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Demarchy is a term coined by Australian philosopher John Burnheim to describe a political system without the state or bureaucracies, and based instead on randomly selected groups of decision makers. These groups, sometimes termed "policy juries", "citizens' juries", or "Consensus Conferences ", would deliberate and make decisions about public policies in much the same way that juries reach verdicts on criminal cases.
Demarchy attempts to overcome some of the functional problems with conventional representative democracies, which in practice have often been subject to manipulation by special interests and a divide between professional policymakers (politicians and lobbyists) vs. a largely passive, uninvolved and often uninformed electorate. According to 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.
Recently, the province of British Columbia has made use of Demarchy in the formation of the Citizen's Assembly; a group of citizens randomly selected to propose a new electoral process to be ratified by the general population by referendum.
Demarchy and the problem of modern Politics
Demarchy is an attempt to produce a form of Democracy that is free from many of the influences and problems that are part of modern politics.
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. 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 the impressions that they have 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 who 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 can sometimes be short, it is only natural that they do everything posible 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.
Areas of thinking and debate
Although this form of democratic thinking has yet to be popularized or rigourously examined and critiqued, there are three broad areas of thinking:
The first area of thinking concerns whether or not those randomly chosen should replace a representative democracy. In this sense, rather than elect politicians to serve in a representative council and/or senate, people are randomly chosen to fulfil this role. The alternative to this is that representation is dispensed with entirely and those randomly selected are appointed to make decisions within a specific government department or area of responsibility. For example, a person may be selected to make decisions about national defence, or they may be selected to make decisions about the environment - and they do so as part of a group of randomly selected individuals.
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, should it be practiced at a local/community level only, or should it be practiced at all levels of government? This issue is important, but focuses more upon other issues of democracy that is not necessarily specific to random-selection of decision makers.
The third area of thinking concerns whether or not those randomly selected should first meet some form of minimum criteria (such as level of education, lack of criminal record, age, etc) 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 is expended by politicians and bureaucracies in gaining or supporting political strength, the practice of Demarchy is 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.
Demarchy could also be called Klerostocracy - kleros is the Greek word for casting lots. Klerostocracy would literally mean "rule by random selection".
Demarchy attempts to achieve Democratic representation without needing elections - it is "Democracy without Elections".
Possible shortcomings with Demarchy
Since no modern nation has attempted to use Demarchy as a system of Democratic government, any shortcomings of the system can only be theorised.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Demarchy is amending a nation's constutition in order to allow for this form of government. Nations based upon Federalism usually have a bicameral system that allows smaller entities to have the power to veto any changes. Should representatives in both houses be selected randomly?
One of the greatest problems of this process would be the acquiesence of a majority of political parties to essentially give up their power. Politicians and political parties (both major and minor) stand to lose a great deal if Demarchy is to be introduced. It would be very difficult to convince politicians in the short term to even consider the idea.
Another problem arises when Demarchy is applied to the Judicial and Executive branches of the government. Should a president be elected by the people? Or should he or she be elected by randomly selected electors? In this situation, what would a person need to do in order to be recognised as a potential Presidential candidate by such electors?
There is also no doubt that corruption would continue even during a Demarchy. Although it has been argued above that systemic corruption is less likely to occur, there is still a chance that those with power - even those selected randomly - will abuse their power for their own ends.
Demarchy in fiction
The concept of demarchy played an important role in Frederick 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 beauracracy 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 Alister Reynolds's Revelation Space series of novels the concept of demarchy has been used to flatten hierarchies. Here, everyone is theoretically equal in the realm of government and all major political related issues are voted upon by everyone in a technological version of Greece's 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.
- Brian Martin, "Demarchy: A Democratic Alternative to Electoral Politics", Kick It Over, No. 30, Fall 1992, pp. 11-13.
- Ernest Callenbach & Michael Phillips, "A Citizen Legislature", 1985
- Publications on demarchy and democracy
- Richard E. Sclove, "Town Meetings on Technology", Technology Review, July 1996.
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