In the history of ideas, the suggestion to make citizens morally more favorable inevitably reminds of a guiding motif of communism, the creation of a “new man.” The utopia of truly free and equal persons requires for humankind to overcome animalistic drives, selfishness and antisocial tendencies. Only the communist explanation for humanity’s darker side differs from Persson and Savulescu’s view: for communists, social existence determines consciousness, not neurobiological or psychological shortcomings. Inner liberation follows outer liberation, whereas the neuroscientific zeitgeist reverses this relation. Trotsky foreshadowed this: “purely physiological life will become subject to collective experiments” [quoted in 4, p. 43], and it is said that Stalin’s favorite metaphor for artists and educators was “engineers of the human soul” [quoted after 5, p. 23]. Just like contemporary transhumanists, communists suppose that the fate of humankind depends on transforming human nature. Among the reasons for communism’s historical failure is that its attempts to reshape humanity never succeeded and sometimes turned into murderous disaster. Surely, no one proposes to revitalize communist re-education programs. But the striking resemblances between the bygone utopia and futuristic transhumanists visions cannot and should not pass unmentioned, particularly because western democracies countered communist aspirations of social engineering with pathos-laden proclamations of individual liberty and dignity. Normative individualism, the linchpin of liberal democracies, seemingly leaves no room for molding persons into politically favorably minded citizens. It is no coincidence that one of the inaugural works of modern democracy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, famously begins with an outline of the key task of political philosophy: to inquire the legitimacy of government “taking men as they are and laws as they can be made to be” [6, p. 155]. This illustrates a tension: taking people as they are is a cornerstone of democratic thought—moral enhancement encapsulates the idea of turning people into what they can be made to be.
Our guiding question is this: Does an elected government rule legitimately (in a democratic sense of the term) if it severely manipulated the will of the people in its favor prior to the election and if voters had voted otherwise without manipulation? We argue that it does not; it lacks democratic legitimacy. While this might appear self-evident, it is anything but agreed on in political theory. In a recent survey article James Fishkin writes, from “the standpoint of democratic theory, what, if anything, is wrong with manipulation …? The answer depends on your theory of democracy. On some theories, there are no grounds for objections” [7, p. 34].We wish to go further and argue that irrespective of particular models of democracy, basic considerations of the relation between government and citizens speak against the possibility of a democratically legitimate government elected by a will of the people it manipulated before.
The implications of manipulation for legitimacy are not often discussed because the problems with defining what constitutes manipulation stand in the foreground. As often lamented, the concept of manipulation escapes a precise definition (see [8–11]; and from a political point of view [7, 12–14]). We cannot engage with the many proposed accounts here, and fortunately, we do not have to subscribe to a specific position or provide a sharp definition ourselves. A rough approximation suffices: We understand manipulation as the prima facie condemnatory sub-forms of influence that are usually impermissible and face a high burden of justification. Influence (on voters) can be exerted via manifold means and to different degrees, from communicative information and rhetoric over mass media advertisements and propaganda to the exploitation of psychological weaknesses, subliminal priming, etc. Some forms might be permissible, others outright illicit. The borderline where permissible influence turns into illicit manipulation is hard to pin down precisely. For the purposes of this paper it suffices to stipulate that we conceive of manipulation as influence that (at least) one person exhibits over another and that alters choices, opinions or beliefs of the targeted person in a way that she does not approve of, and that does not correspond to the demands of rational thought, [cf. 15, p. 31]. In addition, manipulation involves a form of control of the manipulator because the influence undermines or bypasses control capacities of the manipulated.
We are aware that this is not a comprehensive, clear-cut definition. It neither captures all cases, nor is it fine-grained enough to solve borderline cases; it also fails to adequately account for the role of emotions. Emotions surely play a larger role in deliberation and (political) decision-making than rationalistic philosophy and our understanding of manipulation suggest. Many successful and prima facie innocuous ways to influence others involve emotional influence that undermines control capacities (recall when you fell in love last time). Assessing the proper role of emotions is one of the key problems for a complete theory of manipulation. However, such a grand theory of manipulation is unnecessary for present purposes. Two rather weak claims suffice: Instances of illicit manipulation exist; and exposing others involuntarily to moral bioenhancements falls into this category.
With respect to particular interventions, much will depend on their severity. Current debates on moral enhancement focus on modest forms, [cf. 16, 17]. Consider a Veggie Pill that helps you resist the temptations you feel when ordering lunch. You like the taste of meat, but you also think that it is morally wrong to eat it. The Veggie Pill would support you to overcome your weak will and to do what you think you should do, i.e. not eating meat. You simply take a pill just before lunch. Assume it does not have severe effects on your autonomy or personality and that its effects wear off after one hour. Such individual and voluntary enhancements with minor short-term effects are, we contend, hardly problematic. A Veggie Pill even seems desirable. Although vegetarianism helps solving ecological and food availability problems, such limited enhancements are insufficient to resolve the “mega-problems of today.” Overcoming the consequences of psychological deficiencies in voters requires far more severe, long-term and, most worryingly, involuntary alterations of moral capacities and beliefs on a population wide scale.Footnote 1
The kind of moral bioenhancements we (and Persson and Savulescu) have in mind are, e.g. psycho-pharmaceuticals that alter one’s moral proclivities and opinions, that modify selfish personality traits, eliminate morally relevant biases, amplify solidarity with out-groups or strengthen our “sense of justice”. We further assume that they have to be given involuntarily because citizens do not consider themselves in need of moral enhancements. Assessing such interventions seems rather easy: If there are any instances of illicit manipulations, intervening into brains, altering neurophysiological parameters of a person (without consent) seems one of its paradigmatic forms. It is a far cry from skilled rhetoric, it has abandoned communication in any meaningful sense altogether . These interventions do not provide arguments, but work directly on biological properties of the brain. They bypass the sphere of reasons, and therewith, the rational faculties and control capacities of the target. Altering the way a person thinks and feels through modulating the neuronal configuration that underlies such higher level mental processes and states is, to us, a clear case of tinkering with another’s mind in a prima facie impermissible way. If there is a moral duty to not manipulate others, refraining from secretly or coercively accessing her opinions on the neural level seems to be among the first demands. Any theory of manipulation that is unable to capture such interventions would be unpersuasive. Thus, even without drawing the borderline more precisely, we are confident that mandatory moral enhancements in the form envisioned by Persson and Savulescu fall on the illegitimate side of it.Footnote 2
What rather has to be shown is that there is a duty to not manipulate others. In light of the value of autonomy, we do not have any hesitation to assume a right against being manipulated on the individual level (one of us argued elsewhere that severe forms should constitute a criminal offence ). Altering moral beliefs or political opinions through brain interventions also likely violates the human right to freedom of thought and conscience. But here, we are interested in the collective level, in the political consequences of manipulation. The suggestion is that the demands of democratic legitimacy imply a prohibition of government to manipulate voters. We stress these points because a usual response to our following claims is an argument about the precise limits of permissible governmental influence. Of course, all governments somehow influence citizens’ moral dispositions, from civic school education or public broadcasting services to pledges of allegiance and patriotic spectacles. Every collective influences its member, and social psychology is ubiquitous. But be this as it may. Taking a critical stance towards paradigmatic cases of manipulation does not require drawing borderlines more concretely.
Legitimacy of state power is the central problem of political philosophy—where does the power to rule originate from, what sets legitimate rule apart from the mere exercise of factual power? Although democracy might well be an essentially contested concept and even though dictatorships notoriously embraced the term, we suppose that democracy answers these questions in a distinct manner: The characteristic feature of democracy is popular sovereignty, that is, the collective self-rule of free and equal citizens. Governmental legitimacy derives from the will of the people. And the will of the people, in turn, emerges from the wills of individual citizens. The ultimate source of governmental legitimacy lies in the political opinions and preferences of the citizens. These opinions and preferences are, in the form of votes, the input into the democratic system. Democratically legitimate governmental authority is essentially grounded in this dimension; input legitimacy is a necessary element of democratic rule.
Of course, this input element might not suffice for legitimacy. Many democratic models require additional output constraints, such as observing minority rights, furthering the common good or even global justice. Democratic models regularly seek to achieve or secure desirable outputs by designing institutions that restrict majoritarian input powers (such as constitutional rights and judicial review). Furthermore, there may be other forms of legitimate political authority. They might be legitimate because they produce desirable outputs (e.g., governance by not elected international organizations). But if they derive legitimacy from outputs only (rather than from the will of the people), they lack democratic input legitimation. The question before us is then whether governments can manipulate the input dimension, the will of the people, to secure proper outputs, without falling into this latter category. Let us look at this in some detail.
Simple Formal Theories: Aggregation of Preferences
A basal understanding of democracy can be summarized as the correct aggregation of the preferences of the people under a simple idea of equality such as “one man, one vote.” Government truly reflects the will of the people if and only if majoritarian preferences prevail. In other words: there has to be a correspondence relation between the will of the people, the outcome of an electoral process, the composition of the elected representative legislative body (parliament), and government. This correspondence relation is a minimum requirement, beyond dispute in principle, although mitigated in practice. The correspondence requirement does not extend to each and every political decision. Once elected, representative governments are not bound by the will of the people in every single decision they make. Leeway to deviate from the general will is what sets representative forms apart from direct democracies. It is one of the central arguments against direct models that ordinary voters might not fully oversee the complexities and consequences of politics and that the will of the people is better mediated by a layer of experts and parliamentary processes. However, the possibility to depart from public opinion in particular decisions does not call the correspondence requirement in question.
Simple aggregative models of democracy might not stipulate further demands. Whatever the preferences of the people—and however they came about—, as long as they are correctly registered and aggregated, the legitimacy conditions are met. As a consequence, such models might not explicitly object to manipulation of the electorate or call into question the legitimacy of the government elected after manipulation. However, these models may overlook a general argument against the compatibility of governmental legitimacy and manipulation which we will unpack in a minute.
Moreover, simple models are not particularly attractive from a normative perspective. Proponents such as Walter Lippmann or Joseph Schumpeter in fact subscribed to them because of their deep distrust against the capacity of ordinary voters. Uneducated, longing for easy answers, and susceptible to influence, the role of voters is restricted to choosing between competing elites. As Lippmann beautifully wrote about “ordinary minds”:
In the uncriticized parts of the mind there is a vast amount of association by mere clang, contact, and succession. There are stray emotional attachments, there are words that were names and are masks. In dreams, reveries, and panic, we uncover some of the disorder, enough to see how the naive mind is composed, and how it behaves when not disciplined by wakeful effort and external resistance. We see that there is no more natural order than in a dusty old attic. There is often the same incongruity between fact, idea, and emotion as there might be in an opera house, if all the wardrobes were dumped in a heap and all the scores mixed up, so that Madame Butterfly in a Valkyr’s dress waited lyrically for the return of Faust. [20, p. 405 f.]
Based on this pessimistic view Lippmann argues that only representative public officials—not individual citizens—have the time, training and knowledge to make informed decisions and advocates a kind of Socratic re-education of the people [20, Ch. XXVII]. As a consequence, the input dimension—and thereby the importance of voters—is marginalized in favor of expert rule.
Such elitist models can be understood as answers to the problem of deficient input quality. Many objections have been raised against elitism, precisely because of its shallow level of citizen participation and its disregard for the input dimension. Even though many existing democracies may resemble elitist models, to critics they are democracies by appearance only. Correspondence may thus be a necessary but not a sufficient condition.
“Free Formation” of the Will
Most theories of democracy demand more: the will of the people has to be formed in certain ways, or negatively, it must not have been formed in ways flouting basic democratic ideals. Many models therefore require the free formation of the will, expressed, for instance, in the European Electoral Principles. The third principle, called “free suffrage”, secures the “freedom of voters to form an opinion” [21, at 3.1.a]. A free and fair election (“free suffrage”) is a precondition for the legitimate rule of the elected. Accordingly, governments cannot influence voting behavior without losing legitimacy. The notion of free suffrage needs further explication: What does “free” mean, and why is it a necessary condition of legitimate rule? The general idea is that the formation of the public will should be free from certain kinds of distorting, manipulating, autonomy undermining influences. A different formulation encapsulating the same idea might be instructive: A central tenet of classic democracy is that legitimacy of governments, or, in the words of one of the founding documents, the US Declaration of Independence, “just powers” derive “from the consent of the governed.” In today’s understanding, normatively relevant consent is informed consent, which places some qualifications on the way it has been brought about.Footnote 3 Non-manipulation is one of them . But as not every democratic theory accepts it as a necessary condition for legitimacy, we wish to develop an argument showing that the “free suffrage” principle is indeed essential to democracy by comparing voter manipulation with other forms of legitimacy undermining governmental conduct.
Coercion is the easiest case. Formation of the will is not free if voters were coerced, e.g., by intimidating threats at the polling station. Irrespective of the finer details of the debate whether a coerced agent acts according to his preferences by giving in to a threat (she may, for instance, prefer her life over voting for her favorite party) [23, 24], coercion is a paradigm case of heteronomous influence that nullifies voluntariness. Because will formation was not free, government cannot derive legitimacy from the will of the people. Absence of coercion is thus a precondition for legitimacy conferring free elections.
A perhaps less obvious, but still clear case is intentional deception. Suppose a government wrongly informed the public on an important matter before an election in which it is re-elected. Suppose further that it had a legal duty to disclose the matter truthfully, and that the issue played a decisive role for voters (such as a drastic misstatement of unemployment figures or a Clintonesque affair in personalized elections). Many pro-government voters truthfully complain that they would not have voted the way they did had they known the relevant facts. Does the elected government rule legitimately? While it does represent the will of the people in the moment of the election, it is hard to deny that the will of the people was formed faultily because of the deception. Surely, politicians notoriously spin, bend and embellish facts before elections. Nonetheless, deceptions of some gravity violate a necessary condition of a free (and informed) formation of the will. As a consequence, government’s legitimacy cannot be based on the election. It would be absurd if governments could ground their legitimacy in the will of the people it has deceptively influenced before.
The legitimacy problem might become clearer from a different angle. One could deny that the electoral outcome reflects the will of the people. Given their preferences, they would not have voted for the government if they had known the facts to which they were entitled. Their choice did thus not reflect their preferences in that objective situation, only those on the incorrect assumption of different conditions. One may argue that the correspondence requirement is not met and the electoral outcome does not reflect the “real” will of the people.
On the political level, access to truthful information then becomes a precondition of democratic legitimacy. For this reason, freedom of speech and freedom of press are conceived as political rights. Censoring opinions and facts not only violates the rights of censored speakers, but also undermines the will formation of the people. We suppose that most theories of democracy will agree that deception undermines legitimacy, albeit voting procedure and aggregation were performed correctly.
Altering Short-Term Preferences
A different kind of influence undermines free will formation in the next scenario. Suppose that opinions of voters are altered through some manipulative interference in the proximity of the polling booth, for instance, by rhetorically skilled agitators who exert systematic and severe emotional and situational pressure on voters. Imagine these influences are successful. Upon reflection and out of their reach, voters reassert their previous opinions. In that case, the free formation of the voter’s will is undermined. To protect against such short-term opinion changes, many countries install safeguards: no political advertisements and campaigning at polling stations, no disclosure of estimates on Election Day (or several days before). The objective is, again, to avoid unwise voting decisions because of last-minute manipulative influences, lacking time to reflect, and to provide more favorable external conditions for freely forming one’s opinion. The presence of such influences undermines a free and fair election.
This is even truer of biochemical manipulation. Imagine an odorless substance such as Oxytocin is sprayed in the polling booth and effectively alters voting behavior. Again, the will has not been formed freely. The outcome might correspond to the preferences of voters in the moment of voting. But these are not the real preferences, they are transiently manipulated ones. In analogy to Harry Frankfurt’s famous distinction, one may speak of a conflict between situational first and longer-term second order political preferences. Elections are concerned with the latter. The polling booth is the symbol of the freedom of the vote—free from, e.g., influence, pressure, need of justifications, or potential repercussions.
Paradox of Long-Term Preferences Manipulation
The key question is whether that freedom should extend beyond the voting booth to the formation of the will in general. The moral enhancement programs Persson and Savulescu envision cause more permanent, durable transformation of preferences. They can be considered as extensions of transient manipulation. This leads to an argument a fortiori: If less invasive manipulation calls legitimacy into question, stronger ones do so all the more.
However, long term preference manipulation raises a well-known problem, the paradox of thorough manipulation. Imagine a sinister neuroscientist manages to replace the entire preference structure of a person. This surely constitutes manipulation, although, if successful and severe enough, the discrepancy between first and second order preferences vanishes. As a consequence, opinions have truly changed, and the post-manipulation person will argue and defend her novel views as her own, she might wholeheartedly identify with them. At some point, the manipulated will becomes the will of the manipulated person.
For our inquiry, this means that even if new elections were held, the result would not change. The elected government does represent the will of the people, the correspondence requirement obtains. The structure of the problem is familiar from the free-will debate [24–26]. But instead of engaging with this debate here, we offer a different argument that directly pertains to the idea of democracy. Even if one considers a thoroughly manipulated person free in regard to moral responsibility, we deny that her votes can confer legitimacy onto the manipulating government. The classic case is political indoctrination. Indoctrination runs counter to democratic ideals. However, we forsake from employing the term “indoctrination” for our purposes because its vagueness would further complicate matters. The reason why long-term alterations (and indoctrination) undermine legitimacy is that the election concerns and benefits the manipulator herself. Even if the manipulated person is to be considered responsible vis-à-vis third parties, she is not responsible vis-à-vis the manipulator with respect to the manipulated aspects. Manipulation creates a hierarchical relation of control between manipulator and manipulated. And as responsibility tracks control, the person who directs and steers a process, be it through natural forces or other persons, bears responsibility. Actions of the manipulated are ascribed to the manipulator. In a similar way as persons can act through (or mediated by) tools or technology, manipulators act through the manipulated. A capo controlling a gang never makes his hands dirty. But he cannot wash them in innocence. Actions of gang members are ascribed to him, they are his actions. Whether the subordinates are also responsible is irrelevant here. What matters is that a manipulator acts, normatively, through the manipulated.Footnote 4
In democratic terms, conferring legitimacy is a one-directional, bottom-up relation: from citizens onto governments. It does not work conversely. If governments severely manipulate the will of individuals—and thereby, of the people as a whole—a circular relation ensues. Government is not representing the will of the people, but vice versa. To put it differently: Because acts of the manipulated are ascribed to the manipulator, a government manipulating voters would, in the end, elect itself. This cannot confer legitimacy. There is an asymmetry: The power of government has to derive from the will of people, but the will of the people cannot derive from the will of government. Governmental manipulation of the will of the people thus contradicts democratic essentials; it cannot ground legitimacy in the will it manipulated. Manipulation and legitimacy are incompatible. This general relation, we contend, applies to any democratic theory that recognizes the will of the people as the sole source of legitimacy (and thus, even to simple aggregative models previously discussed).Footnote 5 In the following section, we try to strengthen this rather abstract argument by discussing its place in several particular theories of democracy.
Supporting the Argument: Particular Accounts of Democracy
“Liberal” Democracies: Rights as Constraints of Governmental Powers
Although the term “liberal democracy” is not clearly defined, it summons the idea that public power is bound by pre-political rights which create a sphere of liberty, not subject to majoritarian decision-making. It comprises elements fundamental to the idea of free and equal citizens. John Rawls, for instance, enumerates a set of basic liberties in his Theory of Justice. One of them is the “right to freedom of conscience”, which includes moral freedom. In fact, Rawls writes that “equal liberty of conscience is the only principle that the persons in the original position can acknowledge” [27, p. 207, emphasis added].
In this view, forming opinions and decisions freely is a guarantee that sets outer limits to governmental powers. A state-run moral enhancement program likely contravenes this liberal premise. One might dispute that freedom of conscience is a necessary element in a basic set of liberal rights. However, we suggest that this right is not just coincidentally included in many of such sets but that it is internally connected to the idea of democracy, so that its observance is a precondition of legitimacy.
Value of Democracy: Brettschneider and Dworkin
An argument for such a necessary connection can be found in Corey Brettschneider’s “value theory of democracy.” Among its central claims is that collective democratic self-rule requires respecting every citizen as a self-ruler, which in turn preconditions respect for particular substantive democratic or political rights such as free speech and freedom of thought:
“Rights to express and to listen to ideas are justified by the more basic right of citizens to make up their own minds about politics” [28, p. 45]. Brettschneider asks his readers to imagine a situation relevantly similar to ours. What if it were predictable that citizens would vote for morally wrong options?
It is clear that any attempt to force citizens to vote a particular way would be a paradigmatic violation of the democratic right to freedom of conscience. The reasons why such a forced vote is unacceptable in a democracy are not merely instrumental; they go to the heart of what it means to treat citizens as sovereign. The ability to decide wrongly is itself a fundamental democratic right. In no sense can citizens be regarded as rulers if restrictions are placed on how they can think about politics, especially when it comes to how they vote. Freedom of conscience is essential to democracy—particularly to the core value of political autonomy—because it ensures that self-rulers will be able to think for themselves [28, p. 45].
Brettschneider’s argument about forcing voters equally applies to manipulating them. Both disrespect the citizen as sovereign. In a similar vein, Ronald Dworkin contends that we do not value democracy as a function of majority rule [29, 30]. Dworkin’s “partnership conception” of democracy [29, p. 382 ff.] requires, inter alia, that government leaves it to the individual how to think about politics and ethics. And because ethics and political philosophy go hand in hand, “endorsement [of an act or vote] must be genuine, and it is not genuine when someone is hypnotized or brainwashed or frightened into conversion. Endorsement is genuine only when it is itself the agent’s performance, not the result of another person’s thoughts being piped into his brain” [31, p. 269]. Dworkin and Brettschneider establish necessary links between political rights such as freedom of conscience and democratic political orders.
Republican Models: Pettit
The idea can also be found in republican models, the traditional counterpart to liberal approaches. Republican models do not cordon off basic rights from majoritarian decision-making in the more principled manner than liberal theories do. They allow—and demand—orientation of policies toward the common good. While liberal models stress interests and preferences of individuals, possibly pursuing self-centered goals and disinterested in others, republicans seek to strengthen the polity, active citizen participation in the political process and common understanding. Echoing a distinction by Jon Elster, one may say that liberals tend to equate elections and political will formation with markets whereas republicans are more interested in the forum.
In Philipp Pettit’s version, the core of the republican tradition is “non-domination: the condition under which you live in the presence of other people but at the mercy of none” [32, p. 80]. The notion of non-domination is different from negative freedom, since “[w]hat constitutes domination is the fact that in some respect the power-bearer has the capacity to interfere arbitrarily, even if they are never going to do so” [32, p. 63]. Domination can thus occur without actual interference. One only lives “at the mercy of none” if no one has the capacity to interfere arbitrarily.
This understanding of republican liberty also implies certain basic structures in the relation between citizen and the state that reject manipulation of voters. As Pettit puts it:
The lesson is that the instruments used by the republican state should be, as far as possible, non-manipulable. …. No one individual or group should have discretion in how the instruments are used. No one should be able to take them into their own hands: not someone who is entirely beneficent and public-spirited, and certainly not someone who is liable to interfere for their own sectional ends in the lives of their fellow citizens. The institutions and initiatives involved should not allow of manipulation at anyone’s individual whim [32, p. 173].
Deliberative Models: Habermas
The paradigm case against manipulation of will or voters comes from deliberative theories, e.g., in wake of the work of Jürgen Habermas. According to him, political decisions are legitimate if and only if they result from a specific process of decision-making, namely from a structured deliberative discourse. The procedure forms the basis of legitimacy. It implies public reasoning open to all citizens aiming at mutual understanding. It should take place in a neutral public sphere, preferably under ideal speech conditions which are characterized by equality, recognition of other viewpoints and the absence of power and might. In such conditions, “no force except that of the better argument is exercised” [33, p. 108, cf. 34]. The hope is that the deliberative decision-making process yields outcomes everyone has reasons to accept [35, 36]. The better argument, then, is only identifiable through the proper procedure.
The task of the constitutional state is to establish the framework and suitable background conditions for deliberative discourse. Beside free press, this includes rights against manipulative influences on political will formation. Surely, as its name suggests, such speech situations are ideal and, just as free deliberation among equal citizens, probably never fully attainable. But they serve as regulative ideals which can be approximated. Indoctrination or tampering with others’ emotions or neuronal structures is diametrically opposed to these requirements. Moral enhancement substitute the force of the better argument with the force of pharmacology. Mandatory enhancements are a paradigmatic form of overwhelming power. And they bypass the “sphere of reasons” altogether and work on the biochemical level alone. Any theory inspired by deliberative ideals must reject moral enhancement programs.
Equal Influence on Public Opinion
A final element inherent to democracy should briefly be mentioned: equality. But equality of what? While the “one man – one vote” scheme which accords the same voting power to the uneducated as to the Nobel laureate is an indispensable part of contemporary democracies, one might make the case that democracy requires more. If one takes serious the idea of an association of free and equal citizens who jointly reason about the common good, equality might need to expand to “having an equal say” before the ballot is cast. Citizens should have equal opportunities to present their views and persuade others in the struggle of political ideas. Equality of influence then becomes a further distinct element of democracy.
Today’s real political conditions are marked by stark inequalities of influence, aptly proven by the importance of campaign financing. Due to lacking access to mass media, the voices of many, particularly marginalized populations, are not heard by the public at large. This is a serious shortcoming of the current state of democracy. It would be exacerbated if some groups have novel means to change public opinion such as moral enhancements at their disposal. In terms of equality, these means have to be available to everyone participating in the forum.
To summarize: The foregoing theories, and therewith, most contemporary accounts of democracy, reject the manipulation of the will formation of the electorate through biochemical means because it runs contrary to central ideas of democracy. Democratic legitimacy necessitates a strong input-element. But the will of the people cannot confer legitimacy if it was manipulated. Thus, the right to remain free from such influences on political opinion formation is a necessary political right, just like the right to vote or freedom of the press. Interferences with the free formation of the will of the people undermine the legitimacy of the government. Even though it was elected, it lacks a necessary element of justification, namely, input-legitimacy. The political system Persson and Savulescu hint at would be a pseudo-democracy, populated by institutions, elements and procedures typical for democracies, but hollow inside, void of the legitimacy conferring element.