Introducing the … Klerotarians: reviving democracy the Athenian way

Athenian democracy, whose material techniques are so brilliantly described by Julian Dibbell, was largely based on the random selection of citizens to play certain roles.

The Kleroterians are an informal group which aims to reinvigorate this tradition of deliberate use of randomness (lottery) in human affairs. In the world of governance, politics and elections, this is called Sortition.

As CLR James wrote in the essay, Any Cook Can Govern:

“Perhaps the most striking thing about Greek Democracy was that the administration (and there were immense administrative problems) was organized upon the basis of what is known as sortition, or, more easily, selection by lot. The vast majority of Greek officials were chosen by a method which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out. “

According to the Klerotarians, such techniques could offset the plutocratic hijacking of formal representative democracy.

One of the more recent books on the topic is:

The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making. Peter Stone. Oxford University Press, 2011

The blog of the Kleroterians is recommended to monitor innovative proposals in this sphere, such as for example, the Semi-Direct Democracy proposals, and Project iDemocracy.

4 Comments Introducing the … Klerotarians: reviving democracy the Athenian way

  1. AvatarRichard C Adler

    Given that Athenian ‘democracy’ was more-or-less plutocratic–or rather plutarchic–to begin with (rule by a minority of free, land-owning males), I have to find the Kleroterians’ intent a bit ironic. I wish them success, but I seriously doubt the ancient Athenians would have had much sympathy with their stated goals.

    I’m not sure how much benefit one gets from representation by random selection when the available pool of candidates is tightly restricted and homogeneous to begin with. The Kleroterians would be less inspired by the ancient Athenians than improving on them (as judged from a modern perspective, of course).

  2. AvatarYoram Gat

    Richard,

    The Athenian democracy was exclusive, but not plutocratic. There were strict criteria for inclusion, but they had nothing to do with wealth or land ownership. Among those that were included, there was much more political equality than there is in today’s “democracies”.

    The latter point – equality among those included – is the important one. No one suggests employing the exclusivity of the Athenian democracy, in the same way that no one suggests employing the sail boats of the Athenian democracy. What the Kleroterians suggest is to use the device of sortition in order to create political equality within the citizen body (a body that will be universally inclusive).

  3. AvatarHarald Korneliussen

    I think that the reason Athenian democracy ultimately failed (or failed to be revived in Athens), was basically the problem of slaves/women etc. The Athenians loved their democracy, and were fiercely protective of it, understanding fully well how precarious it was in a hostile world. But this lead to a form of jealousy: they were afraid to share it, because they were afraid to lose it. They didn’t think [women/slaves/people in cities subject to Athens/fifth-generation foreigners who had just liberated the city from tyranny] could be trusted to preserve it, so those were excluded. My theory is that because of that, the system gradually lost its moral strength, and eventually no one bothered to revive it after it got ousted for the last time (as they had done a couple of times after previous defeats).

  4. AvatarNingúnOtro

    Harald,

    you’d better “think”… after checking your facts.

    These were dangerous times… it looks like they simply lost a war 😉 .

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