From academic to pragmatic

Reading coverage of the UK’s Extinction Rebellion movement this week – which is beginning a campaign of civil disobedience in an attempt to pressure the British government into far more radical action to combat greenhouse gas emissions – I was intrigued to come across this:

The group also calls for the creation of a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee “the changes necessary for creating a democracy fit for purpose”.

I can tell this will be a fun one for Equality by Lotters to contemplate.

For my own part, I got belted on the arms and peppered sprayed by Danish police in Copenhagen in 2009 in an attempt to chronicle what it felt like to take part in a civil disobedience action linked to global climate change negotiations. I did it deliberately to better understand the experience of civil disobedience – an approach inspired by the late, legendary US writer George Plimpton.

He called it participatory journalism. I experienced it as pretty stressful.
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Southall: A proposal for using sortition in South Africa

A 2017 paper by Roger Southall in Politikon, the South African Journal of Political Studies, proposes applying sortition in South Africa.

The Case for Sortition: Tackling the Limitations of Democracy in South Africa

Roger Southall, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and the Department of Political Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

This article considers how the erosion of democracy in South Africa since 1994 might be addressed through sortition, the random selection of citizens to perform public tasks. Drawing upon the recent essay outlining the case Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck [(2016). Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. London: Bodley Head], which paints liberal democracy as facilitating rule by elites, it argues for the appointment of sortition panels to consider reform of the electoral system. Sortition in South Africa could draw upon streams of participatory democracy experienced during the struggle against apartheid, and lead towards a more deliberative democracy.

Dan Hind: The Cooperative State

Dan Hind proposes using sortition to achieve a “cooperative state”.

Rather refreshingly Hind rejects the “modernization” argument:

I do not propose far-reaching constitutional change in Britain or the United States because the current arrangements are irrational or anachronistic. On the contrary, these arrangements are, for the most part, rational and frighteningly up-to-date.

Hind’s proposal is an elections-sortition hybrid:

The idea is not to do away with elections. Some offices require technical abilities or experience and election does not seem like a terrible way of filling them, even if at times it is hard to imagine a worse person for an elected office than the person holding it. But it does not follow that public office should be monopolised by those who, for whatever reason, manage to win an election. Indeed, if representation is to retain its authority, it will have to be supplemented by more properly democratic institutional forms.

Hind seems to fall into an obvious fallacy: the simple point that not every position should be filled by lot does very little to advance the argument that some positions should be filled by election.

That said, Hind does propose to invest allotted bodies with some real powers of oversight:
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Upcoming event: Selina Thompson in conversation about sortition with Maddy Costa

An upcoming event in the Arnolfini arts house in Bristol.

Sortition: Selina Thompson in conversation with Maddy Costa
Saturday 03 November 2018, 18:30 to 20:00

Following a year of research and exploration, this is your chance to hear from artist Selina Thompson about the thoughts and ideas behind the development of the project Sortition.

The research included the hosting of a week-long Sortition boot camp with twelve young people from across the country here at Arnolfini, and an investigation into what Sortition might look like in both a gallery and theatrical context.

At this new event which is part of 14-18 NOW and its series Represent reflecting on the centenary of the first women gaining the right to vote, Selina Thompson takes some time with critical thinker Maddy Costa to reflect together on the future of democracy, and what the role of artists and the participatory contexts that they create might play in this.

Demarchy—small, sample electorates electing officials

From Cornucopia of Ideas, Social Inventions Journal for 2001, by Roger Knights, “Demarchy—small, sample electorates electing officials,” pages 237–44

[SIJ editor’s comment:] Sumarized from a longer paper by Roger Knights entitled ’Nec Pluribus Impar’ which can be read in full on the web (at www.globalideasbank.org/demarchy.html)

(Alas, it’s no longer available online because the Global Ideas Bank was hacked and destroyed. My own copy was lost due to one of Microsoft’s black screens of death.—Roger Knights)

I contend that if the power of electing officials were transferred to small, sample electorates, government would be more accountable to common sense. 

What’s wrong with current democracy is that it is too influenced by interest groups and crusading moralists. And where those two forces are in abeyance, it lacks common sense.

The theory of democracy is that the government should be accountable to the common sense of the community. Now, common sense is a quality, not a quantity; it is present to the same degree in a small sample of the electorate as it is in the whole body. This system of demarchy that I propose would make democracy more real.
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Social Inventions Journal Extracts on Sortition

Here, for the sake of bibliographic completeness, are proposals for forms of sortition published in the Social Inventions Journal’s (SIJ), annual compilations from the Institute for Social Inventions, up until 2002, when it ceased publication.

Additional suggestions were posted to its website for several more years, until it was hacked and disabled, making it impossible for me to look through it. Its backup versions on the Wayback Machine do not allow one to see more than the first 25 or so entries under its “Politics” category. (I wish some charitable foundation would fund its restoration to archive status, at a minimum.)

From Re-Inventing Society, 1994, “Random selection of Lords,” by T.M. Arting Stoll, page 190

How about random selection from the population of people to serve one year in a Senate replacing the Lords?

From Best Ideas, 1995, “Voter juries, vetoes and feedback,” by Geof Mulgan and Andrew Adonis, page 245

[SIJ Editor’s note:] Adapted extract from an article by Geof Mulgan and Andrew Adonis in Lean Democracy, issue No. 3, £5, of a journal from the think tank Demos, 9 Bridewell Place, London EC4V 6AP (tel. 0171 353 4479, fax 0171 3534481; e-mail Demos@Demon.Co.UK>).

If democracy means self-government, it is doubtful whether Britain and other western countries should be called full democracies.

A critical democratic dimension, the personal involvement of citizens in government, has gone almost entirely neglected.

We have three moderate, specific proposals for change:

Voter juries [good term—RK]: the piloting, at the national and local level, of voter juries to assess the pros and cons of contested policy proposals. They would be established on a similar basis to judicial juries, but without formal constitutional authority.

Voter vetoes: The introduction of voter vetoes, giving citizens at national and local level the right to call consultive referenda on strongly contested legislation or council decisions. At national level one million citizens would need to sign a petition for a referendum to take place.

Voter feedback: Local experiments to engage people in deliberation on local issues of controversy using the combined television and telephone networks being built by cable companies in conurbations, in collaboration with local authorities and other local institutions.

From Creative Speculations, 1997, “Citizen juries for considering policy options,” by the Institute for Public Policy Research, pages 234–36
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Hannah Arendt Center’s Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy Through Sortition

The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College is introducing the Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy through Sortition:

Introducing the Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy through Sortition

True Democracy as Practiced by the Ancient Greeks

“The appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic and the election of them oligarchic.” —Aristotle, Ancient

Sortition (noun) – The action of selecting or determining something by the casting or drawing of lots.

The Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy through Sortition is conceived as a critical platform to assemble the diverse research and resources that are emerging around deliberative democracy and sortition. We are a project of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, and place much importance in the association with her legacy of thought. We believe sortition satisfies Hannah Arendt’s ideal of political freedom and that it would have figured in her writing, had it not been buried in the history books. As investigators of the practical possibilities of this ancient and reviving model of democratic decision-making, we are based in Germany, the United States, and wherever else our research may take us.

The Institute was cofounded by recent Bard College graduates Jonas Kunz and Hans Kern. Check back with us soon for updated content, links to sortition in the news, and much more. Sign up by email to receive updates on the Institute’s activities.