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Would Introducing an Increased Dose of Epistocracy Improve the American Political System?

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It is natural to think that the wise ought to rule, and yet it is now universally denied. One reason for this is that many people think that ruling arrangements ought to be justifiable in a generally acceptable way

Given so much reasonable dispute about who counts as wise in the right way, and other matters, it might seem doubtful that rule of the wise could meet this standard of generally acceptable justification.

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In “epistocratic” forms of government, political power is wielded by those who possess the knowledge relevant to good policymaking. Some democrats—notably, David Estlund—concede that epistocracy might produce better political outcomes than democracy but argue that epistocracy cannot be justified under public reason. These objections to epistocracy are unsound because they violate a viability constraint: They are also fatal to democracy and all other plausible political arrangements

Moreover, there is a problem with the public reason framework itself—a problem which can only be solved by providing a better definition for what makes an objection to a political arrangement a “reasonable” one.Epistocracy is the first plausible competitor to democracy to enter the debate in some time. It is motivated, I think, by the nasty state of contemporary democratic politics. Many philosophers, myself included, look at the low quality of political discourse in the United States and wonder if there might be a better way. After all, the American people loathe their representatives, and have for many years—yet they reelect the same politicians, election cycle after election cycle. Scandal, incompetence, and failure are not dangers when what matters most to the democratic electorate is incumbency. If the American people know that they are choosing poorly but yet continue to do so, then perhaps it is time to take political decisions out of their hands, at least to some degree. Before epistocratic theories of government can be fully developed there is a challenge that must be met. Some philosophers have argued that epistocracy fails to meet a widelyaccepted standard of political justification: namely, public reason. One goal of this paper is to demonstrate that these objections to epistocracy are unsound.

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In brief, at least for the time being, we are more likely to mitigate the harm caused by political ignorance by limiting and decentralizing the power of government, rather than by trying to transfer it to more knowledgeable hands. But even if full-blown epistocracy is impractical, modest movement in that direction may potentially be feasible. Brennan himself suggests trying out some of his proposed reforms on a small scale, perhaps at the state or local level – preferably in jurisdictions with low levels of corruption and no history of racial and ethnic discrimination in voting rules

At the very least, Brennan’s Competence Principle is a powerful challenge to the conventional wisdom about democracy. And his analysis of epistocratic alternatives to democracy is worth serious consideration – even if most of these ideas are nowhere near ready for large-scale implementation.

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