If You’re Ignorant, You Can’t Vote!

American Flag Campaign Banner for Stephen A. Douglas and Herschel V. Johnson by H. C. Howard (Woodcut with letterpress, printed in red, blue, and black; c1860) | Library of Congress

In this public radio broadcast, Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan makes the case for an “epistocracy”: the rule of the knowledgeable.

The problem with democracy, he says, is that “the average voter in the U.S. knows who the president is and pretty much nothing else. They [voters] can’t really identify who their congresspeople are; they don’t know much about ideology; they don’t really know much about the social sciences; they don’t know the basic facts that might be relevant to the election.”

So, given that most voters don’t know much about anything, should they still be allowed to vote?

Brennan argues that we need alternatives to straight up democratic voting—the idea that “we give everyone the right to vote regardless of their background knowledge.”

What are his alternatives? Government by simulated oracle, enfranchisement lotteries, and civics competence tests by which you can earn the right to vote by scoring high, are some of the proposals he floats.

Democracy.. Nope by Jocelyn Kinghorn Follow (2013) | flickr

Is Brennan just a provocateur? Has he turned into an anti-Trump hysteric? Or does he have a point?

Throughout the segment Brennan speaks candidly about the problem of uninformed voters and offers serious-sounding solutions, even though most of us would like to write him off as an elitist prick.

But at the end of the day, if he gets us to question our level of political knowledge or gives us a good jolt in raising it before we head to the polls, perhaps we’ll grudgingly grant his provocative thought experiment some utility.