Chris Hedges interviews David Van Reybrouck on sortition

Good interview of David Van Reybrouck by Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes for Truth Dig and has a show on RT.

Chris Hedges: “Aristotle would I think have defined our democracy as an oligarchy.”

David Van Reybrouck: “For a lobbyist it is much harder to influence public decision-making when the decision-makers are drafted by lot, and do not have an interest in getting re-elected, and do not have an interest in raising campaign money.”

5 Responses

  1. Thanks, very useful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For a lobbyist it is much harder to influence public decision-making when the decision-makers are drafted by lot, and do not have an interest in getting re-elected, and do not have an interest in raising campaign money.

    While that’s clearly true in the tautological sense, two caveats come to mind:

    1. The default assumption is that lobbying (by the rich n’ powerful) is necessary opposed to the public interest. In practice it can be a valuable way of ensuring that legislators are well informed — that’s the reason why the principal meeting place in the Palace of Westminster is called the Central Lobby. In mixed economies the interests of (capitalist) service providers need to be considered.

    2. It’s important to remember that van Reybrouck is referring to decision makers. If allotted members have policy proposal powers they will be more vulnerable to inducements than elected representatives as they have no constituents (or party whips) to hold them to account.

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  3. Interesting that Hedges, supposedly a radical among radicals, a hyper-woke class warrior, is not challenging Van Reybrouck on his “innovation” platitude. The question of who is served by the dominance of electoralism is never really addressed in the interview, and so reform is just a matter of all-of-us managing to find our way out of some sort of inexplicable intellectual blind alley that we are stuck in.

    By the way, it is worth noting that when I offered sortition to Hedges back in 2013 it did not manage to draw a response. Again, sortition does seem to be getting places, even in the English-speaking world.

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  4. *** I would propose a working definition of “lobby”: “any network, formal or informal, around a kernel of material and/or moral interests”.
    *** Clearly, lobbies linked to elites or fragments of elite will be more powerful. But we must not think only about lobbies linked to the very rich.
    *** In any society there will be lobbies, and trying to eliminate them will only put them underground (while destroying public freedoms). The problem with polyarchy is not that lobbies are acting often openly, the problem is that the system allows them to exert strong pressures in many points of it, including in the elections and in the working of “checks and balances”; the political decisions being finally not far from the result of a parallelogram of forces.
    *** Keith Sutherland says that lobbying is not “necessary opposed to the public interest. In practice it can be a valuable way of ensuring that legislators are well informed”. Right, lobbies may be useful by informing the political authority about the facts, and about the sensitivities of some parts of the society. They may be useful, likewise, to issue policy proposals. But in an (ortho-)democracy information and proposals must not come only from lobbies. Other sources are needed; and among them it would be strange to exclude allotted panels, drawn either from the whole civic body or from specific categories of people. Unorganized interests and sensitivities must have access to the public debate. They may be unorganized not because they are of low intrinsic importance, but because the corresponding people have low social power.

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  5. Andre:> Other sources are needed; and among them it would be strange to exclude allotted panels, drawn either from the whole civic body or from specific categories of people.

    I can understand the latter as they would become lobbyists for interests that have low social power and would (presumably) act to promote those particular interests (although choosing which particular interests merit representation is a serious problem). Sub-group sortition would ensure that representatives for these interests were selected in an impartial way.

    But I don’t think you can extend the argument to the whole civic body unless you are making a strong claim about the general good. Rousseau was sceptical that such a creature exists in large sophisticated societies, hence his reliance on state religion and other highly illiberal social institutions (and his disapproval of deliberation in the public assembly). It would be much better to resort to crowdsourcing, public initiatives, petitions, competitions etc. in order to ensure that lobbyists don’t have total control of the agenda.

    Bear in mind that the final decision is always in the hands of the allotted jury, so lobbyists would be motivated to ensure that their proposals wouldn’t fall at the last fence.

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