This is part of the DR Book Collection.
When I shared Jason Brennan’s newest book Against Democracy on my Facebook wall, I got a little push back in both the thread and even in a personal email. How could anyone be against democracy? Isn’t this just elitist snobbery at best and totalitarianism in the making at worst? In short, no. Following the election, I finished off Ilya Somin’s Democracy and Political Ignorance and Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter, both of which showed convincingly that our country consists of a politically ignorant and misinformed electorate. Brennan surveys this literature to demonstrate that voters often choose policies that would make us all worse off. He then dives into the political psychology literature and finds that political participation tends to make us mean and dumb (I told him that chs. 2-3 alone were worth the price of the book). Brennan divides the electorate into three categories:
- Hobbits: the typical nonvoter; mostly ignorant and apathetic to politics and social science.
- Hooligans: pretty much everyone else; consumes political information in a highly-biased way and ignores evidence contrary to their position.
- Vulcans: rare; rational and scientific; can articulate opposing views well; interested in, but dispassionate about politics.
When judged from an instrumentalist point of view (i.e., judging institutions and systems based on their performance, not some supposed intrinsic value), the case for democracy seems far weaker than is often assumed. The evidence he presents helps him build his case for epistocracy: the rule of the knowledgeable. Yet, this isn’t some technocratic bureaucracy, but a way to mitigate the negative outcomes of poor voter knowledge.
The book is packed with tons of information and rigorous arguments. I hardly do it justice with the description above. Even if you’re not convinced to be an epistocrat, the solid social science alone makes the book worth reading. One of the most interesting books I’ve read in some time.
You can see an interview with Jason Brennan discussing the book below.