Political Systems & Democracy?


This week on Facebook:  I live in a liberal democracy and wonder why others who do support the undemocratic relentless advance of a meritocracy to govern them, or at least a soi-disant version of it. Even in the unlikely event of an electorate choosing to vote for the most meritorious representative, they are still not a privy to their elected representative’s selection by any political system as a representative of any public administration. Both meritocracy and democracy are used as abstractions in political philosophy, it is clear that both words depend on the political system of the State. Whether it is modelled on a Chinese meritocracy, a liberal democracy, the emerging European Union as a political unit, or some other form of political system, they all claim to be democratic.

The world today is divided territorially into more than 190 countries, in each of which a national government claims to exercise sovereignty—or the power of final authority—and seeks to compel obedience to its will by its citizens. Britannica: Political Systems

It also seems to me that meritocracy (1) is continually conflated with equality in the sense that they both deliver the same result, which clearly they do not (2). Neither has been successful (to my knowledge) in the creation of a more egalitarian society, nor in heralding the advent of a utopian society. All States when they regard others as being dystopian present it as a civic virtue to bring about a change to their political systems, usually by changing them into a mirror of their own political views.

There is no requirement in a liberal democracy (3) for the interpretation of the eudaemonism that Thomas Jefferson intended ‘the pursuit of happiness’ to be understood. Imposing civic virtue, in the sense of a personal quality associated with the effective functioning of the civil and political order is hardly democratic although it may be seen as meritocratic. Consequently there is no enforced eudemonism in either a liberal democracy or a meritocracy, although both try to find a common measure for happiness and the means of achieving it (especially amongst their chosen electorate).

Because they are civic virtues, not just personal attributes, they implicate the social aspect of eudaemonia. The pursuit of happiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of achieving individual pleasure. The Pursuit of Happiness

In today’s society uniformity of treatment and status are essentially connected with wealth. However, the State elites have always influenced the social behaviour of its citizens; how they are established, how organisations interact with one another, how they decay, and, ultimately, how they disappear (4). The political system that today’s elites and their financial backers pursue is not in the interest of democracy¹ but in maintaining an oligarchy that influences social behaviour and ensures that the rich will aways be with us.

Generally, an ideal of uniformity in treatment or status by those in a position to affect either. Acknowledgment of the right to equality often must be coerced from the advantaged by the disadvantaged. Britannica: Equality & Human Rights

The article at (5) suggests anyone holding a position of rank must be an epistemocrat (that is, someone that recognises the extreme limitations of their knowledge). I am sure that anyone holding a position of rank, especially political, has an arrogance that assumes no limits to their ability to lead.

The Political Class is distinguished from earlier governing elites by a lack of experience of and connection with other ways of life. Its members make government their exclusive study. This means they tend not to have significant knowledge of industry, commerce, or civil society, meaning their outlook is often metropolitan and London-based. This converts them into a separate, privileged elite, isolated from the aspirations and the problems of provincial, rural and suburban Britain. Peter Oborne: The Establishment is dead

Whether it be the rule of experts (epistemocracy) or limiting the voting to an electorate of ‘experts’ (epistocracy), both ignore the fact that a global internet has turned us all into ‘experts’. The final reference² suggests that Western politicians are already living in an epistemocracy and uses neoliberalism to imply the missed solutions that progressivism offered.

The rule of experts (although they are unlikely to be epistocratic) is the basis of Chinese meritocracy and while western political leaders may try to emulate it, they have little (if any) proof of their merit, instead they favour limiting the electorate to ‘their chosen experts’ in abandoning any pretence at being democratic.


1. Our democracy can learn from China’s meritocracy: In ‘The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy’, Daniel Bell argues that contemporary Chinese politics has become defined by a system of political meritocracy that might offer solutions to some of democracy’s most enduring woes.

2. Meritocracy — the great delusion that ingrains inequality: Over the past few decades, neoliberal meritocracy has been characterised by two key features. First, the sheer scale of its attempt to extend entrepreneurial competition into the nooks and crannies of everyday life. Second, the power it has gathered by drawing from 20th-century movements for equality. Meritocracy has been presented as a means of breaking down established hierarchies of privilege.

4. The merits of revisiting Michael Young: Young argued that the most significant fact of modern society is not the rise of democracy, or indeed capitalism, but the rise of the meritocracy, a term he invented. In a knowledge society the most important influence on your life-chances is not your relationship with the means of production but your relationship with the machinery of educational and occupational selection. This is because such machinery determines not just how much you earn but also your sense of self-worth.

5. Epistemocracy: If Leaders Knew the Limitations of Their Knowledge: Taleb’s solution lays in something called Epistemocracy. This is not as much of a revamping of the structure of the political organisation, but rather a change in the attitude of those in power. Anyone holding a position of rank must be an epistemocrat — someone that recognises the extreme limitations of their knowledge. They need to realise that they cannot plan because they cannot fully understand. They must put their trust in the spontaneous order created by the interacting aggregate knowledge of society.


Referenced Articles & Books:

  • A text subscript above and preceding the title here, refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download that is usually free.
  • Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) are used above to reference a particular article (1-5).
  • A long read url* (included below) is followed by an asterisk.
  • Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
  • JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹Why replacing politicians with experts is a reckless idea (url*): Democracy is tired, vindictive, self-deceiving, paranoid, clumsy and frequently ineffectual. Much of the time it is living on past glories. This sorry state of affairs reflects what we have become. But current democracy is not who we are. It is just a system of government, which we built, and which we could replace. So why don’t we replace it with something better?

²On Living in an Epistemocracy —  or Why the Collapse of Neoliberalism Did Not Produce a Progressive Revolution (url): Our neoliberal status quo would be more aptly described as a (rent-seeking) epistemocracyrule by experts for experts who use the instruments of state to protect their interests. The emblematic professional of an epistomocracy is the consultant [a brain for hire], who never suggests to fire management, but always recommends more salary for management and more contracts for, well, other consultants.

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Oracle performance, Oracle statistics and VLDBs

The Land Is Ours

a Landrights campaign for Britain

The Bulletin

This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

TCWG Short Stories

Join our monthly competition and share story ideas...

The Real Economy

Blogs and stuff from Ed Conway

Public Law for Everyone

Professor Mark Elliott

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