Epistocracy at Aeon

Another short piece introducing epistocracy at Aeon today.

Also at the PUP blog.

Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.

Published on:
Author: Jason Brennan
  • jdkolassa

    Reading the comments at Aeon makes me doubt that most of them would be allowed to vote under an epistocracy.


    I believe you have identified two main systems of electing political representatives: (i) democracy and (ii) various forms of epistocracy. I boldly propose a third, which I label “Johnsonocracy.” It works like this: anyone who votes for Johnson in this election gets to vote in all future federal elections; anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t get to vote in any of them. Future voters, not eligible to vote in this election, will be screened for their propensity to vote for Johnson-like candidates. This is not an epistocracy because there is no requirement that the voter selected Johnson (or future Johnsons) for any “good” reason. Why is epistocracy to be preferred to Johnsonocracy?

  • Christopher Ritchie

    I’ve noticed a mode of argumentation Brennan has used in a few places that seems a bit odd to me; He puts forward an idea such as “People associate Democracy with a fundamental statement of their worth in society” and than goes on to say “Well they don’t have to, so clearly this isn’t a problem” without recognizing the disconnect there. Because, in some abstract sense, symbolic associations COULD be different is irrelevant if they aren’t actually different and you have no proposed method of making them so. More-over it seems to ignore that such things emerge from cultural and historical relevancies to peoples lives; Black people wouldn’t react to Brennan’s proposals with violent rejection ‘just because’. They would do so because nearly identical arguments were used to legitimize their systematic exclusion from political life and power and their quite visible repression for decades. Brennan may protest that it’s not fair to tar his proposal or really broad musings with the same brush, but history doesn’t work like that. It’s not up to them to demonstrate why your proposal isn’t the same, it’s up to you.

  • Jay Reedy

    Not only Plato but (and at greater length) the Enlightened French nobleman, Condorcet, already argued in general for a position like Brennan’s long ago; and many of the Brennan’s criticisms of democracy’s failings and deceptions were broached by late19-early 20c. critics of the Right such as Le Bon, Mosca and Pareto, though these latter were perceptive enough to see capitalist rationality as less than the wise embodiment of “reason” and as one of the causes not the panacea for democracy’s illusions. An interesting, overlooked work by a historian that is somewhat in tune with Brennan’s is Roland N. Stromberg, Democracy: A Short, Analytical History.

  • Uriel Alexis Farizeli Fiori

    from epistomochracy to neocameralism, all that’s needed is a little profit-driven incentives