1936: For the Random Selection of the Chamber of Deputies

Hugh Pope is a British reporter and author. He is also the son of Maurice Pope, a linguist and a specialist in Classical studies and antiquity. It turns out that when Maurice Pope died in 2019 he left a manuscript which he wrote decades earlier titled “Sortitional Democracy”. Hugh has now undertaken to edit and to publish this manuscript, and it seems that in the process he has become a sortition activist. I certainly hope to read and review the book once it is published later this year.

It seems that, now that he is running in the sortition circles, Pope has met David Van Reybrouk and the latter has informed him about the existence of a book published in 1936 in France called Pour le Tirage au Sort de la Chambre des Députés (For the Random Selection of the Chamber of Deputies). The book was written by an anonymous former French Assembly-member.

This book marks a very early contribution to the modern consideration of sortition. In fact, it is the earliest book-length treatment of sortition in the entire history of political writing, as far as I am aware, if we don’t count Headlam’s Election by lot at Athens, which is mostly historical and its political-ideological aspects are somewhat secondary (and which is also aimed at dismissing sortition rather than considering it seriously).

I have not yet read the book, but here is an excerpt from Pope’s post:

The [author of the book] echoes the kind of criticism we direct at the likes Johnson or Trump today, but not against individual politicians. He blames the whole system of elections for producing a political class whose members “have all more or less gone bankrupt, and who, in the disorder of our society, demonstrate the most lamentable egotism or the most culpable profligacy.” His long administrative experience had made him sick of blatant corruption and foreign meddling, but he saw the cure in more democracy, not more elite rule. While ready to see experts in an advisory role, he believed that in terms of moral judgment, educated people “do not always represent the social class with the best grip on reality … the representatives of the masses are less educated [than those with instruction and beautiful diplomas] but more endowed with good sense.”

4 Responses

  1. This is very interesting. Jon Elster’s book SOLOMONIC JUDGMENTS (1989) has a citation to a forthcoming book by Pope entitled DEMOCRACY BY RANDOM SELECTION. I searched for the book, or anything else by Pope on the subject, but all I could find was a journal article on the jury (“Upon the Country — Juries and the Principle of Random Selection.” Social Science Information 28, no. 2 (June 1989): 265–89. https://doi.org/10.1177/053901889028002002). Will be very interested to see this book finally appear.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for picking this up, Yoram! A copy of the book will definitely be on its way to you.

    And Peter Stone, thanks for your comment, how amazing that there was already a citation from it in 1989, that’s really helpful since we are having trouble working out when exactly my father started circulating the first draft.

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  3. Good work and nice find Yoram

    Liked by 2 people

  4. *** The sovereignty system proposed by the anonymous is very far from dêmokratia. It is a hybrid system, with a monarch either hereditary or elected for life by high notables and an allotted parliament with not very strong presence but allowing common citizens to express their feelings.
    *** This creative proposal is part of the brain storming in rightist French circles in the 1930 years, by thinkers who disliked deeply polyarchy, the mass parties, the left, especially the leftist intellectuals, but at the same time were repelled by the demagoguery and brutality leanings of fascist dictatorships. The anonymous author hopes that an allotted parliament would cancel or lessen the influence of the mass parties and of the leftist “intellectuals” and “agitators”, and follow a conservative line under the influence of traditional middle class.
    *** The proposal as far as I know was not successful in any circle, and I don’t know any intellectual heir in the second half of 20th century, except an occasional one in the Gaullist right around 1968 (I am looking for data).
    *** In the 21st century Western societies the idea anyway cannot work, as the deference towards elites of any kind clearly has vanished: the Yellow Vests did not need subversive intellectuals or red agitators to defy the established order. With the hybrid model proposed by the anonymous, a rift between the monarch and the allotted parliament would appear quickly.

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