Epistocratic arrangements are widely rejected because there will be reasonable disagreement about which citizens count as epistemically superior and an epistemically superior subset of citizens may be biased in ways that undermine their ability to generate superior political outcomes. The upshot is supposed to be that systems of democratic government are preferable because they, unlike epistocratic forms of government, refuse to allow some citizens to rule over others. We argue that this approach is doubly unsatisfactory: while representative democracy cannot be defended as a form of government that prevents some citizens from ruling over others, it can be defended as a special form of epistocracy. Indeed, we demonstrate that well-designed representative democracies can, through treatment and selection mechanisms, bring forth an especially competent set of individuals to make public policy, even while circumventing the standard objections to epistocratic rule. This has implications for the justification of representative democracy, as well as important questions of institutional design.
Ryan Pevnick and Dimitri Landa
Ryan Pevnick is an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Politics and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia (2008). His work, which addresses a broad range of issues in contemporary political theory, has appeared in a number of prominent political science and philosophy venues, including The Journal of Political Philosophy (for which he now serves on the editorial board) and Philosophy & Public Affairs. His current project, from which this paper is drawn, seeks to provide a novel justification of representative democracy and then to use this justification to shed light on a number of applied controversies in the democratic theory literature (including ones related to campaign finance reform and human rights).