02023-02-05 | Philosophy | 6 comments

“Today this process, known as sortition, is familiar to us from jury selection, but the original democracy, as practised in Athens in 300 BCE, used this method to assign almost all the important positions in government. The Athenians believed that the principle of sortition was critical to democracy. Aristotle himself declared that: ‘It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.’ Sortition – randomness – was the foundation of radical equality.”

from Ways of Being by James Bridle

I did not know that Athenians used a lottery to select people for government positions. At first I thought it was a crazy idea but then I warmed to it. And to think it’s a 2,500 year old idea. :-)


  1. JaneParham

    I just completed a documentary on Athens. Their military strategy, architecture, writers, philosophers, scientists…everything seemed quite advanced. Their level of intelligence was extraordinary. I’m going to read all their great writings, which were given to me by my parents long ago. I think there are sadly few people in our government who have digested this brilliant material.

  2. anne

    Plato and Aristotle were more than just ontologists- experts about being,.. they had something to say about everything. Some good , some not so good.

    All 3 of them ( +Socrates ) had views on women and slaves too . no radical equality there.

    • Steve

      Yes, but the Stoic philosophers argued for equality … sexual inequality being contrary to the laws of nature in their view.

    • anne

      Who do you vote for – the better person or the better leader? (can be a big difference in results).

      Socrates – reviews his ideal state – calls it a luxurious state, only then “see how justice and injustice originates”. Also…. “those who rule deserve to rule and those who are ruled deserve that, too”.

      (2 interesting statements)

      (Yep Aristotle believed women and slaves were inferior.)

      • Steve

        My point was only that “ancient Greek” thought isn’t monolithic. Sure there were some “big names” like Aristotle, and Plato who thought that women were inferior beings, and that slaves were “unworthy of freedom” … and it’s true that women and slaves in the mainstream were viewed as inferior. But that’s not unique to the west. Most of what has been written here about how women were viewed could equally apply to views on women during Han dynasty China.

        But … as I indicated above, there were other philosophers from other schools of thought such as the Stoics and the Cynics who disagreed with Plato, Aristotle and the mainstream on women … AND … in the case of slavery, Consider what a prominent Stoic, Seneca had to say:

        Letter XLVII to Lucilius, “On master and slave” …“‘They are slaves,’ people declare. Nay, rather they are men. … Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies. It is just as possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to see in you a slave. As a result of the massacres in Marius’s day, many a man of distinguished birth, who was taking the first steps toward senatorial rank by service in the army, was humbled by fortune, one becoming a shepherd, another a caretaker of a country cottage. Despise, then, if you dare, those to whose estate you may at any time descend, even when you are despising them.”

        No writings from Cynic philosophers survive, but it is known from indirect sources that the Cynics would have agreed with this, although for different reasons.

        The Colonial idea of slavery was intrinsically racist, founded on the conceit that some people are literally sub-human, not worthy of the same consideration as the rest of us.

        That was NOT the case in Ancient Greece where one could become a slave merely by losing a battle or having your town over-run by an enemy. The Greeks lost hundreds of thousands of their own to enslavement by others for no reason other than they lost a battle … so they were very aware that slavery was a result of accident, not a sign of inferiority.

        I think its fallacious to look at the mores of another culture from another period of time with the same heuristics and ethics we have in the 21st c. west.

  3. ottmar

    Today billions of dollars are spent on political campaigns every year.
    It seems to me that it might even be deemed useful to keep the public less informed or even dis-informed in order to get them to vote for a candidate.
    Now imagine if there was a lottery system. Suddenly it would be in everyone’s interest to make sure that the general public is as educated and informed as possible, wouldn’t it! All that money could go towards education rather than to campaign financing.
    Not likely, but a lovely thought experiment.


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