Res Publica

pp 1–11 | Cite as

Democratic Legitimacy and the Competence Objection

Comment

Abstract

Elitist scepticism of democracy has a venerable history. This paper responds to the latest round of such scepticism—the ‘competence objection’, articulated in recent work by Jason Brennan. Brennan’s charge is that democracy is unjust because it allows uninformed, irrational, and morally unreasonable voters to exercise power over high-stakes political decisions, thus imposing undue risk upon the citizenry. I show that Brennan’s objection admits of two interpretations, and argue that neither can be sustained on close examination. Along the way, I consider the merits of Brennan’s preferred ‘epistocratic’ alternative to democracy, and argue that it is likely to lead to lower-quality outcomes.

Keywords

Democracy Risk Competence Epistocracy Voting 

Notes

Acknowledgements

For helpful comments and criticisms, not all of which I have been able to address, I thank Bob Goodin, Ten-Herng Lai, Seth Lazar, Chad Lee-Stronach, Shmulik Nili, Nicholas Southwood, and the members of the Australian National University’s Centre for Moral, Social, and Political Theory Graduate Workshop. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for Res Publica, as well as the editor, Philip Cook. My research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

References

  1. Abou-Chadi, Tarik, and Matthias Orlowski. 2015. Political Institutions and the Distributional Consequences of Suffrage Extension. Political Studies 63: 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aidt, Toke S., and Bianca Dallal. 2008. Female Voting Power: The Contribution of Women’s Suffrage to the Growth of Social Spending in Western Europe (1869–1960). Public Choice 134: 391–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Althaus, Scott. 2003. Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brennan, Jason. 2011. The Right to a Competent Electorate. The Philosophical Quarterly 61: 700–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brennan, Jason. 2016. Against Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brennan, Jason, and Lisa Hill. 2014. Compulsory Voting: For and Against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brennan, Geoffrey, and Loren E. Lomasky. 1993. Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brennan, Geoffrey, and Loren E. Lomasky. 2000. Is There a Duty to Vote? Social Philosophy and Policy 17: 62–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Caplan, Bryan. 2006. The Myth of the Rational Voter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Christiano, Thomas. 2008. The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christiano, Thomas. 2011. An Instrumental Argument for a Human Right to Democracy. Philosophy & Public Affairs 39: 142–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  13. Estlund, David. 2008. Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Fumagalli, Eileen, and Gaia Narciso. 2012. Political Institutions, Voter Turnout, and Policy Outcomes. European Journal of Political Economy 28: 162–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayenhjelm, Madeleine, and Jonathan Wolff. 2012. The Moral Problem of Risk Impositions: A Survey of the Literature. European Journal of Philosophy 20: 26–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Husted, Thomas A., and Lawrence W. Kenny. 1997. The Effect of the Expansion of the Voting Franchise on the Size of Government. Journal of Political Economy 105: 54–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kolodny, Niko. 2014. Rule over None II: Social Equality and the Justification of Democracy. Philosophy & Public Affairs 42: 287–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lupia, Arthur, and Matthew D. McCubbins. 1998. The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Mill, John Stuart. 1991 [1861]. Considerations on Representative Government. In On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Mueller, Dennis C., and Thomas Stratmann. 2003. The Economic Effects of Democratic Participation. Journal of Public Economics 87: 2129–2155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Parfit, Derek. 1986. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pettit, Philip. 2012. On The People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1950. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 3rd edn. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  24. Sen, Amartya. 1999. Democracy as a Universal Value. Journal of Democracy 10: 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shapiro, Scott J. 2004. Authority. In The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law, ed. Jules L. Coleman, Kenneth Einar Himma, and Scott J. Shapiro. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Practical Justice InitiativeUniversity of New South WalesKensingtonAustralia

Personalised recommendations