Plato on drawing lots: The foundation of the political community

1. The ancient world
By Arnaud Macé

The constitutional projects described by Plato, especially in the Laws, plainly show that drawing lots may play a fundamental political role, more fundamental in Plato’s view than using it to designate political officers, as ancient democracy does. Plato draws on the Greek culture of chance, a culture that endows drawing lots with the double virtue of divine sanction and establishing equality of shares between equals. The theory of the two forms of equality (based either on equal or proportional shares) allows Plato to marginalize sortition in the process of designating political office: selecting leaders should be based on merit (proportional equality). Drawing equal shares of land, on the other hand, lays the common ground for the city of the Laws. Moreover, having to consider the city as a sum of individuals who are at the receiving end of equal share distributions leads Plato to frame its mathematical structure and power of mobilization.


  • Plato
  • sortition
  • drawing lots
  • distribution of land
  • democracy
  • political offices
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