Introducing part 2 of the Common Knowledge symposium “Antipolitics,” this essay summarizes the “untold story” of the random recruitment of citizens for political office in Western Europe. Although sortition was used extensively in ancient Athens and in late medieval Europe, it is now (except for the randomly selected jury) a largely discontinued practice. While a good deal is known about when and where this procedure was used, there is little surviving documentation of exactly why it was used and of what it was thought to contribute to the political systems in which it was deployed. This untold story, therefore, is not simply about historical instances of use but must also be an analysis and critique of its use. Key points that emerge are that (1) a lottery takes the decision to appoint or elect away from partisan protagonists, so it therefore acts as a mechanism that can break up and disperse power; and (2) a lottery can serve as a trusted mediation or agreement between parties, because the resultant decision is anonymous.

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