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Alternative forms of government


Democracy is widely thought to be the best available form of government. It is generally argued that democratic regimes best promote the intrinsic values of freedom and equality, enable all citizens to play a role in their own governance, lead to decisions representing the preferences of the governed, and effectively motivate those in power to protect the interests of all of those enfranchised.

Despite these benefits, in recent political philosophy there has been some proposals for either reform or replacement of democracy. Dismayed by the apparent poor-quality outcomes arising from recent democratic decisions, some (e.g. Brennan 2016) have advocated that we consider the prospects of an ‘epistocracy’ in which the knowledgeable rule (Estlund 2007). Others, such as Guerrero (2014), who are largely opposed to elections, argue for ‘lottocracy’, in which rulers are selected by sortition. More modest proposals suggest that we reform democracy by, for instance, implementing compulsory voting.

One set of questions that these proposals prompt is around the nature of these alternative systems. Epistocracy, for instance, could be instantiated in many ways, including by forms of aristocracy and even democracy. A quintessential example of epistocracy would be Plato’s Guardianship. But epistocracy could also come in other forms, such as in J. S. Mill’s (1991) systems of restricted suffrage, and through plural voting (Mulligan 2018). Even some forms of consensual democracy from African politics (Wiredu 1995) involve electing a wise ruler for life, and are hence arguably a hybrid form of epistocracy with democratic components.

A second set of questions concerns the justifiability of alternative forms of government. Democracy is currently thought to be the only warranted form of government, but representative democracy is a relatively recent phenomena. Would much be lost, and is there much to be gained if, say, we moved toward a system of electing political leaders by lottery? This could be particularly beneficial in countries where running for political power is expensive, and hence politicians are largely unrepresentative of the country’s demographics.

It may be challenging to justify epistocracies, particularly where they involve distributing votes in favour of the more knowledgeable, since this can also lead to demographic discrepancies (Estlund 2007; cf. Brennan 2018). But are there more warranted forms of epistocracy? For instance, mandatory political education combined with compulsory voting may qualify as an epistocracy that simply enhances the knowledge of the public. And even in more extreme forms of epistocracy, such as plural voting, perhaps the good decisional outcomes outweigh the harms that they bring about.

This workshop will consider the prospects for alternative forms of government. It will be arranged around two central questions:

First, what alternative forms of government to current democracies are there? Papers could focus on varieties of these alternative governments, where they overlap with democracy, where they provide a modification to current democracies, or whether all non-democratic systems must reject universal suffrage.

Second, can alternative systems of government be justified? Papers might focus on whether all forms of epistocracy are inherently unjust, the extent to which epistocracy might yield greater electoral decisions, or the improvements on the selection of political actors promoted through lottocracy and sortition.