Umbers: Against Lottocracy

“Against Lottocracy” (PDF) is a 2018 paper by Lachlan Montgomery Umbers from the department of philosophy at the University of Western Australia.


Dissatisfaction with democratic institutions has run high in recent years. Perhaps as a result, political theorists have begun to turn their attention to possible alternative modes of political decision-making. Many of the most interesting among these involve reliance on lotteries in one way or another – as a means of distributing the franchise, selecting representatives, or making social choices. Advocates of these ‘lottocratic’ systems contend that they retain the egalitarian appeal of democracy, while promising improved political outcomes. The aim of this article is to defend democracy (or, at least, universal suffrage and majority rule) against the challenge posed by these proposals. I argue, firstly, that lottocratic systems necessarily involve the establishment of objectionable social and political inequalities in a way that democracies do not. Secondly, I raise a number of doubts with respect to the purported instrumental benefits of these proposals.

The paper is an attempt to formulate a reasoned (negative) response to proposals for instituting sortition-based government as a substitute to elections-based government, and specifically (as its name indicates) to Alexander Guerrero’s proposals. By doing so, the paper represents a significant step forward in the Anglophone academic discussion of sortition. In English-speaking academia proposals for setting up “citizen juries” – i.e., allotted, one-time, limited-purview decision making or (more often) advisory bodies – are discussed at length. So far, however, proposals for setting up sortition-based government were either ignored or summarily dismissed (“Nobody is going to support replacing Congress or Parliament with a randomly selected assembly,” as Helen Landemore put it). As it turns out, Umbers argues for the same reformist academic position. Umbers, however, does break some new ground by devoting his energies to making a detailed argument rather than simply taking sortition-based government off the table at the outset.
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