The Road to Political Reform Based on Sortition: Guest Post by John Burnheim

Scrap attempts to reforming politics as a whole. From a practical point of view attempts to do so by legal constitutional change have no possibility of succeeding from a theoretical point of view, it is folly to assume that if we agree broadly about principle and are motivated to act we will reach a practical agreement. As soon as you analyse the range of possibilities that emerge once one envisages ways of putting all those abstract principles into practice, the more one runs into a host of incompatible proposals. Especially between rigorists who think that their proposal is the only acceptable way of achieving justice, freedom, people power or whatever, and those who insist on a fluid pragmatic approach. The fact is that up to a point both may be viable if only we could choose to follow a particular proposal consistently. But people will not, cannot, arrive at such an agreement if they start from first principles.

We must start from where we are and what precisely we are doing to achieve what we are supposed to be doing. So the first step is careful auditing. That makes clear failures of two sorts: first detecting various kinds of failure to face up to known and recognised needs and rules, and second to recognise ways in which actually following the recognised aims and procedures has effects that are unacceptable to some legitimate interests or preventing pursuit of possibilities. There are already many competent’s and well established bodies that carry out such auditing in the interest of these various public and private instrumentalities. But in both private and public instances they operate primarily in the interests of those who have power and the bodies that employ them rather than the public interest, traditionally to see that firms and other organisations do not suffer from internal fraud or suffer inefficiency. Even in the case of government agencies this often takes the form of defending activities that are contrary to the public interest or obfuscating what is being done.

So the scope and standards of organisations of all sorts, need to be audited. This task needs to be much more sensitive to the details, much more specific than current debate which is framed by party politics. My view is that while it’s no panacea, it is likely to be a very effective role for specialised committees of citizens chosen by sortition. I also think that sortition for very specialised tasks is the way forward for many public activities. Don’t concentrate on what juries can’t do, but on instances where they are likely to do something useful.

This entry was posted in Democracy, Philosophy, Political theory, Sortition and citizens’ juries. Bookmark the permalink.
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