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Parliaments by Lottery: A Randomly Selected Second Chamber

Tuesday 26 February 2019
Free entry, no registration required.
Public Ethics Talks
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Spanish Steps


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 here furnish 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 accountability and people’s political agency, but are insufficient for satisfactory responsiveness and run counter to impartiality and political equality; sortition is a mechanism for impartiality and equality, and of enhancing responsiveness, but not of holding representatives accountable or of people’s political agency.

Thus whereas the two traditional justifications for bicameralism initially grew out of anti-egalitarian premises (about the need for elite wisdom and the need to protect the elite few against the many), the third justification advanced here is grounded in egalitarian premises about the need to protect state institutions from capture by the powerful few and the need to treat all citizens as political equals.

Arash Abizadeh

Arash Abizadeh is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the Department of Political Science at McGill University. He earned his BA from the University of Winnipeg, his MPhil from Oxford University, and his PhD from Harvard University. He specialises in contemporary political theory and the history of political philosophy. His research focuses on democratic theory and questions of identity, nationalism, borders, and cosmopolitanism; immigration and border control, as well as 17th and 18th philosophy, with an emphasis on Hobbes and Rousseau.

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