Buge and Vandamme: The CCC as a case study on the legitimacy of sortition

A new paper by Eric Buge and Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, published in the Journal of Representative Democracy [Full text, PDF], has the following title and abstract:

Conflicts of Legitimacies in Representative Institutions: The Case of the French Citizen Convention for Climate

Conceived as an alternative form of democratic representation, the random selection of citizens for a political task comes in tension with the logic of electoral representation. The idea, carried by random selection, that anyone can be a good enough representative challenges the assumption that we need to choose the most competent among ourselves. And the fact that citizens’ assemblies are sometimes tasked to draft legislation may undermine the authority of elected representatives. This article tests this hypothesis of tension between competing forms of representation on a recent case: the French Citizen Convention for Climate (CCC) in 2020. Drawing on parliamentary hearings and questions as well as public political reactions to the CCC, we find indications that elected representatives may feel threatened in their legitimacy even when most randomly selected citizens do not see themselves as representatives. This may be due to the fact that the CCC was seen by some as stepping on the prerogatives of the Parliament. This suggests that future experiments of the sort could benefit from a clearer functional division between the two forms of representation.

This repeats a commonly asserted notion that sortition rests on different positive assumptions about political competence from those upon which support for elections does. Supposedly, while sortition advocates assert equal political competence among all citizens, advocates of elections assert that the elite is politically more competent than the rest of the population. In fact, analysis shows that the claim that this is the crucial difference between the positions is rather questionable. In fact, it is elections that imply that the elite and the population are substantively similar, all sharing the same values and interests. In contrast, sortition implies that the elite and population may diverge on these crucial matters, delegating the entire issue of competence to a secondary position. This point can be demonstrated by the following question by a senator, Jérôme Bignon, quoted by the authors, which assumes implicitly that “finding solutions” is merely a matter of competence, rather than having agreed criteria on what the problem is and what would serve as a good solution:

I want to share your optimism, and believe that you will find all the solutions that have eluded us all for years, but how will you get your proposals adopted? Should we give 150 brilliant citizens who met for four weekends the priority, accepting from them what we refuse in Parliament?

The weakness of the argument about the supposed differences in positions regarding competence, does not, naturally, prevent it from being used by interested parties – in particular by the electoral elite – to justify their anti-sortition position. This is of course much more convenient than openly adopting an oligarchical ideology.

Sometimes, however, such ideology becomes evident, as in an outraged exclamation by Charles de Courson, a French MP, (again, from the paper):

It drives me crazy that the Citizens’ Convention, made up of people without any competence, drawn by lot, has made a whole series of proposals that come out of where? Experts. (…) These pseudo-experts who strung the pearls at the Citizens’ Convention, it is an insult to democracy, it is an insult to the representatives of the people that we are all here. Stop talking about the Citizens’ Convention!

The entire discussion in the paper regarding the way the French political elite maneuvered itself regarding the CCC is interesting and useful (and at times amusing), even if the theoretical claims made may require most skeptical analysis. Of course, the comment made at the end of the abstract that the way to handle the suspicion (or hostility) by MPs toward allotted bodies is by circumscribing the powers of the latter does not have to be accepted either.

5 Responses

  1. re: “It drives me crazy that the Citizens’ Convention, made up of people without any competence, drawn by lot, has made a whole series of proposals that come out of where? Experts. (…) These pseudo-experts who strung the pearls at the Citizens’ Convention, it is an insult to democracy, it is an insult to the representatives of the people that we are all here. Stop talking about the Citizens’ Convention!”

    First they ignore you. They they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You may win if you have (and follow) a Code of Good Practice. The OECD is working on it but we have to wait and see what they come up with.

    Click to access good-practice-principles-for-deliberative-processes-for-public-decision-making.pdf

    The good practice principles are intentionally concise. They are intended to be the starting point for public decision makers wishing to commission deliberative processes and for practitioners wishing to design and organise them. A more detailed set of guidelines for implementing the good practice principles will be published as a follow-up to this report, with details about how to operationalise each of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elections have no significant association with competence. A person who is skilled at campaigning, raising campaign money and winning elections has no more likelihood of being competent in any particular policy domain than any other person. Perhaps a handful of voters try to judge which candidate is “most competent ” among the few on offer, but most voters select a person of a particular party, or a favored ethnicity, or appealing appearance, or who seemed to align with the voter on a particular issue important to the voter, etc., etc. There are some competent elected officials, but also many incompetent and unethical ones, who assert that they are competent without grounds.

    Elected people DO know which wealthy campaign donors to ask for advice on various policy matters, which lottery selected representatives would not. But that is fine. Having a good set of procedures for selecting a wide range of expert to give testimony and advise a sortition body is a good idea, and can be incorporated into a sortition system. Elected partisans have no interest in hearing from disagreeing experts, since their conclusions are decided before they hear any evidence.

    Yoram’s point about a political elite having decidedly different interests may be true or not, but even if their interests were “like those of the people” they represented (which I doubt), hanging their hat on their supposedly superior competence is ludicrous.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Terry,

    You write:

    > Yoram’s point about a political elite having decidedly different interests may be true or not,

    But just a few lines above that you write

    > Elected partisans have no interest in hearing from disagreeing experts, since their conclusions are decided before they hear any evidence.

    A disinterest in hearing from disagreeing experts (and instead relying on their donors) is just one example where the interests of the elected and those of the population diverge.

    Like

  5. Wayne,

    > First they ignore you. They they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

    There are also attempts to corrupt and coopt you which never cease.

    Like

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