Blueprint of an institutional framework
Digital democracy based on sortition offers the unique chance to get rid of corrupt politicians, tyrannical governments, and the usurpation of the state by special interest groups. The selection of the people’s representatives by sortition instead of elections would end this evil that costs us dearly not only in terms of material prosperity but also with the loss of freedom.
Governance by selecting the people’s representatives by lottery instead of elections can look back on a venerable history. For Aristotle (384–322 BC), to select the people’s political representatives by lot instead of voting distinguishes the democracy from oligarchical rule: ‘So it is … democratic to occupy the offices by lot, and for the oligarchy by vote’ (Aristotle, Politics, IV, 9, 1294b 7–9). Likewise, for Montesquieu (1689–1755) the lottery procedure corresponds to ‘the nature of democracy’ (‘The spirit of the laws’ — 1748).
In the ancient Greek polis, for the ‘Great Board’, as well as for judges and for some state officials, selection took place by the lot. In the Republics of Venice and of the city Florence, the selection procedure for the government and its members used the lottery in many ways. Various other countries and specific regions in Europe also practiced the lottery system. Today, modern technology offers the possibility to apply random selection procedures to large populations.
The viciousness, ruthlessness, cruelty, and vindictiveness of rulers throughout history that have come to power by usurpation has not much changed under a system of democratic elections. A growing part of modern legislation has not been the result of the pursuit of the common good but of the pressure from special interest groups and because of the promises politicians have to make to get elected.
In comparison to other political systems, sortition offers the combination of less state power with more popular participation (Fig. 1)
Figure 1: Comparative position of sortition in the system of polities
Democratic rule by election is a form of oligarchical rule as Aristotle (see above) once diagnosed. While it offers some participation, it comes with more state power. Even worse, democracy by election is always at risk to turn into an autocracy, as the history of the 20th century widely confirms. Monarchy, too, while it does not depend on popular participation is also at risk to move towards autocracy as it was historically the case with absolutism as the precursor to modern totalitarianism.
Sortition, in contrast, as long as the method of such a type of selecting a community’s representatives remains intact, offers the optimal combination between less state power and more participation with the advantage that there is no inherent tendency to transmogrify into an authoritarian rule.
The institutional setting of a digital democracy based on sortition eliminates corruption because the time as a delegate is limited and because the number of persons that form the legislative body exceeds the reach of bribery.
Different from the present system of democracy based on elections where the egotism of the politicians leads them to make promises in order to get elected and also easily become the prey of special interest groups, sortition prevents this type of corruption.
The first step towards a digital democracy based on sortition would be to establish a General Assembly with veto power to serve as an additional chamber to the legislative bodies in place. This General Assembly would be composed of persons who are selected randomly among the constituency. The members of this assembly would possess veto rights over the decisions taken by the parliament (Congress) and government (presidency) including the judiciary (Supreme Court).
The composition of the General Assembly would be the result of random selection in line with the principle of universal suffrage. The General Assembly must be large enough to provide a representative sample of the population. Statistically, the number of persons that fit into a large concert hall are adequate to represent a population from five million onwards to several hundred million at an acceptable margin of error and of high confidence.
Such a ‘fourth power’ would be the ‘voice of the people’. Although such a chamber is neither government nor lawgiver, it could stop the encroachments of government and of the state bureaucracy through its veto power. It is not hard to imagine how many laws and regulations detrimental do freedom and prosperity could be stopped this way.
For the European Union, for example, the much lamented ‘democracy deficit’ could be lessoned if the present European Parliament would no longer be composed of elected politicians but by an Assembly of randomly selected citizens with veto rights about the decisions of the European Commission.
In a full-fledge digital democracy, the General Assembly would be the supreme body for promulgating the laws. It chooses among itself a Supervisory Board that will nominate the management of the communal affairs by hiring private government management firms.
Figure 2: Main organs of a digital democracy
The Supervisory Board of the General Assembly oversees and controls the activities of the executive that are handled by private government management firms. Nowadays already, there is a large pool of existing consulting companies, from which a future Supervisory Board could select the private government management firms to execute the laws.
As it has been the case already with policing and arbitration, specialized private government management companies will emerge in a digital democracy. These private government management companies and private arbitration courts will substitute the present state function and perform the full scope of public management including the judiciary.
The service by private government management companies would be cheaper and better than governments recruited from political parties. Much less personnel will be needed as the public sector becomes smaller under a digital democracy. The activity of the private governmental companies will not only be much more efficient than the traditional bureaucracy but also drastically reduced because the scope of the state-like activities will shrink due to privatization. Law and order will be maintained at lower costs and with less encroachment on personal liberties.
The final institutional setting would include three organs: The General Assembly as the representative of the people and the prime law-giver, the Supervisory Board as a special committee to supervise the Executive branch that manages the current affairs of the polity through private management companies (fig. 3)
Figure 3: Structure of a polity based on sortition
One can envision a full-fledged political system based on sortition as a pyramid where the basis is the electorate, out of which the General Assembly as a sample comes forth whereby a part of the General Assembly forms the Supervisory Board.
It seems appropriate to limit the time of service in the Assembly to 24 months, each sixth months one-fourth of the members leave, while a new group of the same size enters as the new members of the Assembly. Before the entry of a new group, one fourth of the Assembly would have at this point have served 24 months, one fourth 18 months, one fourth 12 and one fourth and one more fourth would have served six months.
After each new selection, the Assembly exists of four groups with the new members having 24 months to serve, while the group that will leave has six more months to go. In terms of time served, the Assembly comprises four groups after a new selection, with the new group with zero months of service and the longest-serving group with 18 months of membership.
Different from the system of election of politicians, which drives constantly towards the expansion of the state, the inherent tendency of a digital democracy based on sortition would be to reduce the size of the state and its bureaucracy. Under sortition, the legislators know that they will return to private life and that it is them who have to bear the costs of the policies that are put in place.
Without taking the power out of the hands of the professional politicians, freedom and prosperity will remain at stake. The probability is high that a digital democracy based on sortition would move to a polity of minimal public bureaucracy. In such a system, state and government would mean something quite different from what it is now. Digital democracy based on sortition offers an order of freedom and prosperity beyond the state and politics.
References and additional sources:
Sortition and Democracy: History, Tools, Theories. Liliane Lopez-Rabatel and Yves Sintomer (Editors). 2020
Against Elections. David van Reybrouck. 2018
The End of Politicians. Brett Hennig (2017)
Beyond Democracy. Frank Karsten und Karel Beckman. 2012
Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose, Roslyn Fuller. 2015
Sortition: Theory and Practice, Oliver Dowlen and Gil Delannoi (Editors) 2010
The Demarchy Manifesto. John Burnheim. 2016
After the Revolution? Robert Dahl. 1970
In Defense of Anarchism, Robert Paul Wolff. 1970)
Democracy — The God That Failed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. 2001
Capitalism beyond the state and politics. Antony P. Mueller. 2018
Principles of Anarcho-Capitalism and Demarchy. Antony P. Mueller. 2018
We must change our political system before it is too late. Antony P. Mueller. 2020
Why elections are bad for democracy. David van Rybrouck. 2016