Interview with Hélène Landemore about Lottocracy

The Nation Magazine just ran an interview with Hélène Landemore, author of Open Democracy, dealing with the state of democracy today, with a particular focus upon the promise of lottocracy. It can be found here.

2 Responses

  1. Like the book, this interview has some fairly incisive, even subversive, points, diluted by a lot of formulaic intellectual effluvia. Torn between fairly straightforward conclusions which follow from their professed assumptions and subservience to the establishment and to orthodoxy, it is so hard for academics in political science to produce disciplined, systematic discourse.

    Still this is pretty good – an introduction of the tens of thousands of readers of The Nation to the idea of sortition.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In a very good passage, Landemore says this:

    [F]rom a purely theoretical perspective, elections distribute power unequally in a way that contradicts fundamental democratic intuitions about political equality. Bernard Manin has brilliantly and influentially formulated the argument by saying that elections are based on a “principle of distinction,” such that only those seen as superior to others by some criterion or combination of criteria (e.g., charisma, ideas, oratory skills, looks, height…) have a chance of winning elections. While elections have a democratic face, to the extent that everyone gets an equal vote, they also have an oligarchic face, because of this principle of distinction, which means that only some people have access to political office. More often than not, the implications of election-based selection of rulers are largely plutocratic, bringing to power those who can finance expensive political campaigns. If we distribute power unequally, we shouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, the people in power are taken from a narrow socioeconomic elite and if, as a result, governance outcomes are unrepresentative of what most people want.

    (It is worth pointing out, as a matter of scholarly accuracy, that Manin’s coinage of the “principle of distinction” is actually not part of his “pure theory of elections” which is the “brilliant and influential argument” Landemore refers to. For Manin the principle of distinction was part of his historical account (chapter 3 of his book). It referred to the fact that the founders of the Western system deliberately aimed at having people represented by their social superiors and deliberately introduced various devices to achieve this aim. The “pure theory” (chapter 4), on the other hand, says that the fact that elected “representatives” are unlike the electorate is inherent to elections and does not require any additional devices. The use of the “principle of distinction” to describe the “pure theory” is thus not how Manin originally put things. That said, this use is very useful and descriptive, it has become standard and there is no reason to reject it.)

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