— Counter-Currents —

Sortition in Modern Republican Theory

niccolo-machiavelli_uffizi [1]2,219 words

Republican theorists of the 16th and 17th centuries recognized the merits of sortition, and included the practice when drawing up their ideal constitutions.

Niccolò Machiavelli

In 1520, Niccolò Machiavelli, in a proposal to the Medicis, published the Discourse on the Government of Florence [2], arguing that none of the previous governments worked for the common good and merely represented the interests of one faction at the expense of the other, be they Medici, aristocratic, or popolo. Florence’s history of successive short-lived regimes occurred because those classes excluded from participation always became a source of discontent that destabilized these regimes.

To remedy this, Machiavelli outlined a mixed constitution, which he argued would satisfy all classes and utilize their specific talents. He held that when it came to politics there were three types of men, the primi or leading citizens whose ambition required some outlet, the mezzani, a middle-ranking group of important citizens, and the univeralita dei cittadini, or rest of the citizenry who had little ambition or ability for politics but whose interests must be taken into account. The Signoria, an executive body of 8 should be staffed by the primi on a rotational basis. The mezzani should make up a legislative council of 200. Both bodies should be appointed by the Medici for life, ensuring that they would exercise their duties competently and be loyal to the Medici dynasty. But also the security of tenure would give them independence to speak their minds and not be merely yes men.[1]

To satisfy the univeralita dei cittadini he argued that the Consiglio be restored and the 1000 members should be selected by lot from the entire citizen body, who would form a lottery pool to fill by lot all the minor offices of the Republic. The unpredictable nature of the lottery would break up the patterns of patronage preventing the will of the universalita dei cittadini from being distorted. Finally he recommended the creation of a Provost office, modeled on the Roman Plebian tribune, The Consiglio acting in its role as an electoral college would elect 16 Gonfaloniers and from these 4 would be selected by lot to serve as Provosts on a monthly rotational basis. The Provosts would sit as silent witness on the proceedings of the Signoria and legislative council their power of veto designed to prevent the elite from abusing their power and ruling in their own interests at expense of the common good. The use of the lot was to prevent the office of the Provost being subjected to partisan interference and corruption. The proposal, however, was ignored by the Medici who were not interested in sharing any power. and Machiavelli would die in 1527 within weeks of the Medici’s expulsion and so had no influence on the formation of the last of the Florentine Republics.[2]

James Harrington

James Harrington, 1611–1677 [3]

James Harrington, 1611–1677

The writings of Machiavelli and the practice of sortition in Italy were built upon by James Harrington, an English Republican Theorist who lived through the English Civil War and the interregnum when England was in the process of defining a new political order and ideologies like Republicanism were discussed as a serious possibility.  In his youth, Harrington had studied Machiavelli and had traveled throughout Europe personally witnessing the very different regimes in practice during this period. When he traveled to Italy he became greatly impressed with the Venetian Republic and sought to use key elements of it as a model for the ideal constitution for England. This ideal constitution was outlined in his book published in 1656 called The Commonwealth of Oceana [4] and promoted by the Rota Club. The club, which Harrington ran, was a key part of the radical coffee house culture of the period and attracted a wide cross section of English society to debate and discuss republicanism and democratic theory and its application in Rome and Athens.[3]

In The Commonwealth of Oceana, Harrington argued for a bicameral parliament which was to be divided between the senate composed of the aristocracy and a popular assembly of the people. The representatives in both houses were to be selected by using the Brevia, i.e., an electoral college where sortition is used to determine the committee who would nominate candidates and then by secret ballot vote for the individuals nominated – political parties being forbidden. Access to the senatorial lottery pool was restricted to men of wealth to insure that the senate would be formed of men from the elite who had the necessary background and education for informed deliberation on the issues brought before them. The popular assembly, drawn from a far broader lottery pool, would not take an active part of the deliberation but would make the actual decision as to whether to accept or reject the proposed law.[4]

James Harrington [5]

James Harrington

The reason for this division is that although Harrington believed that while the wisdom of the aristocracy was superior to the common people, he believed that man was ultimately selfish and that the aristocrats, if given full power to implement laws, would draft them in such a way that would personally benefit them at the expense of the common good. As to the common people, Harrington believed their ignorance and lack of competence was the main reason why they would derail the pursuit of the common good. However, the division of power forces the two to compromise for the common good. Harrington illustrated this compromise by providing an example of two girls dividing a cake equally. The first girl would slice the cake and the second girl would then choose which slice she would have. This practice ensured that the first girl had the incentive to slice the cake equally.

Furthermore, the division of political labor plays to each group’s strengths: the aristocracy make excellent advocates to debate legislative proposals and so are useful as senators, the common people on the other hand may not be educated or articulate enough to debate properly but they are competent enough to follow a line of argument and use their common sense to pass good judgements on the proposals brought before them.[5]

Oceana_title_page [6]In addition to the political institutions that Harrington argues for in the Commonwealth of Oceana he also recognized that the stability of the commonwealth is dependent upon ethnic homogeneity and relative economic equality between the people of England (Oceana). To achieve this he proposed an agrarian law which stipulated that a man could not accumulate through purchase, inheritance, or dowry any property valued greater than £2,000.00. As a result of this law large estates would be gradually broken up over time.[6]

Furthermore, Harrington’s concern for homogeneity is expressed in his opposition to Cromwell’s decision, made in the same year of the publication of The Commonwealth of Oceana, to permit Jews to settle in England, arguing that “To receive the Jews after any other manner into a commonwealth were to maim it; for they of all nations never incorporate, but taking up the room of a limb, are of no use office to the body, while they suck the nourishment which would sustain a natural and useful member.” As a solution to the Jewish question he urged England to provide them a homeland in Ireland (Panopea), where would be permitted to establish plantations similar to those of the Protestants and given full toleration to practice their religion.[7]

Although the ideas presented in The Commonwealth of Oceana and popularized through the Rota Club were largely metapolitical, and Harrington took no active part in the politics of the period, his work was considered subversive by the establishment. The initial print run of the book was seized by order of Cromwell and only overturned through a personal appeal made via one of Cromwell’s daughters. Harrington’s treatment when the monarchy was restored in 1661 was far worse. He was arrested on a charge of conspiracy against the government and imprisoned without trial for several months. The traumatic experience caused Harrington to lose his mind. He never recovered and spent the remainder of his life as an invalid, dying in 1677.[8]

Sortition in the American Colonies and the United States

Sortition as an ingredient in political selection was not implemented in the American colonies that would later become the United States. Geography was certainly a factor, as it was impractical at that time to gather together the scattered rural populations together in meetings to draw lots, as was favored by Harrington and practiced in Venice.[9] However, by far the most likely explanation was that the colonists were ignorant of it. Machiavelli and Harrington advocated sortition in their republican texts, but neither devoted any time to explain the rationale lying behind sortition in their constitutions. They had personally witnessed sortition and seem to have operated on the assumption that its merits were self-explanatory. But an American colonist, having no practical tradition to draw upon, can be forgiven for failing to understand its merits, especially when preference voting by secret ballot was emerging as a the default mode of representation in the colonies, which seemed an answer to the corruption endemic to the electoral process.[10]

The secrecy of the ballot was designed to eliminate corruption in elections by preventing third parties exercising any undue influence over the voter, who would be alone to vote according to his conscience and answerable only to God. However, without drawing lots to randomly select nominators, as was the case in Venice, this meant that corruption was merely transferred to the nomination and scrutiny process itself. Here powerful individuals or groups, through a mix of patronage and intimidation, could ensure that the only serious candidates who presented themselves to the electorate favoured their interests.[11]

Despite ignorance of the use of sortition in political institutions, the American colonies did, however, discover the merits of sortition in selecting members for jury service. Until 1682, when South Carolina first adopted this method, juries had been handpicked by sheriffs of the local court from amongst the population of male property owners. Impartiality was supposedly guaranteed by the traditional right of the accused to mount as many as thirty-six challenges to ensure that the sheriff was even-handed in their selections. This system was still open to abuse, as unscrupulous lawyers could arrange for juries to be packed with men guaranteed to deliver a verdict favorable to the lawyer, and corrupt sheriffs could use their power of selection to obtain bribes by threatening to repeatedly call the same person for jury service over and over again. Selecting juries by sortition prevented jury packing and shared the burden of jury service equally across the community.[12]

Jury Nullification and Freedom of Dissent

Juries across the English speaking world are a useful protection for individuals or groups persecuted by the state. If an individual is charged under a law that the community deems illegitimate, then the jury may acquit the individual through jury nullification. In 18th century, Britain the then ruling class attempted to control the press through seditious libel law, however, they were dismayed to see that juries would often acquit these men even though the factual evidence pointed to their guilt under the law.[13]

Today the state persecutes White Nationalists in Britain under the various race relations and public order acts for dissenting against the ongoing genocide of the white race, also it increasingly polices dissent voiced by ordinary Britons such as Emma West who was filmed denouncing mass non-white immigration on the London underground.[14] In the rest of Europe the decision to convict or acquit individuals charged under hate speech laws lies with state appointed judges who by their very nature are creatures of the ruling anti-white regime. In Britain the case is different, and the crown prosecution service responsible for charging individuals under the many hate speech laws cannot always assume the co-operation of the jury.

In 2006, Nick Griffin was acquitted on charges of inciting racial hatred for referring to Islam as a wicked and vicious faith and accurately predicting Islamic terror attacks on Britain.[15] The conviction of Emma West also cannot be considered a foregone conclusion by the anti-white political establishment, Miss West intends to plead not guilty to the charge, and the repeated delays in bringing the case to trial indicate that the anti-white ruling class is fearful of the potential fallout. There are doubtless other cases where the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to bother prosecuting individuals under the race relations act because they believe that a jury would never convict them. This may be the reason for the common practice of the media reporting that police officers are investigating “racist” incidents, even though the majority do not actually result in prosecution. Although it has not happened yet, there is always the possibility that a smart defendant charged with the racial hatred could use his jury trial to get himself acquitted through jury nullification by challenging the legitimacy of the law in question and using it as a platform to further attack mass immigration as a fundamental act of treason by the anti-white political elite.[16]


1. John M. Najemy, A History of Florence, 1200-1575 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 437-39.

2. Oliver Dowlen, The Political Potential of Sortition (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008), 118-20.

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rota_Club [7]

4. Keith Sutherland, A People’s Parliament (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008), 63.

5. Ibid., 64-66.

6. James Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), Kindle Location, 1531.

7. Ibid., Location 4309-4324.

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Harrington_(author) [8]

9. Dowlen, The Political Potential of Sortition, 151.

10. Ibid., 163.

11. Ibid., 164.

12. Ibid., 173-77.

13. Ibid., 178.

14. http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/Trial-alleged-tram-racist-Emma-West-adjourned/story-17782550-detail/story.html [9]

15. http://news.sky.com/story/470964/bnp-pair-cleared-of-race-hate-charges [10]

16. http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/courage-is-the-best-defence-against-charges-of-racism/ [11]