Global Government an Epistocracy?
This week on Facebook: When I was at school we were taught that global power was achieved by the alliance of forces that militarily superior States could muster and little has changed militarily since then. While the politics of governance has been changed by universal suffrage it has done little to change this state of military affaires. I hold the view that any existing global governance, in what Lord Mandelson called the post democratic age, does not lead to a global government other than through an epistocracy.
Lord Mandelson summed up the direction of travel when he talked about transition to a post democratic age. Modern governments try to give away their powers and responsibilities to international and national so called independent bodies full of alleged experts. They seek to prevent elected governments changing things by locking future governments into the system by binding International treaties. The reign of experts and the “post democratic”age
If we are really in a post democratic age¹, it may yet turn an enfranchised electorate into one that would vote for an epistocracy. An epistocracy that makes decisions for the disenfranchised and one that is most likely to make such decisions in favour of political oligarchs.
Why not ditch the charade of voting altogether? Stop pretending to respect the views of ordinary people – it’s not worth it, since the people keep getting it wrong. Respect the experts instead! This is the truly radical option. So should we try it? The name for this view of politics is epistocracy: the rule of the knowers. It is directly opposed to democracy, because it argues that the right to participate in political decision-making depends on whether or not you know what you are doing. Why replacing politicians with experts is a reckless idea
The above article is adapted from How Democracy Ends by David Ranchman, and is an answer to Jason Brennan’s important new book. Brennan’s book Against Democracy challenges a basic precept that most people take for granted: the morality of democracy. Dominant conventional wisdom on both right and left holds that all, or nearly all, adults should have a right to vote, and that the electorate has a right to rule.
Brennan begins his analysis by showing that most citizens do a very poor job of considering political issues. He divides citizens into three categories, which he creatively labels hobbits, hooligans, and Vulcans. Hobbits have little or no interest in politics, and have very low levels of political knowledge. Hooligans tend to know more than hobbits do. But they are highly biased in their evaluation of information, tending to dismiss opposing arguments out of hand. They also lack any kind of social scientific sophistication. Vulcans, by contrast, combine extensive knowledge and analytical sophistication with open-mindedness. They also don’t let emotion and bias cloud their judgment. But very few of us even come close to being Vulcans. Democracy vs. Epistocracy (Against Democracy)
Brennan may have a point, but in my view all hooligans think that they are really Vulcans and however biased they may be, disenfranchising them portends social unrest. Global government² simply expedites a ‘post democratic age’ and the case for a democracy giving way to an enfranchised epistocracy composed mostly of hooligans. The result of a selectively enfranchised electorate may well suite the rule of the controlling political oligarchy, much as it did (and does) the rule of the Ba’th Party and the CCP in China, but authoritarianism is increasing globally³.
Ranchman writes that democracy is tired, vindictive, self-deceiving, paranoid, clumsy and frequently ineffectual, but he supports democracy over an epistocracy. Any debate between Brennan and Ranchman remains unresolved. Whatever the outcome, and with or without epistocracy, I remain convinced by Aldous Huxley’ speech to Berkeley students in 1962 —
That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude. Berkeley Speech on “The Ultimate Revolution”
1. One-world government: The undeclared aim is one-world government – and you may rest assured that it won’t be the Gettysburg version of ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. A former British Labour cabinet minister and EU Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, once famously said ‘We are now entering a post-democratic age’ and he wasn’t kidding. Their vision of the future is one where power resides solely with a global elite of politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders.
2. On the need of a democratic global government: One of the key challenges of modern cultural evolution is the time lag between rapid technological development and slow political adaptation. The United Nations that represents the best governance model humanity could come up with for the management of global affairs is now frozen in time. Its underlying principle of national sovereignty goes back to 1648, a hundred years before the industrial revolution even started. Yet, today we live in the 21st century, the world population is approaching eight billion and technological development continues to accelerate. The need for global governance to catch up with the accelerating pace of change is more urgent than ever before.
3. The Dream of World Government: 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War 1, followed by the founding of the League of Nations the following year which offered a vision of peaceful world government and collaboration. History of course didn’t turn out that way, and the fate of the League of Nations is often seen as symbolic of the dream of world government, fragile, utopian, and ultimately doomed to collapse in the face of resurgent and aggressive nationalism.
4. The era of global government? With politicians, businesses, NGOs, labour groups, thinkers and the young, these look like the elements that could make up a future global government. Of course, we’re not at that stage and may never get there. But, what has become evident is that global markets are more interconnected than ever, and that means that what happens in one part of the world economy affects others. When a US bank went bust, it had widespread repercussions in Europe, for instance. So, better global governance is needed, but is the G20 doing the job?
5. Why governments are broken – and how to fix them: Elections-based political systems already operate with short-term mentalities, with officials often thinking only a few years ahead. Now, as societies around the world have become more complex, diverse, demanding and connected, governments have become even more incentivised to implement superficial patchwork fixes.
Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:
- A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
- A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
- The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
- A long read url* (when used below) is followed by a superscript 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.
¹Should we give up on global governance? (url/pdf): The high point of global governance was reached in the mid-1990s around the creation of the World Trade Organisation. It was hoped that globalisation would be buttressed by a system of global rules and a network of specialised global institutions. Two decades later these hopes have been dashed by a series of global governance setbacks, the rise of economic nationalism and the dramatic change of attitude of the United States administration. From trade to the environment, a retreat from multilateralism is observable. The 2008 elevation of the G20 to leaders’ level was an exception to this trend. But the G20 is no more than a political steering body.
²From Utopian Dream to Political Imperative (url/pdf): The current “separate but equal” sovereign states system stands as a roadblock to the fulfilment of core economic and civil rights for all persons. States are responsible for supporting their own citizens’ well-being, however unequal their capacity to do so, and they are inherently biased toward the interests of their own citizens and the presumed justice of their own actions. Achieving the sustainable fulfillment of core human rights will likely require much deeper regional and global political integration, ultimately in the form of a democratic world government.
³Democracy in Retreat (url/pdf): More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment
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