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Sortition: An Ancient Remedy to Heal the Organized Community’s Wounds

For months now, the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York has been embroiled in an ugly dispute between rival sides. As the coordinating umbrella organization for local Greek societies, its primary function is to organize the annual Greek Independence Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.

Despite any criticism regarding its subdued presence in other issues of vital importance for the Greek-American Community or the manner in which it organizes the parade, the truth is that with the exception of Holy Week, it handles perhaps the largest and most recognizable collective Greek Community activity in America. This alone constitutes the resolution of the present dysfunctionality an immediate priority.

With New York City having returned to relative normalcy and the organization of the parade appearing increasingly likely for 2022, the Federation’s issues, which appear bound for the courts, pose a problem. To prevent the possibility of the parade being cancelled for a third straight year – this time, due to our own fault – the Archdiocese of America tried to broker a compromise and form a parade committee acceptable to all sides.

While the hope is that this initiative will succeed, the matter is serious enough to deserve a deeper look. The organization of a parade, without clear objectives and messages, negates its very purpose. Although the parade takes place in a prime location and is covered live by a large metropolitan area broadcaster, there are still glaring issues. Whether it’s the lack of a stricter dress code for participants to promote uniformity and aesthetic beauty, or the failure to properly showcase student-marchers, considering that our Greek parochial schools are interspersed with no rhyme or reason, as if Hellenic Paideia was not one of the most critical issues for the survival of Hellenism, there are serious issues that need to be examined through public discourse, and not just in the anterooms of the Federation.

Ultimately, either the Greek-American Community will manage to prioritize certain common values around which it will work in unison and strategically to upgrade the institutions that express them, or it will come apart, because the ‘tropos’ or manner of its distinct otherness will no longer be discernible, leading to withering and dissolution.

This column proposes that the present administrative crisis can be overcome through the application of the ancient democratic practice of sortition; that is, distribution of offices via a lottery system. In his work ‘Rhetoric’, Aristotle notes that “a Democracy is a form of government under which the citizens distribute the offices of state among themselves by lot” (1365b-1366a). Hence, if the Federation leadership invokes democracy as a defining quality of its mode of governance, then there should not be any problem with accepting the distribution of offices according to its signature trait.

On the contrary, the revival of this ancient element of democracy would serve as a sterling example for other organizations, while showcasing an essential aspect of democracy that is frequently overlooked in contemporary society. And while this trait may escape popular attention, it is not altogether absent from modern democratic polities. Two characteristic examples from the Unied States regarding the contemporary use of sortition include the selection of jurors for trials, and the draft, which is currently not in use, but still a legal requirement laid out in the selective service system. Now, if many of us just happen to view the former as an imposition and waste of time, and ward off the latter, it’s worth questioning just how democratically minded we truly are…

The same holds true for Federation leaders, on a smaller scale. Considering that the annual parade order is put together primarily through a lottery, why shouldn’t the same reasoning prevail for the distribution of administrative posts?

Such a possibility would keep the Federation free of any sort of electoral ‘engineering’ and secure equal opportunities for any and all hypothetical candidates, steering clear of backroom deals, partisanship, outside intervention, and the disproportionate influence of money, publicity, and other factors. It would truly serve the principles of democracy, according to its ancient conceptualization, and constitute participants more active members, considering that any one of them stands an equal chance of being called to participate in the exercise of authority.

Naturally, some related reforms would need to be put in place to secure effective governance through shorter terms for office holders chosen by lot. This measure would facilitate the more frequent exchange of power, as well as the prevalence of direct majority rule through more numerous and substantive general assemblies.

At the very least, this experiment would ease tensions in the Federation and offer a dignified solution to the present impasse for all parties. The opposing sides would by necessity focus far less on prevailing in divisive and clamorous electoral contests and more so on formulating ideas and proposals that could win them ‘control’ in the general assembly, as originally intended in a democracy. In other words, the agenda would revolve around ideas(!), not individuals.

If this mode of governance succeeds, it will help resuscitate the long-suffering Federation, which would gain renewed dynamism and much more ambitious prospects.

If it fails, perhaps it will demonstrate that the Federation, as a collective body, cannot respond to the goals and needs of the Greek Community for the 21st century, and that it must be replaced by another entity, which will usher in a new philosophy around the organization and collective work of Hellenism; i.e. a Greek Community encompassing entire geographic regions that would undertake much bolder initiatives, such as the operation of Greek schools and other basic institutions that are required for Hellenism to safeguard its future.

At any event, the time has come to reinforce the notion that democracy encompasses not only the freedom to choose those who will exercise authority, but also, the personal responsibility to exercise authority ourselves, as an offering and duty to the collective body.

 

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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