Why rule by the people is better than rule by the experts

Many social scientists today do not share the belief that democracy is better than epistocracy. On the contrary. In recent years, numerous political theorists and philosophers have argued that experts ought to be in charge of public policy and should manipulate, or contain, the policy preferences of the ignorant masses. This view has its roots Plato’s Republic, where philosophers who see the sun of truth should govern the masses who dwell in a cave of ignorance, and in Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922), where expert social scientists rule behind the scenes and control the population with propaganda. While there are differences between the views of Christopher H Achen and Larry Bartels in Democracy for Realists(2016), Jason Brennan in Against Democracy (2017) and Tom Nichols in The Death of Expertise (2017), these social scientists share in common an elitist antipathy towards participatory democratic politics.

In Democracy for Realists, for instance, the authors criticise what they call the ‘folk theory’ of democracy. This maintains that elected representatives should translate their constituents’ preferences into public policy. The problem, according to these political scientists, is that most voters lack the time, energy or ability to immerse themselves in the technicalities of public policy. Instead, people tend to vote based on group identification, or an impulse to align with one political faction rather than another.

Read the full article in Aeon

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