Many people would agree that the end of the Obama presidency was the end of an era and in years to come, I wonder how many will consider the end of the Trump presidency to be the end of an error.

Imagine if you were charged with murder and upon completion of your trial, the judge said ‘right I want everybody rounded up within two blocks of the courthouse, brought in and added to the jury. Each of their votes will carry the same value as the jurors who sat in on the trial.’ Essentially your fate would be hanging in the hands of a mob. Only a small fraction of whom had been privy to the essential details of your trial. The mob was previously welcome to sit in the viewing gallery to learn about the trial but none of them bothered. It would be madness to decide to make such an important decision this way wouldn’t it?

And yet that is exactly what Western democracies do every time a new leader or national government is elected. This system has been used to great effect to facilitate people in the UK voting for Brexit and Americans voting for The Don. Luckily though I have an alternative suggestion and it doesn’t involve Communism or people biting each other. This is an alternative method to elected democracy called ‘sortition’ which was first used by the Ancient Greeks and is still used in some organizational structures today.

In ancient Athens, the Greeks developed a daring device called the kleroterion (http://agora.ascsa.net/id/agora/image/2008.18.0174) which would make random selections of citizens for appointment to political offices of state. Essentially people would put their names forward for inclusion in the machine and if luck shone upon them, they would be picked to represent society. They would then be drilled and educated on the issues of the day so that they could collectively make better-informed decisions. There were a whole load of checks and balances in place to monitor competency and after serving one year in a particular office, one could put their name back into the kleroterion for other positions but they could never hold the same position more than once in a lifetime. This has several advantages over elected democracy.

The American electorate understandably had trust issues with Hillary Clinton, partly because of her ongoing financial solicitation of big banks and other financial institutions. Unfortunately, as things stand in an elected democracy, politicians need money and media to stand a chance of being elected to high office and Hillary loves money so much she even married a Bill. Even prospective socialist candidates such as Jeremy Corbyn, need money to fund their campaigns albeit in his case much of this comes from worker-orientated sources such as trade unions and crowd-funding. Sortition in the 21st century would remove the need for fund-raising and instantly render lobbying as being a worthless endeavour.

In Politics: Book IV Aristotle opinionated “it is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.” An oligarchy is when the many are ruled by the few which is what happens in a parliament filled with lawyers, businessmen and bubble-wrapped inheritees. Fortune favours the brave and those with hedge funds. But it wouldn’t if we used sortition. You might well argue that in an elected democracy the MPs are our well-informed representatives but are the people electing them well-informed? Most people I know demonstrate zero interest in politics and we can argue all day about whether people should care or not but that is the reality of modern-day life.

Sortition ensures that decorators, bus drivers, bricklayers and dinner ladies would have literally the same chance of representing society as lawyers, bankers and CEOs. It would also mean an end to party politics so party loyalty would be replaced with more conscientious decision-making as the need for political allegiances would all but evaporate with the end of political parties.

In Ancient Greece, drawing representatives by lot also virtually eliminated corruption as nobody can really aim for power when the system is independent of human meddling. So since Ancient Greece where has sortition been successfully implemented?

A diluted version of sortition for putting people into public office was used by the Venetians from the 12th century all the way up until the late 18th century. It was considered so successful that Florence also adopted it for two-hundred years. More recent examples of usage include jury service in Britain and a Canadian company called MassLBP that works with governments to increase the participation of the public in deliberating on issues that directly affect them.

Should all votes really be equal in the absence of competency tests to go along with the ballot box? I would hazard a guess that most people would say vote-linked competency tests would be unethical and yet is it really right that a person’s medical treatment or educational prospects be put in the hands of people who know very little about the issues that directly affect that person?

I am not advocating the immediate whole-scale abandonment of elected democracy either. We could be brave and trial sortition in small areas as a social experiment to see how well it might work in the 21st century. Afterall, 21st-century problems require 21st-century solutions.

I think we should be open to alternative systems to elected democracy, at least until we evolve critical analytical thinking and human curiosity on a mass scale. It’s not so much that I think elected democracy is a bad idea (I actually think elected democracy has enormous potential), it’s just that I’m not sure that it’s the absolute best idea at this point in our human evolution. I love listening to Icelandic post-rock music (because it’s awesome), wear Muppets socks and sometimes eat a sausage with baked beans from a mug. Do you really want me voting on issues that affect your life chances?

 

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5 Comments on "The Case Against Elected Democracy"

  1. “I love listening to Icelandic post-rock music (because it’s awesome), wear Muppets socks and sometimes eat a sausage with baked beans from a mug. Do you really want me voting on issues that affect your life chances?”

    Yes please, because judging from your article you’re a damn sight better informed than the average voter. The problem is that there is no effective way of exercising your political will, about half of some populations don’t vote at all and a large chunk of the rest vote for all of the wrong reasons.

    How bad is it? I know of one person who voted for Brexit because she didn’t like David Cameron and wanted to get rid of him. Then there are the voters in the USA who will vote for anyone providing they are representing their party of choice. It doesn’t matter if they are corrupt, it doesn’t matter if they are a sexual predator, they’re representing OUR party so they must be right.

    Choosing people at random might work though, there are way too many people in the House of ‘Commons’ who attended Eaton or Harrow and right now that place needs a little of the common touch.

    • “How bad is it? I know of one person who voted for Brexit because she didn’t like David Cameron and wanted to get rid of him.”

      So her vote achieved it’s aim didn’t it?.

      I tell remainers that I voted leave to ensure that Newcastle would get promoted, then announce that it clearly worked. I figured I may as well have a laugh and a bit of a wind up as they struggle to counter my real arguments and have a tendency to strop off in a huff. Nice to know though that we have an international arbiter of the wrong reasons to vote in our midst.

    • Your comment might have worked if you’d of kept politics out of it mate. I second the first reply !

      • You mean like Jamie’s article kept politics out of it, with it’s references to Trump and Brexit. Or maybe like Peter’s reply kept politics out of it, with his reference to the stupidity of a Brexit voter. Anyway, apologies for ruining what was shaping up to be a beautiful echo.

  2. “21st century problems require 21st century solutions”

    When a system of governance under which standards of living, educational attainment and life expectancy are at an all time high is described as a problem, then you know that your society has become truly decadent. However if it is indeed a 21st century problem then why should a 5th century BC provide a solution?.

    The Athenians did indeed practice sortition, but they practiced it in the context of a direct democracy. Jamie, would you be happy if every month the UK population voted in a series of referenda on all of the pressing issues of the day as was the case in Athens?. Wouldn’t that effectively mean that “the mob” made every decision rather than just the single decision on who governed the nation?. Or are you advocating that the random citizens chosen make all decisions without reference to the electorate?, in which case you have abolished democracy completely. Even then the idea that people chosen at random are so malleable that they would shed any preconceived ideas and be “educated” (presumably by civil servants) on which way to vote is naive. Almost two years of almost non stop Brexit bashing have gone by since the referendum and yet the polls sit in almost exactly the same place as they did on June 23 2016. As for eliminating party politics, put more than four people in a room for a day and they will form groups based on their common ground, yes under this system the traditional “parties” would disappear, but only to be replaced by new structures.

    You give jury service as an example of where sortition has been successfully implemented in the UK, most in the legal profession would take issue with that view. Juries are notoriously unrepresentative of the public at large and are invariably composed of a disproportionate amount of OAP’s, stay at home mothers and the unemployed. Most working people apply for and are granted exemptions. For a system such as that proposed to succeed in attracting anyone with a decent job or career would require a huge financial inducement given the short term of service.

    You say that you don’t think that elected democracy is the best idea at this point of our human evolution. You will forgive me for saying that this comes across as “I don’t like a system which doesn’t give me what I want”. Unfortunately we can’t always get what we want. I got 13 years of “New Labour” and didn’t like it one bit. That didn’t make the people who voted for Labour wrong just because they held an opposing view to mine. The same applies that people who voted for Brexit of Trump aren’t necessarily wrong just because they hold an opposing view to yours, it doesn’t make them a mob and it doesn’t make them any less informed than you.

    Since the EU referendum especially, but also in the wake of the 2017 GE I have seen an alarming rise in people advocating a limitation to peoples right to vote. From saying that old people shouldn’t be allowed to vote as they are influencing a future they won’t be part of, to saying that Leave voters shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they are clearly a universal mass of educationally sub normal racists. Others advocate a technocracy as they feel that somehow it would be serve their own interests better. Surveys have been done that show that support for the statement that “it is essential to live in a country that is governed by democracy” has dropped to a staggering 25% amongst millennials. It is no surprise that support for that statement is highest amongst people who were born to parents who lived before universal suffrage. There is a saying that “you don’t know what you had until it’s gone”, if todays millennials find themselves complicit in dismantling democracy in the UK they will, too late, see the wisdom in that statement first hand.

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