Myth No. 2: Democracy is about electing representatives

In an article in The Washington Post, James Miller, professor of politics at the New School for Social Research, enumerates 5 myths about democracy. Here is myth #2:

Myth No. 2: Democracy is about electing representatives

In 2004, Stanford political scientist Larry Diamond defined democracy in terms familiar to most Americans. Among other things, it is “a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.” This view is echoed whenever an election rolls around. As one local paper’s editorial board wrote last year, “Democracy depends on citizens voting.” In Australia, voting is compulsory.

But this isn’t the only way to ensure the people’s input. Ancient Athens selected almost all significant officials not by voting but randomly, by drawing lots. This is how we select juries today, for the same reason: It nullifies the advantages of the wealthy and well-known, and it means a political order in which citizens engage in public life on equal terms, ratifying Aristotle’s conclusion that “from one point of view governors and governed are identical.” As Montesquieu wrote, “The suffrage by lot is natural to democracy, as that by choice is to aristocracy.”

3 Responses

  1. Worth noting that Larry Diamond, who is referenced above, is a “leading contemporary scholar in the field of democracy studies. He is a professor of Sociology and Political Science (by courtesy) at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution” [wikipedia]. His text matches a middle-school civics class with a fantasy of the Iraq invasion that is astounding in its self-important and self-congratulatory tone.

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  2. While I am becoming increasingly convinced that sortition is a good idea, I don’t think that it works for petit juries. The outcome of a jury trial depends on more than the idea of a decision by a jury. There is an enormous difference between the trial by jury of a wealthy person, able to hire the best attorneys and investigators, if needed, and the trial of a poor person represented by a poorly paid public defender.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stephen,

    Yes – in a trial, at least as it is done today, the jury has a very limited role. The jury members are essentially the audience in a show put on by the professionals of the legal system. It is unrealistic to expect it to fix the many problems of the contemporary legal system.

    Liked by 1 person

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