Landemore: Open Democracy, part 6

The term “direct democracy” could have two meanings that are a-priori distinct but are often conflated in discourse. The first meaning is: a system in which all group members are directly involved on an equal basis in all important decision making. The second meaning is: a system which employs certain devices, notably votes on legislation, involving a formal equality among citizens, and which avoids formal delegation of authority. Since the two meanings are not the same and since the first meaning is by definition a form of democracy, I’ll use “direct democracy” to mean the former. The second meaning I’ll call “non-delegatory mass politics”.

In chapter 3 of Open Democracy Landemore makes her argument against the standard reformist idea that direct democracy can and should be achieved through non-delegatory mass politics. As Landemore mentions, this idea is quite common among anti-electoralist movements. The idea certainly has an intuitive appeal since non-delegation seems like the obvious antithesis of elections. Devoting time and space to a tight argument against this idea seems therefore like a well-justified effort. Beyond the intellectual value of such an argument, it serves a practical purpose as well in

paving the way for democrats to reconquer sites of real power by disabusing them of the notion that gathering in public spaces in large numbers marching against authorities, or letting popular social media personalities end up as de facto leaders is enough, or even all that democratic.

Accepting that democracy is always in some sense representative […], and indeed needs to be, would save a lot of these social movements from the sort of conceptual and practical dead ends that the Zappatistas, Occupy, the Indignados and other proponents of assembly democracy in the Arab Spring, in Turkey and elsewhere count not find a way out of. It would allow for the civic energy mobilized by these movements to be channeled into constructive decision-making beyond demonstrating and occupying and generally go from noise to signal. (p. 76)

Furthermore, recognizing that representation is inevitable will help stave off the danger that “under the guise of immediacy and spontaneity […] self selected groups [would] speak[…] in the name of the whole” (p. 76).

Landemore’s position, like her position regarding elections, is commendably principled and uncompromising:

It is simply not the case that democracy as a political regime can ever be truly direct even at the small scale of a city or a canton as opposed to being always mediated and based on some kind of political delegation of political authority. (p. 63)

[T]he possibility of direct democracy breaks down as soon as the group expands beyond a few hundred people. (p. 65)

[T]he interesting question is not: direct or representative democracy? But instead: What kind of representation should we favor? The real opposition is […] between more or less democratic forms of represntative rule. On one extreme, ordinary people actually get to rule […] (as in Ancient Athens); at the other extreme the representative system is open only to an elite few. […] Our contemporary electoral ‘democracies’ fall somewhere on this continuum and, arguably, rather close to the elitist, closed side. (p. 78)

Unfortunately, the way the case is argued is cumbersome and unfocused and ultimately fails to convince that case was definitively made.

The first problem is that the theoretical discussion that is required in order to establish the general claim is surrounded – indeed, it is overshadowed to the extent that it is severely stunted – by several historical-circumstantial arguments which occupy most of the chapter and add little to its force. Lengthy discussions of Rousseau’s theory of democracy, of the historical origins of the notion of representation, and of the workings of the Athenian system are allowed to take front stage and in this way to diminish the attention that should have been given to making sure that theoretical discussion is fully developed. Such historical discussions should have been made as derivatives of the theoretical argument rather than as some sort of independent, or supporting, reasoning. If direct democracy is impossible in groups larger than a few hundreds, then it is clear, for example, that Athens could not have been run as a direct democracy. The analysis of the Athenian system should have proceeded as a demonstration of how the inevitability of representation was manifested within the Athenian system, rather than devoting long paragraphs to circumstantial issues such as the fact that the Pnyx had no room to hold the entire Athenian citizenry or to the opinions of prominent classical scholars about Athenian ideology.

As for the theoretical argument against non-delegative mass politics, despite having the right end point in view – namely the fact that the mechanisms of non-delegative mass politics do not provide the tools for democratic agenda-setting in large groups, Landemore seems to lose her way and ends up with a set of claims that do not make a coherent argument.

Landemore starts with the claim that that deliberation “on equal terms” cannot happen at a scale beyond a few hundred people “because it would take too much time and be too cognitively taxing for individual participants” (p. 64). This is certainly pertinent, but some further examination of this point would have been useful. Why is it that deliberation does not scale? What is the failure mode of mass “deliberation” – what happens to the discourse dynamics when the group grows beyond a certain size? Answering these questions would have explained why the hopes pinned on “e-deliberation” (technologically assisted mass deliberation) – that Landemore rightly dismisses (p. 64) – are misplaced. More importantly, being more precise about the problems with communication in the mass setting would also have set up the scene for the next step in the argument: the implications of the impossibility of mass deliberation for democratic agenda setting.

It seems clear that once we accept that deliberation on equal terms cannot happen on a mass scale, the missing piece in an argument against non-delegative mass politics is to explain why this obstacle is fatal for the notion that such a system can generate direct democracy. Landemore identifies the fatal weakness at the agenda-setting stage, and this is fine (although the claim that this identification is a “contemporary insight” of political science seems highly questionable). But this still leaves the question of the nature of the weakness unanswered. Why is it that an agenda that is set through a mechanism that is formally egalitarian but is not deliberative cannot be democratic? Why can’t an aggregative, non-deliberative mechanism produce a democratic agenda? Why can’t deliberation be done in small groups and then aggregated in one way or another? Direct democratic and Anarchistic proposals often rely on such (usually vaguely articulated) mechanisms. Why is it that the agenda produced by such a mechanism must inevitably be elite dominated? Nowhere does Landemore fully address this point.

Landemore offers two arguments for the need for equal-terms deliberation in democracy. The first is the “deliberative democracy” position: that deliberation is a good by itself “because we owe each other reasons for the laws and policies that are going to affect us all”. This is rather unconvincing. Even if this is true (which is not clear), it would not be difficult to have a large number of small-scale equal-terms discussions in which citizens argue the merits of various positions to their hearts’ content. As long as this is not directly tied to decision making in any formal or binding way, this is really neither here nor there. Indeed, exactly such a relaxed attitude toward deliberation’s role in decision making is often expressed by “deliberative democracy” academics (and rightly criticized by Landemore for providing little hope of substantive improvement over the status quo).

The second argument is closer to the mark: deliberation is necessary, Landemore claims, as “a way to constitute interests and preferences”. Without deliberation, interests cannot be formulated and translated into policy proposals. This is closer to the required missing piece in the case against non-delegative mass politics because this argument makes it clear that deliberation needs to be tied to formulating policy rather than merely an act of personal or social edification. This implies that parallel deliberation at the small-scale is insufficient because the interests formulated at the small-scale then need to be aggregated into policy proposals. The problem with non-delegative mass politics is thus localized to the aggregation process. But still, why is it exactly that a non-deliberative aggregation process cannot be democratic? Why is it, for example, that the standard process of proposal qualification through signature gathering is not democratic? What about hierarchical processes where proposals are formulated as a mass process of small-scale deliberation and then winnowed down in successive rounds of evaluation and screening?

In summary, Landemore’s arguments, it turns out, leave a couple of large gaps in her case:

  1. Why is it exactly that deliberation does not scale? Why can’t technology help create mass scale deliberation?
  2. Why can’t agenda be set democratically by aggregation of interests/proposals generated via a large number of small-scale deliberations?

These gaps can and should be closed if Landemore’s worthy goal of disposing with the barren direct-vs.-representative debate is to be achieved.

(My own attempt at making the case against non-delegative mass politics, and indeed against mass politics in general, is here.)

30 Responses

  1. Let us recall that Aristotle in his ‘Politics’ states that the mark of a democracy is selection by lot, while election by ballot is the mark of an oligarchy. Moreover, democracy is not the rule of the majority and oligarchy the rule of the few; rather oligarchy is the rule of the few, being rich, while democracy is the rule of the poor or hoi aporoi i.e. those without resources. The citizens were divided into 10 tribes and each tribe subdivided into 3 ridings( trittyes), but in my opinion of importance is the fact that each tribe consisted of a city, an inland and a coastal riding, so that a tribe represented a cross section of economic bases, and it seems a roughly equal population. Contrast such an arrangement with the suggestions favoured by some Communists of the Pannekoek School or by some Anarchists of Workers’ Councils, with their advocacy of the election of delegates to such councils.It should be clear that such councils would not at all be democratic, as varying occupations demand different numbers of workers: consequently if each workers council had the same number of delegates, such delegates would represent an unequal number of workers; on the other hand if they were weighted, the workers councils with fewer delegates would always be outvoted by the delegates representing the occupations with the more numerous workers. The more one studies Athenian democracy the more one wonders at its genius, and how the institution of selection by lot is the keystone. / credentials can be used.

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  2. It seems to me that there is a third variant of “direct” (not representative, and not delegated) democracy that needs refuting. This is the idea that participation is an individual right, such that democracy means that anyone who wishes — can participate in voting on any decision they want. With the advance of telecommunications in the 20th century, and especially the Internet now, some people devise schemes that would allow people to vote on any bills they wish, –remotely. They argue that this right to participation is KEY to democracy.

    I’ll mention the poor quality of decisions this assures in a moment, but first need to explain why this may be called a form of “democracy.” This is essentially what the Athenians used. They had an opt-in system….a citizen could decide to attend the Assembly, or decide to put their name into a lottery for the Council of 500, or a Court, etc. The Athenians didn’t think of these participating citizens as “representatives” of other non-participating citizens (the “idiotes”). (note that I wrote a scholarly paper arguing that Athens WAS in fact fundamentally a representative democracy, whether they recognized this fact or not).

    I don’t think we can dismiss this concept of “direct democracy” as a right to participation (not a right to be in a lottery nor to elect legislators) on historical grounds, nor practical grounds (a society could let people login to a debate on any bill and then cast their vote along with millions of others). To allow for political equality, this system would need low barriers (not require much time learning about the issue at hand, because then only the leisure class could participate). This would be “democracy,” but a very bad version, because it doesn’t have a way for MEANINGFUL deliberation (adding a comment that nobody will read to a message board, is not meaningful), it allows elite domination through domination of media, and perhaps most crucially, prevents society from making “well-informed” decisions. Thus the argument against this is that a REPRESENTATIVE system through democratic lotteries would be both more representative of the INFORMED will of the people, and epistemically superior to any variant of direct democracy (what Yoram is calling “non-delegatory mass politics”.)

    It is not a popular case to make, but a well-functioning democracy is dependent on jettisoning participation as an individual right. If people have the absolute right to participate in decisions, well-informed, good decisions in the general interest of the people cannot be reliably made, and I would argue “the demos” would not genuinely be in power.

    The political equality that democratic lotteries offer is protection against corrupt domination by a political class, and equal chance, rather than guaranteed right to participate. Only this way can the people as a whole be in power.

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  3. The notion that one must participate personally in every decision is born out of a generalized mistrust in others. Such an attitude is fostered by a manipulative system such as the one we live in. The constructive reaction is to develop a democratic system, but an instinctive, unreflective (and counter-productive) reaction is to adopt an individualistic, suspicious mindset in which no one can be trusted with any political power.

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  4. In presenting the idea of sortition to friends, they sometimes respond by citing ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’. On the one hand, I’m glad they are trying to exhibit open-mindedness. On the other, I restrain myself from pointing out how shallow the critique of the system the movie is.

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  5. Terry:> This is essentially what the Athenians used. They had an opt-in system….a citizen could decide to attend the Assembly, or decide to put their name into a lottery for the Council of 500, or a Court, etc.

    OK, but:

    1. Modern states are several orders of magnitude larger. In Athens ho boulomenos had the right to speak, but his speech acts were then judged by a very large number of his fellow citizens — at minimum 20% of the entire citizen body (and, in theory, everybody).

    2. Political participation was the default expectation (as was military service). Most citizens would have been on the Council at least once in their life. The conditions of modern liberty (both demographic and cultural) bear no comparison to ancient republics.

    3. Homonoia (same-mindedness) was a powerful force (look what happened to Socrates), as was conformity to religious norms. Athenians could afford to be relaxed about who attended political gatherings as they had far more in common with each other and very little cultural diversity.

    4. Classical-era Athenians had little interest in individual rights, the focus was on civic obligation.

    So, in sum, let’s stop projecting our own norms on to ancient societies and using them as a template for our modern projects.


  6. *** Keith Sutherland says that in Athens “Homonoia (same-mindedness) was a powerful force (look what happened to Socrates), as was conformity to religious norms”.
    *** Homonoia was an ideal, as in any community.
    *** Socrates’ death was an exceptional event, he was a scapegoat after the Thirty’s bloody dictatorship and the civil war (strange evidence of homonoia !). In the new democracy Plato built all a philosophy centered on anti-democracy, without any fear.
    *** Athens was a pagan society, it had no religious dogma – except the existence of gods. Atheism was the one thought crime, and thus it was the crime ascribed to Socrates, because it was no other available – even if the real reason was he was seen as one of the teachers of the oligarchic counter-culture which led to dictatorship and civil war.
    *** Classical-era Athenians had interest in individual rights, at least citizen rights, even if they viewed them in different light than modern Atlantic societies.
    *** Keith Sutherland is right to say that modern societies are very different from ancient Greek cities, and we cannot mechanically transpose the ancient institutions. But I think he is wrong in accepting too easily a specific view of Athens in the Western liberal tradition, which often exaggerates some points or sees them in too Western-centered light. Especially maybe in the British classicist scholarship, less in France (Vernant, Vidal-Naquet ..) or in Sweden (Hansen).

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  7. Great write-up Yoram. I share your critiques that the argument in this and the next chapter gets a bit disorganized because Landemore is trying ot do too many thigns at once, and it is not clear which points are central and which auxiliary.

    I want to point out something I find as insightful that you did not quite mention from this chapter. She says that while self-selected represetnation–which INCLUDES mass protest, social movements–are in Michael Saward’s sense of representation merely CLAIMS to stand for a larger group NOT presetn. “We are the 99 %” or “Somos los indignados”–which preseumably is everyone who is not a politician or a member of the elite’ is a claim that this smaller group is “the people” or an ignored part of the people. I am surpised that Landemore does not invoke Ranciere here, who would be the political theorist closest to this position.

    This is an important insight because it NEITHER throws out social movements and mass participaton NOR reduces democracy to these moments.
    Lastly, moments is another important distinciton here. For Landemore, these “non-delegative mass politics” or claims of “direct democracy” are NOT regimes but MOMENTS. This allows her then to say that since they are moments, they have a place within the concept of OPEN DEMOCRACY so long as they do not claim to be DEMOCRACY ITSELF.

    I think this last point addresses

    Dear, Keith and Andre, the historical arguments about what the Athenians really thought or really did become boring at some point, and do not get us anywhere. Landemore tries to address them just enough. But maybe Yoram is right, she should just leave most of them out because they are a distraction. I don’t really care what Hansen or Ober thinks was “representative” or “proto-represetantive” or “synechdocically representative.” I yawn

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  8. *this last point (re moments not regimes) addresses Terry’s question re individual participation.


  9. Also, these historical arguments often fail to consider that the “high” rate of participation in Athens depended on DOMESTIC SLAVERY and IMPERIAL COLONIES/CLIENTS who did the labor or provided the wealth to enable that “mass” participation. This means we should be more concerned with finding useful IDEAS Athenians rather than specific practices. How to make use of an idea in a different context is up to us not up to historians. Of course, there is a kind of hidden ethnocentric-Ur-mensch argument that we do not acknowledge. They are supposed to be our “pure ancestors” or something whom we are to imitate. Luckly, I do not have that need.


  10. Okay, as “moments” self-selected groups (as in street demonstrations) can be compatible with ortho-democracy (I’m not adopting André’s term in general, but can use it here, since it has been explained in this thread). However…. I have been in street demonstrations where protestors start chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” (Do people use a similar slogan in France?) I can’t join in, because I feel such demonstrations are more like what a LACK of democracy looks like.

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  11. *** Ahmed Teleb writes : “we should be more concerned with finding useful IDEAS Athenians rather than specific practices.” I agree.
    *** He writes: “the “high” rate of participation in Athens depended on DOMESTIC SLAVERY and IMPERIAL COLONIES/CLIENTS.”
    *** OK for slavery.
    *** About the empire: there was no more empire in Demosthenes’ time, when democracy-through-sortition was more developed.
    *** Hansen suggested to add women’s work.
    *** If we trust Aristophanes, the jurors were preferentially poor retired people.
    *** Whatever the contribution of slavery to ancient democracy, we must consider that modern societies have “mechanical slaves” with a huge amount of energy. Modern societies may develop ortho-democracy without having to re-establish slavery.


  12. *** Taleb writes “there is a kind of hidden ethnocentric-Ur-mensch argument that we do not acknowledge. They are supposed to be our “pure ancestors” or something whom we are to imitate”.
    *** The Western world had a cultural inheritance partly of Greek origin. But the idea of “Greeks as our ancestors” was mainly related to a concern of Northwest Europeans around the 19th century. They were the dynamic core of emerging modernity, which they were imposing on the planet. They were tempted to essentialize this situation of hegemony, to see it as the effect of transhistorical superiority. They were then very embarrassed by their barbaric and illiterate “ancestors” of two millennia before, who looked poorly compared to the Greeks and Romans. The solution was to refer to a unitary continent. Europeans had always been the best, from the “Greek miracle” and the prestigious Roman Empire to modern Western Europeans. It did not matter then that the ancient North-West Europeans were regarded as savages by the Romans in the time of the Caesars, as they would also have been regarded by the classical Greeks if they had had precise knowledge of them.
    *** But in the beginnings of polyarchy there was no idea of imitating the Greeks. See the Federalist Papers about the Greek democracy. There was no idea of imitating Athens about democracy – or about pederasty, pervasive in Greek literature; two embarrassing points in the supposed ancestors. Only later, when the polyarchy went to use the myth of the sovereignty of the people, the word “democracy” and selected references were taken positively.
    *** Now we see many rejecting the Ancient Greece: its slavery, its subjection of women, its sexual abuse of young people. I am afraid that some of these scandalized people are likewise displeased by the threatening dêmokratia model.


  13. Andre,

    Why do you claim that pagan societies are not religious? Did not the Athenians open each assembly meeting with a religious ceremony? Religion is primarily a practical rather than a dogmatic activity. And whilst the sacrifice of Socrates may have been as a scapegoat for the sins of the dictators, nevertheless the charge against him was corrupting the city’s youth, both in the religious sense and the undermining of Greek pederastic norms.

    Ahmed:> the historical arguments about what the Athenians really thought or really did become boring at some point, and do not get us anywhere.

    I agree. What I was disputing was Terry’s attempt to ground the modern case for voluntary participation as a form of democracy in Athenian political norms and practices.


  14. To Keith Sutherland
    *** I did not say that the Greek paganism was not “religious”.
    *** But this “religion”, closely linked to the social tradition, did not have metaphysical content, no dogma – except the existence of gods, and no clear-cut ethical content, excepting fuzzy approval of the society norms. It is what we can name “paganism”, and it is very different from most of the phenomena we think about when we say “religion”.
    *** About the accusation of corrupting the youth leveled against Socrates, if we trust Plato’s Apology of Socrates 26b-27a, it was meant by the accuser as corrupting the youth by teaching them either new gods, or, actually, the inexistence of the gods.
    *** But in Athenian trials there was almost absolute freedom of speaking, and that allowed practically the accuser to add to the official charges an unofficial one, not existing in law. It was the case for Socrates, following Xenophon’s Memorabilia (I, 2,9) “But, said his accuser, he taught his companions to despise the established laws by insisting on the folly of appointing public officials by lot (…). Such sayings, he argued, led the young to despise the established constitution and made them violent.” (transl. Merchant). Let’s remember that was said some years only after the end of the Thirty power, with their young henchmen, and of the civil war.
    *** What is needed advocating against, is the cliché of the trial of Socrates as the free thinker against the narrow-minded crowd, a simplistic view of this very exceptional event of the Second Athenian Democracy, or, to quote Pr Julia Annas, of the Athenian democracy as “a populist democracy (…) about as tolerant of openly expressed non-conformity as McCarthyite America”.


  15. Keith,
    Perhaps I wasn’t clear about self-selection and Athens. While Athens DID have a democracy based on citizens who stepped forward, I was not advocating that for modern democracy. I was pointing out that those people who are currently advocating a form of democracy in which anyone who wants can vote on bills online, for example, have a logical (etymological?) claim to the word “democracy” as invented by the Greeks. I think it is a bad version of democracy because it is likely to generate poorly-informed decisions, but I can’t claim it isn’t “democratic.”


  16. Thanks Terry, but I don’t buy the etymological justification. The claim seems to be that as voluntarism was a characteristic of ancient democracy, then the same must be true of its modern variant. But the differences between small ancient republics and large modern states are such that we’re comparing chalk with cheese. And my concerns are not epistemic, they’re to do with political equality — a regime in which the overwhelming majority of citizens have no say whatsoever in the rules that govern them cannot be called a democracy. Large-scale democracy has to be representative through and through (for the reasons that Dahl provided) and voluntarism is antipathetic to this. Of course people have the right to join or even found political parties but their representative claim has to be open to the evaluation of all citizens (not just the tiny group of allotted jurors).


  17. On reflection I don’t think this even has anything to do with etymology — which only tells us that democracy means that the people have power. The fact that in small ancient poleis this involved (inter alia) ho boulomenos choosing to advise the people and a very substantial proportion of citizens volunteering for office and/or jury service is of interest to historians, but not those who study the meaning of words (or those who seek to design modern institutions to enable the people to have power [other than in the negative sense]). So I’m not sure why we’re discussing it on this forum, which is devoted to establishing equality by lot — i.e. the democratic potential of sortition.


  18. Ahmed,

    Thanks for your comments. If you would to turn this review into a team effort, I be happy to do so. We can alternate, each of us covering a chapter. What do you say?


  19. Whilst I agree with Ahmed that we don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Athenian democracy, I’ve just read an article by George Mavrogordartos arguing that Socrates’ term of service on the Council indicates that participation was not really as voluntary as we might like to think. The puzzle that is being addressed is why would someone who was so hostile to sortition volunteer for a one-year term of service on the Boule?

    We may have to live with the uncomfortable and imprecise notion that the Athenian Boule was a haphazard “mixture of volunteers
    and—more or less—conscripts.” This awareness should affect every analysis or assessment of Athenian democracy, given the Council’s centrality in it.

    This would mean that the Athenian council was, on the whole, a representative body; less so a modern equivalent in which service was voluntary and where there is not even a remote chance of most citizens serving once in a lifetime (the odds are closer to winning the National Lottery)


  20. Even if Socrates was not a fan of the lottery, he may have felt it was his duty to submit his name for his deme’s drawing. Whether he approved of a law (or custom?) or not, he seems to have felt bound by them.


  21. Terry,

    The author does consider that explanation but concludes that it was more likely to be down to demography, so he is referring to actual rather than moral conscription. Or at least “volunteering”, as when the sergeant asks the rhetorical question: “Any volunteers? You, you and you”. But the point that I’m trying to make is that there is no comparison in the circumstances of sortition in ancient and modern states. In ancient states the guiding principle is rotation, not representation (except in the diachronic sense of ruling and being ruled in turn).


  22. About Council job volunteer or not.
    *** The drawing was at the deme’s level, “local” level, where social pressure was strong. Here the difference between “voluntary” and “mandatory” could be thin (the grey area of consent ! ).
    *** There was no moral “libertarian” objection to pressure. Let’s remind that for the elected magistracies, it was possible to be elected against one’s will.
    *** Socrates, in Plato’s Apology, presents himself as a good and loyal citizen, if not a staunch democrat. His membership of Council was therefore natural, as says Terry Bouricius.
    *** The critics of sortition (Isocrates, for example) did insist on the risk of putting bad people in jobs. In the Council (or in a jury), there was a kind of “law of the great numbers”. Here we come to the fuzzy idea of statistics in the Ancient Greek mind. But there is such an idea in ancient texts. Lysias, in the speech “On the Scrutiny of Evandros”, §11, says that dokimasia (scrutiny, clearing) is more necessary for an archon (individual magistrate) that for a councillor. “Besides, had he qualified for the Council, he would have held his seat as one in a body of five hundred, for a year only; so that, if in that period he had wished to commit an offence, he would have been easily prevented by the others. But, if he is approved for this office, he will hold it all by himself” (transl. Lamb). Therefore the critics of sortition did concentrate attacks on the magistracies proper avoiding Council.


  23. Andre, did you read this article? The author is focusing on the demographic constraints in the aftermath of the plague and the war. I think you are right to point out the lack of a libertarian human rights perspective — one of Constant’s principal differences between republican and modern liberty. And there’s a difference between the need for scrutiny of office holders and descriptive representation (I don’t think Lysias’ observation is anything to do with statistics, just the common sense observation that offences would be noticed by “others”). This all supports scepticism on the relevance of Athenian democratic practice to large modern states.


  24. About sortition and rotation.
    *** Let’s suppose an advanced modern society where is established an ortho-democracy – a system following the basic ideas of ancient dêmokratia. About all important issues (important for the whole society or for individuals) the last word belongs either to the civic body as mass or to citizen juries.
    *** That would include choices about policy, about laws, about their implementation. But as well choices about individual issues: to judge felonies and misdemeanors; to accept or not a migrant asking to enter the country; to decide about contentious divorces; to give children custody to a parent, or other family issues; to decide when magistrates ask a child to be removed from his supposedly dangerous family; to decide about labor conflicts etc. … A big political work, indeed.
    *** Any citizen will be asked not few times in his life to act as a member of the (collective) Sovereign. We can describe that as rotation.
    *** But what I find good, as an individual, in this system is not really rotation. Actually, I must confess I would be happy if pure chance allows me to escape of such morally heavy tasks as deciding in a trial, or in deciding about the life of a child, or about a migrant plea. What I like is the idea that myself, or anybody, will be judged by people “representing the common reason” of the citizenry (quoting Benjamin Constant), not the in-group thinking of an oligarchy or a militancy.
    *** Rotation is a side of sortition, it must not be opposed to it, and it may be not its main appeal.


  25. Andre,

    I’m sure what you say is true of what are effectively judicial decisions, but the principal concern of this blog has always been legislative decisions. There is no way that an average citizen will be asked several times to join a legislative jury, hence the need to ensure that both policy proposals and final legislative decisions accurately reflect the beliefs and preferences of a plurality of citizens.


  26. *** Keith Sutherland says : “the principal concern of this blog has always been legislative decisions”.
    He is factually right, but I don’t agree with this pattern. Judicial power is essential to democracy.
    *** Central judicial power of “judicial review”, of course.
    But, too, ad hoc judicial power.
    Law is only what the judges (or administrative interpreters) say it is. Democratic legislative power without democratic judicial power is a sham. It amounts to the power of the Deep State.
    *** Ad hoc decisions define a policy. Ad hoc decisions about admitting migrants are, collectively, defining an immigration policy. Ad hoc decisions about children define a policy. Ad hoc decisions about labor conflicts define a policy. Even if there is no general written rule. And, actually, whatever the written texts are.
    *** The USA Constitution may be something like a Sacred Text, but, as usual, politically that means power of its interpreters.
    *** I would add that in the everyday life of citizens political power is felt through ad hoc decisions. While these decisions would appear decisions of “better persons”, not of ordinary citizens, the democracy will appear easily a metaphysical idea, not an “incarnated” one.


  27. Andre:> Judicial power is essential to democracy.

    True. But, apart from the rare jury summons, the only political right citizens currently have is a vicarious influence over the legislative power. The goal of many commentators on this blog is to remove that right by abolishing elections, hence the need to ensure that the replacement is truly representative. (I doubt whether many citizens would agree that more frequent service on judicial juries would compensate for a tax increase that they had no say over.) This was not a problem that the Athenians had to face, so the argument that democracy has always been based on volunteers is spurious. The article that I referenced (which is sceptical about the voluntary nature of Athenian democracy) brings this even more into focus (ditto Mirko’s claim that the allotted legislative jury never actually existed).


  28. Keith: “ditto Mirko’s claim that the allotted legislative jury never actually existed”
    At least the judicial jury allowed to crush a law as ”inappropriate” (against basic principles of democracy, against universal values, and considering its practical effects …) did exist, no doubt.
    The judicial power is basic.


  29. Keith,
    Depending on design, in a modern mass society most citizens might serve many times in a lifetime. In my design, for example, mini-publics at the national, state, regional, municipal and neighborhood levels would be called to review policy proposals, vote on final proposals, evaluate executive branch performance, appoint top executives, decide judicial cases, etc. Most of these mini-publics would have a single task for short duration. One year I might be called to decide on water rates in my city, a few years later called to review state education reform proposals, and a few years later to vote on final approval of a national transportation infrastructure bill.


  30. Andre:> At least the judicial jury allowed to crush a law as ”inappropriate”

    And quite rightly. But that has to be seen in the context of a legislative procedure in which all citizens had the right to vote on every motion. That would be impossible in a large modern state.

    Terry:> in a modern mass society most citizens might serve many times in a lifetime.

    Sure, but whether you get to vote on the big ticket issues (generally to do with fiscal priorities at the national level), would be purely down to the luck of the draw (given your proposal to abolish elections). That would only be considered democratic if you believe that there is such a commonality of interests within the citizen body that it doesn’t matter who draws the golden ticket, so long as “ordinary citizens” (aka the 99%) are in the majority.


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