Epistocracy and Public Interests

Res Publica 28 (1):173-192 (2021)
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Epistocratic systems of government have received renewed attention, and considerable opposition, in recent political philosophy. Although they vary significantly in form, epistocracies generally reject universal suffrage. But can they maintain the advantages of universal suffrage despite rejecting it? This paper develops an argument for a significant instrumental advantage of universal suffrage: that governments must take into account the interests of all of those enfranchised in their policy decisions or else risk losing power. This is called ‘the Interests Argument’. One problem for the Interests Argument is that governments are not entirely responsive to voter interests, partly because voters do not always know what is in their interests. I will show how this epistemic claim can be used to support certain forms of epistocracy, but deny that it undermines the Interests Argument. I then consider whether we can identify forms of epistocracy that preserve the benefits of the Interests Argument whilst overcoming the epistemic limitations of democracy. I propose six forms of epistocracy, and argue that two are able to maintain these benefits, hence providing an evaluation of the relative strengths of these epistocracies with respect to one of the most valuable instrumental benefits of universal suffrage. Whilst epistocracy lacks many of the advantages of democracy, this paper shows that some forms fare better than others.

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Finlay Malcolm
University of Manchester

Citations of this work

Are Knowledgeable Voters Better Voters?Michael Hannon - 2022 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 21 (1):29-54.
Is Epistocracy Irrational?Adam F. Gibbons - 2022 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 21 (2).
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Bad Language Makes Good Politics.Adam F. Gibbons - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
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The Open Society and Its Enemies.Karl Raimund Popper - 2013 - Princeton: Princeton University Press. Edited by Alan Ryan & E. H. Gombrich.
Against Democracy: New Preface.Jason Brennan - 2016 - Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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