What’s in a Name?

Many of us are part of a movement that melds three ideas: sortition, deliberation and democracy. But we don’t have a widely-accepted name for our movement.

Deliberative democracy could be that term. However, it has a major deficiency: outside our movement it only means two of our three central tenets. I did not find any mention of the terms lottery or sortition in the entry for deliberative democracy in Britannica, Wikipedia or The Free Dictionary. In other words, the references that many people consult to learn about the topic don’t reflect our movement.

Is there an effort to make changes to popular reference sources? Is deliberative democracy the best term for our movement? Should the term deliberative democracy embrace sortition?

11 Responses

  1. I’ve been pondering exactly the same question for months. A commonly-used and familiar term would help to spread the idea amongst the citizenry that much faster, and thereby accelerate its implementation (hopefully!).

    I evangelise to strangers whenever the opportunity presents itself, and I usually start with the term “citizens’ assemblies”, because that seems to be the most likely to have been heard previously by the person. I will usually then throw the word “sortition” into conversation after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To be honest. I am a classical republican like Philip Pettit and people like us have been warming to the idea of sortition as an essential feature of our mixed regime. Maybe we should all be classical republicans?


  3. Most deliberative democrats have little interest in sortition, as their principal concern is the deliberative exchange between free and equal participants, rather than their representativity (statistical or otherwise). Bear in mind that deliberative democracy is the child of the Frankfurt School and people like John Dryzek view representative government as a sellout to liberal constitutionalism. They would also agree with Habermas’s put-down of Dahl’s original sortition proposal, in which he castigates him for ignoring the need for ‘rational’ deliberation, by concerning himself with ‘sociological’ representation, including such factors as ‘the statistical distribution of income, school attendance, and refrigerators’.

    Ten years ago I organised a panel on sortition at the Manchester Political Theory Workshop and nobody (including the convenors) had ever heard of it before, but it has now become common parlance. We are shortly due to launch the Journal of Sortition, which will carve out a separate space from the Journal of Deliberative Democracy. The only deliberative democrat I can think of who pays anything more than lip-service to sortition is Dahl’s protege, Jim Fishkin. Although Helene Landemore has embraced it of late, she has no real interest in representation, or even democratic legitimacy.

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  4. To be blunt, “deliberative democracy” is a worse than useless avenue or trend in political science. It obfuscationist rhetoric and endlessly malleable theory has never produced anything of theoretical or practical value. I don’t think being associated with this trend serves the cause of sortition or democracy. Names like “sortitionism”, “anti-electoralism”, or “democracy by sampling” would all be much more useful than trying to hitch our wagon to the term “deliberative democracy”.


  5. The terminology has been a perennial problem in the English language. Some (like Adam Cronkright) have settled on “civic lotteries.” (Note that the term “citizens’ assemblies” excludes non-citizen legal residents, which in some jurisdictions can be a huge portion of the population.)

    I agree that “deliberative democracy” is a bad choice. While many sortition advocates, such as many of those in Democracy R&D have settled on the term, its origin has nothing to do with sortition, and some deliberative democracy theorists are hostile to it. While improved deliberation among the selected participants has been a major selling point for ADVISORY “citizens’ assemblies” in recent years, that is only a tiny sliver of sortition’s potential.

    Sortition has other democratic benefits unrelated to policy making or deliberation, stemming from its anti-corruption, rotation and impartiality aspects, in addition to representativeness. For example, juries might be charged with regularly reviewing the performance of a police chief, with the power to fire them. Or a jury might recruit and hire a chief executive for a state, union or NGO, instead of using elections.


  6. Agree.


  7. It looks like there are 2 reasons to not use “deliberative democracy” in our movement. The lack of sortition in public reference sources is misleading to newbies. The ongoing disagreement in the deliberative democracy research arena is a distraction to our movement.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have been mulling about that one recently, too. My last experiment practically, as some of you may remember, came under “Open Democracy” (campaigned long before Landemore’s book). While currently am currently not very active on the topic, I think my next effort will be named on the key meta level above “sortition, deliberation and democracy.”

    Let me explain: Meanwhile I have come to think that the biggest hindrance for such a system is particular interest. Political parties and actors everywhere try to rubber stamp their partial interest with citizen juries, Austria’s abomination of a supposed “climate jury” being a prime example. This makes our endeavour so difficult (including difficult to understand) in a system which currently balances partial interests.

    The real change needed therefore is putting the utmost priority on a truly holistic “General Interest” of the Republic as a whole. This must be the exclusive yardstick of the sortitioned whose task it is to transform it to the (oft misunderstood) General Will which aims for it. Of course they may err, but as long as the goal is clear, they can work towards it.

    In Austria, as speakers of the German language, we have the word “Schwurgericht” or “Geschworenengericht” for a “Jury Criminal Court Process” which emphasises their oath to follow the laws. On our topic, the sortitioned must be sworn to vote as per their sense of what the General Interest is, abstracting from individual and partial interest.

    Hence, I am thinking of starting the next one under the moniker “Schwurdemokratie”, “Geschworenendemokratie”.


  9. >Political parties and actors everywhere try to rubber stamp their partial interest with citizen juries.

    Yes, and this will discredit the sortition movement before it has even got of the ground. One of the most interesting papers at the recent Contre le Tirage au Sort? conference revealed that the recent Council on the Future of Europe was just another excuse for the EU to get its own way by recruiting an entirely unrepresentative sample, which was then informed and moderated by fellow travellers.

    >On our topic, the sortitioned must be sworn to vote as per their sense of what the General Interest is, abstracting from individual and partial interest.

    Not really feasible, as it presupposes people have the ability (or desire) to park their prejudices at the door. Rousseau acknowledged that it would require some highly illiberal interventions to ascertain the General Will, as people would need to be “forced to be free”. The aggregation of informed preferences is probably the best we can hope for.


  10. Hm. That may or may not be what happens in practice. If a stratified random sample of the populace makes decosions in its pwn interest, however, that is likely to be a reasonable indication of the public interest.

    Most importantly, however, is the following question:

    Would such a decision-making body be more or less likely to decide IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST than the existing handful of career politicians?

    ie. Would it be an improvement?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. And how would you know (in any non-tautological way)?


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