Marcel Monin: What about sortition?

Marcel Monin is a doctor of law. He writes the following in the French website AgoraVox.

What about sortition?

The substance and the goals of decisions made – which elude the people, and the conduct of the elites with regards to the people, especially over the last 5 years, lead sometime to doubt that we are still living in a democracy. Who wants government of the people, by the people, for the people, when those same elites are those standing for election?

The considerations made 2,500 years ago regarding the respective merits of sortition and elections and regarding their practice are again in vogue. Some advocate replacing elections with sortition.

Sortition, it appears, has advantages.

From a technical point of view:

  • It eliminates professionalism and thus the the submission of the elected to the internal rules of attaining and maintaining office (with its implications on the elected-electors relationship).
  • It eliminates the dependence before the elections in groups of financial backers who finance the electoral campaigns and which manipulate the voters through the media they own. (See the ideal-type example of this phenomenon with the candidate Macron.)
  • It overcomes the obstable of campaign cost which keeps the poor away from being candidates, somewhat similar to how things were when only the rich had the vote. The presidential elections show this effect in accentuated to an absurd degree.
  • Statistically, humble people would have less of a chance of being under-represented.

However, still from a technical point of view there are disadvantages. Among them are:

  • Sortition does not eliminate the divergence of personal interests among the allotted.
  • It does not prohibit the bargaining among the allotted for the distribution of positions between themselves and struggles for the acquisition of power within the state apparatus.
  • It does not prohibit financial backers from grabbing power after the allotment, through lobbying and through media campaigns for recalling (if recall is instituted) of uncooperative allottees.
  • It does not guarantee a better recruitment of leaders, since the proportion of incompetents does not changes as a function of where they are found. Unless re-education workshops are envisioned, where the allotted would learn what is good for their peers who were not selected by the Kleroterion, then the allotted would remain in the original uninformed state.
  • It implies the disempowerment of political parties, which are still very useful and which have traditionally had to be organized in order to defend common interests. Parties serve the function of providing the public with information and with arguments which are not those of the financial and economic lobbyists.

And thus, sortition is the remedy of the veterinary: “The animal is sick? Let’s put it down!”. Half the citizens do not vote anymore? With sortition the other half would not need to bother either…

And so, is it necessary to go with the latest fashion and exalt the Ancient Greeks, as some do?

Ancient Greece, which none of us has experienced, existed more than 2,500 years ago, and may only be known through tendentious writings or through archeological findings. And so we do not really understand the functioning of the society of that time and cannot make a clear judgement of that society. All of that while neglecting to wonder why the Greeks with their reliance on sortition have used elections [as well?].

Must we pretend that sortition, because it was used elsewhere (often for circumscribed functions and in limited areas) would be transposable to France, as is, for the appointment of members of the top decision-making body?

Or, to follow the same logical path, should we have traditional story-tellers, which have been very useful and respected in African societies, replace the spokespeople of the government and Macron’s lackeys?

Surely the answer is negative! (If only out of respect for the story-tellers…)

Elections allow the citizens, through the choice among candidates, to influence future laws which are going to be imposed upon them. Sortition does not. This is the “mandate” which elections provide. Whether it is imperative or, for reasons of practicality, representative (as Louis XVI has noted in his letters of summons of the Etats Généraux).

In the last centuries the election of decision-making “representatives” has been a great achievement. It was used by the bourgeois to elect their representatives during the Revolution as they aimed to govern instead of the king. The vote was extended to everybody in 1848, a few years before Lincoln has made his famous pronouncement at Gettysburg (1863): “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

If, once elected, the representatives have a representative mandate, which technically “allows” them to personally make the following choices:

  • Adopt stupid or scandalous measures,
  • To distinguish among the people, “the masses”, whom they despise, and those whom they fear and whom they protect (it is not the people of MEDEF [the French employer federation] or those of the Davos forum whose eyes they gouge),
  • To put themselves at the service of the lobbies,
  • To follow like fools or cynics, all that the government have them “swallow”, as it concerns the substance of decisions, their real objective, or the manner in which they are made,
  • To devote their careers to profiting from the direct advantages that that career provides them with, or from the indirect opportunities which it provides,

Then it is necessary to restrict the elections and the elected, but not to eliminate elections altogether.

Because whereas the citizens would be deprived of their sovereignty which in principle is theirs (a principle which has not yet been stripped from Article 3 of the Constitution). However, Francois Mitterand has in fact given up on in the name of the citizens in signing the Maastricht accord (and Nicholas Sarkozy and the political class of the time have reaffirmed this act). Furthermore, so that the judges do not ignore this accord, a new Article, Article XV, has been added to the Constitution which has transferred the powers of the institutions of France to special-purpose agencies, which were put in charge of implementing a program which the citizens do not control.

Sortition would deprive the citizens of determining those things which they still are able to determine.

Sortition appears to us like a solution that should be rejected.

And this is even more so because there is no reason to think that the people, pushed harder and harder, will not one day recover their sovereignty. This can be done by seizing the institutions in Bruxelles, and in doing so giving the vote meaning and use, and by telling the Americans: “That’s enough!”, and the saying the same to the French leaders: “Stop taking us into wars led by the Americans and involving us in the sick coups which they foment”.

Because the electoral process is organized in a way so that a part of the people, the more humble and the more numerous, are always led by the economic-financial elite which manages society to its own profit, it is necessary to address the ways in which the elections are rigged. These make elections reproduce in politics the social inequalities and in this way give a false legitimacy to these manifestly unjust politics ignoring a part of the citizenry and leading to decisions which are obviously against the national interest.

Gerrymandering, the voting system, manipulation through the media at the behest of the financial power and which manage the state and its leaders, conflicts of interests, etc. All of this we obviously need to address, after having studied those topics. Rather than hoping for a magic bullet, studies and parliamentary reports show the way toward solutions.

It is for us to make sure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (Lincoln at Gettysburg).

France is part of this Earth.

3 Responses

  1. In my opinion a bad argument is being made here…

    >Elections allow the citizens, through the choice among candidates, to influence future laws which are going to be imposed upon them. Sortition does not.

    France has 400 cities with over 20 thousand citizens, and a total population of 67 million. Imagine if each large city used an allotted chamber composed of 400 jurors for the purpose of the “Policy Jury”, as specified by Terrill Bouricius. Imagine that 50 pieces of legislation need to be reviewed every year.

    In the course of 20 years, 160 MILLION participants are required to review each piece of legislation made by country and city. In such a system, it would be nearly guaranteed that any citizen who wishes to “have a voice” will have their opportunity to directly influence legislation at least once, and probably multiple times, within their life.


    As far as going through the list of disadvantages, exactly what is the author comparing to?

    * Elections also do not eliminate the divergence of personal interests among the elected.
    * Elections also do not prohibit the bargaining among the elected for the distribution of positions between themselves and struggles for the acquisition of power.
    * Elections do not prohibit financial backers from grabbing power after the election
    * Elections do not guarantee a better recruitment of leaders, as the proportion of incompetent voters does not change. Moreover in contrast where re-education workshops are feasible in allotted chambers, they are impossible for voter training.
    * It seems that small-scale direct democracy and allotted chambers have no problem defending common interests without need of political parties wherever they are used. The lack of political parties is a non-issue.

    It seems as if this author is comparing sortition to some fantasy system.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi John,

    Regarding the second part of your comment: It seems to me that the author asserts that sortition will not solve some phenomena that are – in his mind, and conventionally considered to be – major problems with elections. Thus it is not that he says that sortition is worse than elections in these respects, but rather that it is not an improvement and therefore should not be considered like a good substitute.

    I think that he is mistaken in his analysis of the problems of the existing system (which is indeed conventional). For example, the problem with elected officials is not that they are incompetent and do not understand their own interests (or those of others). The problem is that they serve their own interests (which they understand very well), but those interests are different from those of the majority of citizens.

    Regarding the first part of your comment – the issue of influence of citizens over laws. I think both the author’s claims and yours are off the mark. Both of you focus on individually being “a decision maker” by having a vote, or by participating in a decision-making panel. This focus is wrong, despite its intuitive appeal. Having formal decision making power may or may not translate to meaningful power. The real question is whether policies that are pursued by the government reflect one’s values and interests. Mechanisms and institutional arrangements should be judged by that criterion.

    Thus individual participation is at best a tool for achieving such good policies – it is not a goal by itself. Both theory and observation show that mass participation does not yield good policies (see here and here). Sortition, on the other hand, can be expected to deliver good policies (here and here).


  3. […] Trump and the Gilets Jaunes protest in France. Academics have continued publishing papers and opinions on the pros and cons of sortition (unfortunately often rehashing very well hashed material) but […]


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