Epistocracy and Public Interests

Finlay Malcolm

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Epistocratic systems of government have received renewed attention, and considerable opposition, in recent political philosophy. Although they vary significantly in form, epistocracies generally reject universal suffrage. But can they maintain the advantages of universal suffrage despite rejecting it? This paper develops an argument for a significant instrumental advantage of universal suffrage: that governments must take into account the interests of all of those enfranchised in their policy decisions or else risk losing power. This is called ‘the Interests Argument’. One problem for the Interests Argument is that governments are not entirely responsive to voter interests, partly because voters do not always know what is in their interests. I will show how this epistemic claim can be used to support certain forms of epistocracy, but deny that it undermines the Interests Argument. I then consider whether we can identify forms of epistocracy that preserve the benefits of the Interests Argument whilst overcoming the epistemic limitations of democracy. I propose six forms of epistocracy, and argue that two are able to maintain these benefits, hence providing an evaluation of the relative strengths of these epistocracies with respect to one of the most valuable instrumental benefits of universal suffrage. Whilst epistocracy lacks many of the advantages of democracy, this paper shows that some forms fare better than others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173–192
Number of pages20
JournalRes Publica
Early online date17 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2022


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