Sortition and democracy. History, instruments, and theories: a special issue of Participations journal

Participations journal’s latest issue is devoted to sortition. This appears to be a treasure trove. The issue, titled “Sortition and democracy. History, instruments, and theories”, has 24 papers comprising over 500 pages. The French text of all papers seems to be allow unrestricted access.

The papers are organized into 5 sections:

  1. The ancient world
  2. The medieval world and the modern world
  3. The Chinese world
  4. The contemporary world
  5. Postface

The authors include familiar names (Sintomer, Demont, Courant) as well as many that I, at least, am not familiar with.

“The contemporary world” section has some papers that seem particularly interesting, e.g., Samuel Hayat’s “The militant trajectory of the reference to Bernard Manin in French activism for sortition” and Julien Talpin’s “Does random selection make democracies more democratic? How deliberative democracy has depoliticized a radical proposal”.

Another intriguing paper is Alexei Daniel Serafín Castro’s “Political representation and the uses of sortition in Mexico: 1808-1857” which discusses a historical application of sortition that I have never heard of before.

Short refutations of common objections to sortition (part 3)

Part 1 Part 2

11. Elections are a mechanism of accountability. It allows the electorate to reward or punish those with power. There is no way to hold government accountable using sortition.

Using elections as an accountability mechanism is like a bank’s board of directors appointing a new bank manager for a 4-year term and telling him that if he steals the depositors’ money then there is some chance that he will not be re-appointed to run the bank for another term (but he will get to keep the money he took). A manager who sees his job as a means for self-enrichment is clearly better off simply taking the money. No matter how many years of service he can secure if he stays honest, his salary will never amount to what he can steal in a single term.

Besides, if the replacement managers are all as greedy as the current manager, what good would replacing the manager do?

In short, seeing elections as providing an effective means of incentivizing a government to promote the interests of the average citizen is hopelessly unrealistic. It is remarkable that this view is standard in both popular discourse and professional political science literature.

12. The training and service experiences would likely cause people to change their minds about various issues and in this way become unrepresentative.

As the allotted delegates study issues it is indeed to be expected that they will adopt views on matters that they were not aware of before, and occasionally will even come to have opinions that contradict previously held ones. In this sense the allotted become unrepresentative – they are better informed and have spent more time and effort considering various matters of policy than the average citizen does.
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Philo Judaeus advises against sortition

Philo Judaeus was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt, in the first century BC and first century AD. The following passages are taken from Philo’s A Treatise on Those Special Laws Which Are Contained Under and Have Reference to the Eighth and Ninth, and Tenth Commandments.. In them he repeats the competence argument against sortition which Xenophon attributes to Socrates. Philo adds an argument against sortition and in favor of elections from Biblical authority.

XXIX. (151) Some persons have contended that all magistracies ought to have the officers appointed to them by lot; which however is a mode of proceeding not advantageous for the multitude, for the casting of lots shows good fortune, but not virtue; at all events many unworthy persons have often obtained office by such means, men whom, if a good man had the supreme authority, he would not permit to be reckoned even among his subjects: Continue reading

In praise of … drawing lots (in The Guardian UK)

In praise of … drawing lots

Experts say that a legislature drawn from the people at random would be more representative, especially of minority communities

Forget campaigns that cost $5.8bn, and which ignore voters outside swing states and seek to reduce their number within them. None of those issues troubled the process by which Egypt’s 10 million Copts chose a new pope. First, over 2,000 clergymen and laymen shortlisted three candidates. Next, a blindfolded boy, himself chosen by lottery, picked out a plastic ball containing one of the three names, the idea being that his right hand doubles as the hand of God. Thus was Pope Tawadros II chosen. Experts say that a legislature drawn from the people at random would be more representative, especially of minority communities. Think it couldn’t happen here? Jury selection shows we are already happy to leave some crucial appointments to chance. And in May, in Runnymede’s Chertsey South and Rowtown ward, the Tory and the independent tied at 503 votes apiece. How was this democratic deadlock broken? By drawing lots, of course.

Sanitization, Arrationality or should it be called Super-Humanity?

Describing what a lottery can contribute to the process of choosing.

Sanitization, Arrationality or should it be called Super-Humanity?

Whatever it is used for, a lottery does something for the process.  Sanitizing  is Stone’s description; Arrationality is Dowlen’s.

I do not disagree with either definition, but feel that both are a bit lacking.

Sanitization implies a clean-up, removal of contaminating elements, but leaves open the question: Cleansed of what?

Arrationality, besides being a neologism, hence not easily understood, might also even be taken to mean some kind of crazy departure which abandons the only human attribute that truly sets us above the animals – the ability to use our brains to think about things.

So either incomplete or liable to be mis-understood; can I come up with something better?
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Are Sortitionists sincere?

Do sortitionists really believe their own rhetoric? A Citizen’s Jury will be called using the method of random selection. They then proceed to chew over the issue at hand, and normally decide by voting!

What’s the matter with these guys? Surely the matter should be resolved, either by Unanimity, or failing that by a lottery, weighted by the votes of the CJ?

I was inspired to pose this question after reading a piece about the rise of Majority Voting which is mostly about French and Catholic Church experiences.

The Anglo-juridical Jury (12 citizens drawn at random) used to require unanimity, and still needs 10/12 to convict. Who so?

Eygyptian Christians to choose Pope by lot

In a report in today’s (London) Independent:

Pope Shenouda, 88, [who has just died] was famous as a cautious Coptic leader, all-powerful within his community, who for four decades had dealt with the Egyptian government. … His successor, to be chosen by a synod of bishops, is unlikely to exercise the same authority in defence of Egypt’s embattled Christian minority. The bishops will choose three candidates, whose names are written on pieces of paper and placed in a box. The final choice is made by a blindfolded boy, who picks one of the names.

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