Sortion [sic] on Chapo Trap House

Chapo Trap House is a popular American left-wing political podcast, with over 100,000 weekly listeners.

Wikipedia says the following about Chapo Trap House:

[Podcat co-host Will] Menaker has said that Chapo is meant to be in “marked contrast to the utterly humorless and bloodless path that leads many people with liberal or leftist proclivities into the trap of living in constant fear of offending some group that you’re not a part of, up to and including the ruling class.”

Sortition (mispronounced as “sortion”) made a brief appearance in episode #662 of the podcast, “The Queen” (about 46 minutes and 30 seconds into the show). Sortition is offered as part of a reform of the U.S. political system in which voting is used to select limited-tenure monarchs among celebrities, while “governing is actually carried out by permanent bureaucracies overseen by a rotating cast of essentially jury duty citizens”. The proposer did not indicate the rotation period of the “national service” but noted that, for that period, service would be considered as a full time job and would be paid accordingly.

Hansen: ancient and modern democracy

In a recent article Dr. Polyvia Parara made reference to a 2005 book by Mogens Herman Hansen, The Tradition of Ancient Greek Democracy and its Importance for Modern Democracy. It turns out this book is available online.

As always, Hansen is a very useful source of information about democracy in the ancient Greek world. In this book, Hansen focuses less on ancient Greece and more on the connections between ancient Greek democracy and “modern democracy”. Hansen rightly points out that, contrary to what some would have us believe (he cites and quotes Hannah Arendt), there is very little evidence for either institutional or ideological continuity between the two periods.

Hansen focuses first on the ideology.

The classical example that inspired the American and French revolutionaries as well as the English radicals was Rome rather than Greece. Thus, the Founding Fathers who met in Philadelphia in 1787, did not set up a Council of the Areopagos, but a Senate, that, eventually, met on the Capitol. And the French constitution of 1799, designed by Sieyès, had no board of strategoi but a triumvirate of consuls.

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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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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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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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