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Representation, Bicameralism, Political Equality, and Sortition: Reconstituting the Second Chamber as a Randomly Selected Assembly

  • Arash Abizadeh

Abstract

The two traditional justifications for bicameralism are that a second legislative chamber serves a legislative-review function (enhancing the quality of legislation) and a balancing function (checking concentrated power and protecting minorities). I furnish here a third justification for bicameralism, with one elected chamber and the second selected by lot, as an institutional compromise between contradictory imperatives facing representative democracy: elections are a mechanism of people’s political agency and of accountability, but run counter to political equality and impartiality, and are insufficient for satisfactory responsiveness; sortition is a mechanism for equality and impartiality, and of enhancing responsiveness, but not of people’s political agency or of holding representatives accountable. Whereas the two traditional justifications initially grew out of anti-egalitarian premises (about the need for elite wisdom and to protect the elite few against the many), the justification advanced here is grounded in egalitarian premises about the need to protect state institutions from capture by the powerful few and to treat all subjects as political equals. Reflecting the “political” turn in political theory, I embed this general argument within the institutional context of Canadian parliamentary federalism, arguing that Canada’s Senate ought to be reconstituted as a randomly selected citizen assembly.

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For comments on previous drafts, I am grateful to John Aldrich, Edie Austin, Edana Beauvais, Eric Cheng, Lisa Disch, Kevin Elliot, David Estlund, Evan Fox-Decent, John Gastil, Raf Geenens, Molly Gerver, Emiliano Grossman, Alex Kirchner, Jacob Levy, Peter Loewen, Paul Massicotte, Brianna McGinnis, Andrew Potter, Will Roberts, Geneviève Rousselière, Stefan Rummens, Christa Scholtz, Richard Schultz, Melissa Schwartzberg, Stuart Soroka, Nazmul Sultan, Lori Turnbull, Pierre-Étienne Vandamme, Daniel Weinstock, James Wilson, Yves Winter, Erik Olin Wright; the editor and referees for this journal; and participants at the following conferences and workshops: Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition, McGill, December 2016; McGill RGCS Faculty Workshop, February 2017; Real Utopias Project workshop, University of Wisconsin, Madison, September 2017; Political Philosophy Workshop, Brown, November 2017; Crisis of Democracy, Yale University, January 2018; Political Theory Workshop, Duke, April 2018; “Political Theory In/ And/ As Political Science,” McGill, May 2018; APSA, September, 2018; Political Theory Workshop, University of Chicago, November 2018; Ottawa Political Thought Research Network, University of Ottawa, December 2018; Public Ethics Talks Series, Leiden University, February 2019; RIPPLE, KU Leuven, March 2019; and Sciences Po Théorie Politique Seminar, March 2019. Dedicated to the memory of Erik Olin Wright.

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Representation, Bicameralism, Political Equality, and Sortition: Reconstituting the Second Chamber as a Randomly Selected Assembly

  • Arash Abizadeh

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