Abbasso la democrazia

Secondo il Jason Brennan di “Against Democracy” i difensori ad oltranza della democrazia sognano un mondo ideale di uomini informati, razionali e benevolenti, ma persino nel loro idealismo sono incoerenti:

… To me, philosophers and political theorists seemed too impressed with symbolic arguments for democracy. They constructed highly idealized accounts of the democratic process that bore little semblance to real-world democracy… under those ideal conditions, we’d want to be anarchists, not democrats.…

Il libro costituisce un attacco al suffragio universale delle democrazie contemporanee:

… in The Ethics of Voting  [il precedente libro] I maintain that the best ways to exercise civic virtue occur outside politics, and that most citizens have a moral obligation to refrain from voting… Here I’ll contend that if the facts turn out the right way, some people ought not have the right to vote, or ought to have weaker voting rights than others…

John Stuart Mill è un filosofo spesso confutato dalla storia, anche sul punto che ci interessa i fatti sono stati impietosi con le sue previsioni. Qui lo si considera per la sua idea di “partecipazione politica”: lui pensava che ci nobilitasse, noi verifichiamo che ci degrada:

… Mill hoped that getting people involved in politics would make them smarter, more concerned about the common good, better educated, and nobler. He hoped getting a factory worker to think about politics would be like getting a fish to discover there’s a world outside the ocean. Mill hoped political involvement would harden our minds yet soften our hearts. That was just over 150 years ago. The test results are now in. They are, I will hold, largely negative. I think Mill would agree…

L’empirista nota come la partecipazione politica ci degradi a hooligan e riduca sensibilmente il nostro quoziente intellettivo. Schumpeter sul punto aveva ragione:

… The truth is closer to the economist Joseph Schumpeter’s complaint: “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.

Ad ogni piè sospinto, specie dalle nostre parti, c’è chi si lamenta del distacco tra cittadini e politica, magari facendo notare il basso afflusso alle urne. E’ chiaro che dopo quanto detto queste geremiadi perdono di senso:

… My response is different: this decline in political engagement is a good start, but we still have a long way to go. We should hope for even less participation, not more…

Per comprendere meglio queste conclusioni provocatorie è bene distinguere gli elettori in tre tipi. Il primo è il più comune:

HOBBITS are mostly apathetic and ignorant about politics. They lack strong, fixed opinions about most political issues. Often they have no opinions at all. They have little, if any, social scientific knowledge; they are ignorant… They prefer to go on with their daily lives without giving politics much thought…

Ma anche il secondo è molto diffuso:

HOOLIGANS are the rabid sports fans of politics. They have strong and largely fixed worldviews. They can present arguments for their beliefs, but they cannot explain alternative points of view in a way that people with other views would find satisfactory. They consume political information, although in a biased way. They tend to seek out information that confirms their preexisting political opinions…

Il terzo tipo è una rarità, da citare giusto come mera curiosità:

VULCANS think scientifically and rationally about politics. Their opinions are strongly grounded in social science and philosophy. They are self-aware, and only as confident as the evidence allows… they can explain contrary points of view in a way that people holding those views would find satisfactory…

Da notare che questa partizione non ricalca affatto quella canonica che separa gli estremisti dai moderati:

… Notice that I do not define these types in terms of how extreme or moderate their opinions are. Hooligans are not by definition extremists, and vulcans are not by definition moderate. Perhaps some Marxist radicals or libertarian anarchists are vulcans, while most moderates are either hobbits or hooligans.

Facciamo l’esempio concreto dei libertari:

… Consider, for instance, all the people with libertarian sympathies. Some of them are hobbits. These hobbits lean libertarian—they are predisposed to libertarian conclusions—but they don’t think or care much about politics, and most don’t self-identify as libertarian. Many, perhaps most, libertarians are hooligans. For them, being libertarian is a major part of their self-image. Their Facebook avatars are black-and-gold anarchist flags, they only date other libertarians, and they only read heterodox cult economist Murray Rothbard or novelist Ayn Rand. Finally, a few libertarians are vulcans…

Ora, chi difende la democrazia lo può fare fondamentalmente in tre modi, ovvero enfatizzando tre criteri differenti:

Epistemic/instrumental: Perhaps democracy and widespread political participation are good because they tend to lead to just, efficient, or stable outcomes… Aretaic: Perhaps democracy and widespread political participation are good because they tend to educate, enlighten, and ennoble citizens… Intrinsic: Perhaps democracy and widespread political participation are good as ends in themselves…

Nel libro i tre punti sono confutati, con particolare cura per gli ultimi due:

… I argue:  political participation is not valuable for most people. On the contrary, it does most of us little good, and instead tends to stultify and corrupt us….

Inoltre, viene sostenuto con ottimi argomenti che il diritto di voto non può essere fatto rientrare tra i diritti fondamentali:

… Citizens don’t have any basic right to vote or run for office. Political power, even the small amount of power contained in the right to vote, has to be justified… The right to vote is not like other civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion, or association

Ecco una formulazione alternativa (meno provocatoria) della tesi del libro:

… Overall, democratic governments tend to perform better than the alternatives we have tried. But perhaps some of the systems we haven’t tried are even better… I will argue for a conditional claim, however: if there turns out to be better a better-functioning alternative, then we ought to take it…

Ma torniamo alla svalutazione del diritto di voto. Partendo da un’ottica liberale la cosa è abbastanza evidente. Ma cosa intendiamo per “ottica liberale”?:

“… Philosophical liberalism is the view that each individual has a dignity, founded on justice, that imbues them with an extensive range of rights and freedoms… Liberals—following in Mill’s footsteps—usually hold that people should be allowed to make bad choices so long as they are only hurting themselves. To illustrate this, suppose Izzy—a single, childless man in his twenties—is imprudent. Izzy eats too much, exercises too little, and spends too much. However poor Izzy’s decisions may be, he’s not hurting anyone but himself…”

A questo punto, troppo spesso, da parte dei “democratici” viene introdotta un’infelice analogia:

… Many people think that just as Izzy has the right to eat himself into a heart attack, so a democracy has the right to govern itself into an economic crisis. When a democracy makes bad, imprudent, or irrational decisions, that’s just like when Izzy makes bad, imprudent, or irrational decisions. This analogy fails. An electorate is not like an individual. It is a collection of individuals with separate goals, behaviors, and intellectual credentials…

La differenza è cruciale:

… Political decision making is not choosing for oneself; it is choosing for everyone. If the majority makes a capricious decision, others have to suffer the risks…

Giustificare la scelta democratica richiede allora molto di più che giustificare la scelta individuale:

… To justify democracy takes more work: we have to explain why some people should have the right to impose bad decisions on others. In particular, as I will show in later chapters, to justify democracy, we’ll need to explain why it’s legitimate to impose incompetently made decisions on innocent people… Our rights of free speech generally give us power only over ourselves, while rights to vote typically give us—as collectives, if not as individuals—significant power over others…

Ma qual è il reale valore della democrazia? Difficile stabilirlo, anche perchè esistono criteri diversi per attribuire un valore:

… When we ask what makes a hammer valuable, we usually ask whether it is functional for us, as we are… When we ask what makes a painting valuable, we generally look to its symbolic value… When we ask what makes human beings valuable, we will often say that they are ends in themselves. Sure, people can also have instrumental value—the person who makes you coffee serves a purpose—but they also have intrinsic value….What about democracy? Most political philosophers agree that democracy has instrumental value. It functions pretty well and tends to produce relatively just outcomes. So, they think, democracy is valuable at least in the way a hammer is valuable. Most philosophers, however, also think we should value democracy the way we value a painting or person.
Some philosophers think that democracy is an inherently just decision-making procedure. A few go so far as to hold that anything a democracy decides to do is justified simply because a democracy decided to do it…

L’autore assume una posizione ben precisa in merito:

…On the contrary, I will argue that democracy’s value is purely instrumental; the only reason to favor democracy over any other political system is that it is more effective at producing just results…

Precisando che non tutti i suoi colleghi sono allineati su questa posizione, anche se favorita dal senso comune:

…  So, for instance, the philosophers Thomas Christiano and David Estlund are both proceduralists. Christiano thinks democracy is intrinsically just.6 Estlund doesn’t argue that democracy is intrinsically just, but he thinks that certain regimes, such as monarchy and theocracy, are    intrinsecally unjust…     So, for example, the political theorist Jürgen Habermas asserts that so long as we make and continue to make decisions through a particular highly idealized deliberative process, any decision we make is just. Or as the political theorist Iñigo González-Ricoy says (in a paper criticizing me), “In a democratic society no process-independent moral criteria can be referred to in order to settle what counts as a harmful, unjust or morally unjustified exercise of the right to vote, for voting is a device that is only called for precisely when citizens disagree on what counts as harmful, unjust and morally unjustified.

La cosa migliore per dubitare che la democrazia abbia un elevato valore strumentale consiste nel partire dai dati di fatto:

  … Ample empirical research has shown that on almost any attempt to measure political knowledge, the mean, model, and median levels of it among citizens in contemporary democracies is low…

  Non che la cosa sia una novità:

Plato worried that a democratic electorate would be too dumb, irrational, and ignorant to govern well. He seemed to argue that the best form of government would be rule by a noble and wise philosopher king. (Scholars debate whether Plato was serious.) Contemporary political philosophers would label Plato an epistocrat…

Ma che cos’ è l’epistemocrazia?

  … a political regime is epistocratic to the extent that political power is formally distributed according to competence, skill, and the good faith to act on that skill…

  La reazione di Aristotele è ben nota:

… Aristotle responded to Plato that while the rule of philosopher kings would be best, we’ll never have any philosopher kings. Real people just aren’t wise or good enough to fill that role

  Ma l’obiezione di Aristotele è ben lungi dal chiudere il discorso in favore dell’epistemocrazia:

… Yet the case for epistocracy doesn’t hang on hopes of a philosopher king or guardian class. There are many other possible forms of epistocracy…

  Ci sono infatti molte vie di mezzo tra il suffragio universale e il sovrano onnisciente. Faccio cinque esempi su cui il libro si sofferma:

Restricted suffrage: Citizens may acquire the legal right to vote and run for office only if they are deemed (through some sort of process) competent… Plural voting: As in a democracy, every citizen has a vote. But some citizens, those who are deemed (through some legal process) to be more competent or better informed, have additional votes… Enfranchisement lottery: Electoral cycles proceed as normal, except that by default no citizen has any right to vote. Immediately before the election, thousands of citizens are selected via a random lottery to become prevoters. These prevoters may then earn the right to vote, but only if they participate in certain competence-building exercises, such as deliberative forums with their fellow citizens… Epistocratic veto: All laws must be passed through democratic procedures via a democratic body. An epistocratic body with restricted membership, though, retains the right to veto rules passed by the democratic body… Weighted voting / government by simulated oracle: Every citizen may vote, but must take a quiz concerning basic political knowledge at the same time. Their votes are weighted based on their objective political knowledge…

Insomma, Platone è tornato. La tesi del libro puó ora essere esplicitata in modo ancora più chiaro:

… My goal here is not to argue for the strong claim that epistocracy is superior to democracy. I am instead advocating for weaker claims. For one, if any form of epistocracy, with whatever realistic flaws it has, turns out to perform better than democracy, we ought to implement epistocracy instead of democracy. There are also good grounds to presume that some feasible form of epistocracy would in fact outperform democracy…

L’accusa di autoritarismo verso una simile posizioni elitista è facile:

…Epistocrats strike many people as authoritarian. They seem to hold that smart people should have the right to rule over others just because they know better…. We can always say to the experts, “You may know better, but who made you boss?” My dietitian sister-in-law, for example, knows better than I do what I should eat, yet that doesn’t mean she should be able to force me to follow a diet she prescribes…

  In realtà scopriamo che la posizione élitista è coerentemente anti-autoritaria:

… the case for epistocracy does not rest on the authority tenet; it’s based on something closer to an antiauthority tenet. Antiauthority tenet: When some citizens are morally unreasonable, ignorant, or incompetent about politics, this justifies not permitting them to exercise political authority over others

Di certo per molti risulterà intollerabile il declassamento dei diritti politici alla base delle diseguaglianze proposte dall’epistemocrazia. Eppure…

… even if past political inequality was unjust, it does not follow that political inequality is inherently unjust. Even if, in the past, people were excluded from holding political power for bad reasons, there might be good reasons to exclude some people from holding…

Forse è meglio vedere le cose in termini di “patente“:

… In comparison, we should not exclude citizens from driving because they are atheists, gay, or Dalits. Yet that does not mean that all restrictions on the legal right to drive are unjust… Perhaps some citizens are incompetent participants who impose too much risk on others when they participate.

È utile anche dissipare un equivoco:

… Some recent authors, such as legal theorist Ilya Somin, claim that the best way to limit the harms caused by political ignorance is to implement more limited government.16 He might be right or wrong, but I remain agnostic about this question here…Instead, I am arguing that—if the facts turn out the right way—fewer of us should be allowed to participate.

E sia chiaro che questo è un libro realista, sempre fermo che la democrazia resti indifendibile anche dal punto di vista utopico:

… Philosophers like to distinguish between “ideal” and “nonideal” political theory. Roughly, ideal theory asks what institutions would be best if everyone were morally perfect, with perfect moral virtue and a perfect sense of justice. Nonideal theory asks what institutions would be best given how people actually are—in particular, given that people’s degree of virtue is to some extent a function of the institutions they live under. This is a book of nonideal theory.

Il programma che si pone è ambizioso e nei vari capitoli procede in questo modo:

1) I review the literature on voter behavior. Most democratic citizens and voters are, well, ignorant, irrational, and misinformed nationalists.

2) I argue that political participation tends to make us worse, not better.

3) I attack a range of arguments that purport to show that political participation and the right to vote are good for us (or are required as a matter of justice) because they empower us in some way. On the contrary, in my view none of these arguments are sound. Democracy empowers collectives, not individuals.

  4) I critique a range of arguments that purport to demonstrate that democracy, equal voting rights, and participation are good and just because of what they express or symbolize. These claims hold that participation has expressive value,

  5) I defend what I call the competence principle, which holds that high-stakes political decisions are presumed to be unjust, illegitimate, and lacking in authority if they are made incompetently or in bad faith, or by a generally incompetent decision-making body… some democratic theorists hold that the democratic electorate as a collective body tends to make competence decisions, even though many or most voters are ignorant. I argue none of these mathematical theorems succeed as defenses of democracy, in part because the theorems don’t apply to real-life democracies. Other empirically minded democratic theorists nevertheless contend—and I agree—that what democracies do is not simply a function of what the electorate wants or votes for. Based on a wide range of reasons, democratic governments tend to make fairly competent decisions over a wide range of issues, even though the electorate is systematically incompetent. There are a large number of “mediating factors” that prevent the electorate from getting its way. In response, I explain that the competence principle is meant to apply to every individual high-stakes governmental decision.

Decisiva è la parte costruens, ovvero la proposta di alternative.

“… I outline various ways we might instantiate epistocracy. I discuss some of the potential benefits and risks of different forms of epistocracy, and respond to some remaining objections to it.”

Il tutto si conclude con una tirata contro la politica: risveglia i nostri istinti tribali mettendoci gli uni contro gli altri, meglio ridurla al minimo e coinvolgere in essa meno attori possibili:

… I conclude by saying that what’s regrettable about politics is that it makes us enemies with one another. The problem isn’t merely that we’re biased and tribalistic, that we tend to hate people who disagree with us just because they disagree. Rather, the problem is, first, that politics puts us in genuinely adversarial relationships, and second, that because most of our fellow citizens make political decisions in incompetent ways, we have reason to resent the way they treat us. I argue that for this reason, all things considered, we should want to expand the scope of civil society and reduce the sphere of politics.


Un libro spietato quanto chiaro, la miglior critica  alla democrazia finora prodotta dalla filosofia morale di stampo accademico, anche se i vari suffragi ristretti proposti, per molti autori poco disposti ad usare il termine “epistemocrazia”, rientrerebbero pur sempre nella grande famiglia dei “regimi democratici”. Per quanto si sottolinei spesso il carattere realista delle considerazioni svolte, non credo che le policy proposte siano facilmente realizzabili: viviamo tempi in cui si tollera male la diseguaglianza economica, figuriamoci se introducessimo ex cathedra anche quella politica. Ma questo, si badi bene, a prescindere dagli esiti che simili riforme sortirebbero, bensì solo e soltanto a causa di quel valore espressivo che l’atto di votare continua ad avere per molti.



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