Democracy: Probably a Good Thing/abstract

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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 Thing"