Victor Bruzzone on sortition

Victor Bruzzone is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto. In a segment on a podcast he makes an argument for a selecting the legislative chamber of government by sortition (starting about 1 hour into the recording). The segment mentions a chapter Bruzzone wrote in a soon-to-be-published book, Liberalism and Socialism: Mortal Enemies or Embittered Kin?, which presumably argues for the same idea.

A Call to Arms

Dear Fellow Sortitionist: I urge you to join me in a letter writing campaign intended to raise public awareness here in the U.S.

I’ve written to the director of the Metropolitan Museum (in New York), requesting that the Greek wing host an exhibition on the subject of Athenian democracy. The letter is heartfelt but I am an unknown individual possessing no social or institutional connections – neither a donor, a scholar, or a socialite – I doubt very much that my missive will ever even make it past his secretary. But what if the director were to receive a dozen (or a hundred) similar letters? I think then his assistant would undoubtedly take notice and the director would most certainly give the idea serious consideration. Hence, my plea to the sortition community for a joint assault on the director’s inbox

To directly challenge someone’s mainstream political views (as sortitionists are wont to do) is usually an exercise in futility. But to question them indirectly, by contemplating the example of an exotic, ancient system of government, may just leave some wiggle room for the adjustment of hard held habitual beliefs. That’s the hope anyhow. The museum patron enters the exhibit as a die hard supporter of the 21’st Century “Democratic” status quo and exits harboring some well informed doubts. A sortition partisan in the making… This is what I would hope for anyhow, and so long as sortition remains unknown here in the U.S. activist projects such as this will remain the main focus of my energy.
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Escoubès and Proriol: Democracy, differently; The art of governing with the citizens

Frank Escoubès and Gilles Proriol are the authors of the book “La démocratie, autrement – L’art de gouverner avec le citoyen” (Democracy, differently: The art of governing with the citizens). In an article in L’ADN they describe the thesis of their book.

There is no doubt that our representative democracy is in trouble. Humiliated, attacked, sometimes rejected: what is going to be its fate in the period between now and the presidential elections of 2022?

The citizens do not feel represented anymore

This is hardly news – our democracy is flawed. The elected are supposed to create the most faithful, the most accurate representation of the citizens, that which a technocracy cannot achieve. The coronavirus crisis has sunk the nail, in silencing the citizens like never before. In the face of that, populism and demagoguery are rising, claiming that they will provide ways for the people to decide everything, all the time, by themselves. Denial the complexity of reality, political irrealism, ideological naivety. In this context, the risk of “democratic retreat” is real. This could be due to an absence of consultation with the citizens (plowing through) or due to a simplistic consultation without a follow-up (an unkept promise). There is therefore an urgent need to “repair the links of trust”.
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Normal people are stupid. Stop Democratic Reforms before it’s too late!

Democracy by Lottery is a blog about sortition written by “John H”. Here are some excerpts from the latest post.

George Carlin once said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that”. And it’s true. You, yes our lovely reader, are another random average person of the world, too stupid to think for themselves and too stupid to govern themselves.

The Status Quo ensures that normal people are not in control

Thank God for the American Republic, which ensures that normal, stupid people will have little to no influence on politics. According to Pew Research, 65% of foolish Americans believe that the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. A Yale 2020 survey also showed that 68% of ignorant Americans favored a revenue-neutral plan to “require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax”.

Thankfully, our elected representatives keep the impassioned grumblings of stupid Americans from affecting policy. Smart and astute Congressmen continue to refuse to pass climate change and carbon taxation legislation. I’m sure these Congressmen have great reasons to delay and delay, because well, Congressmen are simply better than the rest of us. I patiently and enthusiastically wait for the great things Congress will pass, eventually!

Thomas Guénolé: Three problems, one solution

Thomas Guénolé is a French political scientist. Two of his books are La Mondialisation malheureuse (The Unhappy Globalization), published in 2016, and Le Livre noir de la mondialisation (The Black Book of Globalization), published in 2020. According to the Wikipedia, the latter book argues that globalization “as a worldwide system of production and distribution of resources” has been responsible over the years 1992 to 2017 for over 400 million deaths (mostly due to preventable or treatable diseases).

He writes the following in Marianne.

Contrary to a common, but unfounded, conception, the low turnout in parliamentary elections is not a sign of political apathy among voters. This is evident from the fact that turnout in presidential elections is consistently very high. In other words, presidential elections are of interest and all other elections are not. Rather than making voting mandatory, it is necessary to find a way to produce legitimate democratic assemblies, but without elections which are of low interest to the voters.

Allotting all assemblies resolves this problem. They would become truly representative. When using allotment to create a sample of the entire population the probability that this would be a faithfully representative sample of the whole is extremely high. In statistics this is called “pure random sampling”. Sortition would automatically produce assemblies that are truly representative of the French population. They would contain, for example, the same proportion of women, of retirees, of the unemployed, of workers, of young people, as in the population. This vast inflow of representatives, whose gender, age, and poverty normally keep them away from positions of power, would surely change how matters are discussed. At the same time, it is clear that in the presence of those directly affected by reform proposals, the discussions would have radically different tone and content, and would be much more concrete, as would be the proposals themselves that originate from these representatives.
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Can sortition help fend off the threat of “broader prosperity and rising wellbeing”?

“Democracy Rules”, a recently published book by Jan-Werner Müller, Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University, is another contribution to the “democratic crisis” genre:

They do not all look the same; plenty of differences are obvious. But group them together and they clearly make up one political family: Orbán, Erdogan, Kaczynski, Modi, undoubtedly ex-president Trump, perhaps Netanyahu, but Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro for sure. It is imperative to understand what is often described as a global trend in authoritarianism.

According to a review of the book in Financial Times, Müller is concerned about “performance legitimacy”:

As exemplified by China, that is the undemocratic bargain in which illiberal, one-party control is put up with in return for broader prosperity and rising wellbeing. Its appeal stirs fears that there are other attractive norms on offer and that history may not be cheering liberal democracy on.

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Defending Democracy

Anthoula Malkopoulou (Lund University) and I just published a paper in Constellations entitled “Allotted Chambers as Defenders of Democracy.” Here’s the first paragraph:

In this paper, we identify a problem—the problem of which actors should serve as defenders of democracy—and propose a solution to that problem—the creation of randomly selected citizen bodies, or allotted chambers (hereafter ACs). Having in place institutions that are tasked with democratic self-defense, is, we argue, a critically important pillar of democratic government, but its importance has often been neglected. This neglect is exacerbated by the evasive nature of the task that these democratic defense institutions are called to perform. Part of the problem is that the task of democratic self-defense is often mistakenly conceived as an ad hoc response to an occasional problem, rather than a routine task to which democracies should devote regular attention. Once the task of democratic self-defense is properly specified, the advantages of assigning this task to ACs, rather than courts or legislatures, become evident.

You can read it here:

Two New Articles on Citizens’ Juries

Read two interesting articles on Citizens’ Juries today. The first, entitled “The Wisdom of Small Crowds: the Case for Using Citizens’ Juries to Shape Policy,” was written largely by researchers affiliated with the Brookings Institute.

The emphasis in the article is on the epistemic advantages of citizens’ juries (with, say, 12-24 members) and not on the descriptive representation provided by citizens’ assemblies or deliberative polls (with hundreds of members).

That article led me to another one, “Respect: A New Contract with the Middle Class”, also from Brookings researchers.

The emphasis in this article, in contrast to the previous one, is on citizens’ juries as a respectful way of involving citizens in the political process.

In scholarly circles, Citizens Juries are seen as an example of “participatory action research.” To us they are a tangible expression of partnership between state and citizen, and of democratic respect. To date, they have been the result of largely voluntary and philanthropic efforts, and patchy in terms of quality. We believe that Citizens Juries should be seen as an important part of the standard policymaking process.

Jersey votes to let terminally ill end their lives

Andrew Gregory writes in the Sunday Times:

Jersey is set to become the first part of the British Isles to legalise assisted dying after a citizens’ jury voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law.

There is growing evidence that elected politicians are enthusiastic to outsource controversial decisions to randomly selected citizens juries. Here’s the the article (by the Sunday Times’ Health Editor).

A panel of islanders said last week it was in favour of ending the ban on assisted dying after an independent inquiry heard months of expert evidence and personal testimony. The Sunday Times, backed by politicians from all parties, some senior doctors and religious leaders, is campaigning to legalise assisted dying across the UK.

Last week 78 per cent of the citizens’ jury — 18 of the 23 islanders who had been selected at random — said assisted dying should be legal. The jury called for terminally ill islanders to be able to seek help to end their life, subject to safeguards. Eight in ten Britons support having a right to assisted dying, polls suggest.

As a crown dependency, Jersey can legislate on assisted dying independently of Britain. The jury’s recommendations will be followed by a full report in September. Jersey’s Council of Ministers will then lodge a proposition asking the States Assembly, the island’s parliament, to agree that assisted dying be legalised.

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Flags for sortitionism

Every movement needs symbols, and the sortition movement is notably short on them. I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a couple! The design is a stylised version of the kleroterion – a 6×7 grid of 42 horizontal bars (because sortition is the answer!) The bars are 2×8 units, separated by gaps of 2 units from each other; the top and bottom borders are 9 units high, and the right and left borders are 12 units across, giving the flag as a whole a 2:1 aspect ratio.

As well as representing the kleroterion, the flag also resembles a swarm of ‘=’ signs. The mass of bars – more than can be counted in a casual glance – suggests the mass of people sortition is meant to empower and the mass of centres between which it aims to separate powers. Aesthetically, it turns the design into a texture, unique to the sortitionist flags.

I’ve done two colour variants – a red-and-black one for left-sortitionism, and a blue-and-white one for centrist/right-sortitionism. As I see it, the dividing line between the two is that left-sortitionism sees the conflict between power elites and the public as extending into the economic sphere, and believes sortitional-democratic mechanisms are the best or only way to achieve lasting victory for the latter, while centre- and right-sortitionism are concerned more narrowly with political power within a capitalist market economy. Where we agree is on the importance and legitimacy of sortitional-democratic mechanisms in government. By having multiple flags riffing on the same theme, we provide a template for a symbolic shorthand for sortitionism that can be used by other people – green sortitionists, anarcho-syndicalist sortitionists, and so on – thereby helping spread familiarity with the idea.

You can see an animated version of the left-sortitionist flag here.