Étienne Chouard: Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good, Part 3

Previously published parts of this essay are the Introduction and Part 1, Part 2.

(ii) Elections put the worst in power (whereas sortition does not)

Regarding the rulers, by accepting that we need “representatives” we observe often that election among candidates brings into power the worst qualified – the exact opposite of that which it claims.

There are 7 inherent characteristics of elections that lead to this disastrous result – which are the mirror image of 7 opposite characteristics of sortition which would prevent such results.

1. Elections give power to those who desire it (whereas sortition does not)

It has been known for 2,500 years that giving power to those who desire it must be avoided.

Plato: “The worst of maladies is when power is in the hands of those who desire it” [Cited by Jacques Rancière].

Alain: “The most noticeable characteristic of the just man is not wishing to govern others but rather governing himself alone. Everything flows from that. That is, the worst will rule” [Alain, On Power, Dec. 10th, 1935].

Upon reflection, we see that it is true that the worst will rule, but only if we grant power to those who desire it (because the best do not desire power). Indeed, sortition avoids this crucial trap and grants power to the “others”, and in this way does not condemn us to the tyranny of those who desire power to decide for others.

It is a bad idea to grant power to those who desire it enough to gain it because the abilities and the motivations that are necessary in order to gain power (that is, to win the electoral match) are surely not those that are necessary in order to exercise power – exercise it in an attempt to promote the common good.

2. Elections encourage lying and favor the liars

By relying on the choice of the citizens to appoint the actors, elections give fraudsters, whose entire skill is exactly in misdirecting peoples’ choices, an opportunity. In a way, elections give power to the liars: it is he who lies best who will be elected every time. Therefore, by construction, elections encourage lying: first, lying before the vote in order to get elected, followed by lying after the vote in order to be re-elected. Scientifically, mechanically, consistently, elections among candidates promote lying.

(Again: “The worst rule”, said Alain.)
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Kerlouan: Macron treats the allotted citizens like children

Philippe Kerlouan writes in Boulevard Voltaire.

Citizen Climate Convention: Macron treats the 150 allotted citizens like children…

One may ask oneself how can 150 citizens, selected by lot in order to create proposals for addressing global warming, be “France in miniature” and represent “all the significant sections of French society”, as the co-president of the governance committee of the Climate Convention asserted they are. One must believe that the allotment was balanced according to some statistical measurements. But nevermind! The Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles designated numerous officials using a lottery. Chance is maybe the most effective way to turn equality for all and social-professional diversity into a democratic system.

We should also have confidence in the people so selected and not consider them second class citizens. As they met on Friday, January 10th for another weekend of work, they were able to pose questions to Emmanuel Macron, who attend in person for the occasion. No doubt he had nothing better to do in these troubled times. One of the participants, quoted by the Le HuffPost, observed that it is “scandalous that he chose this date in order to clown around in front of the Convention whereas he would have done better to take care of the pensions”. But our president must have had his reasons.
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Étienne Chouard: Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good, Part 2

Previously published parts of this essay are the Introduction and Part 1.

(i) Elections infantilize, and in this way paralyze, the voters. They discourage thinking and defending the common good (whereas sortition does not)

Starting with the governed, let’s see, point-by-point, how elections infantilize, and in this way paralyze, the voters:

1. By definition, elections are aristocratic, whereas sortition is democratic

The greatest political thinkers have long known what we have now forgotten:

Aristotle (332 BC): “Elections are aristocratic and non-democratic: they introduce an element of deliberate choice, of selection of the best citizens, the aristoi, in place of government by the people” [Politics IV, 1300b4-5]. This quote is spurious. EC has requested that it be replaced with the following quote.

Aristotle (332 BC): “It is thought to be democratic for political offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected oligarchic” [Politics IV, 1294b].

Montesquieu (1748): “Sortition is natural to democracy. Elections are natural to aristocracy” [The Spirit of the Laws].

Cornélius Castoriadis (1996): “It is the Greeks who have invented elections. It is an established historical fact. They may have been wrong to do so, but they have invented elections! Who was elected in Athens? They did not elect political officers. Those were selected using sortition or rotation. For Aristotle, you should know, a citizen is someone who is able to govern and be governed. Everybody is able to govern, and therefore sortition is used. Why? Because politics is not a business for experts. There is no science of the political. That was the conventional knowledge among the Greeks” [Post scriptum on Insignificance].

So, the word aristos means the best in Greek. Elections, which by definition aim to choose the best, are by construction aristocratic. The promise of democratic equality is therefore not kept. The elected representatives and the voters are not on equal footings: the elected dominate the voters, the few control the many. We should therefore suspect that the common good would be threatened as the elected come to serve personal interests rather than the general interest.

In contrast, sortition selects indiscriminately. It is therefore the only procedure that respects the foundational promise of democracy – political equality between citizens.
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Schnapper: Extreme democracy and democratic extremists

Dominique Schnapper is the director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) (retired) and a former member of the French Constitutional Council. This is a translation of Schnapper’s articleExtrême et extrémistes de la démocratie” published in April 2019 on the Telos website.

The Gilets Jaunes movement fights under the banner of “real” democracy and it risks contributing to the destruction of the only democratic regime that has ever existed, namely representative democracy.

Democracy always had two dimensions: a democratic one and an aristocratic one. Democratic because the rulers submit to elections by the ruled and are rewarded or punished through the vote.

The dream of direct democracy

The aristocratic dimension was always a source of disagreement. The dream of direct or total democracy has accompanied the history of democracy. But it is today all the more present in the idea that entrusting decision making to others is contradictory to the conception of the sovereign democratic individual doing things himself, and being the source of all legitimacy and competence. He brings his own legitimacy. He feels fully qualified to express himself directly by himself without the intervention of a representative.

Democrats like neither mediation nor distinctions. Every type of distinction – and in particular the distinction between voters and elected – every hierarchy is perceived as discriminatory. The elites are easily denounced as responsible for all our failures. For there the ideas of direct democracy and ideas inspired by direct democracy regain their power. Protesting activists become actors of a “counter-democracy” [Pierre Rosanvallon, La contre démocratie, 2006], they speak about the foundational principles of democracy and the liberation from electoral rhythm in order to exercise daily surveillance on the actions of the rulers.
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Étienne Chouard: Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good, Part 1

Background about this essay and its table of contents can be found here.

What follows is a comparison of elections and sortition. The essay is divided into two parts. In part I, elections and sortition are compared in terms of general principles. In part II, they are compared in terms of different possible applications.

Part I. A comparison of the general strengths and weaknesses of elections and allotment of representatives

Let us start by a general comparison of elections and sortition in democracy, taking Paul Ricœur’s definition of democracy as our starting point:

A democracy is a society which recognizes itself to be divided, that is, containing conflicts of interests, and which has committed itself to endow each citizen with an equal part of the expression of these conflicts, of their analysis and of the deliberation of those conflicts with a view of arriving at a resolution.

That is, the definition of the common good is by construction relative, variable, debatable, conflicting, and therefore political. It rests fundamentally on the question of sovereignty: who is the legitimate communal decision maker? Who weighs the needs of the social body? Who decides? Who evaluates the decisions? The people themselves or their representatives? Do we even need representatives?

And if the scale of our societies indeed necessitates appointing representatives, what type of representatives? Because the word “representative” is ambiguous: are they the masters or the servants of the common good?

And above all, who is the legitimate decision maker regarding basic rules, the meta-rules?
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Étienne Chouard: Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good: Breaking out of the electoral trap

What follows is the table of contents of a 2016 essay by Étienne Chouard, which Chouard describes as “my most recent methodical comparison between election and sortition”. I will publish my translation to English of the essay in several parts. The original French version is here.

Public decision-making from the perspective of the common good: Breaking out of the electoral trap
A comparison between election and allotment of representatives
Étienne Chouard, 2016
(Original in French, translation to English by Yoram Gat, 2020.)

Part I. A comparison of the general strengths and weaknesses of elections and allotment of representatives

  • (i) Elections infantilize, and in this way paralyze, the voters. They discourage thinking and defending the common good (whereas sortition does not)
    • 1. By definition, elections are aristocratic, whereas sortition is democratic
    • 2. By definition, elections are an abdication, a renunciation of the exercising of one’s sovereignty oneself, it is delegation, it is the renunciation of legislation, whereas sortition is the assertion of sovereignty
    • 3. Elections infantilize, strip of responsibility, dissuade from doing what is right, and distance the people from politics and the common good, whereas sortition encourages, and promotes responsibility for, doing the right thing
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Sortition for selecting civilian police control boards

In an undated proposal by Max Rameau from the an organization called “Pan-African Community Action” the author writes:

A Model: The Civilian Police Control Board
The primary institution for the exercise of Community Control over Police is the Civilian Police Control Board (CPCB).

The CPCB must be comprised entirely of civilian adult human beings- not corporations or human representatives of corporations- residing in the police district. To be explicit, residing means living in, not owning property in, without regard to citizenship status or criminal history.

While some envision an elected board, we propose something entirely different: a board selected entirely at random among residents of the policing district.

There are two (2) main constraints to an elected board. First, elections in the US are thoroughly corrupted by influences of corporate finance on one side and two party electoral politics on the other. Even if multiple communities were to win control over their police, it is not difficult to imagine that after one or two election cycles, your local CPCB would be a corporate board brought to you by [ insert name of powerful corporation here ]. For this board to shift power, instead of becoming another institution to maintain power, it must break through the limitations of electoral corruption.

Second, even elections with minimal levels of corporate or party influence, still occur in a social context. In this social context, elected officials are disproportionately white, male and wealthy- the exact population with the highest level of support for the police. We must devise democratic systems that encourage active participation from those least likely to engage, not those most likely to benefit.

Sortition- government by random selection- is the best way to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to exercise power. The rich and poor, straight and gay, male and female, white and Black all have an equal shot at making decisions through random selection. If we believe that democracy is for everyone, then random selection of officials is the best way to ensure each person can exercise power.
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