Consider the following quotes:
I cannot doubt that our democracy will ultimately refuse consent to that liberty of propagating children which is now allowed to the undesirable classes, but the populace has yet to be taught the true state of these things. A democracy cannot endure unless it be composed of able citizens; therefore it must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock.
Francis Galton, Memories of My Life, p 311
On the practicability or desirability of political and industrial democracy… If the bulk of the people were to remain poor and uneducated, was it desirable, was it even safe, to entrust them with the weapon of trade unionism, and, through the ballot box, with making and controlling the government of Great Britain with its enormous wealth and its far-flung dominions?
Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship, p 173
No scientifically ordered state, it is obvious, could be democratic; it would be aristocratic: the most intelligent would be the rulers. But we have universal suffrage: the vote of the half-wit is as good as that of the one-and-a-half wit.
Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, Vol II, p 75
Under a democratic form of government no legislation much ahead of public opinion can be carried; and this is the chief danger arising when a democratic form of government is evolved in advance of the education of the democracy. In such circumstances the combination of an imperfectly informed electorate with a paid professional legislature is only too apt to conduce to the establishment of a vicious circle in which true social science is prostituted by the promulgation of so-called reforms which are a pandering to the present, rather than part of a definite system designed to further the real development and progress of the nation.
Arthur Tredgold, Eugenics Education Society, cited in GR Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain 1900-1914, p 68
Democracy was never intended for degenerates
Margaret Gunn, President, United Farm Women of Alberta, cited in R Cairney ‘Democracy was never intended for degenerates’: Alberta’s fliration with eugenics comes back to haunt it. Canadian Medical Association Journal 155 (1996)
Now, consider the following:
There are stupid, ignorant people in every country but their blameless stupidity mostly doesn’t matter because they are not asked to take historically momentous and irrevocable decisions of state… It is unfair to thrust on to unqualified simpletons the responsibility to take historic decisions of great complexity and sophistication.
Richard Dawkins, ‘David Cameron’s Reckless Folly’, Prospect, 6 July 2016
Most voters are ignorant of both basic political facts and the background social scientific theories needed to evaluate the facts. They process what little information they have in highly biased and irrational ways. They decided largely on whim. And, worse, we’re each stuck having to put up with the group’s decision. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who has the right and means to emigrate, you’re forced to accept your democracy’s poorly chosen decisions…
Perhaps a new system, epistocracy, could do… better. In an epistocracy, political power is to some degree apportioned according to knowledge. An epistocracy might retain the major institutions we see in republican democracy, such as parties, mass elections, constitutional review, and the like. But in an epistocracy, not everyone has equal basic political power. An epistocracy might grant some people additional voting power, or might restrict the right to vote only to those that could pass a very basic test of political knowledge.
Jason Brennan, ‘Brexit, Democracy, and Epistocracy’, Princeton University Press blog, 24 June 2016
Like all fundamentalisms, democratic extremism takes a noble idea, that everyone’s political views should count equally, too far. But if democracy is to endure, voters must inform themselves of the facts, avoid being swayed by prejudice and emotion, and to base judgements on evidence. The romantic invocation of popular sovereignty is no substitute for calm deliberation.
Garvan Walshe, ‘Will too much democracy bring the United Kingdom to an end?’ Conservative Home, 30 June 2016
Elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself…. It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.
Andrew Sullivan, ‘Democracies end when they are too democratic’, New York Magazine, May 2016
‘Direct democracy is the last Leftist myth’, Zizek tells me… He says referendums are impractical for resolving transnational challenges, and would prefer ‘the appearance of a free decision, discretely guided’ by a discerning elite.
Slavoj Zizek interviewed by Benjamin Ramm, Open Democracy, 1 July 2016
The first set of quotes came from intellectuals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at the moment when democracies were becoming realities in the West. They express the fears of the elite at the idea of the masses having a say in governance. All subscribed to eugenics as a way of improving society, and many saw themselves as progressives and on the left.
The second set of quotes come from this year, in response in particular to the Brexit vote in Britain and to the rise of Donald Trump in America. The echoes of the old fears are unmistakable. Even the language often echoes that of the past – Richard Dawkins’ blast against ‘unqualified simpletons’ brings to mind, with a shudder, the old talk of the ‘feebleminded’ ‘morons’ and ‘imbeciles’. I am not suggesting that Dawkins or anyone else in the second list is a eugenicist, or gives any credence to eugenic views about genetic betterment or racial improvement. Such ideas have now been relegated very much to the darkest of margins. But eugenics also reflected a fear and contempt of the masses, and a desire for a more aristocratic society, where aristocracy was defined, in Aldous Huxley’s words as ‘the aristocracy of the mind’. It is these themes that are coming much more into mainstream discourse – the idea that the masses cannot be trusted with important decisions, that they take decisions on impulse or prejudice rather than reason, that they do not know what is best for them, that the elite is necessary to keep the regressive ideas of the masses in check, that the problem of democracy is that there is too much democracy. This is not a left vs right debate – today, as a century ago, the anti-democratic impulse comes from both left and right, from both reactionaries and self-defined progressives.
I will write more fully on this soon. There may even be a book in there somewhere…
The image is Anthony Gormley’s ‘Fields’
Interesting and very disturbing. Look forward to more.
I can’t wait for more on this. I’ve been banging on about it for the last three weeks and I could do with lacing my conversations with more credibility. 🙂
I am taken by Brennan’s statement, “Most voters are ignorant of both basic political facts and the background social scientific theories needed to evaluate the facts. They process what little information they have in highly biased and irrational ways. They decided largely on whim.”
Most voters? Brennan sees himself as completely abreast of both political facts and social scientific theories. He evaluates all the facts and is never influenced by his biases. In fact he probably has no biases, as he always evaluates information in rational ways. He never decides on whim. After all, he’s a professor! At Georgetown University!
Do I even need to point out that the incipient philosopher-king that Brennan imagines is wholly impossible? Can anyone ever be abreast of relevant fact and theory? Or not filter their opinions through preconceived notions? If such a person is even partially ignorant on a subject and yet has to make a decision about it, doesn’t whim enter into it?
Does Brennan explicitly makes these claims for himself? He could be making this claim for a group that excludes him. Or he could be telling us, “Modesty forbids me from saying whether I am a member of the group of superior people who should lead the epistocracy.”
This blunt self-worship plays into the hands of his enemies. He is pushing people towards Trump and justifying the fears of Leavers. His only hope is that political ignorance will once again prevail and no one will actually read what he said.
Love Gormley’s photo, by the way.
You’re strawmanning Brennan, Yandoodan. Here’s a link where he addresses your concerns.
I read the post. To paraphrase, ‘Just as a plumber’s knowledge of plumbing makes him a better plumbing decision maker, my political knowledge makes me a better political decision maker. It doesn’t make me intrinsically superior. It’s just another type of knowledge.”
But politics is about ruling over other people, using your power to control them. Shoot them, tax them, keep them from putting junked cars in their front yards or selling tainted milk — whatever. It’s all control. “Political knowledge” is knowledge about how and why to control other people. It’s knowledge about how and when to substitute your judgement for theirs.
Prof. Brennan’s modesty is disingenuous. A license to rule is not equivalent to a license to fix leaks.
I’m not sure I see the force of your objection. Surely some policies will be more conducive to the welfare of a country than others. And political scientists, economists, and others with expertise will be more likely to know what those policies are than lay folk. Brennan is one of those people with expertise.
Political knowledge might be about how and why to control people, but I don’t see why that makes it disanalogous to plumbing.
i was limiting myself to Brennan’s claim that his claim that being an expert in ruling people (political knowledge) is no claim to being generally superior, any more than plumbers’ specialized knowledge makes them generally superior.
Here Brennan is making a claim that his specialized expertise is so extensive, his judgement so excellent (see his comments on “biased”, “irrational”, “whim”), that this qualifies him to rule other people. He is claiming to be more qualified than they to make decisions about them, not just their pipes. He is qualified to control them. And he is claiming to be superior to them in every sphere in which government compels them to act against their will. Which is everything.
So claiming a license to rule really is claiming general superiority over the ruled. But what of his right to rule? It is simply unethical to compel someone on the grounds that you know more about what’s good for them. Such power can be justified only when its targets retain the ability to challenge it, exercising their own judgement however flawed (by your expert standards). The claim that they don’t know what’s good for them and you do is irrelevant. Expert knowledge fails to justify your interfering in their lives, even if your claim is true and you are not just being an arrogant putz.
It’s worth noting that Brennan is a libertarian. He thinks there should be much less government than there currently is. In other words, he thinks he DOESN’t have superior judgment to lay folk in many, if not most, domains of life. But there are some domains where government is appropriate. And in those domains, some people are better at ruling than others because they are less biased or more informed.
I’m not sure if you read the post he linked on civic virtue, but he argues that people can promote the common good not only through politics but through private enterprises as well. In other words, Brennan’s education in economics is one of many avenues by which a person might improve society. Another avenue might be plumbing, or performing music, etc.
Right now, everyone claims to have the right to rule over others. That’s democracy. I think Brennan would say that educated, rational people have a better claim than uninformed, irrational people. Would you disagree with that?
“I think Brennan would say that educated, rational people have a better claim than uninformed, irrational people. Would you disagree with that?”
Absolutely! Any day of the week and twice on Sunday. “The main source of our ignorance lies in the fact that our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite,” as Popper put it. An expert’s “knowledge” is just a drop in an ocean. Someone who claims that this tiny amount of knowledge is vast enough to let him control others is deluded. Bear in mind that nothing is ever undisputed in academia. A great number of similarly qualified experts will always claim he’s wrong. And the whole lot of them filter their “facts” through bias and whim.
My most important point: You and I both base our beliefs on experts. But we choose different experts. Experts always disagree — and neither of us, as laymen, have any ability to choose the experts we want to believe. That would require a meta-expert, but then we’d have to choose which meta-expert. So which expert gets to rule us? Who gets to choose the Philosopher Committee (our modern substitute for the Philosopher King)?
Brennan thinks he deserves to be a member.
I think two important points need to be disentangled. On the one hand, it may be difficult to decide who counts as an expert. On the other hand, that fact has no bearing on whether or not there actually are any experts, people who would more reliably choose good policies. I think most people would agree that experts exist, even in the realm of public policy. And I think deciding which people are experts is not an impossible task.
Once we admit this, we can try to find attributes that would make a person better able to evaluate policies. Brennan proposes a few: He has a Ph.D. at a top ranked political philosophy program. He is a professor specializing in, among other things, public policy. And he has published numerous peer reviewed articles on public policy. Compare that to someone who has none of those attributes. It would be foolish to say that Brennan doesn’t have SOME sort of expertise. He probably doesn’t have enough expertise to run an entire country by himself. But he has more than the lay person. That, to me, sounds like a modest claim.
Nathan, I only have a minute or so, so I can’t reply to all of your arguments. Have you read the work of Philip Tetlock? If you haven’t, Tetlock is a world-renowned political scientist who’s known for, among other things, uncovering the limits of “expert” judgment and knowledge. He shows that the average expert judgement/prediction is only slightly better than random guessing. As I said, I’m in a mad rush, so I don’t have time to explain the full significance/ingenuity of his work. To give you a sense of what he argues, here are a few quotes:
From the New Yorker magazine: “Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote.”
From Forbes magazine: “In the largest and best-known test of the accuracy of expert predictions, a study reported in Philip Tetlock’s book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, the average expert was found to be only slight more accurate than a dart-throwing chimpanzee. Many experts would have done better if they had made random guesses.”
Trusting experts won’t lead to better/more desirable political outcomes. Tetlock argues that the difference between accurate and inaccurate forecasting/judgement is not “depth of knowledge” but rather “style of thinking.” In other words, we need to make all citizens, including experts, aware of the biases and heuristics that people tend to lean on in circumstances of uncertainty and risk that can undermine processes of judgment.
Alan, I am familiar with Tetlock’s work. I think he’s a great researcher, but the conclusion that experts are no better at prediction than laymen is unwarranted. For a critical review of his book, see Bryan Caplan’s “Have the experts been weighed, measured, and found wanting?” The gist of the criticism is that the questions asked of experts suffered from selection bias. He deliberately asked relatively difficult and controversial questions. The “laymen” Tetlock compared the experts to were college undergraduates, not the average citizen. And questions were framed in a way that made random guessing a not too terrible strategy.
Since you’ve recommended a book, I’d like to recommend one too. Bryan Caplan’s “The Myth of the Rational Voter.” Here’s a quote:
From The New Yorker: “Even apart from ignorance of the basic facts, most people simply do not think politically. They cannot see, for example, that the opinion that taxes should be lower is incompatible with the opinion that there should be more government programs. Their grasp of terms such as “affirmative action” and “welfare” is perilously uncertain: if you ask people whether they favor spending more on welfare, most say no; if you ask whether they favor spending more on assistance to the poor, most say yes. And, over time, individuals give different answers to the same questions about their political opinions. People simply do not spend much time learning about political issues or thinking through their own positions. They may have opinions—if asked whether they are in favor of capital punishment or free-trade agreements, most people will give an answer—but the opinions are not based on information or derived from a coherent political philosophy. They are largely attitudinal and ad hoc.”
I remain convinced that expert judgments are better than this. If you have more time, Alan, I’d be interested in your response.
I am sure that readers will catch the echoes of Plato’s Republic.
All of us make poorly informed choices all the time on the basis of whim and temperament. That is inevitable. However,I found two things shocking about the Brexit debate. The more obvious was the utter mendacity of the Leave campaign, coupled with the BBC’s mysterious obsequiousness towards Farage in the months leading up to it. The more disturbing was the nature of the debate on immigration. This was carried out at gutter level by the press and UKIP, while not discussed at all at the polite level. Thus there was no one to discuss the plight of those who see their wages forced down, and blame this on cheap immigrant competition, or to correct the common erroneous beliefs that immigrants make large amounts on the welfare budget, or that there is or can be such a thing as welfare tourism, or that it is possible to limit immigration from the EU while retaining trading relations with it.
The problem is not that people made stupid choices given the information available to them. The problem is that people made their choices, as they must since life is short, on the basis of what they heard, and that what most people hear is tightly controlled.
One malicious aside. Connoisseurs of one of the present day public intellectuals that you cite may recognise his habit of denouncing those who disagree with him as either stupid or ill informed. If only it was all that simple.
Loved your comment. (Loved the article too.)
1. You are completely correct about Plato. An argument that experts should rule is an argument for a Philosopher King, or at least a Philosopher Committee. And you show that the technocratic claim is very, very old.
2. As an American any opinions I have on Brexit would be poorly informed. I have ’em anyway. I’d have been a Leaver just to shed a layer of useless technocratic parasites. Renegotiating trade treaties isn’t that big of a deal. Honestly, there shouldn’t be any trade treaties. They are a remnant of mercantilism.
3. The immigration debate is disturbing in both of our countries, but you should expect people to be emotional about things that affect them directly. That said, your first point is not about a lie, but about a difference in expert opinion. People you accept as expert assure you that the laws of supply and demand do not apply to immigrant labor. My experts say otherwise. But how do you and I determine which experts to accept? Bias and whim, that’s how. Experts always disagree; we pick the ones that please us. And we filter their conclusions the way we want.
4. As you point out, ignorance, whim and bias are absolutely inevitable even among experts. Life is too short, and we all have our filters.
5. Your last point is applicable to a number of public intellectuals. Krugman is notorious for it. It is a tactic for avoiding falsification — and a tell (as gamblers’ say) for doubts held so deeply that they fear to confront them.
I agree with you that cheap immigrant labour tends to push down wages. That is not what I meant when I referred to mendacity. The Leave campaign bus was blazoned with a poster suggesting that the money the UK sends the Brussels should be spent on our National Health Service instead. The people responsible for this new very well that half the sum they quoted comes back to us, and that the fees we would (will) have to pay as outsiders would (will) more than balance the rest. They also pretended that the UK would be able to negotiate trading terms that would open European markets, without accepting free movement of labour. As the example of Norway shows, this is not the case. Finally, Michael Gove, one of Leave’s leading spokesmen, said that in the event of Brexit it might be possible for Scotland to remain more closely attached to the EU than the rest of the UK. That is sheer constitutional fantasy. The only way that Scotland can have a different relationship to Europe than the rest of the UK is by becoming independent, as may well now happen.
Eu contributions > nhs .. for me highlighted the opportunity costs of migration led growth.
Access to single market and immigration restrictions … for me every treaty provision can be renegotiated through the eu principle of differential integration.
UK > Scotland … EEA membership with differential integration per each nation. Scotland and NI would need to set up their own or joint national insurance and tax systems.
Where there is a will there is a way.
“The problem is that people made their choices, as they must since life is short, on the basis of what they heard, and that what most people hear is tightly controlled”
I have to disagree with this sentence, surely the exact opposite is the case, although there were generally some airing of views from both sides of the debate this has to placed in the truer context.
Almost the entire establishment, political, economic,academic,cultural and international bodies of the same came firmly down to remain, along with all the threats relating to the above of moving on from the status quo.
In spite of all this the public voted otherwise, dismissing once and for all the myth that the public are puppets of the controlling media etc, they did not control us or our thoughts though they now wish to deny our democratic demand.
Here we have one of the serious paradoxes of a liberal democracy, namely that it ignores the realities of power. Anyone who takes the trouble to read The Guardian or The Independent or the Economist will have been well-informed about the arguments, openly and freely expressed. However, the bulk of the British mass circulation press presented in a completely distorted picture, confusing immigration from Europe and from the Middle East, focusing on no other issue, and pretending that we could stay in the European Free Trade Area while restricting EU immigration.
The power of the Murdoch press is not coercive power, but it is power nonetheless, and power that distorts the democratic process. I consider the issue of power, here as in other matters, a fundamental problem of democracy in a highly unequal society, to which I do not see a solution.
Your first paragraph displays all the sentiments that Kenan highlights over different epochs in differing forms. That’s dissapointing. To help you overcome what you call a paradox of liberal democracy and the issue of power, it’s quite staightforward ,the power, the sovereignty, is uncontested, it belongs to the demos , it is not a fundamental problem at all, how we choose to fine tune this as more representative, the inner workings if you like is up for debate and discussion, what is not is the sovereign power now and in the future, where else would you wish it to reside.
Thank you for your kind help. But do you really believe that since we have a democracy with sovereignty residing in (in the case of the UK) Parliament, what you want has as much influence on decision making as what Rupert Murdoch wants?
The situation that is playing out in the U.K. at the moment is indicating – and the public are starting to see this been revealed – that as you point out the demos appear to have little influence on decision making at the moment.
What is been raised now is the very question of where sovereignty should emanate from.
The first step has obviously been on a huge turnout the public voting to dismiss the sovereignty of the E.U. over the parliament of the U.K.
What is now occurring is that the establishment in the U.K. including almost all the elected M.P.’s et al are delaying and preparing the groundwork to either water down or refuse to implement the demand of the public.
So the second step begins where people are rightly beginning to ask where the power or sovereignty really does lie, what is the point of the voting if the result is disregarded as the elected representatives decide.
In other words the question of what really is democracy and where does the sovereign power reside is now becoming a central question in politics, it is to be hoped that what will be revealed eventually is that the real influence, the democratic sovereignty does not belong to any elite but to the public.
I wonder if it might be that the part they all get right is that democracy as we have envisioned it does require more of citizenship than most of us can muster, but that they may well be wrong that there is an identifiable elite that is especially suited to be citizens of a democracy. Is it too radical an idea that we have come to set the baseline too low for citizenship in democracy, that we might need to find ways to raise the standards for everyone, and collectively take responsibility for helping people meet those standards rather than predicting who we think can meet them and giving up on the others? Something vaguely like the “no child left behind” idea in the US, but instead of useless standardized testing and only weakly relevant aptitude assessments based on cognitive abilities, we focus on making sure everyone can think well.
Your post relates to the future, more what democracy ought to mean and a more detailed debate about the form that ought to take.
But first let’s be clear, at the moment we have just had a momentous decision by the largest turnout of the public for many years, this was taken in the full knowledge by all sides pre voting what the decision would mean, this is now been delayed and potentially refused by many means by the elite and it’s supporters, simply put they are acting as enemies of a democratic decision.
As to the future which you allude to, yes it will be necessary to strengthen democracy, to defend it,to refine how we wish it to be representative, and in my view to establish the sovereign will of the people as dominant.
The strongest defence of democracy will be the active participation of citizens in all areas of social life by the largest number of people as possible, and frankly yes this will mean raising all of our standards in all matters with a freedom to match.
In the meantime it is vital that we establish the primacy of the sovereign will of the people, it is not negotiable.
Yes, please write more on this. A book, at least. Also, off topic, please consider publishing an anthology of the works you select to illustrate your posts. Really appreciate your calm attempts to drag us back from political and moral crevasses with such trenchant images.
This parallel is really striking. I was shocked by Sulilvan’s article, He didn’t seem to be aware of his predecessors. There is perhaps a similarity of context in the 19th landscape and today: In both moments there is an overwhelming technological change which puts in question the traditional elites. In the 19th century it was industrialization, today it’s digitalization. Such changes remove legitimacy from traditional elites who react with discourses like the ones you quote, but they are also very dangerous for the more popular classes who loose their work and their traditional social environment. To put those “elites” in charge of solving the crises means to declare one of the symptoms as therapy. There is only one way out of the crisis: Democratic debate on all levels, also on a more than national level. Excuse my English. I am looking forward to reading your article!
John Carey’s excellent book The intellectuals and the masses documents/eviscerates this mode of thinking.
I’m disappointed by the Dawkins comment especially (although I haven’t read the quote in context) as surely he’s aware of parallel lines of thinking in rejected “social evolutionary” theories.
Still, I was cursing the lumpen electorate myself after the brexit vote…
So all of the people who have been marginalised in the recent past should just shut up and put up with it then? I don’t think so.
Transference of sovereign power –
from monarch to parliament to the people
from elites to the people
from centralised to decentralised
national to community
Democracy is a process and an aspiration.
Elites need to be able to feel that they can trust that the people are capable and willing to look after everybody.
Movement along the above continuums reflects a willingness by the people to take responsibility (big society, community/social enterprises, localism act) versus a willingness by elites to let go of control – within an overarching evolving framework of rights (liberalism) and responsibilities (communitarianism).
Democracy (majority rule) versus consensus decision-making versus sociocracy.
Such [eugenic] ideas have now been relegated very much to the darkest of margins.
Except in places like China and Israel.
It is these themes that are coming much more into mainstream discourse – the idea that the masses cannot be trusted with important decisions, that they take decisions on impulse or prejudice rather than reason, that they do not know what is best for them, that the elite is necessary to keep the regressive ideas of the masses in check […]
But surely this is true? If the masses had had their way, there would have been no mass immigration from the Third World. And think what that would have meant for free speech, decadent secularists in Nice, gay rights in Tower Hamlets and chav girls in Rotherham, inter alia.
Fortunately, the elite were able to push Third-World immigration against the will of the degenerate masses. Unfortunately, the degenerate masses have prevented mass immigration from creating the libertarian paradise that it should have.
Chronicles of Love and Resentment #517
The Administrative State and the Victimocracy – Eric Gans
The Unasked Questions – Butler Shaffer
It’s an old problem. What problems are a matter for technology and science and what is a matter of opinion. If the goal is to save a patient’s life who has a brain tumor and wants to live, then surely it’s better to have a qualified brain surgeon decide how precisely to perform potentially life-saving surgery than the patient, his or her friend, or to have the hospital staff vote. If the problem is WHETHER to save the patient’s life, then it’s a different kind of decision. Of course, even medicine is a combination of art and science, and brain surgeons lose patients. But the problem of separating values and skills is not so simple.
And a separate problem is conflicting values. so, as we currently see industrial age transportation and digital communications have resulted in an ever greater confrontation of the modern and medieval, managing competing values — not tastes, but beliefs.
Each day I have more questions and fewer answers.
Salvador Giner’s history of anti-democratic thought, Mass Society, was published in 1976. One of his most interesting insights was that the fear and loathing of the masses had been the preserve of conservative cultural pessimists at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century but he noted that by the end of the Second World War there was a certain convergence between conservative and so-called progressive thinkers, particularly in the Frankfurt School and the New Left. He gives some plausible explanations to why this may have been the case. A book to analyse the more recent trend of anti-democratic thought would fill a gap.
I posted this in a similar discussion at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/brexit-and-the-british-political-tradition/#comments
Im not intentionally coming across as an establishment apologist but the incorporation of deliberative or participatory democracy is abit more complicated in my view, although I wish it wasnt. Parliamentary sovereignty on a continuim with popular sovereignty has been recently highlight by Kenan Malik in his recent piece (1) on the anti-drmocratic nature of elitist rule with a comment recommending Mass Society (2) to explain the anti-democratic nature of traditional conservative elites at the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. Kenan recognises a similar trend 100 years later.
However I argue that history has a much larger part to play than is usually acknowledged from the point of view that our econony, international trading relations and even international diplomacy has been built on a history that is premised on ‘elites’ building the foundation of this social and economic infrastructure. Take for example corporation law which was developed to ensure fair play between aspiring and upwardly mobile traditional and modernist elites.
What Im saying is that parliament and the government in situ is effectively elected to run and manage a historically built system; a system that was built by elites to ensure the smooth running of their economic operations.
This history obviously dates back to the mercantilist period when the object of law was largely marine based which then evolved to more land based economic operations with the advent of the industrial revolution and capitalism.
In this context the adage of ‘no privilaged class surrenders its privilages without struggle’ is a truism but only in the context of whether the privilaged class realistically conceives if the economic society and the governance that they have historically built can safely be left in the hands of popular will.
The antagonistic dynamic that therefore arises is the privilaged class or the traditional establishment trying to absorb mass society into their domain (in order to feel confident that all their historical works will not be undone or disrupted) and the political activist elements of mass society trying to absorb the traditional establishment into their domain.
This dichotomy obviously has no easy binary solutions other than a management approach that enables civil/civic society to take more managerial control over public services and the private corporate sector having more managerial control over the private sector with double feedbacks between the two.
In theory this approach is already happening to a degree with the Sustainable Communities Act, the Localism Act, social and community enterprises and regional devolution.
However what worries me is the inherent unsustainability of the corporate sector that requires at least 3% growth in order to provide a competitive rate of shareholder dividends. This not only induces the corporate sector to capture lucrative public services with housing already captured to a significant degree but also energy services and health services to varying degrees.
This is as far as I have got for now but Im hoping this dialogue will continue.
I am not sure what the real point of the post is, it appears you do not wish to be regarded as an apologist but then go on to list many possibilities that indicate that exactly . If you could preface your post by something along the lines of – The demos have voted, the democratic mandate must be adhered to as was accepted by both sides prior to the referendum- then the rest of your post regarding what does democracy really mean, how can it be defended, how can it operate in a universally accepted manner in contemporary society etc could begin to be addressed.
What I am alluding to is that the British state since its formation in the 16th century was and is a vehicle to promote and protect big business interests and the anti-democratic sentiment that surfaces from time to time corresponds with the attitude that the state (or the establishment) should be protected from public interference due to the state’s inherently sophisticated and technocratic workings. Basically this anti-demoratic sentiment takes the view that the public are far too stupid to be able to ever understand technocratic governance.
The state or the establishment which not only includes big business but now also includes acedemia, science, health and transport is technocratically managed and the establishment – of which all these components of society form a part – is only willing to give the populace certain democratic rights, such as, the choice of which political party will technocratically manage these components through free elections.
So what I am arguing is that it is inconceivable that the populace will be given a level of democratic rights which will enable them to dictate how the historically constructed establishment is run. Mostly because the establishment feels that the populace is ill-equipped to run ‘their’ establishment and in turn does not want to see tbe demise of their historically constructed endeavours. In this respect, the establishment is an elitist club which you either are part of or you are not.
EU membership effectively reinforced this elitist technocratic perspective in that european establishments are able to promote and protect their interests via the eu treaties without democratic interference since essentially the eu treaties are undemocratic policies in the sense that these policies are not chosen by the populace through free elections.
However what comes along but the eu referendum which if results in an exit outcome will require the establishment to re-adapt to free elections and popular will.
For the more intense establishment figures like Dawkins, Brexit provides the opportunity for the populace to be given back some democratic leverage over how the establishment runs its stately affairs which for him is akin to giving a spanner to a monkey which then works on his car since he considers the populace far too stupid to understand the technocratic workings of the economy, big business, acedemia, the health service, the transportation system and science institutions and therefore the populace should not be given any democratic rights that enables them to interfere with these highly technical processes. As such, he considers that sole responsibilty should be left with the highly technocratic establishment whether in the form of the eu or the uk state in order that the establishment can run smoothly and do its job of promoting and protecting establishment interests.
Now whether the populace has the skills and aptitude to run the establishment or whether it even wishes to is another matter of debate. What I am saying is that establishment were to it would only be confident in doing so if it believed that it could incorporate the populace into its club. Also what I am saying, is that if the populace did have the skills and aptitude then I would argue that the populace would want to run society differently and as such absorb the establishment into its club. However I might be wrong and elements of the populace may well trun elitist themselves and begin to voice their own anti-democratic sentiments.
Either way, the populace have and are been given the opportunity to take responsibility via the Sustainable Communities Act and the Localism Act albeit to a limited degree. So maybe this anti-democratic sentiment is changing. Maybe we as a species are evolving but obviously not in a way Richard Dawkins was envisaging.
*What I am saying is that if the establishment were to, it would only be ……