance may be exactly the most horrible person from the voter’s perspective. I don’t see how this approach could advance sortition at all… only make it look ridiculous. It is never a good idea to select a single person by random chance for an important public job.

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  7. Yoram >> I don’t remember the exact number but they made 0.28 percent (the lowest score :(.

    Keith and Terry >> You have first to understand the swiss political system -unclear in the post. The vote is usually for a list. They obtained no seat but they could have won multiple. This is not like a critical executive function (like president), but for sears within an assembly. They like sortition because they want to get rid of professional politicians. This is the most attractive sortition’s feature for me, to renew politicians and renew them as often as possible because power corrupts.

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  8. >renew politicians and renew them as often as possible because power corrupts.

    And how often would that be? In a PR system (where fragile coalitions have to be constructed) unaligned members would be immediate targets for bribery as they are not constrained by party discipline or the need to secure re-election. In addition to this a single amateur would find herself drowning in a sea of partisans and would be likely to align herself to the party that best approximated her own preferences. I would suggest that the 0.28 percent who voted for this candidate should be seen on a par with spoilt ballot papers or adherents to the anarchist maxim “don’t vote, it only encourages them”.

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  9. Keith > “And how often would that be?” depends on the task 6 month, one year, two years, more…? I prefer when someone fight for the general interest rather than their own reelection. And this is my plan for next year, start a party promoting sortition in France -i’ll need the help of a few fool like me to do that.

    I like the anarchist maxim (I feel more and more like an anarchist” ;) but I guess in this case, voting might be the solution to get rid of them.

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  10. Sure, but I like to think that sortition is a serious proposal for governance, and this sort of thread brings the whole thing into disrepute. Whilst you can eliminate ex ante corruption via random selection, you need to give due diligence to the ex post problem, rather than just waving your arms.

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  11. “Sortition is a serious proposal” Luckily, your have no power on whether or not to approve a post, mine would not have gone through. guess this is why I love my blog where I can say what I want without fear of being censored. The first time I wrote in Nuit Debout’s wiki, all my writing was overwritten considered as joke-spam; last time i heard about they were sortiting moderators at their meetings :)

    NB: Ruth Tenebaum commented on this post in my blog. Come and read she gives essential and complementary intormations. Maybe you could put the link Yoram at the end of the post.

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  12. >I prefer when someone fight for the general interest.

    And why do you believe that sortition will ensure this? If you read Rousseau’s Social Contract, you will see that he was extremely pessimistic that people would naturally pursue the general good. Even if it were possible to “force people to be free” the pursuit of republican virtue required nothing less than an all-pervading civic religion. So why do you think that a single randomly-selected individual will naturally “fight for the general interest”, common good, general will (choose your own synonym)? Bear in mind that Pol Pot was an admirer of Rousseau.

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  13. Sortition by itself does not ensure it. But it is way easier to add extra measures to ensure that with sortition than with elections. I have never said that sortition would “guarantee” a good leader and I dislike elections especially because people think that election “guarantees” a good leader (I think this is stupid, e.g. Trump). I love this feature of sortition: “the lack of legitimacy” (need a better name); sorted leaders cannot pretend they are legitimate.

    Rousseau wrote many stupid things like “toute l’éducation des femmes doit être relative aux hommes” and Pol pot was an awful dictator.

    BTW Ruth is a woman, what a coincidence :)

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  14. >it is way easier to add extra measures to ensure [pursuit of the common good] with sortition than with elections.

    Not so. In the case of election there are various mechanisms to encourage this including:

    Party discipline
    Need to secure re-election (voters are not stupid)
    Candidates’ ideals (aka “ideology”)
    Fable of the Bees (private vices/public benefits)

    In the case of sortition all you have is police action. That’s why most utopian forms of government end up as police states. We need to ensure that this is not the fate of the sortition movement.

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  15. “Not so. In the case of election there are various mechanisms to encourage this including:” This reads like a judgment call. There is one urgent measure still not implemented in France:

    The non-accumulation of mandates in time and space

    An elected person would never implement that. It would be to shoot themselves in the foot. No way to be re-elected.

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  16. The received wisdom regarding the electoral mandate is that it is the way that political parties implement the democratic will. Whilst there are downsides (disinformation, manipulated loyalties, binding the hands of the legislature etc), it’s hard to imagine a democracy in a mass society without recourse to the mandate. In my proposal the political party/parties gaining the plurality/majority of votes have the right (mandate) to introduce their manifesto commitments to the parliament for consideration by the allotted assembly (who have the right to reject them). A political system that eliminated mandates would eliminate the public in its collective capacity from any involvement in the political process. This would be kleristocracy, not democracy and is not a form of political equality (for the overwhelming majority who do not win the political lottery tickets).

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  17. *** Romain Caze wrote about « The non-accumulation of mandates in time and space » : « An elected person would never implement that. It would be to shoot themselves in the foot. No way to be re-elected ».
    *** The French National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself in September 1791. It has passed an ordinance barring any member from sitting in its successor, the Legislative Assembly.
    *** Robespierre was the supporter of the idea. An example of revolutionary idealism ? Maybe. Or we can think, as he was to become one of the leader of the Montagnard faction, he preferred to lessen the role of personalities so as to heighten le role of factional nets.
    *** In a (ortho-)democracy, there are no elected « representative ». But there may exist elected « managers », as in Athens the military and financial managers. The managers are elected to enforce the policy chosen by the « dêmos », and therefore must be chosen among the supporters of this policy who appear to have management abilities. To re-elect a successful one is logical, and the sovereign people is entitled to keep a good minister , as an absolute king is entitled to keep a good minister.
    *** A general rule against re-election would be strange, and it will play against the personal relationship between the sovereign and the manager, favoring the role of factional nets.

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  18. Thank you André for the historical reminder. I agree with you that certain jobs need to use election. There are people starting to do “élection sans candidat” election without volounteers where people vote to decide the selection criteria, eventually they elect someone who fulfill these criteria by naming them (but no contester for the job).

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  19. *** Romain Caze mentions the option of elections without candidacies, “where people vote to decide the selection criteria, eventually they elect someone who fulfill these criteria by naming them” .
    *** We may remind that in Athens military and financial « magistrates » could be elected without being candidates. The chosen citizens could decline by giving an excuse, as for contemporary French criminal juries, and Theophrastus (Characters 24,5) describes « the Arrogant man » : « When he is to be elected to office he excuses himself on oath, because, please you, he has not the time »(transl. J.M. Edmonds).
    *** Following Romain Caze’s suggestion, the elected citizen could neither be known as politician nor belong to a known political network, formal or informal. The problem, I think, is that, at least for some « hot » issues, the dêmos would like to be sure that the elected person agrees with the policy the dêmos has chosen, and it would be difficult to be sure for somebody not belonging to a political group or not being known as politician. There is a risk of dishonesty.
    *** In polyarchy the military is to be exterior to the political life, and that led to famous mistakes about political feelings of high military officers. Salvador Allende trusted the loyalty of Augusto Pinochet. Pierre Masse, lawyer and senator, protested in a famous letter against Pétain anti-Semitic laws, but he had voted for the power of Petain in 1940, being unaware of the Marshall’s ultra-authoritarian and anti-Semitic leanings. I mention extreme cases, but which give images of the risks involved in the idea of selecting no-politicians as ministers in a democracy.

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  20. Andre:> the dêmos would like to be sure that the elected person agrees with the policy the dêmos has chosen, and it would be difficult to be sure for somebody not belonging to a political group or not being known as politician. There is a risk of dishonesty.

    That’s very true — unfortunately the political party is viewed as a purely malign institution on this blog, but it does serve the important function of making public the beliefs and values of those aspiring to office (and ensuring some degree of fidelity to those beliefs). It’s hard to imagine how this would be possible without the political party (Rosenblum, 2008) — Andre’s examples of Pinochet and Petain make the point with some force. This is particularly problematic if the (s)election is going to be in the hands of randomly-selected amateurs, who have no experience of public affairs and would be unlikely to know the hinterland of the candidates. I’m still not convinced that election is the best way of selecting competent ministers, but open to persuasion.

    Rosenblum, Nancy (2008), On the Side of the Angels: An appreciation of parties and partisanship, Princeton University Press.

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  21. The notion that party membership might provide key information to voters in general or a minipublic that will select an executive seems dubious to me. Perhaps it is better than nothing, but perhaps it is worse than nothing. Many political parties center on ethnic, regional, religious or leader personality loyalty, more than policy. Yes, SOME parties are genuinely platform-based, but even within these there are many opportunistic climbers who see which party is the most advantageous to be a member of. Of course, in a non-electoral democracy, parties would evolve into very different sorts of organizations (such as primarily geared to shaping the policy opinions of the general public –any of whom might be allotted into office), and thus would likely generate a large number of single-issue parties. I prefer to think of a minipublic acting like a large hiring committee that recruits potential candidates and conducts in-depth interviews and background checks before making a selection.

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  22. Terry:> I prefer to think of a minipublic acting like a large hiring committee that recruits potential candidates and conducts in-depth interviews and background checks before making a selection.

    Yes, and I guess the issue in the general case is the conflation of policymaking and execution. But is it plausible to think that appointed persons will act in an apolitical manner and that a body composed of amateur citizens can hold them to account? The lesson from the Athens is that prosecutions were always launched by elite competitors, leaving the allotted jury to determine the outcome.

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  23. *** Terry Bouricius thinks « of a minipublic acting like a large hiring committee that recruits potential candidates and conducts in-depth interviews and background checks before making a selection. »
    *** We must distinguish two matters.
    *** A minipublic as described by Terry would be able to ascertain the civic qualities and the (ortho-)democratic leanings of a would be minister or a would be « permanent adviser». It would be something as the clearance (dokimasia) jury in ancient Athens (which cleared elected « magistrates » as allotted ones – but not the judicial and legislative jurors. In the generation following the establishment of an (ortho-)democracy this minipublic could check, for instance, the public stance of the citizen about the proposal of democracy-through-minipublics . Later clearance will be more complex.
    *** The second case is about specifically a minister (a manager). Here, even if the would-be minister is to be trusted following the clearance process, it is logical to choose as top-enforcer of a given policy someone who agrees with the policy ; actually who was among the proposers of the policy. That would avoid unconscious bias in the enforcement and would put clearly the responsibility for success or failure of a policy proposal. I think such a process implies the selected minister is someone known as politician, personally or as member of a group, before the selection.
    *** I don’t exclude the no-candidacy pattern in some cases, but I don’t think it must be a rule.
    *** No-candidacy as a rule is linked, I think, to the endeavour of dissolving any kind of political elite. I don’t think it is a good idea. Elite phenomena are natural ones, an (ortho-)democracy must rein in them : avoiding high degrees of crystallization, acting against oligarchizing tendencies. But it must acknowledging them as natural, not demonizing them. The worst would be the political elites going underground, with for instance no political groups but informal networks escaping from the dêmos sight.

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  24. Andre,

    >it is logical to choose as top-enforcer of a given policy someone who agrees with the policy ; actually who was among the proposers of the policy.

    Brexit is an interesting case, as the UK prime minister (Theresa May) and chancellor (Philip Hammond), both voted Remain. Few serious commentators have argued that leading Brexiters would do a better job, especially as Brexit only had a modest majority in the referendum. Competence would appear to trump political views when it comes to policy implementation.

    >Elite phenomena are natural ones, an (ortho-)democracy must rein them in . . . The worst would be the political elites going underground, with for instance no political groups but informal networks escaping from the dêmos sight.

    Agreed. That’s why election and appointment on merit will be a permanent feature of any future democracy. Political elites are not created by election, as they are a residue of pre-democratic political power (the two lines between the opposing armies in the House of Commons are positioned two drawn sword-lengths apart). Elites cannot be abolished by fiat, only reined in (as in the Athenian demokratia).

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  25. The term “elites” is rather imprecise, so I will speak about a specific subset… political leaders. Yes, political leadership is inevitable due to the human proclivity for followership (put three people in a room with a problem, and it is likely that a leader will emerge). A problem is when leadership gets extended in terms of domain or in time both corruption and incompetence are facilitated. A person competent to lead in domain A often ends up leading in domains B, C and D as well, even though this person has no competence in B, C or D.

    Andre suggests there is an advantage in having a person who beforehand was a supporter of a policy being selected to administer it. But this might be bad as well. This leader administrator has a bias that is aggravated by a “sunk costs fallacy” cognitive bias to continue on a horrible path far too long, rather than notifying the demos of the problem. Nonpartisan recruitment of professional administrators seems like a wiser strategy for a demos than anointing political leaders who seek appointment.

    Yes, elections will likely persist for a long time… but my hope is to peel away policy domains from the elective realm one at a time and place these in a sortition democracy realm until the elected realm is essentially vestigial, as the monarchies are in many Western European nations today.

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  26. *** I suggested there is an advantage in having a person who beforehand was a supporter of a policy being selected to administer it. Terry Bouricius answered « this might be bad as well. This leader administrator has a bias that is aggravated by a “sunk costs fallacy” cognitive bias to continue on a horrible path far too long, rather than notifying the demos of the problem. »
    *** The “sunk costs fallacy” cognitive bias is a problem, sure, but I am not sure a « non-supporter manager » is the solution. Such a manager may avoid notifying the dêmos of the failure of the policy, because he is afraid of being accused of sabotage. Or he may be subject to the sunk cost fallacy himself, because he feels responsible of the managing.
    *** I think the best way is distinguishing two things : the management of the policy, and the overseeing of the policy, which are to be carried by different people : the independence of the two entities is the basic point. Elected « magistrates » may be the active part of overseeing, reporting to a jury ; and these elected magistrates might be chosen along no-candidacy procedures.

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  27. *** Keith Sutherland writes : « Brexit is an interesting case, as the UK prime minister (Theresa May) and chancellor (Philip Hammond), both voted Remain. Few serious commentators have argued that leading Brexiters would do a better job ».
    *** If the negotiations with the UE lead to results which don’t please to many British citizens, I wonder how many will think that Theresa May and Philip Hammond, or more generally the British political elite, have been sabotaging the Brexit.

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  28. I think Terry is right about the “sunk costs fallacy” problem, and this explains why some of the more strident commentators on this forum are psychologically unable to adjust their position in response to persuasive arguments. The argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier and Landemore, 2012) claims that the confirmation bias is a valuable tool to partisans, but is strongly dysfunctional when there is a need to adjust one’s position (or admit that a policy is counterproductive). That’s why it would be better to appoint rather than elect government executives, as the latter mechanism favours candidates with strong preferences.

    >Yes, elections will likely persist for a long time… but my hope is to peel away policy domains from the elective realm one at a time and place these in a sortition democracy realm until the elected realm is essentially vestigial, as the monarchies are in many Western European nations today.

    That may well work for government executives (there is good evidence that this is already well under way, even in parliamentary democracies — in the UK currently 3 out of 5 civil servants work for “Next Steps” government agencies headed by chief executives recruited largely from business, rather than political ministers (Woodhouse, 2004, p. 328)), but it will never work for policy development, as leaving this in the hands of randomly-selected persons both contravenes democratic norms and will arouse the resentment of all those excluded from existing mechanisms of representative isegoria (primarily election). If Terry were prepared to bracket this side of his model (for the time being), then I don’t think there is any part of it that I would disagree with. From a purely pragmatic perspective it’s better to focus on those applications of sortition that we can all agree would both enhance democratic equality and improve political outcomes (and benefit from ancient provenance).

    Andre:> I wonder how many will think that Theresa May and Philip Hammond, or more generally the British political elite, have been sabotaging the Brexit.

    Yes that’s very true, but they were elected and voted Remain, whereas Terry and myself are proposing that they should be appointed on merit alone. When corporate executives fail to achieve goals set by the board of directors they are fired, rather than accused of treason.

    Refs
    ===

    Mercier, H., & Landemore, H. (2012). Reasoning is for arguing: Understanding the successes and failures of deliberation. Political Psychology, 33(2), 243-258.

    Woodhouse, D. (2004). Ministerial responsibility. In V. Bogdanor (Ed.), The British Constitution in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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  29. *** Terry Bouricius writes (April 1) that « the term “elites” is rather imprecise ». I think we can say there is an elitarian phenomenon when a minority is superior (or feels superior) along a given dimension, with at least some discontinuity, whatever the reasons of this discontinuity. Therefore (horribile dictu) the contributors of the kleroterians blog constitute an elite, because they have more knowledge and understanding of the issues about sortition and democracy-through-minipublics than most of the citizens. Elitarism is a common phenomenon; with elites more or less specific, more or less layered. In contemporary Western countries, there are two main general elites, the money elite and the culture elite, but many specific elites exist, or will exist.
    *** There will be probably always in an (ortho-) democracy some political elitarism, as a minority will be more involved in political activities. Among them, there will be leaders. But Terry is maybe too much concentrated on the leaders. What I fear most is an excessive influence of informal political networks, orientating the general information of the dêmos, trying more specifically to orientate the information of the minipublics, and orientating the enforcement of the policies.
    *** The problem is not only with the political elite, but likewise with specific elites embedded in diverse State apparatus : a military elite, for instance ; or, as we saw in the French education system, an educational elite.
    *** I expect three lines of attack against a beginning democracy-through-minipublics. First line, the minipublics don’t mirror really the civic body – it why I am strongly against the volunteer idea . Second line, they are manipulated by orientated information (« manufacture of consent », « puppets », …) – and here the procedures are a basic point. Third line, the actual policies are selectively enforced, or sabotaged, by the administrators (« the true ruler is the deep State »). Overseeing by elected magistrates and allotted juries may be an answer, but I am not sure we can do without elected politicians as managers.
    *** Keith Sutherland writes : « when corporate executives fail to achieve goals set by the board of directors they are fired, rather than accused of treason. ». OK, but usually in a capitalist system all corporate executives are supposed to aim for the same goal, the profit. If some specific criterion plays, other than the profit, we come back to a politics-like situation. Let’s suppose a corporate executive of a weapon company selling arms to Saudi Arabia ; if the owner of the company think the executive doesn’t like the idea of helping to crush the Yemen Shiites or the Syria Kurds, he will not trust him ; and if the deal with Saudi Arabia fails, the owner will think that maybe he sabotaged the deal, even unconsciously.

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  30. Andre:> What I fear most is an excessive influence of informal political networks, orientating the general information of the dêmos, trying more specifically to orientate the information of the minipublics, and orientating the enforcement of the policies.

    Agreed. That’s why I favour election as the principal mechanism of (representative) isegoria, followed by a public and confrontational exchange between competing elites, each seeking to sway the verdict of the allotted jury. This is also supported by the argumentative theory of reasoning, which posits a second cognitive mechanism (designed to detect the best argument) and relies on the view that deliberation — derived from the Latin liber (weight) — involves the weighing of competing arguments. The view that a consensus should emerge from the endogenous deliberative exchange runs the risk of manipulation by informal political networks; much better to acknowledge the perennial nature of political elites and to quarantine them to an advocacy role.

    Regarding the ongoing need for elected politicians as managers, Andre’s arguments are persuasive. But the problem is that an elected chief executive will always claim a policymaking mandate (as we have witnessed in the corruption of the American constitution, which originally sought to arrogate policymaking to the legislature). This will be doubly problematic in an ortho-democracy as there will be no elected legislators. That’s why I still prefer the idea of appointed government executives, but any minister who acted “politically” could be removed by a censure motion in the allotted legislature (and would subsequently lose all pension rights and could not seek re-employment for [say] 5 years). Hansen laments the fact that when Aquinas re-introduced Greek politics to the mediaeval world in Summa Theologica, he failed to mention the need to ensure the ongoing accountability of political office-holders (Hansen, 2013, p. 106). All carrot and no stick.

    Ref
    ==
    Hansen, M. H. (2013). Aspects of indirect democracy in Ancient Greece in particular in Aristotle’s ‘Politics’. Reflections on Aristotle’s Politics (pp. 97-107): Museum Tusculanum Press.

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