Epistocracy, Elitism and the New Paternalism: New Challenges to Liberal Democracy in Contemporary Political Thought

This event will take place on the 17th of May, at 4 p.m, Council Room, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work (Schitu Măgureanu. nr.9) , sector 5, Bucharest.

The recent developments in behavioral economics and political philosophy have profoundly challenged the very foundation of the prodemocracy and self – governance argument. The ideal of rational, active and informed democratic man was subjected to a variety of empirical and conceptual criticisms. The realism and feasibility of self – governance was questioned on the grounds of the very limits of citizens’ competence.

The emerging view suggests that any governance theory based on citizens’ capacities and on expectations of public entrepreneurship, is doomed to be unrealistic and not feasible: The epistemic and competence resources of citizens are rather limited and public entrepreneurship is far from able to effectively overcome collective action problem. In fact, it is rarely triggered, given the incentive structure of the public action arenas and the ways social actors perceive and react to those incentives. And thus a revival of revamped anti – democratic doctrines shifts the attention towards various forms of epistemic – asymmetry – based alternatives to liberal democracy.

The growth of a new form paternalism is already featuring concrete applied formulas: At the most basic level is the so called “Nudge” technology of public policy, as an example of the elemental policy intervention unit (basic building block) of the approach. Then is “Libertarian Paternalism,” as the theory justifying the technique and the intervention. And finally is the so called “Epistocracy,” as a larger doctrine of governance, within which technical social engineering interventions on the architecture of choice (such as “Nudging”) or normative justifications such as “Paternalism,” combine to generate a model or ideal of a defensible system of governance (Thalerand Sunstein 2003; Brennan 2016).

There is no doubt that the idea of self – governance is seriously put on the defensive in the light of the theories and doctrines noted above, as well as of the resurgence of more traditional, authoritarian and collectivistic views, reasserting on the global arena. Confronted with this massive challenge, the response has to renew the democratic citizen – centered vision, to update the conceptual and normative stance behind it, in the light of the newest developments in social science and philosophy.

Hence one may develop novel attempts to articulate new arguments for the viability of the self – governance, citizens-centered approach upgrading the theoretical and normative framework supporting the desirability and feasibility of governance systems that are Democratic in the traditional (Tocquevillian) sense, not Epistocratic or Technocratic. The conference/workshop will start by presenting the new Epistocratic, Elitist and Paternalist challenge and then discuss question such as : What should the main directions of this response be? What ideas, conceptual instruments and normative notions should be used as vehicles of first order?

In trying to answer that, the special relevance of 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics co-recipient Elinor Ostrom’s work will be highlighted, showing how her empirical and analytical contributions are deeply permeated by a normative dimension bolstered by a democratic social philosophy of civics in which citizenship, public entrepreneurship and self-governance are intertwined. Applying those insights may be a first step in responding the anti-democratic and illiberal challenges of the day.

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