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35 Responses

  1. I recently came across a 1972 article in the journal “Public Choice” that proposed sortition for legislatures, and thought others might like to read it.

    The article is in issue 12 titled:
    Dennis C. Mueller, Robert D. Tollison,
    and Thomas D. Willett

    I was able to access the article online for free by registering on SpringerLink here:


  2. Thank you, Terry, this is very interesting. This short paper touches on many of the important and interesting points associated with sortition. It might be the first modern proposal of an allotted governing body. It is directly influenced by Dahl’s After the Revolution?, and cites no other modern precedents. (Dahl proposes advisory bodies.)

    BTW, I have found a copy on Google Books, p. 193.


  3. What about CLR James, Any Cook can Govern?


  4. > What about CLR James, Any Cook can Govern?

    This is just a list of books, but see here.


  5. By the way, it may make sense to have a “start here” page – I think “Any Cook Can Govern” would certainly fit there.


  6. Another by the way – according to Wikiquote, “Any Cook can Govern” might be a paraphrase on Lenin’s “We know that an unskilled labourer or a cook cannot immediately get on with the job of state administration.”


  7. Here are two more books (well worth reading, I think) proposing an allotted chamber as a complement to (not a replacement for) an elected legislature:

    “Deliberative Democracy in America: a Proposal for a Popular Branch of Government,” Ethan Leib, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004

    “Saving Democracy: a Plan for Real Representation in America,” Kevin O’Leary, Stanford University Press, 2006


  8. I have read Leib’s book. I think his implementing his proposal – like similar proposals from others – would essentially leave the power balance unchanged and, being a meaningless, reform would be worse than doing nothing. What are the details of O’Leary’s proposal in terms of the design parameters that determine the scope and independence of the allotted body?


  9. Being new to the study of sortition, I haven’t made my mind up yet about whether adding an allotted chamber to an elected legislature is worse than doing nothing, or a useful step in the right direction.

    Thanks for pointing me to your piece about design parameters – I think that’s really useful. I’ll answer about O’Leary’s proposal in the next few days.


  10. David,

    I think adding an allotted chamber to an elected legislature could be a useful step – if it is a body that is powerful enough to be more than a sham.

    Leib’s proposal – a “chamber” whose tenure is a few days, that answers pre-made questions by selecting from pre-made answers by relying on information and arguments presented by pre-selected “experts” – is just political theater, not a powerful political entity.


  11. You should probably include Plato’s “The Laws” here too. It proposes that sortition be combined with public servants chosen by other kinds of selection, such as appointment and election.


  12. Thanks for the comment. Could you provide a more specific citation from “The Laws”? I am aware only of a very brief mention of sortition by Plato in Republic:

    Democracy arises after the poor are victorious over their adversaries, some of whom they kill and others of whom they exile, then they share out equally with the rest of the population political offices and burdens; and in this regime public offices are usually allocated by lot.

    I would be interested to see what else he had to say.


  13. My search engine turns up some thirty six mentions of “lots,” meaning sortition, usually, in Plato’s Laws. It is this book that got me interested in this idea as a practical possibility. Plato was aware of the broad use of sortition in Athens and Sparta, to name just two. Although he was against democracy because of what it did to his teacher Socrates, he seems, in this, his last work, to have concluded that some combination of election and sortition would balance out the disadvantages of democracy and oligarchy.

    Here are two mentions, from book II of the Laws.

    Ath. “There is a seventh kind of rule which is awarded by lot, and is dear to the Gods and a token of good fortune: he on whom the lot falls is a ruler, and he who fails in obtaining the lot goes away and is the subject; and this we affirm to be quite just.” (Plato, Laws, Book II)

    Ath. “A God, who watched over Sparta, seeing into the future, gave you two families of kings instead of one; and thus brought you more within the limits of moderation. In the next place, some human wisdom mingled with divine power, observing that the constitution of your government was still feverish and excited, tempered your inborn strength and pride of birth with the moderation which comes of age, making the power of your twenty-eight elders equal with that of the kings in the most important matters. But your third saviour, perceiving that your government was still swelling and foaming, and desirous to impose a curb upon it, instituted the Ephors, whose power he made to resemble that of magistrates elected by lot; and by this arrangement the kingly office, being compounded of the right elements and duly moderated, was preserved, and was the means of preserving all the rest.”
    (Plato, Laws, Book II)

    There is also some Biblical support for sortition, especially in Proverbs 16:33,

    “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from Yahweh.” (World English Bible)


  14. “Some combination of election and sortition would balance out the disadvantages of democracy and oligarchy.”

    That was also Aristotle’s opinion, and should temper the view that it was the hostility of “the philosophers” to democracy that cast it in such a poor light for 2,000 + years. Plato and Aristotle would appear to be equally committed to mixed government as the most workable solution in practice. Of course neither, quite sensibly, believed in government by sortition alone.

    The repeated references to the gods should also moderate any outright rejection of the Fustel de Coulanges view on the origin of sortition.


  15. Thanks, badiblogger – finally got around to looking this up. Yes – interesting comments. I added Laws to the list as you suggest, and I’ll make a post of one of the relevant passages.


  16. […] draws attention in a comment on the Literature page to the fact that Plato’s Laws discusses […]


  17. […] draws attention in a comment on the Literature page to the fact that Plato’s Laws discusses […]


  18. Hi Anthony – your book is already on the list, naturally.


  19. True Democracy: Empowering Everyday Americans through the Legislative Lottery (2013) might apply. It is on Amazon.


  20. Is Machiavellian Democracy by John McCormick on the list? Cambridge University Press, 2011. Well worth reading.


  21. Thanks – added Miller’s “True Democracy” to the list.


  22. Added Machiavellian Democracy by John McCormick as well. Thanks!


  23. Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athens, and the similarly called work of the “Old Oligarch” are not on the list. Should they be?


  24. Thanks, Simon. Added.


  25. I have self-published the following eight items. Further description is available at

    * The Fight for Random – magical realist screenplay
    * Random Takes Off – political action drama screenplay
    * Democracy at Random – road trip screenplay
    * Random Takes Baltimore – municipal version of “Takes Off” screenplay
    * Next Step for Democracy – a short comedic educational stage play
    * Why Elections Are the Problem and How to Make Democracy Real — 8,000 word essay
    * On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction – novella
    * The Common Lot: A Novel – as stated


  26. Thanks, Nicholas! Yes – although both of those books have been discussed on the blog, the books page has not been updated to include them. I’ll do that now.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Sorry to write so many, I hope this is helpful. Mostly using the wikipedia page on sortition for knowing these.


  28. Thanks, Nicholas. I added Peter Stone’s reader to the list. Callenbach and Phillips is already on the list. Dahl’s book touches on sortition only very briefly if I am not mistaken.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Sorry, I will check the list more thoroughly in the future. I haven’t read the Dahl myself, whatever you think is best. :)


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