Gauchebdo: Sortition – a false solution

The following piece was recently published on Gauchebdo (“Left Weekly”), a Swiss website which bills itself as “a platform for men and women who resist, the voice of those who propose to change society”.

Sortition – a false solution
Anaïs Timofte

Sortition has become over the last few years an idea which is garnering increasing attention. Whether in the context of deliberative citizen assemblies concerning the climate, or of the selection of candidates for the executive bodies of social movements, or of the random ordering of candidates on an electoral list, there is no shortage of examples.

Some promoters of sortition go farther and see it as an alternative mode of representation and to the election of parliament members. They see is as a way to “renew the democratic process” having the advantage of dissipating the “elitism” of the electoral process. But is this really the case?

Greek origins

Sortition is far from being a new idea. The most famous example is that of Athens in ancient Greece. The Council, composed of 500 Athenian citizens wielding significant legislative and executive powers, was allotted in a well defined and controlled process. In order to handle numerous tasks, the allotted citizens had at their disposal “public slaves”, owned by the city, whom they managed.

Other examples often evokes as part of the history of sortition are those of the medieval communes of 13th century Italy: Verona, Venice and Perugia. These cities developed modes of selection combining elections and sortition.

Sortition and capitalism

Even though there is something intriguing in the idea of imagining the powers-that-be reproduce today sophisticated (and largely fantastic) selection methods used by the Athenian democracy and of Venice of the Doges, it is nevertheless necessary to understand sortition within the framework of the current capitalist system and within the framework of the organization of working classes that aim to move beyond this system. 5 point of criticism may be raised:

First, sortition leads to a depolitization of the process of selection, and more precisely, a dissipation of class conflict. The candidates no longer need to defend ideas or a conception of society – their individual or social-professional characteristics suffice.
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