Costa Delgado and Moreno Pestaña: Democracy and sortition: Reasons for using randomness

A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary European Social Movements, has a chapter by Jorge Costa Delgado and José Luis Moreno Pestaña named “Democracy and sortition: Reasons for using randomness”. The authors summarize their chapter as follows:

The use of sortition accompanies the renewal of debates on democracy. In this chapter, following a brief overview of a few general traits pertaining to the political use of sortition, we will study its fundamental contributions on three levels. First of all, we will analyze how random selection can contribute to renewing the debate about the knowledge necessary to participate politically. For that we will develop four logical possibilities following the discussion between Socrates and Protagoras in Plato’s homonymous dialogue, and, subsequently, they will be exemplified through the debate regarding sortition in the Spanish political party Podemos as context for reference. Secondly, we will address the problem of sortition and its double potential to motivate participation and demotivate unwanted behaviour and profiles. In this case, illustrative examples will be taken stemming from the authors’ own ethnographic experience. Lastly, it will be argued that sortition serves to produce a particular moral content within political participation, based on the idea that politics are a civic virtue, essential to the development of human capabilities, that must be stimulated and distributed en masse. This perspective contrasts with logics deeply rooted in activist environments that, often hinder the declared objectives of those who are members of them, specially the alternation, when we think of political participation, between the ideology of the gift and the professional one.

2 Responses

  1. Lastly, it will be argued that sortition serves to produce a particular moral content within political participation, based on the idea that politics are a civic virtue, essential to the development of human capabilities, that must be stimulated and distributed en masse. This perspective contrasts with logics deeply rooted in activist environments that, often hinder the declared objectives of those who are members of them, specially the alternation, when we think of political participation, between the ideology of the gift and the professional one.

    I don’t understand this — have the publishers relied on Google Translate?

    Like

  2. Some passages that I found interesting:

    There exists a conflict between the construction of a public profile by those who enter the cursus honorum of politics and by those who haven’t pursued this activity. In an ethnographic work, dedicated to internal processes which are also present in Podemos, we identified two ways by which sortition was challenged. Often the same people alternated between those two types of discourse at different points of their activist career. In the first type of argument, the role of the activist was defended against that of the allotted representative by appeal to the conscious sacrifice of the former, evoking an image of the unreciprocated gift. According to this argument, the allotted individual who attends a meeting of political deliberation obtains, when granted political powers, symbolic rewards that he or she does not deserve. Appealing to a symbolic reward avoids mention of monetary rewards, a matter that is unseemly in regards to true activist commitment. With the elections won, and with them the capacity to distribute resources, another argument against sortition emerges. Economic resources are indeed used to reward activist commitment and loyalty to the leaders who distribute the resources (in a hierarchically controlled version of the deferred remuneration of the gift). But in addition, supposed experts who are linked to the leaders are hired. In that context, it is no longer a matter of reciprocating a gift, but rather of professional specialization in politics. Sortition is then painted as promoting people who are politically incompetent and ideologically suspect (Costa Delgado, 2017).

    Thus, there is a structural antagonism between sortition and social movements. Sortition places at the center of the political scene individuals who do not expect such position and who have paid at most a small price to gain it – such as adding oneself to a list comprising the allotment pool (if that were the process utilized). Activism, be it in parties or in social movements, involves a distinctive ideology, which is considered to be the fundamental element to taking part in politics (Felicetti, Della Porta, 2018). Using Aristotle’s terminology, it may be argued that sortition comes into conflict with the criteria with which an activist aristocracy is justified.

    This point takes us to a fundamental matter which is how to motivate participation in the bodies in which members are chosen by sortition. The Athenian model, in which participants were paid, allowed economic obstacles for participation in allotted bodies to be mitigated. In that sense, sortition could work as a mechanism of social integration by means of political participation (Moreno Pestaña, 2017b: 14-15). In modern society that idea sounds quite strange especially because we alternate, when we think of political participation, between the ideology of the gift and the ideology of professionalism, between devotion without self-interest and legitimacy which follows from the social division of labor. But we are not required to remain constrained by these ways of thinking. The promotion of participation by sortition (including economic remuneration) manages to eliminate the figure of the political entrepreneur, wherever it is applied. Sortition prevents a strategic calculation in the decision to access politics. Once accepted, economic remuneration seeks to eliminate social selection, at the same time as it symbolically gives value to an activity in which an individual could be held accountable, like in Athenian democracy.

    Sortition is therefore contradictory to the ethos of activism and is aligned with a different political ethos. This different ethos has two planks: First, it rests on the belief that politics is an essential component of the human experience, the component through which we reveal ourselves in public space. Second, it argues that political powers and responsibilities must be distributed widely because this makes it easier for implicit citizen knowledge to emerge, and citizens to learn to shape debates and ensure that deliberation results in the best outcomes. If we consider political capital as a process of privatization of the public sphere, privatization that benefits those minorities capable of capturing it and using it to their advantage, then reliance on lot-based devices allows the distribution of these benefits and prevents one or various groups from monopolizing them. It contributes, in this way, to the socialization of political capital.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: