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Sortition is making an increasingly noticeable comeback in politics, and the notion of entrusting the selection of the people’s representatives to chance seems less and less ridiculous as democratic experiments of this kind increase in number. While these experiments were initially small-scale, they have recently moved to another level with the inclusive constitutional amendment processes in Iceland and Ireland and the institutionalization of permanent bodies formed using sortition in Belgium. A new wave of more ambitious innovation has been embarked upon that is more akin to political decision-making. Consequently, this selection method must be taken more seriously than ever before.
The aim of this contribution is to examine the extent to which sortition might be a vehicle of social justice, i.e., the extent to which this method of selecting representatives is likely to produce fairer political decisions than the electoral alternative. The existing literature clearly highlights the egalitarian aspect of this method—the equal likelihood of being selected—in contrast to the elitist nature of elections. A more egalitarian selection or decision-making process does not necessarily lead to more egalitarian or fairer decisions, however. Nevertheless, a series of epistemic advantages have also been identified with sortition, i.e., the capacity to produce higher-quality political decisions, or decisions that correspond more closely to citizens’ legitimate aspirations. This article seeks to draw attention t…

English

This article examines the extent to which the random selection of political representatives—i.e., sortition—could be a vehicle for social justice. Given sortition’s ability to bring representatives of disadvantaged groups into positions of power, the answer may seem positive. However, it assumes that the representatives selected from these groups are capable of acting in the group’s best interests—and thus that they are aware of the injustices they suffer and of effective ways to fight them. Yet both Marxist thought and contemporary social psychology have shown that such a “consciousness of injustice” is not guaranteed for people educated and socialized in contexts dominated by anti-egalitarian ideologies. Such a consciousness is sometimes acquired only after a rather slow process of collective politicization and in a confrontational logic. Far from condemning sortition, this article takes this reality into account and examines the benefits of citizens’ assemblies that take place over a longer period of time, while not losing sight of the benefits of electoral democracy—such as political parties’ capacity to mobilize citizens and raise consciousness—and the essential role played by civil society.

Français

Tirage au sort et conscience des injustices

Cet article examine dans quelle mesure le tirage au sort de représentants politiques pourrait être un vecteur de justice sociale. En raison de sa capacité à amener à des postes de pouvoir des représentants de groupes désavantagés, la réponse semble a priori positive. Elle présuppose toutefois la capacité des représentants tirés au sort issus de ces groupes à agir dans le meilleur intérêt du groupe – et donc qu’ils aient conscience des injustices subies et des moyens efficaces d’y remédier. Or, tant la pensée marxiste que la psychologie sociale contemporaine ont mis en évidence le fait qu’une telle conscience des injustices n’allait pas de soi pour des personnes éduquées et socialisées dans des contextes où dominent des idéologies anti-égalitaires. Une telle conscience des injustices n’est parfois acquise qu’au terme d’un processus assez lent de politisation collective, dans une dynamique d’antagonisme. Loin de condamner le tirage au sort, la prise en compte de cette réalité amène d’une part à mesurer l’avantage d’assemblées citoyennes s’inscrivant dans la durée, et d’autre part à ne pas perdre de vue certains bénéfices de la démocratie électorale comme la capacité de mobilisation et de conscientisation des partis politiques et le rôle essentiel joué par la société civile.

Pierre-Étienne Vandamme
Pierre-Étienne Vandamme is an FWO Senior Postdoctoral Researcher in political philosophy at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) (University of Leuven). His research focuses on democratic innovations, especially their potential for social justice and their articulation with traditional representative institutions. He has published articles on this topic in journals such as Journal of Deliberative Democracy, Contemporary Political Theory and Politics & Society, as well as a French-language book, Démocratie et justice sociale (Vrin, 2021).
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