Wednesday , October 18 2017
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NDPR Discussion of Against Democracy

Summary:
Democracy, Book/Article Reviews The Pea Soup blog is hosting a discussion of Thomas Christiano’s review of Against Democracy here. Some comments on the discussion: It’s clear Christiano and I have different views of some of the political science literature. Like Achen and Bartels or Somin, I don’t think the shortcuts literature does much to vindicate democratic voting–I think it shows democracy “works” only by positing very low standards for “working” or by extrapolating from contentious examples. Christiano disagrees. Christiano and I both agree, though, that democracy overall has been the best form of government we’ve had so far. It looks like we both also agree that democracy performs better

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Democracy, Book/Article Reviews

The Pea Soup blog is hosting a discussion of Thomas Christiano’s review of Against Democracy here.

Some comments on the discussion:

  1. It’s clear Christiano and I have different views of some of the political science literature. Like Achen and Bartels or Somin, I don’t think the shortcuts literature does much to vindicate democratic voting–I think it shows democracy “works” only by positing very low standards for “working” or by extrapolating from contentious examples. Christiano disagrees.
  2. Christiano and I both agree, though, that democracy overall has been the best form of government we’ve had so far. It looks like we both also agree that democracy performs better than we’d expect if the crudest form of the median voter theorem were true. But we disagree about why democracy over-performs in that sense.
  3. I’m still puzzled about what Christiano means about me having a simplistic “micro-theory”. Before writing Against Democracy, I read all the major political science works on democratic functioning and on how voter preferences/behavior translates into policy. There is significant disagreement about just how much voters matter and in just what ways, but there is not much disagreement over the claim that how voters vote does have a significant impact. In particular, the literature supports the view that democratic ignorance/misinformation/irrationality is dangerous and leads to worse quality government. If I waved a magic wand which made the majority of voters advocate even worse policies, that would lead to worse government; if I waved a different magic wand which made the majority advocate much better policies, that would lead to better government.
  4. In Against Democracy, I critique the non-instrumentalist/proceduralist arguments for democracy. I argue that democracy is not intrinsically just, and the only reason to accept it is if it functions/works better (according to the correct procedure-independent standards, whatever they are) than other forms of government. Christiano disagrees, but he doesn’t seem to criticize this part of the book in his review. But suppose, as I argue, that democracy is not intrinsically just, but also suppose that Christiano is right that voter ignorance/misinformation/irrationality is not that harmful. If so, we should still feel free to pick epistocracy (or futurarchy or whatnot) over democracy, if those other forms of government turn out to function even better.
Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

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