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Sorting Out Sortition: A Perspective on the Random Selection of Political Officers

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The central argument of this article is that it is possible to identify one major or primary potential that sortition brings to the political community when it is used to select office holders. This is to be found when sortition is used in such a way as to maximise its most essential feature – its arationality – and where such an application has the most significant and positive impact on the political process and the political community. In such applications the advantages of using an arational process can be seen as outweighing its disadvantages. In political practice – especially in a republican context – this primary political potential is the ability of sortition to protect the public process of selection from subversion by those who might wish to use it for their own private or partisan ends. This helps to defend the polity from those seeking to exercise unconstitutional or arbitrary power – either in the form of a single tyrant or of factions vying for partisan control. In addition, sortition can produce a series of secondary benefits to the republican polity: the polity can be understood as impartial, the threshold to citizen participation can be lowered and the model of the independent citizen encouraged. These benefits, however, can be seen as deriving from initial protection of the process of selection from manipulation – a quality of lot which is present whatever the motivation of those instigating a particular lottery scheme. Although the political use of lot cannot be confined to the protection of open government, its potential to limit the power of individuals or covert groupings makes it naturally commensurate with this role.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Scholar

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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