Jason Brennan (2016) argues against democracy in significant part by relying on many empirical studies demonstrating that the public largely is politically ignorant and has various cognitive biases that make a rule by the people unreliable. For example, most voters don’t know the platforms of the two major candidates, carry a host of false social/political facts, aren’t swayed by public deliberation, and are deficient in instrumental rationality. Instead, Brennan posits an epistocracy, which is rule of the knowledgeable. This view has roots in Mill. Voting power is distributed according to competence, where for example, those who have greater epistemic virtues can have votes that carry greater weight. An epistocracy may also be set up such that only the knowledgeable can vote. An epistocracy can better address the political psychology findings as compared to a democracy.
As the data shows that socially advantaged groups in the U.S., such as wealthy male republican Caucasians, generally have more political knowledge than many minority groups like women and African-Americans, Brennan anticipates the Demographic Objection (DO). DO states that for an epistocracy, advantaged groups will have more voting power over others. Thus, we will have unfair policies favoring the advantaged. Brennan responds by writing that experiments show that minority groups are unlikely to know how to promote their own interests and that advantaged groups mostly vote for their perceived national good, which will be to the benefit of minorities. It’s better for minorities if we restrict voting power largely to, for example, rich white republican males.
The problem with Brennan’s epistocracy is that the perceived national good from most of the advantaged group – viz., rich white republican males – can harm relevant minority groups. It looks like most republican voters’ perceived national good is to keep Trump in office despite discriminatory rhetoric and policies. For example, Gallup shows that a nearly unanimous majority (91%, Sept 3-15) of Republicans approve of Trump. This isn’t beneficial to relevant minorities but can lead to a tyranny of the “knowledgeable.”
Also, the studies showing that minorities largely have deficiencies in knowledge of politics and in promoting their own self-interests fail to measure for deficiencies regarding knowing when their own respective group is being discriminated against. This is a key omission from such studies as discrimination can be an issue that carries overriding importance for minority groups. Contrarily, there is data suggesting that minorities groups are aware when they are facing discrimination and know how to vote against it. For example, a Fox News poll shows that 83% of African-Americans disapprove of Trump on race relations. Hence, I conclude that Brennan is unable to account for DO, and his epistocracy does worse than a democracy in light of DO. Minorities should be allowed to vote and have their vote carry substantial weight.
Brennan then may claim that an epistocracy can adjust to take into account knowledge of discrimination. However, even so, the many other aspects of political knowledge, such as economics, political science, U.S. history, and sociology, will favor wealthy Caucasians which will give them a more powerful vote. Given their superior overall knowledge, they likely should be able to drown out the minorities. If not, then it’s questionable whether Brennan’s view is a true epistocracy or rule of the knowledgeable. The DO objection remains.
While Brennan’s discussed studies against democracy are formidable, I advocate a specified version of a meritocracy, or rule by the merited, as it can better handle the worries stemming from the empirical data than a democracy. Moreover, unlike an epistocracy, it can better account for DO. Meritocracy has its roots in Confucius and Plato. It stands opposed to the unadulterated rule by the largely ignorant masses that should be feared with a democracy.
With a meritocracy, in order to run for office at the national level, political candidates must 1) take relevant classes, such as economics, informal logic, political science, history, environmental science, and political philosophy, with high marks, 2) pass non-ideological tests, and 3) have experience leading in local government while scoring high on various indices such as on decreasing crime, helping underprivileged groups, and maintaining a healthy economy.
Medical doctors must take relevant classes, such as biology, physics, and chemistry, as an undergraduate student, pass tests on these courses with an extremely high GPA, attend medical school, and must take medical entrance and board exams. They also must take periodic tests as a medical doctor to make sure that one is current on medical advancements. They must be in residency to gain experience. By analogy, politicians, with the fate of many more lives on their hands, must also acquire an education and experience in political leadership and must demonstrate their virtue and merit. If we have such requirements for a medical doctor, then how much the more we should have such requirements for those future politicians who will make decisions on a nation’s healthcare, economy, education, warfare, environment, laws, etc. There is good reason for having requirements to be a doctor given the gravity of the job and the technical skill required. All the reason more to have stringent criteria for being a political leader given the gravity of the job and the more diverse technical knowledge required to perform the job well.
Those many candidates who jump through these hoops then must be elected from a democratic vote. Of course, public fully funded universities is a prerequisite for my system so that all may have an opportunity to run for office in terms of acquiring the requisite education. A meritocracy diverges from an epistocracy in that everyone has an equal vote. A meritocracy focuses immediately on the virtues of officials rather than voters.
I contend that this meritocracy does better than a democracy in that, although not foolproof, it is more likely to have virtuous officials than a democracy alone in light of the political psychology data. It also is able to address DO better than an epistocracy in that everyone carries an equal vote. Moreover, officials will have taken classes in ethics and must demonstrate prior successful experience working with minorities. Hence, my meritocracy appears better than an epistocracy and democracy. Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms…” However, this is false as my meritocracy can at least make it more likely that our leaders have merit.