New edition of Down with Elections!

The latest edition of “Down with Elections! a plan for Democracy without Elections” is now available. The paperback is at https://www.amazon.com/DOWN-ELECTIONS-plan-DEMOCRACY-WITHOUT/dp/B0851M9H3F.

Users of this forum can obtain a free digital version (epub, mobi or PDF) directly from me (email to cwallace@free.fr).

Changes from the last published version (V3) are mainly explanatory, there are no major changes to the model of government proposed. (Changes from earlier versions are too numerous to list here.) Nothing I have seen or read recently has persuaded me that the overall design of the system proposed in the book needs changing, and events of the last few years – indeed of the last two hundred years – have only reinforced my opinion that we cannot have true democracy until we replace elected parliaments by ones chosen by lot.

Une version française est maintenant disponible (en broché) :
https://www.amazon.fr/démocratie-sans-élections-Campbell-Wallace/dp/B085R72PK5 (5,38 € + livraison)
ou
https://www.thebookedition.com/fr/democratie-sans-elections-p-372653.html (7,23€ + livraison)

On peut avoir la version digitale gratuitement en envoyant un mail à cwallace@free.fr.

Deliberative assemblies are finding their feet – but also facing political barriers

On Friday the 16th of October, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College hosted a webinar entitled ‘Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom’, which you can watch here. The workshop heavily featured people putting sortition into practice right now, and so the overall focus was very much on deliberative assemblies in advisory roles, rather than non-deliberative juries or lawmaking roles. If you’d rather not spend the whole day watching a videoconference, here’s the CliffsNotes:

David Van Reybrouck, who gave one of the keynotes, helped design the new citizens’ council and assembly system in the parliament of the German-speaking region of Belgium – an area with only 76 000 citizens, but devolved powers similar to Scotland’s. The system involves a permanent citizens’ council and temporary citizens’ assemblies, both selected by sortition, as well as a permanent secretary who acts as a sort of ombudsman for the system. The council sets the agenda for the assemblies, and chases up their conclusions in the regional parliament – essentially acting as an official lobby group for the assemblies’ recommendations. Politicians have to report back to the council a year after each assembly, setting out how they’ve acted on their recommendations and, if they’ve deviated from them, why. In this respect it is a major step forward in the institutionalisation of sortition. Under the Belgian constitution, however, sortitional bodies cannot be given legislative power, so the assemblies are restricted to an advisory role until and unless momentum can be built for a constitutional amendment.

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View from participants of a citizens’ assembly

This is published with a few days’ delay – too late for readers to join the meeting being announced. If you are a contributor submitting a time sensitive post, please email Yoram Gat to make sure it is published promptly.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation, now known as Democracy Without Elections, have 2 special guest speakers at our Chapter Meeting on Tuesday 13 October at 9pm Eastern US time; both were participants in a citizens’ assembly. They are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and became friends.

If you would like join us and hear their perspective of being on the inside of a citizens’ assembly, contact me.

Sortition to select a Board of Directors

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation is changing its name to Democracy Without Elections. We are still affiliated with the Sortition Foundation.

We will be using an online democratic lottery on Sunday to select nine Directors for our new Board from our 80+ members. No stratification will be used, and no preference given to whether a person is active or not. Do you know of any Boards who use sortition to select their Directors?

We have a new website: https://www.democracywithoutelections.org/. It was determined that the website will be geared towards people who have just heard about democratic lotteries. Contact me if you have suggestions for the website. Obviously the citizens’ assembly and history sections need expansion.

The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate

The following is a translation of an AFP article.

Reform of the CESE: The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate
October 15, 2020

Representative democracy vs. participative democracy: the question of the usage of allotment of citizen for participation in public consultations has generated a heated debate in the Senate during the discussion of the proposal for the reform of the Council for the Economy, Society and Environment (CESE).

The organic law bill, adopted by the National Assembly in September was approved on Thursday in first reading by the Senate with 292 votes for (LR, UC, PS, the large majority of RDSE, LIRT) and 50 abstentions (RDPI – mostly the LREM members, CRCE – mostly the communists, EST).

Assembly members and Senators are now going to try to reach an agreed text in a joint committee. If that fails, the National Assembly will have the last word.

During his speech in front of Congress in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron spoke about transforming the CESE, a little-known consultative institution which convenes representatives of employers, of workers’ unions and of NGOs at the Palais d’Iéna, into “a chamber of the future, where all the stakeholders of the nation take part”.

Short of a constitutional reform, the organic law bill aims to breathe new life into this institution in order to respond to strong demand for participative democracy in public opinion. Notably, the bill streamlines petitioning the CESE for it to form an opinion on economic, social and environmental questions raised by the public. The number of required signatures would be reduced from 500,000 to 150,000. The senators have approved this procedure with some reservations.

Moreover, opposing “any legitimization of sortition”, the right-wing Senate majority has removed any possibility for the CESE to organize “public consultations” based on allotment modeled after the Citizen Climate Convention. The removal of this central tool has been debated at length, with the government and the Left failing to reintroduce it through amendments during session.
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Special Webinar: Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom

Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College will hold on Friday, October 16, a free open-to-the-public online seminar titled “Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom”. Speakers will include some of the usual suspects such as David van Reybrouck, Hélène Landemore, Selina Thompson and Peter MacLeod along with some names that are not as well associated with sortition. A PDF file is available for download containing some writings about sortition by the speakers and by others.

The Center has also announced that on the day before the seminar, Thursday, October 15, a debate titled “Should federal officeholders in the US should be determined by lottery instead of election?” will take place.

The crisis facing democratic regimes today is cause for serious concern; it is also an opportunity for deep reflection on questions and assumptions concerning liberal representative democracy. Instead of assuming a defensive posture and taking up arms to defend the status quo, our conference asks: how can we revitalize our democracy? Hannah Arendt knew that democracy is tenuous. In 1970 she famously wrote:

“Representative government is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens’ actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties’ tendency to represent nobody except the party machines.”
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The Blind Break is the Heart of Democracy

In part 4 of my legislative series, I propose a new definition of democracy, one that revolves around the blind break. The blind break is, of course, an information control mechanism, and has not usually been treated as so essential to the political project. While concepts like representation and delegation have historically been treated as essential to political theory, information flow has been treated as secondary.

In this post, I aim to correct this mistake. Political systems are information flows at their very core. We must treat constraints on those flows as central to the entire political project, right up there with separation of powers, equality under the law, and other traditional notions of political theory.

Ferey: Populism against science: a new political cleavage?, Part 2/2

This is part 2 of a translation of an op-ed by Camille Ferey in BibliObs. Part 1 is here.

Analyzing the legitimate reasons for criticizing science

If the ideological dimension of the cleavage between rationalism and populism has been clarified, there remains a real phenomenon behind it. There exists a mass of untruths (lies and errors) whose effects on humanity are deleterious: climate-skepticism, historical denialism, anti-Darwinism and various kinds of conspiracy theories. But there is a pressing need to analyze the real causes of these untruths rather than to attribute them to the mental dysfunction of idiots: democracy cannot be defended by being anti-democrats.

The foremost of these causes is a political one: the process of scientification of politics and technicalization of democracy. Liberal capitalism largely subordinates collective decisions to mathematical economic models that are presented by a stratum of “experts” that are linked to power as eternal truths. In this way, presenting political choices as scientific ones, a rhetoric that was widely used in the management of the COVID19 pandemic (the decisions, said Edouard Phillipe, are not political, they are scientific), exposes science to skepticism from that point on whenever choices prove to have negative consequences. How can we believe, for example, the irrefutability of economic laws after the 2008 crisis? Dismissing any critical reflection of a technical-scientific vision of politics, immediately branding such reflection as mistrustful and irrational populism, and eliminating from public debate a set of subjects under the pretext that they are matters of science, thus contributes directly to putting science in doubt.

Another cause, this one sociological, can explain the lack of confidence in science. As history and sociology show clearly: no science is neutral in the sense that it may be produced by an observer with no characteristics and no purpose. Science is produced by scientists and if the scientists all belong to the same social class or to the same group, their products will necessarily be affected. And so, the fact that over the centuries scientists were men can explain the great delay in research about feminine sexual organs as well as about certain diseases such a endometriosis, which afflict only women.

If today women are slowly gaining ground in science (even if with much difficulty, for the scientific establishment is barely opening up and renewing itself), this is not happening with regards to the working class due to the length and uncertainty of the path leading to a career in research (being inversely proportional to the ridiculous sums and the small numbers of the scholarships available). Therefore, as science is going to be done by the wealthier classes, it will necessarily to some extent be done for the wealthy. Objectivity and neutrality grow from pluralism and equality. Without those, as the philosopher John Dewey wrote in 1927, “a class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests that it becomes a class with private interests and private knowledge, which in social matters is no knowledge at all. [The Public And Its Problems, p. 207]”
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Today German Bundestag Live Committee Discussion of “Citizen Engagement” via Sortition

With the title, “A New Form of Citizen Participation,” a special subcommittee of the German Parliament [of the Bundestag or popular assembly] convenes a “technical discussion” of experts on October 6 at noon Berlin time on the upcoming citizens’ assembly on “the role of Germany in the world.” It will be live-streamed at http://www.bundestag.de.

“A lot-based Citizens Council will produce a report on Germany’s role in the world. This project will be implemented as an independent undertaking of the More Democracy association [Mehr Demokratie e. V.] under the patronage of the President of the Bundestag,” reads the announcement of the Bundestag.

It continues that this kind of participation has been practiced in Ireland since 2012 as “Citizens’ Assembly.” The ambassador of Ireland will be a special guest of the committee to report on the Irish experience with “citizens’ councils.” [In Germany the term Buergerrat or “citizen council” has come to mean an allotted body of either the size of a panel or an assembly; it seems, the literal translation of assembly has the connotation of an Ekklesia or gathering of all.]

  • Dr. Nicholas O’Brien, Ambassador from Ireland
  • Roman Huber, Executive Director, Mehr Demokratie e. V. [More Democracy]
  • Dr. Siri Hummel, Acting Director, Maecenata Institute for Philanthropy and Civil Society
  • Dr. Ansgar Klein, Managing Policy Director, Federal Network for Citizen Engagement, [Bundesnetzwerk Bürgerschaftliches Engagement (BBE)] Advisory Board of Bürgerrat Demokratie [the organization which organized the CA on democratic reform in 2019]
  • Univ.-Prof. Dr. Roland Lhotta, Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg, Professor, Political Science, specializing in the German Federal System

https://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2020/kw41-pa-buergerschaftliches-engagement-793926

More info in English regarding the upcoming CA on Germany’s role in the world: https://deutschlands-rolle.buergerrat.de/english/

Rothchild: “Ancient wisdom” in MI’s new redistricting process

John Rothchild, Professor of Law at Wayne State University, writes approvingly in The Conversation about Michigan’s new allotted electoral redistricting commission. Rather naively, Rothchild seems to believe that democratic redistricting could result in the selection of “representatives who truly reflect [citizens’] political preferences”. Alas, this is more than mere redistricting can deliver, however well done.

How, then, should Michigan’s decision to assign unskilled members of the public the job of drawing nonpartisan election districts be evaluated?

Redistricting is a complex task. Michigan’s Constitution says that the districts must be drawn in compliance with federal law. That includes a requirement that voting districts have roughly the same population. It also requires that the districts “reflect the state’s diverse population and communities of interest,” and “not provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party.”

Dividing the map to meet all of these criteria is not likely to be within the capabilities of a group of randomly selected citizens.

There are several reasons to think that the redistricting commission will nevertheless prove adequate to the task.
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