The Power of the Multitude: Answering Epistemic Challenges to Democracy
American Political Science Review, Forthcoming
43 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2018
Date Written: September 6, 2018
Recent years have witnessed growing controversy over the “wisdom of the multitude.” As epistemic critics drawing on vast empirical evidence have cast doubt on the political competence of ordinary citizens, epistemic democrats have offered a defense of democracy grounded largely in analogies and formal results. So far, I argue, the critics have been more convincing. Nevertheless, democracy can be defended on instrumental grounds, and this article demonstrates an alternative approach. Instead of implausibly upholding the epistemic reliability of average voters, I observe that competitive elections, universal suffrage, and discretionary state power disable certain potent mechanisms of elite entrenchment. By reserving particular forms of power for the multitude of ordinary citizens, they make democratic states more resistant to dangerous forms of capture than non-democratic alternatives. My approach thus offers a robust defense of electoral democracy, yet cautions against expecting too much from it — motivating a thicker conception of democracy, writ large.
Keywords: Epistemic Democracy, Epistocracy, Meritocracy, Voter Ignorance, Political Realism
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