against democracy – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Fri, 19 Jan 2018 15:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png against democracy – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Tu Quoque: The Dictators Might Misuse You Objection to Against Democracy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/tu-quoque-dictators-might-misuse-objection-democracy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/tu-quoque-dictators-might-misuse-objection-democracy/#comments Sat, 02 Dec 2017 16:16:46 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12093 A few times, political theorists—most recently Jeff Isaac at Indiana’s Ostrom Workshop—have raised a particular objection to Against Democracy. (I mention political theorists because I think it’s interesting that theorists,...

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A few times, political theorists—most recently Jeff Isaac at Indiana’s Ostrom Workshop—have raised a particular objection to Against Democracy. (I mention political theorists because I think it’s interesting that theorists, rather than philosophers, are the ones who always make this objection. I think it reflects differences in attitudes about what theorists and philosopher see themselves as doing.)

The objection goes roughly as follows:

The Dictators Might Misuse You Objection

In Against Democracy, you document at great length the pathological behaviors of voters. You argue voters are mostly ignorant and misinformed about basic political facts, about the social science needed to evaluate those facts, that they vote for non-cognitive reasons, that political participation exacerbates our biases, and that all this has a negative effect on the quality of government and policy.

But dictator, oligarchs, the Chinese Communist party, cronies, elites, and others are gonna salivate over such arguments. They’re going to use them to consolidate their power and justify excluding their enemies.

Sure, you, Brennan, aren’t arguing for such exclusions. (In fact, your preferred form of epistocracy—Government-by-Simulated-Oracle—might not even qualify as epistocratic, as it actually allows everyone, even children, to vote, and doesn’t really give any individual extra weight.) But nevertheless, if your ideas became popular, people are going to use your language to justify their abusive, cronyist, oligarchical, or authoritarian behavior. You can’t ignore the context you find yourself in. You aren’t just writing this stuff for other philosophers, but are getting read and interviewed by the mass media and laypeople around the world.

Let’s write this out in premise-conclusion form. The objection contains both an empirical claim and a normative claim:

The Dictators Might Misuse You Objection

 

  1. Empirical premise: Bad people will use your rhetoric to justify their bad behavior.

  2. Normative premise: If bad people will misuse your rhetoric to justify their bad behavior, then it’s wrong to write what you wrote.

  3. Normative conclusion: Therefore, it’s wrong to write what you wrote.

 

Don’t get this objection confused with two closely related objections:

 

  1. Reductio ad absurdum: In fact, Against Democracy implies that the Chinese Communist Party is just, so therefore it’s false.

  2. Government failure: In the real world, the institutions you recommend we investigate and experiment with would lead to massive abuse and government failure, and so would be even worse than democracy. (I bring that objection up myself and it’s why the book ends up being so cautious and modest in the end.)

 

A is just wrong. B is an important worry, but I’ve already covered B in the book.

 

The Dictators Might Misuse You Objection doesn’t say that AD in fact justifies dictatorship or authoritarianism, or that in practice the institutions I recommend would unfortunately decay into that. Rather, it just says that the anti-democratic stuff about voter pathologies, etc., will be used by dictators to justify themselves.

Premise 1 of the objection is probably true. What about premise 2?

I don’t buy it. Two major problems:

First, this seems to suggest that there is a heckler’s veto in philosophy. Nietzsche didn’t defend fascism—on the contrary, he sort of anticipated it and critiqued it before it came about—but fascists and Nazis nevertheless misused his rhetoric to defend themselves. Does that mean Nietzsche, had he known that, should have shut his trap?

In general, it’s implausible that just because other people react badly to what you write or say, you therefore have a duty not to write it or say it. Otherwise, we’re saying that other people get to veto our permission to write and speak because they misbehave.

Second, and this I think is fatal to the objection, is tu quoque! All around the world, for well over a hundred years, dictators, fascists, communist totalitarian states, oligarchs, rent-seekers, and others have already been misusing democratic theory to justify their abuses. They hold sham elections. They name their countries the Democratic People’s Republic of this and that. They claim to represent true democracy. They quote liberally from democratic theorists to justify their anti-democratic activity. They sometimes even pay democratic theorists (hi, Ben Barber) to consult for them, and sometimes even get those theorists (still here, Ben?) to shill for them. Sometimes the theorists even do it for free, as they celebrate a Mugabe as a democratic revolutionary for a while, until it becomes too obvious that the democratic revolutionary is actually just another dictator.

 

So, in short, my basic response to the objection is:

Okay, what you’re saying is that if the ideas in Against Democracy become really popular, then dictators will start using my language the way they currently use yours. According to your objection, in the future, my rhetoric might be as dangerous as yours actually is right now. My book and rhetoric could be evil because it could, if I get popular enough, suffer from all the same problems your books and your rhetoric already suffer from. I might become the unwitting and unintentional and unwitting handmaiden of evil, just like you people currently are.

 

In short: the democratic political theorists are unwittingly my ideas are dangerous because dictators might do to epistocratic theorists what they currently do to democratic theorists. So, their objection is radically self-effacing. (Maybe that’s why many of them are such bad writers—They want to avoid dictators quoting them?)

Look, we all face this problem. If an economist explains that trade barriers might be efficient under unusual conditions C, then cronyist politicians will lie and say C obtains all the time. If just war theorists say that defensive war is permitted under conditions D, then George W will claim we’re in D when it suits him. If environmentalists say that certain regulations will help the environment, then John Deere will misuse their arguments to get a rent that forces their competitors to license a John Deere patent. Etc.

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Hurting Low-Information Voters’ Wittle Feelings http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/hurting-low-information-voters-wittle-feelings/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/hurting-low-information-voters-wittle-feelings/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 17:56:58 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11525 Opinion-haver Claire Lehmann calls me out for calling low-information voters low-information: A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated,...

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Opinion-haver Claire Lehmann calls me out for calling low-information voters low-information:

A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt exercise of his democratic rights.

Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.”

It’s hard to see what the problem is. It’s just science. We have 65 years of data showing that most voters know almost nothing about politics. A few know quite a bit. Many know less than nothing.

Lehmann has some good worries about high-information voters:

Depending on how you spin it, however, low information people might also be less prone to rationalization and high information people might be more vulnerable to ad hoc hypothesizing. Being high in intelligence or a need for cognition does not automatically indicate that one is high in rationality. Nor does it tell us much about a person’s practical wisdom.

But this isn’t a critique of Ilya Somin or me. For all I know, she learned these points by reading our books. After all, in Against Democracy, I argued high-information citizens are mostly hooligans, (My guess is that Lehmann is a hooligan–she has high information, but she straw mans the people she argues against.)

Does she have an actual criticism? Here’s the most telling bit:

In Brennan’s epistocratic paradise, a twenty-three year old who has recently graduated with a degree in political science and who has passed a civics exam would be more entitled to vote than the Army veteran returning from service in Afghanistan. People with PhDs who call themselves “social scientists” and who use taxpayer funds to write papers on pilates being the embodiment of whiteness and the importance of understanding icebergs from a feminist perspective would have more authority to vote than the common taxpayers who pay their wage.

I think this illustrates what gets Lehmann’s goat. Perhaps Lehmann views the right to vote as a kind of honorific. And she’s right that it is. In most modern societies, people use the right to vote as a kind of public affirmation of who matters and who doesn’t. We load suffrage with all sorts of expressive value. Getting the right to vote is like getting a gold star and a pat on the back. Being denied suffrage is like getting a big fat middle finger in your face. That’s why it seems so sinister to say that an ignorant army vet shouldn’t get the right to vote even though he served in Afghanistan.

But–as I argue in Against Democracy and elsewhere–the reason the rest of you people load up the right to vote with all this symbolic majesty is that you are, to a significant extent, vicious and morally defective. See chapter 5. No mention from Lehmann of my argument there. My guess is she knows her audience won’t know better.

Let’s be clear: Part of my mission is to downgrade the status we attach to politics. I argue for elitism about politics in the same way I argue for elitism about plumbing. The average person knows jack shit about plumbing, but that doesn’t make him an inferior person. Still, the average person’s opinions on plumbing aren’t worth much more than the stuff we flush down the pipes. Same goes for the average person’s opinions on trade policy, immigration policy, and so on. To have a reasonable point of view requires knowledge of particular relevant facts (let alone social scientific knowledge), but we have 65 years of data showing most people lack awareness or are uninformed about even the most basic relevant facts. “It hurts my feelings when you say that!” Sorry, precious, but I ain’t your mommy.

Now perhaps an army vet coming back from Afghanistan is a hero. Let’s suppose he is. His experiences in Afghanistan no doubt taught him many things, but it’s not like they magically imbue him with an understanding of comparative advantage or allow him to estimate the deadweight loss of immigration restrictions. I’ve been in a lot of fistfights (I think I have a 21-1 record, thank you), if not gunfights, and done a lot of camping. I don’t recall learning a single thing from those activities that would help me vote better. Some soldiers serve our country–and, I’d add, so do nurses, motorcycle mechanics, teachers, coffee makers, daycare workers, and hot wings restauranteurs--but we should honor them for the service they did, not pretend they do us a service by voting out of ignorance or misinformation.

Lehmann spends a lot of time complaining about crackpot academic work. So do I! But that’s irrelevant to my thesis, since it’s not like I argued that only and all academics should be allowed to vote. Here’s a tip for Lehmann: When you argue against a person, argue against what they think. But, again, she probably knows better, but knows her readers won’t know better.

On Lehmann’s behalf, I admit there is something indeed mean about saying low-information voters are low-information. As Ruth Sample says, there’s no polite way to say that. But sometimes you have to say impolite things. Here’s a relevant passage from a draft of chapter 5:

To illustrate: my surgeon brother-in-law David correctly believes that he has superior medical judgment to most people. It is not morally wrong for him to have this belief. But that does not mean he should walk around Target, telling everyone meets that he has better medical judgment than they do. This would express arrogance or contempt.

However, there are times when something important is at stake. In such cases, it can become permissible or even mandatory that one publicly judge and express who is superior to others along some dimension. Indeed, democrats seem to agree—most seem to think that when we’re voting for elected officials, we’re supposed to look for the better candidates, those better fit to lead.

For instance, if someone starts choking in front of David during his Target shopping trip, he should not be modest. Someone’s life is at stake. He should declare that he is a doctor—thus expressing that he has superior medical judgment to others and should be charged with helping the choking customer.

Suppose bystander Bob, who has no medical training, says, “Hey, Doctor David, I want to help the choking person too! It’s disrespectful of you to insist you help him. You and I are equals. We should flip a coin to determine who will help. Otherwise you’re hurting my feelings.” In this scenario, Bob acts badly. David should take charge, and Bob should get over himself. Even if Bob sincerely believed he and David are equals, Bob is negligent in holding this belief, and shouldn’t act upon it.

It can be immoral or disrespectful under some conditions to express the view that some have better judgment than others, but in other conditions, it can be permissible or even mandatory. Let us apply this to a political example. Suppose an evil demon said, “I will cast a spell condemning all of you to lower quality government—and thus more unjust wars, bad economic policies that harm the poor, more bigotry, and more poverty and suffering—unless you do a moderately decent job identifying which citizens tend to have better political judgment from others.” In this case, under the demon’s threat, we would have good reason to try to distinguish the more from the less competent. If people feel insulted, it is just too bad, and they need to grow up. The point of distinguishing the more from the less competent is not to insult the incompetent, but to save us from the bad government the evil demon will inflict upon us.

Yet this is more or less the situation epistocrats claim we are in, except that in the real world, the evil demon is democracy.

 

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The Page 99 Test: Against Democracy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/the-page-99-test-against-democracy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/the-page-99-test-against-democracy/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 12:05:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10984 “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford The Page 99 Test is a website that...

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“Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford

The Page 99 Test is a website that has authors post the 99th page of their book, and then comment on how it relates to the book as whole. You can read page 99 of Against Democracy there today. Page 99 contains part of my argument against Pettit, in which I claim that “stopping domination” arguments gives Pettit and other republicans no special reason to favor democracy over epistocracy.

Excerpt from the commentary:

Your individual right to vote does not stop you from being dominated, simply because your individual right to vote makes no difference. How we vote matters, but how any one of us votes does not. That’s why I say, at the beginning of the quoted passage, that if the rest of us decide to try to dominate you through politics, your right to vote provides you no more protection than a bucket provides against a great flood. Perhaps a better metaphor would be that your right to vote protects you from being dominated no better than a random lottery ticket protects you from dire poverty.

There may be other reasons to favor democracy or to hold that every citizen ought to have an equal right to vote. (I examine and debunk a bunch of these purported reasons elsewhere in the book.) But, my point here is just that republican political theorists have no particular reason to favor democracy over epistocracy. Or, more precisely, their arm-chair, a priori arguments give them no special reason to do so.

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Situational Enemies http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/situational-enemies/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/situational-enemies/#comments Sat, 13 Aug 2016 14:17:22 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10961 Mill hypothesized that political participation might have certain benefits, including making us more open-minded and more concerned with one another’s welfare. The empirical evidence shows that he was mostly wrong....

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Mill hypothesized that political participation might have certain benefits, including making us more open-minded and more concerned with one another’s welfare. The empirical evidence shows that he was mostly wrong. Voters tend to vote altruistically, it appears, but deliberation, joining or identifying as a member of a party, and other forms of participation tend to make us in mean and nasty assholes.

The final chapter of Against Democracy is  a short note called “Civic Enemies”.  Two excerpts from an early draft:

Politics tends to make us hate each other, even when it shouldn’t. We tend to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. We tend to view political debate not as reasonable disputes about how to best achieve our shared aims, but as a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

…The problem with politics is even deeper than that. It’s not merely that politics makes us see each other as enemies when it shouldn’t. Rather, politics tends to put us in genuinely adversarial relationships. It makes us genuine enemies with one another. The structure of democratic politics actually gives me reason to despise most of my politically active fellow citizens—even, I’ll argue, most of the citizens who share my political beliefs. On Election Day, as my neighbors vote, they become my enemies, and I become theirs.

On one common definition of “enemy,” an enemy is a person who hates me, who consciously wishes me ill and consciously works toward my harm. Only a minority people who participate in politics qualify as my enemies in this sense. As we saw in chapter two, most voters vote for what they perceive to be the national interest. They genuinely want to help, and sincerely believe they’re voting in ways that make things better, not worse, for their fellow citizens. Voters’ motives seem pure and good. A few of my fellow citizens want to use the political process to harm me or people like me. But most don’t think that way. They might dislike me for having views contrary to theirs, but they don’t vote in ways that they believe will hurt me.

However, there are two other senses in which politics makes us enemies. First, politics tends to make us what I will call “situational enemies”. Politics is a zero-sum game with winners and losers. It creates adversarial relationships in which we have grounds to oppose one another and undermine each others’ interests, though we have no intrinsic reason to dislike one another. Second, there’s a sense in which most of my fellow citizens do want to hurt me, even if they wouldn’t describe themselves as such. They want to do things that will in fact harm my children and me, even though they want to help. Political decisions are high-stakes, but in the real world, most people involved in politics fail to make these decisions with a proper degree of care and competence. They expose me to undue risk of harm. Just as I have grounds for hating a negligent drunk driver who puts my children and me in harm’s way, I have grounds for hating most of my fellow citizens whenever they engage in politics. Or so I will argue.

Situational Enemies

There are scenarios in which we become each other’s enemies, even though we have no intrinsic reason to dislike one another.

Consider philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s “state of nature,” as described in The Leviathan. The state of nature is a hypothetical scenario in which human beings live outside of society and civilization. Hobbes argues that because people in the state of nature lack any mechanisms to enforce contracts or to keep predators in check, they would not trust each other. He argues that without even a basic level of mutual trust, the state of nature would become a war of all against all. Life under these conditions, he concludes, would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[i] In the state of nature, Hobbes thinks, we become each other’s enemies, though in better situations, we would be at peace, or even be friends.

Or, imagine you and I are both condemned criminals in ancient Rome. Neither one of us has done anything morally wrong. Instead, imagine we’ve been condemned for things that shouldn’t be crimes: you refused to worship Jupiter, while I helped slaves escape their masters. The barbaric Romans, ever thirsty for blood, make us fight to the death in a gladiatorial arena.

As we pick up our cudgels, we become enemies. Here, I have nothing inherently against you. Outside of the arena, I might even like you, or be your friend or partner. But inside the arena, we’re forced into conflict. It’s you or me. We want each other dead. You become (what we might call) my situational enemy: someone I have reason to oppose and attack, not because of who you are or what you’ve done, but simply because our situation pits us against each other.

The problem is each of these scenarios is that we’re trapped in an involuntary, high-stakes, zero-sum game. In economics, a zero-sum game is a situation or an interaction in which a person can win only if other people lose, and a person can win only to the degree that others lose.

For example, poker is a common zero-sum game. I can make only as much money as the other players at the table lose. But poker is far nicer zero-sum game than politics. Whenever I’ve played poker, I’ve played as a volunteer, not a conscript. I don’t resent the other players, even when I lose money, because I chose to gamble.

With political decisions, I’m a conscript, not a volunteer. While I can choose not to play poker, I can’t, say, choose not to fund the NSA or the invasion of Iraq or the bombing of Syria or the criminalization of pot. I don’t want whoever the current president is when you read this to be my boss, but I can’t just choose not to have him or her as my boss, at least, not without uprooting my family and fleeing the country at great personal expense.

In the next few sections, I argue that the following features of the democratic political decision-making process tend to make us situational enemies:

  1. Political decisions involve a constrained set of options. In politics, there are usually only a handful of viable choices.
  2. Political decisions are monopolistic: everyone has to accept the same decision.
  3. Political decisions are imposed involuntarily.

Because political decisions are monopolistic, constrained, and imposed through violence, the political decision-making process tends to be a system of conflict.

[I then explain 1-3 at some length and argue that politics often causes us to become “situational enemies”. Afterwards, I turn to asking what we should think about our fellow citizens in light of their incompetence:]

A Toast to the Death of the Incompetent King

There’s yet another way democracy makes us enemies. In previous chapters, we examined at great length much of the empirical research on the political brain. We discovered that most democratic citizens are Hobbits and Hooligans. Most Hobbits are potential Hooligans. Most voters are not merely ignorant, but misinformed and irrational. Ignorance and irrationality are resilient. People resist attempts to reach consensus or to learn more. They dig in their heels. Attempts to eradicate ignorance and irrational often makes these problems even worse. Political participation, including democratic deliberation, is more likely to corrupt and stultify us than to ennoble and enlighten us.

These Hobbits and Hooligans wield political power over me. It turns they have altruistic intentions when they wield this power. But, at the same time, they wield that power in a highly incompetent way. This, I argue, gives me some reason to hate them, to regard them as my enemies and I as theirs.

To see why, recall the story of King Carl the Incompetent from chapter six. Carl wants to make his subjects’ lives go better. But he doesn’t take proper care to know what he’s doing. He doesn’t have the information he needs, and he doesn’t reason in a reliable way about what little information he has.

Carl means well, but he’s dangerous. The following hold true of him:

  1. While he doesn’t desire to hurt his subjects under that description, he often desires to do things that will in fact hurt them.
  2. While he doesn’t desire to impose undue risk upon his subjects under that description, he often desires to act in ways that in fact impose undue risk.
  3. Carl has ample evidence that he is incompetent, but he doesn’t pay much attention to that evidence, nor does he process the evidence that he is incompetent in a rational way. Accordingly, he doesn’t take any steps to reduce his incompetence or protect his subjects from his incompetence.

In light of 1-3, Carl’s subjects have good reason to despise him. Almost every time Carl makes a decision, he imposes serious risk of harm upon his subjects. If the subjects are lucky, Carl will pick a decent or good policy. But even then, Carl doesn’t know what he’s doing. When he makes a good decision, it’s by accident. If the subjects are unlucky, Carl causes serious harm. He wields an incredible amount of power in an irresponsible way.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Carl’s subjects raise a glass at the pub and wish for the king’s early death. They might feel a bit bad about that. After all, Carl genuinely means well. Still, the subjects are right to see him as a threat to their, and their children’s, well-being.

In modern democracies, rather than having a one-headed incompetent king, we have a many-headed incompetent king. In a democracy, the incompetent, irresponsible ruler isn’t some bearded fellow in a castle, but almost everyone else I see. If Carl’s irresponsible behavior gives his subjects grounds to hate him, I some have reason to hate my fellow citizens as well.

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Deliberative Democracy: A “Neutral” Result is a Negative Result http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/deliberative-democracy-a-neutral-result-is-a-negative-result/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/deliberative-democracy-a-neutral-result-is-a-negative-result/#comments Sat, 13 Aug 2016 01:44:44 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10959 Chapter 3 of Against Democracy looks at the empirical work on how political participation, and in particular, deliberative democracy, affects us. Mill hypothesized that deliberation would tend to educate and ennoble...

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Chapter 3 of Against Democracy looks at the empirical work on how political participation, and in particular, deliberative democracy, affects us. Mill hypothesized that deliberation would tend to educate and ennoble us. But, it seems, it tends to corrupt and stultify us.

In the end, I argue the empirical evidence is much more damning that people realize. This excerpt from a draft explains why:

As we saw, there is ample empirical evidence that deliberation often stultifies or corrupts us, that it often exacerbates our biases and leads to greater conflict. However, for the sake of argument, suppose none of this evidence existed. Suppose, instead, that all we had were neutral results. That is, suppose empirical political scientists had continually tried to test the thesis that deliberation educates and enlightens, but continually failed to find evidence that it does. In that case, it would be tempting to conclude that deliberation is pointless and ineffective, but at least not harmful.

Researchers often present their findings this way. Sometimes, researchers say that while they didn’t find positive results, they at least didn’t measure negative results. The results were neutral.

On the contrary, I’ll argue here, a neutral result is usually a negative result. If people deliberate together, but this fails to educate or enlighten them, then this means they are actually worse off as a result of deliberation. If I am right, then the empirical work on deliberative democracy is much more damning than other philosophers, political theorists, and political scientists have realized.

What is rational for you to believe or not to believe depends upon the evidence available to you. Imagine a child has led a sheltered life, with no exposure to history, geology, biology, physics, or cosmology. She believes, on the basis of her young Earth creationist parents’ testimony, that the universe is 6,000 years old and that all animals were created 6,000 years ago. But suppose this child then takes sixteen years of classes in history, geology, biology, physics, and cosmology. Along the way, she gets to sequence DNA, re-create Mendel’s pea experiment, handle fossils, and the like. Yet, after sixteen years of intense study, suppose she continues to believe the world is 6,000 years old and that all animals were created as they currently are.

In this case, from an epistemological standpoint, she got worse. After all, she encountered an overwhelming amount of evidence confirming evolution and disconfirming young Earth creationism. She should have changed her mind, but didn’t. After sixteen years of study, the gap between A) what she believes and B) what she ought to believe increased. Her beliefs are less justified now than they were sixteen years ago, before taking the classes and doing the experiments. She has thus violated her epistemic duties. She added further wrongdoing to her epistemic tally sheet. She is more epistemically delinquent after getting new evidence than she was before. In that case, it would be a mistake to report that taking classes had a neutral effect on her epistemic situation. She’s actually worse off.

Now consider what happens during deliberation: When someone learns that her other smart, well-informed people disagree with her about some issue, she might question whether she should reduce her confidence in her own beliefs.[i] If she encounters new information and evidence, she should revise her beliefs accordingly. Even in badly run, badly functioning deliberations, most citizens encounter new arguments and new information, arguments and information that should cause them to revise their beliefs or weaken their degree of confidence. Citizens should weigh other citizens’ testimony on the basis of how expert, reasonable, and reliable those citizens are likely to be, and revise their own beliefs accordingly. If the citizens do not revise their beliefs accordingly, then their epistemic situation has worsened. Deliberation made them more delinquent.

Thus, when deliberation has no effect on citizens’ beliefs or their degree of credence in their beliefs, we should generally interpret this as showing that deliberation made them worse, from an epistemically point of view. Just as a university-educated Young Earth Creationist is epistemically inferior to an uneducated Young Earth creationist, so a person who does not revise his beliefs or degrees of belief after deliberation is (usually) epistemologically inferior to his situation before deliberation.

Deliberative democrats must conclude that similar remarks apply to citizens’ moral status post-deliberation. Deliberative democrats usually hold that the rules of proper deliberation are moral rules. They believe citizens have moral duties to abide by the rules of deliberative democracy. In their view, citizens are obligated to deliberate properly. Thus, if we find that most citizens are not deliberating properly, the deliberative democrat should conclude that the gap between what the citizen A) ought to have done and B) did in fact do has widened. The citizen has added further moral wrongdoings to her lifetime moral tally sheet. After deliberation, she is defective from a moral point of view than she was before.

[i] Feldman 2006; Elga 2007.

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Return of the Philosopher King? Not So Fast http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/return-of-the-philosopher-king-not-so-fast/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/return-of-the-philosopher-king-not-so-fast/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:20:57 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10941 Here are two predictable but silly ways people who haven’t read Against Democracy will react to it: Quote Buckley saying that he’d rather be ruled by the first hundred people from the...

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Here are two predictable but silly ways people who haven’t read Against Democracy will react to it:

  1. Quote Buckley saying that he’d rather be ruled by the first hundred people from the Cambridge phonebook than by Harvard faculty.
  2. Ask, “Didn’t Plato already advocate the rule of philosopher kings?”

To be clear, I think Plato is right that the rule of philosopher kings would be better than democracy, but Aristotle is right that no philosopher kings are available. But the case for epistocracy doesn’t rest on the rule of philosopher kings, nor is epistocracy necessarily the “rule of the few”. One reason why epistocracy gets a bad rep is that democrats, in true hooligan fashion, strawman the position. (I take that as a compliment!)

Here’s an excerpt from a draft of chapter 1 explaining why defending epistocracy does not mean defending philosophers kings or small bands of experts with totalitarian power.

Thousands of years ago, Plato worried that a democratic electorate would be too dumb, irrational, and ignorant to govern well. He seemed to argue that best form of government would be rule by a noble and wise philosopher-king. (Scholars debate whether Plato was serious.) Contemporary political philosophers would label Plato an “epistocrat”.[i] “Epistocracy” means the rule of the knowledgeable. More precisely, a political regime is epistocratic to the extent that political power is formally distributed according to competence, skill, and the good faith to act upon that skill.

Aristotle responded to Plato that while the rule of philosopher kings would be best, we’ll never have any philosopher kings. Real people just aren’t wise or good enough to fill that role, nor, contrary to Plato, can we reliably train them to become that wise or good.

Aristotle is right—trying to develop someone into a philosopher king is hopeless. In the real world, governing is too difficult for any one person to do alone. Worse, in the real world, if we imbued an office with the discretionary power of a philosopher king, that power would attract the wrong kind of people, people who would abuse that power for their own ends.

However, the case for epistocracy doesn’t hang on hopes of a philosopher king or guardian class. There are many other possible forms of epistocracy:

  1. Restricted Suffrage: Citizens may acquire the legal right to vote and run for office only if they are deemed (through some sort of process) competent and/or sufficiently well-informed. This system has representative government and institutions similar to modern democracies, but does not imbue everyone with voting power. Nevertheless, voting rights are widespread, if not as widespread as in a democracy.
  2. Plural Voting: As in a democracy, every citizen has a vote. However, some citizens, those who are deemed (through some legal process) to be more competent or better informed, have additional votes. So, for instance, John Stuart Mill advocated a plural voting regime. As we discussed above, he though getting everyone involved in politics would tend to ennoble them. However, he remained worried that too many citizens would be incompetent and insufficiently educated to make smart choices at the polls. Thus, he advocated giving better educated people more votes.
  3. The Enfranchisement Lottery: Electoral cycles proceed as normal, except that by default no citizen has any right to vote. Immediately before the election, thousands of citizens are selected, via a random lottery, to become pre-voters. These pre-voters may then earn the right to vote, but only if they participate in certain competence-building exercises, such as deliberative fora with their fellow citizens.[ii]
  4. Epistocratic Veto: All laws must be passed through democratic procedures via a democratic body. However, an epistocratic body with restricted membership retains the right to veto rules passed by the democratic body.
  5. Weighted Voting/Government by Simulated Oracle: Every citizen may vote, but must take a quiz concerning basic political knowledge at the same time. Their votes are weighted based on their objective political knowledge, perhaps while statistically controlling for the influence of race, income, sex, and/or other demographic factors.

In recent years, Plato is making a comeback. In political philosophy, epistocracy has re-emerged as the main challenger to democracy’s throne. Few political philosophers embrace epistocracy; most remain democrats. But they recognize that a proper defense of democracy must show that democracy is, all things considered, superior to epistocracy. They also recognize that this is not easy to show.

In this book, I argue the choice between democracy and epistocracy is instrumental. It ultimately comes down to which system would perform better in the real world. I will provide some reasons to believe that epistocracy would outperform democracy, though we do not yet have sufficient evidence to definitely favor epistocracy over democracy. We are forced to speculate, because the most promising forms of epistocracy have not been tried. My goal here is not to argue for the strong claim that epistocracy is superior to democracy. I am instead arguing for weaker claims: A) If any form of epistocracy, with whatever realistic flaws it has, turns out to be perform better than democracy, we ought to implement epistocracy instead of democracy. B) There are good grounds to presume that some feasible form of epistocracy would in fact outperform democracy. C) If democracy and epistocracy perform equally well, then we may justly instantiate either system.

Epistocrats strike many people as authoritarian. Epistocrats seem to hold that smart people should have the right to rule over others just because they know better. On this point, Estlund claims that defenses of epistocracy typically rest upon three tenets: a truth tenet, a knowledge tenet, and an authority tenet.

  1. The Truth Tenet: There are correct answers to (at least some) political questions.
  2. The Knowledge Tenet: Some citizens know more of these truths or are more reliable at determining these truths than others.
  3. TheAuthority Tenet: When some citizens have greater knowledge or reliability, this justifies granting them political authority over those with lesser knowledge.[iii]

Estlund accepts the truth and knowledge tenets, but argues that we should reject the authority tenet. The authority tenet commits what he calls the “expert/boss fallacy”. One commits the expert/boss fallacy when one thinks that being an expert is sufficient reason for a person to hold power over others. But, he says, possessing superior knowledge is not sufficient to justify having any power, let alone greater power, than others. We can always say to the experts, “You may know better, but who made you boss?” For example, my dietitian sister-in-law knows better than I do what I should eat, but that doesn’t mean she should be able to force me to follow a diet she prescribes. Exercise celebrity Shaun T knows better than I do how to get cut abs, but that doesn’t mean he may force me to do burpees.

I agree with Estlund that the authority tenet is false. But, as I’ll argue in chapter six, the case for epistocracy does not rest on the authority tenet, but instead on something closer to an anti-authority tenet.

 

The Anti-Authority Tenet: When some citizens are morally unreasonable, ignorant, or incompetent about politics, this justifies not permitting them to exercise political authority over others. It justifies either forbidding them from holding power, or reducing the power they have, in order to protect innocent people from their incompetence.

 

By saddling epistocrats with the authority tenet, Estlund unintentionally makes the case for epistocracy seem more difficult than it is. Epistocrats need not argue that experts should be bosses. Epistocrats need only argue that incompetent or unreasonable people should not be imposed upon others as bosses. Epistocrats need only argue that democratic decision-making, in certain cases, lacks authority or legitimacy because it tends to be incompetent. This leaves open what, if anything, justifies political power.

 

Further, this is a discussion about who should decide, but it’s neither a libertarian nor an anti-libertarian book:

 

I think most people are bad at politics and politics is bad for most of us, but I am not arguing that therefore we should have government do less (or more). Instead, I am arguing that—if the facts turn out the right way—fewer or us should be allowed to participate. If you’re a social democrat, I’m arguing you should consider becoming a social epistocrat. If you’re a democratic socialist, I’m arguing you should consider becoming an epistocrat socialist. If you’re a conservative republican, I’m arguing you should consider being a conservative epistocrat. If you’re an anarcho-capitalist libertarian or left-syndicalist anarchist, I’m arguing that you should consider epistocracy a possible improvement over current democracy, even if anarchism would be even better.

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Is Democracy Like a Hammer, a Painting, or a Person? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/is-democracy-like-a-hammer-a-painting-or-a-person/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/is-democracy-like-a-hammer-a-painting-or-a-person/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 14:41:09 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10939 What kind of value, if any, does democracy have? I discuss some answers to that question at the Princeton University Press blog today, with some bits from chapter 1 of...

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What kind of value, if any, does democracy have? I discuss some answers to that question at the Princeton University Press blog today, with some bits from chapter 1 of my just released book Against Democracy.

Excerpt:

When we ask what makes a hammer valuable, we usually ask whether it is functional for us, as we are. Hammers have a purpose—to pound in nails—and good hammers serve that purpose. Hammers primarily have instrumental value. They help us achieve an independent goal. If some other tool better serves that goal, then we’d gladly replace our hammers with that other tool. No one insists on using a hammer when a driver or wrench works better.

When we ask what makes a painting valuable, we usually look to its symbolic value. We ask whether the painting is sublime, whether it evokes various feelings or ideas. We also value some paintings more highly because of how they were made, and who made them. An ugly Picasso scribble on a napkin might fetch a hundred grand, but if you or I drew the same picture, it wouldn’t fetch a dollar.

When we ask what makes human beings valuable, we will often say that they are ends in themselves. Sure, people can also have instrumental value—the person who makes you coffee serves a purpose—but they also have intrinsic value. People have a dignity, not a price, or so many philosophers insist.

What about democracy?

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Against Democracy: Now Available From Amazon http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/against-democracy-now-available-from-amazon/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/against-democracy-now-available-from-amazon/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 12:23:39 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10937 Here’s my newest book, published by Princeton University Press, available on Amazon a few weeks ahead of schedule: I’d rather be the gadfly that stirs up the field than the...

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Here’s my newest book, published by Princeton University Press, available on Amazon a few weeks ahead of schedule:


I’d rather be the gadfly that stirs up the field than the fiftieth echo in the chamber.

 

Blurb:

Most people believe democracy is a uniquely just form of government. They believe people have the right to an equal share of political power. And they believe that political participation is good for us—it empowers us, helps us get what we want, and tends to make us smarter, more virtuous, and more caring for one another. These are some of our most cherished ideas about democracy. But, Jason Brennan says, they are all wrong.

In this trenchant book, Brennan argues that democracy should be judged by its results—and the results are not good enough. Just as defendants have a right to a fair trial, citizens have a right to competent government. But democracy is the rule of the ignorant and the irrational, and it all too often falls short. Furthermore, no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power, and exercising political power does most of us little good. On the contrary, a wide range of social science research shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people worse—more irrational, biased, and mean. Given this grim picture, Brennan argues that a new system of government—epistocracy, the rule of the knowledgeable—may be better than democracy, and that it’s time to experiment and find out.

A challenging critique of democracy and the first sustained defense of the rule of the knowledgeable, Against Democracy is essential reading for scholars and students of politics across the disciplines.

 

Get it here.

 

Read the first chapter here.

Table of Contents

 

 

Chapter One:  Hobbits and Hooligans

Chapter Two:  Ignorant, Irrational, Misinformed Nationalists

Chapter Three: Political Participation Corrupts

Chapter Four:  Politics Doesn’t Empower You or Me

Chapter Five: Politics is Not a Poem

Chapter Six: The Right to Competent Government

Chapter Seven: Is Democracy Competent?

Chapter Eight:  The Rule of the Knowers

Chapter Nine:  Civic Enemies

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Interview with me on Against Democracy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/interview-with-me-on-against-democracy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/interview-with-me-on-against-democracy/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 20:07:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10919 Against Democracy will be available a few weeks early, on August 9, from Amazon. German, Portuguese, and Italian translations will be available next year, and the German publisher will be flying...

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Against Democracy will be available a few weeks early, on August 9, from Amazon. German, Portuguese, and Italian translations will be available next year, and the German publisher will be flying me out for a speaking tour in early April. Details TBA.

Recently, the Princeton University Press blog published an interview with me about the new book. Read it here. 

 

Excerpt:

What kind of value does democracy have, then?

JB: The best places to live right now are almost all liberal democracies. So, the point isn’t to argue that democracy is a disaster. But it’s not the end of history either. In my view, democracy has the same kind of value a hammer has. It’s an instrument for producing just and efficient outcomes, according to procedure-independent standards of justice. If we can find a better hammer, we should feel free to use it.

Some people deny there are procedure-independent standards of justice. Justice, they say, is whatever a democracy decides. But on reflection, I doubt anyone would accept that. Suppose the US has a referendum and unanimously votes to nuke Tuvalu. Or suppose 70 percent of voters decide to enact protectionist policies simply because they don’t understand economics. I don’t see either move as just.

We tend to treat the right to vote as a badge of honor, as a way of saying, “You’re a valuable member of our national club.” I think that’s a mistake. We should view the right to vote the way we view a fishing or plumbing license. We should view the president not as a majestic leader but as the chief public goods administrator. We need to downgrade the “status” we attach to political participation and power. If we did that, then differences in voting rights would carry no further stigma than the stigma I face for lacking a plumbing license.

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