...questions posed by Brennan’s book should, at the very least, make us uncomfortable. Even if – like me – you are skeptical of Brennan’s proposals for epistocracy, he makes a strong case that the current electorate’s right to rule is not nearly as defensible as we might want to assume ... Ultimately, however, while I agree with most of Brennan’s diagnosis of the problem, I am skeptical of his proposed solutions ... At the very least, Brennan’s Competence Principle is a powerful challenge to the conventional wisdom about democracy. And his analysis of epistocratic alternatives to democracy is worth serious consideration – even if most of these ideas are nowhere near ready for large-scale implementation.
This willingness to explore alternative politics is a clear strength of [the] book and what sets [it] apart in a market clogged with tomes that tend to be heavier on rants than original thinking. ... Brennan unconvincingly seeks to deal with the fact that his proposed exclusion will largely mirror historical oppression by emphasizing that he does not want to 'exclude people, or reduce their power, in order to express wrongful contempt or disrespect for any individuals, groups or races. Instead our goal is to produce better more substantively just policy outcomes.'
It is the central weakness of the book that at no point are criteria for what counts as a 'more substantively just outcome' elucidated ... At other points, Brennan’s ideas on what constitutes worthy political knowledge descend into trivia...the pattern of blaming people for not knowing things that are interesting to Brennan, but not necessarily to the people he is seeking to deprive of their vote, is carried throughout the book. For a person who argues for dispassionate reason, Brennan displays a strong bias toward his own ideology as the yardstick for those who will remain entitled to vote in epistocracy ... There are other weaknesses and inconsistencies in the book but they pale in comparison to what many would consider an inverted understanding of the relationship between the individual and collective will.
This may seem to be a provocative argument launched from within the academy (Brennan teaches at Georgetown), but it’s hardly new, and it’s hardly confined to the ivory tower. The book rehashes familiar evidence that voters are dismayingly ignorant ... Brennan peppers his book with hints that his (presumably highly educated) readers would like the results of epistocracy ... The appeal is clear. But Brennan ignores perplexities and, worse, fatal contradictions. Trump, after all, is running as an epistocrat: True, he famously declared that he loves less-educated voters, but his consistent attack on the Obama administration is that it is incompetent and doesn’t understand how the world works. This minor irony points to a more basic problem: An epistocracy is not a way out of politics, because it will always have a politics of its own ... the practical and symbolic barriers to Brennan’s proposals are insurmountable. His book is styled as a reformist argument for epistocracy, but there is no plausible scenario in which it succeeds in inspiring sweeping reform. Its likely effect, if any, is to give heart to little coups against democratic judgments.