Demarchy or Lottocracy

I apologise for this sudden glut of posts after a long period of silence. It’s mostly to do with mood and the creative spark, both being unpredictable.

I was delighted to find this article yesterday. It’s published by Aeon Magazine  and written by Alexander Guerrero who is an assistant professor of philosophy, medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Surprisingly,  he doesn’t seem to know the existing term “Demarchy” for choosing governments by lottery. When I was writing my daft book “The Vandervelde Documents” I explored the idea as an alternative to a system which was already failing us badly, and has now proved hopelessly inadequate. 

Firstly here is the AEON article:

Now here is a quote from my book in which the hero Vandervelde is addressing the first assembly of a new Nation being created in 2062 from the ruins of my fictional Britain:

On the Monday I had to speak again, but it felt different. We were all together now, committed to the concept of Cambria.

 “Ladies and Gentlemen”…..  (I like my dramatic pauses.)

“Democracy has failed….. The great 20th century ideals of universal suffrage, political parties, republics, constitutional monarchies… all these have failed to deliver.“

To my surprise there was a fair amount of agreement evident from the cries of “hear hear” – though there were a few shouts of “shame”.

“They failed for the same reason that autocratic societies failed: to achieve power you had to offer bribes. In autocratic societies it was the chiefs, kings, queens and warlords who offered land and influence to their friends and relatives. In the democracies the party chiefs offered more buying power to the electors, and the only way they could deliver was by stoking up endless consumer cycles of growth and collapse. At least under the autocracies the benefits on offer were quite long term. In the democracies you had to offer money in your pocket now, better times next year, or at the most a real benefit in a few years time. To get elected you had to have influence. If you wanted something to change, you – the business person or pressure group – had to be able to influence the politicians, and so the great lobbying industry developed. Economic growth was the only thing that kept the system going, and that led ultimately to the catastrophe of 44.

We have to do better. My team and I spent 6 years underground working out why we had failed and how we could do better. What we wanted was a system of government in which every person could participate equally. It had to be a system in which the representatives of those people were not influenced by any pressure group or lobby. Those chosen to govern had to be able to make long term decisions without the constant fear of losing power, and they had to be amongst the most able in the country.

That’s a very tall order.

How do we choose a few from a multitude? History records several methods. We can chose by heredity – the offspring of those in power assume power by birthright. We can choose by lot – one person draws the long straw. We can choose by election – we vote for the people we like. We can allow the most powerful to assume control. Variations on these methods have determined most of the governments in our history.

Of all these there is only one which is capable of producing a random and therefore representative sample of the people and that is the one which has for centuries been used in Britannica to choose the twelve good men (or women) and true who decide whether someone accused of a crime is guilty or innocent – the Jury. Actually those twelve may not be good and true. They could all be criminals, or all captains of industry. That is the nature of chance.

Simply to replace assembly elections with a group of citizens chosen at random from the population would have some obvious disadvantages, the main one being that there is no way of knowing whether any of them have the skills and knowledge to govern. However, as the basis of government it has been tried –  twice: once in the Venetian republic, and once in ancient Greece. In both cases it was used in combination with voting. It even has a name: Demarchy, and it is a demarchic system which I want to suggest to you today as being the best way of choosing those who will govern our new nation.

In the Athenian democracy, the first process was an election to choose an assembly. Its officials were then chosen by sortition. We are all familiar with the model of a large group – a Parliament or Assembly, and a smaller group – a Senate or Cabinet. In a demarchic system one of those would be chosen by lot and the other by election.

In the Venetian Republic they apparently had several layers of alternate elections and sortitions. Whichever way you do it, by introducing the principle of random selection you undermine the power of the career politicians and those who lobby them for their own self-interest. To stimulate discussion NRG have produced two draft proposals for you to consider, as you can see on your screens now.



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