Waxman and McCulloch: The Democracy Manifesto

Wayne Waxman, a retired professor of modern philosophy, and Alison McCulloch, a scholar of philosophy and retired journalist (as well as a contributor to this blog), have just published a book named The Democracy Manifesto: A Dialogue on Why Elections Need to be Replaced with Sortition.

The Democracy Manifesto is about how to recreate democracy by replacing elections with government that is truly of, by and for the people. Written in engaging and accessible dialogue form, the book argues that the only truly democratic system of government is one in which decision-makers are selected randomly (by sortition) from the population at large, operating much the way trial juries do today, but 100% online, enabling people to govern together even across great distances. Sortition has a storied history but what sets The Democracy Manifesto apart is its comprehensive account of how it can be implemented not only across all sectors and levels of government, but throughout society as well, including the democratization of mass media, corporations, banks, and other large institutions. The resulting Sortitive Representative Democracy (SRD) is the true heir to ancient Greek democracy, and the only means of ensuring ‘we the people’ are represented by our fellow citizens rather than by the revolving groups of elites that dominate electoral systems. In the process, the book grapples with myriad hot topics including economic issues, international relations, indigenous rights, environmentalism and more.

26 Responses

  1. Thanks, Wayne and Alison. Seems like a great exposition – none of the walking-down-the-middle of some of the more famous names in the sortition field.

    The 100% online part, however, seems problematic. People working together would do better to know each other as well as they can. What’s the point of keeping them apart?

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  2. (Response is from Wayne Waxman, one of the authors): What’s the point of keeping them apart is a question raised by one of the characters in the dialogue. The main character responds with the concern that “we’d still be importing some of the most problematic aspects of electoral politics [into our sortition system], like the biases, conscious or otherwise, that all of us carry with us. The way people look, how they speak—class identifiers gender identifiers, religious identifiers, and so on. The more we can prevent factors like these from affecting political decision-making, the more our decision makers will be able to set aside personal preferences and prejudices, focus on the merits of the case, and hammer out decisions that best reflect the general interest. And I don’t see how that can happen unless we go 100% electronic.” To which another character adds, “And don’t forget that personal interaction obliges everyone to meet in the same place, a capital city say. But what if they live great distances apart—in the country, or in another city or region? How many people would be willing to uproot themselves for weeks or months at a time, sacrificing their home and work lives in the process? Not many. Probably too few for a national or even a regional sortition system to be viable.”

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  3. Hi Ali, Wayne,

    IIUC your first argument is that working from behind a veil of electronic distancing, hiding existing social differences between the members of the allotted body, would help the allotted set aside personal preferences and prejudices.

    I think this has things exactly backwards. Bringing people together, realizing their differences, but mostly realizing the common grounds they share, is what helps people overcome a-priori assumptions, find opportunities for collaboration and form new alliances. Keeping people in their “natural” circumstances, isolated from each other, surrounded by familiar people and contexts, makes it more difficult for them to move beyond their habituated, conventional and prejudicial ways of thinking.

    This to a large extent is also connected to your second argument, which is that working from home would increase the willingness of people to accept offered allotted positions.

    Accepting offered allotted positions, by itself, is of little value. What needs to be achieved is willingness to apply oneself to the job at hand. If someone is willing to accept an allotted position only if it does not disrupt their normal life this is a good indication that they are not willing to put in the time and effort that is required in order to participate effectively in decision making – and the learning, thinking and socialization that is inevitably involved.

    In a democratic system, the allotted positions should be positions of great power and therefore – as the cliche says – positions of great responsibility. All the resources society has would be at the disposal of those who accept those positions – to enable everybody to participate, to enable the chamber to reach informed and considered decisions, and to carry out those decisions. In return it is necessary to require that the allotted devote their time and energies to their role in order to achieve the best results possible for society. Being physically present is just one aspect of properly carrying out one’s political role.

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  4. Yoram,

    The point is to switch the focus from the arguer to the argument.

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  5. There are reasonable arguments on each side, and perhaps experience with both designs (in person and remote) might help discover the sweet spot. In an argument for in-person gatherings, I point to the real-world example of the Irish constitutional convention where a man who had be sexually molested when he was a child by an in-the-closet gay man, who initially was dead set against legalizing gay marriage, met and became good friends with a gay man through the assembly process, and came to view marriage equality as a good idea. But working only remotely from home, he probably would not have had his understanding broadened this way.

    For certain tasks I accept Yoram’s high commitment level argument. Agenda setting and drafting and amending proposals requires significant commitment (both mental attention and duration of service). However, for a final decision-making body, I reject the effort commitment concept, as that would tend to exclude certain sorts of people (single mothers, people who recently launched a new business, people with certain kinds of physical disabilities, etc.). the preparatory grunt work requires commitment, but deciding yes or no on some matter requires far less time and effort. This, of course, reproduces my long-standing argument for dividing tasks between multiple bodies, rather than repeating the error of elected chambers of having an all-purpose legislative body.

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  6. Yoram doesn’t seem to me to fully appreciate the magnitude of the difficulties involved in bringing people together in larger polities. Uprooting them from their home and work lives for weeks or months at a time to move them to a central location would not simply be an inconvenience. For a sizable number, probably for most people, it would involve major sacrifices that would prevent those who would otherwise be willing to serve on sortitive bodies from doing so. That degree of non-participation, it seems to me, would put the system’s democratic bona fides seriously into question, and almost certainly make the kind of comprehensive sortitive system of governance envisioned in the book inviable for any polity larger than a city (i.e. a system that involves all levels and branches of government).
    Add to this that the sate-backed, state-financed electronic system posited in the book would be state of the art, equal or superior to the most immersive, engaging private enterprise platforms on the internet now and likely to appear in the near future. Just think how today so many people virtually live on line, forging close relationships with e.g. fellow gamers or fellow Clubhouse participants—sometimes as close or closer than their relationships in non-virtual life. So, I don’t believe you can simply take for granted that the personal touch would be lost given a top quality on-line platform for sortitive bodies to use; in fact, it could well be enhanced. Hopefully, after you’ve read the book, you’ll see that these and other points you raise are discussed extensively and in detail; you may not agree, but they should help give you a better sense of the force of the arguments on the other side.
    Terry’s anecdote is a reminder that going 100% electronic undoubtedly has its down sides as well as its up sides. But I don’t doubt that anecdotes could also be told about people who as casual acquaintances might have gotten along fine, yet developed great animus toward one another once they were thrown together for extended periods. Have you never gone on vacation with someone you liked at work or in school only to find that being with them on a daily basis made you come to hate them and despise everything they were? That happens too, and quite often. People thrown together for long periods of time (e.g. a jury in a long, drawn out trial) seem to me just as likely to come to despise each other, often simply because of who they are (race, religion, etc.) or what they do for a living, as the contrary, with the result that they thereafter reject those persons’ opinions reflexively or cease listening altogether. In addition to going purely electronic and using avatars for anonymity (as prescribed in the book), I think this sort of difficulty can best be addressed by having sortitive bodies be considerably more numerous than trial juries, so that idiosyncratic biases for or against individuals and/or people belonging to particular social categories cancel out and only the biases common to the majority of society remain (which is unavoidable under any kind of genuinely democratic system, sortitive or direct).

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  7. Wayne,

    > the magnitude of the difficulties involved in bringing people together in larger polities

    I fully appreciate the burden involved. It is for this reason that I think allotted bodies should be used judiciously – only when high stakes are involved. In such situations (e.g., the national legislative body), and only in such situations, can people be reasonably expected to put on hold their established ways and adopt for a period of, say, four years, a new routine as required by their allotted role.

    A system where there is a multitude of allotted bodies may have a surface appearance of being thoroughly democratic but may very well in fact be no more than a theater where an ever rotating crowd of allotted citizens – who put in little effort and attention into their roles – serve as no more than rubber stamps for decisions made by professionals.

    > I don’t believe you can simply take for granted that the personal touch would be lost given a top quality on-line platform for sortitive bodies to use;

    The main issue is not the lack of “personal touch” – although there is surely some of that as well. The issue is exactly the amount of effort involved. Getting to the bottom of issues, coming up with possible solutions, negotiating with people having other ideas – all of that takes time and effort. Physical presence is in fact just a small investment compared to the rest of the effort that is required. Demanding less of the allotted will result in a system that is less representative and easier to manipulate by elite actors.

    Yes – people turning down offered seats in allotted bodies is potentially an issue. Accommodations must be made so that anyone who is interested to participate can do so – and, what is crucial, can do so effectively rather than nominally only. Someone being nominally on an allotted body but in reality investing very little time and effort in this endeavor not only does not actually contribute to the system being democratic but in fact makes it less democratic.

    > after you’ve read the book, you’ll see that these and other points you raise are discussed extensively and in detail

    I might as well ask you to read all my posts and comments in the archives of this blog. Much as I appreciate your effort, and with all due respect to the tradition of the dialog genre, I think it is better to have a dialog between real advocates of contrasting positions rather than between imagined advocates. This blog is aimed to allow having such a discussion. I invite you to lay down your arguments at length in posts and comments so we can have a thorough discussion.

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  8. Yoram:> only when high stakes are involved. In such situations (e.g., the national legislative body), and only in such situations, can people be reasonably expected to put on hold their established ways and adopt for a period of, say, four years, a new routine as required by their allotted role.

    That sounds to me like an aleatory oligarchy, which would be hard to justify theoretically and would have zero chance of perceived democratic legitimacy.

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  9. The reason I referred to the book in my post is because sortitive systems can be as diverse as electoral systems, making it a prerequisite, in order to debate the ins and outs of any one, to be acquainted with the rationales and details for its various features. That doesn’t mean you can’t be right vis a vis your conception of a system of sortitive governance, which no doubt is thoroughly thought through and finely elaborated. But that’s not incompatible with us being right about our system, which I assure you is also thoroughly elaborated. So why not simply reserve judgment?

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  10. Yoram writes above in defending a high commitment threshold so that only those willing to invest substantial effort are put onto an allotted chamber
    >”Demanding less of the allotted will result in a system that is less representative and easier to manipulate by elite actors.”

    I don’t see how you can argue that having a lower bar for effort makes the resulting body less representative. Are you arguing that when it comes to having people serving who come from social subsets that have less self-confidence or free time, it is better (more representative) not to have any people from that stratum at all than have relatively less active members of that stratum included?

    Wayne, although I dislike Keith’s rhetorical use of the phrase “aleatory oligarchy,” Yoram’s design with all-subject, all-powerful, relatively long duration, relatively small assembly (like 150), sort of fits Keith’s epithet.

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  11. Terry,

    I was using the term literally — oligarchy is rule by a small group and aleatory means that the group is comprised by random selection (albeit compromised by voluntarism). Yoram’s (ab)use of language is altogether different — nobody agrees with his redefinition of democracy as any form of governance that has the approval of “the people”, and I have no idea what he means by representation. Whilst this might be dismissed as a harmless eccentricity, his hostility to anyone who doesn’t share his views is harmful to the sortition project (as he is the moderator of this forum).

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  12. Terry,

    > I don’t see how you can argue that having a lower bar for effort makes the resulting body less representative

    Formal participation is meaningless. When the people who nominally make the decisions are unmotivated to put in the effort required for arriving at an informed and considered decisions, then the decisions are in fact made by various behind-the-scenes actors – lobbyists, bureaucrats, public relations campaigns, etc. In such a situation, those who formally introduce the bills and who vote for or against them are merely a front for those powerful actors and the system is in fact anti-democratic despite having a superficial appearance of representativity.

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  13. >When the people who nominally make the decisions are unmotivated to put in the effort required for arriving at an informed and considered decisions

    So you have no concerns about the ongoing representativity of the allotted sample? That would contravene both theoretical norms and (more importantly) perceived democratic legitimacy.

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  14. Wayne,

    > in order to debate the ins and outs of any one, to be acquainted with the rationales and details for its various features.

    I don’t think systems of government can only be analyzed in toto. For example, despite the variety of elections-based systems, they can be usefully analyzed as an ensemble due underlying fundamental features that derive from the properties of the electoral mechanism (namely, that it is a competitive system, giving rise to the “principle of distinction”). In this way, the detrimental effects of allowing decision makers to make their decisions without being highly involved in the process can be analyzed without reference to other features of the system.

    > That doesn’t mean you can’t be right vis a vis your conception of a system of sortitive governance, which no doubt is thoroughly thought through and finely elaborated.

    As it turns out, I don’t have a finely elaborated system to offer. I think it is more useful to think in terms of general principles than to offer detailed designs – see the last section in this post.

    > So why not simply reserve judgment?

    Like any judgement, my judgement on the issues we are discussing is tentative in the sense that it may change if good counter arguments are presented. That said, since my present judgement reflects prolonged engagement with the subject on my part, I don’t see any reason not to begin a discussion on this topic based on my judgement as it stands now.

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  15. *** Wayne Waxman says that without telecommunication the sortition system cannot work well “what if they live great distances apart—in the country, or in another city or region?”
    *** It was a problem for the Athenian democracy. It prevented mandatory participation to magistracies and juries (or Assembly). How to ask a Marathon peasant, on some peak of agricultural activity, to go to the Town (40 km) ? The one mandatory allotted function was “public arbiter”, because it was for retired people (60 years), probably at a convenient time.
    *** This was a big defect of the democracy, because opponents could say it was dominated by people of the Town, and, especially, by jobless people, retired people or poor people attracted by the allowance.

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  16. *** We may remember that Dahl”s proposal of minipopulus included the use of telecommunication : “The members of a minipopulus could “meet” by telecommunications.(,,,). A minipopulus (…) could be attended – again by telecommunications – by an advisory committee of scholars and specialists and by an administrative staff. It could hold hearings, commission research, and engage in debate and discussion. “ (Democracy and its critics 1989 p 340)
    *** Dahl’s proposal included telecommunication, but did not require 100 % on line.

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  17. Two advantages of going 100% electronic and using anonymizing avatars should not be overlooked: it makes it far more difficult to bribe, threaten, and personally abuse decision makers; and it permits all discussion between decision makers + all advice given them by staff (who would also communicate 100% electronically) to be made public in real time, so that all political business could be conducted openly, in full public view (with continuous public feedback), instead of behind the scenes, in back rooms.

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  18. I begin to sound like a broken record (do younger people even understand that aphorism any more?) but this is yet another reason I advocate using multiple bodies for different functions. the final yes/no decision should be made by a very large mini-public with quasi-mandatory service and online. After hearing pro and con presentations and posing clarifying questions they would vote by secret ballot without debate, so there would be no danger of bribery, nor status deference, etc. But groups doing preparatory work, with longer duration service, and higher work loads, but no final authority (making attempts at bribery a waste of time) might work better in person.

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  19. André,

    > How to ask a Marathon peasant, on some peak of agricultural activity, to go to the Town (40 km) ?

    The data seems to show that in fact service in allotted offices was not tilted toward city dwellers, while service in elected offices was. If geography was not a significant barrier for participation for the ancient Athenians (or even if it were), surely in our much richer society, with all of its technological capabilities, it should not.

    > *** This was a big defect of the democracy, because opponents could say it was dominated by people of the Town, and, especially, by jobless people, retired people or poor people attracted by the allowance.

    The opponents’ complaints (and of course we are not talking about the supposedly disenfranchised country dwellers, but rather of members of the elite that were upset they did not get to dominate Athenian politics) apparently did not impress the Athenian demos. I don’t see why they should impress us.

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  20. André,

    > Dahl

    Dahl’s minipopulus model was that of an elections-based system with “public input”, not of a sortition-based system. And indeed his proposal fits this notion. This is similar to the “citizen assembly” model (short-term, ad-hoc bodies) that is fashionable today. With such low powered bodies the level of participation hardly matters. In fact in such a setup it is more convenient to have low commitment by the allotted to reduce the risk that they become agitated and a source of trouble for the organizers (a phenomenon that occurred to some extent with the CCC).

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  21. Wayne,

    Why would it be “far more difficult to bribe, threaten, and personally abuse decision makers” if they participate remotely?

    As for having all proceedings in public: I agree that this should be the case. Again, I don’t see how physical proximity is a barrier for this.

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  22. Terry,

    > I begin to sound like a broken record

    Despite the repetitions, I don’t think you are addressing the fundamental problem with the setup you are proposing. A large, short term body is much more likely to act a-rationally and be swayed by sloganeering in the mass media.

    This is not only a potential barrier for adopting good legislation, it also has the potential to affect negatively the entire process. It makes the legislation process cumbersome and unforeseeable, turning legislation in a series of high-stakes decision-points rather than a smooth process in which decisions may be corrected and refined continuously. It potentially demotivates the proposing body and pushes it toward focusing on what might pass through a semi-attentive body rather than on what is optimal policy.

    In addition, the setup that you are proposing would legitimize having a non-representative proposing body, since supposedly the final up-or-down power would remain in the hands of a body that is nominally representative. Instead, we should insist that all bodies involved, at all stages of the political process, are representative (and not only nominally, but effectively).

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  23. Two comments about Yoram’s points:

    1. On urban rural participation in Athens, Yoram noted: “The data seems to show that in fact service in allotted offices was not tilted toward city dwellers, while service in elected offices was.”
    It is important to note that:
    A) the lotteries (for the Boule, for example) used a stratified sampling procedure with an allocation of seats for each Deme (neighborhood or rural village) that was roughly proportionate to its population; and
    B) The lottery was from among those who submitted their names and were willing to serve… so if a single person in a remote part of Attica were willing to serve, he would be selected in the lottery automatically. Some historians have noted that it was sometimes necessary to beat the bushes to find enough people willing to serve to fill the allocation from some Demes.

    2.Yoram also writes: “we should insist that all bodies involved, at all stages of the political process, are representative (and not only nominally, but effectively).”
    Yet, he favors a high bar for inclusion (a person must be willing to make a major commitment with setting aside their other life for a year or more). Yoram oddly sees this as more “representative” than a body that a broad range of people are able and willing to serve in. He gets there through the unusual logic that a member who doesn’t dig into their new job deeply enough is a mere token and actually makes the body LESS representative. I don’t know anyone who shares this unique definition of “representative.”

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  24. I’ve just finished reading Daniela Cammack’s new paper Representation in Ancient Greek Democracy and she makes the point that sortition played a trivial role in the constitution of the Boule — the principal factor was (as Terry points out), stratification. And deliberation in the Boule was a minor function — its principal task was to set the Assembly agenda by a majority vote. In a sense this is obvious, as it’s unclear how a group of 500 could deliberate in any meaningful sense of the word. It’s interesting to speculate why membership was proportional to deme size — perhaps this was as councillors were really a conduit for citizens to introduce proposals and the larger demes would have needed more of them.

    >I don’t know anyone who shares [Yoram’s] unique definition of “representative.”

    And the same can be said for his definition of democracy.

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  25. Terry,

    > the lotteries (for the Boule, for example) used a stratified sampling procedure with an allocation of seats for each Deme (neighborhood or rural village) that was roughly proportionate to its population

    My understanding is that the quotas were for tribes rather than for demes. Tribes by construction all had mixed city-country-coast makeup. (If the quotas were for demes then Taylor’s work would not make much sense to begin with.) Also, in any case, the effect of stratification could not have been very significant since a large part of the Athenian citizenry served on the Boule at some point and no citizen served more than twice.

    > he favors a high bar for inclusion (a person must be willing to make a major commitment with setting aside their other life for a year or more). Yoram oddly sees this as more “representative” than a body that a broad range of people are able and willing to serve in.

    The claim that requiring significant commitment necessarily implies low acceptance rate is an unsubstantiated assumption. It seems to me that in a well-functioning sortition-based system accepting offered seats would be considered both a duty and a privilege that few would forego.

    > He gets there through the unusual logic that a member who doesn’t dig into their new job deeply enough is a mere token and actually makes the body LESS representative. I don’t know anyone who shares this unique definition of “representative.”

    The notion that nominal, superficial, just-show-up “participation” is worthless is simply common sense. If you need a well-known expression of this idea you can refer to the Arnstein ladder.

    It is the idea that mere presence (and “virtual presence” at that) is meaningful representation that is odd. The notion that one can effectively represent one’s interests and values (and this is the “unique” meaning of “representation” that I refer to and the only meaning of “representation” that is relevant politically) without investing time and effort to get an independent understanding of the issue at hand just makes no sense. How would one be able to represent one’s interests and values without a good understanding of what is going on?

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  26. Each of the ten tribes supplied 50 men to the council with each of the 50 sourced from its constituting demes and distributed quantitatively according to the size of their population. Here’s the relevant passage from Cammack’s paper which shows that sortition only played a trivial role in selection for the council:

    Athenian councillors were men over the age of thirty, drawn every year from volunteers [or “volunteers”] from each of Athens’ 139 demes in proportion to deme size. . . Each deme was responsible for providing two candidates per position, one of whom would act as an alternative in case the nominated councillor was rejected at his pre-office scrutiny or became unable to perform the role for some other reason, and the the choice between them was made by random selection.

    The proportionate relationship between deme size and number of councillors is the model for modern constituencies, the only difference being that the ancient norm was that all citizens should rule and be ruled in turn (rather than citizens choosing their rulers).

    >It is the idea that mere presence (and “virtual presence” at that) is meaningful representation that is odd.

    Turning up and listening to the arguments before voting is the quintessence of democratic representation. This would appear to have been the modus operandi of the Athenian council.

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