Democracy: Probably a Good Thing

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"Some people openly advocate elite rule. They are both evil and foolish."

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John Stuart Mill spoke eloquently of liberty, but when it came down to it, he believed that some people are "more or less unfit for liberty" even if they "prefer a free government," and are incapable and undeserving of one due to their "indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice." Mill said that in the case of those people, "a civilized government... will require to be in a considerable degree despotic [and impose] a great amount of forcible restraint upon their actions." Mill deemed some "unfit for more than a limited and qualified freedom," giving as an example "the Hindoos, [who] will perjure themselves to screen the man who has robbed them." Probably best not to give much credence to Mill, then, on the subject of when to withhold democracy.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"
The actual case Brennan advances [in Against Democracy] can be devastated rather quickly, since it suffers from a central logical flaw that renders the whole core argument worthless. Brennan makes his case against democracy by pointing out all the ways in which people are stupid and fail to govern themselves well. Then, he makes the case for epistocracy by thinking through how smart people might make better decisions. All of this is very persuasive, until we remember that he is comparing “democracy as it actually exists” with “epistocracy as an abstract theory.” By comparing real democracy to hypothetical epistocracy (instead of epistocracy as it would actually be implemented), Brennan’s book doesn’t address a single one of the important questions around restricted suffrage: in practice, wouldn’t voting tests probably be used (as they have for their entire history) to disenfranchise the socially powerless? Wouldn’t such a system inevitably be abused, and wouldn’t “knowledge” just become a stand-in for “things powerful people believe”? (Brennan admits that wealthy white men will probably be considered the most “knowledgable,” but does not appear to have a problem with this.) By presenting democracy with all its warts, but giving no thought to how “epistocracies” work in practice, Brennan avoids confronting the difficult fact that his preferred system of government, if adopted, will almost certainly reinstate Jim Crow. Thus Brennan’s book is ultimately morally disgusting, since it amounts to a manifesto in favor of seizing a right from African Americans that took them centuries of bloodshed to win.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"
The actual case Brennan advances can be devastated rather quickly, since it suffers from a central logical flaw that renders the whole core argument worthless... By presenting democracy with all its warts, but giving no thought to how “epistocracies” work in practice, Brennan avoids confronting the difficult fact that his preferred system of government, if adopted, will almost certainly reinstate Jim Crow... But at least Brennan is honest in exposing the libertarian project as fundamentally opposed to the basic rights of human beings, its grand paeans to liberty being thin cover for taking the vote away from poor people.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"
Libertarians always insist that they are defending a philosophy of freedom, but what they are in fact defending is the freedom of a few to maintain their status privileges. The rest of us, without money or votes, always tend to remain distinctly unfree.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"
But at least Brennan [in Against Democracy] is honest in exposing the libertarian project as fundamentally opposed to the basic rights of human beings, its grand paeans to liberty being thin cover for taking the vote away from poor people.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"
Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy makes the most spirited and comprehensive attempt at a philosophically coherent justification of despotic rule. Brennan’s book also offers a useful insight into libertarianism: Against Democracy is a good illustration of how supposedly “libertarian” philosophy is often just a defense of oligarchy. Libertarians always insist that they are defending a philosophy of freedom, but what they are in fact defending is the freedom of a few to maintain their status privileges. The rest of us, without money or votes, always tend to remain distinctly unfree.
Nathan Robinson, "Democracy: Probably a Good ThingDemocracy: Probably a Good Thing"