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.