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What is epistocracy?

Dimensions of knowledge-based rule

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Abstract

The role of knowledge in political decision-making has been a central topic in political theory and social science for centuries. One central branch of these discussions has focused on the role of religious knowledge and authority in political rule and variations of “theocracy” or “rule of priests”.1 However, the central knowledge basis of a society or a political system is not necessarily of a religious kind. Arguably, in many contemporary societies the most crucial knowledge source is scientific and professional knowledge.

Keywords

  • European Union
  • Procedural Justification
  • Limit State Function
  • Political Rule
  • Comprehensive Doctrine

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Theocracy originates from Greek (theos means god) and refers literally to a “rule by gods or human incarnations of gods”.

  2. 2.

    As already indicated, theocracy could also be regarded as a variant of epistocracy if we think of priest as “those with religious knowledge”.

  3. 3.

    “The project of modernity formulated in the eighteenth century by the philosophers of Enlightenment consisted in their efforts to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art, according to their inner logic” (Habermas 1981). See also Skirbekk (2007).

  4. 4.

    In the sense that they are elected by all affected, by representatives elected by all affected, or appointed by someone who is elected, or appointed by someone who is appointed by someone who is elected, etc.

  5. 5.

    This of course does not imply that all definitions and criteria of knowledge are equally valid.

  6. 6.

    The research project “Why not Epistocracy? Political Legitimacy and ‘the fact of expertise’“ (EPISTO 2012–2017) at ARENA – Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, will undertake empirical studies of epistocracy in a European Union context (see http://www.sv.uio.no/arena/personer/vit/cathho/project_description_CH.html), but also contribute to discussions on normative assessment of epistocracy, philosophically, and connected to studies of EU institutions and arrangements.

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Correspondence to Cathrine Holst .

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Holst, C. (2012). What is epistocracy?. In: Øyen, S.A., Lund-Olsen, T., Vaage, N.S. (eds) Sacred Science?. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen. https://doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-752-3_3

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