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Against Democracy

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  567 ratings  ·  81 reviews
Most people believe democracy is a uniquely just form of government. They believe people have the right to an equal share of political power. And they believe that political participation is good for us--it empowers us, helps us get what we want, and tends to make us smarter, more virtuous, and more caring for one another. These are some of our most cherished ideas about d ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Princeton University Press
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Charles J
Sep 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Jason Brennan is The Man Who Was Born Yesterday. His book is incisive, insightful, interesting, funny, and well-informed. It delivers a sound and compelling case that democracy is fatally flawed. But everything he says in “Against Democracy” lacks depth, because he thinks that history began roughly twenty-four hours ago. So, while his analysis of democracy is good, his prescriptions are unbelievably shallow and poorly thought-out, making the book very like a delicious-looking piece of cake that ...more
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating discussion of whether democracy is unjust. Brennan compares political decision-making to jury deliberations, in which a decision is deemed unjust when the jury proceeds incompetently because they either ignored the facts or acted corruptly. He argues that perhaps voting should be more like driving, or becoming a judge, where certain levels of competence are required.

I wish there had been more focus on possible epistocracies (governance by the competent), rather than only one chapte
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
First saw this here:

I don’t have much to add beyond Cartledge‘s review/ commentaries (and I’m going to read Cartledge’s book next). This book is exhibit-A of missing the forest for the trees. It’s full of details, anecdotes, examples, metaphors to support one argument: democracy is only a tool, and if there are better tools for the job, we should consider those other tools, if we don’t, we’re not being fair.

My problem: like Cartledge, I think democracy is
Aug 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Libertarianism is bullshit not to mention it's all bunk.
There. That's something that needs to be said rather plainly before I go into specifics.
Now, don't think that I'm just getting my angries out over 'not seeing the mystic truth' of some particular cult-and libertarianism is a cult- I rate this book one star because libertarianism and Brennan's book is just a collection of bad ideas.
So, there are some fundamental assumptions that libertarianism makes that need to be addressed:
1.) Humans a
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Against Democracy, as the name suggests, is a devastating critique of democracy both in terms of the efficacy of real-world democracies to provide competent government and the moral justifications for democracy (more precisely, universal suffrage as a moral right). It is at its best when it challenges and debunks our cherished assumptions about and views of democracy.

I find the book less convincing when it comes to Brennan’s proposed alternative: epistocracy. This is the rule of the knowers; or
Yngve Skogstad
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Suppose you start with an understanding of politics not as a struggle for power between interest groups, but as a choice between competence and incompetence, and you couple it with an absence of theory on the operations of the state or how people relate to positions of power. Then you add some cherry-picked studies from the most dysfunctional democracy in the West (while claiming these are universally applicable) and spice it up with an endless string of de-contextualized and ahistorical thought ...more
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
My first serious book on political science. Must read in current times. Perils of ignorance and the consequent incompetent rule of democracy. Well crafted arguments. Fun to learn how democracy works because it doesn't work.
Jana Light
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Plato's Republic Redux -- long live the Philosopher King!

Well, not quite. But Jason Brennan makes a solid case for replacing democracy (power of and by the people) with epistocracy (power of and by the most knowledgeable and competent). Democracy, he argues, is dangerous. It has significant flaws and drawbacks that endanger the rights and well-being of the population, flaws and drawbacks that a properly established epistocracy could avoid.

Brennan isn't arguing that epistocracy would absolutely
Oct 31, 2016 rated it liked it
First off, I can’t remember the last time I actually enjoyed reading a work of analytic philosophy this much. Brennan argues with a genuinely accessible clarity, not to mention humor, and he argues forcefully: democratic institutions (particularly in the US) are instrumentally incompetent and corrupt, due to policies put in place by an electorate that is overwhelmingly ignorant, irrational and misinformed. Terrifying statistic after terrifying statistic is cited. His tentative (for there is as y ...more
Kenny Smith
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book doesn't deserve the praise it has received from both academic and public audiences. To me, its seeming popularity rests more in our current faith in democratic systems than any particular virtues of Brennan's argument. To save you some time, he spends the vast majority of the text arguing for a functional view of democracy, which is basically the idea that we should judge a particular form of government based on its practical value. If you agree with this argument - like most people co ...more
Daniel Cunningham
Levels serious critiques at American democracy in particular (though, as a work of political philosophy it clearly aims at 'democracy' in general) and proposes 'epistocracy' as a replacement... though what epistocracy means in practice is left loose, and how we get there from here is barely waved at.

To really argue against this I'd have to re-read it. But a first major objection would follow the outline that, while the criticisms are entirely valid -in my experience, anyway- and the merits of ep
Sven Gerst
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
As promised, Brennan provides a strong (almost devastating) critique of democracy—and the theories surrounding it. It is a great read and Brennan is a witty writer, but after all the book appears to be unbalanced (his defense and outline of epistocracy only makes up for tiny part of the book) and incredibly repetitive (certain statistics, thought experiments, and quotes appear 3-4 times throughout the 250 pages).
Jan 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Students of politics
I'd been looking forward to reading this book for some time. My first encounter with Brennan's work was his appearance on the Rationally Speaking podcast in January of 2017. From memory he argued his position well, and intrigued me enough to want to buy his book and read the full thesis.

This experience has been a great example to me of always reviewing the source material before making up one’s mind.

The book is divided into 9 chapters. Briefly:
- Chapters 1 and 2 lay out the relevant social scie
Dec 13, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not against the critique of democracy on account of the ignorance of voters. But the writer is himself so ignorant about "social scientific knowledge" and he misses his own ignorance.

1) There's not even a single mention of the ages-old epistemological controversy over truth vs. ideology! The author is simply ignorant on the philosophy of social sciences or years of disputes in sociology of knowledge. He has a very childish, positivist confidence the existence of some "social scientific facts
Ken Cartisano
Feb 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Democracy isn't defective, it's an endangered species. And thinking like Brennan's is the reason why. This book sounded interesting when the author was being interviewed on NPR. But in the harsh glare of my bathroom light fixture, this thing smells worse than almost everything else in my bathroom.
Several other reviewers have gone to great lengths to detail the many flaws in this books architecture, foundation, structure and plumbing. I won't bother.
This book is the literary equivalent of a Russ
A Man Called Ove
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." - Winston Churchill
There has been a (finally disproven ?) theory that once non-democratic countries get richer they also become liberal democracies. So, once China crossed say per capita income of $5000, it would become democratic. It has achieved a per capita income of $8000 and it has remained the same ! On the contrary some in the liberal democracies of the West have started de
Andrés Álvarez Fernández
For being a comparative analysis between democracy and epistocracy I was surprised the book does not pay any attention to historical models of epistocratic government and to what extent they could inform contemporary epistocratic politics.

Moreover, it is puzzling the author (an American citizen with a thorough knowledge the US political system) does not find time throughout 245 pages of reading to discuss the Electoral College (in essence an epistocratic institution designed by the Founders to m
Kyle van Oosterum
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and biting critique of democracy for its many, many flaws. It also introduces defenses for epistocracy - a system where experts rule with possible restrictions of suffrage based on citizens’ political knowledge. Certainly recommend it for anyone looking to take democracy off its pedestal.
Luis Henrique Sacchi Guadagnin
Extremely interesting critique of democracy, though in my view falls short of proposing a coherent and feasible alternative.
Ron Bronson
Sep 04, 2016 rated it liked it
read Jason Brennan’s book “Against Democracy” which argues for a epistocracy of informed citizens who have some enhances ability to make
decisions for all of us, because essentially democratic rule as we know it, does not work and we’re ruled by commoners who make bad decisions & are uninformed.
On face, Brennan’s arguments have some good philosophical ground & provide the reader with a solid case for why we’d consider his thesis even if it’s not plausible in today’s political landscape in the we
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Some interesting aspects covered in this book and some good arguments made, others addressed and still others overcome. It is no secret that democracy has its shortcomings; the author acknowledges that it still may be the best form of political structuring. Yet the epistocratic models he pushes us to try out don't really adhere to his conclusions on democracy. But I think the most overlooked option for epistocratic selection is not the voting public, but those running for office. It's a tall tas ...more
Stefan Schubert
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Forceful book. The author has a thesis and argues for it pretty heavily. This makes the book very clear, but in some passages the author comes off as a bit biased. Perhaps a bit more focus on empirical data and a bit less on refuting pro-democracy armchair political theory would have been good. Overall I recommend reading this book.
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'll admit that the 2016 presidential election and ensuing events really soured me on politics and the American experiment. It's one thing for people to act in ways that are not in their best interest. It's another when large groups of people simultaneously act in ways that are not in my best interest either. Maybe there's something better than democracy out there. Maybe this was a book I needed to read to blow of some steam. Either way, Brennan's arguments for an epistocracy are fun and thought ...more
Alper Çuğun
Apr 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: do-not-read
I listened to the author explain the core ideas of his book in a podcast and that was so ridiculously awful, I'm making a note here to never read the book.

The author uses reductive and disingenuous arguments wrapped in academic veneer that don't amount to much more than begging the question.
Oct 10, 2016 added it

Amusing at times, but ultimately lacking the skeptical modesty of science.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Much better. Thought-provoking and easy to read (I finished in less than 24 hours).
Stathis Kamperis
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shallow and boring. I barely managed to read half of it.
Malin Näfstadius
So even tho I doubted the solidity in some of his arguments this is still an interesting thought experiment. I was always of the idea that Democracy seriously is a flawed system, but that we cling to it because all of the alternatives are even worse. But Brennans arguments for Epistocracy are worth thinking about, especially since he does cover and eradicates most of the objections I had to it after reading the first few chapters.
Basically the majority of voters today are not only ignorant, but
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
“The right to vote is a metaphorical badge of equality”, J B writes, so it is a metaphysical displacement or make-believe –a philosophical mirage–, not a fact, as equating soldiers with young lions, or women with fresh roses.
J B argues that voters in the United States are divided in three big categories: ‘hobbits’, ‘hooligans’, and ‘vulcans’.
Hobbits “are mostly apathetic and ignorant about politics. They lack strong, fixed opinions about most political issues. Often they have no opinions at all
Karen Adkins
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Brennan defends epistocracy in this book; the idea that we better achieve justice by having knowledgeable people make decisions, instead of assuming that popular votes win out. The thesis is something that I've thought about since first reading John Stuart Mill--political knowledge surveys seem to make it clear that newly-credentialed citizens to this country understand its political system far better than many birthright citizens. And Brennan makes a pretty thorough critique of the ways in whic ...more
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Jason Brennan is Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting and co-author of A Brief History of Liberty. He also writes for the popular blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

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