In October the Hannah Arendt Center will host its conference, “Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom.” We will host activists, thinkers, and scholars from around the world thinking about new ways of reimagining democracy, especially around the idea of sortition—the use of randomly selected citizens to engage in participatory democratic citizen assemblies to suggest and even make legislative changes. In a new paper, Shmuel Lederman argues that the energy around movements for participatory democracy is rooted in a modern form of anarchist thought that lacks a systematic and theoretical “elaboration of what such a participatory form of government would look like and how it would function.” Lederman turns to two sources to offer such a theoretical foundation for democratic revival. One is the older tradition of anarchism. The other is Hannah Arendt’s thinking about council governance, which he discusses in connection with the participatory budgeting experiments in Brazil. He writes:
Outside the socialist and anarchist tradition, Hannah Arendt is exceptional as the only political thinker to offer a re-examination of the councils as an alternative to the party system. I present Arendt as “outside” of the anarchist tradition, because while many of Arendt’s commentators place her in the republican tradition... and others in the existentialist tradition, none, as far as I know, considers her an anarchist or even as inspired by this tradition. However, here I will point to important convergence points between Arendt’s political thought and this tradition, especially with regard to her advocacy of a council system as an alternative to the centralized party system. It is not a coincidence, as I will show, that the council system remains largely a “blind spot” among Arendt’s commentators. Although some scholars recognize the importance of the council system in her thought, only a few dedicate serious analysis to it. As one of them remarks: “One of the most puzzling aspects of the political thought of Hannah Arendt is her support for some kind of council democracy. It is one of the few topics in her work that is not taken seriously by critics”.