“Against Democracy” A Review -Alexander Cullen

Political scientist, American Philosopher, and associate professor at George Town University, Jason Brennan recently released his newest work: Against Democracy. Maybe it’s only coincidence the release of the book coincided with the turmoil of the election of 2016(and the election of President Trump), but the book is a 245 page analysis of the effectiveness, morality, and justice of democracy. Ultimately his argumentation cumulates in the conclusion that democracy is fundamentally unjust, inept, and should be replaced with a system which would select voters who would allow for competent public officials to be elected.

Brennan offers epistocracy as a solution, which he briefly summarizes as, “rule of the knowledgeable.” To defend this, he presents a plethora of data and reasoning that as voter participation increases the prospects of a government which will competently govern decreases. These arguments vary widely from the fact that many voters have interests far beyond the realm of politics and likely make politically biased decisions; to the issue that many voters often believe they are casting ballots in the best interest for the nation at large, they simply don’t know what that is. To summarize, democratic theory rests upon the idea that society is better off with the path for the future having been decided by the citizens of that government rather than a king or dictator. However, it is much harder to claim that every citizen voting leads to better results.

The implementation of Brennan’s epistocracy might be accomplished in several manners, but the justification is the same: “turning them over [democratic control] to the right experts would lead to better political decisions, and more justice and prosperity.” This is not to say concerns don’t exist. The political war over who would qualify would likely be more intense than any modern-day gerrymandering. Furthermore, experts exist in large amounts for most any political philosophy. Currently the Supreme Court is split between Democrats and Republicans, but not a single member holds a J.D. from anything less than an Ivy League Law school. Both sides will produce experts to rationalize their beliefs. This may result in greater straying from competence as the voting base is constrained to various political philosophers, scientists, and economists whom are unlikely to depart from the political dichotomy we’re familiar with today. Either that or Marxist PhD’s and professors would make up a disproportionate amount of the new voter base, as would econometricians and right leaning culture conservatives and philosophers, producing a voter base that would likely be “out of touch” with the general citizen.

I’m not fully convinced by these objections; however, epistocracy implemented to an appropriate degree would likely be more successful than our own democracy. Brennan’s argument reveals something major then which, to large merit, he acknowledges. The solution he offers is the pragmatic one in the context of the fact that we currently have democracy, and likely will for the foreseeable future, so how can we make it better? One may favor anarchy, a return to the rule of monarchy, transition to the proletariat state, or any belief in between, but as we understand modern society these are ideal solutions, at best. Epistocracy exists as an alternative to a less perfect system. Brennan, in this sense, hardly establishes himself as against democracy as an ideal, but the form of democracy which is currently practiced.

But his work makes us realize an important feature of democracy: the flaws that have begun to set people against it. It’s the exercise of governing authority practiced by our neighbors against us that we fear. That our neighbor by the simple possession of vote could force us into action we personally find immoral. Weather that be a mandate to purchase healthcare, or a law making it a crime for misgendering an individual. society is too diverse with creeds and confessions which conflict. But this conflict is only enabled when one side is given the power to make choices for another through, yes of course, democracy. Whether it is the north-eastern progressive, or the western rugged republican, both would might find less reason to dislike one another in a society which didn’t allow them to exercise control over the life of the other. A society where we sided against democracy.



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