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Demarchy (or lottocracy) is 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, in theory, could overcome some of the functional problems of conventional representative democracy, which is widely subject to manipulation by special interests and a division between professional policymakers (politicians and lobbyists) vs. a largely passive, uninvolved and often uninformed electorate. According to Australian philosopher John Burnheim, who coined the term demarchy, random selection of policymakers would make it easier for everyday citizens to meaningfully participate, and harder for special interests to corrupt the process.

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.

In the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, a group of citizens was randomly selected to create a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to investigate and recommend changes to the provinces' electoral systems. A similar system happened with the Dutch Burgerforum Kiesstelsel. 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.


The Venetian Republic was well known for the demarchical aspects of its long standing and stable government.[2] 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]

Most modern democracies are made up of republics or parliaments. In both cases, citizens participate in the direct election of individuals to represent them. Ideally, most citizens would spend the time to adequately study party platforms. However, history shows that what politicians say does not always represent what they will do and if their actions will represent the important elements of their proposed agendas, as many citizens do not invest the time nor have the inclination to do so (see rational ignorance). As a result, much time and money is devoted to political canvassing and advertising — where politicians promote themselves in much the same way as a commercial product.

The result of this is that people vote according to their impressions of the politician and party based upon political advertising, plus any other form of media that has influenced them. The problem with this is that people may not necessarily vote for the best candidate since they have not taken the time to examine whom to vote for. Demarchy eliminates an election process, saving time and money involved in self-promotion. In theory power would be given to a person who has not attempted to promote themselves in this manner and hopefully apply their experience, reason, ideals to represent citizens in the forming policy more fairly than in democracy. As a theory, it has not been proven as it has yet to be acted out at any level, fully, openly, and democratically in known history.

In contemporary society, burgeoning movements are taking shape with the aim of bringing demarchy to modern governments. In the UK, these include Newid and Demarchy in the UK.

Institutional corruption in political parties[edit]

An attractive feature of demarchy is that if political leaders were replaced on a regular basis with randomly selected citizens, it would reduce institutionalised corruption, party apathy and complacency as well as a history of party led entitlement, lack of choice and variety in political ideas in platforms. It could be argued that replacing politicians in this way would solve such problems.

As people would be randomly selected to act as representatives it would be less likely that the person involved would be part of a "party political machine".

The theory says that a randomly selected person as a representative would not have to compromise their own beliefs in order to make political alliances and gain support, nor fear political reprisals in implementing tough or controversial legislation. However, as theory goes, there is no inherent guarantee, nor anything a priori in demarchy which guarantees this.

There is no proven link that long term political representation equals a larger amount of monetary loss through political corruption nor could it be proven that random citizens in office would end or limit corruption nor that corruption would increase.

Research by the World Bank and others has shown that a form of citizens' assembly called Participatory budgeting reduced corruption in several cities. [3]

Making decisions based upon political expediency[edit]

Politicians are often forced to make decisions which compromise their own beliefs and what they may think is best through the pressures of future elections, fitting into their party apparatus, pleasing those who funded their campaigns and vote sharing and voting compromise. The time lost in the voting process, image forming and maintenance and focusing on approval would be better suited to forming good law and policy. Demarchy would eliminate some of these pressures, however these pressures are likely to exist in any political office and there is no guarantee that a randomly selected citizen would adhere to his/her belief system or that he/she would have the political history, knowledge or courage to do so.

Demarchy, because it is based upon random selection, does not make a person's career dependent upon popularity, and, because a demarchy is likely to remove the direct influence of political parties, there is no "party line" that the individual must adhere to. This is not to say that political alliances could not be formed after a person's selection—but that the structure of demarchy is less suited to decision-making based upon politics.

One benefit of demarchy is that it is more suited to non-party politics. So some claim it is better able to build consensus or compromise.

Areas of thinking and debate[edit]

Although this theory of political representation has yet to be popularized, rigorously examined or critiqued, there are three broad areas of concern.


The first area of demarchic theory concerns whether it should supplement or completely replace conventional representative democracy. To supplement popular voting would imply that randomly selected people would serve only in limited levels or types of representation, or make up only a portion of political representatives. For example, all city councils would be made up entirely of randomly selected citizens, though the mayor, through popular vote would remain; or one-tenth of a parliament would be formed through sortition while the remaining would be voted for by ballot. Other examples would include a person being selected to make decisions and or offer advice about education or the environment. Complete replacement would entail individuals from a group of randomly selected people being directly appointed into all areas of government, cabinets, parliaments and other forms of leadership.

Level of implementation[edit]

The second area of thinking concerns the range and extent of decision-making and focuses upon macro- vs. micro-government. Should demarchy be practiced at a federal/national level only, at a local/community level only, or should it be practiced at every level of government? For example, all city councils would be appointed by sortition, however at the national level, normal elections would continue. Allowing sortition in one area of government but not another would imply that sortition is beneficial either for only one level of governance, for instance local implementation of national policy made by elected officials or its opposite, the formation of policy implemented locally by professional officials. Other consequences of implementing sortition only at one level include scale of powers, trust and efficacy.


The third area of thinking concerns whether those randomly selected should first meet some form of minimum criteria (such as level of education, lack of criminal record, age, and so forth) in order to be selected, or whether anyone should be allowed to be represented. In the former case, some form of 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.[4] They were always male.[5]

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.[5]


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]


No modern nation has attempted to use demarchy as a primary system for political decision making, so it is difficult to assess problems of transition or shortcomings of the system. (The Sortition article includes a more extensive discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of sortition in a wider range of applications.)

Potential problems and difficulties of demarchy fall into several categories:

Questions of institution design[edit]

  • The desirable scope, level and inclusiveness of demarchic institutions
  • The choice and implementation of checks and balances
  • Whether to allow those in power to stay in power

Difficulties of implementation[edit]

  • Public uncertainty over adopting an untried system
  • The need for amendments to a national constitution (in some applications and contexts)
  • The difficulty of convincing incumbent politicians and political parties to give up power voluntarily
  • Instability through radical change when forming brand new governments (in some systems)

Potential disadvantages[edit]

  • Inexperienced and or uneducated people forming and implementing policies
  • Difficulties in achieving adequate agreement
  • The loss of experienced politicians (in some systems)
  • The veto power of minority groups over legislation (in some systems)


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,[7] 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:

Drawing lots is fair, even if it sometimes throws up a freak result. With elections you're actually building the minority problem right in at every level, and lots more with it — parties, money, fame, graft, just for starters. What chance would that leave ordinary people, what chance would we have of being heard or of making a difference? Elections are completely undemocratic, they're downright antidemocratic. Everybody knows that!


In Book 4 of Aristotle's The Politics,[8]

I mean for example, that it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected (assigned by vote) oligarchic.


The concept of demarchy is similar to but slightly different from L. León's concept of lottocracy.[9] Burnheim ... insists that the random selection be made only from volunteers.[10] In the chapter A Concept for Government, León states: "... that first of all, the job must not be liked".[11] 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.[12]

See also[edit]


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