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Noocracy (/nˈɒkrəsi/) (Nous meaning 'mind" or 'intellect' and Kratos meaning 'power' or 'authority') is an ideal type of government where decisions are delegated to those deemed wisest. The idea is classically advanced, among others, by Plato, al-Farabi and Confucius.


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One of the first attempts to implement such a political system was perhaps Pythagoras' "city of the wise" that he planned to build in Italy together with his followers, the order of "mathematikoi".[citation needed]

Plato in his Laws considered such a city a "sophocracy," i.e. rule of the philosopher kings, but some consider him a proponent of "noocracy" in the same vein.[1]

In modern history, similar concepts were introduced by Vladimir Vernadsky, who did not use this term, but the term "noosphere". Teilhard de Chardin is also notable. In turn, Mikhail Epstein defined noocracy as "the thinking matter increases its mass in nature and geo- and biosphere grow into noosphere, the future of the humanity can be envisioned as noocracy—that is the power of the collective brain rather than separate individuals representing certain social groups or society as whole".

In a more concrete sense, one might find pertinent the paradigmatic controversy surrounding genetically modified food or organisms (GMOs). Here the opinions of a likely under-informed public and those of experts are well-known to be starkly in conflict, potentially rendering it a textbook case for setting up such a polity. A council of those reasonably deemed more wise than most, would then, among other things, arguably be expected to not abide by such a strict precautionary principle.

Possible modalities

Adhering to Jason F. Brennan's taxonomy of the roughly equivalent concept he himself instead designates "epistocracy",[2] one may already discern some basic ways of rendering governance more wise a process:

• “Restricted suffrage”: Give voting rights only to those who prove themselves sufficiently well informed to earn the right to cast a ballot. Test to determine the right to vote. Everyone would be eligible to take the exam, but only those who show mastery of the basic concepts of political science, economics, and sociology would earn permission to vote. To make the test fair, focus the questions on objective topics. To create an incentive, voters who pass the test could receive a $1,000 bonus. A citizen who failed the test but wanted to vote could pay a penalty of $2,000, similar to a gas-guzzler tax.

• “Plural voting: Everyone gets a vote, but the better-educated and more-informed get more votes. This system, espoused by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, holds that political participation helps voters feel empowered. It also acknowledges that stupid voters make bad decisions. It favors those who can prove their competence.

• “Enfranchisement lottery” [also known as Sortition]: Before each election, hold a random drawing to grant voting rights. Winners would have to earn the right to vote, perhaps by participating in forums with other voters. The random nature of the lottery would ensure the electorate reflects the demographics of the larger population.

• “Epistocratic veto”: Every citizen retains the right to vote, but an epistocratic branch of government could overrule democratic deliberations. Membership in this deliberative body would be open to any member of society, but qualifying would require passing difficult tests and undergoing criminal background checks. People with conflicts of interest would be disqualified. This council of expert overseers couldn’t create new legislation or regulation but could overrule decisions it deems misguided. The council could block the candidacies of unqualified candidates; this might create gridlock but would force voters to consider candidates carefully.

“Simulated oracle”: In this model, all citizens are asked simultaneously to vote on policies or candidates, to take a test of basic political knowledge, and to indicate their demographics. With these three sets of data, the government can estimate the public’s “enlightened preferences,” for example, what a fully-informed but demographically-identical voting public would want. It implements these enlightened preferences.[3]

Rationales for noocracy

Irrationality of voters

Proponents of noocratic theory cite empirics that suggests voters in modern democracies are largely ignorant, misinformed and irrational.[4] Therefore, one person one vote mechanism proposed by democracy cannot be used to produce efficient policy outcomes, for which the transfer of power to a smaller, informed and rational group would be more appropriate. The irrationality of voters inherent in democracies can be explained by two major behavioral and cognitive patterns. Firstly, most of the voters think that the marginal contribution of their vote will not make a difference on election outcomes; therefore, they do not find it useful to inform themselves on political matters.[4] In other terms, due to the required time and effort of acquiring new information, voters rationally prefer to remain ignorant. Moreover, it has been shown that most citizens process political information in deeply biased, partisan, motivated ways rather than in dispassionate, rational ways.[4] This psychological phenomenon causes voters to strongly identify themselves with a certain political group, specifically find evidence to support arguments aligning with their preferred ideological inclinations, and eventually vote with a high level of bias.

Democracy's susceptibility to bad policies

Irrational political behaviors of voters prevent them from making calculated choices and opting for the right policy proposals. On the other hand, many political experiments have shown that as voters get more informed, they tend to support better policies, demonstrating that acquisition of information has a direct impact on rational voting.[4] Moreover, supporters of noocracy see a greater danger in the fact that politicians will actually prefer to implement the policy decisions of citizens to win elections and stabilize their power, without paying particular attention to the content and further outcomes of these policies. In democracies, the problem is that voters are prone to make bad policy decisions and therefore that politicians are incentivized to implement these policies due to personal benefits. Therefore, noocrats argue that it makes sense to limit the voting power of citizens in order to prevent bad policy outcomes. Noocracy has a code of conduct to pursue philanthropic initiatives.[citation needed]

Use of expertise for efficient outcomes

According to noocrats, given the complex nature of political decisions, it is not reasonable to assume that a citizen would have the necessary knowledge to decide on means to achieve their political aims. In general, political actions require a lot of social scientific knowledge from various fields, such as economics, sociology, international relations, and public policy; however, an ordinary voter is hardly specialized enough in any of those fields to make the optimal decision. To address this issue, Christiano proposes a ruling system based on division of political labor, in which citizens set the agenda for political discussions and determine the aims of the society, whereas legislators are in charge of deciding on the means to achieve these aims.[5] For noocrats, transferring the decision-making mechanism to a body of specifically trained, specialized and experienced body is expected to result in superior and more efficient policy outcomes. Recent economic success of some countries that have a sort of noocratic ruling element provides basis for this particular argument in favor of noocracy.

For instance, Singapore has a political system that favors meritocracy; the path to government in Singapore is structured in such a way that only those with above-average skills are identified with strict university-entrance exams, recruiting processes, etc., and then rigorously trained to be able to devise best the solutions that benefit the entire society. In the words of the country's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore is a society based on effort and merit, not wealth or privilege depending on birth.[6] This system primarily works due to citizens’ belief that political leaders tend to have a better understanding of country's long-term plans than themselves; therefore, as they see positive policy outcomes, they tend to go along with the system, rather than complain about the meritocratic dimensions. For example, most citizens praise their government in Singapore, stating that it managed to transform Singapore from a third world country to a developed economy, and that it successfully fostered loyalty in its citizens towards the country and gave birth to a unique concept of Singaporean citizenship despite a great level of ethnic diversity.[citation needed] In order to develop further Singapore's technocratic system, some thinkers, like Parag Khanna, have proposed for the country to adapt a model of direct technocracy, demanding citizen input in essential matters through online polls, referendums, etc., and asking for a committee of experts to analyze this data to determine the best course of action.[7]


Noocracies, like technocracies, have been criticized for meritocratic failings, such as potentially upholding a more or less permanent ruling class. Others have highlighted more democratic ideals as better epistemic models of law and policy. Noocracy's criticisms come in multiple forms, two of which are those focused on the efficacy of noocracies and the political viability of them.

Criticisms of noocracy in all its forms – including technocracy, meritocracy, and epistocracy (the focus of Jason Brennan's oft-cited book) – range from support of direct democracy instead to proposed alterations to our consideration of representation in democracy. Political theorist Hélène Landemore, while arguing for representatives to effectively enact legislation important to the polity, criticizes conceptions of representation that aim especially to remove the people from the process of making decisions, and thereby nullify their political power.[8] Noocracy, especially as it is conceived in Jason Brennan's Against Democracy, aims specifically to separate the people from the decision on the basis of the immensely superior knowledge of officials who will presumably make superior decisions to laypeople.

Noocracy as anti-democratic

Jason Brennan's epistocracy, specifically, is at odds with democracy and with certain criteria for democracies that theorists have proposed. Robert Dahl's Polyarchy sets out certain rules for democracies that govern many people and the rights that the citizens must be granted. His demand that the government not discriminatorily heed the preferences of full members of the polity is abridged by Brennan's "restricted suffrage" and "plural voting" schemes of epistocracy.[9][4] In the eighth chapter of his book, Brennan posits a system of graduated voting power that gives people more votes based on established levels of education achieved, with the number of additional votes granted to a hypothetical citizen increasing at each level, from turning sixteen to completing high school, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and so forth.[4] Dahl wrote, however, that any democracy that rules over a large group of people must accept and validate "alternative sources of information."[9] Granting the full powers of citizenship based on a system like formal education attainment does not account for the other ways that people can consume information, is the commonly cited argument, and still eschews consideration for the uneducated within a group.

Inefficiency of experts

Noocracy also receives criticism for its claims to efficiency. Brennan writes that one of the many reasons that common people cannot be trusted to make decisions for the state is because reasoning is commonly motivated, and, therefore, people decide what policies to support based on their connection to those proposing and supporting the measures, not based on what is most effective. He contrasts real people with the ultra-reasonable vulcan that he mentions throughout the book.[4] That vulcan reflects Plato's philosopher king and, in a more realistic sense, the academic elites whom Michael Young satirized in his essay The Rise of the Meritocracy.[10][11]

Modern political theorists do not necessarily denounce a biased viewpoint in politics, however, though those biases are not written about as they are commonly considered. Professor Landemore utilizes the existence of cognitive diversity to argue that any group of people that represents great diversity in their approaches to problem-solving (cognition) is more likely to succeed than groups that do not.[12] She further illustrates her point by employing the example of a New Haven task force made up of private citizens of many careers, politicians, and police who needed to reduce crime on a bridge without lighting, and they all used different aspects of their experiences to discover the solution that was to install solar lamps on the bridge. That solution has proven effective, with not a single mugging reported there since the lamp installation as of November 2010.[12] Her argument lies mainly in the refutation of noocratic principles, for they do not utilize the increased problem solving skill of a diverse pool, when the political system because as debate between elites alone, and not a debate between the whole polity.[8]

To some theorists, noocracy is built on a fantasy that will uphold current structures of elite power, while maintaining its inefficacy. Writing for the New Yorker, Caleb Crain notes that there is little to say that the vulcans that Brennan exalts actually exist.[13] Crain mentions a study that appears in Brennan's book that shows that even those who have proven that they have superb skills in mathematics do not employ those skills if their use threatens their already-held political belief. While Brennan utilized that study to demonstrate how deeply rooted political tribalism is in all people, Crain drew on this study to question the very nature of an epistocratic body that can make policy with a greater regard to knowledge and truth than the ordinary citizen can.[4][13] The only way to correct for that seems, to many, to be to widen the circle of deliberation (as discussed above) because policy decisions that were made with more input and approval from the people last longer and even garner the agreement of the experts.[14][12] To further illustrate that experts, too, are flawed, Crain enumerates some of the expert-endorsed political decisions that he has deemed failures in recent years: "invading Iraq, having a single European currency, grinding subprime mortgages into the sausage known as collateralized debt obligations."[13]

With the contention around the reasoning for those political decisions, political theorist David Estlund posited what he considered to be one of the prime arguments against epistocracy – bias in choosing voters.[15] His fear was that the method by which voters, and voters' quantity of votes, was chosen might be biased in a way that people had not been able to identify and could not, therefore, rectify.[15] Even the aspects of the modes of selecting voters that are known cause many theorists concern, as both Brennan and Crain note that the majority of poor black women would be excluded from the enfranchised polity and risk seeing their needs represented even less than they currently are.[13]

Rejection of demographic unjustness of noocracy

Proponents of democracy attempt to show that noocracy is intrinsically unjust on two dimensions, stating its unfairness and bad results. The former states that since people with different income levels and education backgrounds have unequal access to information, the epistocratic legislative body will be naturally composed of citizens with higher economic status, and thus fail to equally represent different demographics of the society. The latter argument is about the policy outcomes; since there will be a demographic overrepresentation and underrepresentation in the noocratic body, the system will produce unjust outcomes, favoring the demographically advantaged group.[16] Brennan defends noocracy against these two criticisms, presenting a rationale for the system.

As a rejection of the unfairness argument put forward by democrats, Brennan argues that the voting electorate in modern democracies is also demographically disproportionate; based on empirical studies, it has been demonstrated that voters coming from privileged background, such as white, middle aged, higher-income men, tend to vote at a higher rate than other demographic groups.[16] Although de jure every group has same right to vote under one person one vote assumption, de facto practices show that privileged people have more influence on election results. As a result, the representatives will not match the demographics of the society either, for which democracy seems to be unjust in practice. With the right of type of noocracy, the unfairness effect can actually be minimized; for instance, enfranchisement lottery, in which a legislative electorate is selected at random by lottery, and then incentivized to become competent to address political issues, illustrates a fair representation methodology thanks to its randomness.

To refute the latter claim, Brennan states that voters do not vote selfishly; in other terms, the advantaged group does not attempt to undermine the interests of the minority group.[16] Therefore, the worry that noocratic bodies that are demographically more skewed towards the advantaged group make decisions in favor of the advantaged one fails. According to Brennan, noocracy can serve in a way that improves the welfare of the overall community, rather than certain individuals.

Further reading

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2017). The Greek State and Other Fragments. Delphi Classics.

See also


  1. ^ Laks, André (2000). "The Laws". In Rowe, Christopher; Schofield, Malcolm (eds.). The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought. Cambridge University Press. p. 262. ISBN 0-521-48136-8.
  2. ^ Brennan, Jason F. (2016). Against Democracy. Princeton University Press.
  3. ^ Norman, Nina (October 27, 2023). "Summary: Against Democracy by Jason Brennan". Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Brennan, Jason (2016). Against democracy. Princeton. ISBN 9780691162607. OCLC 942707357.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Christiano, Thomas (1996). The Rule of the Many. CO: Westview.
  6. ^ Bell, D.A. (2016). The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. Princeton University Press.
  7. ^ Khanna, Parag (1 July 2017). "Swiss Direct Democracy + Singapore's Smart Rulers = Direct Technocracy". New Perspectives Quarterly. 34 (3): 40–42. doi:10.1111/npqu.12093. ISSN 1540-5842.
  8. ^ a b Landemore, Hélène (2017). "Deliberative Democracy as Open, Not (Just) Representative Democracy". Daedalus. 146 (3): 51–63. doi:10.1162/DAED_a_00446. S2CID 57570198.
  9. ^ a b Dahl, Robert A. (1971). Polyarchy: participation and opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300015652. OCLC 49414698.
  10. ^ "The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato". Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  11. ^ Young, Michael Dunlop (1994). The rise of the meritocracy. New Brunswick (U.S.A). ISBN 9781560007043. OCLC 28420501.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ a b c Landemore, Hélène (1 May 2013). "Deliberation, cognitive diversity, and democratic inclusiveness: an epistemic argument for the random selection of representatives". Synthese. 190 (7): 1209–1231. doi:10.1007/s11229-012-0062-6. ISSN 0039-7857. S2CID 255065662.
  13. ^ a b c d Crain, Caleb (31 October 2016). "The Case Against Democracy". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  14. ^ Maboudi, Tofigh (2016). "Crowdsourcing the Egyptian Constitution: Social Media, Elites, and the Populace". Political Research Quarterly. 69 (4): 716–731. doi:10.1177/1065912916658550. S2CID 156939151.
  15. ^ a b Estlund, David M. (2008). Democratic authority: a philosophical framework. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400831548. OCLC 647843193.
  16. ^ a b c Brennan, Jason (1 February 2018). "Does the Demographic Objection to Epistocracy Succeed?". Res Publica. 24 (1): 53–71. doi:10.1007/s11158-017-9385-y. ISSN 1356-4765. S2CID 254984552.