Sortition in the Netherlands

The very useful Dutch sortition-focused blog Tegen Verkiezingen reports about a new bachelor’s thesis at Leiden university in the Netherlands titled “Lottery as a democratic instrument?”. The thesis was written by Max Van Duijn, who is the leader of a local political party in the Katwijk municipality named DURF. DURF, which is the biggest party in the municipal council, advocates the application of sortition at the municipal level.

Tegen Verkiezingen provides the following translation of an excerpt from the thesis:

In essence ‘representative democracy’ is not democratic. It’s something fundamentally different. It would be more justified to label it ‘elective aristocracy’. In that sense the contrast between classical and representative democracy is a false one. In fact what we’re talking about is a contrast between democracy (sortition) and aristocracy (elections).

Parara: Democracy and the modifiers of modernity

Dr. Polyvia Parara teaches Classics and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Maryland College Park. In a recent article in the English edition of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Parara argues that modern Western-system states, conventionally known as “democracies”, are in fact a distortion of the original meaning of democracy, since they do not implement “Isopoliteia” – political equality.

Compared to the original meaning of democracy, it is deduced that modern western societies constitute liberal parliamentary republics protecting individual freedoms and granting rights. They are governed by elected representatives, professional politicians that draw legitimacy by the popular vote. Yet, the citizenry remains limited in the private sphere, not constituting a governing body.

Parara references work of interest by two authors. Continue reading

DemocracyNext

Update: demnext.org now has a video of the launch event. There is also a link to an article by Hélène Landemore and Claudia Chwalisz offering sortition as an alternative to the way that the failed Chilean constitutional proposal was generated (and a tweet-thread with a summary in English.)

DemocracyNext is a new organization featuring a “Who’s Who” of the sortition circles. DemocracyNext‘s press release announcing its launch is here. Some excerpts:

DemocracyNext, a new non-profit, non-partisan research and action institute, which announces its foundation this International Democracy Day, 15 September 2022 – aims to actively help this new democratic paradigm take shape and take hold.

“We believe that another democratic future is possible. We want to design and build new institutions where citizens can hold real decision making power,” said Claudia Chwalisz, chief executive of DemocracyNext. “Our point of departure is that the current electoral system is broken beyond repair. An entirely new framework must be based on full participation, citizen representation by lot, and real deliberation.”
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Booij: Sortition as the Solution

Below is the Introduction to a Master’s thesis by G.J. Booij, submitted in 2021 at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences of Tilburg University, the Netherlands, titled “Sortition as the Solution: How randomly sampled citizen assemblies can complement the Dutch democracy”. Booij was advised by Prof. Michael Vlerick, author of the 2020 paper “Towards Global Cooperation: The Case for a Deliberative Global Citizens’ Assembly”.

During World War II, Winston Churchill famously stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”. Not only does this indicate that, at least in Churchill’s eyes, the current governmental form is flawed, but also that, remarkably, Churchill sees democracy as being synonymous to the elective representative democracy that was present during his life. If this kind of democracy would indeed be the best way to govern a nation, it is logical that many countries have stuck with it. However, if it is actually flawed, as he also claims, it may be wise to investigate alternative forms of government.

In this thesis, I will do just this by investigating alternative (democratic) governmental systems, since democracy is in fact not synonymous to the elective representative democracy that is still present in many Western countries. In particular, I will scrutinize the democratic system of sortition (democracy through citizen assemblies drawn by lot) and I will argue that this system should be used as a complement to the system currently in play in the Netherlands. By doing this, I will build on existing literature regarding sortition (Fishkin, 2011; van Reybrouck, 2016) by presenting a comparative perspective of several (democratic) systems, focusing specifically on the Dutch context. This kind of critical evaluation of the governmental status quo and democratic renewal is now more important than ever, since political trust dropped drastically over the past years – 70% of the Dutch population has indicated they do not have faith in politics (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2021; NOS, 2021a).
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Landemore: No Decarbonization Without Democratization

Hélène Landemore writes in Project Syndicate:

The planet is burning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s warnings about the consequences of rising temperatures are becoming increasingly dire. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set off a race in Europe and elsewhere to achieve energy independence through rapid transformations of the economy.

With decarbonization becoming such an urgent priority, it is tempting to consider political shortcuts. Why not try enlightened despotism or “epistocracy” (rule by experts), picking the best climate scientists and engineers and empowering them to make the decisions for us? Why not embrace the Chinese method of forcing through sweeping changes and swatting away any misguided resistance from below?

This opening has at least three standard features of Western elite political discourse. First, it puts climate change front and center – a problem that is widely recognized in elite circles not only as an issue that should be at the top of the governance agenda, but also one where the elite, duly concerned about the upcoming catastrophe, find themselves at the forefront of moral thought, desperately trying to lead a reluctant, obtuse public. The single issue of climate change is the only issue that matters in the article and other issues, issues that affect the public at large but are of no concern to the elite (most urgently recently, for example, the rising costs of energy, but many perennial issues as well), are considered only to the extent that they bear on the issue of climate change.
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Ovdaya: Towards Platform Democracy

Aviv Ovadya works in the area of governance of social networks. Some months ago while he was Technology and Public Purpose fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center he published a paper advocating applying sortition for constituting governance bodies for social networks.

Towards Platform Democracy: Policymaking Beyond Corporate CEOs and Partisan Pressure

Aviv Ovadya, Oct. 18, 2021

Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms make incredibly impactful decisions about the speech of billions. Right now, those decisions are primarily in the hands of corporate CEO’s—and heavily influenced by pressure from partisan and authoritarian governments aiming to entrench their own power.

We propose an alternative: platform democracy. In the past decade, a new suite of democratic processes have been shown to be surprisingly effective at navigating challenging and controversial issues, from nuclear power policy in South Korea to abortion in Ireland. These processes have been tested around the world, overcome the pitfalls of elections and referendums, and can work at platform scale. They enable the creation of independent ‘people’s mandates’ for platform policies—something invaluable for the impacted populations, the governments which are constitutionally unable to act on speech, and even the platforms themselves.

Nathan Jack: Let’s end elections

Nathan Jack, an attorney in Salt Lake City, is a sortition advocate blogging at democracyplus.substack.com. He has recently written the following article in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Time to replace elections with Democracy+

Picking our leaders at random would be better than hard-fought elections.

Congress is broken. With few legislative accomplishments, we shouldn’t be surprised at its abysmal 16% approval rating. But with midterms approaching, all five Utah incumbents up for election won their primary. And all five are projected to keep their seats.

In states and districts across the country, incumbents easily win reelection. Despite our dissatisfaction with Congress, nothing changes.

This problem lacks an easy solution. Many look to term limits. Sen. Mike Lee himself has long advocated for senators to serve two six-year terms (although he seems unwilling to apply that rule to himself). Others look to campaign finance reform, as fundraising is one of the biggest advantages that incumbents gain. But these measures only treat the symptoms. We need to rid our government of the disease.

The disease? Elections.
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The call to abolish elected chambers all together began to spread like wildfire

Modern Ghana publishes a short futuristic piece by Brett Hennig (falsely mis-attributing it to other writers).

The End Of Politicians: Time For Real Democracy

It all started in the small countries of north-western Europe. The movement began way back in 2011-12 when one of them went without a government for almost 2 years. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the first regional parliament there instituted a second chamber of randomly selected citizens to review legislation. That made other governments around the world takes note. Then, after the global crisis of 2023-25 people hit the streets, leaders paid attention, and randomly selected, representative “citizens’ chambers” began to flourish. Canada replaced its Senate with a citizens’ chamber and, finally – after years of campaigning – the House of Lords in the UK was also replaced with a representative, randomly selected “House of the People”. It wasn’t long after that – when people began to realise that these assemblies work well and make good, fair, trusted decisions – that the call to abolish elected chambers all together began to spread like wildfire.

Then it happened. After the political crisis in north America in 2039 a couple of US states responded to the crisis by completely replacing their elected legislature with a citizens’ chamber. First it was Oregon, and then the big one: California. Now, in 2050, some countries have followed suit. Among the early adopters were Belgium and The Netherlands in Europe. Who would be next was hard to predict: The depth and breadth of the political movement depended crucially on the local conditions and historical context of each country. Yet the movement continues to grow: Slowly, politicians are becoming a thing of the past. They are now commonly seen as a bizarre historical artefact of that brief period in the 1900s, between the time when parliaments elected by universal suffrage became the norm across half the planet, and the 21st-century spread of the new sortition democracy based on universal, representative random selection.
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Urgency and hypocrisy

Content warning: This post contains messages that may be traumatizing to some audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

The attitude expressed, explicitly or implicitly, in much of the political discussion in the West, and in particular in academic discussion, is that the existing political system is essentially, at its core and in its principles, benign. While some room for improvement surely exists, we must not act rashly. The great danger that must be guarded against when considering any changes to our political system is that we might very well end up with fewer of the great benefits that the current system bestows upon us. “Us” in this usage is supposed to cover essentially all of society, rather than just the author and their select audience.

This attitude is deplorable. The situation of the world is dire. It is sometimes said that we are living in the best of times humanity has known thus far. This may or may not be true, but in any case it is irrelevant. Even if previous times were worse, the situation is appalling. The world is full of misery that can be relatively easily alleviated simply by having public policy which is aimed at such a goal, rather than public policy that is aimed at very different goals.

Outraged rhetoric about atrocities, real, exaggerated, or fabricated, of official enemies is prevalent in the West and so is hand-wringing about the misfortune, real, exaggerated or imagined, of inhabitants of non-Western countries. Yet, even ignoring misery inflicted by Western countries worldwide, misery is rampant in the West itself, misery that can be drastically reduced by appropriate political action.
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Rangoni and Vandamme: Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?

“Is deliberative democracy a hopeless ideal?” is the title of a recent books review by Sacha Rangoni and Piere-Étienne Vandamme on the Social Europe website. The review deals with three books discussing “deliberative democracy”:

  • Le tournant délibératif de la démocratie, Loïc Blondiaux and Bernard Manin (eds), Sciences Po, 2021,
  • Deliberative Democracy, Ian O’Flynn, Polity Press, 2021,
  • Deliberative Mini-Publics, Nicole Curato et al, Bristol University Press, 2021.

The books, to the extent the review reflects their contents, seem to largely cover well-trodden group. We again meet the standard “for” and “against” arguments regarding “deliberation” and allotted bodies. Those presented in the article are:

  • “[W]e should all exchange arguments before we reach the best collective decision, and that ideal lies at the heart of the deliberative conception of democracy.”
  • “[This is], some critics have argued, a hopeless ideal, founded on a naïve and unappealing understanding of politics, in which people do not have strong political convictions and would prefer consensual decisions over conflict.”
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