Abstract

In consonance with the view of Aristotle in book 4 of the Politics, Montesquieu wrote that “selection by lot is in the nature of democracy; election by choice is in the nature of aristocracy.” Although the drawing of lots was a marker of classical Athenian democracy, Socrates — according to Xenophon's Memorabilia — was strongly opposed to it as irrational. According to Socrates and Plato, the citizen of a democracy exists in a moral anarchy, and every choice he makes is random, as if drawn by lot, hence the appropriateness of random choice as a principle of Athenian democracy. And yet, despite this negative assessment of the institution, Socrates was willing to participate in a lottery that made him a member of the Council of Five Hundred, the supreme political body of Athens. This essay — a contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Antipolitics” — attempts to explain this paradoxical stance, with reference to Plato's allusions to it.

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