Wang Shaoguang: Representative and Representational Democracy, Part 1

As a powerful state which is not electoralist, it is not surprising that China produces political theory which rejects the equation of democracy with elections. It is characteristic of the weakness of Western political science that it makes no serious attempt to explore and engage with this theory.

Wang Shaoguang is a prominent Chinese political scientist. His article “Representative and Representational Democracy” was originally published in the Chinese language social science journal “Open Times” in 2014. A translation to English of the article appears on the website “Reading the China Dream” which regularly translates articles by Chinese establishment intellectuals. The article makes several intertwined arguments regarding democracy and elections. While focusing, naturally, on the Chinese system as an alternative to the Western electoralist system, Wang does make a mention of sortition as well.

In the following excerpts Wang first notes the crisis of the Western government system and makes the straightforward observation, often avoided in the West, that the Chinese system enjoys more popular support than most Western governments. Rather surprisingly, it seems to me, instead of translating this fact to a frontal attack on the Western system, Wang then makes the apologetic (and fairly familiar) multi-culturalist argument that democracy is perceived differently in different cultures. Wang asserts that while the formality of elections is a main feature of the Western or American conception of democracy, in the East “substantive” aspects are considered essential.

Today, even though Thatcher’s “There is No Alternative” and Fukuyama’s “End of History” have already become standing jokes in academic and intellectual circles, their variants proliferate and circulate constantly. Though most people no longer use these particular expressions, many still firmly believe that the “today” of Western capitalist countries is the “tomorrow” of other countries (including China).
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Malcolm Gladwell on sortition

Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known popular science author. Gladwell has a podcast called “Revisionist History”. A recent episode of the podcast is devoted to sortition, with much of it being about Adam Cronkright’s work in applying sortition to student bodies in schools in Bolivia. Gladwell himself visits a school in the US and finds that the students are receptive to the idea. He also mentions the idea of using a lottery to allocate research funds.

Testart on democracy, democratic debate and citizen power, Part 2/2

This is the second part of a translation of a 2017 interview in Le Comptoir with Jacques Testart, a prominent French biologist, and long-time advocate for citizen power. The first part is here.

Le Comptoir: Citizen juries have so far been employed in a consultative role. Can you explain what those procedures are and within which frameworks they do they work?

Testart: The democratic procedures for citizen juries or assemblies are very vague. The principle is always to ask a group of allotted people to express their opinion on a certain problem. Citizen conferences, which are the most well-formed model, were invented by the Danish parliament in the 1980’s, perhaps because the Danish MPs are less conceited than ours. They noted that they were unqualified to politically manage technological and medical problems.
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Bellon: The sortition pandemic

A column by André Bellon, July 7th, 2020.

This is not the first time that I opine on sortition, but addressing this matter seems to me more and more necessary in view of the avalanche of commentary which has accompanied the celebrated “Citizen Convention for the Climate”.

If the advocates of sortition were able to appear for a while like dreamers, they are now showing their toxicity. They are now are now no longer merely asking us for a convention aimed to enlighten public decision making. They are now demanding an allotted parliament. Considering, with much justice, that the elected do not represent the voters any more, they are not trying to redefine the mandate of the elected. They are proposing to suppress the voters.

An so, Jacques Testart conjures up an allotted constitutional assembly. Just that! The legal expert Dominique Rousseau, who constantly criticizes universal suffrage – which he falsely associates with abbé Sieyès – asks for a new deliberative assembly formed by sortition. To justify his request, he declares: “The nation has its chamber, then national assembly. The territories have theirs, the senate. The citizens, who are everything in society but nothing in its institutions, should have their chamber as well”. Beyond this far-fetched argument, Rousseau feels that in order to be truly represented, the citizens should no longer be voters. To be consistent, he opposes the popular initiative process (référendum d’initiative citoyenne) because it could “ask about the reestablishment of the death penalty, citizen preference or the preventative detention of sexual deviants?”.
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Shaw: A transfer of power from the elite to the masses

Ethan Shaw advocates sortition in International Policy Digets:

Voter reform in America aims to increase turnout in elections, however, this focus dismisses the glaring weaknesses of the American democratic process. Congressional approval ratings are abysmally low, and you have probably heard the phrase “Congress is not doing their job” countless times. The problem is not about the accessibility to the ballot box; it is the inconsequentiality of voting that keeps people home on election day. So how does one solve the systemic issues with Congress that promotes voter apathy? By going back to the birthplace of democracy.

A Civic Duty to Legislate

The United States should have mandatory legislative service. Ancient Athenian citizens were randomly selected to serve a 1-year term in a legislative assembly. This process is known as sortition and has been purported by democratic reformists across the globe. In the American political discourse, sortition has never been fully discussed as a viable replacement to the current legislative infrastructure. Many individuals scoff at the idea, worried that random selection will create a legislature full of inept buffoons.

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Macron “accepts all but three” of the CCC’s 149 recommendations

RFI reports:

A day after a powerful push by the Greens in French municipal elections, President Emmanuel Macron on Monday vowed to speed up environmental policies – promising an extra €15 billion to fight global warming over the next two years, and throwing his support behind two referendums on major climate policy.

Macron was responding to proposals put forward by the 150-member Citizens Climate Convention (CCC), a lottery of French people chosen to debate and respond to the climate challenges facing society.

During a meeting in the gardens of the Elysée Palace, Macron told convention members that he accepted all but three of their 149 recommendations which would, he promised, be delivered to parliament “unfiltered”.
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Wachtel: Let’s Choose Legislators Randomly from the Phone Book

Ted Wachtel is the founder of a political organization called “Building A New Reality“. He is a sortition advocate.

Allotted body to advise the German SPD

The German SPD party announced that an allotted body advising party leadership has met for the first time. The body has 20 people, randomly drawn for one year of service among party members. The newspaper Die Welt has interviews with four of the members.

Kleroterion 2.0; Our Once and Future Escape Key

This is the third post in a series on Barbara Goodwin’s classic work on sortition Justice by Lottery, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992. The first post is here and the second post is here.

There are mass demonstrations in cities throughout the United States and around the world against racism, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who was recorded being choked to death by a police officer while in custody. Among his last words, “Please, I can’t breathe” are now a slogan repeated and sung around the world, a metaphor for the stifling nature of racialized oppression. Here in Ontario — the Toronto-Niagara Golden Horseshoe region is the most racial and ethnically diverse in the world, a place where immigrants are popular and in Toronto  are actually the majority –there have still been large street demonstrations against deaths-while-in-custody of certain Black and Indigenous people who were suffering from mental illness. Why is it, Toronto activists ask, that money meant to alleviate problems in poor neighbourhoods is directed away from local social workers and towards force, armed police and other arbitrary measures? In the Canadian Parliament, Elizabeth May, leader of the opposition Green Party, summarized a large part of the problem,

She urged an inquiry to weed out white-power groups in Canada and make sure they are not infiltrating police forces. `Because if there is one thing scarier than a white supremacist with a gun, it’s a white supremacist with a gun in uniform.’ (1)

Mr. Floyd’s plea for air resonates so universally because none are guarding the guardians. Clearly, bullies in uniform tasked with enforcing social distancing laws are targeting and persecuting visible minorities, worsening the climate of fear that visible minorities already suffer under. The democratic institutions that depend upon justice, especially but not exclusively the police, to uphold the rule of law are blocking reform and accountability and stifling the very purpose for which they exist, to serve the social good, protect the vulnerable and assure the safety, order and security of everyone, not just the privileged. So, these are the questions of the hour: How can democracies end the perilous insularity of the police? How do we reinstate badly degraded trust in authority? Why is the guardian branch of governance so prone to corruption, bullying and infiltration by sociopaths? How do we end the vicious cycle of escalating violence, reaction and oppression?
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The French citizen convention on the climate: the endgame


Florent Gougou and Simon Persico write in La Vie des idées about the approaching culmination of the French citizen convention on the climate and how its work should be translated into policy. They find the use of a referendum particularly appealing. Also included in the article is the useful chart above comparing along several dimensions the makeup of the French National Assembly to that of members of the convention (which were selected to reflect the makeup of the French population).

Deciding together: The citizen convention on the climate and the democratic challenge

Now that the citizen convention on the climate is drawing to a close, how should the proposals of the allotted citizen be made into policy within the framework of the a democratic process? What place and shape should a referendum take within the political decision-making?

In the weekend of June 19 to 21, the 150 citizens allotted to the citizen convention on the climate will meet for the last time in order to conclude their work. Two essential points will be on their schedule. The first is finalizing the list of proposals that they will hand to the executive, and more broadly to the French people. The second is choosing the legal mechanisms by which a decision would be made regarding those proposals: executive orders, legislation or through a referendum.
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