Politics, recent

Polarisation and the Case for Citizens’ Juries


It looks like liberal democracy is falling apart. But we can put it back together if we take democracy seriously enough—as seriously as the ancient Greeks.

The chaos of Donald Trump was unimaginable just a decade ago. Brexit was a similar humiliation for Britain’s political class, leading to its bewildered paralysis ever since. How do such things happen? Perhaps because I admire economists’ deployment of very simple ideas to powerful effect, I’ve come to an approach to these problems that I think is simple and compelling.

First, democracy is government by conversation. A political conversation should often be competitive—to sharpen ideas and measure their support. Yet, to remain a conversation rather than a parody of one, it must also be a co-operative search, if not for agreement, then at least for mutual understanding of where positions differ. However, this co-operative foundation for our politics has been largely extinguished by the weaponisation of political communication by professionals operating on the mass media, and, more recently by “trolling” on social media.

Second, where elections bake competition into the operating system of representation, there’s another, even more time honoured way to represent the people. The ancient Greeks built their democracy around it and it hides in plain sight today whenever a jury is empanelled in a court of law. And, whether it concerns legal or political matters, deliberation within such bodies nurtures the collaborative aspects of conversation. Giving citizens’ juries and assemblies chosen by lot a role within our beleaguered democracy could see it renewed.


To become a politician you compete for election. You then join party colleagues competing against their opponents. Yet democracy implies limits to competition. We remain safe for now that no substantial political grouping perpetuates extra-legal violence. Yet something more fundamental is afoot.

Though it apes the form of conversation, political communication has become as professionalised, as optimised to the competition to win votes as McDonald’s use of salt, fat, sugar and advertising is to win customers. Meanwhile, responding to similar competitive imperatives, the informational foundations of our democracy were being shorn away by mass media news values long before the internet arrived. Between 1968 and 1988, the length of presidential sound bites on US network news went from 43 to 9 seconds.1

The singleminded goal of each player in mass media political conversation is to manipulate it to their own end. Politicians rehearse “focus grouped” talking points and slogans like “take back control” and “roll up our sleeves” available on online lists (seriously!). Spokespeople cherry pick arguments, spurious or otherwise to defend their vested interest—until the they argue the opposite for their next client or employer. As Groucho put it, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I’ve got others.”

Our language and etiquette are being transformed by the imperatives of political and ideological combat. The repertoire of “moves” now labelled “political correctness” have grown like bacteria in a petri dish in no small part because of their success as tactics in political debate. Taking offence, “checking” privilege, and associated strictures offer trump cards to instantly ideologise and emotionalise a conversation to one side’s tactical advantage.


In a healthy democracy, the journalist’s role should surely be to report and probe in the public interest. Yet almost invariably issues are framed reductively in terms of competing participants’ talking points, with disagreements reduced to “he-said-she-said.” As Paul Krugman put it, the response to one of these competitors announcing the world is flat would be the headline “Views differ on shape of Earth.”

When playing “ringmaster,” journalists simulate truth-seeking but again, their real schtick is usually reductively competitive. Their subjects’ talking points frame the issues with journalists stoking disagreement where they can—it’s so much more engaging and instantly relatable than exploring for common ground.

They then celebrate their “savvy” as insiders to the whole process with breathless “race calling” commentary on who’s winning the debate—from he-said-she-said to he’s-winning-she’s-winning. Only this isn’t really about who is winning the debate, but whose tactics are working better, at least for those in the insiders’ echo-chamber. As Todd Gitlin put it—again long before internet campaigning—rather than being informed on the issues, the audience is invited to become “cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement.”2

A more recent variant on similarly reductive themes has been partisan mainstream media such as Fox News. Here the journalist MC and programming goes agent provocateur, for viewers to enjoy the fun of barracking for their ideology and hounding its enemies. As Fox News boss Chet Collier put it, “Viewers don’t want to be informed; they want to feel informed.”

With these rules of engagement, political coverage becomes wall-to-wall bullshit—in the technical sense defined by philosopher Harry Frankfurt. The speaker’s concern isn’t with truth or falsity, but with “putting themselves over,” whether as concerned, contrite, respectable, or compassionate. Until their next gig.

Against all this, one can appreciate Donald Trump’s countercultural attraction—the least scripted, and most authentic, president in generations. A troll in his own cause.


There’s been a flowering of marvellous political conversation on the internet. But that’s not where the political action is. For all its uncanny simulation of conversation, internet trolling completes the weaponisation of conversation.

Where mass media’s production cost makes it necessarily ponderous, social media is improvisational, mounting devastating disinformation attacks in minutes, destroying careers in an eye-blink. And while one can imagine strategies to counter inaccurate facts in “fake news,” how does one counter trolls spreading misunderstanding of others’ motives in a way that precludes the possibility of conversation?

With mass media having done the softening up, social media is finishing the job. Our political system still delivers politicians afraid of not running the trains on time. But mainstream political conversation is a corpse, twitching as professional communicators and AI powered trolls commandeer human reflexes that evolved to foster communication and mutual understanding on the African Savannah, to stoke fear, loathing, and misunderstanding.


That we’re being increasingly betrayed by political elites is true enough. Until social media turned toxic, many imagined it enabling us to “take back control” (if I might use that loaded term).3 Like the glamorous assistant disappearing once inside the magician’s cabinet, only to miraculously reappear moments later, here the populace disappear when we go looking for the culprit responsible for the toxic state of our political culture, only to reappear as our deliverer moments later.

Though our choices and votes reward the clickbait and news values of the media and politicians practicing their own dark arts, we remain the victim throughout, not of our own folly, but of manipulation by an other.

Can “we the people” save democracy by coming into our own as a deliberative force? We’ve been warned since Socrates and Plato on, that, left unsupervised, hoi polloi become “the mob” at the drop of a hat. But surely the media diet of bread and circuses, this school of infantilism is part of this mess.


Given the central role of the emotions as the motive force in political engagement, we should heed Martha Nussbaum’s advice in her book Political Emotions: to strive for their health. Any functioning polity will mobilise and nurture the emotions of shared identity. This is necessary to the community’s survival if it must fight an enemy—as in World War Two. However, it can also be disastrous when it should talk more before fighting on—as in World War One.

Yet, as we’re observing, in a diverse, liberal society at peace, no matter how much it serves the interests of mass and social media operatives in revving us up to hit their KPIs, too heavy an emphasis on identity can be highly corrosive. It’s transforming our politics into competing witch-hunts against ritualised “others” whether they’re fat cat bosses, “elites,” tax cheats, skivers, or welfare queens.

Against this, Nussbaum proposes that political emotions should inspire to worthy collective projects requiring effort and sacrifice from national defence to protecting the poor and weak. It’s partly by so doing that liberal politics must labour…

…to keep at bay forces that lurk in all societies and ultimately, in all of us: tendencies to protect the fragile self by denigrating and subordinating others. .… Disgust and envy, the desire to inflict shame upon others.

Nussbaum contrasts “masculine” emotions (associating them with competition and aggression) against the other “feminine” emotions (which build cooperation and care within the group). These emotions line up very neatly against the two ways of representing the people—by election and by lot.


The same people whose eyeballs, clicks, and votes drive the toxicity of the politico-entertainment complex as served up by political elites behave differently deliberating amongst peers. When a citizens’ jury is first assembled, because its subject is political, most jurors arrive having assumed that there’ll be the usual combative fare, complete with activists revving things up—the usual politicking as road rage. They’re surprised at how respectful and cooperative others are. Then they remember that they’re just like them and things fall into place.

“I’m a man, I’m six foot two,” reported one citizens’ juror considering the safety and vibrancy of Adelaide’s nightlife. “I have no considerations for my safety. Then being with other people—older, smaller, females—you learn that their experiences are very different.”4

Imagine that issue presented on mass media. There’d be (say) feminist activists against domestic violence arguing against a hoteliers association spokesperson. The activists would want to be newsworthy to get media coverage, while hotelier’s spokesperson would present arguments we’d all know lacked all bona fides, cherrypicked to support their own interest.

Citizens’ juries also engender substantial changes in view. They tend towards compromise rather than polarisation and pro-social, less punitive strategies for solving social dilemmas. In Texas, the proportion of citizens willing to pay a little more for wind and solar energy to address greenhouse concerns went from 52 to 84 percent.5 In Oregon, where citizens’ juries now preview all citizen initiated referendums to advise the populace, a mandatory sentencing proposal enjoying 70 percent opinion poll support received just three jurors’ votes in 24 after deliberations concluded.


Even without any formal political power, a standing citizens’ assembly would reveal the people’s considered opinion as opposed to their unconsidered opinion measured by endless opinion polls. (Would you prefer the people’s considered, or unconsidered view?) This would have its own effect on elected politicians. If politicians won’t agree to fund a citizens’ assembly initially, philanthropists large and small can crowdfund it.

Imagine how the energies of our vote hungry political elite might find more considered and cooperative ways through the dramas of Brexit or government shutdowns if there were a standing citizens’ chamber making their own collective views known.

As the community’s experience with it grows, we should expand its power. Given elected legislators’ repeated inflictions of national self-harm for partisan reasons against their own better judgement, I’d give a super majority of (say) 60 percent of the members of a citizens’ assembly the power to impose a secret ballot on other legislative chambers. This could be helpful in Britain regarding Brexit, in America regarding Trump’s more obviously ill-advised moves over the government shutdown and trade wars, and in Australia where the imperatives of political combat saw parliamentarians abolish carbon pricing against their own better judgement of the national interest.

Joseph Schumpeter was an early proponent of the idea that electoral democracy was, and should be embraced as, a competition by a political elite for the consent of the governed. This made some sense where national cultures and class structures were unitary and strong 80-odd years ago. But, taking it to its logical conclusion as we do today, reveals it as a category mistake. Democracy is not a product. It is, as Aristotle reminds us, a system in which everyone takes turn in governing and being governed.

It’s time we set out on the hefty and happy task of setting it right.


Nicholas Gruen is CEO of Lateral Economics. He is Visiting Professor at Kings College London, chairs global software provider Health Metrics and is patron of the Australian Digital Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter @ngruen1


1 Adatto, K., 1990. Sound bite democracy: Network evening news presidential campaign coverage, 1968 and 1988. Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Reported also in John Tierney, “The 1992: Media; Sound Bites Become Smaller Mouthfuls” Jan. 23, 1992 at https://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/23/us/the-1992-campaign-media-sound-bites-become-smaller-mouthfuls.html
2 Gitlin, T., 1991. Bites and blips: chunk news, savvy talk and the bifurcation of American politics. Communication and citizenship, p.117 at p. 119.
3 See eg. Trippi, J. 2008. The revolution will not be televised, Harper-Collins e-books, Kindle edition.
4 The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI), 2013. “Verdicts on the Jury, Views of jurors, bureaucrats and experts on South Australia’s first Citizens’ Jury”, mimeo, p. 6, currently available at https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2014/08/22/01_45_56_391_Verdicts_on_the_Jury_TACSI.pdf
5 And see “The impact of deliberation on empathy and common interest”, Involve, more generally at https://goo.gl/NVrqsD


  1. Saw file says

    The obvious slant is glaring: Trump (this/that), Brexit (this/that),Fox News (this/that), with no counterexamples.
    Comparing this proposal to a court jury selection is disingenuous.
    If one wants such a political policy panel to be truly representative, then it would have to be arranged demographically. Age, career, education, culture, sex,religion, race, etc. How could this happen by lot?
    It can’t.
    Basically, as I read this, sociologists have identified that if you have a group of people meet in person to decide a carefully arranged proposal, the agreement outcome will typically be ideologically liberal left.
    This is simply a academic pipe dream, to end run the results of the current democratic process.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Saw file

      Yes, I caught the obvious slant as well.

      The system we have produced Trump, so we must change the system until we get the results I like.

      • bumble bee says

        That changing of the system is most glaring when democrats and the left in general now cry out at removing the electoral college for electing a president. Why? It is not because there is something wrong with the EC in theory, but simply because it was the EC that elected Trump rather than HRC.

        • Lydia says

          Because the idea that the “citizen” mechanic in rural Nebraska has a vote that counts, is a problem. For them.

      • Craig WIllms says

        Bias? No… Really, on Quillette? It seems that every other piece on this site starts with lamentation of how whacked out the left has become and worthy of hand-wringing concern, but when push comes to shove it’s the right-wingers who are the real danger – or they’re just dismissed out of hand.

        The author points out how today’s journalists play the game, steering the audience to consider tactics as the substance rather than just reporting, and then points out only Fox News, because Fox News is to the ‘right” and therefore a real danger. Yeah – because we all know journalism is dominated by the right-wing.

        • Saw file says

          @Craig Willms
          Absolute nonsense.
          You have simply exampled the ‘neo-troll’.
          Why say, “left” and then “right-wingers who are the real danger”.
          Do you understand how lunatic, that reads?

          • Craig Willms says

            WTF is a neo-troll?

            You are completely missing my point…

            Are you trying to tell me you haven’t noticed the parade of pieces on Quillette written by classical liberal types who are freaking out at what’s happening to the left, but always stop short of taking sides with the ‘right’? It’s as if anything on the right is either beneath them or is self evidently dangerous.

    • 1) For 100 or more people random selection would generate reasonably representative membership, but representative selection by lot simply randomly selects people until the group chosen is representative. Thus if you’re selecting 200 people for a citizens’ assembly, you keep drawing till you get 50% men. After you’ve chosen 50% men, if you draw another man, you don’t select them – you keep going. Ditto for any other categories you want to make sure are represented fairly.

      2) If you’re thinking I’m wanting to replace elections, it’s a pipedream. I’m only wanting to inject more of this kind of representation into our political system. I’m happy to start with a purely advisory body – which can be funded philanthropically. Since we’re over-run with polling information telling us what people think before they’ve had a chance to learn and think about it, wouldn’t you value a chamber giving you a readout of the considered opinion of the people? Just so you know? If you were voting on a citizen initiated referendum, would you like to know what 24 ordinary people thought of it after four days deliberation as occurs now in Oregon? You don’t have to do what they say, but it’s there in case you’re interested. There it’s not an academic pipe dream. It’s part of the system. Do you think it’s a good or bad part of the system?

      • Saw file says

        @N. Gruen (if really the author)
        TY for the reply.
        I again say, this is not a court jury.
        It’s easy to see how such could function, but… ffs.
        You are suggesting something quite different.
        I don’t necessarily disagree, but how do we choose the participate citizens?
        Will the hourly (blue collar) workers wages be paid? Hour/contract/seasonal? Let’s be fair, eh.
        This proposal negates (seemingly) the majority of the workers, again/still…….

          • Lightning Rose says

            What is the “Chaos of Donald Trump?” The man is actually governing like a conservative barely right of center. Quite conventional, actually, measured by the standards of the past 50 years.

            All the rest is the shrieking of the recently dethroned Left from their Divine Right to Rule.
            Their narratives only have existence among those conditioned to believe in them. To the rest of us, they sound like the flying monkeys of the Wicked Witch of the West. The fact that they’re absolutely blind to this is the most amusing part.

        • bumble bee says

          What this suggestion would end up doing, is diluting the voting power and influence of everyday people. By creating this group, especially in this current manifestation of society/politics, there would just be another level of bureaucratic nonsense that squelches the voice of everyday people. By allowing those elected to hear directly from those who elected them (or voted against them) on their concerns gives a greater voice to the voters rather than creating another wall one must get over to be heard.

          Simple government is best. One person, one vote, one voice equal to any other. One must ask how in today’s society a crackpot idea even gets leverage to be heard nevertheless supported. It is because today getting 100 people to agree that something which is so outlandish should be politically engaged gets undo attention. Even the most depraved one finds on social media, gets thousands of likes/support which most interpret as the public’s will. Then the opposite often occurs when those same 100 now descend on someone who disagrees or offers an alternative perspective as we see in social media.

          We don’t need new committees, or groups, we just need people in office to stop pandering to the in your face bullies who think they speak for everyone.

      • Saw file says

        It’s done online, at good sites, all the time.
        The electorate is allowed to be’dumb’.
        Such is, what such is.
        I fail to see how your parroted proposal would help.
        Other than the…

      • As I understand the Wiki on citizen’s juries, they have no power and their conclusions are merely advisory; but who are they advising, why is their opinion being solicited and who selects the topic upon which their opinion is being solicited? Don’t we elect people who are supposed to be doing this already?

        On a typical boring topic like should the town ban plastic bags because they kill the little fishies or ban wind mills because they kill the little birdies who in the name of god would want to waste hours and hours listening to experts and mostly stupid question from a random assortment of idiots like one’s self on the topic? I expect that even if anyone showed up for the first meeting most would not return for the next.

        Clearly, this is Potemkin Village democracy.

        As for the suggestion that citizen juries might allow for secret votes by members of Congress or Parliament, the General Secretary of the Ruling Party congratulates you on your initiative and it will be part of the agenda at the next party congress. Presently, in the US, we are forced to use the device of an omnibus and consolidated emergency spending bills to approach this very much desired result. But still the poor MCs still have have to make their votes know to the electorate and there is always the remote chance their constituency might notice and object.

        Still, there is some light shining in Buckingham here. Juries are good. Too bad we don’t use them much in the US. About 95% of all criminal cases are disposed of by plea bargains made possible by grotesque overcharging and often prosecutorial misconduct, for which prosecutors enjoy almost complete immunity. Almost all civil cases are disposed of by settlement or bench trials.

        Certainly, plea bargains should be made unlawful and certainly the jury pool is over manipulated by the state. As a good republican, I think juries in individual cases should have the last word on both the facts and the law and that the defense should be free to argue that the law in issue be nullified because it is either unconstitutional or otherwise ultra vires on the part of the legislature, bad policy in general or bad policy as applied to the defendant. I think juries should be completely random and jurors excused only if they are physically or mentally unable to sit as jurors. I would also look to reduce the participation of expert witnesses, particularly in criminal trials. I would also forbid charging lesser crimes included in the most serious charged offense.

      • I’m not a big fan of blue Oregon, but the citizens’ panel is an interesting idea if all sides of a question are fairly presented and rebutted. Tom Steyer, et al., managed to get a proposal on the 2018 ballot via petitions to amend Arizona constitution to include aggressive green energy requirements. Polled pretty good until the (Republican) state Attorney General added the true words “regardless of cost” to the ballot language to clarify the impact of the referendum. Needless to say, two things happened: progressives pillories him but the proposal was defeated.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Or the fact that most citizens do their best to avoid serving on any jury today. That we’d all want to do these social juries seems unlikely. How did Greek Democracy turn out? No country is a true democracy today because tyranny of the majority is real.

  2. Morgan Foster says

    citizens’ juries and assemblies chosen by lot

    I’m going to give Mr. Gruen the benefit of the doubt – more than he has done for his readers – and guess that he does not have any personal knowledge juries.

    Or perhaps he does and he is being disingenuous.

    Regardless, any trial attorney can tell you that a jury chosen by lot can be the most dangerous, unpredictable and chaotic assemblage of persons imaginable.

    No, thank you.

  3. Farris says

    The author appears to have little actual experience with citizen juries. As most who have substantial experience with citizen juries will confirm, the issue or topic is generally decided the moment the jury is empaneled. The arguments and presentation of evidence are primarily for show. The skill is not persuading the jurors but rather identifying, choosing or excusing them.

    • I do know something about citizens’ juries and cited some evidence for my claims. What’s your evidence for your claim?

      • Farris says

        @Nichols Gruen

        I cite 30 years of trial experience, dealing with actual randomly selected jurors. Imagine selecting a jury in today’s climate by lot. Are there enough women, blacks, Asians, gays, transgenders ect.. to insure confidence in their decision? If the proponents of a border wall or Remain suddenly saw their position defeated by a randomly selected citizen jury, do you believe there would be no recriminations, no questioning of the jury make up, no calls to invalidate and demand a re-vote, citations not withstanding?

        • Thanks Farris

          Democracy is government by conversation. I’m thinking that it’s important that we know what the considered will of the people is. I’ve not said much more than that.

          I have no problems with the Brits exiting Europe if that’s really what they want to do. I think it would be instructive to have on public display evidence of what happens when you get a bunch of ordinary Brits to learn and think about it. Ditto the wall.

          If you knew that people’s vote was 52-48 for Brexit and then you ran several citizen’ assemblies and they all produced large swings away from Brexit. Would that give you any concern?

          • Farris says

            @Nicholas Gruen

            I believe we agree more than our cross posts may represent. I am mindful of the late William Buckley’s statement, “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

            However I am uncertain that conversation is what most desire. I see so many attempts to stifle conversation through the use of invectives designed to question the motives, race or gender of the proponent rather than addressing the evidence.

            Regarding your question about large assemblies not reflecting actual votes, yes that would be of concern. I would point out that polling data can vary greatly on a single issue depending on the wording of the resolution.

            It is not so much your proposition I question but rather the lack of civility.

      • Rev. Wazoo! says

        @ Nicholas Gruen
        I think your ideas may have strong merit and are sincerely offered but before I csn decide on their efficacy, I must ask what they in fact are.

        Most importantly, would these juries have secret ballots snd would they be random?

        Public voting vs secret voting drasticaly changes outcomes and I’m not advocating either; I’m asking what you advocate.

        Equal number of sexes on a jury wouldn’t always happen by random so would juries with unequal sex ratios be allowed or would randomness be abandoned in favor of sex balancing?

        So would they be random or not?nwould they vote in secret or not? Knowing these things, I could mske an informed decision on you inyeresting proposal.

        PS: I live where voting is mandatory and my American friends are shocked by this but I remind them that it’s the same as jury duty in Anglo-Saxon countries: Every 5 years, a jury of all adult citizens is empanelled to give their verdict on various questions. This creates systemic legitimacy not least by preventing all factions from simultaneously believing that they are each more representative and would have have ‘won’ the election had evryone voted.

  4. Saw file says

    @Morgan F.
    I give the author zero slack. There was a serious lack of honesty in this article.
    The past 3-4yrs there have been nonstop ‘theories’ from activist academics as to why it now isn’t how it should be, and here is a solution. This is just another one of the same.
    I understand that the author is parroting, but this proposal is is not only unworkable, it is (imo) wholly condescending to the average blue collar worker/taxpayer.
    The only way to democratically (by lot?) impanel this type of ‘people’s political policy jury’ would be to use academic and advocate sources.
    This may be the authors objective, but I don’t know?
    Soon they are going to run out of fingers….

    • Kencathedrus says

      @Saw file: yes, ‘diversity’ is about circumnavigating the wishes of the ‘uneducated, racist and homophobic’ masses. Diversity of ethnicity, gender and sexuality good, diversity of thought bad.

  5. Fickle Pickle says

    Referring to the situation in long ago Greece, and indeed anywhere else prior to the phenomenon of social media and the 24/7 instantaneous “news” cycle is now essentially useless.

    Politics is founded on concerns for the availability of the goods and opportunities of human life and flourishing. By contrast truly human culture is founded on the concern for the right use of the goods and opportunities of human life, as well as the concern for the higher growth of human individuals.
    The realm of politics is the realm of conventional striving,and it tends to dominate human life with dehumanizing force, unless True Wisdom is valued by the people and by those in power.

    Until the culture of True Wisdom produces individual responsibility and general agreement on the Ultimate Situation of human existence, all talk of freedom and justice is nothing more than political gossip. The now-time human world is saturated with such gossip.

    Every man and woman must be politically free to enjoy access to the goods and opportunities of human life, but every man and woman must likewise be Spiritually responsible for the right use of those goods and the right exercise of those opportunities..
    Any other situation is essentially anti-human, bereft of True Culture, incompatible with true freedom and justice , and leading nowhere but toward exploitation, self and collective destruction, and despair.

    Needless to say the possibility of such a cultural transformation occurring under the regime of the tangerine colored truth-trasher, or the master of emotionally manipulative fake-“news” is virtually impossible.

  6. Hamish says

    While the proposal seems sound in theory, i can’t help but remember the advice a lawyer friend once gave me; “if you’re ever on trial for something serious, always opt of trial by jury. I can convince a jury of anything”.

    • Morgan Foster says


      Another thing lawyers like to say is: “When the facts are with you, go for a bench (judge) trial; when the facts are against you, ask for a jury.”

  7. Saw file says

    @Fickle P.
    Ummmm…ok, i get the comma’s, but what’s with the capitalization?
    Are you commenting, or (attempting) to teach?
    Serious Q,

  8. Morgan Foster says

    This scheme of the author’s smells to high heaven.

    First, the very idea of a citizen jury picked by lot. It’s as if you walk into a courtroom with your client and the clerk says; “Here’s your jury. We picked them at random.” There is no voir dire, no striking for cause, no examination for bias, malice or craziness. You might as well tell your client to shoot himself.

    Second, such a citizen jury (or assembly), entirely innocent in the ways of government policy, would have to be fed an issue by a cadre of political administrators, who could frame it in such a way that a pre-determined decision would be virtually assured. Any elected prosecutor will cheerfully admit that a grand jury can be induced to indict a ham sandwich.

    There is nothing resembling democracy in this. Stalin would have loved it.

    • Saw file says

      Somewhat as what I said:
      Our various directing bodies have fairly selected your directorate. The composition of the judiciary is fair among the average citizenry, and the manor of this adjudication has been seen fair by the prosecutor. Other direction bodies have chosen the point and policies that will be adjudicated, comrade.
      Fairly tried and fairly adjudicated.
      Hanging, or bullet?

      • Saw file says

        Hate autocorrect, and Friday nights.
        Cheers, y’all….

  9. ClosedRange says

    This proposal strikes me as essentially a new iteration on the tired old idea that people are uneducated and voted for the wrong thing, so the system should be changed to let only the enlightened ones to vote. This can be seen in the authors examples and in his comments below article, suggesting that further discussion would make people more “enlightened”, so that they would reconsider brexit. At heart it is the same old condescending and elitist attitude.

    Instead, the more enlightened view of Democracy is that people each have the capacity for reason and a breadth of experiences. Everyone is given a vote in a referendum on equal terms precisely because of this. The problems in our democracies today are not the outcome of the referendums or elections, it is the unwillingness of the losing side to recognise it was a fair democratic exercise and that they should stop trying to sabotage the rest of government to get their way.

  10. A C Harper says

    In my opinion the sorrow over the death of liberal democracy (and the desire to rescue it) is as blinkered as the earlier (50 years ago) death of socialism as a mainstream political ideology.

    Political ideas dominate for a while and achieve some good things until the growing weight of the bad achievements makes the ideology unpopular.

    So Trump, and Brexit, and the various political upheavals in Europe are not the failure of liberal democracy but a consequence of liberal democracy running out of steam.

    Personally I’d like to see Classic Liberalism make a comeback – socially progressive *and* financially conservative, and still democratic.

    • Farris says

      Liberal democracy is the best system to evolve thus far. The question is whether direct democracy or in the case of the author’s proposition pseudo direct democracy would be superior to representative or republican democracy. Unfortunately direct democracy frequently boils down to the lowest common denominator. This but one of the reasons western democracies eschew direct democracy in favor of representative forms of government. I regret how elitist that statement appears but elitism not withstanding it remains factual.

      • Since 1913, we In the US have evolved from a constitutional democratic republic based on shared sovereignty and some restrictions on the franchise to vote to a quasi-constitutional representative democracy based on a consolidated and imperial central government and near universal suffrage.

        The results are now obvious for all to see.

    • bumble bee says

      The reason for Brexit, Trump, and the current political turmoil in Europe is directly from the simple fact that government has either removed or pressured the voting public into accepting things they do not want. The icing on the top is that now they have turned their motives into by emotionally blackmailing them by sprinkling it with racism, xenophobia, nativism rather than actually address why they occurred.

      No one in the EU wants to address why the UK voted Brexit. They were being governed by a group of people they did not vote for and cannot remove. They were imposing ridiculous laws that the people in their own country cannot do anything about. Then the EU is crumbling because Eastern European countries were being inundated with immigrants to the point where their own culture was being lost in the process. Couple that with being financially strong armed and many countries now want to go back to the time where they can decide for themselves how to run their country. Trump was able to tap into many who not only did not like HRC, but found that government no longer recognized their problems and needs and was again overstepping their powers and mandating changes that did not work for a great many people.

      When government starts telling people how to live, what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable, right down to plastic straws and what pronoun a person can be called people vote against it. What no one wants to look at is that governments cannot legislate how a person lives, what they think, what they believe and have the wisdom to accept that.

      • ga gamba says

        Trump was able to tap into many who not only did not like HRC, but found that government no longer recognized their problems and needs and was again overstepping their powers and mandating changes that did not work for a great many people.

        Despite self-sabotaging his campaign H. Ross Perot won almost 20% of the vote in ’92 – he had been the frontrunner in the polls before he withdrew. He tapped right into public dissatisfaction with the running of government.

        Seems to me there ought to have been an examination of what was the cause, but both parties breathed a sigh of relief and continued on continuing on until the Tea Party rebellion of 2010. In 2016 the Democrats saw the emergence of their rebel in Sanders, and last year these folks reaped some gains.

        What most amuses me about the Trump administration is the uproar over many of his actions results in the uproarees learning the very same actions were done by Obama.

        Perhaps an outcome of the Trump administration is “the people” and the dinosaur press will be a bit more attentive to administrations’ acts.

        When government starts telling people how to live, what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable, right down to plastic straws and what pronoun a person can be called people vote against it.

        I agree. There has been significant over reach by the government. I’m not a smoker, but I opposed governments dictating to businesses they may not permit smoking on their premises. That should be an owner’s choice – it’s his/her investment at stake. Some businesses will choose to appeal to non-smokers by prohibiting it, and other businesses will see smokers as a niche to serve. There is not one national restaurant and pub, so it wasn’t that non-smokers were given no choice in the marketplace. The same holds for employees. Those who dislike cigarette smoke may choose employment in the smoke-free workplace.

        Because smoking and cigarette companies are unpopular, and smokers are lepers, activists and governments decided to intrude on behalf of “the people”. An outcome of smoke-free laws is that cannabis cafes have to petition the government to adjust them. This invites the busybodies who have no skin in the game to intrude.

        Free people should not have to keep seeking government permission, and the inevitable delays resulting from that, to exercise their freedoms. It isn’t that I oppose business licensing, but I think governments ought to make as many choices as possible available. Had both smoke and smoke-free licences been allowed, then we wouldn’t have to go through this whole rigmarole to deal with cannabis cafes. Compulsions, be they bans or mandates, ought to be the very last act and justified only in extreme cases.

        • Kencathedrus says

          @ga gamba: yes. Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are in the ridiculous position of having to ban cigarettes but permit cannabis smoking.

        • Komori says

          @ga gamba

          The Republican and Democratic parties didn’t just breathe a sigh of relief after Perot, unfortunately. They also changed the rules to make sure it was impossible for a third-party candidate to ever get in to the televised presidential debates again. Trump just worked around that by going through the primary as one of them. It did probably help him in how long it took before the Republican party took his candidacy seriously, so they didn’t sabotage him like they did with Ron Paul.

          • bumble bee says

            Yes, Trump was indeed a dark horse winner for the presidency. I think a great many republican politicians did not think he would get any where and fall by the wayside. Those republican debates were quite interesting when you look at all those candidates and how glassy eyed they looked. There was actually no competition against Trump there.

            Then of course we had HRC who had no competition and thought she could steamroll herself right into the White House. She never really gave Sanders and his supporters even a look thinking they would just end up voting for her once she scuttled his chances. Which in hindsight by not giving Sanders his delegate votes in some states, really made his supporters dislike her even more.

        • bumble bee says

          “What most amuses me about the Trump administration is the uproar over many of his actions results in the uproarees learning the very same actions were done by Obama.”

          When Obama was elected, there was a knee jerk reaction by republicans to the point of being hostile. There was a Hannity interview with Obama shortly after he got into office in which you can see the hostility and outrage by Hannity at him becoming president. It was so glaringly so, that I was amazed it was happening. Then of course the T-Party came about which was also in the same vein against Obama even before he did anything.

          While Obama continued to receive this type of background noise during his time in office, what we know see is the mirror image of what the left is doing to Trump except exponentially. The left has turned feral in their behaviors to the detriment of society and the country. They will not even give him credit for North Korea being defused. At first I was getting concerned that all the turmoil from the left, as well as the republicans holding their noses about Trump, but I really think he has become more aware of the situation as well as showing the country that he has the personal strength to handle it.

          I firmly believe that the left in general with regards to Obama v Trump, is that they do not want to recognize that anyone on the left makes any mistakes or is fallible. The TPP was an terrible deal, but they did not care. Then of course there is the debacle of what he acquiesced to Iran by way of not only the money, but allowing a nuclear program. Which at the time, I mentioned in numerous threads, why were they not using solar, wind to strengthen their infrastructure and going nuclear which is a no no for environmentalists.

          That is why their hypocrisy is so glaring, and though I have always voted democrat in every election until the presidential one, I cannot, and will not support democrats running.

        • Saw file says

          I often bring up to younger ppl, the H. Ross Perot example.
          They blank blink at me, but can espouse, ‘T. Jefferson fkd his slave’; ‘J. A. MacDonald committed genocide’; ‘etc.’….as nauseum.
          I honestly do feel sorry for these kids.
          Righteous and ignorant, at the same time.

  11. Stephenitisok says

    “The chaos of Donald Trump was unimaginable just a decade ago”. Can the author please be more precise? What chaos is he referring to other than the media’s attempt to create a atmosphere of chaos. Trump, as with most elected presidents is following through on the promises he made to voters before he was elected. One may not like or agree with his policies but it would be wrong to term his executing of them as chaos. I personally have not experienced the past two years as chaotic. Then again, thankfully, I can think for myself and am not fooled by certain sections of society coupled with a baying media continually calling wolf, wolf, sorry, I mean chaos, chaos.

    • Morgan Foster says


      Such chaos as there has been is entirely in the heads of Progressive Socialists.

      Trump stirs the pot on the surface, while the business of government is quietly done, out of sight and out of mind. As it has been done for the past two years.

      The economy has not collapsed. Bruce Jenner is still a woman. Illegal immigrants continue to thrive, unmolested for the most part, throughout the country.

      Life for a Progressive Socialist really hasn’t been so bad as they would have you imagine.

    • ga gamba says

      There was that incident with the intern and the cigar leading to national conversation of what is… oopsie, not Trump. There was the incident of Trump cooking up the story about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and then Gulf War II resulted. Huh? That was Bush the younger? OK, what exactly has Trump done to get everyone so worked up?

      Perhaps it’s phantoms they see.

    • Don’t forget about partisan Fox news! No one else is partisan at all just 99% of the media and almost all leftist partisans but we cant mention that we have to live in the fantasy land that having one partisan news orginization on the right that is meaningful is bad and ignore the 100000 on the left because thats just fine and dandy. And we have never seen anything like Donald Trump! Not LBJ not Harry Truman or any other big mouthed president that said whatever they felt like.

  12. Conner M. Steacy says

    Wasn’t it a citizen jury that voted to have Socrates drink the hemlock?

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Conner M. Steacy

      Yes, and it was a citizen jury that pardoned Barrabus and sent Jesus to the cross.

      After having been briefed by impartial civil servants who presented the case.

      • And it was a citizen jury that acquitted John Lilburne, twice, on charges of treason.

        Justice is a process, not a result. Whoever controls the judicial machinery controls the result in the vast majority of cases.

        Just to keep all this in perspective, without resorting to anecdotes from the Bible or history, presently federal prosecutors have a better conviction rate than Stalin managed in the late 1930s; 99.8% by the reckoning of this site: http://justicedenied.org/wordpress/archives/3190

  13. E. Olson says

    The author’s point seems to be that too many people vote wrong because they watch uninformative/biased Fox News, and hence poor Hillary lost. Yet the parties that most rely on low/no information are always on the Left, which is why they are also the parties that are for policies that increase the number of low/no information voters and opportunities for vote fraud such as open borders, no-ID voting, ballot harvesting, felon voting, early voting, absentee voting, and lowering the voting age. The biggest danger to democracy is when too many dimbulb citizens realize they can vote themselves a bunch of “free” government services paid for via coerced redistribution from the most productive citizens and businesses to the least productive.

    Poor election outcomes are therefore not caused by lack of information and non-rational debate, but by lack of skin in the game and free-riding. Allowing people to vote who get more “free stuff” than they contribute in taxes is a sure formula for out-of-control spending and productivity inhibiting taxation and regulation. The only way to ensure rational and fair elections is to only allow those that are net contributors to vote, plus those that serve in the military to protect the country. Thus if the cash value of your food stamps, Medicaid, guaranteed student loans, electric vehicle/solar panel subsides, etc. are higher than what you contribute in taxes, and/or your non-military paycheck comes from taxpayers, you don’t get to vote. I suspect such voting restrictions would put political debates on a much more economically and politically rational level, which is why politicians of all major political parties will never allow such voting restrictions to be put in place.

    • bumble bee says

      “Yet the parties that most rely on low/no information are always on the Left,…”

      Yes, I agree after having been part of the left until the last presidential election. I no longer vote left because they have jumped the shark in their policies and rhetoric.

      It’s quite amusing to think how the left like to use the word “woke” as meaning they see everything from a new and righteous viewpoint. When they are more like sheep who have to be told what to think, how to be, and who their perceived “enemy” is. The dems have done a great job demonizing the right, the sacrificial lamb that they would love to slaughter on their altar of self-righteousness. What kills me is that for all their love, peace, and tolerance they have none, absolutely zero, for the other half of this country. There was a time when differences were solved by extending a hand, to work, live, together. Where sanity and kindness was the background noise, but not any more. How do we reach them, because we are the ones who are going to have to do it, to show them they are being manipulated with not only a pipe dream, but with the real threat of losing the rights and freedoms this country was formed on. We as a country have our failures, and some really big ones, but we are not looking at equality, we are looking a the usurping of everything.

      • E. Olson says

        BB – my voting proposal would solve the problem in a big hurry, but as I noted it would never pass as too many members of both parties have an interest in using other people’s money to win votes by rewarding their side with “free” stuff. The only other things that might slow the process down is to shut the border to immigration since immigrants overwhelmingly support “free stuff” when they are allowed to vote, and go back to election day voting in person with ID. Anything that makes it more difficult to vote tends to keep away the low/no information voters.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @E. Olson

      It seems to me that perhaps one of the first legitimate questions we all have to answer is: how big should the government be? I’d honestly like it written into the constitution that (my estimate) the total percentage of GNP spent by all governments be restricted to 33%, and that deficits be illegal. Thus, if the government wants to offer the plebes (or Goldman or Big Oil) something for ‘free’, then it must immediately be explained what other ‘free’ service is being cut to provide the former. Rob them of their ability to give everything to everyone via deficits and things might be a bit more honest.

      • E. Olson says

        The biggest problem with your suggestion Ray is the possible need for deficit/”excessive” spending in times of war or economic recession (if you are a Keynesian). The problem with this problem is that allowing such “exceptions” almost always transforms them into the rule because of the overwhelming voter demand for “free” stuff. Keynesian economics is supposed to allow deficit spending during economic downturns to “prime the pump” and get the economy going, and then use budgetary surplus to pay down the accumulated deficit when the economy is booming. Unfortunately, there are always “good uses” for surpluses (plus any extra funds the government can borrow) and they end up getting spent on new programs to win votes rather than pay down the debt. That is why the people that actually pay the taxes should be the only people allowed to vote, because they are the only ones that have skin in the game to force politicians to keep a lid on spending with their voting.

        • @E. Olson

          I know it. But several States have faced up to the fact that their politicians can’t be trusted and have passed balanced budget laws.

          Here’s a dangerous idea: citizenship is something you earn. There is a test. If you flunk you are still a legal resident, but not a citizen in that higher sense. Morons can’t pass the test, therefore morons can’t vote. Felons loose their citizenship. A citizen’s word is expected to be good. A citizen is always a taxpayer tho there might be temporary lapses (hard times can happen). The citizenship classes would include a not shallow study of the Constitution, the thoughts of the architects of democracy, political and economic theory — perhaps a BA level of study. Being granted one’s citizenship would be one of the great honors of one’s life.

          • BTW it’s the dolphin here, my previous handle seems to be blocked, I hope I haven’t done anything wrong. No word from Claire.

          • E. Olson says

            Earning citizenship is a good idea Ray – the interesting thing is that most BA students couldn’t pass the citizenship test without significant study, in part because so many college level (and high school) history, government, and economics courses have been turned into social justice lectures rather than studies of the Constitution, or political and economic theory. The other problem with the idea, however, is that it would be called racist because it is almost certain that certain “victim” classes would have much lower passing rates than the “privileged” classes.

          • @E. Olson

            “that most BA students couldn’t pass the citizenship test”

            Of course, but that would be part of my agenda: Yes your BA in grievance studies might qualify you for a job in … grievance studies, but it does not qualify you for citizenship in a democracy where the state rests on your broad shoulders. Thus our citizenship graduates would in effect be cut from new cloth (existing humanities education would rather have to be cured than be a head start) and their thinking would not be about their Rights but about their responsibilities. We may redistribute Rights Equitably but we give responsibilities to those who can execute them properly irrespective of Identity quotas. In short your citizenship diploma is entirely about service … tho I expect that rather quickly potential employers might be asking the question: ‘are you a citizen?’

  14. derek says

    The basic premise of this article is that the choice of the people is the answer. If we could get a direct line to the considered views of the population government would be better, less divided and more representative.

    I’m not certain. Direct democracy easily becomes three wolves and a lamb deciding what for supper by majority vote. And that is an easy one. What about something more complex such as Amazon in Long Island. On what basis could anyone not closely involved with the proposal even begin to make a decision? The speed of the last purchase delivery?

    I think you were closer to the mark when describing it as a conversation. Democracy is a way for people to hold power and retire to enjoy their grandchildren. Pre democracy power was lost usually along with your life or head. It provides a feedback mechanism for those in power to adapt to the desires of the citizenry.

    I believe that the disconnect is due to the failure of the media. As they disconnected from the need to reflect their target market, the consultants became necessary to control the message that was to be broadcast by a media with is own ideology and agendas. They became a priesthood, taking on a mantle of moral arbiters. Designing policy that would look good on the nightly News or the front page of the NYT guaranteed a disconnect from the citizenry. The populist gains reflect that disconnect. The citizenry spoke loud enough that those who thought they controlled the conversation were drowned out.

    I would start from a different place. No one knows the answer, iterative processes work, attempts with quick feedback and redirection of resources works. For this to happen those with power are accountable. That isn’t the case in Western democracies. Oh some representative gets voted out, but the judges who don’t sentence appropriately never get fired, the bureaucrats keep their jobs no matter how badly they mess up.

    Let me ask everyone here how would you structure the regulation of pressure vessels? How many actually know what they are, let alone that they are regulated and how? How would a jury or citizen assembly do this?

  15. “Nussbaum contrasts “masculine” emotions (associating them with competition and aggression) against the other “feminine” emotions (which build cooperation and care within the group). ”

    Strange that history seems to find the qualities of cooperation and mutual aid (philadelphia) found amongst the homoioi was generally harnessed in the service of competition and aggression, in fact form the fundamental basis for the emergence of the virtue of andreia. No greater love doth a man have than to lay down his life for his brother.

    In fact, it is competition and aggression which necessitates social cooperation toward the task of group survival. In early hunter gatherer societies, humans began as prey to large mammals only, through cooperation, to become the hunters of large mammals. It is material comfort and physical security which cause the disappearance of andreia and social cooperation and mutual aid.

    We can glamorize a world of persons without cities, without gods, without ancestors, and without laws, that is–without honor–with these persons engaged in atomized and impersonal transactions with each other, endlessly pursuing comfort and pleasure. You might even get herds of them to status signal in favor of bloodless abstractions like “tolerance”, but absent from your world will not only be courage, but the real meaning of love itself. Can a man live without love? Has that become our highest aspiration?

  16. Brian Villanueva says

    Our problem is far more basic than this author realizes: Americans no longer agree on the “common good.”

    A nation can disagree about means, but disagreement over ends (or first principles) is fatal. To see why, consider poverty. If everyone agrees that the goal should be to reduce poverty, we can have a lively discussion about how to do that. However, enter someone suggesting that poverty is actually good — that government should try to create more poverty instead of less? The discussion of how to end poverty is now sidetracked by an argument about whether we even should try. That’s the difference between arguing over means vs ends. And it’s true on almost any issue.

    The issues we see as the most divisive in our politics are usually the ones that we disagree about ends instead of means. that does not bode well.
    A people who disagree about what is “good” will not successfully share a government for long.

  17. Why is it even on a site like Quilette I have to read about partisan media and Fox is the one mentioned all the time. I’m not going to claim they aren’t partisan but basically all media is partisan and the only right leading major news outlet gets singled out over and over again. Its boring.

  18. augustine says

    This author would have us believe, apparently, that his jury idea is something more universal than a prop to support the progressive juggernaut that already enjoys widespread hegemony. He presents a glimmer of hope for shared disparate views affecting those of different backgrounds and experience, but for best effect shouldn’t the apparatus itself be more abstract and “value blind”, like juries in the court system?

  19. I thought brexit and Trump were protests against high immigration being inflicted on the populace without their consent?

    In Australia, the carbon tax was dropped because it was political suicide to pursue it.

    This writer really doesn’t like the fact that all adult citizens have the right to vote.

    This article is word soup for, only elitists like myself should be able to vote.

  20. Scott says

    The city where I live, Alexandria, Virginia, USA is run by an unaccountable city manager and a city council of entirely at large members meaning that no one can point to someone that represents their interests, neighborhood or community. On top of that, they employ endless commissions and citizens advisory councils which do nothing but provide an appearance of community engagement. In fact, the council regularly ignores citizen commissions recommendations when it does not suit their agenda.

    I see no way in which the academic pipe-dream outlined in this article would be any different and the obvious slant of the author comes through loud and clear. Much like my city council, the author is looking for ways to bypass choices he deems unfit.

    The US constitution is designed to protect the minority from mob rule and that is not to the authors liking …

    • Morgan Foster says


      And what are “citizens’ juries and assemblies chosen by lot”, as the author puts it, anything other than a mob in miniature?

      • Scott says

        That is exactly my point, they are most often EXACTLY mobs in miniature.

        We live in a representative democracy not direct. To paraphrase Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest” holds true. While far from perfect, I think our system works most of the time.

        Thanks for the input …

  21. Jezza says

    I am against democracies that spend my money without my consent for purposes I find abhorrent. I do find appealing the idea of democracy by conversation, but that presupposes civil (polite) discussion which is hard to achieve when whoever is speaking against your ideas is a rabid low-life moron whose head is stuck firmly up his fundament.

    • Mitch says

      “I am against democracies that spend my money without my consent for purposes I find abhorrent. ”

      Well that’s why you vote them out at the end of the term? You can’t honestly think that your money is spent without your consent when you express your democratic right to vote surely…..

      • derek says

        So if I vote against a tax I don’t have to pay it even if the majority voted for it?

        I’ll go along with that.

        This is 3 wolves and a lamb voting what is for dinner.

  22. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

    Lots of negative comments. I think the idea here has merit enough to be tried. Mind the conclusions of the social jury should be advisory only, at least at first.

  23. Thanks Ferris,

    We certainly both agree that we’d rather be ruled by a random selection of people from the phone book than by the Harvard faculty.

    But my practical aims are pretty modest. I’m not trying to overturn what we have – which after all, as it has developed has given us the living standards we now enjoy – about twenty times the standard they were two hundred years ago.

    I think we’re in the grip of a system in which politics becomes a form of entertainment. Everyone picks heroes and villains in politics and then all the rest follows.

    All I want to do is elevate a chamber with a lot of ordinary people in it – I’m not in a hurry to give it much power – but I want people to be able to see what their fellow ordinary people think as well as being able to read their views from opinion polls – which are very different things.

    That’s my way of trying to institutionalise the values to which William Buckley is giving voice. And of course there are people on the left with similar views. The idea is already institutionalised in Oregon in a small way and seems to have a substantial impact on public opinion. That’s progress. I’m much more interested in finding democratic, reasoned ways through our difficulties together than I am in picking the left or the right.

    Strange as it may sound, having worked with quite a few of them (in Australia where I live) politicians on both sides of the aisle are mostly doing their best, and the good ones feel themselves as much victims of the system as those resenting them on the outside – though of course they end up being insiders and that’s a good feeling – for them 😉

  24. Stoic Realist says

    @ Nicholas Gruen

    Is there a reason that when you reference the Greek origins of your idea you leave out the nature of the Greek citizenship system? While they did draw lots of citizens for such duties there were strict requirements to fulfill to gain that level of citizenship. You didn’t qualify just by being born in Athens for example. It also had mandatory requirements like completing an honorable term of military service. The Greeks would have recoiled in horror at your ‘grab a random assortment of people shaped to some demographic pattern’ notion.

  25. Mitch says

    Same old, same old.

    It’s not the system that needs replacing, it’s the candidates. It’s the parties. It’s the lobbying of the corporate sector and the unionists too. It’s foreign money in politics, it’s the technological beast that is social media, it’s the unchecked power of the fourth estate, it’s the bureaucracy, it’s the state taking things too far. I could go on.

    Citizen’s jury as an advisory panel would be useful, but giving it powers within a system of checks (or cheques) and balances is a step too far. End the two-party dominance and you have more compromise (negotiation) in the chamber/parliament which is what democracy intends.

      • Morgan Foster says

        @Nicholas Gruen

        You cannot “end the two-party dominance” as if there was something that you could do to make it happen.

        It must be an organic process. A third party pops into being and, on its own merits, grows in size and influence.

        Or one of the two parties splits.

        There is no action that you or anyone else can affirmatively take with an end to “two-party dominance” being the primary goal.

        No one will cooperate.

  26. The Greeks did themselves pursue precisely a ‘grab a random assortment of people shaped to some demographic pattern’, though the extent to which they did or didn’t doesn’t seem particularly relevant to what I’m arguing.

    The Boule was a random selection of 500 citizens and there were 50 from each of ten ‘tribes’. So they’re doing precisely what I was talking about – which is having random selection subject to certain other constraints.

    Citizens didn’t include slaves, women or ‘metics’ (I guess we’d call them permanent residents). We don’t have to copy that part of their democracy so it doesn’t strike me as relevant to my purpose which is to explore the prospect that selection by lot might offer a way to heal some of the most toxic features of our democracy.

    • Stoic Realist says

      The relevance is the question of if the system worked because of its use of a minimum accepted standard. I would also point out the equal representation from each of the major originating ‘tribes’ is not equivalent to a modern demographic breakdown. There was a unity of custom among the mentioned groups that is unlikely to be present in the common modern demographic method.

      It is important to understand how and why a system worked before attempting to adopt it. That is the only way to know if it can be adjusted to different circumstances and how to do so if it can. History is full of governmental methods that worked well in their time and place that would be disastrous now.

  27. Gorgias says

    It seems like our whole media complex is designed to generate heat and noise, without forward motion. I like the idea of somehow encouraging more calm, deliberative, respectful discussion, while keeping a lid on the outrage which seems fashionable at the moment.

    But when it comes to hot-button topics (e.g., immigration, abortion, etc.), there are few people with interest in the subject matter that can debate in a truly respectful, humble, rational, and yet assertive way.

    However, perhaps, it’s possible that a counter-culture could emerge in reaction to the on-line inferno, wherein a small percentage of people spontaneously choose to form issue clubs, which follow some sort of rules of conduct and evidence. If even 1 out of 250 adults engaged in such a club, this would amount to a million people in the U.S.

    Also, if people would just put more effort into Congressional primaries, then we could have some more choice. Right now, there’s very little competition, with many primaries wholly uncontested. Yet the cost to run and get your message out has never been lower. Any candidate can post their issue positions on the web. Anyone can join a campaign they agree with and canvass their neighborhood.

    Sometimes, I feel that we are suffering from “learned helplessness” like the electrified dogs in Martin Seligman’s cage. Even after the door was opened, they did not move. I believe there’s always a way, but you can’t be cynical and you have to keep trying new things.

  28. Selection by lot of citizens’ juries is an appealing principle to seek greater consensus in politics, but we do tend to make decisions with generalities and suffer the consequences of the details.

    Selection by lot would in practice become a selection from those people who work for large bureaucracies (public and private) which can currently afford to offer such benefits as paid parental leave, domestic violence leave, personal leave to do “other stuff”, and the like. It would tend to exclude stay at home parents with pre-school children, carers of very dependent elderly parents, the self-employed (especially blue collar contractors), citizens resident in remote areas and so on. Of course people could “choose to work” for employers who provide the flexibility required to participate in citizens’ juries, and “choose to live” in urban areas.

    If only it were so simple. Simply paying jurors a nominal sum per day of jury service as a form of income substitution is of little to no help for those who are doing unpaid work in support of dependent relatives, or for the contract tradie or truck driver whose clients don’t care why a service is not being provided, they just cross that tradie/driver off the list and get another one. What about the farmer with a crop to seed or take off (operations often funded by overdrafts in excess of half a million dollars)? Here are citizens who drive machinery for as long as they can stay awake every day for over a month twice a year according to the weather; they would generally find it very difficult or impossible to just put a substitute operator in the tractor/header cab – successful commercial farming is more complex than even many farmers seem to appreciate. Many people lead very different lives to those of us who can afford to think about citizens’ juries, and type responses to online articles.

    Another detail that has been mentioned often but generally brushed over is that a group of strangers put together (e.g. a jury) will generally find that they have more in common with the other members of the group than they expected. In discussing a topic, the group will drift towards something close to consensus, most of the time. It is innate social behaviour. This is more likely to happen if the group is guided, perhaps by a persuasive barrister, a dominant personality in the group, or a facilitator who is appointed to “help” a citizens’ jury. So to prevent the obvious problem of jury facilitators being of predominantly those from professional backgrounds, perhaps law graduates or political scientists, or social science graduates, or ex-teachers or … we would have another layer of professional helpers who would appoint the facilitators. Add another layer above that one to appoint the appointees of the jury facilitators, and the next thing you know, we have turtles all the way down.

    And yes, these would be advisory juries only. But heaven help the politician who ignored the fact that 97% of juries from an inevitably biased selection of jurors came to the same conclusion. There is really no way to prevent citizens’ juries becoming a major political influence.

    The objective is worthy, but the method proposed is wanting.

  29. chris says

    It sounds like what you want to do is to harness the Wisdom of the Crowd effect, without letting on that this is the intention. The idea being that, for every issue, conversations have already taken place in the population, and the median opinion is probably close to the truest and most generally acceptable. The key is to keep all the opinions independent, i.e. To avoid debate before the polling (this also presumes you can frame questions so as to create a binary or numerical opinion)
    If you corral your population, or some random sample of it, into an assembly or jury, you’ll have them getting lobbied, bullied, bamboozled, politicised, and your spectrum of opinion is destroyed.
    How you arrange this idk. Regular randomised Insta-referendums™ perhaps, though single issue votes are liable to produce quantities of irreconcilable policies.

  30. Couldn’t get much further than the first two paragraphs. Too many long words strung together. Easier to read than a post-modernist text but harder than the majority of Quillette articles. Maybe it was the subject matter. Not sure.

  31. Thanks theunrecordedman – I should try to keep things as simple as possible, and I expect I could have done a better job in that respect.

  32. Saw file says

    Still….how would these juries be selected?.
    You would need a hardhat/uniform/’apron’/class ? Licence/smock/etc., to select 3/4ths of the representatives of the working population.
    These ppl work by the hr/month/contract/etal, month by month, so how would they be compensated for participating in this grand ‘solution’?
    I suggest, these are not the targeted category for these ‘solutions’.
    Clear as glass…

  33. Saw file says

    I have seen many of this type of’advisory panel forum’ situations municipally.
    “Meeting on Tuesday: 1:30-3:30pm”
    ffs….simple rote pandering to the masses.
    No experienced/knowledgable person is fooled by this crap.
    it’s simply exclusion of the blue/grey collar worker’s, by fiat.
    Ie: lose a half day wages, to watch and maybe get to comment, to be ignored…
    While the salaried ‘elite’s’ do what they’ve already decided to do…

    • You should be paid to participate – and it’s the only way I can think of of involving more working class people in decisions that matter to them.

      Your idea? Socialist revolution perhaps?

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  35. Closed Range says

    It appears that the consensus of the citizen’s jury of this comment section is that the authors suggestion was not a better idea than the current system of occasionally allowing direct democracy through referendums and general elections.

  36. Direc, Son says

    WRT author’s idea i have a better one: term limits and direct vote democracy on all critical issues like enacting a new healthcare system, minimum wage, etc IOW the federal equivalent of a statewide referendum. We vote x times a year, we decide.

    It is the ONLY way our individual views will truly be represented. The current system is so broken now that it only reoresents those who can pay to play.

  37. Nicholas, I recognise that you are taking the trouble to read these comments which indicates that you posted your essay to get feedback. The underlying problem of political dysfunction due to polarisation, especially amongst the political class, is recognised by most respondents here, but the idea of citizens’ juries has been hammered.

    The main reason for support of the juries is “anything would be better than the current situation”. This thinking contains a sense of panic, and when you are panicked, control the panic before making decisions.

    In yesterday’s comment you made reference to a socialist revolution option for the so called working class, no doubt containing an element of frustration on your part. But isn’t socialism now primarily of interest to the upper middle class?

    The people who will be disenfranchised most by citizens’ juries will not be members of the CMMFEU or some other militant union, it will be the heavily committed but unpaid workers, the huge number of small business people and their (often casual) employees and so on. In my experience these people are not sorry for themselves, they are proud of what they do and think socialism is a joke.

    Is it time for you to recalibrate your understanding of what represents a citizen? Seems to me the citizenry is very complex and highly variable, which is why it is hard to redevelop the current representative government by elected politicians into a system based upon repeated referral to the citizens. Athens 3,500 years ago was smaller, less complex and much of the work was done by non-citizens, so it was only a prototype democracy.

    Modern day examples of highly participative democracy like Oregon leave me with a concern that these “progressive” states/societies are comparatively homogeneously progressive liberal, and we don’t hear anything from those citizens who are unhappy with participative democracy. Those who are unhappy with it may be too busy leading their lives to gain attention for their opinions. They almost certainly don’t work in universities or think tanks and they are probably not social justice warriors.

    • My reference to socialist revolution was ironic.

      The whole point of a citizens’ jury is to try to solve the kind of problem you mention in your last paragraph. Citizen jurors get paid and the evidence suggests that people feel flattered to be part of it and try to execute their tasks on behalf of the community very conscientiously – that’s liberals and conservatives. There can often be a problem that some types of people find it hard to accept the invitation – mothers with young children being one such group. That’s why one goes for representative sortition – you keep picking people at random until you get enough of such kinds of people.

      • I found the experience of criminal jury duty interesting and we all applied ourselves to the task. However I was in a permanent public service job and it did not place any personal financial difficulty on me. Even so, I was acutely aware that while doing the jury thing for few days that I was not doing what I was paid to do at work, and I was missing commitments and events which might cause some difficulty later. I could catch up with some of it at night, but in the end distractions like this detract from the results you achieve.

        If I had been a contractor truck driver with road train secured against my home, I would have simply had to pay a fine to effectively buy my way out of jury duty, because neither my head contractor/client nor my bank would care why I am not hauling grain or wood chip to port. As a farmer, if it rains, the crop goes in now, not next week; timing is very important to yield and profit. Some small businesses carry large debts and have thousands of dollars a day in revenue running through their fingers. Lost time can be very damaging. If you tried to effectively compensate in these circumstances, you would open the flood gates for rorting.

        If you don’t force people to do citizens’ jury duty, as is done with court jury duty, and just keep picking representatives from a broadly defined group (such as small business people), you are not able to representatively sample. If you just keep picking until someone says yes, what about many Trump supporters or admirers of Tony Abbot who regard the whole exercise as a crock? You end up with someone who says they are centrist or right of centre, but like several Australian politicians, including a prime minister in recent times, they are really the same old chardonnay socialists living in upper middle class bubbles. They have personal assistants to let the tradie in to do some work on the house.

        It is regrettable that some many of us are not being more constructive, but the reason some problems are hard to solve is that there is no practical solution. I think occasional compulsory voting for politicians remains the least worst option in front of us, unfortunately, because at least almost everyone goes into the sample of voters.

  38. California has a Civil Grand Jury system in addition to regular Criminal Grand Juries, the primary function being oversight of county-level or below government functions. Reports are issued detailing Findings and Recommendations, for which the relevant government entities are required to respond. Unfortunately, these reports, after receiving a day or two of publicity, fall into the memory hole. The recent Northern California wildfires were anticipated by several grand juries, but government agencies failed to act, predictably.

    These Civil Grand Juries have important reserve powers that are rarely exercised. The Grand Jury I served on submitted an Accusation (on our own authority and direction) against our County DA for “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” which lead to a criminal indictment, and the DA being removed from office. These actions by Civil Grand Juries, though, are regrettably few and far between, as these functions have almost fallen into desuetude.

    Interestingly enough, although I live in the Bay Area, the majority of Grand Jurors who volunteered were conservatively oriented. When I mention this to a fellow Grand Juror, she responded “Its because conservatives are the ones who really care about other people and back it up with action”.

    I found Quillete a few months ago – this is my first post.

  39. I’ve been an advocate of governing by way of a randomly selected, statistically sound body charged with deliberation since I read Jim Fishkin’s “Deliberative Polling” years ago. I submitted the following idea to a the project, Innovate Your State – Fix California Challenge.

    “ Random Representative Deliberative Democracy
    Pollsters use statistical sampling to obtain representative public opinion. But those opinions tend to formed with low information, quite naturally the norm. Becoming genuinely knowledgeable about public policy is a lot of work and there is little rational reason for that expenditure of effort by average citizens.
    This proposal is intended to embody a representative sample of the electorate, have them engage in a considerable period of becoming educated about public policy, using a body of information that would be available to anyone on line, in preparation for legislating. The body would deliberate on what it deems worthwhile, arranging for outside parties and experts to offer testify or otherwise weigh in a transparent, public manner (no ex parte lobbying allowed) and then decide what changes in law they consider worthwhile. The general public would have access on line to what those in the body see, hear and say. Any laws they write would be submitted to the voters and would take effect only if approved.
    Most of the deliberating, debate and legislative processes should be done by way of specially networked computers in their homes as opposed to trying to bring a representative sample sufficient in size to be an accurate sample to some place for an extended period. The legislative body would be allowed to establish its own process rules and hire managers to facilitate that.
    If you want representative government that would reflects what a well-informed citizenry would choose, this could produce that. The laws put forth would still be subject to electoral referendum, but voters would hopefully be more trusting of a well-informed, representative sample of their fellow citizens that didn’t need the support and money of special interest groups to get elected or re-elected, unlike politicians.
    This proposal requires placing a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot that would establish and provide the funding for this new way of governing ourselves.”

    I don’t think those with political power want to surrender it to an informed, representative body of citizens. But in places where citizen initiatives are possible, it could come to be.

  40. Daniel says

    Seems like a recipe for groupthink. I’m all for it. Stubborn jackasses like myself love to dominate conversations. These group decisions will end up reflecting the whim of the most strident voice in the room.

  41. Nicholas Gruen seems to argue that because citizen juries came conclusions that he liked on certain, they were a good thing. To me the goal is a representative body of the electorate that isn’t representative in how they become well-informed and seriously deliberate in a manner that’s impossible to achieve in the general electorate. And if you want representative accuracy, you need a sample of sufficient size to achieve that.

    In California there was consideration of a constitution revision body with randomly selected delegates. It seemed to flounder when the desired ability to restrict them to just what the elites wanted to address seem unlikely. They didn’t truly want to have that kind of self-governance because it might well have gone against their agendas.

  42. Constantin says

    I had to dig again and again in this poorly written pile of verbiage to try to get some understanding of the author’s point. For better or for worse this is what I believe is the point: the mob is blown by the winds of mass media and social media every which way and can not be counted to come at any “reasoned” or smart decision – accordingly a newly formed “Citizen’s Assembly” tasked with really considering the pros and cons of any policy or law (in a manner akin to and reminiscent to jury duty) would be given the power (unlike juries on a simple majority of 60%) to “Impose a secret ballot” on other legislative bodies – and that would be helpful to resolving the Brexit situation in a reasonable way. You can read this backwards for a better view of the project: 1) someone must force Parliament to have a ‘secret” vote on Brexit (it is obvious that the vote has to be secret because otherwise Parliamentarians would be too motivated to actually represent the mob that elects them); who could exercise such a power? The answer is a newly added elite tasked with the real deliberation that the civil society can no longer provide, that we could lock together for as long as it takes for them to draw some conclusion or another. The HoiPoloi will then be completely relieved of the burden of trying to form a personal opinion and could be swayed whichever way with no consequence, so long as they elect an elite to do their thinking for them. Mind you, the author is not explicit as to whether the Citizens’ Assembly would be an elected body or a mandatory citizenship function bestowed by rotation and possibly in a mandatory fashion such as jury duty. The objective than becomes a simple reductionist proposal attempting to reduce a national conversation to a jury deliberation behind closed doors. The thing the author might be unaware off is that a real jury selection includes both challenges for cause and mandatory challenges (by which both parties in a dispute or another can navigate the real danger of bias). How would this work with a national jury tasked on forcing Parliament to have a secret vote remains a mystery. It has been a while since I had to read such total and ridiculous nonsense! We like our democracy the way it is and the Bruxelles elitist model is not our cup of tea. Have you noticed that the closest thing to a “Citizens’ Assembly” with the power to govern without accountability to the masses is the EU Parliament? We do not want any other referendum! We want a clean Brexit and decent if the idiot Citizen’s Assembly in Bruxelles is willing to negotiate in good will. And we certainly do not want the British Parliamentarian Democracy “updated” to closely resemble the hideous and failed Bruxelles model. No thanks!

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