Response to comments on Chapter 2

I have some thoughts about the terrific discussion, so far (through comment 7), of my Chapter 2. I can’t take everything up, but I hope this offers some clarification where people asked for it.

In addition to his excellent summary, Jonathan raises some good questions about my defense against the charge that I beg the question in favor of democracy. Let me review my argument briefly, and then respond to the challenges that have come up. Before reviewing the argument, it might help avoid confusion to remind us all of the distinction between authority (the power to require action), and legitimacy (permissibility of enforcement). The reason is that it’s not entirely clear which concept is mainly at stake here. This points to something that will probably come up later, that it’s not very clear what role, if any, the general acceptability requirement plays in my account of authority, as distinct from legitimacy. In the passages at issue here, I use the term “authority” often, without clearly acknowledging the difference between that and legitimacy. All I can say here is that, despite appearances, I think the general acceptability requirement also plays a role in questions of authority, though I will not try to say exactly how that works here. For present purposes, don’t worry too much about the legitimacy/authority distinction, and then we can see later whether bringing that distinction in cause further difficulties for what I say.

The argument in question is my response to an anticipated challenge, and so I’ll start there. I argue that invidious comparisons with respect to political wisdom are open to qualified disagreement, and that universal suffrage is the default in that context. But, someone might object that there could also be qualified disagreement about universal suffrage, holding that some form of epistocracy is epistemically superior. I grant that there might well be. If so, what entitles universal suffrage to the position of a default? If both arrangements fail the test of general acceptability (and since they are logically exhaustive (partial suffrage or universal suffrage, with dictatorship counting as very partial suffrage) no political coercion would be justified. I grant this last conditional point as well: if no political authority relation passes the general acceptability test then there is no political authority, but a political state of nature. So this leaves the question: what entitles universal suffrage to the position of a default?

The answer I offer is this, though I reformulate it here: the general acceptability requirement is a constraint on proposed authority relations. Here’s one kind of authority relation: each person has a say in majority rule, but each person is also under the authority of the majority decision (within limits, etc.). I think this kind of authority must pass the general acceptability test. That is, there must be some justification for that kind of authority that does not rely on any doctrines or claims that are open to qualified disagreement. I believe there is, and the book as a whole develops the idea of epistemic proceduralism, normative consent, and so on, in order to try to show this.

Here’s another kind of authority relation: certain specified people (specified either by name, definite description, or by membership in a defined class) are given authority over others on the basis of alleged epistemic superiority, but those others are not given symmetrical authority over them. This, I think, cannot be justified to all qualified points of view, for the reasons I give in my discussion of epistocracy. If this kind of authority can’t be justified, I say universal suffrage, which can be justified, is the default.

But this doesn’t fully answer the challenge. Once the issue is put in terms of qualified objections to claims of epistemic superiority we have to admit that some qualified points of view might believe in the epistemic superiority of epistocracy over democracy. Why, then, should democracy be the default? The reason I mean to be appealing to is this: the two forms of authority are not on a par. While I don’t take for granted, without argument, that democracy is justified, I do contend that the kind of authority epistocracy involves is of a greater magnitude of subjection to others. I will return to the question of how to support this, but first I’m trying to clarify the structure of the argument. We can think of it this way: there are three possibilities I’m considering. One is a state of nature, with no political authority/legitimacy. A second is democratic authority, with universal suffrage in some form. A third is non-democratic authority in which only some specified subset of people have authority, concentrating on arguments for epistocracy. My argument depends on the three kinds of proposed authority being antecedently ordered in the magnitude of authority they are proposing. The state of nature proposes the least, epistocracy proposes the most. And it depends on there being a presumption against higher magnitudes of authority. That, I trust, is not a democratic claim, and so it doesn’t beg the crucial question. My claim is that the case for democracy over the state of nature can be made to all qualified points of view (as I argue in the book as a whole), thus overcoming the presumption against more (or any) authority. The case for epistocracy over democracy cannot. This might seem to leave a tie between democracy and epistocracy, since there is qualified disagreement in both directions about which is epistemically better. But since epistocracy is a greater magnitude of authority, there is a presumption against it, and it loses. This is not a presumption in favor of democracy. It is a presumption in favor of less authority, and democracy benefits from this presumption. (I think Andrew’s way of glossing my argument in comment 3 is more or less the way I see it.)

So, how might we decide which kinds of authority relations are of a higher magnitude than others, warranting the presumption against them? (Here I go beyond the argument in the book, and I appreciate being pushed to do so.) In a certain sense, under universal suffrage no one’s formal authority is greater than anyone else’s. This is still authority, and it needs justification, but under partial suffrage, there is the additional thing: some people’s formal authority is greater than others. Of course, there are sometimes de facto “permanent majorities” even under universal suffrage. But any argument trying to establish those particular permanent majorities as authoritative would be seeking to establish an extra magnitude of authority, a greater magnitude than exists when they are merely de facto permanent majorities. (None of this denies that there can be reasons to worry about permanent majorities.) The same goes for epistocracy. It could happen that there is a de facto rule of the wise even under universal suffrage. The wise people could be in the majority. But an argument purporting to establish the rule of the wise (the very same people) would be trying to add an extra magnitude of authority, and faces a presumption against it. (My argument here would seem to cover the case, mentioned by Ben in comment 7, of a moderate epistocracy: more votes for some than for others.)

Boiling the point down, consider three of us deciding on a movie. We decide to vote, and agree the majority will be authoritative. You two end up voting against me. This is authority and needs justification (here it seems to rest on my consent, unlike in politics, but that’s beside the point). Now compare that to a proposal to give the two of you votes, but not me. This plainly involves an extra magnitude of authority over me. That’s the basis for my claim that epistocracy involves a greater magnitude of authority than universal suffrage. If that’s right, then there is a presumption in favor of universal suffrage over epistocracy. Then the fact that there’s qualified disagreement as to whether universal suffrage or epistocracy is epistemically better favors universal suffrage.

Paul (comment 4) suggests that I might have in mind an analogy between the individual and the collective case: in each case the default is self-rule. My own view is that there’s no moral significance to “collective self-rule.” The morally relevant unit is the individual. So my talk of defaults above is all about a presumption against more authority(/legitimacy) over the individual. The original default is none at all, etc. I don’t defend this moral individualism, but just assume it, so others might try to make something out of the idea of a moral immunity, held by a collective, against being ruled by other agents or collectives. I don’t mean to be denying, by the way, that it can be meaningful to speak of a collective’s actions or choices, etc. I just don’t think there’s any moral relevance to whether a collective is self-governing. I suppose it could turn out that such a thing is morally significant because of some specified relation between collective self-rule and the rights and liberties of individuals. I just don’t know how that can be worked out, so I pitch it all at the level of the moral claims of individuals.

I turn next to Jonathan’s worry about the boundaries of the group of “qualified” points of view. As he points out, if there were no qualified disagreement about who the experts are then my argument would imply that epistocracy would be justified and the case for democracy would fail. As I say in the book, I opt for the term “qualified” rather than Rawls’s term “reasonable” partly in order to discourage the temptation to fill in the content with the way the term is used in ordinary language. I hoped that the bland “qualified” didn’t suggest any particular content. Jonathan appeals to the idea of a “qualified political philosopher,” but this is just the kind of thing I’d like to avoid. I don’t mean the word to suggest anything much to do with the ways we’d apply the term outside of my theory. So it’s a term of art, almost as if I’d made up a whole new word, and that’s how I encourage readers to think of it.

So Jonathan’s question whether qualified points of view must be able to identify who the political experts are might look unanswerable in the absence of any content for “qualified.” That’s not quite true, since I give the term a sense, even though I give it no reference (to use the Fregean distinction in a basic way). To be qualified (look out, long sentence coming) is to be such that your views and convictions, even though they might be false, are not ones that disqualify you from only being permissibly coerced politically when that arrangement can be justified in terms that do not contradict your views. (This might make the qualified acceptability condition look like a tautology. To avoid that appearance, that principle itself can be put this way: certain views are such that, even though they might be false, their holders are not thereby subject to permissible coercion without a justification that is compatible with their views. Call those views “qualified.”) So, when we ask whether a certain view is qualified or not, we are asking whether or not holders of that view are disqualified from the normal burdens we have to justify our coercion in terms they can accept. This is still a long way from telling us which views are qualified in this sense and which are not, but we do now understand what the question is.

How does any of this address Jonathan’s challenge? Once the issue is specified in this way, the issue would be whether a person is only entitled to acceptable justification if they have the ability to identify the politically wise people, the potential epistocrats. Here I simply assert that this is not so. I don’t know where the burden of proof lies, but I see no reason to think that an inability to identify the wise would disqualify a person in this way. I offer no theory that would generate an answer here, so I simply assert it, and welcome substantive moral argument about it. It is no argument against me here simply to ask, “what if we counted people as qualified only if they could identify the wise?” The answer to that is obvious: my argument against epistocracy would fail. But why think it actually does? Another way of formulating my stance is to put it more weakly as a conditional: if, as I think, a failure to identify the wise is not disqualifying, we have a promising argument against epistocracy. (As you’ll see in the next chapter, I do think it’s quite plausible to say that the qualified must have an incorrect view about what views count as qualified. I put that assumption to heavy use. It is a very different issue, however, although they could easily be confused.)

I’m now anticipating issues from the next chapter, so let me leave that matter here and we’ll surely be coming back to it. Jonathan’s question about whether the existence of qualified disagreement is contingent or not should be addressed. Quickly, I think the question is the possibility, not the existence, of qualified disagreement. That would not be contingent. But more next week if people would like. On another point, I’ll briefly note that I think Ben (comment 1, his 3rd point) is right that my view does not suggest that all political decisions should be beyond reasonable disagreement, at least as we are likely to hear that. I’m not sure, though, that his “constitutional essentials” is right either, and here I might diverge from Rawls. Addressing both of those points, I’d say, rather, that any instance of political coercion must have a justification that is beyond reasonable disagreement. I apply it to “any instance,” not just special matters, but I say only that it “must have a justification” that is acceptable, though the decision itself could be open to qualified disagreement (as I assume many or most political decisions are).

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19 Responses to Response to comments on Chapter 2

  1. Hi David,
     
    Thanks for the response, which I found really helpful in gaining a better understanding of how you see universal suffrage as compared to epistocracy with respect to the qualified points of view test. I do, however, have a further question for you about this. You say:
     
    there are three possibilities I’m considering. One is a state of nature, with no political authority/legitimacy. A second is democratic authority, with universal suffrage in some form. A third is non-democratic authority in which only some specified subset of people have authority, concentrating on arguments for epistocracy. My argument depends on the three kinds of proposed authority being antecedently ordered in the magnitude of authority they are proposing. The state of nature proposes the least, epistocracy proposes the most. And it depends on there being a presumption against higher magnitudes of authority. That, I trust, is not a democratic claim, and so it doesn’t beg the crucial question. My claim is that the case for democracy over the state of nature can be made to all qualified points of view (as I argue in the book as a whole), thus overcoming the presumption against more (or any) authority. The case for epistocracy over democracy cannot. This might seem to leave a tie between democracy and epistocracy, since there is qualified disagreement in both directions about which is epistemically better. But since epistocracy is a greater magnitude of authority, there is a presumption against it, and it loses. This is not a presumption in favor of democracy. It is a presumption in favor of less authority, and democracy benefits from this presumption.
     
    I’m still a little puzzled by the claim that epistocracy involves a greater magnitude of authority than universal suffrage. Let’s suppose that there is some set of issues which all qualified points of view agree require political resolution, that is, we agree that there should be some authoritative decisions made with regard to these issues – call it domain X. For example, I assume that all qualified points of view will agree that the question of how resources ought to be distributed amongst citizens falls within domain X, whereas the issue of what colour t-shirts Jon should wear will not. To follow your account of authority, someone needs to have moral power to require action in the former case, but no one should have this moral power in the latter case. We then face the question of who is going to make the decisions within domain X, or put another way, how the authority of domain X is going to be distributed. We could distribute authority over domain X in various ways, democracy being the egalitarian distribution, and epistocracy being a particular form of inegalitarian distribution. We thus have two separate questions:

    (1) How big is domain X?
    (2) How is authority over domain X going to be distributed?
     
    In describing things this way I’m trying to suggest that the question of how much political authority there is in our society is separate from the question of how that authority will be distributed. If this is right, then there is no difference in the magnitude of authority in an epistocracy or a democracy – both regimes have the same amount of political authority (they will both have the moral power to require action over the same set of issues), it’s just concentrated in fewer hands in an epistocracy. Basically, I’m not clear why you think that the fact that in an epistocracy some people have more formal authority than others means there is a greater magnitude of authority in an epistocracy than in a democracy. To my mind, there is the same magnitude of authority, it’s just been distributed in a less egalitarian manner. But maybe I’m not using authority in quite the same sense as you?
     
    If the picture I’ve offered is plausible, then democracy is on a par with epistocracy or any other proposed mechanism for allocating political authority. I’m perfectly willing to believe, as you argue, that democracy is justifiable to all qualified points of view and that epistocracy is not. I just don’t see that epistocracy is, from the start, somehow trying to justify more authority than democracy.
     
    Maybe we could say you are proposing roughly the following test:
     
    Authority Test: Every proposed increase in political authority must be justifiable to all qualified points of view.
     
    On the picture I’ve offered, this test applies only to our first question, namely, determining the size of domain X: how many issues would all qualified points of view accept as belonging in domain X? I guess that will depend on how we flesh out ‘qualified points of view’. I take your point that this is a term of art in your book, and you want to leave the content unspecified in order to focus on the general structure of the argument. Still, it would be interesting to know why we should care about justifying our institutions to qualified points of view. What is it about such points of view that is so normatively salient? With Rawls’s reasonable persons we know the answer: it is because reasonable disagreement is the inevitable product of rationality exercised under free conditions, and so making our institutions acceptable to reasonable persons is a way of ensuring our political institutions are compatible with the free exercise of human reason. Obviously I don’t want to spoil the discussion of chapter 3, but I am curious whether you see the need to justify institutions to qualified points of view as having a similar motivation?

  2. I’m flip flopping on the question of the default, so I won’t comment about that, but I did want to ask David for clarification of his last comment:

    "any instance of political coercion must have a justification that is beyond reasonable disagreement. I apply it to “any instance,” not just special matters, but I say only that it “must have a justification” that is acceptable, though the decision itself could be open to qualified disagreement (as I assume many or most political decisions are)"

    If an instance of political coercion is not open to qualified objection, how could the decision to carry out that coercion be open to qualified objection? Perhaps because the decision was in fact motivated by other, objectionable reasons?  Or is it rather that there are no qualified objections to having some common rule on a particular matter, but qualified objections to each of the various possible rules (i.e. inconclusiveness nested by conclusiveness, or higher-order unanimity)?   

  3. Jonathan: I’m not sure, but I see no reason not to grant you that one of the dimensions of the extent or magnitude of authority/legitimacy, requiring additional justification, is the size of the issue space (somehow measured) over which the authority extends. Let’s call that the authority’s scope. Now consider two scenarios of three people, in which the scope is held constant. However, in the first, you two usually outvote me. In the second, you two have votes and I do not. I say in the second scenario the authority over me is greater or more extensive or of a greater magnitude in a way that requires additional justification. But this is a dimension of magnitude other than scope. 
    I think you mean to deny this, but I’m not sure on what grounds.

    To put it into a broader context, I say that even if, for example, pacifists are likely to be outvoted all or most of the time, disenfranchising them would be a further subjection. If I understand you, you think this is just an odd way of saying an egalitarian distribution of the authority is morally preferable, at least pro tanto. Maybe it is, but why? I am arguing that the morally fundamental factor is the difference in the magnitude of authority over the disenfranchised. I think that the distribution of authority or rights to rule may be different in this way from the distribution of many other goods. With respect to the distribution of life chances, or primary goods, etc., perhaps an egalitarian distribution has no presumption in its favor (though this is controversial). But I think there is a presumption against anyone being anyone else’s boss (in the authority and the legitimacy sense). This does not mention anything about equal distribution of anything. I don’t see any counterpart to this presumption in other matters of distributive justice. There’s no presumption in favor of my having everything, for example. But there is a presumption in favor of my having complete freedom from the rule of others.

    If so, it would be odd if it only applies to the binary choice of boss/no-boss, but then had no more application to more-boss/less-boss. If you two have votes and I don’t, you’re bosses over me to a greater extent than if you simply tend to outvote me, and I claim that the presumption extends to such comparative cases.In order to resist, you would need to argue either a.) that there is no presumption against being ruled by others, b.) that even if there is it doesn’t apply to degrees of ruling authority, only to the on/off case, or c.) that disenfranchising me does not make you two rulers over me to any greater extent than if you just vote alike. I think if you accept all of those the basic form of my argument goes through. 

  4. Andrew: Suppose I think that the Bush tax-cuts are open to reasonable disagreement. But I can still think they are permissibly enforced (legitimate) because there is a procedural justification that is beyond qualified disagreement. (Or at least there could be if conditions were sufficiently favorable.) Congress should not have passed them, but (under the right conditions) they do have the moral power to do so. So the coercive enforcement of the resulting laws has a generally acceptable justification, even though the case for passing the tax cuts might not. I think there is qualified disagreement about many laws even when there is no qualified disagreement about their permissible enforcement if they are duly passed. 

  5. Ben Saunders says:

    Thanks for this David. I’m not sure how long the discussion is supposed to go on for, so I don’t think you should feel bound to answer all our responses to your response. Nonetheless, I do still have a worry relating I think to Jonathan’s.

    You say "Let’s call that the authority’s scope. Now consider two scenarios of three people, in which the scope is held constant. However, in the first, you two usually outvote me. In the second, you two have votes and I do not."

    Now I’m not quite sure what is meant by the ‘usually outvote’. I’d grant that if we all had an equal vote and didn’t know how they’d be used, and it just happened that you two tended to be on the same side of many issues, then that can treat all equally as no one is ex ante disadvantaged. I’m worried about cases where there’s a permanent minority, however, so it’s predictable who loses – think, for example, of Lani Guinier’s cases where she describes black voters as feeling effectively disenfranchised because they know in advance that, despite their formally equal vote, they’ll be out-voted and lose. To my mind, there’s little difference between that case and the one where they simply don’t have a vote at all.

    I guess really this goes back to my comment on chapter one regarding what you assume as the nature of democracy. I think one person, one vote and majority takes all fails, in these cases, to treat everyone equally and we need some more proportional system.

  6. Thanks Jonathan for another great summary, David for your response, both here and last week, and to everyone else who has commented.

    I should also say to the many people who are reading these discussions to feel very welcome to register at the site and participate with their own comments.

    I have worries about the QAC, as I expressed last week, and also about how Qualified is unpacked here, but I’ll leave that until this coming week’s discussion.

    On the question of pp. 36-37, I think I have two worries. The first is Jonathan’s worry about how to measure the magnitude of political authority. The problem is not so much seeing one way in which democracy involves a lower magnitude of authority than epistocracy, but rather of seeing other ways in which it involves just the same, or perhaps an even greater magnitude. Then the question is how do we non-arbitrarily select the perspective that makes the argument on pp. 36-37 work without begging the question in favour of democratic egalitarianism?

    Let me fill this out: Say there is a Dictator who holds all power in his own hands. So there is a relationship of non-reciprocal political authority that he has over every other individual in the society. But Dictator is overthrown in a coup by Junta, which comprises, say, eleven people. Are there now more relations of non-reciprocal political authority, because we now have ten more people exercising power? Or are there fewer such relations, because the ruling entity, whatever it is, dominates ten fewer people? Did the magnitude of political authority increase or decrease? Or stay the same? And we can extend the case from Junta to Epistocracy to Tyranny of the Majority to Democracy. We could say that the question is really one about the greatest discrepancy in power between one person and any single individual. Here Dictatorship would involve the greatest monopolisation of power of one individual relative to others. But this way of framing the question may already presuppose democratic equality as a baseline. I’m not sure.

    The second worry concerns the idea of a default position, particularly if the ultimate default is assumed to be a State of Nature. It seems to me that if we get rid of this idea, we don’t need to immerse ourselves in the problem of magnitude, because we won’t need to measure how far away from a default we have come. So when David writes:

    When the burden [of the QAC] is not discharged, it asserts that the default condition is the absence of authority or legitimate power (37).

    and above:

    I grant this last conditional point as well: if no political authority
    relation passes the general acceptability test then there is no
    political authority, but a political state of nature.

    Why not instead simply say: "if a regime X of political power fails to meet the QAC then it fails to possess legitimate authority" without saying anything at all about what else might be justified. My worry is that even if it does not involve the exercise of coercive political power, an anarchy is just another way to arrange our political affairs, and not a particularly attractive one. Nothing about the failure of X or Y or Z regimes of political power to meet the QAC says anything about the ability of an anarchy to do so — at least if we think of the QAC as applying to overall political arrangements and not simply coercive political power itself. I don’t see why an anarchy should enjoy a dialectical privilege simply because it doesn’t have coercive political authority and because we do want to justify coercive political authority. We might end up with a situation in which no way of arranging our political affairs, including anarchy, met the QAC. Here the default would be not one particular political arrangement rather than another, but simply a philosophical dilemma.

    If we think like this, we can dispense with the problem of magnitude and simply argue that one form of political arrangements, democracy, meets the QAC under such and such assumptions, and other forms of political arrangements, e.g. epistocracy, do not. There’s no need for justifying (by appeal to magnitude) the conditional: "if epistocracy fails to meet the QAC then democracy is the default" if there are already good arguments for the conjunction: "epistocracy fails to meet the QAC and democracy does meet it."

    Not that I accept the QAC of course … but that aside.

     

  7. Ben: Thanks, it’s helpful to put this question in the context of racially polarized voting (a topic very much on many people’s minds this year in the U.S.).First, I’m not sure what part of my conception of democracy you are thinking of in your remark about whether majority rule is morally sufficient. My definition of democracy is: the laws and policies are collectively authorized by the people subject to them. You may think that PR systems are necessary conditions for genuine collective authorization, and I’m not taking a stand either way on that.

    Second, you say that if there is a permanent white majority despite formally equal suffrage (plus, let’s assume more substantive guarantees of the fair value of this individual right), "there’s little difference between that case and the one where [blacks] simply don’t have a vote at all." Recall, I’m granting, at least for the sake of argument, that something’s troubling in a case like that, so that’s not at issue. I’m claiming that the disenfranchisement case subjects the blacks to the whites to a greater extent than the permanent majority case under equal suffrage. Do you effectively concede that there is some such difference by calling it "little," or do you mean there is no difference of the kind I’m claiming? 

    If you mean that there is really no difference morally, I wonder if that would imply some implausible things. It’s already pretty hard for me to swallow that disenfranchising blacks would not increase their subjection even if it wouldn’t change any voted outcomes. But should we say this about 18-21 year-olds? Suppose we could show that their views and interests cohere in the same way that those of black voters do, but also that they are consistently outvoted. Do you think that in the sixties, the only sound case for enfranchising that group would need to include claims that they would not, as a group, be consistently outvoted? Same for libertarians? Gays? How would you distinguish those cases from the case of blacks. 

    There is a kind of special case worth mentioning. Suppose that before blacks were enfranchised the whites (in their various offices: voters, legislators, judges) were only willing to grant the vote to blacks on the condition that, as it happens, blacks would anyway be permanently and consistently outvoted. That would certainly be among the gravest sorts of political injustice. But that does not imply either that there is no moral point to enfranchising blacks, nor that if they are enfranchised it should also be guaranteed that they will not always be outvoted. Maybe there are other arguments for this last thing, but that’s a separate question.

  8. Simon: Those are two good questions. Your first one is whether an oligarchy subjects a non-ruler to a greater magnitude of authority than a dictaorship, or less, or the same. It’s an interesting question. As I’ll say in a minute, I don’t think I need an all-purpose measure of magnitude, but let’s go with it for now. I’d be tempted (though this is just conversation, right?) to say that magnitude of authority does not aggregate across individual authorities in that way, so increasing the number of authorities (supposing they must vote amongst themselves) doesn’t increase the magnitude of authority over any individual. One thing that seems to point that way is the fact that even as more people join the oligarchy, the authority that each of them has over me decreases. The dictator has the most of all, but once there’s a co-dictator he has a lot less. 

    So if it doesn’t aggregate in that way, we should concentrate on the pairwise relationships between individual rulres and subjects. Dictatorship is a greater magnitude of authority than anyone has over me in oligarchy or democracy, and so the presumption is against it.

    In any case, my claim for present purposes is more limited than this. I just say that, keeping the scope of issues over which there is authority constant, and keeping the number in the majority constant, there is more authority over me if I can’t vote than if I can, even if, as it happens, this changes no outcomes. That claim is not affected by the interesting puzzles about whether varying the number in the majority changes the magnitude of authority over subjected individuals.

    I’ll address your second question in a next comment.

  9. Simon, your second question is whether the idea that non-authority is, in a certain sense, the default position privileges anarchy in an implausible and unnecessary way.

    First, lets say clearly what “anarchy” means here. It means a condition in which no person or group can create obligations to obey merely by issuing commands, nor may anyone permissibly enforce their commands. Those are moral conditions, and they tell us nothing about how people would actually act. “Anarchy” is sometimes used to mean chaos, disorder, amorality, etc., but here it means none of those things. I assume we agree about this.

    As you quote me, I say,

    When the burden [of the QAC] is not discharged, it asserts that the default condition is the absence of authority or legitimate power (37).

    You write,

    Why not instead simply say: ‘if a regime X of political power fails to meet the QAC then it fails to possess legitimate authority’ without saying anything at all about what else might be justified.

    But what about the case where, for all X, where X is a regime of political power, X fails to meet the QAC? That’s the case to which my remark is addressed, but what you say seems to entail that you agree with me about this case: there is no legitimate authority. I call that a state of nature, and you can call it anarchy of a certain kind if we’re careful in the way I said above.

    Now, you might grant all of this. Your point might be that none of this failure of authority implies that anarchy is justified. I’m not sure how to understand that. If no one is under authority, then… no one is under authority. What would it mean to ask whether this moral condition is morally justified?

    We could, perhaps, ask whether a condition in which no one, in fact, issues or enforces or obeys commands is justified. I’ve taken no position on that question. (And some might use “anarchy” in to describe that condition, though it’s not what it means for us here.) That’s asking a moral question about a non-moral empirical condition. What I don’t see is how to ask whether the moral condition of no one being under legitimate authority is itself morally justified.

    So, I’m inclined to think that what you say in the above quotation lands you in agreement with me that the state of nature, or “anarchy,” is, in that sense, the default position.

  10. Hi David,
     
    Thanks again for the detailed reply. I’m still not sure, however, about your claim that there is a greater order of magnitude in an epistocracy than a democracy. To isolate the disagreement between us, let me begin with something you say in response to Simon:
     
    keeping the scope of issues over which there is authority constant, and keeping the number in the majority constant, there is more authority over me if I can’t vote than if I can, even if, as it happens, this changes no outcomes.
     
    I think this claim could be taken to imply something like the following thesis (I think this is consistent with what you say in reply to Simon):
     
    Amount of Authority Thesis (AAT): The amount of authority that there is over person A is measured by the range of decisions over which he is subject to some authority, minus A’s formal share (e.g. formal right to vote or make decisions) of that authority.

    I think AAT is the best way of explaining why ‘there is more authority over me if I can’t vote than if I can’. So let’s assume that AAT is true. While it will be true that you are subject to more authority when we take your right to vote away, it should then also be true that someone else is now subject to less authority. In a three-person system, if we take your vote away then we have increased the other two persons’ share of political authority from 33% each to 50% each.  While we have made you subject to more authority we have not altered the total amount of authority in society. The only way to do that, as I was suggesting in my reply, is to increase the range or scope of domain X.
     
    In your reply to me, however, you indicate that what matters in determining the magnitude of authority in a democracy versus an epistocracy is not the sum total scope of authority but rather ‘the morally fundamental factor is the difference in the magnitude of authority over the disenfranchised’. I assume that when you say ‘the morally fundamental factor’ you mean, the thing that needs to be justified to all qualified points of view.  If each further increase in the magnitude of authority needs to be justified to qualified points of view, this reduces to the claim that non-egalitarian distributions of authority involve greater magnitudes of authority than egalitarian ones, and so face a higher burden of justification. I don’t want to deny the truth of this claim (it seems very plausible), I only want to point out that this is a fundamentally egalitarian (and thus democratic) claim, and so I think it cannot be presented as a non-democratic test which distinguishes epistocracy as involving more authority than democracy.
     
    I’d also just like to echo Ben’s comment and say thanks for taking the time to answer all our questions. It’s really terrific to get a chance to quiz you directly about the book and to get such detailed replies, but I hope you aren’t feeling as if you must reply to everything!

  11. I’m not feeling obligated. I’m very interested in this issue, since this argument about the extra authority involved in epistocracy, etc., was some of the most recent work in the book and is not properly “aged.” So I’m interested to see how it fares. You’ll be relieved to know I won’t be able to be this active all the time.

    Jonathan:

    To test whether an argument is question-begging, as we all know, we need to see if the conclusion of the argument is assumed in the premises. But to show this it would not be enough that the conclusion of the argument is entailed by the premises. That’s simply logical validity, hardly a vice. So I take it that you mean to argue that the things I’ve said about magnitude of authority not only imply a democratic conclusion, but that in some further way they assume a democratic conclusion. As I’m defining democracy, then, the argument would be question-begging only if it assumed without argument that authority or legitimacy depend on laws and policies being authorized by those subject to them. But I don’t think you actually try to show that.

    It looks like you’re more concerned with a slightly different issue. My argument seems to you to assume, without argument, something about a presumption in favor of formally equal political power. This political egalitarianism, as I’ll call it here, doesn’t seem logically related to democracy. Certainly, neither is logically necessary or sufficient for the other. Still, I do want to know whether my argument takes a presumption in favor of formal political egalitarianism for granted. (I actually reject political egalitarianism later in the book, but that wouldn’t mean I don’t accept a presumption in its favor. I haven’t had a chance to think fully about that.)

    You’re worried that such egalitarian claims are smuggled in by my holding that a.) there is extra authority involved when (other things equal) some are disenfranchised, and that b.) extra authority is only legitimate if it is justified beyond qualified disagreement. If these together imply something politically egalitarian, then we have a valid argument, not a circular one. But it would be circular if one or the other assumed political egalitarianism all by itself.

    But which of those is the egalitarian assumption? Not the first claim, because it is not morally prescriptive at all. Not the second claim, since it doesn’t say whether formal political inequality involves extra authority. Together they may entail a prescription morally favoring a presumption in favor of formal political equality. But, as I say, that just makes it a valid argument.It’s democracy that I’m especially keen not to be assuming without argument, in any case. Even if political egalitarianism were being assumed without argument (and I don’t believe it is), that wouldn’t show that democracy was. Political egalitarianism doesn’t involve any presumption against anarchy, but anarchy is not democratic.

  12. I think Jonathan is denying a.).  To amplify his point, suppose we are considering how Angie, Bob, and Chris will decide what they each will do with respect to some issue X (e.g. whether each will x or ~x).  In a dictatorship, Angie decides for everyone.  In an oligarchy, Angie and Bob decide for everyone, while in a democracy, they all share authority.

    In the dictatorship, Bob and Chris are each fully subject to Angie; total amount of subjection to outside authority: 2.  

    In the oligarchy, Chris is still fully subject (now to Angie and Bob), but Bob is only partially subject, since Bob shares authority over himself with Angie.  Angie is likewise partially subject to outside authority, since she now shares authority over herself with Bob.  Total amount of subjection to outside authority: 1 for Chris plus .5 each for Bob and Angie = 2.  

    In the democracy, the situation is the same for all three, so just consider Angie.  Angie has 1/3 authority over herself, and thus is 2/3 subject to outside authority.  3 x 2/3 = 2 – no change in the extent to which people are subject to outside.

    The moral of the story appears to be that if all we care about is the aggregate extent to which people are subject to authority other than themselves, dictatorship is equivalent to democracy!  Hence if there are qualified objections to both, we are at a standoff.

  13. I’ve turned off the wysiwyg comment editor that seemed to be causing problems in formatting and its place put a live comment preview plugin as well as some html quicktags. For some reason the wysiwyg editor doesn’t work with the live preview. This set-up may make it more difficult to type quickly for some people though — please let me know.

  14. Andrew: When I talked about aggregating authority, I meant aggregating the amount of authority over one person, not aggregating the total amount of authority over all people. I don’t know if minimizing that latter thing has any agent-neutral value, but wasn’t what I meant. So the question I’m asking is how much authority there is over S if S can vote, as compared with the case where S can’t vote. This doesn’t settle anything, but I just wanted to clarify that.

  15. I promise not to belabor this point any more – we’ll be moving on to chapter 3 shortly. But I’m fascinated by this issue of presumptions, defaults, burdens of proof, and so on.

    Our starting point is a presumption against authority, such that every extra bit of authority needs to pass a ‘no qualified objections’ test (with less authority the default). It initially seems that restrictions of the franchise must pass this test, with universal franchise the default, because if S has no vote, there is more authority over S than if S can vote. But if S has no vote, there is also less authority over the others in the group (T, U, V…), because their share of authority over themselves has increased. The default position of the universal franchise seems to have vanished.

    Something in this reasoning doesn’t make sense. One oddity is that, according to the accounting presented in my previous post (which I think was just Jonathan’s ways of measuring authority), there is less authority in a dictatorship of one over the rest than there is in a reciprocal dictatorship of each over some other.

    Suppose there are only two people. In the first case, A decides for A and B, so there is just one case of subjection to outside authority. In the second case, B decides for A and A decides for B, so there are two cases of subjection to outside authority. But surely it is the former case that is objectionable, from the point of view of human freedom. Well, I suppose that depends. Are we trying to minimize the total amount of subjection to outside authority? Or are we trying to minimize the extent of asymmetrical authority relationships? Why, in other words, is there a presumption against authority? Is it because authority involves someone not being free? Or is it because authority involves someone being subordinate to someone else?

  16. Thanks for your response David. I think I much prefer the idea of anarchy in a moral sense, i.e. as the absence of a certain moral power, rather than in a political or institutional sense, i.e. as the absence of coercive legal relations. Giving the latter a dialectical advantage has always seemed to me to be an illicit move made by some libertarians, so I’m happy this is not the lay of the land here. I think I was thrown off by the phrase “political state of nature” which I suppose is ambiguous between the two.

    Nevertheless, I’m still unclear about the status of democracy as a default position, and I’m wondering whether that is because I’m getting confused between two senses of authority: one as a moral power (p. 2) and the other as a purely political or institutional relationship of control.

    I take it that the QAC applies to institutional arrangements, and that only if an institutional arrangement X passes the QAC can it also possess authority as a moral power. (I’m going to leave aside the relationship between the QAC and legitimacy for the moment, because I think that involves some other questions).

    If all proposed institutional arrangements involving relationships of political control fail the QAC then one could have thought this meant that another institutional arrangement — anarchy as lawlessness — was the default. But you clarify that this is not what you mean — instead the default is simply an absence of the moral power of authority. So we may or may not end up with normal coercive political institutions, it’s just that they wouldn’t have the special moral feature of creating moral obligations that some of us think they possess.

    But, following this line of thought, if we take one proposed institutional arrangement, e.g. epistocracy, and show that it fails the QAC, what we are left with is simply the conclusion that it fails to have the special moral feature of creating moral obligations. There’s no implication whatsoever that some other institutional arrangement, e.g democracy, enjoys any sort of default advantage. Each institutional arrangement measures up to the QAC independently of the others. If all fail, then no moral power of authority exists. If some pass, then we choose between them on other grounds. If only one passes, then we’ve hit the jackpot straight away.

    In short, if institutional anarchy (lawlessness) does not enjoy a default presumption in case of the failure of all other political arrangements to meet the QAC, on account of its having no relationships of coercive political control, then democracy does not enjoy a default presumption in case of the failure of epistocracy to meet the QAC, on account of its having a lesser magnitude of coercive political control.

    This means, I think, that the question of how to quantify or measure political control, such that one form involves a greater magnitude than another, is one we can bypass entirely. (I take it that we are trying to measure the magnitude of authority in the sense of political control rather than in the sense of moral power, for the reason that epistocracy does not involve any greater magnitude of moral power over democracy at all.)

  17. I think I’ll leave off at this point. This was very useful, and still somewhat unsettled in my mind. I’m looking forward to the next chapter’s discussion.

  18. Hi David,

    Like Andrew, I promise this will be my last go on this point. Andrew is right to say (in his comment 12) that it is (a) that I continue to have my doubts about.

    I still don’t see why we should say that unequal distributions of authority involve extra degrees or amounts of authority. It’s true that the people who have their political authority diminished in unequal distributions have less, but as Andrew and I have been arguing, other people then have more. All we can really say is that unequal distributions are unequal. If we also want to say that equality should be the default distribution of authority, and departures from that stand in need of justification, that seems fine, but I deny that they stand in need of justification because there is somehow more authority being exercised. If they stand in need of justification it is because they depart from the norm of equality.

    I thus don’t really see two distinct premises which lead to a political egalitarian conclusion. I see only the following principle

    (P1): Authority ought to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution can be justified to all.

    I accept that P1 does not assume democracy as its conclusion and thus doesn’t beg the question in favour of democracy. This principle might permit an epistocracy since it doesn’t tell us whether an unequal distribution can be justified. I simply believe that your presumption against authority is in fact a distributive principle which makes equality the default from which departures need to be justified.

    I’m not saying any of this is necessarily a problem. It does, though, seem to undermine the claim that there is any difference in authority between anarchy versus democracy. Both systems distribute political authority equally, it’s just that in anarchy the distribution is equal since no one has any.

    Here, however, is an alternative principle which would maintain the claim that the move from authority to democracy, and then the move from democracy to epistocracy, each involve something that requires an extra justification:

    (P2): Authority (measured in terms of authority over oneself/being free from others’ authority) ought to be distributed so as to maximize the least-advantaged person’s share, unless there are proposals that diminish the least-advantaged person’s share that can be justified to all qualified points of view.

    Anarchy gives everyone the maximum possible share of authority over themselves and so is the default from which departures need to be justified. Democracy is an egalitarian distribution which lowers everyone’s total share of authority over themselves, and so would need to be justified. Epistocracy might then severely lower the least-advantaged person’s share, and so presumably would face a harder time with justification. Does P2 do a better job of capturing the presumption against authority that you’re after than P1?

  19. I made my last post before seeing David’s final comment. Thanks for all the replies David!

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