Reviving Expertise in a Populist AgeThe New Atlantis
Zach Graves is the head of policy at Lincoln Network and an associate fellow at the R Street Institute. M. Anthony Mills is associate vice president of policy and a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.
Though we have heard laments for decades that American democracy is sliding into idiocracy, never has more ink been spilled on the subject than during the Trump era. The argument goes that instead of a politics driven by the passions of the masses, run like reality TV, and debated at 280 characters, we need a return to sobriety — we need experts, not amateurs, to run things.
In his 2017 book The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols, U.S. Naval War College professor and self-described Never Trumper, laments the turn of American politics toward “the worship of its own ignorance.” And libertarian-leaning Georgetown professor Jason Brennan writes in his book Against Democracy that “when it comes to politics, some people know a lot, most people know nothing, and many people know less than nothing.” Voters generally don’t know which party controls Congress, what major policy debates are about, or how federal spending is allocated. Brennan proposes the idea of “epistocracy,” a system where political power accrues more to the educated and knowledgeable — meaning, in practice, disenfranchisement schemes such as reviving literacy tests for voting, expanded to include basic economics and political science. Meanwhile, Parag Khanna, a TED Talker who describes himself as a “geopolitical futurist,” argues in his 2017 book Technocracy in America, “America has more than enough democracy. What it needs is more technocracy — a lot more…. Technocratic government is built around expert analysis and long-term planning rather than narrow-minded and short-term populist wins.”