02 August 2019

Choosing A Venetian Political Leader In The Middle Ages And Early Modern Period

There is something to be said for electing a leader from a random jury. Not sure what the theory was by injecting four rounds of reputational choice of electors into the process.
For more than five centuries (from 1268 to 1797) the procedure to elect the doge (chief of state) did not change. 
  1. Choose 30 members of the Great Council by lot.
  2. These 30 people are reduced by lot to 9.
  3. These 9 people choose 40 other people.
  4. These 40 are reduced by lot to 12.
  5. These 12 people choose 25 other people.
  6. These 25 people are reduced by lot to 9.
  7. These 9 people choose 45 other people.
  8. These 45 people are reduced by lot to 11.
  9. These 11 people choose 41 other people.
  10. These 41 people elect the doge. 
Funny that many Americans blame their electoral system for being complicated. You may think what you want about the Venetian system but it guaranteed what was probably the most stable government in the history of mankind.
Via Marginal Revolution.

A comment to the post suggests this logic behind the system:
Typically one had to be 35 and have succeeded in an embassy mission abroad or in trade, business or manufacture to join the Grand Council. Then only senior members with 10 years good standing could sit on certain select committees. Then only emeritus members of those committees were part of permanent advisory councils. Venice was essentially a gerontocracy which made it stubborn and inflexible at certain key points in history, but also meant that it was generally immune to populist waves and wild, political swings. 
The use of random drawings of lots for many political committees prevented factions from hardening. If no one fixer or slim majority could ever count on their team controlling a key committee, embassy or position there was much less incentive to form hard, permanent, bitter factions in the first place. Instead it was better for Council members to network broadly and steer towards consensus or compromise candidates. Venice never had its version of the Guelphs of Florence or the factional strife of other proto-democratic states of the Italian Renaissance and Finer attributed this to the unique political selection methods.
Another comment notes that (in addition to the fact that the "Grand Council" is another translation of the "Great Council") that:
Participation in the Great Council was established on hereditary right, exclusive to the patrician families enrolled in the Golden Book of the Venetian nobility.
Another reader hypotheses that:
-- The initial random seeding from the population gives an impression of universal participation and impartiality.
-- The selection of the next group means that people will think about qualities they want in a leader, such as popularity, leadership and gravitas, ability to execute, political philosophy, connection to an important trade or business, and so on.
-- The subsequent iterative rounds mean that people who are progressively even more well connected and with better judgment or support from the people will be choosing the next group from their rolodexes.
-- The random member reductions ensure that the selection committees are not too big to function efficiently, while still leaving the people pruned out with an impression that they participated.
-- Ironically, by the time that you go through this many steps, you probably end up with the same basic group, simply on the basis of Kevin Bacon six degrees theory and the Friendship Paradox social network/assortative mixing phenomenon.
-- This final group thus picks from a small usual-suspects circle of local bigwigs. But the illusion of some sort of roundabout democracy is maintained by the 180 or so people who had a part in the process.

No comments: