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Electing the Doge.
January 21, 2011 6:06 AM   Subscribe

The Doge was the leader of the Venetian Republic, which lasted for over a thousand years, so they must have been doing something right. Here's Wikipedia's concise description of the selection process: "Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge." Sounds crazy, but Miranda Mowbray and Dieter Gollmann wrote a paper, "Electing the Doge of Venice: Analysis of a 13th Century Protocol" (pdf) explaining its virtues in terms that should warm the cockles of MetaFilter's collective geeky heart. From the abstract: "We will show that it has some useful properties that in addition to being interesting in themselves, also suggest that its fundamental design principle is worth investigating for application to leader election protocols in computer science." Interesting sidelight: "security theater" can be a good thing.
posted by languagehat (49 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great find!

SE Finer has a really interesting chapter on the governmental structure of the Italian republics in his masterful History of Government from the Earliest Times.
posted by shothotbot at 6:21 AM on January 21, 2011


The New Yorker had a nice piece on voting systems recently that also mentioned the Doge election system. Perhaps it really is making a comeback.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 6:23 AM on January 21, 2011


Wow, that's an impressive mechanism to hedge against nepotism, and it seems to have been quite successful given how long the Republic lasted. I don't know if it deserves the batshitinsane tag, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:26 AM on January 21, 2011


I don't know if it deserves the batshitinsane tag, though.

If I understand this, they randomly selected a bunch of people, then randomly tossed a bunch of them out instead of making a smaller selection in the first place. Sounds pretty wacky to me.
posted by exogenous at 6:32 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I understand this, they randomly selected a bunch of people, then randomly tossed a bunch of them out instead of making a smaller selection in the first place. Sounds pretty wacky to me.

An element of luck makes it harder to game the system.
posted by empath at 6:33 AM on January 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Needs the "stochastic" tag.
posted by nicwolff at 6:37 AM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


An element of luck makes it harder to game the system.

And an element of repetition makes it more obvious when you are. Like, if I just have to select one person, I can claim I didn't know he worked for Halliburton. If I have to select 5 (who will eventually be whittled down to 1) and they ALL turn out to work for Halliburton...
posted by DU at 6:38 AM on January 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Also, as the paper points out, it makes it more expensive and difficult to bribe enough people to guarantee a win, if you have no way of predicting who is going to be actually in the final college.

Can someone give me a tl;dr; of the highlights from the paper? I'm really interested in this, but I won't have time to read it in detail for a few hours.
posted by empath at 6:41 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Election for life could be viewed as an extreme case of favouring the incumbent."
Good one, there.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:43 AM on January 21, 2011


> Can someone give me a tl;dr; of the highlights from the paper? I'm really interested in this, but I won't have time to read it in detail for a few hours.

See the post verbiage for the tl;dr version. Otherwise, a few hours?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:45 AM on January 21, 2011


This is a perfectly logical and useful system. In fact, it's how I selected my spouse.
posted by kyrademon at 7:37 AM on January 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


kyrademon, I think other people also used the system, but omitted the steps of reducing the numbers of candidates.
posted by exogenous at 7:55 AM on January 21, 2011


Interesting, but surely the method of selection was of minor importance compared to the fact that the Doge would be selected from among the members of an established oligarchy?
posted by Segundus at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2011


And every day he would be asked for his wisdom with the question, "What up, my doge?"
posted by inturnaround at 8:20 AM on January 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


It makes me very happy that computer nerds (HP!) are discovering the joys of nerd-level knowledge of medieval history.
posted by immlass at 8:24 AM on January 21, 2011


Hmm... I wonder how Vetinari would game the system. Cause you know he would.
posted by kmz at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yo Doge, I heard you liked nomination by a nominated, then stochastically reduced electoral college, so I put a nomination by a stochastically reduced electoral college in your nominated, then stochastically reduced electoral college.
posted by condour75 at 8:30 AM on January 21, 2011 [36 favorites]


Thanks for this. All I knew of doges until now came from their brief mention in a poem by Emily Dickinson:
Safe in their Alabaster Chambers -
Untouched by Morning -
And untouched by Noon -
Lie the meek members of the Resurrection -
Rafter of Satin - and Roof of Stone -

Grand go the Years - in the Crescent - above them -
Worlds scoop their Arcs -
And Firmaments - row -
Diadems - drop - and Doges - surrender -
Soundless as dots - on a Disc of Snow -
posted by cirripede at 8:32 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


King Roderick: The Duke. What did the Duke do?
Hubert Hawkins: Eh... the Duke do?
King Roderick: Yes. And what about the Doge?
Hubert Hawkins: Oh, the Doge!
King Roderick: Eh. Well what did the Doge do?
Hubert Hawkins: The Doge do?
King Roderick: Yes, the Doge do.
Hubert Hawkins: Well, uh, the Doge did what the Doge does. Eh, uh, when the Doge does his duty to the Duke, that is.
King Roderick: What? What's that?
Hubert Hawkins: Oh, it's very simple, sire. When the Doge did his duty and the Duke didn't, that's when the Duchess did the dirt to the Duke with the Doge.
King Roderick: Who did what to what?
Hubert Hawkins: Oh, they all did, sire. There they were in the dark; the Duke with his dagger, the Doge with his dart, Duchess with her dirk.
King Roderick: Duchess with her dirk?
Hubert Hawkins: Yes! The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn't. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!
King Roderick: Curious. I... I... hm? What? What's that? All I heard was that the Duchess had a siege of rheumatism. She's 83, you know.
posted by Jofus at 8:53 AM on January 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Y'all heard about the time, in 1355, when they elected a cowboy to lead the Venetian republic, right? Now, this cowboy was lean from his time on the range, all buckled up from bronco bucking, a bent and stove man. So he once he was elected, he decreed that he was doing all his important officiating from a reclined position, laid out on some scrumptious pillows. When he was stood up, he was barely eye level with a gondola, but when he could relax and unfurl, he measured almost six and a half feet (which, for the time, was certainly worth remarking on).

Yessir, when the Venetians elected a cowboy to lead them, they got a long, little doge.
posted by klangklangston at 9:29 AM on January 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


I learned about this from playing Assassin's Creed II. I look forward to their next paper, "Conveniently Located Haystacks: The Relationship Between Tall Buildings and Soft Landings in Cosimo Medici's Venice".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


stochastic elections are the basis for "solar lottery" by phillip k dick.

the problem with our post-industrial world is that given the disparities in wealth created by the last 1000 years in productivity advances, the number of steps to achieve true stochasticity in the selection would be enormous.

you don't believe the president of the US is selected by a council of oligarchs?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:51 AM on January 21, 2011


What a fascinating paper: "[the phrase 'security theater'] is usually used pejoratively. However, security theatre has positive aspects too, provided that it is not used as a substitute for actions that would actually improve security."

The discussion about incumbents was interesting as well; despite the fact that the system drew from oligarchs, they apparently had a good understanding that consecutive terms would probably be a bad thing for the republic -- kicking off a real dynastic system ala caesars or kings.
posted by boo_radley at 9:55 AM on January 21, 2011


Interesting, but surely the method of selection was of minor importance compared to the fact that the Doge would be selected from among the members of an established oligarchy?

In the same year that the method of selection of the Doge was changed, the political position of "Cancelier grando" was created by the "quarantaun"(major council). The Cancelier grando was second only to the Doge, and was selected among the non-noble citizen.
posted by francesca too at 9:57 AM on January 21, 2011


citizen=citizens
posted by francesca too at 9:58 AM on January 21, 2011


The Dodge himself may have been elected, but the rest of the process was pure randomocracy, the only legitimate form of representative government.
posted by clarknova at 10:06 AM on January 21, 2011


Interesting I just read the Doctor Who novel "Empire of Glass" in which they end up in Venice in the time of Galileo Galilei presenting his telescope to the Doge. The Doctor explained the whole selection process for the Doge, he included all the steps listed here but also added that the Doge must be a man in his seventies, so he would not have too much time to amass power before he would die. Sadly I can not confirm that fact so far.
I always knew Doctor Who was educational.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2011


What did the Duke do? Begins at 0:42. Thanks to Jofus for the great memory.
posted by Splunge at 10:31 AM on January 21, 2011


Splunge - lovely. Was on phone so couldn't get to the youtubes
posted by Jofus at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2011


That's a beautiful paper. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Carillon at 1:50 PM on January 21, 2011


Thank you, languagehat, for teaching me how to Doge.
posted by AceRock at 2:15 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess the important lesson to take away from this analysis is that you can't get, alone, your new Doge.
posted by No-sword at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2011


A simple comparison between the elaborate electoral procedures ... and their outcomes is enough t demonstrate that there was more in the electoral process then procedures alone. ... [O]f the the seventy-five doges elected in the 530 years period up to the extinction of the republic in 1797 no less than thirty-five came from a mere eight families. The high magistracies rotated in a narrow circle also.... The fundamentals of Venetian political life rested upon election which in turn rested upon brogilo (graft), which in turn rested upon family.
SE Finer. History of Government from the Earliest Times
posted by shothotbot at 3:45 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Venice was an aristocracy ruled by a closed circle of families who monopolized both political and economic power. All were effectively independent of any higher authority. Milan, Florence, and Venice were sovereign states. Power and justice within their territories were exercised exclusively by their governments, what ever it’s constitutional form. But though they were territorial states, they were rather different then the northern kingdoms and principalities. Their peculiarity was that all a states territory except for the mother city was regarded was a colonial hinterland, striking anticipation of the administration of the Portuguese and Spanish empires. Cities subject to Venice, for example were forbidden commercial dealings with foreign merchants. Venetian Merchants monopolized foreign trade and were the intermediaries in all transactions. Superimposed on the institutions of formally autonomous city-states was the governor appointed by the Venetian senate. No representative institutions, and the interests of the “colonials” rarely influenced policy."

-Rice, "Foundations of Early Modern Europe"

"In 1423 Francesco Foscari, an underdog
candidate
, received 17 approval votes out of 41 in the ninth
ballot by the final college and 26 approval votes in the tenth
ballot, thus winning the election. It was claimed that his
supporters had engineered this win by voting in earlier ballots
for a candidate that no-one wanted, thus enticing others
to vote for Foscari, and then suddenly switching their votes.
Presumably in 1423 concurrent voting had not yet been introduced."

-pg 4 of PDF

Visconti attacked Florence in 1423. Appeals went to Doge Mocengio who pled in the Venetian senate for peace, Foscari argued for an offensive.
and who won that debate....allrightythen.
1310 Teipolo started a revolt. 1355 Doge Faliero conspired for the dɪkˈteɪtə/ deal, these episodes were quickly suppressed. By 1315 the names who those males who could sit before the Great Council were written the the Book of Gold.

The system was stable which takes us to the Consigiolo di Dieci.

d'oh noh bouda math da but for criteria in a social science sense?
batshitinsane/
tag is apt.

Doge Quay on the sway, has some ships and some clay.
posted by clavdivs at 9:26 PM on January 21, 2011


So their political system consisted of repeated selections and dilutions of pools of electors, whose end-result nominations over time contributed to one of the longest-standing governments in history?

Of all the possible applications, I'd never have guessed that political science would prove to be the most effective use of homeopathy.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:47 PM on January 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


poor, poor Iacopo.
posted by clavdivs at 11:37 PM on January 21, 2011


Nobody's arguing here that the Venetian government wasn't an oligarchy, but that the electoral system ensured better representation for minor families than a straight majority rule system would and forced coalition building. Since no family could ensure that any of their members would make it through a given round in the electoral process, powerful families had to rely on support from less powerful ones to ensure that someone would vote for their electors in the next round. The Doges elected still came mostly from a small number of powerful families, but minor families still had an influence on which candidates were selected and which of more the more powerful families they came from, and minority factions presumably had to be rewarded for their support.

This may have helped keep power struggles within the ruling class from getting out of hand since less powerful families and interest groups (within the ruling class) couldn't be completely shut out of the process.
posted by nangar at 7:53 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hahnemann's approach to medicine took really poisonous substances and diluted them to the point that they wouldn't actually hurt you. This may have made homeopathy superior to what was standard medicine in the late 1700's when it was introduced.

The Venetian electoral system seems to have attempted to dilute majority rule and influence peddling, where both of these were seen as harmful in large doses.
posted by nangar at 8:21 AM on January 22, 2011


Yeah and keep in mind that the author of the paper is almost completely unconcerned with the details of the political science or history here. The paper is about computer science.
posted by empath at 8:36 AM on January 22, 2011


you do not sound so sure empath. perhaps you could break the paper down for us, excluding historical data.
posted by clavdivs at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2011


"What up, my doge?"

if i had a dog i would ask him/her that all the time, and perhaps prefix it with "poocheco..."
posted by kliuless at 11:25 AM on January 22, 2011


Shouldn't happen to a Doge.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:25 PM on January 23, 2011


you do not sound so sure empath. perhaps you could break the paper down for us, excluding historical data.

The conclusions of the paper have absolutely no dependence on what actually happened in Venice. They're just interested in the math behind it.
posted by empath at 5:40 PM on January 23, 2011


Yes I agree. Though I question why "security theatre" and its' historical implications are congruent with the simplified protocol. The Mathematics involved are based on a historical data. If the electorial ststem of the Doge is used why simplify it?
posted by clavdivs at 1:41 AM on January 24, 2011


So I am reading a story about a Japanese politician who just got indited for corruption. The article talks about how he is very well connected...
Few Japanese political careers survive indictment on criminal charges, but Mr Ozawa is unbowed by the accusations that he knowingly filed false funding reports dealing with the Y400m ($4.8m) land purchase in 2004.

Prosecutors twice decided not to indict Mr Ozawa in the case because of what they said was insufficient evidence, instead charging three of his former aides for allegedly preparing false political funding reports.

However, a review panel of 11 lay people selected by lottery overruled the prosecutors’ decision, a move that forced the appointment of the court-appointed lawyers who on Monday indicted Mr Ozawa.
The Financial Times, 1 February 2011.

only the power of Recent Activity will lead anyone here....
posted by shothotbot at 4:08 PM on February 1, 2011


However, a review panel of 11 lay people selected by lottery

Otherwise known as a jury.
posted by empath at 5:41 PM on February 1, 2011


Otherwise known as a jury.

Yeah, it just seemed weird at this part of the proceedings, but I guess is just like a grand jury with the right to review a prosecutor's decisions?
posted by shothotbot at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2011


Background
posted by empath at 6:11 PM on February 1, 2011


huh. interesting!
posted by shothotbot at 6:28 PM on February 1, 2011


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