What is the difference between demarchy and sortition?

The Wikipedia article for demarchy:

Demarchy (or lottocracy) is a form of government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by sortition (lot) from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens.

The Wikipedia article for sortition:

In politics, sortition (also known as allotment or the drawing of lots) is the selection of decision makers by lottery.

Can demarchy work with any other selection system than sortition? And can sortition be used in any system that is not a demarchy?

See also: What are the main advantages and disadvantages of sortition?

2 Answers 2


Demarchy has not an agreed upon meaning.

Friedrich Hayek first used the term demarchy to name his proposal of a (according to him) better form of government. He used the term because democracy, in his opinion, is now being used to name forms of government that have not much to do with what it originally was meant to describe. His proposal in no way included the use of sortition.

John Burnheim, an Australian philosophy professor, was the first to use the term in relation with sortition. In his book Is democracy possible?, he envisions a form of government that among other things includes the dissolution of the state, and indeed also a large number of citizen juries, selected by lot, that take decisions on public policy issues. He calls his new form of government demarchy. See here for more details.

I'm not sure exactly how, but very recently a number of people online have started to use demarchy as a general term used to mean "sortition based democracy". One of the first has been the wikipedia article on demarchy. Likely others got it from there. Most people however, specially those really studying the subject, do not use use it this way (usually they do not use it at all).

Sortition, in the context of politics, means just allotting any kind of position by random selection.

Given the ambiguity around the term demarchy it is, in my opinion, much better to talk about sortition.


Sortition can be used for systems other than demarchy. More specifically, when you randomly select, but NOT from a "broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens", but from a far smaller pool (often 2) pre-selected through other methods such as election.

For example, several localities in USA have laws that, in case of an electoral tie, the winner is determined by a random choice (lots, or coin toss). Random examples are DeWitt County, IL (not actually a law, but a choice of election official), or Woolfforth TX. Sortition Wiki has other examples, e.g. MP in New Zealand.

As defined by Wikipedia, sortition is a necessary implementation of demarchy - It is simply an official sounding name for a process of randomly choosing, which is how demarchy works. But please see Fela's excellent answer - Wikia's definition of demarchy is not necessarily a correct one.

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