Cook: Sortition is an element in a war on civilization

Michael Cook, editor of MercatorNet, issues a strong warning against the Extinction Rebellion movement. Here are some excerpts:

Extinction Rebellion’s loopy politics

The movement’s “Declaration of Rebellion”, a pastiche of America’s “Declaration of Independence”, states: “We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void, which the government has rendered invalid by its continuing failure to act appropriately. We call upon every principled and peaceful citizen to rise with us.”

Declaring the “social contract” null and void is a radical step – so radical that either the author did not understand it (unlikely) or he thought that no one else would (likely). Stopping traffic? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This is a declaration of war on civilization.

There is but one rational, ethical, and spiritual position on climate change. None other is possible. “The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, and indeed this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored, denied nor go unanswered by any beings of sound rational thought, ethical conscience, moral concern, or spiritual belief,” the declaration says.

In a democracy, questioning an opponent’s sincerity about his convictions is the ultimate offence. Convictions are tested by rational debate, not by smearing people as venal, wicked or stupid. But this is just what XR is doing.

XR demands that countries go “beyond politics”. “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.” Why? Because “Political power in the UK is in the hands of a few elected politicians” says the “Our Demands” page on the XR website. This, of course, is true. Putting power in the hands of elected politicians is called representative democracy and it has a long and successful history of defending political and personal freedom.

Replacing Parliament or Congress on environmental issues will be Citizens’ Assemblies. XR describes these as “innovative processes that can empower people, communities and entire countries to make important decisions in a way that is fair and deeply democratic”.

Hmmmm. We’ve heard that before, somewhere, haven’t we? Guided democracy? Organic democracy? People’s democracy? To be fair, XR has something different in mind.

Citizen Assemblies replace elected politicians with randomly-selected representatives. It’s not completely untested. It was used in Ireland, for instance, to break deadlocks on same-sex marriage and abortion. Members are chosen by “sortition” – basically by drawing straws. Fans of sortition point out that Athens chose its leaders this way and it was regarded as pure democracy until the American and French Revolutions.

However, citizens’ Assemblies and sortition are radical political reform, the likes of which the United Kingdom has not seen since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Is anyone so naïve as to believe that they would not be subject to manipulation and skulduggery, especially in the era of social media and foreign electoral interference?

By coincidence, both US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are being criticised for trashing their country’s constitutional principles. But their shenanigans merely push the envelope; Extinction Rebellion’s consign it to the flames.

Coping rationally with climate change is important for our children’s future. But the way to do it is at the ballot box, not by abandoning constitutional principles overnight and embracing a half-baked, easily manipulated, untested, entirely novel form of government. Those traffic jams could quickly turn into something altogether nastier.

6 Responses

  1. However, citizens’ Assemblies and sortition are radical political reform, the likes of which the United Kingdom has not seen since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Is anyone so naïve as to believe that they would not be subject to manipulation and skulduggery, especially in the era of social media and foreign electoral interference?

    That’s why we need to focus 100% on (ongoing) representativity and ignore the siren calls by the likes of XR, Sortition Foundation, newDemocracy and sundry anti-Brexiteers etc for their tiny, voluntary deliberative fora.

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  2. Keith, you are misrepresenting what these groups are calling for. Most ask for a combination of direct democracy, i.e., initiatives and referenda, and participatory minipublics

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  3. That sounds like a toxic combination. In the Brexit example, the referendum has voted leave and most of the calls for minipublics (e.g. Nick Gruen and Rory Stewart) have been pro Remain. So where does that leave us?

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  4. Legislative power needs to be transferred from elected politicians and parties to legislative minipublics/juries.

    If ER has started to figure that out, that is to their credit.

    Yes legislative minipublics need to be representative. I also of course consider it essential that there be a separation of powers between legislative juries/minipublics that decide laws, and the various ways laws can be proposed to them.

    I do not support the deciding of laws by referendums (because voters are poorly informed and unrepresentative, and referendums are unsuitable for ensuring a fair hearing on a level playing field).

    Legislative minipublics are politically neutral on specific issues, not pro or anti-Brexit, but do of course embody a political point of view in favour of rule by the people, the exercise of that rule in an informed way through minipublics, the political equality of citizens, and deciding of laws on the basis of a fair hearing on a level playing field.

    If Remainers want to support minipublics because they hope to stop or reverse Brexit, fine. But such matters will be decided by the informed judgment of the people, through legislative minipublics, not by pro or anti-Brexit lobbies/parties/groups.

    Many who supported putting the ballot initiative in place in the US did so because they hoped they would win initiative votes that furthered their agenda. Some guessed wrong.

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  5. Simon:> Legislative minipublics are politically neutral on specific issues, not pro or anti-Brexit

    That depends how they are constituted. XR and the anti-Brexiteers are hoping that voluntary participation will lead to a sample that is in their favour, whereas large samples with quasi-mandatory participation (and independent advocacy) would ensure judgment by a true microcosm of the target population.

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  6. […] body is relatively high profile and received attention by various writers. A similar body is being demanded in the UK by the Extinction Rebellion […]

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