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.

The idea of election by lot of parliament members being able to faithfully represent the social composition of society may appear appealing at first blush: the workers and administrative employees would obtain the representation that they deserve, the bosses would be relegated to their proper place. However, crucially, a proper represenation of the workers would in no way lead to their organization on the basis of class conciousness. One hundred are more than one thousand, said Lenin, because one hundred, once organized, have ideas and a will, whereas a thousand disorganized men are nothing more than an amorphous mass. It here that lies the main danger of sortition: a disorganization of the workers, and thus the perpetuation of the status quo favoring the capitalist class.

Exclusion of the working class

Second, all the applications of sortition in politics lead to a form of preselection of individuals who are able to potentially be allotted based on certain criteria, notably the criterion of citizenship. The Athenian example illustrates perfectly the fundamental exclusion of working class from the “democratic” process. There, slaves, women and foreigners were excluded from the life of the city. Finally, what is problematic today, as it was in the Athenian democracy, is not so much the election of representatives as the form of representation itself, which aims to exclude numerous citizens (in particular foreigners) from the daily political life and from decisions that concern them.

Empowering the technocrats

Third, sortition also allows a slide toward technocracy. The initiative to be voted on on November 28th regarding the federal judges is a good example of this transfer of power to a group of “experts”, in the name of “depolitization”. In the current system, the federal judges are elected by the federal assembly which aims toward an equitable representation of the main political parties.

The initiative launched by Adrian Gasser, a multimillionaire in his 70’s, aims rather to put in place a two-phase system of selection. First, a group of “experts”, which are not in all likelihood free of political opinions themselves, and whose process of selection is vague, would have the power to select candidates. Then, among those candidates, the federal judges would be selected by lot. The current system, which is certainly not perfect, has the undeniable advantage of not masking the impact of political power, but rather making it transparent.

Generally, we find in many examples of applications of sortition this same tendency to shift power to technocrats, whose process of nomination is often vague, having as their task to supervise the process of pre-selection but also to manage the assemblies.

This is the case with the Citizen Convention for the Climate in France: the conception of an apparatus involved a central place for various “experts in the economic field” as well as lobbyists, who presided over the commissions and would have a role of “guarantors” of the Convention, surrounding a small number of allotted people – who were allotted after a pre-selection on the basis of questionable statistical criteria.

The disappearance of skills

Fourth, sortition leads to a loss of skills. In fact, the choice of using sortition is often motivated by the idea of preventing the renewal of mandate by the same person. How then can on-the-job learning, which may benefit the collective, occur? In the case of the Athenian democracy, it was possible to think that skills were in fact retained not only by the allotted representatives but by the public slaves, who were tasked with executing the tasks decided upon by the representatives and whose service was long term.

Finally, fifth, the implementation of sortition often has the effect of focusing the attention of the public on the process rather than on the result. In the medieval Italian cities, the instituting of sortition systems had as its goal the attenuation of socio-political conflicts caused by the progressive inclusion of different social classes in the councils. Thus, the use of the mechanisms of sortition, often complex and sophisticated, held in the themselves a place of consequence in political life. A similar observation can be made of the Citizen Convention on the Climate: described as “an unprecedented democratic experiment”, most attention was eventually on the process of sortition itself, its “governance” and its calendar, rather than on the 149 proposals that it issued of which only 10% have eventually been taken up by government. The bottom line is that sortition can serve as a powerful tool, for the capitalist class and its allies, in order to divert attention and to hide massive inaction.

Thus, it makes sense to be suspicious of mechanisms whose history shows that they have generally done nothing for the organization of the exploited classes. The rhetoric which presents sortition as a way to “reinvigorate democracy” and to “strengthen participation” is hollow: we need to change the world, materially, rather than to celebrate mechanisms which maintain the status quo.

57 Responses

  1. One hundred are more than one thousand, said Lenin, because one hundred, once organized, have ideas and a will, whereas a thousand disorganized men are nothing more than an amorphous mass.

    I suppose that’s why Yoram is so opposed to Dahl’s proposal for a 1,000-strong minipopulus.

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  2. > “In the case of the Athenian democracy, it was possible to think that skills were in fact retained not only by the allotted representatives but by the public slaves, who were tasked with executing the tasks decided upon by the representatives and whose service was long term.”

    In a development that it appears will surprise Ms. Timofte, we also have a class of what one might call ‘civil servants’ who act as repositories of the expertise required to run the state.

    Her second and third points are quibbles with particular groups’ versions of sortitional institutions, which may aid in the immediate fight against sortition-washing neoliberal technocracy, but don’t touch on the principle of sortitional government at all.

    But her first point, that sortition depoliticises and disorganises the workers (who would be better off regimented into a fighting party) and the fifth point, that it undesirably redirects public attention to procedures rather than results, together exhibit in a nutshell the pathologies of the party-socialist left. A political party is an inherently corruptible creature, whose degenerative tendencies – the cancerous institutional striving for more and more power – can only be held at bay through adherence to the proper procedures. But those procedures themselves can only have the force to bind a party if the public – and particularly the party’s base – cares about them enough to punish public figures and organisations that breach them. The two main principles Timofte advocates – monolithic organisation and disregard for procedure in favour of immediate results – are a guaranteed recipe for authoritarian corruption and the defeat of socialism by its own most ardent advocates.

    The reason I make such confident assertions about Timofte’s advocacy for specifically *party* organisation is that that is the only kind of organisation sortitional government would adversely impact. Anarchist and trade-unionist modes of organisation are largely indifferent to and independent from electoral politics, and so would be either materially unaffected or positively benefited even by a technocratic, Citizens’ Assembly-type sortitional system, as compared to modern electoral systems. And this is to say nothing at all about the sort of system you and Alex advocate, Keith, to which none of the criticisms Timofte levels can coherently apply.

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  3. Nevertheless I second some of her arguments:

    … Generally, we find in many examples of applications of sortition this same tendency to shift power to technocrats, whose process of nomination is often vague, having as their task to supervise the process of pre-selection but also to manage the assemblies.

    This is the case with the Citizen Convention for the Climate in France: the conception of an apparatus involved a central place for various “experts in the economic field” as well as lobbyists, who presided over the commissions and would have a role of “guarantors” of the Convention, surrounding a small number of allotted people – who were allotted after a pre-selection on the basis of questionable statistical criteria.

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  4. I think Oliver is correct. Sortition is the one tool that has a real hope of overcoming Michels’s “iron law of oligarchy” (which, interestingly, Michels developed after studying the roles of elite leaders and members of German socialist party).

    However, like Paul, I concede the potential for MIS-implementing sortition so that it shores up the status quo or empowers elite “experts.” In comparing election and sortition, advocates of each system have a tendency to contrast the real world failings of the disliked system with the optimal workings of the ideal form of the preferred system. I acknowledge that I do this on one side just as A. Timofte here does on the other side. Again, I return to Oliver’s point about the likelihood and danger of degeneration of each, and the example of Stalinism is instructive.

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  5. Re-reading my last post, I realized that some readers may not understand my reference to Stalinism as a degeneration of the ELECTION system, as most people today contrast dictatorships and elections as opposite ends of the spectrum. Elections are everywhere based on party systems, and in competitive elections, or in single-party systems, the iron law of oligarchy always applies.
    In brief: Elections => Party => Oligarchy.

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  6. Terry:> Sortition is the one tool that has a real hope of overcoming Michels’s “iron law of oligarchy”.

    This is a pipe dream. Rather than seeking to abolish elites, partisanship and oligarchy, they should be quarantined to the proposing function. Alex’s Supermajority Principle will make political parties even more oligarchic but will ensure that the elites slug it out in the cold light of day as the sortition assembly will choose the proposals that best match the interests of the majority. Who cares if the party is monopolised by a single Svengali figure, other parties will do everything possible to shoot him down. Assuming the Argumentative Theory of Reasoning is correct (as opposed to cognitivist wishful thinking) this is entirely right and proper.

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  7. Terry,

    Although Michels’ study was of political parties, he developed a general principle that applied to all complex organisations — election was not a prerequisite.

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  8. Keith,
    To clarify, I think we both agree that the tool of sortition (though we have different ideas about how to use it) allows public policy, as a whole, to escape oligarchy. Of course, organizations within any society will continue to develop oligarchy, including advocacy organizations such as parties. But with final decision-making authority in the hands of randomly selected representative bodies, societal oligarchy can be held at bay. Though, of course, this also depends on having allotted bodies in charge of the staff and procedures that support the decision-making bodies. It is the ending of permanence, or prolonged authority that is key.

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  9. Terry,

    I think we agree on most things regarding the political potential of sortition, but I think you underestimate the potential of the Superminority Principle to protect the integrity of the system — the losing parties will be watching the procedures like a hawk to detect any trace of bias (against their competing interests). This doesn’t work in existing polyarchies as the losing parties are (more or less) content to wait their turn or to form coalitions that go against the express wishes of the electorate. Remember that the template for our proposal is the law courts, where the integrity is ensured by a combination of procedural rules and highly partisan advocates keen to discredit their opposite number. It’s the defence advocate (and the judge) who seeks to ensure full disclosure of evidence from the prosecution, not the jury. All the permanent staff (court officials) do is make sure everyone follows the (minimal) rules, it’s the advocates who nominate the expert witnesses etc.

    I guess what is at issue, at root, is whether Adam Smith’s butcher/brewer/baker principle would suffice, or whether a sortitional democracy presupposes a return to republican virtues (or virtù). Most deliberative democrats assume the latter, and that’s the line Jeff Miller takes in his forthcoming book. But I think it’s unrealistic to imagine such a profound cultural shift, especially as military service is no longer a requirement of citizenship (see the etymology of virtù). The sort of citizen who feels attracted to public service is part of a small (and unrepresentative) cultural elite — the most we can require of our citizens is that they turn up when called for jury service. As for the protection of the proposal/advocacy process we will need a system that accords with the crooked timber of humanity.

    Of course I agree that the ending of permanence or prolonged authority is key, that’s why every trial has a new jury (and you only get to serve once or twice in your lifetime).

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  10. Keith,
    We agree that only some people are willing to dig deeply into policy issues for an extended period, so most of the preparatory work for a decision-making mini-public will be somewhat unrepresentative. However, that pool is FAR larger than the pool that want to run in an election. I just think that elections are a poor, and even harmful way of selecting which people.

    1. Elections have people who proactively SEEK to be nominees (as opposed to getting a random invitation). This means the pool will be highly biased towards ego-maniacs and people who have already made up their minds (and thus be unsuited for to deliberation), etc. A random draw process (even with high refusal rates) will select a body that is far more diverse and representative of the population in every measure. I often reference my next door neighbor… a very bright community minded person who would do a fantastic job in creating policy, but would NEVER run for an election.
    2. Competitive elections promote society-wide divisiveness, to the extent of inventing new “issues” to divide the population and motivate voter turnout. There ARE real divisions in society, but elections make it much worse, because politicians have an electoral interest in fanning division and creating divisions when they don’t exist.
    3. If elections are ongoing, many members of a decision-making mini-public will simply defer to the judgment of the party they voted for, and not engage in the cognitive effort of actively judging the policy choice before them. Elections in the background make the members of a jury unlikely to exercise independent judgment.

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  11. Terry:> [the voluntary sortition] pool is FAR larger than the pool that want to run in an election.

    That’s beside the point as in the electoral case they are only candidates for all citizens to choose between.

    >If elections are ongoing, many members of a decision-making mini-public will simply defer to the judgment of the party they voted for, and not engage in the cognitive effort of actively judging the policy choice before them.

    I think you underestimate the change that is likely to come in to play with the Superminority Principle — depending on the threshold adopted, there are likely to be a large number of small parties (see Alex’s post for the math details), so if a party is reliant just on its own supporters it will lose the vote. The winning party will have to appeal to a much broader base (aka the general good). And you are a little uncharitable about your fellow citizens. Bear in mind that we are well below the rational ignorance threshold and citizens have been chosen to judge on behalf of their peers. If it can (in principle) work for a trial jury, then why not a legislative jury?

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  12. *** There are in Timofte’s article some sound arguments and some valueless ones. But we must see that, basically, there is a staunch hostility to dêmokratia itself. This can be found in some other hard-leftish groups. They say “our task is changing, materially, the world. We don’t care about mechanisms”. But actually not caring about the political system may have two meanings.
    *** The first is totalitarian: all the power to our militant group ! The Lenin reference could lead us to believe this is the idea. But it is fantasy, or mask. In contemporary Europe, totalitarianism is not a real political option.
    *** The real meaning is: we prefer polyarchy, because it prevents us from a collision with the sensitivities of the majority. We will do better in polyarchy, by infiltrating the temporal and media powers, by judicial guerilla, by low intensity illegal actions.
    *** In Timofte’s article there are 7 occurrences of “democracy” or “democratic”, none of them is in a positive taken up discourse. That is revealing. At least it is refreshing: these activists who joined up to polyarchy don’t try to cover their political choice with a mask of democracy.
    *** In France we have now, among hard-leftists joined up to polyarchy, some bright intellectuals (Eribon, de Lagasnerie) who criticize directly the democratic idea, especially discarding the dêmos as fiction or mythology. They are actually, among the supporters of polyarchy and the foes of (ortho-)democracy, the boldest ideologists.
    *** Among people of strong leftish sensitivity, not everyone follows this line. Some are attracted by dêmokratia and the mini-populus idea. Timofte’s article is intended to fight against this temptation.

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  13. Andre,

    That’s very interesting. It might suggest that many (most?) hard-leftist claims to act in the interests of the people/the masses are disingenuous or that the sensitivities of the majority are an indication of false consciousness.

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  14. Andre,

    > *** Among people of strong leftish sensitivity, not everyone follows this line. Some are attracted by dêmokratia and the mini-populus idea.

    Can you point me to talks or articles by such people?

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  15. Answer to Yoram Gat
    *** I am not in the circles of hard-left, and I am interested mainly by its anti-dêmokratia thinkers (Eribon, de Lagasnerie) and their criticism of the basic tenets of the democratic idea.
    *** In their discourses it is clear that some people of hard-left sensitivity are interested by sortition. We can see that from their attacks – as Blaise Pascal’s Apology for Catholic faith reveals that there were atheists in the contemporary intellectual circles. We see for instance hard attacks against the mini-populus model and its supporters in Eribon’s “Returning to Reims”.
    *** As leftist philosopher supporting sortition I know Jacques Rancière. But, as far as I know, it is more approval of sortition as mark of equality than a bold institutional agenda.
    *** As known activist having dared to support the mini-populus model I know Judith Bernard. You can find in Internet her article (Ballast, 2015, n°2). If I remember well, she was attacked under the cover of anti-fascism – because a pro-sortition discourse was developed by Etienne Chouard, who had dubious links with the fascist Soral (following a dangerous idea of alliance between all the enemies of the established system). She spoke later « des douloureuses polémiques suscitées par le sujet » « of the painful controversies sparked off by the subject ». It seems ortho-democracy is a heresy in her circles, but it is always difficult to know how many are the heretics before some critical moment.

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  16. *** Keith Sutherland writes “That’s very interesting. It might suggest that many (most?) hard-leftist claims to act in the interests of the people/the masses are disingenuous or that the sensitivities of the majority are an indication of false consciousness.”
    *** The discourse is that the sensitivities of common citizens are not to be respected because they are the result of inculcated ideology or are linked to their dominated status. These ideologists don’t want to consider that the functioning of ortho-democracy may have an emancipatory effect.
    *** Are they “disingenuous” ? I will not say that, given my personal charity. But I think there are two propensities which act : an activist propensity (we fight for causes of not very strong popular support, therefore we are intellectually or morally superior) and an elitist propensity (which seems stronger than ever in our societies, probably due to the development of university schooling). These combined propensities make easier an open anti-democratic stand.
    *** They join up to polyarchy, but they discard the democratic myth covering polyarchy. It is logical: if you say the common citizens political sensitivities are bad, without short-term hope, it is logical to reject the mini-populus idea, but the “representative democracy” idea has no more value.

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  17. As an active member of a fairly hard-left party, I can say that the Left in the UK is split with regard to sortition. I found that a number of the Northern Independence Party’s founding activists were (and are) pro-sortition, but the idea doesn’t yet command widespread support among the membership. There is, however, a widespread awareness on the British left of the drawbacks of the party system. This is mostly talked about in terms of making the upper tiers of the party – generally the Labour party, in these discussions – more accountable to the membership and the movements that back it. That suggests (as has been suggested to me) that a good way to promote sortition into that discourse would be to present allotted assemblies of party members, union members, mutual aid group members, etc. as a good potential means of counterbalancing the self-seeking tendencies of party elites.

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  18. Interesting. So the hard left are elitist, and unsympathetic to the beliefs and preferences of the masses — who are victims of false consciousness. And the hard-left party that Oliver is a member of is more interested in representing the views of its own grass roots membership than those of the citizens that it seeks to represent. As for the self-seeking tendencies of party elites, perhaps they are more concerned about the beliefs and preferences of voters, rather than their cabal? If so then Corbin was the exception to the rule.

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  19. As a conservative, Keith, I would have thought you’d be quite comfortable with the idea that people sometimes don’t know what’s good for them! By your metric, everyone who has ideas about the public good that aren’t already popular is an ‘elitist’.

    But in reality, it’s not an elite if anyone and everyone can join it. This is why a single party with any degree of power is always to some extent an elite, but a broad social movement not organised into a single party – even if many of the members of that movement use that party, for a time, to advance their shared aims – is not. Membership of a particular party is contingent on accepting the legitimacy of its leadership, and that creates a barrier to entry that many people will – for perfectly good reasons – not want to cross. Membership of the broad movement for liberation, on the other hand, requires – at its most fundamental level – only that you accept the moral truth that people should be free, and be willing to think consistently about that and act on it in some way, however small. That’s open to everybody. So the battle between elites and grassroots on the left (that’s ‘the left’ construed broadly enough to include people like Keir Starmer and Tony Blair) genuinely is a battle between elitism and anti-elitism.

    It’s interesting you talk about party elites’ being ‘more concerned about the beliefs and preferences of voters, rather than their own cabal’ (‘cabal’ referring to the party membership), because people on the left explicitly level a charge of that kind against people like Starmer and Blair – that by moving right on issues like immigration, drugs, and so forth, they create space for rightwing voices to move the Overton window on those issues even further to the right. In this picture public opinion is formed largely by elite actors and social dynamics that have a relation to the truth that is tangential at best. This is a picture that seems to me to be broadly accurate: the evidence is abundant that propaganda works, and every news source necessarily has a propagandistic effect of some kind, whether deliberate or unintended, simply through its choice of stories to report and ways of framing those stories. In this context, the Left quite rightly has no interest in simply representing the views of the masses – our duty is to change those views to better match the empirical and moral truth, whether or not that truth enjoys majority endorsement today. This, I should think, is a position with which you as a conservative – and we all as sortition advocates – should have some sympathy!

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  20. *** Olivier Milne writes “ our duty is to change those views to better match the empirical and moral truth, whether or not that truth enjoys majority endorsement today. “
    *** A perfectly democratic idea.
    But some hard-leftists may disagree :
    If, first, they think that they will not be able to convince a majority of citizens in contemporary social surroundings ;
    If, second, they think that even in a perfect dêmokratia they would not be able to do it, at least on short and middle term, because for instance of feelings too deeply ingrained ;
    If, third, they think that by infiltrating the temporal and media powers, by judicial guerilla, by low intensity illegal actions, they can be at least partly successful in polyarchy.
    Then, joining up the polyarchy against the ortho-democratic menace is not stupid.
    *** I would say that Olivier Milne is demo-optimist, whereas Eribon and de Lagasnerie (and their Anglosphere analogs) are demo-pessimists.
    *** Something can be said against the logics of the joined up hard-leftists. They can win some of their fights, but it is very dubious they can win those fights which would encroach too strongly on the interests of some socially powerful elites. This will be difficult in any of the four models, totalitarian, autocratic, polyarchic, (ortho-)democratic, but the polyarchic system is the one it is, structurally, most difficult. Therefore we may fear that there is some false conscience in the minds of “revolutionaries” who join up to polyarchy.

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  21. Oliver;> As a conservative, Keith, I would have thought you’d be quite comfortable with the idea that people sometimes don’t know what’s good for them!

    Not so, my perspective on the conservative disposition is derived from Michael Oakeshott:

    To be conservative . . . is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. (Oakeshott, 1956)

    >Membership of the broad movement for liberation, on the other hand, requires – at its most fundamental level – only that you accept the moral truth that people should be free, and be willing to think consistently about that and act on it in some way, however small.

    Such a movement would include everybody from right-wing libertarians like Murray Rothbard to hard-left anarchists. Freedom, to a liberal conservative like Oakeshott, was the fundamental political value. But there would be no agreement as to how best to realize it, so such a broad movement would have no agency whatsoever.

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  22. “So the hard left are elitist, and unsympathetic to the beliefs and preferences of the masses …”

    It seems to me that at this point the debate has descended into vacuity.

    “Hard left” is a term applied, so far as I can tell, to anyone to the left of the Overton window. It encompasses everything from the more confident social democrats to Trotskyists to anarchists. It includes both the remnants of twentieth century Marxism and the new left that emerged in response to the Great Recession and the impending threat of climate change. It includes, moreover, strands of thought that are avowedly dictatorial and those that are thoroughly democratic.

    When a term becomes this vague, and its referent this heterogeneous, it’s almost useless as the subject any sort of empirical observation. It’s a term of abuse, not analysis.

    That would be bad enough by itself. But then we encounter “elitist”. In a more precise sense, that might mean a belief that a small section of humanity is special in some sense and should lead the rest, but here it seems to be used in a much more flaccid sense to point at anyone who thinks the majority of people are mistaken. The latter meaning could apply to anyone with a minority viewpoint.

    Put them together, and the result is so broad, so fluffy, that it communicates almost nothing.

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  23. “And the hard-left party that Oliver is a member of is more interested in representing the views of its own grass roots membership than those of the citizens that it seeks to represent.”

    While I’m here, I can’t help but point out how muddled this sentence is. This party, evidently, is not very interested in representing a group it seeks to represent.

    However, I do admire the metaphor of a cabal. Who can deny the many deep and powerful similarities between a handful of advisors to a monarch and a party open to any citizen who can spare a few pounds a month?

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  24. Liam,

    Democracy means that the people — or at least the majority/plurality of them — have power. From this perspective a democratic political party is one which seeks to garner the support of the electorate, rather than one whose internal structures are democratic (Michels proved that to be a chimera a long time ago). According to the original article, and its commentators on this blog, there is considerable antipathy to democracy (as conceived above) from the “hard left”. The interesting question (given Marx’s original vision) is what led to this volte face — I suspect the answer will be found in the literature on prophecy and millenarianism, rather than political science.

    The principal use of the word “elite” on this forum is as a synonym for the rich ‘n powerful. However Andre and myself insist that the focus should be equally on cognitive elites as their political influence is just as pervasive (and undemocratic).

    >elitist . . . might mean a belief that a small section of humanity is special in some sense and should lead the rest, but here it seems to be used in a much more flaccid sense to point at anyone who thinks the majority of people are mistaken.

    Both claims strike me as identical — or at least the latter is a corollary of the former.

    >Who can deny the many deep and powerful similarities between a handful of advisors to a monarch and a party open to any citizen who can spare a few pounds a month?

    Leaving aside the sarcasm, that would be Michels’ conclusion. But a political party can be oligarchic in structure but democratic if it seeks the support of a majority/plurality of the electorate (and doesn’t view their beliefs and preferences as a sign of false consciousness).

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  25. Keith,

    I didn’t have you down as a Yoram-style epistemic populist, but perhaps I was mistaken! You seem to be claiming that the purpose of a democratic political party is simply to reflect the existing preferences of the majority (or what the majority’s preferences *would* be, if they thought about a particular issue). But that, if anything, is the purpose of a democratic *government*. To claim that that is the purpose of political parties is simply confused. Political parties are campaigning organisations which aim to change people’s minds. They stand for a particular set of positions, and aim to win majority support for those positions, at which point their assumption of power through the electoral system is quite clearly democratically representative by your measure. Prior to that point, when they are out of government, there is no question of their being ‘democratic’ or not on the level of the whole population: they are campaigning organisations for particular minority viewpoints, composed of people to whom those viewpoints already appeal.

    Consider the suspicion with which the public, and you personally, would view a party that had no principled positions and promised to do whatever was popular. What motive could its officers have except a dangerous lust for power and prestige? To be credible, a party and its politicians must give the impression of acting on principle, without regard for the popularity of their views, even when in actuality they’re complete weathervanes. The reason is very simple: the electorate demand some reason to believe the politicians they vote for will enact in office what they advocate on campaign. A politician with a history of principled stands against all comers therefore has an electoral advantage over one who openly does their best to simply reflect public sentiment. Thus to achieve power, the party you would call ‘democratic’ must undemocratically deceive the public ‘for their own good’, while the ‘undemocratic’ principled party need not.

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  26. If parties *are* supposed to be principled, then, there is a natural tension between the members (who mostly care about the principles) and the leadership (who have careers within the party, in government, and potentially in the private sector after their tenure is over, the pursuit of which can conflict with adherence to principle). To keep the leadership accountable to the member helps maintain the party as an organisation aimed at enacting its publicly-stated principles, and thus reinforces democracy as I have just described it.

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  27. Oliver,

    My interest in democracy is more political equality than epistemic factors. The role of political parties in the Kovner-Sutherland system is to make policy proposals for the considered judgment of the sovereign minipopulus. The winning proposals will combine popularity and epistemic credibility — a party that consistently makes unworkable proposals will have a short life span.

    >there is a natural tension between [party] members (who mostly care about the principles) and the leadership (who have careers within the party, in government, and potentially in the private sector after their tenure is over.

    I think that’s unduly cynical. Party leaders have the responsibility of winning elections and this means they cannot dismiss the views of the wider electorate as a form of false consciousness. The competition between parties (and the Superminority Principle will make for a large number) on each policy issue will ensure that majority public preferences are better respected than at present.

    > [I claim that] the purpose of a democratic political party is simply to reflect the existing preferences of the majority (or what the majority’s preferences *would* be, if they thought about a particular issue). But that, if anything, is the purpose of a democratic *government*.

    Recall that in our system, all parties have the right to make policy proposals on every legislative issue, rather than the executive branch, which is there purely to execute the will of the sovereign minipopulus.

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  28. *** I used the word “hard-left” in a previous post.
    *** Liam Jones writes : “Hard left” is a term applied, so far as I can tell, to anyone to the left of the Overton window. It encompasses everything from the more confident social democrats to Trotskyists to anarchists. It includes both the remnants of twentieth century Marxism and the new left that emerged in response to the Great Recession and the impending threat of climate change. It includes, moreover, strands of thought that are avowedly dictatorial and those that are thoroughly democratic.
    When a term becomes this vague, and its referent this heterogeneous, it’s almost useless as the subject any sort of empirical observation. It’s a term of abuse, not analysis.”
    *** I used the term for analysis, not abuse (and what I criticized was the discourse of a specific kind of hard-leftists).
    *** I will precise. In my idea the hard-leftists are people
    • First, who want strongly to fight inequalities or dominations, or at least some of them they dislike specially ;
    • Second, who feel their fights will be very difficult, either because they encroach on very powerful special interests, or because they contradict deeply engrained ideas.
    *** The choices of hard-leftists among the contemporary models (totalitarian, autocratic, polyarchic, ortho-democratic) may be different, and may change with time. That does not make the concept useless.
    *** Among the above mentioned four models of political system, the ortho-democratic model, with strong use of mini-populus, does not have, for now, any instance of implementation. But it is alive in the minds now, and thus the hard-leftists are brought to consider this option – and, for some of them, to reject it. The Gauchebdo article is only an example of this rejection.
    *** The debates among hard-leftists will be different in the different brands, but I think that there will be some common lines of reasoning, different from the ones in conservative circles, and that therefore the concept of “hard-left” is useful for the analysis.

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  29. Keith,

    A debate – even a poor debate – generally proceeds by each party trying to respond to, refute, expand upon, or otherwise engage in some substantive way the points made by the other.

    This is obvious, right? So why am I mentioning it?

    Because in my original comment I made a point about how the term “hard left” is too broad to be of use in any substantive analysis, so statements like “The hard left is elitist” are vacuous. But reading through your reply, I see no refutation of this point, no attempt at refutation, no engagement, no real response at all. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

    You have completely failed to offer any sort of defence to the charge of vacuity.

    What do we have instead? A simplistic definition of democracy. An aside about what counts as a “democratic political party” that doesn’t actually follow from that definition, bolstered by an appeal to the authority of the fascist Robert Michels. A vague gesture at empiricism that just repeats the vacuous statement you started with. And finally, some idle speculation under the guise of an “interesting question”.

    I could respond to this, but it wouldn’t be a debate so much as me following with a mop and bucket the trail of destruction you’ve left in the landscape of logic.

    (Am I being too harsh here? I’ve read some of of your work in my initial forays into the sortition movement, and I respect your erudition, especially regarding the ancient Athenians. But this fluff about the hard left is truly abysmal.)

    I’ll have to restrain myself and pick out one particular thread linking the question you find so interesting, Mr. Michels, and the failures of your initial definition of democracy.

    Why the volte face? Better posed, this question might be, why do some socialists lurch into elitist totalitarianism? But of course, even that question’s not a very good one – there are many socialists who don’t do that, and many non-socialist ideologues who end up as totalitarians. So an even better question might be: Why do some people who start out from an apparently liberationist position end up as totalitarians?

    Camus had an answer to that one, but he was neither the first nor the last. If you are bewitched by some grandiose moral goal that lies above such petty things as the hopes, dreams and lives of ordinary people, you will find yourself obliged to sweep away those hopes, dreams and lives should they get in the way.

    And if the grandiose moral goal is the will of the people? Well, here we see a popular excuse among modern tyrants. They know the Will of the People; therefore, if The People should rule, the tyrant should be in charge of everything. That’s the weakness of your definition – it’s imprecise, and it invites poor interpretations. Who are the people? What does it mean for them to rule? Answer these questions in the right way and you can use democracy to justify tyranny. Robert Michels did something very similar when he threw his lot in with Mussolini.

    (Your invocation of Marx’s vision, incidentally, seems rather awkward. First, Marx deliberately didn’t offer much in the way of vision; his main activity was to analyse capitalism. Second, socialist visions predate Marx. Third, many of those awkwardly bundled under the hard left don’t trace their ideas back to Marx anyway; a good chunk are opposed to him.)

    … goodness, that’s rather a lot of text, and I haven’t even finished with your post. So much for restraining myself. But there’s one more thing I have to take issue with:

    > “Both claims [definitions of elitism] strike me as identical — or at least the latter is a corollary of the former.”

    Here you’ve managed to wrong in multiple ways in a single sentence. It’s really quite efficient. If the narrow definition (elites should rule) implies the broader one (the majority of people are mistaken), that’s very different from saying they’re identical. In particular, you can’t infer that someone who thinks that majority are mistaken also things that elites should rule. (That is, a person who thinks the majority are mistaken might not see any need to rule them. They might want to educate, or they might be happy to live and let live). But more than that, the narrow definition doesn’t imply the broad one either. You might believe that an elite should rule, for instance, not because the masses are ignorant, but because they inferior, or because of their moral turpitude, or the deity gives sovereignty to a select few.

    So no, they are not identical. Neither is a corollary of the other. And they are not even extensionally equivalent.

    André,

    Thanks for the response and clarification. I was less concerned with your usage of the term because your claims are less grand and more rigorous. I do have some points to make, but they’ll have to wait until I’ve got the time. I got rather carried about with all my rambling above.

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  30. Liam,

    I don’t understand why I have been singled out as the target of your diatribe, as all I did was respond to a concept (the hard left) that Andre introduced. As for the vapidity of this notion, I’m reminded of the outrage of the spokesman of the People’s Front of Judea when his cabal was conflated with the Judean People’s Front in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    >a person who thinks the majority are mistaken might not see any need to rule them. They might want to educate, or they might be happy to live and let live). But more than that, the narrow definition doesn’t imply the broad one either. You might believe that an elite should rule, for instance, not because the masses are ignorant, but because they inferior, or because of their moral turpitude, or the deity gives sovereignty to a select few.

    With the exception of “live and let live”, all those options are equally repugnant from a democratic perspective. I take it that your view (which you share with some elements of the hard left) is that the majority are mistaken and in need of (re)education? As the topic of this blog is the democratic potential of sortition, I don’t think there’s any point going down the rabbit hole of the pathologies of hard left thinking, especially as the only example of (Francophone) leftist sympathy for sortition Andre can provide is Jacques Ranciere (Chouard likes to see himself as leftist (at least he did the last time I met him), but he has been tarnished with the brush of fascism.

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  31. Keith,

    You and I seem to have different views of precisely what the legislative jury’s consideration of proposals put forward by the superminoritarian legislature will involve. Your position appears to be that the jury’s deliberation would simply reveal the implicit preferences of the masses, which the majority of the public do not consciously hold because they have not considered each particular issue in depth, but which proceed from their existing conscious preferences and do not contradict them. But this seems to me to be insupportable. The process of persuasion, in which the parties each present their case and criticise the others’, would inevitably change many of the jurors’ minds on the issue under consideration. They would update their existing, little-considered preferences to accommodate the new evidence, arguments, and moral and rhetorical flourishes presented to them. There is no reason to assume their ultimate decision on the issue would not directly contradict the knee-jerk response of the average punter.

    What that means is that the persuasive, ideological role of political parties would simply find another venue in the legislative jury – one more clement to the intellectual arguments of the Left, and hostile to the reactionary platitudes of the Right, than the familiar field of electoral campaigning. (I don’t mean here to impugn the whole Right as nothing but platitudinous – people like Samuel Huntington and Friedrich Hayek are certainly serious intellectuals worth engaging with – but to characterise the general tenor of *party* politics.) The party that tried to represent ‘what the people already want’ would find itself on a level playing field with the party that took principled positions for principled reasons – perhaps even at a disadvantage, as the principled party would not be bound to respect the contradictory and unfounded opinions of the public, but could make logical and moral arguments from a coherent set of premises.

    As for ‘the pathologies of hard left thinking’, I recommend you try taking at least the anarchist tradition seriously, rather than mockingly dismissing it. I find that the anarchists, having no interest in engaging in apologetics for any kind of state, take a refreshingly clearsighted view of the harms and dangers state power poses. By seriously posing the question of how a state can be justified at all, they are useful interlocutors even for people who disagree with them entirely.

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  32. Oliver,

    I agree completely. The shift of preferences (in whatever direction) would have two entailments: 1) successful parties will seek to anticipate the shift and 2) it will be necessary to demonstrate that the shift would be consistent across different samples of the same population and this is likely to impose significant constraints on the deliberative mandate. As to whether the shift would be to the left or the right, that’s not a constitutional issue. If this is true then “hard left” parties should welcome the aleatory turn in democratic theory. And I agree with you regarding anarchism — we have published a number of books on the theme and print Anarchist Studies for L&W. I’ve also hotly debated whether Libertarianism is a valid form of anarchism with Alex Pritchard.

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  33. As well as MECW

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  34. André,

    I went through your comments again, and I don’t think there’s much I disagree with. I’d be inclined to say “socialist” rather than “hard left” because it’s a more neutral, self-descriptive term. But then I don’t know the discourse in the Francophone sphere, where the implications might be different.

    I’m also ignorant of the intellectuals you mention, so I can’t offer anything significant there.

    That aside, if I’m reading your right, you’re concerned about a strand of socialists who prefer the system we have now (which you call polyarchy) to a more ideal democratic system (which you call ortho-democracy), because they think they can control polarchy. And you think that this is actually a bad choice, because under polyarchy the elites have more control and are better able to stop these socialists. Is that correct?

    If so, the I agree. They have made a bad choice. It reminds me a little of accelerationism, a particularly vile brand of socialism that wants things to get worse so the revolution will come about faster.

    I’m cautious about reading motives that aren’t there into arguments. Someone might criticise democracy not because they have some special goal in mind, but just because they think it’s false. They might still value real freedom but disagree with the intellectual arguments for democracy. It is, after all, possible to criticise democracy from a liberal perspective too. An argument is usually better countered on its own term.

    I’m not certain about your four models – totalitarian, autocratic, polyarchic and ortho-democratic. The range of possible systems, the range of means and ends, is much wider and more complicated than that. I don’t think we can use these models to argue by cases.

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  35. Keith,

    Why have I singled you out? Because I disdain intellectual dishonesty and evasion of responsibility, and your comments on the “hard left” are by a wide margin the most intellectually dishonest and the most evasive here. Your behaviour is poor, so I call it out.

    Note that André responded to my initial challenge by clarifying his point and justifying his choice or words. Now *that* is taking responsibility. I may disagree with him, but he is at least engaging in a real discussion.

    Incidentally, you may whine about my last piece being a diatribe, but reading it back, I can see that a good chunk of it – four paragraphs – is actually spent answering a question you posed. My diatribe, grumpy though it was, offered more respect for your points than anything you have posted in this discussion.

    > “With the exception of “live and let live”, all those options are equally repugnant from a democratic perspective.”

    Yes, they are. But the point of those examples was not to offer democratically palatable options. It was to demonstrate with examples that the two interpretations of elitism are not identical, whereas you said they were.

    > “I take it that your view (which you share with some elements of the hard left) is that the majority are mistaken and in need of (re)education?”

    Insinuation – it’s like insult but without the courage. Getting that (re)education in there to offer a hint of the gulag is a nice trick. But this accusation is rather a maladroit move, considering you just dismissed the difference between democratic and totalitarian politics with an unimaginative People’s Front of Judea joke, and that in your last comment you uncritically appealed to the intellectual authority of fascist.

    All that aside, however, you’re wrong. Like everyone on this forum, obviously I believe the majority are mistaken, because I believe in sortition whereas the majority of people don’t.

    But I tend more to the live-and-let-live option, with a side of advocacy, argument and evidence. If you want full disclosure, I’m a sort of an anarchist: I value human freedom and flourishing, and want to increase it in practical, meaningful ways in the world we live in. And as an immediate corollary, I don’t think one can improve human flourishing through control. It tends to backfire.

    You say you don’t think there’s any point in going down the rabbit hole of hard left pathologies. That announcement doesn’t match your earlier “interesting question”, or your interest in André’s post about the “hard left”. It seems like you’re interested in the left so far as you can make accusations, broad denunciations, and reheated reds-under-the-bed alarmism, but not at all interested in justifying your claims, evidence, analysis, or understanding.

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  36. On a more positive and more general note, something earlier in the discussion: Is it important to have internal democracy in political parties, or is it sufficient to have them embedded in a national democracy?

    Rather than a definition of democracy in the abstract, I think a better test is democratic values. So I’ll propose the following:

    It’s good for people to have control over their lives and their environment (physical, political, and social).

    In a practical sense, this value contains both freedom and democracy. And it comes in degrees: The more control people have, and more equally that control is distributed, the more free they are, and the more democratic the context is.

    Prisoners and slaves have almost no control over their environment. Citizens of dictatorships have very little. Citizens in modern democracies some control over their political environment because they can vote, but not much because their choices are limited.

    Now, back to parties. The more internally democratic a party is, the more control it gives people over their political environment. Almost anyone can become a member, and therefore control the policies and candidates it puts forward.

    Compare this to a less democratic party. If, say, the party leader decides who can stand as a candidate for national elections, and the parliamentary party decides the leader, you end up with a closed loop of control that excludes people who aren’t part of the political class. The people still have some control as voters, but that control is much less, because they’re choosing from a limited set of options presented by the political class.

    Therefore, we can say that if the political parties aren’t internally democratic, then overall the people have less control, they are less free, and the system as a whole is less democratic.

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  37. Liam,

    Your accusation reminds me of a book by Peter Oborne, in which he argues that leftists often accuse those they disagree with of intellectual dishonesty and/or moral turpitude, whereas conservatives (like Peter and myself) are more charitable, attributing the disagreement to purely epistemic factors.

    >I’m a sort of an anarchist: I value human freedom and flourishing, and want to increase it in practical, meaningful ways in the world we live in.

    Ditto. My first book on sortition, The Party’s Over, drew heavily on Rothbard’s libertarian anarchism.

    >a closed loop of control that excludes people who aren’t part of the political class. The people still have some control as voters, but that control is much less, because they’re choosing from a limited set of options presented by the political class.

    Could I encourage you to read the posts by Alex Kovner on this forum. Alex’s Superminority Principle would generate a large number of (internally oligarchic) political parties who would compete with each other to make legislative proposals to place before the sovereign minipopulus. Democratic control lies in this competitive ecosystem and the fact that the final decision is in the hands of a statistically-representative sample of the citizen body. Parties are (by definition) factional in nature, and the numerical composition of the faction is not a significant factor. When a party claims that it represents the whole of the nation you want to start counting the spoons. Contributors to my book The Rape of the Constitution? compared this claim (by Tony Blair) to the National Socialist Party(leading Sir Bernard Crick to opine that the book “defames the memory of the dead” — a verdict that I gave pride of place on the back cover).

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  38. PS

    >: Like everyone on this forum, obviously I believe the majority are mistaken, because I believe in sortition whereas the majority of people don’t.

    I’m not sure that’s the case — Yoram regularly cites surveys showing that people would prefer rule by those sampled from the phone book to existing party elites (although I’m sceptical that this is more than a sound bite). I think there is growing interest in sortition (a concept that even political theorists thought was a typo ten years ago), that’s why it’s essential we put forward workable proposals (Alex and I believe that ours is possibly the first such model). And I think it’s also better to focus on things we agree on — a post showing the contempt in which sortition is held by (an element of) the hard left is probably not very helpful in this respect.

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  39. I think it is useful to see hard-left criticisms of sortition – or of sortition as the sortition movement presents it – on here, partly because knowing our critics allows us to better counter them, and partly because the hard left is a fertile potential support base for sortition. The sort of person attracted to radical constitutional reform is also likely to be attracted to radical reform elsewhere, and vice versa. That puts them on either the hard left or the hard right – and since we are only interested in decent people, we can narrow that down to the hard left.

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  40. Liam,

    > I disdain intellectual dishonesty and evasion of responsibility

    I want to briefly express support for your demand that comments must exhibit a commitment to substantive engagement with arguments rather than manipulation and mindless repetition. I also concur with your observations that Sutherland is a habitual offender on those basic standards of discussion. Personally, I have found that, due to this lack of good-faith on his part, there is absolutely no point in exchanges with him, and I am rather disappointed that other discussants on this forum promote his abusive behavior (which includes, as this thread demonstrates, habitual lying) by pretending that he is a good-faith participant.

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  41. Oliver,

    Yes, I’m quite happy to see criticisms of sortition on here. Other good reasons are:

    Good criticism is informative. It can highlight issues we hadn’t thought of. In the refutation, it can force us to clarify and deepen our own understanding.

    Very good criticism might show us we’re wrong. It’s always worth acknowledging that as a potential.

    (The best reason, for me, is that disagreement is the spice of intellectual life. But then I’m a disagreeable sort of person who enjoys a good intellectual scuffle.)

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  42. Oliver:> The sort of person attracted to radical constitutional reform is also likely to be attracted to radical reform elsewhere, and vice versa. That puts them on either the hard left or the hard right.

    I disagree. Sortition is also attractive to Oakeshottians like myself who seek a way of protecting the (conservative) inclinations of ordinary folk from manipulation from elites in their various manifestations. Edmund Burke made the case for sortition in his plea for “virtual” representation which occurs:

    [when] there is a communion of interests, and a sympathy in feelings and desires, between those who act in the name of any description of people, and the people in whose name they act, though the trustees are not actually chosen by them . . . Such a representation I think to be, in many cases, even better than the actual. It possesses most of its advantages, and is free from many of its inconveniences; it corrects the irregularities in the literal representation, when the shifting current of human affairs, or the acting of public interests in different ways, carry it obliquely from its first line of direction. The people may err in their choice [of representatives], but common interest and common sentiment are rarely mistaken. (Edmund Burke, ‘A Letter to Hercules Langrishe MP’, cited in (Hampsher-Monk, 2011)

    Liam:> I’m a disagreeable sort of person who enjoys a good intellectual scuffle.

    Welcome to the club!

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  43. The other danger, of course, of limiting the discussion to radicals (of the left or the right) is that they assume their intellectual opponents are scoundrels. This won’t get us very far in the messy world of human affairs.

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  44. Keith,

    As a radical, I must dissent! Dismissing one’s intellectual opponents as scoundrels or cranks is a vice shared across the political spectrum. The real divide is not between generous moderates and uncharitable radicals, but between genuine intellectuals and mere opinion-mongers.

    (It’s important to distinguish, though, between the field of intellectual endeavour, and the field of politics in general. In politics, one’s opponents frequently are scoundrels – sometimes, scoundrels posing as intellectuals. So, for instance, Adrian Vermeule and you yourself are genuine right-wing intellectuals, while James Lindsay and Ben Shapiro are grifters in scholars’ clothing.)

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  45. Oliver,

    Thank you for the acknowledgement. It has never occurred to me that my opponents are charlatans (intransigence is an epistemic, rather than a moral failing). Peter Oborne’s claim is that leftists are often crusaders (trying to build the New Jerusalem), who are convinced of their inherent virtue, whereas conservatives are, on the whole, pragmatists. But to a crusader, pragmatism looks like opportunism.

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  46. *** Liam Jones said he was not convinced by my “four models – totalitarian, autocratic, polyarchic and ortho-democratic. The range of possible systems, the range of means and ends, is much wider and more complicated than that. I don’t think we can use these models to argue by cases.”
    *** I think these four models are useful for analysis of the “political question” in advanced countries. But, clearly, I did not exclude the possibility of hybrid systems. Specially, hybridization of autocracy and polyarchy may exist, and many supporters of sortition did propose hybrids of polyarchy and ortho-democracy, if only because they thought them easier to get.
    *** I lean towards the idea that hybrid system have, on the long run, a problem because of the in-built conflict of legitimacies.

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  47. *** Oliver Milne said “The sort of person attracted to radical constitutional reform is also likely to be attracted to radical reform elsewhere, and vice versa.”. Such an intellectual propensity must be a reality, and I suspect there is an element of intellectual radicalism in the mind of all ortho-democrats, even in the conservatives who “who seek a way of protecting the (conservative) inclinations of ordinary folk from manipulation from elites “ as says Sutherland.
    *** Those, among the hard-leftists, who attack ortho-democracy know there may be such a strong propensity among their circles, hence they feel necessary to fight the ortho-democratic idea. But they are helped by other propensities acting the other way, as the elitist one.
    *** There is in French culture a tradition of radical intellectualism, which explains I think that the battle is especially open in the Francosphere.
    *** If we give a precise definition of hard-right, as the people foe of any egalitarian trend in the society, there is a problem for the potential ortho-democrat hard-rightist: the civic equality in ortho-democracy, which political lottery proclaims in a provocative manner. Therefore it will be difficult for a hard-rightist to accept the idea of mini-populus through lottery.
    *** A conservative intellectual who dislikes crusades for equality as dangerously utopian moves, or as menaces for the traditional moral or cultural heritage, but does not react negatively to any mention of equality, may be able to accept radical equality in some precise areas, as the sovereignty, and may support ortho-democracy.
    *** Ségolène Royal’s proposal of “citizen juries”, 15 years ago, the first Western ortho-democrat proposal by a known politician, was approved by a majority of French citizens, and especially by leftist Ecologists and rightist LePenists. But we must beware that these “far left” and “far right” electorate categories were much wider then “hard-left” and “hard-right’. Both electorates disliked the Establishment, and were especially pleased by an idea which appeared an attack against the political Establishment (and caused an unanimous negative reaction in the political class – including Le Pen !). That said, the approval by a majority was a mark that the “representative democracy” formula was much less strong than was thought by the political class.

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  48. Yoram,

    Thanks for the support. It’s reassuring to get some external confirmation.

    I’m going to demur on the matter of not engaging with Keith, though.

    Partly, that’s because I like to dissect bad arguments (and acknowledge good ones), regardless of their source, and identify harmful behaviour when it occurs.

    And partly it’s because I’m something of a stubborn optimist. Keith has made a very poor showing of himself on this occasion. Perhaps in the future, in another context he might handle himself a little better. You might think that’s a foolish hope, and you might be right, but I’d rather err on the side of hope.

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  49. Liam,

    > I’m going to demur on the matter of not engaging with Keith, though.

    Absolutely – we should each form our own judgement and make our own way.

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  50. Andre,

    I think you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of moderate conservatives like myself view political equality as the fundamental democratic norm. This was traditionally the province of the left, for a long time focusing on empowering the (proletarian) masses; but since the New Left movement of the 1960s-70s the focus has been on the equality of (increasingly marginal) minorities. Whatever your views on the transgender debate, it directly affects only a tiny number of people. Early interest in descriptive representation from the left — for example Anne Phillips’ ] Politics of Presence (1995) specified quotas for disadvantaged minorities (gender, ethnicity and race).

    This has led to an opportunity for centrist or centre-right politicians to lodge a representative claim to stand for the average Joe (Blair, Trump and Johnson being obvious examples). If the sortition movement is going to seize this opportunity it will be via large, quasi-mandatory allotted juries that (on aggregate) do represent the average Joe, rather than the tiny self-selecting groups preferred by XR and other leftist campaigning groups (whose ultimate aim is to smash capitalism).

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  51. ** Keith Sutherland reminds us that “ Early interest in descriptive representation from the left — for example Anne Phillips’ Politics of Presence (1995) specified quotas for disadvantaged minorities (gender, ethnicity and race).” Right, but it was a kind of post-modern left with much interest about inequality along gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and few interest about inequalities along money and culture.
    *** If election is not enough, if presence is necessary to avoid some interests being neglected, why limit the presence requirements to “identity politics” ? Why not think about the poor, for instance ? I did not see convincing answers.
    *** Keith quoted Ann Phillips’ name. She at last acknowledged in 2019 the problem – see her very interesting article “Descriptive representation revisited”. She concludes “there is no easy answer”. Actually, there is an easy answer, sortition, which establishes generalized presence. But neither Anne Phillips nor the other known supporters of “politics of presence” will accept it, which implies actually a change of political model.
    *** If women cannot be represented by men, how women of low rank along the money/business dimension or the culture/university degrees dimension can be represented by women with very high positions along these dimensions ? The logics of politics of presence lead to sortition. But this logics does not please very much to elite women who prefer to be considered as the legitimate representatives of half the society.

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  52. *** Keith Sutherland writes about “ the tiny self-selecting groups preferred by XR”
    *** As far I can see in the discourse of Extinction Rebellion France, the small size and the self-selection are not mentioned points about the “assemblée souveraine”. I agree with Keith that only mandatory participation can make a mini-populus mirroring the civic body, and XR does not mention that. But they don’t exclude it. May anybody inform us about for instance internal debates in XR about the subject ?
    *** I am not sure that all hard-ecologists see self-selection necessary (to pack the mini-populus with activists).
    Many may think their ideas are so self-evidently good that the one obstacles are material interests with powerful lobbies, and that any true democracy will follow them (which I call demo-optimism).

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  53. Andre,

    I agree. I’m not sure to what degree the ‘post-modern’ left is the new hegemony. It certainly seems that way (the principal concern in the politics department of my university is that they use each others’ chosen pronouns), although there was a slight reversion to a traditional focus on income inequality in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as evidenced by the reception for Thomas Piketty’s book (and we seem to be printing more copies of MECW). But the resistance from the cultural elite would suggest that the Gramsci/Frankfurt/New Left model is still predominant, that’s why I argue that support for sortition is more likely to come from moderate conservatives, partly on account of their antipathy to all things Woke.

    >Many may think their ideas are so self-evidently good that the only obstacles are material interests with powerful lobbies, and that any true democracy will follow them (which I call demo-optimism).

    Very true, and I think that they would be disappointed by the judgments of a truly representative minipublic, which would be unlikely to mirror the preoccupations of the cultural elite.

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  54. André,

    I was in XR for a while in 2019, and there was no real discussion about different implementations of sortition. I suspect most XR people are largely ignorant of the details — I certainly was at the time. Contrary to paranoid fantasies about moustache-twirling activists, if they’ve opted for a particular vision of minipublics, it’s probably because that’s the default version and they haven’t investigated further.

    There was a great deal of skepticism about the ability of the current system to accomplish anything, for all the standard reasons — party domination, control by the rich, elections fought on personality rather than policy. The Citizens’ Assembly was mainly posited as a democratic way to bypass all that.

    As for whether the hope was an optimistic one. Well, everyone likes to imagine a citizens’ assembly would agree with their views which are so manifestly right and sensible and rational and what-have-you.

    But I think there is a good reason to expect a sortitionate assembly would tend to produce policies that fight climate change. Unlike trans rights or antiracism, which are primarily moral issues, climate change is also a matter of self interest. And self-interest is a pretty reliable human trait.

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Liam:> climate change is also a matter of self interest. And self-interest is a pretty reliable human trait.

    That’s certainly true in the abstract but 1) it’s primarily the interests of future generations that are at stake and 2) the sacrifices that citizens of small developed countries in the Northern hemisphere (like the UK) would have to make to achieve net zero will make no difference on the global level (other than as a unilateralist example).

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Liam:> if [XR] opted for a particular vision of minipublics, it’s probably because that’s the default version and they haven’t investigated further.

    That’s why we have a duty on this forum to explore the minimum requirements for a representative minipopulus. Dahl put the number at 1,000 and Jim Fishkin (who studied under him at Yale) is currently collating the results of a 1,000-strong US DP on climate change. He told me a couple of weeks ago “I share your views entirely about small sortition assemblies with tiny response rates and so a worry about their unrepresentativeness. I made some of these points in Democracy When the People Are Thinking. It has only gotten worse. With modern social science we can do better.”

    Liked by 1 person

  57. […] ridicule. Sortition’s political presence is such that it draws regular criticism from elite writers, but also some support. The journal Raisons politiques devoted a large part of an issue to […]

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