Sortition in the press

Some recent media items mentioning sortition:

Verena Friederike Hasel, Politico, May 16:

Germany’s democracy problem: History has made Germans reluctant to let the mob decide.

BERLIN — Germany, like many places in Europe, is badly in need of democratic rejuvenation.

But where other countries are experimenting with bringing voices from the street into the political process, Germany’s dark history casts a shadow on efforts to break down barriers to political participation.

There’s no question Germany would benefit from listening to its citizens and engaging in some talk therapy. […]

In ancient Greece, that cradle of democracy, citizens’ assemblies consisted of 500 people who were elected by lot. After serving for a year, they were replaced by others. Lately, with democracy in crisis, the Greek model has served as an inspiration for modern-day democracies. Ireland, for example, set up a citizens’ assembly in 2016. […]

The Germans have been more reluctant to tinker with their political system. But on a Saturday morning in late February, 44 people gathered in Frankfurt. The choice of venue had symbolic value. Frankfurt, nowadays known as the country’s financial hub, was home to the first freely elected German parliament in 1848. This time around, people gathered for an event called Demokratiekonvent. It’s the brainchild of Dominik Herold, a 27-year-old politics major who wanted to take a cue from Ireland, knowing full well that “Germany still has a long way to go.”

Rather than debating controversial topics such as migration or climate change, the 44 participants, randomly chosen and representing a wide cross-section of society, talked about how citizens can get involved in decision-making on the municipal level. After two full days of talking, they presented their demands to Frankfurt Mayor Uwe Becker, including a call to institutionalize citizens’ assemblies.

David Van Reybrouck, interviewed by the International Politics and Society journal, May 20:

‘Deliberative democracy makes citizens happy’: David van Reybrouck on how a small community in Eastern Belgium puts randomly selected citizens at the heart of politics

In your book, you also argue that social media has a detrimental effect on representative democracy because it puts politicians in permanent electoral campaign mode – and gives citizens the impression of being able to influence politics.

Every second, you can follow what’s going on. You can even react upon it. There’s an acceleration of speed with the flow of information. But the rate of genuine political involvement is still the same as in the late 18th century: you can tick a box every four or five years. That’s creating a lot of that frustration. There’s such a gap between the speed of knowledge and then the speed of expressing yourself.

The second thing is that our system comes not only from an age where information was moving more slowly. It also comes from an age where people were quite willing to delegate power.

A citizen has power one day every four or five years. The thing you do on that day is to give that power away. That’s it. And it has worked reasonably well for the past two centuries. We forget some unpleasant people who got prompted into power, but overall score of six out of ten, let’s say.

Now, the basic idea of representative democracy is an idea of delegation. You give your power away and you can sanction the person who got your vote four or five years later. But people are not willing to give their power away anymore. We’re so different from our great-grandparents.

We have democratised education since the end of the Second World War. We have democratised information with television and radio and internet, and then we have democratised communication with social media. The only thing we have not democratised is democracy itself.

So how do we do that?

In the past, we democratised the aristocratic procedure of elections by giving more and more people the right to vote: factory workers, farmers, women in the in the 20th century, migrants, teenagers.

So never before in history have so many people had the right to vote – and the democratic hunger is still not stilled. This means we need to broaden democracy. Today, it’s no longer about the right to vote. It’s about the right to speak, too. The next step in the process of democratising democracy is making sure that next to the right to vote, people also obtain the right to speak.

Damon Linker in The Week, May 21:

Democracy isn’t dying. Liberalism is.

Three years after the twin shocks of President Trump’s triumph in the Republican primaries and the narrow win for “Leave” in the Brexit referendum, the evidence has never been stronger that the world has entered an era of anti-liberalism.

Later this week, voters across Europe go to the polls to vote in EU parliamentary elections that could deliver a quarter or more of the seats to the continent’s right-wing populists and nationalists. Meanwhile, exit polls in India suggest that Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party will win re-election when results are announced on May 23. This follows the surprise victory in Australia of Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition, which leaned heavily on populist themes. […]

As for the question that The New York Review of Books has plastered across the cover of its most recent issue — “Is democracy dying?” — the answer, quite clearly, is no: Democracy is not in jeopardy. Liberalism is.

It is imperative that we learn to recognize the difference and uphold the distinction. Democracy is nothing more or less than political rule by the people. In ancient Athens, this meant that political offices were allocated by lot: anyone who was a citizen might be called upon to serve. In modern democracies, political offices are won through electoral contests, with the majority or plurality winner of the vote gaining power and serving as a representative of the people.

Liberalism, by contrast, is a modification of government meant to produce balance, fairness, and wisdom. It includes the protection of individual freedoms (rights), an independent judiciary, a free press, and the rule of law, including professional civil servants and bureaucrats who are guided by expertise and a sense of public spiritedness. When these liberal norms and institutions, which aim to regularize and restrain the exercise of government power, are combined with democratic elections, the country is called a liberal democracy. But liberalism can be applied to other forms of government as well. […]

Over the past several decades, this classical understanding of liberalism has become more complicated and muddled, as the center-left and center-right parties that have governed so many of the world’s democracies have associated their own constellation of contingent policy preferences with the liberal order itself. To support liberal democratic government as such has meant favoring policies of economic and cultural globalization, including the relatively free movement of people, goods, services, and capital around the globe, along with the practical consequences of those policies, including high rates of immigration, economic growth in cosmopolitan cities with high levels of education, and economic decline in lower-density and rural regions. […]

Liberalism and democracy have gone together for a long time. But there’s no guarantee the pairing will last — or that they can easily be brought back into alignment once the ties between them have been severed.

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