Sortition: Research Proposal by Dr Keith Nilsen (November 2008)

Social theory has failed to adequately account for three main aspects of democratic development: the absence of sortition in modern political systems; the significance of common sense realist analysis within radicalism; the influence of factional conspiracy. These failures are interrelated and find reflection in the truth, self evident to common sense, that whereas on the one hand election by sortition must tend to contain the influence of factions on the other election by voting for nominated competing candidates must tend to engender their development. These omissions in social theory are general and can be detected in modern US constitutional analysis. In response to denial of these failings, in 2003 I conducted an inspection of the first 50 books on the subject of democracy listed by the British Library catalogue search computer (a librarian witnessed by signature the titles listed). None of them had any reference at all to the word sortition, or even random selection. It is also entirely absent from the books in the bibliography below, excepting those by Dowlen (which on his admission takes my research as a point of departure) and Finer.

Misrepresentation of Athenian democracy dates back certainly to James Madison and includes the marked tendency of theorists to equate sortition with ‘direct democracy’ denoting participation by the mass of the electorate in decision making and with this lawless 'rule by the mob.' In such fashion Montesquieu invented the fiction that ‘pure democracy’ could only survive without descent into tyranny when confined to small states. In fact however sortition is an alternative form of representation, not ‘direct democracy.’ Its use in Athenian democracy became more orderly and law based as methodological improvements in delegation, record keeping, executive decision making and legislative procedure were developed over time. In the later period the 'living constitution' of Athenian democratic process was even to some extent quite possibly not only more flexible but also more just than the intrigue bound, factional activism of modern judicial aristocracy.

My research has led me to address these omissions in social theory due in some measure to the particular path of political development which I have followed. In 1976 I abandoned Marxism as a viable paradigm after studying the problems of planned economy. From 1978 to 1987 I suspended these doubts in order to investigate further Lenin's claim that 'Marxism is all powerful because it is true' premised by an informed understanding of the commonsensical, practical qualities of his approach, including such principles as one man management, his conviction that radical theory should be polemical in nature to expiate opportunist tendencies and accordingly his view that Left organisation should facilitate this requirement. Throughout the eighties I promoted Lenin's tenet that the principal paper of the Left should be aimed at the level of politically advanced workers, and that the track record of leaders should be both transparent and subject to freedom of criticism and with this the common sense judgement of the politically active working class. I formulated this approach as a first step to tackling the many difficulties of Left strategy in its relation to democracy with a view to differentiating truthful and opportunist approaches. I believe it remains valid, and could have general application to democratic organisations. I was not satisfied with the indecisive nature of Soviet responses to this proposal.

After the 27th CPSU Congress I adopted once again a sceptical approach towards Marxism, and began research aimed at constructing an alternative viewpoint. Like radicals such as Tkachev, I sought an essentially Darwinian approach to the relation between truth and common sense through the prism of British empiricist understanding, and accordingly began to recognise the superior merits of agnosticism in their relation to atheism. In September 1991 I attended the CSCE parallel human rights conference in Moscow and was soon made aware that 'postmodern' Left strategy had supplanted Lenin's indifference to Machiavelli with Gramsci's enthusiasm for such voluntarism not only in the west, but also in the east. Though it had been intimated to me the Italian leader had a strong Soviet following in 1979, no open expression of this tendency was in evidence during my employment in Moscow. The distinct approaches of Gramsci and Lenin with regard to truth, common sense and Machiavellian chicanery have longstanding antecedents within radicalism dating back to the enlightenment largely in reflection of differences between British and European philosophy. My knowledge of their relation to communist propaganda and intelligence strategy became more comprehensive more especially so after my amendment to composite 54 at the 1992 Labour Party conference was accepted to establish a committee to deal with questions of secret service democratic accountability.

Dowlen (preface, 2008) states my interest in sortition began with this initiative, in truth however it had begun in the eighties upon discovering the fact, still astonishing to modern understanding, that Athenian democracy was founded upon its use, and that Kautsky, following Hegel, had dismissed this form as 'immature' and inevitably destined to succumb to the party system of democracy in its mature, bourgeois form.

My PhD thesis incorporated criticism of 'Third Way' strategy both in regard to its negligent disregard for intelligence on the potential scale of communist factional activity and also in its uncritical endorsement of neopragmatist philosophical assumptions and failure to give any account of the role of common sense realism. Accordingly and unsurprisingly there is no reference or explanation in any of Anthony Giddens' published work of the fact, recognised by Finer (1998 p 362 ) that Madison's claim that Athenian democracy had 'no cure for the mischiefs of faction' was not only wrong but the opposite of the truth. Against this background I believe it possible to link the theoretically superficial, cosmetic basis of Third Way strategy with Soviet reluctance to give decisive support to defence of Lenin's principle of freedom of criticism: they represent two sides of a singular opportunist tradition which has certainly some of its origins in the failure of Lenin’s heirs to uphold this principle with regard to his assessment of their character. If this principle had been upheld I believe it possible that reconciliation between the Russian and American revolutionary traditions could have been achieved long ago on the basis of advances in social theory, including clarification of what Gramsci had shown recognition to be the 'good, English, meaning' of common sense, and with this the true nature and significance of the first modern republic.

The American revolution was limited in its success due to the alliance with reactionary forces necessary to ensure its survival. These considerations helped shape the avowedly radical Declaration of Independence, the pragmatically conceived articles of confederation and federal constitution and the resurgently radical Bill of Rights. As Jefferson recognised, it is the first and the last of these documents which are the most fundamental, since they both deal directly with self evident truths of common sense and the unalienable rights which arise from them.

Modern radicalism does not maintain a consistent grasp of these distinctions given its wholesale adoption of neopragmatism, its failure to account for the long forgotten role of common sense realism, and its failure to uphold democratic principles of political organisation. In this light the frequently repeated claim that the struggle between originalism and the interpretive 'living constitution' school of leftist thought has arisen due to cultural changes of the 1960's is both superficial and inadequate. The complaint that conservative critics of this approach doubt the sincerity of its advocates (Goldford p.203) is without real justification given the history of communist dissimulation in pursuit of united front policies. The claim that Leftists are engaged in a Gramscian 'long march through the institutions' (ibid p 22) in regard to matters of constitutional interpretation will remain legitimate until contemporary radicalism is able to demonstrate clear support for the US Bill of Rights. As President Bush has noted, the varied forms of totalitarianism generally uphold self selecting organisational principles of leadership. The suspicion is that career leftists inclined to the soft totalitarian outlook are correspondingly attracted to aristocratic fields of influence such as in the academic establishment and the judiciary, where sortition has as yet no role in the appointments systems. Bruce Herschensohn for example has claimed that 90% of Capitol Hill jobs are taken by Democrats, even when Republicans win elections.

I do not rule out the possibility that concepts such as ‘underdetermination’ (Purcell 2007) and Kant's 'synthetic a priori' (Goldford p.238) may have some use in understanding the US constitution, but only on the basis that the self evident truths of common sense are properly understood as being evolutionarily stable and objective, not culturally relative determinations. Interpretivist inclinations are however almost entirely relativist in orientation and as such more usually presupposed by dogmatically atheist assumptions. 'Living constitution' advocates are consequently susceptible to confusing alienable rights which can be subject to culturally relative considerations (such as Lenin’s advice to Inessa Armand that issues of post coital ‘choice’ in regard to birth control were petit bourgeois in nature) with unalienable rights such as the right to life. Against this background much of the textual argumentation in US constitutional law appears excessive. The radical legal aristocracy need to move on from this terrain of debate, since it is largely constrained by and a function of narrow parameters of factional deliberation which themselves could in the long run be complemented with less partisan institutional arrangements, perhaps even including amendments to the exclusively aristocratic composition of the supreme court. The US constitution is the world's most advanced democratic framework for facilitating political progress by consent and it should be respected as such, not as an object for manipulation and distortion by means of judicial activism and aristocratic meddling.

If general agreement can be reached that the said fundamental founding documents are and will remain essentially correct, attention can be focussed on expanding the parameters of democracy to include non partisan institutional arrangements. This is the context in which the self evident truths of common sense in their relation to sortition can be afforded greater understanding in US democratic development along with Jefferson's self evident but unincorporated constitutional truth that the 'earth belongs to the living,' including in regard to its implications for inherited wealth and multisystemic macroeconomic choice mediated by long term constitutional review. Progress on these issues must be based on popular agreement to such changes, which ultimately can facilitate a process of constitutional amendment first at state, then at federal levels. This process can also include education and debate concerning whether it is appropriate that supermajority support to effect change at both state and federal levels is ultimately necessary. Aside from its Bill of Rights amendments the federal constitution is a limited, narrowly and indeed secretively conceived 'blueprint for liberty' which can and should be further developed in accordance with the aspirations of its founding fathers. In this way the evident flaws in understanding upon which it is based, not least among which is the potential role of sortition in containing deleterious factional influences while also facilitating non partisan means of amendment and ratification, 'recommendatory' or otherwise, can be corrected and improved upon. Similar errors also affected the aristocratic early American approach to citizen payment in regard to political participation which need to be addressed. By such means a framework of common understanding and broad political participation through which conflict between radicalism and conservatism can be managed more effectively can hopefully emerge. This possibility is not wholly unrealistic: I have been informed through their embassy in London that such an example of reform would be emulated by the Russian Government. My research, which includes ongoing development of a rolling citizens deliberative jury on both sides of the Atlantic as means to 'prove' the existence of the self evident truths of common sense, is oriented to these goals. Simultaneously addressing the problems of electoral fraud and falling voter turnout, results show over two thirds of respondents have agreed to the above proposals. They are incorporated in a short pamphlet on '
Absentee Ballots' together with a model resolution.

Conflict resolution strategy also includes questions of a military nature, both in regard to secret services, and also more broadly. In 2003 I submitted proposals for democratic development and security force recruitment in Iraq to USAID incorporating the use of random selection as means to contain infiltration by enemy factions. I would like to continue research in this field with the assistance of US armed forces public affairs officers. That war is politics conducted by other means is a truism few can doubt, whether at regional, global, or world historical levels of conflict, all of which are more safely viewed as being interconnected.

My investigative research can in the process of addressing these tasks also seek explanation for why Madison so misrepresented sortition in attempting to combine Hume's theory of faction, tenets of mixed government, Montesquieu's separation of powers and the unavoidably pragmatic solution of federalism to curb the influence of faction in his extended republic.

The commonplace antidemocratic prejudices of the period certainly affected the parameters of 18th century political debate, yet neither can it be ruled out that darker, factional motives of either noble or ignoble character also played a role.


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