If You’re Ignorant, You Can’t Vote!

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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “If You’re Ignorant, You Can’t Vote!

  1. Good piece. The Founders wanted to create a republic and distrusted direct democracy. Madison’s model of democracy was to do everything possible to keep raw power out of the hands of the masses and to check and balance the elites. Perhaps the unintended consequences of reform (primaries), modernity and social media have empowered people who — dare I say it — would be better off staying home with a six-pack and watching TV?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Creating a higher level of knowledgeable involvement is a tool but does not fix the problem. In the past there was a land ownership test to vote. Perhaps mandatory military service would create better voters. How do we get better voters without disenfranchising those protected under the constitution. A starting point would be making sure teachers know how the government functions so they can pass that along to the students. Civics Taught as well. Perhaps the best answer is the information that is presented prior to every election. If statements had to be vetted for accuracy and complete actual statements presented in the original context were only allowed, at the very least, those that vote are given the knowledge to do so. Social and regular media needs to be held accountable. Whatever happened to the FCC licensing in the best interest of the viewer?

    Liked by 2 people

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