Again, all covered in the new book. Nothing new here. Schliesser and van der Meer aren’t saying my response to this objection fails, but, rather, they just aren’t aware that I’ve acknowledged it. Again, I’d be curious to know what their response to the argument in the book is.--Jason Brennan @BHL
To the extent that electoral input institutions affect political trust, satisfaction with democracy, and other such pro-democratic attitudes, the literature finds quite consistently that it is inclusiveness that boosts trust, particularly among the more marginalized groups that are already less likely to trust. Reducing the electorate and/or making weighted subsets of first vs second class (more vs less included) voters is at the very least unlikely to boost public support.--Tom van der Meer.
My colleague, Tom van der Meer, and I published an editorial critical of Sortition (rule by lot) and Epistemocracy (rule by experts) at the Washington Post's Monkey Cage. The piece is about 1100 words and was, in fact, edited for style and content by very professional editors at the Washington Post. Tom and I happily signed off on these changes, but these changes all involved (further) simplifications and introducing 'newsy-ness' and snappiness into the article. As it happens earlier drafts of this piece had been submitted at two other places, which considered it, demanded changes, and then rejected it. It's worth mentioning that Tom, a political scientist who works on electoral politics, issues of trust and legitimacy, (amongst other things), and I are both regular bloggers, and have a string of editorializing and public writing under our collective belts--we know that writing for the even highly educated and savvy readers of the Washington Post requires different style and argumentative content than writing for referees, the seminar room hand-out, or even our own academic blogs.
Because the piece responded to two distinct reform proposals, we did not do full justice to either, as several proponents of these proposals quickly argued (on Facebook and blogs). That is, in fact, to be expected in writing for the public. In fact, we focused primarily on the common flaws of both proposals and less on their unique selling points (more on this below)--our critics ignored this fact. Rather, they claim that we did not address the philosophically most sophisticated advocate(s) of sortition nor did we get into all the fine-grained arguments offered by Jason Brennan in his many publications. I want to use the occasion to reflect on the norms of public philosophy (and I do so by responding to some, but not all, of Brennan's kvetching).
In fact, as is clear from the hyperlinking in our editorial, Tom and I responded explicitly to public philosophy in the service of changing public opinion. While we drew on scholarly research and linked to it, we were not acting as referees or as book reviewers. Rather, we noticed that some highly specific views associated with sortition and with epistemocracy were receiving favorable publicity in the (mass) media without these views receiving critical push back in the media and so we took it upon ourselves to criticize views already in the public domain (e.g., The Guardian and the Washington Post). Now, to be sure, just because this is a debate in public philosophy, it does not follow that anything goes (even if I personally have some sympathy for the idea -- in modern times associated with Hannah Arendt, but certainly also ably articulated by Madison-- that public life is governed by opinion not truth). So, if Tom and I had deliberately misrepresented the views we were explicitly discussing that would be problematic.
As as an aside, Jason, complains that "In a piece at the Monkey Cage today, Schliesser and co-author van der Meer argue against the “rule of experts,” a position they attribute to me. I’m not quite sure if what I’ve argued for in Against Democracy or “The Right to a Competent Electorate” could properly be called that. I’m talking about doing things like only allowing the top 30% of voters to vote." It's a bit odd to see our view of him so misrepresented. Indeed, when Tom and I first introduce Jason's views in our piece, we say that "Philosopher Jason Brennan at Georgetown University suggests disenfranchising the ignorant to slant political rule toward experts." Now it's true we don't discuss all the tricky details of Jason's proposals, but ahhh...we do get the gist right here.
The charge is, rather, that we did not discuss the best versions of the views we were criticizing because these views can be found in journal articles and books (sometimes by the very same authors and sometimes by others). If we were trying to publish a journal article, this would be a cause for some concern. In addition, if we were introducing a topic for public debate in an editorial but did so by preemptively ridiculing opposing views, this would certainly be a reason to cry foul. We would be falling short of our duty to educate the public in alternatives or down-sides to our own view--in my view adhering to some such norm is the bare minimum for being a public philosopher rather than being a philosophical partisan or public hack (recall and here). Because I am a methodological analytical egalitarian, such a duty is especially important if the down-side risks of one's stance fall largely on less powerful/influential others (recall). But rather than introducing the topic we were responding to particular pieces and calling attention to limitations in them.*
As an aside, the case is different if one ignores published stuff on Topic Y that represents the consensus view of an expert community on Topic Y and then pretends that such a consensus does not exist and peddles not just known simplifications -- to be sure not all public philosophy is a simplification -- but known falsehoods (in contradistinction to the consensus on Topic Y). That's not what's happening here; all kinds of views are being developed in the expert literature and seminar room and, while some of these involve recovery of once popular/influential views, the state of play is very much in flux (as one should expect). It is true that one reason why I teamed up with Tom is that Tom is a leading expert on the empirical literature and because I had the sense that Jason sometimes subtly misrepresents the state of play in social science, and I wanted to make sure that I would not fall into the same trap. (I would not say that Tetlock is a "more sophisticated version of Schattschneider’s argument"--they are making very different points.) I am, for example, surprised that Jason refers, in passing, approvingly to Hong-Page theorem (okay a few days earlier he had discussed it at greater length calling it "The best epistemic argument for the rule of the many,") without even so much as remarking that this 'theorem' is itself the subject of considerable criticism (here)--I didn't ask Tom about that, by the way.** In the spirit of charity, I note that Jason does call attention to the criticism in his recent book Against Democracy, p. 181-2 (Jason himself treats Hong-Page as a best case for a view he opposes.) Either way, it's not obvious that when one is discussing in the public sphere the nature of that public sphere and the institutions within it, that deference to the expert community is the right stance. Given that at least some of the experts' interests and status are at stake there is some reason to suspend such deference.
Now, one may still object that if I criticize particular authors, I should try to distill from their writings the best versions of their position and then criticize it, rather than the views they put forward in public. This is, in effect, what Jason Brennan claims, I should have done. At first sight there is no prohibition against doing this, and one can imagine scenarios where this would be useful and even noble exercise. But it is worth noting that it would be unfair to criticize Jason in the public sphere for ideas he is clearly trying out amongst his peers. [While allowing that both BHL & D&I are neither quite the seminar room nor the public.] In the seminar room, the search for truth is the ruling norm without much regard to political and social consequences. [One can, of course, re-conceive how one should think of the truth in the seminar room as requiring one to internalize the political and social consequences of policy--as a methodological analytical egalitarian, I am not unsympathetic to such a position.] Given this, focusing one's public criticism on public positions (as promoted in editorials, policy proposals aimed at policy-makers, peddled on radio, etc.) seems the right thing to do. If Jason wants public criticism (as opposed to in papers and book reviews) of the best versions of his arguments, he needs to present them to the public.
As noted above, Tom and I focused primarily on the common flaws of both proposals and less on their unique selling points. That may well have caused us not to address better versions of the views we are criticizing (including, perhaps, better views that are in the public eye). We diagnosed that the public interest (at least among educated, elite-ish readers of the sort that read the Washington Post) in and the receptivity toward these proposals springs from recent concerns about "demagoguery and mob rule." If Liberal Democracy produces President Trump there may be many reasons for changing liberal democracy. We pointed out that the rise of demagoguery may itself be a consequence of too much political influence of the educated and credentialed and so that Jason's proposals are a recipe for further harms. And this is, in fact one of the features that made our editorial newsworthy. Now Tom and I may be wrong about this claim (maybe it's mostly a consequence of bad public education or too much influence by moneyed interests, or media manipulation, etc.), but Jason's response just misunderstands what is at stake. Jason wants to protect democracy by partial disenfranchisement and one way to interpret what Tom and I are saying is that, if his views as promoted in the public sphere are implemented, it is likely that the democratic edifice will not be protected from the real harms it generates but destroyed. Obviously, that's compatible with better versions of Jason's views doing less harm as well as other proposals being better than Jason's best proposals.
*I recognize that these, in turn, can be understood as responding to others, and so one may wonder if I am not engaged in special pleading here or if there is really a way to stop the regress.
**Another reason is that I wanted our colleagues and students to be exposed to instances of collaboration among 'theorists' and empirical types in our department.