Is digital democracy based on sortition the way out?
The events of the past couple of months with a world-wide economic lockdown and strict rules of social distancing have alerted many people that tyranny is in the making. Democracy by vote does not protect against suppression. Could a digital democracy where the representatives of the people are chosen by lot be more effective to promote prosperity, freedom, and peace?
As the lockdown has shown, even well-established democracies were unable to mobilize the judicial and parliamentary tools to ward off the onslaught on liberty. Without means of legal resistance, people had to accept that the basis of their livelihood has been taken away or at least severely damaged.
Democracy by popular vote provided no guarantee against tyranny. Yet the same technological revolution that can be the source of a digital despotism offers the chance for a new order beyond the state and politics. Modern technology allows us to install a system where the representatives of the people are randomly chosen.
Under a system of sortition, also called “demarchy”, the representatives of the people for the legislative body are selected through lot. Such a “digital democracy” offers a way out of the many dilemmas of modern democracy based on the election by vote. Concerning the method, sortition requires a random mechanism to select a representative sample of the population to serve as the lawgivers.
The problems with the present system of democracy through the election of professional politicians that represent political parties are well known and documented.
Under a system of sortition, in contrast, not politicians that represent parties form the legislative body but a representative sample of the whole population. Instead of parties and politicians, the candidates of the election would be the electorate itself. Those who may legally vote are also the candidates.
In a digital democracy, party politics would vanish, and the state functions would be privatized over time.
In contrast to democracy by election, the advantages of democracy by sortition include:
- High degree of popular legitimacy
- Independence of the representatives
- Elimination of corruption
- End of party politics
- Popular representation
- End of the political power seekers
- Elimination of the costs and confrontations of the election campaigns
- Elimination of the political apparatus
- Comprehensible and humane legislation
- End of the avalanche of laws, rules, and regulations
- Minimization of the state (less government spending, lower taxes).
Critics of sortition claim that a legislative body, whose members are selected by chance, has less expertise than an elected parliament, and that this would increase the power of the bureaucracy. The truth, however, is that the specific knowledge that is now present in the assemblies, exists in knowing how to gain and to exert power, and non-political competence is in short supply.
The critics of sortition ignore that the current system of party politics has led to a huge bureaucracy and a massive build-up of the power of the state apparatus. The political parties and the state bureaucracy cooperate to maximize their power which they achieve by having more state and without much concern about the costs.
Without a fundamental change, the encroachment of the public sphere would go on to expand and diminish the productive sector and personal privacy. Over time, ever more tyranny will accompany the creeping impoverishment of the people.
In order not to go down the road to serfdom, the fake democracy that is currently in place must make way for an authentic representative form of governance. It is time to establish an institutional framework where the promise of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” would no longer be just a slogan but come true.
Democracy by vote has failed. Democracy by lot will save us. The selection of the people’s representatives by a lottery requires no revolutionary upheaval. Establishing a digital democracy requires a change of mind. If public opinion changes, the alteration of the method of selection of the members of the state organs toward a system of sortition would follow. Once established, digital democracy based on sortition would end the power of politicians, lobbyists, and interest groups and put an end to the threat of tyranny.