A child drawing lots: The “pathos formula” of political sortition?

5. Postface
By Yves Sintomer

This article makes use of the concept of “pathos formula,” as defined by Aby Warburg (a tension between a form and an emotional substance), to underline some commonalities between quite different practices of random selection. The child drawing lots can be considered as a pathos formula that one finds in four major sets of practices: popular divination, the Christianization of these pagan traditions into the practice of “biblical lots” and in the election of the pope of the Coptic Church, political sortition (essentially from the thirteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century), and finally, games of chance. The identification of this pathos formula makes it possible to discover a handful of transfers that have occurred between these various practices, with political sortition playing a crucial role. This pathos formula tells us something more general: although selection by lot has sustained quite different logics in history, the logic of impartiality, as revealed by the particular figure of the child drawing lots, seems the most transversal trait in almost all empirical examples of random selection in politics.


  • sortition
  • child
  • lotteries
  • political impartiality
  • divination
  • pathos formula
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info