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Demarchy (or lottocracy) refers to a form of government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by sortition (lot) from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens. These groups, sometimes termed "policy juries", "citizens' juries", or "consensus conferences", deliberately make decisions about public policies in much the same way that juries decide criminal cases.

Demarchy is a disputed term. In the seventeenth century it was used as a near synonym of anarchy, but fell out of use. In Law, Legislation and Liberty (1966), F A Hayek attempted to appropriate it to name his proposal for a limited democracy, without success. In 1985, John Burnheim, in Is Democracy Possible? The alternative to electoral politics, proposed its use to describe his scheme for independent specialised authorities, each governed by a committee statistically representative of those most affected by that authority's decisions. That usage also failed to find general acceptance.

More generally, random selection of decision makers from a larger group is known as sortition (from the Latin base for lottery). The Athenian democracy made much use of sortition, with nearly all government offices filled by lottery (of full citizens) rather than by election. Candidates were almost always male, Greek, educated citizens holding a minimum of wealth and status.

Demarchy is relatively unknown in modern politics. Recently, in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, in separate and unconnected projects, a group of citizens was randomly selected in each province to create a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform created to investigate and recommend changes to the provinces' electoral systems. A similar system was used by the Dutch Burgerforum Kiesstelsel.

An example of a more formalized use of demarchy, the Old Order Amish use a combination of election and sortition to select church leaders; men receiving two or three nominations to fill a vacancy (the number varies by district) are then asked to select a psalm book containing a slip of paper, one of those slips being marked to indicate who will take on the burden of the position.

In history[edit]


Greek democracy involved comprehensive use of citizens to form policy, choose leaders and make rulings on laws and implementation of laws. There were various levels of government of which at times positions were held for long term or taken by force, however most often there was a large scale and scope of citizen participation. The assembly consisted of up to all citizens (perhaps a quarter of the population being male local citizens completing military service and perhaps other requirements). Administrators and some decision makers in various levels or functions were chosen by lot. At some point most Athenians in their demarchy had to fulfill some role, whether heading a daily meeting or taking part in administration. Those who did not participate were considered selfish and were derisively referred to as idiots (ἰδιώτης). Some of these roles were not voluntary. Foreigners, women and most certainly slaves did not participate. Demarchy was practiced in some form in most areas, including many villages, for nearly a millennium.[citation needed]

Contemporary commentators remarked on the efficacy of the system, and foreigners were amazed that participative democracy could not only exist, but also function.[1] This form of democracy occurred in a historic setting markedly different from modern democratic societies. Citizens were male, had performed military service, and were intimately and directly linked to the state. The territory and population were relatively small by modern standards (no more than 250,000), and the citizens were of a single culture. The extension of demarchy to large, diverse democratic societies would open questions of the scope of demarchic powers, the level of implementation, and the scope of the pool of eligible citizens.

Traditionally only certain citizens could be considered as candidates. These included such limitations as: men only, educated citizens with land, a lack of criminal record, citizens who served military duty, owning land, a minimum wealth, religious statues age limit and accomplishments (similar to meritocracy) would apply. One of the very few cases of sortition practiced at a political level occurred in Greece where the criteria for being a candidate varied in different times. Examples include only allowing a mixture of the following: local citizens, educated citizens, those who had and or were serving in the military, wealth, land, religious status and level education.[2] They were always male.[3]

Reasons for allowing only certain citizens to apply for or automatically be candidates for sortition include concerns over stability and well-rounded leadership as well as the maintenance of wealth, status and power.[3]


The Venetian Republic was well known for the demarchical aspects of its long standing and stable government.[4] While other Maritime Republics withered under the strain of factionalism, Venice was renowned for its unity under the Doge. This unity allowed Venice to prosper as an economic city state superpower for several centuries while other nations came and went.

The demarchical mechanism that Venice employed involved the iterative process of electing a large council which was then reduced by lot. This was followed by that smaller council electing another large council which was again reduced by lot; the process continuing several more iterations. By this means, the ruling families were able to diffuse the influence of competing special interests and reduce the possibility that a rival family would obtain a vice like grip on power.

Ironically, this levelling of the playing field within the commune provided Venice with the opportunity to obtain its own monopolies in trade due to its stability and indivisibility. This immunity to factionalism gave it a resilience in defeat that would in the long run cause other cities, such as Genoa, to crumble.

Modern electioneering and theoretical modern application[edit]

In theory a government of demarchy has some advantages over the democratic political process. Demarchy eliminates expensive, time consuming and nepotism-rife election process. In theory chosen politicians would be free to dedicate their time and resources to policy research and planning. Policy makers would not have to compromise their principles for fear of political reprisal or vote swaying concessions.

It is difficult to confirm such theories as demarchy has not been put in practice on any notable scale at any level in a modern state. There have been some recent advocacy towards the implementation of demarchy to modern governments. In the UK, these include Newid and Demarchy in the UK.

Research by the World Bank and others has shown that a form of citizens' assembly called Participatory budgeting reduced corruption in several cities. [5]

One possible difficulty with implementing demarchy is one of expertise and education. Citizens unfamiliar with political institutions and economic theory may be unprepared to deal with highly nuanced problems that they might face.

Political theory and writing[edit]


Burnheim's model of demarchy involves the partial or complete dissolution of government departments and bureaucracies, which are replaced by citizen's juries. Demarchy as a concept does not necessitate such a radical step as integral to its purpose.

When one considers how much time and effort politicians and bureaucracies expend in gaining or supporting political strength, the practice of demarchy may be quite efficient. Politicians in western governments spend a good deal of their time either influencing others or being influenced by others. The purpose of this influence is that politicians and lobbyists can achieve their political goals. Because demarchy selects decision-makers randomly, the time and effort spent on politician machinations and manipulation is limited. In theory, therefore, demarchy could be a more efficient system of democracy than having elected officials.

Oliver Dowlen[edit]

In his review of the history of sortition implemented in various degrees in Greece, Florence and during the French revolution in "The Political Potential of Sortition", Dowlen argues that any use of sortition, whether to elect leaders, or to form the body that elects leaders, has helped develop and strengthen inclusion and stability in democratic systems.[6]


In Book 4 of Aristotle's The Politics,[7]


The concept of demarchy is similar to but slightly different from L. León's concept of lottocracy.[8] Burnheim ... insists that the random selection be made only from volunteers.[9] In the chapter A Concept for Government, León states: "... that first of all, the job must not be liked".[10] A detailed protocol for lottocracy is described in the same chapter. Christopher Frey uses the German term 'Lottokratie' and recommends to test lottocracy at least in town councils. Lottocracy according to Frey will improve the direct involvement of each citizen and minimize the systematical errors caused by political parties in Europe.[11]


An example of demarchy is the use of a jury of peers in criminal cases. The jury is normally a body of randomly selected citizens who decide the guilty or not guilty verdict, which is a prime example of demarchy.

In fiction[edit]

The concept of demarchy played an important role in Frederik Pohl's science fiction novel The Years of the City,[12] which is set in a near-future New York City. In the novel, all government offices, including the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court, are filled by average citizens chosen using a form of selective service. Appointees are aided in their duties by android-like Digital Colleagues, extensive computer databases, and an overall goal of reducing bureaucracy and legislation rather than creating more. The last of the book's five sections (Gwenanda and the Supremes) focuses on the story of a Supreme Court Justice.

In Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series of novels the concept of demarchy has been used to flatten hierarchies. Here, in one of the human factions—the demarchists—everyone is theoretically equal in the realm of government and all major political related issues are voted upon by everyone via neural implant. The "demarchy" in this society is actually more of a direct democracy. Joan D. Vinge also uses demarchy in the sense of electronic direct democracy in her 1978 novel The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (later incorporated into The Heaven Chronicles), perhaps the earliest use of the term.

In Blue Mars, the conclusion of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, the Martian government's lower house is selected by sortition. In Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, the futuristic society on Thalassa is ruled by demarchy.

In Dark Light (the middle of the Engines of Light trilogy) by Ken MacLeod, a character says:

In the BIONICLE toy line from LEGO, the Matoran citizens of Mahri Nui meet monthly to decide how to protect their vulnerable underwater city. The meetings are lead by a single Matoran who is regularly rotated out.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wyse, Thomas. Impressions of Greece.
  2. ^ Athenian democracy
  3. ^ a b "". Yuku. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Venice, A Maritime Republic, Frederick Chapin Lane, 1973, ISBN 978-0-8018-1460-0 PP 95
  5. ^ Participatory Budgeting, World Bank, 2007, Anwar Shah
  6. ^ Dowlen, Oliver. The Political Potential of Sortition. Introduction.
  7. ^ Aristotle's Politics
  8. ^ The term was coined by L. León in his book The World Solution for World Problems ISBN 90-900259-2-8
  9. ^ Brian Martin, "Demarchy: A Democratic Alternative to Electoral Politics", Kick It Over, No. 30, Fall 1992, pp. 11–13.
  10. ^ A Concept for Government, León
  11. ^ "". Facebook. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  12. ^ ISBN 0-671-46047-1