Sortition in German press, Citizens’ Council website

Just a couple of notable discussions of sortition in the German press from the last couple of months.

The first from the Frankfurter Allgemeine in August is entitled: “Can sortition save democracy?” After mentioning that in Germany, like in many other countries, satisfaction with actually existing democracy has been hovering around 50%, it delves somewhat IN DEPTH into the differences between elections and lot. Not surprisingly, it quotes Aristotle that “sortition” is democratic, while elections are aristocratic. And it discusses historical examples beyond Athens, in particular, the familiar mentions of Florence and Venice. It then discusses both the Irish Citizens Assembly, and the Buergerrat Demokratie citizens’ assembly in Germany–mentioning that the President of the Bundestag supports it and will take its recommendations seriously. It then discusses the Buergerrat Demokratie at length.

The second from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in September, entitled “An experiment to save democracy,” reports on the new Citizens Council, which amounts to a second chamber of Parliament, in East Belgium. It calls it a “world premier,” and allows readers to vote yes/no to the idea of whether citizens should be able to make laws. So far, the yeahs have it. It emphasizes that David van Reybrouk’s book, as well as the G1000, played important roles in bringing the idea of “aleatory democracy” to that part of Belgium.

Speaking of which, this is the website for the new Citizens’ Council in East Belgium.

Sortition has nearly gone mainstream, and the so-called “Neo-Athenian Revolution” is alive and well.

Minipublics beyond representation

[This serves, in a sense, as my response to the discussion on the French climate assembly post.]

Now that minipublics are no longer limited to local level “experiments” but are regularly involved in consequential political occasions, constitutional amendments (Ireland), long term city planning (Australia, Germany, US), responses to major political crises (France, Iceland, Ireland), institutionalized checks within representative government (East Belgium, Oregon)–to name a few—the question of their “representativeness,” and, more fundamentally, their legitimate democratic role is no longer academic. Given the response rate problem, those who accept invitations to a citizens’ assembly or jury (however scientifically sampled) are different in some respects from those who do not, and the number of participants in any such minipublic will, regardless of sampling, be exceedingly small compared to the population. Sortinistas and participatory democrats have raised the question of how a not entirely representative, unelected minority could legitimately affect political outcomes for the overwhelming majority who do not take part in the minipublic. In contrast to the “allotted citizen,” with the implication of egalitarian empowerment, some would disparagingly label participants in a minipublic chosen by lot an “aleatoric elite”–ignoring the standard implication of non-ephemerality in the term “elite.” But this focus on strict representativity misses the strongest reason for using minipublics chosen by lot in the first place, and it distracts us form their most promising participatory democratic uses.

After summarizing the strongest arguments articulated by both sortinistas and participatory democrats for the strengths and political potential of minipublics, I suggest another dimension on which they can function. Allotted minipublics can serve as unique spaces of political action and contestation, different from the space of electoral struggle, the space of confrontation in protest, or “enclave” spaces within activist groups and political parties. An electoral campaign is mostly fighting, a protest mostly “manifesting” strength or conviction, a party/union/organization meeting mostly strategizing or venting; but a minipublic provides a rare opportunity for the “everyman,” in a time of cognitive and political “bubbles,” to confront or act with a plurality of points of view, no one of which she/he can anticipate.
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First German National Citizens’ Assembly on DemoPart: the Rise of the “Alloted Citizen”

On September 28 in Leipzig, “Phase 2” of the first ever German citizens’ assembly “Bürgerrat Demokratie” concluded its second and last weekend of deliberation on whether and how to “complete or improve [ergänzen]” Germany’s representative democracy “with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” On November 15, a day dubbed “Tag für die Demokratie,” the 160 participants, together with 100s more from the “regional conferences” from Phase 1, will ceremoniously present their recommendations to the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble. I was present in Leipzig on all four days of the assembly as observer along with a few researchers, journalists, and an evaluation team from Goethe University’s “Democracy Innovation” lab. A camera crew filmed the entire event, including the small group discussion at one of the tables. The documentary will be released sometime in 2020.

This was a civil society initiative prompted by the “Grand Coalition” [GroKo] agreement between the SPD and CDU/CSU. Article 13 (pg 136) of that agreement includes a promise to research (via an expert commission) the possibility that “our precious representative parliamentary democracy could be completed with elements of direct democracy or citizen participation.” Nearly two years later, that expert commission has still not even begun to materialize. Seizing the opportunity, a civil society initiative called Mehr Demokratie (more democracy) raised money and organized this even in “four phases” with the help of two institutes that run participatory fora for local and regional governments and organizations: Nexus and Ifok. Of high interest to “sortinistas” will be this brochure about “Losverfahren” (procedure by lot) also handed out to the participants last Saturday at the end of the assembly.
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Sortition in Current Affairs

A June 26 Current Affairs article must be the most pro-sortition editorial to appear in mainstream media in recent history. More importantly, it oozes with wit that justifiably pillories America’s “intolerable” Congress. The arguments here are familiar but are combined in an unforgettably entertaining way.

It begins with the sad shape of Congress.

The data confirm that Congresspeople have a lower approval rating than marketing executives and bubonic plague.

Second, it points out that Congress is not “representative” in the demographic sense.

Take our current Congress, which is 80% male, 95% college-educated, and 50.8% millionaires. The population it “represents” is 50% male, 30% college-educated, and 5% millionaires. That’s not even close

It then moves on to the evidence that “representation of interests” is a fantasy, citing Gilens and Page.

If your Congressman (or Congresswoman, but probably Congressman) puts forward the kinds of policies that you yourself would wish to see advanced, why does it matter whether you and he happen to have wildly different backgrounds? That would be an excellent argument, if Congress usually put forward policies that Americans agree with. Alas, it does not. One Princeton study estimates that, statistically speaking, the preferences of 90% of the American electorate have a “near-zero” impact on policymaking. And a number of highly-publicized legal reforms with a broad popular mandate, such as closing the gun show loophole, have never made it anywhere near the President’s desk. How is that possible in a “representative” Congress?

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Sortition finally in the public eye? A report-back from APSA in Philadelphia

The American Political Science Association’s annual meeting ran Sept 1-4th. Several happenings there indicate that sortition is now in the (political science) public eye.

On day 1, during a panel called “A good year for deliberative theory, 20 years later” Jane Mansbridge mentioned selection by lot several times, adding that the public needs more education on the concepts of representative samples and minipublics.

On day 2, during a panel on majoritarianism, Jeremy Waldron (I am told) raised a copy of Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections and mockingly shook it.

On the closing morning of the convention, a roundtable titled “Lotteries and the Transformation of Democratic Theory” included Alex Guerrero, Hélène Landemore, Claudio Lopez-Guerra, Peter Stone, Arash Abizadeh, Alex Kirshner, and Emilee Chapman. In the audience was Jim Fishkin (who made a long intervention, mentioning an allotted legislature he was asked to design for Mongolia, as well as Deliberative Polls in several other countries–Ghana, Japan, China–then quickly exited), myself and several others.

In addition, several panels throughout the convention involved political psychologist, scientist or theorists addressing minipublics, assessing deliberation, etc. Using the online agenda allows you to search the panels by keyword, if you’re interested in the specifics.

During the roundtable, Peter used the word “sortinista” to mean someone who thinks ONLY a pure lottocracy would be a true democracy. Is this how you understand it? I think of a sortinista as an advocate of SOME use of sortition in a democratic process, perhaps at some key stage of decision-making.

News: Democratic Reason wins 2015 Spitz Prize for work in democratic theory

Hélène Landemore’s book Democratic Reason won the 2015 Spitz Prize for work in democratic theory.

That makes the second Spitz (for outstanding work in democratic theory) to a Sortinista in three years, following John McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy in 2013.

A TEDx Intro to Minipublics by Tom Atlee

I believe this belongs on the Kleroterian blog, the various types of minipublics recently attempted. Atlee ties them to his ideas re “collective intelligence” and “collective wisdom.”

Sortition and Legitimate Coercion

In an address called “What is Political Science For?” at the 2013 American Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, APSA President Jane Mansbridge mentioned sortition as one of the new areas being studied for grounding legitimacy. She referenced Fishkin & Ober in her footnote to the statement. The thrust of her talk is that political scientists (democratic theorists especially) should turn their focus away from preventing tyranny and towards creating “legitimate coercion” because the world is facing rather formidable collective action problems that cannot be solved otherwise. Together with Waldron’s “Political Political Theory” article it leads me to believe that there is some movement in the field towards the questions that we often discuss here on Equality by Lot. Below are some excerpts from the full article found here.

This address advances three ideas. First, political science as a discipline has a mandate to help human beings govern themselves. Second, within this mandate we should be focusing, more than we do now, on creating legitimate coercion. In a world of increasing interdependence we now face an almost infinite number of collective action problems created when something we need or want involves a “free-access good.” We need coercion to solve these collective action problems. The best coercion is normatively legitimate coercion. Democratic theory, however, has focused more on preventing tyranny than on how to legitimate coercion. Finally, our discipline has neglected an important source of legitimate coercion: negotiation to agreement. Recognizing the central role of negotiation in politics would shed a different light on our relatively unexamined democratic commitments to transparency in process and contested elections. This analysis is overall both descriptive and aspirational, arguing that helping human beings to govern themselves has been in the DNA of our profession since its inception.

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New Democratic Seeds / Gentils Virus Manifesto

The Chouardists are at it, this time with a new site (in five languages) calling for an allotted constitutional assembly. They explain their project in six “chapters” that you can see along with a visitor count on the left margin. Here is the main page followed by the first part. They have also included what appears to be an endless number of videos of Chouard and some other resources.

It is the explicit proposal which should rally the millions of citizens whose political impotency is programmed in the constitution.

Because it is not the role of the people in power to write the rules of their own power

“We want a democratic Constitutional Assembly, therefore randomly drawn.”

By reading the 6 chapters of this website, you will understand that if you want to change anything in the mechanisms of our current society, you will have to make this message your one and only claim: from its application the rest will follow. To understand the strength of this message, please take a few minutes to read through the six chapters of the website, they are very short.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be a sortition spokesperson

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent remarks on the Senate floor have been viewed half a million times. She decries the coziness of the big banks with government and names names, coming close to Russell Brand and unknowingly making a case for the use of lot.

The questions these sort of sharp, honest protests raise are the following. Must someone as sophisticated as Sen. Warren draw the connection between contributor-driven electioneering and corruption or could one simply attribute it to the acts of an unscrupulous few who break the rules? When does a critic of a system ceased to simply criticize the system’s non-conformity to its own ideals and begin to question the system itself?