An influential anti-democratic argument says: ‘(1) Answers to political questions are truth-apt. (2) A small elite only—the epistocrats—knows these truths. (3) If answers to political questions are truth-apt, then those with this knowledge about these matters should rule. (4) Thus, epistocrats should rule.’ Many democrats have responded by denying (1), arguing that, say, answers to political questions are a matter of sheer personal preference. Others have rejected (2), contending that knowledge of the true answers to political questions is evenly distributed. David Estlund finds neither of these replies conclusive. Instead, he attacks (3) arguing that there can be no agreement between qualified people as to who the epistocrats are and that people are not subject to being ruled by experts, whose status as such they can reasonably dispute. Critically, I argue that this argument does not block all forms of epistocratic argument and that Estlund fails to consider the full range of plausible epistocratic views. More constructively, I offer a modest argument for why greater expertise does not necessarily warrant greater political authority. Presumably, the set of feasible options might differ, depending on what procedure is used, and a sub-optimal choice by nonepistocrats from a better set might be superior to the optimal choice by epistocrats from a worse set. In such cases, the mere fact of greater expertise does not warrant political authority, i.e., (3) is false.
KeywordsAuthority Democracy Epistocracy Estlund Political justification Plural voting Political knowledge
Previous versions of this paper were presented at workshops at CSMN, University of Oslo, 8 December 2009 and at Yale, 22 October 2011. I thank Lene Bomann-Larsen, Jacob Busch, Jakob Elster, Jon Elster, Hans Fink, Søren Flinch Midtgaard, Robert Huseby, Cristina Lafont, Hélène Landemore, Mats Lundström, Erik Oddvar Eriksen, Raffaele Rodogno, Bo Rothstein, Rasmus Sommer Hansen, Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, Susan Stokes, Andrew Williams, and, in particular, David Estlund for helpful criticisms.
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