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Demarchy: Wikis


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Demarchy or lottocracy is a political system run by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by lot. 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 attempts to overcome some of the functional problems with conventional Representative democracy, which is often 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, 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 is known as sortition. The Athenian democracy made much use of sortition, with nearly all government offices filled by lottery rather than by election. 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. 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.



Most modern democracies are made up of republics or parliaments. In both of these cases, citizens participate in the direct election of individuals to represent them. Unfortunately, most citizens have neither the time nor the inclination to adequately study which person or party to vote for (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 does away with the election process, thus saving the time and money involved in self-promotion, and instead gives power to a person who has not attempted to promote themselves in this manner.

Institutional corruption in political parties

Demarchy could also replace traditional political parties. Since people are randomly selected to act as representatives, there is very little chance that the person involved is part of a "party political machine." While random selection will not remove political bias, what it will do is select a person as a representative who has not had to compromise their own beliefs in order to gain political alliances and support.

Institutional corruption (such as a person being supported by businesses in order for both to mutually benefit from the situation) is also unlikely—any corruption would occur after the person is selected and is more likely to be reported (since the person selected would probably not be used to corruption at that scale).

Making decisions based upon political expediency

Many politicians make decisions based not necessarily upon what is the best thing to do, nor upon their own ethics and morals, but upon what is best for their own political gain. A politician is dependent upon his or her good standing with voters, as well as an ability to "fit in" with the party political structure. Since a person's time in politics sometimes is short, it is only natural that they do everything possible to continue their career.

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 will not be formed after a person's selection—but that the structure of demarchy is less suited to decision making based upon politics.

Areas of thinking and debate

Although this form of democratic thinking has yet to be popularized or rigorously examined and critiqued, there are three broad areas of thinking:

The first area of thinking concerns whether demarchy should supplement or completely replace conventional representative democracy. Supplement would mean that randomly selected people serve in a representative council or senate only. Complete replacement would mean that individuals from a group of randomly selected people are directly appointed into specific government department or area of responsibility. For example, a person may be selected to make decisions about national defense or the environment.

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? This issue is important, but focuses more on other issues of democracy that are not necessarily specific to random-selection of decision makers.

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.

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.

Problems of implementation

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.

Possible barriers to implementation include:

  • The difficulty of convincing incumbent politicians and political parties to give up power voluntarily
  • Public uncertainty over adopting an untried system
  • The veto power of minority groups over legislation (in some systems) or amendments to a national constitution, if necessary

Political candidates are generally familiar with the issues facing their constituents, and are usually elected based on how the constituents judge their reaction to those issues. A randomly selected jury may not actually be well-educated about the political problems of the day (because they would not be professional politicians) so the culture of a demarchist society would have to change dramatically to educate citizens on complex political issues. Without the need to curry favor among potential voters in order to succeed in future elections, there might be little incentive (other than public opinion) to listen to constituents. There is also little incentive, other than the laws which also apply to existing politicians, for the randomly selected legislators to avoid corrupting the system for personal gain.

Demarchy is designed to make balanced decisions by including a diversity of people in a consensus-forming process. It is unclear how this could be applied to an office which is held by a single person, such as a president. Elimination of such offices would be criticized as leaving the country without clear leadership in times of crisis or military emergency. An alternative to elimination might be the election of the executive by a randomly selected group of people, or a change to a system where the legislature chooses an executive in the form of a prime minister. (Many countries already use the latter parliamentary system of government.)

Demarchy also runs considerable risk of appointing people who are not educated or informed about the issues they have to make decisions on, or people who simply do not care. (For example, a Demarchy would possibly force shopkeepers to make decisions on defense, or the education system). People who are apathetic towards politics may find themselves thrust into a position of power they do not want and cannot wield effectively. Even more dangerous is the prospect of appointing incompetent people to positions of power. Any system that decides who can and cannot be given political power runs the risk of being abused, except for public elections, which of course destroy the whole purpose of a demarchy.

A possible solution for the problem of placing uneducated or unwilling people in power would be to make people apply to be selected, but this does not solve the problem entirely (people could still apply even if they were not really competent).

Courts as an example

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.

Demarchy in fiction

The concept of demarchy played an important role in Frederik Pohl's science fiction novel, The Years of the City (ISBN 0-671-46047-1), 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 Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, the Martian government's lower house is selected via Demarchy in the third book Blue Mars.

In Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, the futuristic society on Thalassa is ruled by demarchy.


Demarchy could also be called klerostocracy, as kleros is the Greek word for casting lots. Klerostocracy would literally mean, "Rule by random selection." In Book 4 of Aristotle's The Politics,[1]

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.[2] Burnheim ... insists that the random selection be made only from volunteers.[3] In the chapter A Concept for Government, León states: ... that first of all, the job must not be liked..[4] A detailed protocol for lottocracy is described in the same chapter.

See also

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.


  1. ^ Aristotle's Politics
  2. ^ The term was coined by L. León in his book The World Solution for World Problems (ISBN 90-900259-2-8, no copy rights attached)
  3. ^ Brian Martin, "Demarchy: A Democratic Alternative to Electoral Politics", Kick It Over, No. 30, Fall 1992, pp. 11–13.
  4. ^ A Concept for Government, León




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