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Ancient fresco of Greek ‘Chance’ dice player

The Revival of Demarchy: Kleros as a Political Technology

From the Ancient Greeks to the Decentralized Internet: How Random Selection Shaped Democracy…

Random Selection in Classical Athens

The Greeks never really trusted elections. They saw them as an oligarchic feature all too often manipulated by demagogues to serve their political agenda.

Cleisthenes, the father of Ancient Democracy. According to some, Cleisthenes was an Ancient inspiration for Satoshi Nakamoto.
In his Discourse on the Remodelling of the Government of Florence, Niccolo Macchiavelli strongly advocated sortition for empowering republican institutions.

The Founding Fathers of America

The democratic revolutions of the 18th century resulted in a fundamental rethinking of governance. When drafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers of the United States had to figure out how to rule a large scale decentralized society. The Federalist Papers contain many of these discussions. Authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, they were published under the pseudonym Publius, recalling the first consul of the Roman Republic.

“What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude. One was the wonder of the Ancient World; the other is becoming the admiration of the present”.

Paine was a strong advocate of demarchy. He proposed that the delegations from each state to the Continental Congress be selected by lot, and that the Congress should elect the President from the members of the chosen delegation. In the end, however, random selection was only applied to the jury system.

“The jury, and more especially the civil jury, serves to communicate the spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and this spirit, with the habits which attend it, is the soundest preparation for free institutions (…) It invests each citizen with a kind of magistracy; it makes them all feel the duties which they are bound to discharge toward society; and the part which they take in the Government” (Tocqueville 1961: 336–37).

The Founding Father Thomas Paine was a strong advocate for the use of random selection during the days of the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Demarchy, Reloaded

These are times of discontent with representative democracy, a system many see as prone to be ruled by special interests and demagogues. In this context, some believe that sortition can help correct a number of flaws. After all, the Greeks used random selection precisely for its potential to curtail special interests and stop demagogues.

In “When the People Speak”, James Fishkin presents his framework of deliberative democracy and the methodology of deliberative polling, based on the use of randomly selected citizens for policy making.

Kleros as Demarchy for the Online World

Even though representative democracy faces an existential crisis, reforms aiming at a deeper use of sortition seem unlikely. Upgrading governance systems usually requires reforming the Constitution. Institutional design is an unwelcoming field for running experiments.


For a deep exploration of demarchy in Athens, read James Headlam’s classic Election by Lot at Athens (1891) and Stanford professor Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens (2009).

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Federico Ast

Ph.D. Blockchain & Legaltech Entrepreneur. Singularity University Alumnus. Founder at Kleros. Building the Future of Law. @federicoast / federicoast.com