Landemore: Open Democracy, part 7

Having argued in Chapter 3 that all mass democracy is representative (i.e., cannot be based on mass participation on a basis of equality), Landemore proceeds in chapters 4 and 5 to offer an analysis of representation which aims to determine which mechanisms of representation should be considered as good. The idea, it seems, is to define criteria for good representation that would allow the examination various forms of representation – electoral, allotted, self-selected, “liquid” – and assess their quality. Doing so we will “complicate our understanding of democratic representation” (p. 80) and allow us to overcome the established habit of regarding electoral representation as the only good representation.

All of this may seem like a constructive way to proceed, but in fact it is a framing of the question of government and democracy that is already committed to a set of problematic conventional assumptions. This framework conceives of government as being created through an act of delegation of power by individuals to representatives and thus focuses on the supposed act of delegation as the critical point which needs to be analyzed and rationalized. This leads to a formalistic discussion regarding the notion of representation and regarding formal properties of the mechanism of appointment of representatives. The author then finds herself encumbered by a set of questions to which the answers are often blurry or unsatisfactory. With this formalistic focus, government as an ongoing phenomenon in the world – its policy outcomes, primarily, but in general the role government plays in the world – is sidelined, ignored almost entirely. The result is a morass of “analytical hair-splitting” (Landemore’s own expression, p. 108), which does produce a lot of complication but despite much effort produces little insight.

Landemore follows convention, then, by putting heavy emphasis on the notion of a “representative” – someone (or some group) being recognized as “standing in for” a group (or for another group). This notion which is supposedly fundamental serves no useful purpose in the discussion as far as I can tell. A-priori it is unclear that such a “standing in for” relationship is necessary for government in general or for good government in particular. This is thus a poor starting point. Having started with “representation”, Landemore now spends her effort on defining what democratic representation is (representation that is “characterized by inclusiveness and equality”) and what legitimate representation is (representation that has been “properly authorized”). At the outset neither of these characteristics seem clearly meaningful or useful, and the lengthy discussion that ensues does little to dispel this suspicion. It is also rather surprising that in this theory of representation the matter of deliberation – which was so prominent in previous chapters – plays a very minor role.

Unsurprisingly, the results of Landemore’s analysis are very ambiguous. Elections are found to be legitimate since elected officials are properly authorized. They are also partially democratic because of the inclusivity of the vote on the one hand but the de-facto elitist outcomes of the process on the other. Allotted bodies can be properly authorized if the allotment mechanism is approved by a majority of the voters in an inclusive referendum. They are partially democratic as well because on the one hand they offer everybody the chance to be selected but on the other hand are exclusive since once the allotment is carried out power is held by “an exclusive” allotted body. Self-selected bodies are democratic due to their inclusivity but undemocratic due to their tendency to be statistically biased toward certain populations.

Is the bottom line that all of these forms of “representation” have their strong points and their weak points? If so, can any of those be used as a substitute for any other? Should a “balance” be struck? What would constitute such a balance?

Even if the analysis were able to motivate an adoption or rejection of certain mechanisms (and no such result of the analysis is apparent) or the specification of a structure involving all of those mechanisms (which, again, is not the case), this would be a fairly limited outcome. A useful framework of analysis should be able to produce meaningful insights regarding various crucial questions about parameters of the system such as the size of decision-making bodies, their terms of service, how their agenda is set, etc. The tools Landemore is using are far too blunt to be able to produce such results.

The lack of useful conclusions is a strong indication that the framework of analysis should be reconsidered and a much more effective, stringent framework should be sought.

A natural alternative to analyzing formal properties of the “representation” mechanisms is to justify government structures, mechanisms and institutions by assessing their perceived effect on the world. Elections, for example, should be rejected because they produce governments whose effects on the world are poor, not because they produce representation with certain properties. Likewise, a hypothetical system involving an allotted body or multiple allotted bodies should be evaluated based on its predicted effects. Despite fleetingly mentioning “output” (p. 106) or “substantive” (p. 107) factors as components of legitimacy Landemore never attempts to argue that one mechanism of representation or another would tend to lead to better effects and her notion of legitimacy is de facto solely about “authorization”. (Focusing on formalities is thus the theoretical complement for eliding the real-world effects of electoralist government which was a notable characteristic of Landemore’s discussion of electoralism.)

Chapters 4 and 5, it turns out then, do not provide a useful framework for thinking about which institutional arrangements are good and which are not and for evaluating possible parameter settings for such systems. However, some interesting questions are being raised in those chapters and it is worth considering those questions and evaluating Landemore’s comments regarding them. Specifically Landemore considers the issue of accountability and the supposed contrast between elected officials, who, we are told, are held accountable through the mechanism of reelection, and allotted officials, who, it is often argued, are unaccountable.

In addition several questions regarding allotted bodies are raised: Is it fair to say that all allotted bodies (and in fact all political decision-making bodies) are always self selected because it is inevitable that some people will choose not to participate? Are allotted bodies “synchronously exclusive” in the sense that only few people can participate at any time? Should mass participation be achieved by having parallel local assemblies set up the agenda for a national assembly?

Finally, Landemore offers “liquid” representation as another institutional schema that could have some promise (legitimacy, “democraticity”). Is this case?

I will deal with these questions in upcoming posts.

43 Responses

  1. This framework conceives of government as being created through an act of delegation of power by individuals to representatives and thus focuses on the supposed act of delegation as the critical point which needs to be analyzed and rationalized.

    Yes, that’s standard political theory (although issues of ongoing representativity and accountability are an important part of the analysis).

    A natural alternative to analyzing formal properties of the “representation” mechanisms is to justify government structures, mechanisms and institutions by assessing their perceived effect on the world. Elections, for example, should be rejected because they produce governments whose effects on the world are poor, not because they produce representation with certain properties.

    Hmm, and how exactly do you propose going about that? If there were good and bad answers to policy choices then we wouldn’t need to bother with politics at all, we could just build an analytical engine (or trust in a philosopher king). Your analysis allies you with enemies of democracy from Plato through to Brennan.

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  2. Landemore follows convention, then, by putting heavy emphasis on the notion of a “representative” – someone (or some group) being recognized as “standing in for” a group (or for another group). This notion which is supposedly fundamental serves no useful purpose in the discussion as far as I can tell. A-priori it is unclear that such a “standing in for” relationship is necessary for government in general or for good government in particular.

    I partially agree. The notion of representation is not useless, but the goal should not be to build politics up from representation alone. The fact is, the state will look mostly the same under a wide range of systems. It will have cabinet level departments handling finance, defense, foreign affairs, etc. It will have further agencies handling other duties within the cabinet level departments. And even autocratic systems have a mostly similar breakdown of topics. Landemore seems to want to reconstruct the state, but all she should be concerned with is reforming politics.

    The political layer is surprisingly small. In the U.S., for example, the government employs many millions, but only a few thousand employees are political appointees. Even fewer are directly elected. Indeed, the fact that the political layer is so thin makes it highly subject to corruption, as even a minor political post has enormous policy leverage.

    A natural alternative to analyzing formal properties of the “representation” mechanisms is to justify government structures, mechanisms and institutions by assessing their perceived effect on the world. Elections, for example, should be rejected because they produce governments whose effects on the world are poor, not because they produce representation with certain properties.

    Keith correctly points out that “assessing their perceived effect on the world” is a very problematic notion, entangling structural politics with divisive ideology and partisanship. I think a better solution is to ask better questions of the representative mechanism. Instead of asking if a group is representative in some metaphysical sense, we should ask questions like:

    Does the group have a well-defined task?
    Are the members of the group able to deliberate independently, or are they forced to get caught up in intra-group dynamics?
    Are groups that make decisions separate from groups that make proposals?
    Are policies being chopped up into appropriately sized pieces?
    Is the agenda set in a way that cannot be manipulated by partisans?
    Does the decision mechanism encourage misinformation? (more or less, since all decision making mechanisms reward misinformation to some degree)

    Of course, we still want the group to be statistically representative, but that is only the start.

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  3. > Keith correctly points out that “assessing their perceived effect on the world” is a very problematic notion, entangling structural politics with divisive ideology and partisanship.

    Institutional design must to be motivated by the goals it is aiming at. Of course institutional design is ideological because any system embodies ideological elements. Electoralist systems, for example, embody a certain oligarchical ideology and certain oligarchical interests.

    However, one does not need to agree on fine details of policy in order to agree on institutional design. A basic substantive effect of government is popular approval of the system. Agreeing that widespread approval of the system by the population is a design goal is enough to motivate some basic concrete design decisions. For example, it should motivate instituting regular surveys assessing popular approval of the system and instituting a process managed by an allotted body for proposing and making changes to the system based on the findings of the surveys.

    > I think a better solution is to ask better questions of the representative mechanism. Instead of asking if a group is representative in some metaphysical sense, we should ask questions like: […]

    What makes some questions better than others? Unless we have substantive goals, there is no good way to justify “questions”. Furthermore, to be able to justify any detailed design, the number of questions will have to be very large and the construction will quickly turn into a maze of ambiguous and conflicting considerations. You will find yourself in the same deadlock that Landemore and her many predecessors have.

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  4. Yoram:> However, one does not need to agree on fine details of policy in order to agree on institutional design. A basic substantive effect of government is popular approval of the system. Agreeing that widespread approval of the system by the population is a design goal is enough to motivate some basic concrete design decisions.

    Even epistemic democrats claim that the only outcomes that would generate consensus are the absence of catastrophic famine and genocide — anything further is a matter of political choice, and open to dispute. If widespread popular approval is your criterion (and there was some reliable way of measuring it) then many theocracies and autocracies would be deemed democratic — Germany in the 1930s is the obvious example. And the CCP uses public opinion surveys on a daily basis, so that makes the PRC an uber-democracy.

    You are using the word “democracy” in a way that makes no etymological, historical, theoretical or colloquial sense — a genuine private language.

    All the questions (on the structure of the decision making process) that Alex poses would make sense to democratic theorists, the goal being ascertaining the informed preferences of a plurality of citizens on political issues (in Oakeshott’s sense of “an activity of attending to the general arrangements of a set of people whom chance or choice have brought together”.)

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  5. What makes some questions better than others? Unless we have substantive goals, there is no good way to justify “questions”.

    There is a considerable body of research about how groups of people can make good decisions. I have often pointed to The Wisdom of Crowds, which emphasizes the independence and cognitive diversity of the group making a decision. There is considerable social science research (e.g. Kahneman and Tversky) about how people make decisions, with implications as to how choices should be formulated in order to elicit higher quality deliberation. None of these considerations have explicit ideological content.

    Of course, we will ultimate judge a system by its results. But in building the system, our north star should be a better decision making process at all levels, from random selection of citizen juries to the diversity of the options presented to the time and manner of deliberation. One should not build a political system with a particular policy end in mind, one should build a political system based on making good decisions in general, and then tweak the system in response to flaws as they appear.

    And how do we assess those flaws? One important consideration is the notion of policy convergence: Public policy should not swing wildly from one extreme to another, and decisions of one citizen jury should be the same as what a different jury under similar circumstances would produce, at least within reasonable statistical tolerances. These are standards that have no ideological content, and yet are concrete and measurable. These “meta-political” ideas–stability, convergence, consistency, incrementalism, avoidance of single-points-of-failure, non-obstruction, etc–are the metrics we should be looking at.

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  6. I agree that Yoram conflates “democracy” and “popular legitimacy.” Many of us believe the two fit together well. But it seems likely that a theocracy could for some time have popular legitimacy and no democracy at all, and perhaps a true democracy could lack popular legitimacy simply due to a catastrophe that was beyond the government’s control, but that the people blame on the government.

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  7. I imagine most people who have studied this topic in even a cursory way would agree with Alex’s focus on heuristics and Terry’s distinction between democracy and popular legitimacy. “Rightness” in democracy studies is generally understood as a procedural issue and if the outcome is stability, incrementalism etc that’s about as good as it gets.

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  8. > None of these considerations have explicit ideological content.

    The ideology may very well be implicit, but its presence is inevitable. There are no decisions that are simply “good”. Decisions can only be good in terms of certain criteria. Those criteria are inevitably contestable, making their adoption ideological.

    > Of course, we will ultimate judge a system by its results.

    I am glad we can agree on that.

    > Public policy should not swing wildly from one extreme to another

    This consideration is only useful if the convergent policy is a good one (as people see it). Simply entrenching the status quo, for example, will achieve this objective but may lead to terrible results. This can serve as an example for my point above: no consideration is without ideological content, whether explicit or implicit.

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  9. > The ideology may very well be implicit, but its presence is inevitable.

    No doubt. But the issue isn’t whether the ideology is there, it’s whether we should focus on ideological metrics or on something else. I have put forward what I think the focus should be.

    > This consideration is only useful if the convergent policy is a good one (as people see it).

    Absolutely. That’s why I insist that every decision go through a citizen jury.

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  10. > “democracy” and “popular legitimacy.”

    Actually, I offer “popular legitimacy” as an indicator of, or measure of, democracy rather than as its definition. As a definition I would offer: a society where political power is distributed equally. I guess this could be measured more directly by asking “do you feel you have as much say in this society as everybody else?” rather than “do feel this society is run as it should be?”, but as long as we are living in a society where democratic ideology is dominant, the answers to these questions cannot diverge much. In societies in which people reject democratic ideology, the answers to the two questions can diverge widely (in either direction), but in this case democracy is less interesting – since it is explicitly not a goal of these societies.

    Good outcomes (which are measured by popular legitimacy for lack of a better measure) are the objective and democracy is the presumed tool for achieving this objective. If democracy were to lead to poor outcomes, then it would be difficult to argue that it should be pursued.

    > But it seems likely that a theocracy could for some time have popular legitimacy and no democracy at all,

    Here you are indeed hypothesizing a society that rejects democracy.

    > and perhaps a true democracy could lack popular legitimacy simply due to a catastrophe that was beyond the government’s control, but that the people blame on the government.

    Here you are asserting that you (or some other observer) are better able to judge how well a government functions than the people ruled by that government. This is certainly possible in theory, but to accept that this can happen on a regular basis (rather than as an occasional exception) we would have to adopt an anti-democratic stance and assert that people cannot be trusted to understand their own interests.

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  11. > I have put forward what I think the focus should be.

    Until we decide what we are aiming for, how can we decide what our focus should be?

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  12. > Until we decide what we are aiming for, how can we decide what our focus should be?

    We are aiming for decisions that flow from the views of the general population, with the time and resources to be well-informed. This is a valid aim in itself. We are also aiming to mitigate certain obvious harms, such as calculated disinformation and conflict of interest (corruption). Again, these are concrete aims that are orthogonal to traditional ideological questions such as socialism vs. capitalism.

    Again, I am in no way suggesting that these aims are devoid of ideological content, only that they emphasize factors that are upstream of traditional ideological splits such as socialism vs capitalism.

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  13. > Until we decide what we are aiming for, how can we decide what our focus should be?

    A system properly designed may produce different outcomes for different societies. A socially conservative, business-oriented society will produce a very different outcome than a socially liberal, communitarian society even though they have identical constitutions. That’s why the aims of constitution writing must be upstream of traditional ideology. Both societies must be seen as successes as long as their laws are reasonably stable, consistent, and well-administered.

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  14. > We are aiming for decisions that flow from the views of the general population, with the time and resources to be well-informed. This is a valid aim in itself.

    I agree.

    > Again, I am in no way suggesting that these aims are devoid of ideological content, only that they emphasize factors that are upstream of traditional ideological splits such as socialism vs capitalism.

    Again, I agree. This is the kind of substantive criteria I was referring to. Formalities such as “inclusiveness” or “proper authorization” should be justified (if they are to be used at all) in terms of such criteria.

    What I would add, though, is that it is better for the design criteria to be as concretely and as objectively defined as possible so that it is easier to tell if they are met or not. A survey indicating trust and satisfaction is a much better defined criterion than “decisions that flow from the views of the general population with the time and resources to be well-informed”. The latter is a desirable goal but is open for a wide range of interpretations.

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  15. Crowd wisdom and group wisdom are two diffretn things. One works at a macro level via INDEPENDENCE; the other works at the micro, face-to-face, via LEVERAGING of DIVERSITY of heuristics, interpetations, persepctives, and predictions (to use Scott Page’s terminology). Crowd wisdom is illustrated in Condorcet’s “theorem” or the law of large numbers. Group wisdom works when a small number of individuals have the time and strcutre to SYNERGIZE not aggregate their invidual “cognitive toolboxes.”

    You are by far NOT the only one to bundld and conflate these two mechanisms. The Kovner-Sutherland approach, perhaps inspired by Athenian large juries, aims at using CROWD wisdom. Some of the other approcahes to the use of minipublics, Terry’s for example, rely equally on GROUP wisdom–which is “deliberation” cast in an epistemic frame.

    Political deliberation, in my view, might better be framed as a TWO-SIDED process, one having to do with self-government and the other having to do with leveraging collective intellgence. I think a major hurdle at the epistemic level, which I believe Terry attempts to address with his “multi-body,” is combining CROWD and GROUP wisdoms. THE hurdle at the political/ideological level is the dominant ideology built around the 18th century myths of “consent,” “contract,” “delegation,” and their accoutrements.

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  16. I am not conflating crowd wisdom and group wisdom (as you call it), I am rather examining how group wisdom can exists in the political context. Do you have any evidence that it does, at least among monolithic bodies? The literature on crowd wisdom is well established.

    The challenge here is that many people, particularly in academia, have a positive experience of group wisdom. They work with colleagues on complex ideas with often excellent results. But these are highly self-selected groups, often of people with significant intellectual similarities, even if they are of different backgrounds. Additionally, they are working with the knowledge that there are many other teams out there working on the same problems, so they have a strong incentive to pull together, and no incentive to obstruct. These are not the conditions of political deliberation, even if elected members are replaced with allotted ones.

    In fact, the superminority principle depends on group wisdom. The groups that form within the proposing body must use it to formulate their bills. But the context has changed. Instead of being a monolith, they are now competing, much as academic groups compete. In addition, with a lower threshold, the members can form groups that are more like-minded, which is an advantage for generating proposals that have real thematic unity, and hence give the citizen jury real choices.

    My thesis boils down to this: group wisdom works with self-selected groups that are competing, whereas crowd wisdom works for choosing from among predefined options. Trying to get group wisdom to work in the monolithic context is doomed to failure no matter how members are selected.

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  17. Yoram, yes, the argument in these chapters could have been more focused and more direct. But again, I think (at least Ch 4) does advance the conversation regarding “democracy without elections” a step further. A major obstacle for sortition is the 18th century ideology that still dominates political theory. It was telling. that even some “radical” critiques from last summer’s BLM protests framed themselves as “breakign the social contract.”

    By disaggragating concepts like “representation” and “accountability” that are often used to legitimate (and reify) electoral politics, Landemore helps us get past a few false dilemmas/dichotomies and myths:
    1) “direct” versus “representative” “democracy”
    2) “accountable” elected officials v. “unaccountable” citizen/trial juries
    3) the myth of “democratic” elections
    4) “delegative” v. “fiduciary” representation

    That said, I think you might be on to something when you point out that L inadvertendly reproduces the “delegation” of power to the “rulers” idea–becasue she seesm to be setting aside outcomes and focuses on the process of “legitimation.” [How many cruel, unjust, idiotic, or anti-democratic acts are committed by “legitimate” governments everyday?] But I have to think more about what alternative approaches were avaialable for “open democracy.” The question is always how to critically engage a literature wihtout reinforcing its most problematic assumptions. L is trying to make both a critical and constructive intervention. This is rare in political theory. There is so much clever critique which gives no alternative; there is so much lame “reformist” ideas that serve only to reinforce the status quo.

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  18. There is literature on small groups, and it says that results are situation and structure sensitive. But one can say that about crowds too; it is just that the proper structure is easier to achieve at the crowd level.
    In my experience NON-ACADEMIC groups work better better because they are not as EGO / CAREER DRIVEN. But again, the context and structure of the process matters a lot.

    That’s an interesting point about “competing” groups. I’ll think about that. But even if a group is competing, if does not have the right structure: for example it is too hierarchical, then it will be liable to groupthink; too like-minded, it will be laible to information cascades.

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  19. Ahmed:> There is literature on small groups…

    I think of someone like James Fishkin when you say that. His groups are very structured, though, and are led by a director who is not a member of the group. It is very difficult to reproduce the conditions of legislatures, which cannot be directed by a third party because there is no trusted third party.

    All of this goes to show just how unusual legislative bodies are. They are the only game in town, and they determine their own rules and procedures, and yet they are supposed to act in the common interest. Truly an odd duck. Splitting up proposing and deciding, and using the superminority principle, makes politics more “normal”; that is, it makes its constituent bodies behave like more mundane structures that we understand better.

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  20. It seems like we need to coin new terms beyond “crowd wisdom” and “group wisdom.” Unfortunately these terms are not a perfect match for the kinds of institutions we are imagining.

    From Francis Galton to James Surowiecki, the wisdom of crowds not only assumes independence (no sharing of knowledge among members), but also a mix of informed and uniformed people… not a structured system for a statistical sample becoming better informed by, for example, listening to pro and con arguments. What we are proposing is a very unique variant of the wisdom of crowds. There are many possible variants of an institutionalized wisdom of groups, and perhaps we need terms for each variant. Perhaps “intelligence of crowds,” or even better “judgment of crowds.”

    As for so-called “group wisdom…” Self-selected groups of like-minded enthusiasts (whether partisans, experts, or whatever), can exhibit either wisdom or group idiocy (as Ahmed notes due to information cascades, group think, etc.) As Alex notes, knowing that other groups are developing alternatives may have a beneficial effect, since the participants have an incentive to craft a proposal that will be deemed superior by a jury. But this variant of group wisdom misses the boat when it comes to the benefits of diversity (of information, cognitive styles, backgrounds, etc.) Random selection among those willing to serve (with stratification) can generate this sort of diversity. It is this sort of wisdom that most recent citizens’ assemblies have attempted to tap, and which Keith dismisses. I think we need a different term for this sort of wisdom assembly (not crowd and not group). Perhaps “diversity wisdom?”

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  21. Ahmed, Terry,

    In her original book Democratic Reason, Helene draws a sharp distinction between Collective Intelligence (the talking approach) and the Wisdom of Crowds (the counting approach). However her book provides no examples at all as to how sortition could implement the former and her ‘selective genealogy’ of the talking approach comes up with only one candidate (J.S. Mill), all the others favour the counting approach. And she acknowledges that ‘deliberative democracy’ is little more than a normative ideal. Those of us who want to improve democratic politics in the real world (rather than just ‘sitting among the dandelions’) should abjure Habermasian pipe dreams and focus on practical institutional implementations.

    >the 18th century myths of “consent,” . . .

    To dismiss the consent of the governed as an early-modern aberration is going to take us in a distinctly undemocratic direction. I devote a lot of space in my thesis to demonstrating the conditions under which the verdict of a large allotted jury could be a proxy for the consent of the entire citizen body.

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  22. Terry: “There are many possible variants of an institutionalized wisdom of groups,”
    I might add: And there is no possible variant of collective intelligence without institutionalising it (e.g. in a market). Without a CI institution all we get is irrational madness of crowds. Obviously there a also bad institutions which lead to madness of crowds (remember Salem), so it’s a necessary but not a sufficient condition

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  23. *** Alex Kovner (1 April ) agrees with Yoram Gat « Of course, we will ultimate judge a system by its results. »
    *** I am not sure we have to choose one criterion for judging political systems. I think that human choices may sometimes consider several criterions.
    *** Judging a political systems by its results is a sensible criterion. Must be it the one ?
    *** Let’s imagine a super-computer with more knowledge and intelligence than myself, perfectly orientated towards my well-being, who could be my Wise and Benevolent Master, abler than me to decide about choices of country, work, marriage, children. Maybe I could not accept to give him total control of my life.
    *** Let’s imagine a super-computer, a sci-fi Colossus, with more knowledge and intelligence than any of the citizens, perfectly orientated towards the common well-being, without any social bias, who could the Wise and Benevolent Master of the citizenry. Maybe some citizens could not accept to give him total control of the society life, because of a sense of loss of freedom.

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  24. *** Keith Sutherland, answering to Ahmed Teleb, writes : « To dismiss the consent of the governed as an early-modern aberration is going to take us in a distinctly undemocratic direction ».
    *** A debatable sentence. The supporters of ancient dêmokratia did not accept the idea of consent as democratic, at least if that means giving parts of sovereignty (= last word about important matters) to authorities other the democratic ones, general assembly or allotted juries (the ekklesiastês and the dikastês, both kyrioi as says Aristotle).
    *** In the Spartan republic all authorities (excepting the two kings) were « authorized » by the Assembly. For instance the Senators (members of the Gerousia, Council of Elders) were elected and were given a part of sovereignty. Demosthenes describes that as utmost undemocratic (Against Leptines, 107) : « Whenever a man is elected to the Council of Elders, as they call it, because he showed the relevant qualities, he is absolute master (despotês) of the multitude. For there [at Sparta] the prize of merit is to share with one’s peers the sovereign power on the political system (politeia). With us the people (ho dêmos) is sovereign (kyrios) , and there are imprecations, laws and other safeguards to prevent any other to become sovereign (kyrios) »

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  25. Andre, The Athenians had no need for a formal theory of consent, as they voted directly on each agenda item in the assembly. That’s not possible in large modern states, hence the need for representation in its various shapes and forms. It’s hard to make sense of that without some notion of those not participating themselves consenting to the decisions made by their representatives (elected or allotted). In my thesis I develop the argument that the notion of “implicit” consent is just as relevant to representation by sortition as it is by election (given certain conditions). Although I’m heavily critical of Manin’s claim that it was the natural right theory of consent that led to the triumph of election, I still think that some theory of consent is essential to large-scale democracy.

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  26. Andre,

    > *** Judging a political systems by its results is a sensible criterion. Must be it the one ?

    But what is the alternative? The pretension of political philosophers and political scientists to be able to define a-priori – rather than in terms of outcomes – what it is that makes a good system betrays not only an elitist, anti-democratic attitude, but also anti-scientific, self-important dogmatism.

    > because of a sense of loss of freedom.

    That sense of a loss of freedom is a result of your hypothetical proposed system. It is true that the results of a system are usually largely perceived as its material outcomes rather than its psychological impact, but this is an empirical fact, not a necessity. The importance of the psychological impact of the system and its relative weight compared to material considerations are matters for the members of society themselves to determine. To the extent people feel this (hypothesized) sense of loss of freedom is important, this must be a consideration when evaluating the system.

    The crucial point is that it is its impact on the people (as they themselves determine this impact), rather than some formal criterion, that determines the value of the system. It is not the “principle of freedom” (or some such formality) that is the reason that your hypothetical super-computer-dominated system is unacceptable, but rather that people are (hypothetically) unhappy with the system’s impact on their lives (and specifically on their sense of freedom which they determine is of great importance to them).

    It is maybe worth adding that it seems your hypothetical scenario is self-contradictory. To the extent the supercomputer is “perfectly orientated towards the common well-being”, the computer itself would be able to assess the psychological impact of its presence and of its role in society and would introduce changes to the system that would improve people’s sense of freedom. Maybe an occasional referendum, or a few allotted decision-making bodies would do the trick?

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  27. Yoram:> The pretension of political philosophers and political scientists to be able to define a-priori – rather than in terms of outcomes – what it is that makes a good system betrays not only an elitist, anti-democratic attitude, but also anti-scientific, self-important dogmatism.

    Political scientists have no particular interest in the “goodness” of a system (other than in their capacity as private citizens). Political theory is a priori in the sense that it seeks to introduce clarity and precision to the way that we use words. Their retort to your objection is that you are referring to demophilia, not democracy. The latter means that the people have power, irrespective of the “goodness” of the outcomes. Citizens of the PRC may or may not think their political system is “good” (though I’m nor sure how you would find out), but it is not a democracy as there is no mechanism for the people in their collective capacity to wield power.

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  28. *** Yoram Gat remarks, about my hypothetical (future?) supercomputer – let’s call him the Perfect Master -, that “the computer itself would be able to assess the psychological impact of its presence and of its role in society and would introduce changes to the system that would improve people’s sense of freedom. Maybe an occasional referendum, or a few allotted decision-making bodies would do the trick?”
    *** That looks like Rosanvallon’s idea of “polyphonic democracy” and some President Macron’s initiatives. There is here something disturbing. May the kleroterians unwillingly have helped the rule of the Perfect Master, or his imperfect forerunners ?

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  29. *** Yoram Gat writes “The importance of the psychological impact of the system and its relative weight compared to material considerations are matters for the members of society themselves to determine”.
    *** Ok. But anyway it is not an argument against (ortho-) democracy. If the majority of the citizens think the system is bad, they will decide easily to kill it and establish another one – polyarchy, theocratic republic, or any other.

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  30. Andre:> If the majority of the citizens think the system is bad, they will decide easily to kill it and establish another one – polyarchy, theocratic republic, or any other.

    Exactly. And the new system will not be a democracy, irrespective of how much the citizens like it.

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  31. Andre,

    > That looks like Rosanvallon’s idea of “polyphonic democracy” and some President Macron’s initiatives

    These do not serve the public well, and I doubt that they are even meant to serve the public (as the public sees things, not as their elite proposers do).

    In any case, and that is my main point, the decision of whether a certain system serves the public or not is to be made by the public itself – not by a ruling or an intellectual elite. Correct me if I have missed this part, but I believe that neither Rosanvallon nor Macron suggest to have any direct way for the public to express their pleasure or displeasure with the system, and to have that expression impact the way the system works.

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  32. Andre,

    > But anyway it is not an argument against (ortho-) democracy.

    Of course not.

    > If the majority of the citizens think the system is bad, they will decide easily to kill it and establish another one – polyarchy, theocratic republic, or any other.

    The crucial point is that the citizens should be able to change the system in a way that they feel serves them better. According to democratic ideology, this is the best way to ensure that they will create a truly democratic system.

    The notion that this will actually result in a non-democratic system runs against democratic ideology. It means either that the citizens prefer not to live in a democracy (while democratic ideology asserts that all people prefer democracy) or that they desire a democracy but are too incompetent to promote their own interests (while democratic ideology asserts that every person is the best promoter of their own interests).

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  33. Yoram wrote:
    >”The notion that this will actually result in a non-democratic system runs against democratic ideology. It means either that the citizens prefer not to live in a democracy (while democratic ideology asserts that all people prefer democracy) or that they desire a democracy but are too incompetent to promote their own interests (while democratic ideology asserts that every person is the best promoter of their own interests).”

    Perhaps I’m being too petty… but:
    Firstly, isn’t the adage that they are the best “judge” rather than best “promoter?” (they “know where the shoe pinches.”)
    Secondly, even if they accurately judge their interest, and competently promote it (a big leap), there is a collective coordination dilemma, that make it uncertain whether a group can satisfy their interests. Individual interest may not line up.
    Thirdly, a successfully functioning democracy requires skillful design, or a lot of time for trial and error experimentation.
    In short, even if ortho-democracy were absolutely the best system, there is no assurance a society would discover how to accomplish it, and might readily settle, in the short term, for any of a variety of other systems.

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  34. Yoram:> According to democratic ideology . . . democratic ideology asserts that all people prefer democracy . . . while democratic ideology asserts that every person is the best promoter of their own interests.

    “Democratic ideology” (in the substantive sense) would appear to be an empty tautology. (Of course this is true in the etymological sense as the people having power simply tells us what the word demokratia means, but has no entailments as to either how the power should be exercised, or whether it leads to “good” outcomes.)

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  35. Terry,

    > Perhaps I’m being too petty… but

    Absolutely not, let’s examine this in detail.

    > isn’t the adage that they are the best “judge” rather than best “promoter?” (they “know where the shoe pinches.”)

    While such notions went under the name “elite theory of democracy” 50 or 75 years ago, asserting that citizens’ capacity is limited to “judging” is certainly not what I would call ideologically democratic.

    > collective coordination dilemma

    The democratic ideology applies to groups as well as to individuals. In both cases, of course, the distance between interests and action is potentially non-trivial. It may require effort, time, organization, consultation, resources, etc. Note that the alternative to the democratic ideology is the claim that some people, or some groups of people, are better off being subject to management by an outside force rather than being self-managed.

    > there is no assurance a society would discover how to accomplish it, and might readily settle, in the short term, for any of a variety of other systems.

    This must be true – if it weren’t then (according to democratic ideology) all societies would be democratic at all time. It is important to note, however, that the main obstacle to democracy is not mere confusion or ignorance (as the Socratesians would have us believe). Rather, it is the fact that there are elite forces within society that are constantly trying to undermine democracy. Overcoming those forces is a complicated, never-ending effort.

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  36. *** Yoram Gat says that the possibility of a majority of citizens reject (ortho-)democracy is contrary to “democratic ideology”.
    *** Such a behavior is not an unrealistic hypothesis. Especially it is easy to imagine a dêmos dominated by theocratic ideas, who rejects democracy for some kind of theocratic State, where the law is God’s law and not a human law.
    *** A demos could reject (ortho-)democracy for other, purely human, reasons. For instance the isêgoria is a pillar of the system – it is not a tenet of “democratic ideology”, it is a necessity for popular sovereigny. In any system with a true sovereign, everybody must be able to speak freely to the sovereign. If the sovereign is an absolute king, this necessity does not create a social problem. But if the sovereign is the dêmos, that implies a very high level of speech freedom in the whole society, which may be seen as potentially destroying the good traditional values, standards, hierarchies … It was one of Plato’s criticisms, and a rational one.
    *** We may imagine, too, in a poorly integrated society, that many minorities think their interest best defended in a polyarchy or a dictatorship, and that the sum of these minorities amount to a majority. Probably some of these groups will be wrong, and duped, but if “the democratic ideology” says that never a human group may be duped at least for a moment, this ideology is debatable. This point means a democratic mutation must go with a strong integration.
    *** The problem is that it is easy for a democracy to convert to another system, but the opposite will not be true, even if the majority of citizens support it.

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  37. Andre:> isêgoria is a pillar of the system – it is not a tenet of “democratic ideology”

    Is “not” a typo? According to Hansen isêgoria was (alongside isonomia) an essential component of democratic ideology. The problem is how to enable it in a large modern state.

    >The problem is that it is easy for a democracy to convert to another system, but the opposite will not be true, even if the majority of citizens support it.

    That’s an interesting point — it would suggest that the sortition cause would be better served by accommodating the existing polyarchy than seeking its overthrow.

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  38. Andre,

    > Especially it is easy to imagine a dêmos dominated by theocratic ideas, who rejects democracy for some kind of theocratic State, where the law is God’s law and not a human law.

    The contrast between democracy and theocracy is mistaken, I think. Depending on how the system is organized, a theocratic state may very well be democratic. For example, a citizen assembly may follow the advice of religious authorities when they legislate and may appoint religious figures into executive positions. How is that materially different from following advice from various academic experts and appointing management experts to executive positions?

    > A demos could reject (ortho-)democracy for other, purely human, reasons

    Democratic ideology sees the aspiration for democracy as universal. What you are saying is that this ideology may not be true. I believe that you are right that such a sweeping claim does not stand up to scrutiny (but then again, few ideas do). It would be an interesting task to try and identify which parts of the democratic ideal are more widely shared and which are less so.

    > The problem is that it is easy for a democracy to convert to another system, but the opposite will not be true, even if the majority of citizens support it.

    Optimistically, we may hope that the advantages of a democratic system are so obvious once implemented that it is self-sustaining in the sense that it generates support by large majorities. It seems this was the situation in Athens.

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  39. Yoram:> The contrast between democracy and theocracy is mistaken, I think. Depending on how the system is organized, a theocratic state may very well be democratic. For example, a citizen assembly may follow the advice of religious authorities when they legislate and may appoint religious figures into executive positions

    Then that wouldn’t be a theocracy, as the demos would still exercise power. A typical theocracy is the Islamic Republic of Iran which was instituted by a popular revolution but is hostile to democratic ideology and practice. Its domination by a supreme leader invites comparison with the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea.

    >Democratic ideology sees the aspiration for democracy as universal.

    That would be better described as neo-Conservative ideology. Democratic theory is agnostic as to whether the rule of the demos is either popular or benign.

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  40. Answer to Keith Sutherland about “democratic ideology”
    *** Let’s call “democratic ideology” any kind of would-be coherent discourse which supports the (ortho-)democratic model, as implemented in ancient democratic Cities. There can be various “democratic ideologies”. An Athenian ideology did stress the historic legitimacy of democracy in Athens (Theseus being both the founder of the City and the democratic system). There was, too, a religious element, with the cult of Goddess Dêmokratia. And the rationalistic discourses could display some variety we are not very acquainted with (we have no Protagoras work). In contemporary times we see various discourses supporting dêmokratia, and not every supporter agrees with all the discourses. Keith does not agree with some discourses Yoram describes as “democratic ideology”. Therefore it is dangerous to speak about “democratic ideology” as one – even if, at some time, a discourse may be hegemonic.
    *** But some elements of the dêmokratia model cannot be separated from the model without destroying it, as for instance isêgoria. Which means no democratic ideologist may exclude it.

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  41. *** Yoram Gat writes “The contrast between democracy and theocracy is mistaken, I think. Depending on how the system is organized, a theocratic state may very well be democratic. For example, a citizen assembly may follow the advice of religious authorities when they legislate and may appoint religious figures into executive positions. How is that materially different from following advice from various academic experts and appointing management experts to executive positions?”
    *** I note Yoram forgets judicial power. Deplorable omission. Democracy is when the dêmos has the last word in judicial as in legislative power. Law is only what the judges say is law.
    *** If a sovereign dêmos considers as Law the God-inspired tradition (as the theocrats of the Sunni kind consider Sharia) and if he delegates judicial power to some kind of clerics, he relinquishes his sovereignty. Let’s imagine an absolute king with the same behavior, the system would not be anymore absolute monarchy, as he relinquished sovereignty. All the good points of democracy or absolute monarchy would disappear – and the bad ones too, leaving room to the good and bad points of another system.
    *** A point could be : the demos or the king could take back his sovereignty when he decides. Well, it supposes freedom of debate about such a taking back. And I don’t think a theocracy could accept such freedom: speaking of taking back legislative power from God would be a crime against God, the worst of crimes.
    *** Coming back to Yoram’s comparison: if a secular-minded dêmos gives the last word in judicial power to legal experts, and if he punishes any citizen who debates the authority of the established academic institutions, yes, we would have a system akin to theocracy; but that would not be (ortho-)democracy anyway, because both of sovereignty delegation and of lack of speech freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. *** Yoram Gat answers me : “Democratic ideology sees the aspiration for democracy as universal. What you are saying is that this ideology may not be true. I believe that you are right that such a sweeping claim does not stand up to scrutiny (but then again, few ideas do). It would be an interesting task to try and identify which parts of the democratic ideal are more widely shared and which are less so.
    *** I don’t think there is a general answer to such a question, which would be valid in ancient Greece, modern West, different contemporary societies. Every “pillar” of the dêmokratia model has attractive and repulsive effects, which would bring various responses in different societies, and in the different groups of the same society. I mentioned freedom of speech only as an example, where ancient criticisms could meet many followers in contemporary societies.
    *** Maybe I would dare to assert that some of the trends of modernity increase the (ortho-)democracy appeal in a good part of more advanced societies, as testifies the initiatives by the Establishment which mimic (ortho-)democratic institutions.

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  43. Andre,

    If “theocracy” assumes that sacrilegious ideas are forbidden, then, yes, it is by definition anti-democratic. But this simply brings us back to the intolerance issue.

    Regarding having judicial decisions made by religious figures being undemocratic: that’s a pretty good point. My only retort is that this puts the bar fairly high in the sense that under the same line of reasoning, professional judges of any kind should be rejected. This is an argument that I accept but is outside standard democratic ideology.

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