Decision-making in the shadow of sortition

At a seminar on the topic of ‘sortition’ in about 2006, one participant was moved to claim it is ‘one of the sexiest ideas in political theory’. Of course, sortition is as old as democratic thought itself and the online Encyclopedia Britannica says ‘Sortition [is] election by lot, a method of choosing public officials in some ancient Greek city-states. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy [where with] few exceptions, all magistrates [and] juries of the law courts were chosen by lot. The practice of sortition obviated electoral races and provided for the regular turnover of officeholders.’  In his ‘Politics’, Aristotle told us that ‘Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that all are free absolutely… The next is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything. … It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.’

 Sortition is still widely utilised in the Anglo-American world for jury selection, and I believe that in our highly divided society with its entrenched political biases and fake notions of objectivity and impartiality, it can be usefully used until – and perhaps beyond – such time as we develop the wisdom to establish more inclusive forms of governance. Below I will suggest the use of sortition to deal with one of the more intractable political administrative problems in Guyana, but before doing so note should be taken of what Neil Duxbury said of his work: ‘Although this study is an attempt to depict  randomized legal decision-making positively, it is also an effort to show that randomization is  an idea about  which surprisingly little can be said without qualification. Depending largely upon context, lotteries may,  among other things,   be  considered fair or unfair, just or unjust, efficient or inefficient. The equivocality of the lottery  should not be underestimated. Nor, however, ought we to ignore the adaptability of the device.’ (Random Justice (1999) Clarendon Press,  Oxford)…..