Representative Democracy as Defensible Epistocracy

Dimitri Landa, Ryan Pevnick

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Epistocratic arrangements are widely rejected because there will be reasonable disagreement about which citizens count as epistemically superior and an epistemically superior subset of citizens may be biased in ways that undermine their ability to generate superior political outcomes. The upshot is supposed to be that systems of democratic government are preferable because they refuse to allow some citizens to rule over others. We show that this approach is doubly unsatisfactory: although representative democracy cannot be defended as a form of government that prevents some citizens from ruling over others, it can be defended as a special form of epistocracy. We demonstrate that well-designed representative democracies can, through treatment and selection mechanisms, bring forth an especially competent set of individuals to make public policy, even while circumventing the standard objections to epistocratic rule. This has implications for the justification of representative democracy and questions of institutional design.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalAmerican Political Science Review
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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