It is not an unknown fact. Representatives of the people were chosen by drawing lots in the past: the ancient Athenians resorted to sortition, in the 5th century BC; it was also the case in Venice, for centuries, for electing the Doge of Venice, (small balls were used, called “ballots,” which gave the word “ballotage”); in Florence in the 13th century, to appoint judges; as well as in Aragon and Castile in the 14th and 15th century; in Switzerland in the 17th and 18th centuries to fight against corruption of politics. Drawing lots was also used for the formation of the Constitutional Assembly of 1000 people brought together in Iceland in 2011, after the great financial and political crisis, that got rid completely of the old politics and economics in the country. And it is also used in many countries, including France, for the selection of popular juries. This mode of governance was recommended, among others, by Aristotle, Plato, Montesquieu, and Rousseau; and today, some extol the merits of “stochocracy” (of kratein, (govern) and stokhastikos (random)).
The worker representatives in joint bodies are also designated by drawing lots, where there are fewer seats than categories of staff. France is doing so.
Decisions were also made by drawing lots. The same was true for revolutionary armies recruits at the end of the 18th century; for the duration of military service in France at the end of the 19th century; for soldiers executed by firing squad for mutiny in 1917; for the recruitment of young Americans during the Vietnam war; for the right of residence for a foreigner in some countries, as in the United States.
And what is causing today a scandal in France, that is to say, the selection of applicants for admission to a university, when the mechanisms of choice do not work. France is the only country in the world where it is practiced, along with Belgium, where it is used solely to break a tie among foreign students only.
Indeed, this process concerns only 1% of students for this year. Faced with a demographic boom with more than 30,000 additional students, some bachelor degrees are being stormed, especially the study program to pursue studies in all sport and physical activity related professions, and no better solution was found to decide among the candidates.
Even if it is limited, this mechanism is, nonetheless, scandalous. It is revealing of a society that does not dare to confront the issues of excellence; it does not encourage worthy students to take the path of additional studying; it deprives students of their real choices and society of the top graduates. Awkwardly, however, it usually involves vocational baccalaureate graduates, mostly from social backgrounds without access to the best information to help them navigate.
Other countries have greater courage, where clearly selection or entrance exam are clearly applied, in general, without hoodwinking the students.
These selection procedures have far-reaching consequences for the education system. All continue school studies, from childhood, in order to conform to the ultimate selection process. So what’s the point of working more than a good enough grade point average if one’s future is decided by drawing lots?
Student unions fear that drawing lots will soon be replaced, not by more seats, but by an explicit selection. They are right to fear such a selection. That would be the most logical thing to do. But this should be accompanied by a real recognition of the social utility of student education, who should get paid for learning since the community at large will benefit from their subsequent contribution.
More generally, drawing lots is always a sign of helplessness. It refers to the idea that one does not know how to decide and someone else has to decide for you. Chance, in many civilizations, is, moreover, the highest expression of divinity: it is God who speaks through chance events, it is thought. And many of the methods of forecasting, even among the most sophisticated ones today, are based on it.
Even if chance plays an immense role in every destiny, the role of a civilization is to precisely reduce its role. And giving free rein to it would be the beginning of a terrible surrender of man’s most beautiful conquest: freedom. And of its essential counterpoint: lucidity.