The principle that “the wise shall govern the strong” is a law of Nature so basic that human society is inoperable and indeed altogether inconceivable without it. Democracy as such is an illogical Utopian fiction that doesn’t exist anywhere and cannot. In human society anywhere we find it, men in the physical flower of their youth allow themselves to be bossed around by senior men they could easily overwhelm, and legitimate authority assumes the form of a pyramid such that positions of authority, by definition, are fewer to the extent that the scope of authority attached to them is greater. These arrangements are universally justified, one way or another, by the mutual belief that the seniors and the few are more knowledgeable in important respects than the juniors and the many, and therefore rightfully direct the action of the social whole.

Absent this shared belief in the superior wisdom of the governors, society would quickly disintegrate, for obvious reasons, and not least of all because cultural transmission is impossible to the extent that the younger generation refuses to receive instruction from the older. The egalitarian-demotist fancy that this natural and indispensable belief is a pernicious ideological ruse by means of which the socially powerful hold back the progress of Reason- which fancy dominates thought in modern bourgeois society across the entire political spectrum- is not only depraved and extremely dangerous, but profoundly irrational.  Objective Reason is meaningless except as that which is universally binding on everybody, that which everybody must avow to be true- and is therefore not even conceivable absent some authority competent to determine just what exactly it is that everybody else has to receive and accept as rational truth, viz. to authoritatively speak for everybody, and pronounce the truth on their behalf, whether they like it or not.

In other words, Reason must realize itself as authority, and authority as Reason. It follows that private opinion, since it lacks socially obligatory force and is binding on nobody, by itself can never completely ascend to the level of objective Reason- no matter that the opinion may well be perfectly sound in logico-empirical terms. Nor can public opinion, considered as the mere centre of the statistical bell-curve of private opinions, until it finds expression in official determinations made by one person, or a few people, on behalf of the entire community- for public opinion is never altogether unanimous and thus cannot possibly be considered objective. The idea that democracy unleashes the forces of Reason from authoritarian fetters, then, doesn’t even make sense from a rigorously rationalistic point of view.

So much for demotism. At the other end of the pole, a newly-fashionable reformist ideology proposes that the (non-existent) “democracy” be curtailed or altogether abolished in favour of something called “epistocracy”. The various epistocratic reform schemes share common premises in a simplistic, superficial, frivolous, and poorly-thought out distortion of the principle that the wise shall rule the strong, misconstrued to imply that professors and think-tank personnel ought to run the country, or at least that there ought to be a post-secondary educational qualification for voting or holding public office. The idea seems to be growing popular with (you guessed it) professors and think-tank personnel, and also with Libertarians, from which ideological milieu it appears to have emerged.

Of the many things that are wrong with this ideology, the most elementary, and perhaps most fruitfully revealing, is that it sets itself up against a chimera: something that, we have seen, doesn’t exist anywhere, never has existed, and isn’t going to. Government by an elite is the universal inner truth of any social order that passes the test of having the formal properties it needs in order to exist. The only real question that can be posed, then, concerns just who exactly this elite is- or who it ought to be in the mind of who poses the question. Those who deride the existing order as a tyranny of the ignorant many that prevents Reason from directing the public decision-making process as it rightfully should betray their own will to power. Reform schemes that purport to create a safe space for pure Reason to go to work should not be taken at face value. Abstract Reason has no concrete existence as such on the temporal-material plane; it does not simply emanate or radiate from somewhere on high and cause things to happen, but has actual concrete existence only in and through the acts of men of authority. This means that anybody who undertakes to critique the existing order in the name of Reason one way or another thinks he ought to be in charge, and that he ought to be the arbiter of what is true and rational. Whoever claims to be in possession of objective Reason and Truth, or undertakes to white-knight on their behalf, implicitly wants to speak for everybody, and appoint himself governor. Will to power is the truth of Truth where flesh-and-blood men here on Earth go.

Behind the ideological imagery of democracy alternately unleashing or fettering the forces of progress towards a more Rational society, then, there lies the social reality of struggle between the castes or estates of Man for supremacy. The first image, par excellence, embodies the caste position of the upstart against an established order: for example, the nascent bourgeoisie of early Modernity, and later (through Marx), the workers. The second is the caste point of view of those who preside over the established order, which governing class is, in any civilization where an Indo-European language is spoken , bifurcated into two divisions of specialists: those who specialize in speech (at first, various shamans, later on, priests, and, later still, secular intellectuals) and those who specialize in violence (at first, warriors who fought in the campaigns they directed, later, Statesmen who command national armies but don’t bear arms personally).

Every Indo-European society that has reached the stage of civilization is in theory, in practice, or both, co-governed by these two paramount castes- in the terminology of the ancien régime, the First and Second Estates. (Bourgeois democracy is an optical illusion of sorts, the superficial appearance created by the blurring of the distinction between, the opening of eligibility for membership in, and subsequent overlapping of both the functions and membership of, the paramount estates in secular times). Each Estate claims to be co-sovereign with respect to the other, through a supra-human and supra-physical (“metaphysical”) mandate. Under polytheism each was held to have sprung from two different gods; under monotheism, each is held to have received a separate charism from the one God; under secularist materialism, each is held to embody formal-abstract Reason (“science”) and practical Reason (“Statecraft”) respectively. Finally, the First Estate always claims rightful paramountcy over the Second. Mitra is held to be the superior god vis-à-vis Varuna; the sword Christ gave to the Church bigger than the one given to the temporal King; and Science a pure emanation of Reason untainted by the profane and corrupting forces of shrewd political calculation and cunning.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out just where “epistocracy” fits into all this. It is but the formal-ideological aspect of the general strategic caste position of the First Estate (and of the status-signaling pretensions of those who wish to be taken as members of this caste, e.g. Libertarians on the Internet) at a time and place where:

  • the relationship between the First and Second Estates has long been disequilibrated and thrown into mutual discord and bitter rivalry
  • their respective social functions have been made to overlap, as has their membership
  • the self-image of the First Estate has been distorted into false consciousness and misrecognition of its own true Nature and interests.

If I accurately interpret what little I know about their way of thinking, the old Hindus would no doubt be able to immediately diagnose in this a social pathology whose etiology lies in the near-total disappearance, under Liberalism, of formal social norms regulating the castes in their internal composition and external relations; and of the distortion, under secularizing materialism and irreligion, of the respective special social function and purpose of each of them. This state of anomie does not, contra the conceits and boasts of Liberal egalitarianism, abolish the castes or come close to doing that- they are inscribed in the Nature of our societies, and cannot be dissolved by ideological fiat- but it does succeed in throwing the workings of the corporate body of society into disorder and dysfunction. It is ironic that societies like ours, so easily and keenly perceptive of the need for formal Constitutional norms to regulate and harmonize the hierarchical relations of the various specialized structures and functions of the State, should be totally blind to the need to do the exact same thing with respect to social relations more generally.

“Epistocracy”, as a remedy to this deep-seated and pan-social state of disorder, can be nothing more than quack medicine and fraud. It is coloured water offered in place of wine, a crude drawing of a hamburger offered in place of food, or better yet, a cough-drop offered to the patient with lung cancer.

First of all, if we are to have clear and distinct ideas concerning the Nature of a well-ordered social structure, the task of actually running the State is the proper business of the Second Estate, not the First. The First Estate may legitimately, when extraordinary circumstances call for it, exercise a negative power to effectively quash civil legislation or veto a decision made by the temporal Sovereign- but only in its role as an actual priesthood, i.e. as the administrators of religious rites and sacraments, and not in its role as a secular intelligentsia. The Church may excommunicate an evil Sovereign, or command the faithful to disregard civil legislation that blatantly disagrees with Divine and Natural law- religion, after all, is its proper public sphere of competence. But this means that the views of a secular professor, research scientist, writer, and so on, are by themselves no more than private opinion, however learned. (It should be noted that, were that not the case, these men would of inescapable necessity lose the intellectual autonomy they so jealously prize to the very extent that what they had to say was a matter of public significance either spiritual or temporal; “academic freedom” as we know it absolutely presumes that the intellectual speaks on behalf of neither Church nor State, but only his own scholarship).

It follows that, until religion is generally restored, and membership in the priesthood regulated by norms at least as rigorous as those governing membership in the professions of law and medicine right now, the First Estate has no special competence in public affairs; a professor, to say nothing of the average holder of a degree, by his title alone has no more of an a priori right to intervene in the business of the State than he does to practice law or hang up a shingle as an M.D. (He may legitimately, and just like anybody else, speak his mind on public matters, as allowed by law; censorship is not the issue here).

In any case, concrete specification of the technical rules concerning who may or may not act as a civil elector at this point in time is rather like going to the locksmith to select the door-lock for a house whose foundations haven’t been laid yet. It is the last thing anybody should worry about! When we can, without fear of being thrown off campus and/or arrested for hate speech:

  • talk about things like “hierarchy”, “caste”, and corporate as opposed to atomistic conceptions of society, and of the good, in discussions of sociology and philosophy
  • talk about what the Laws of Manu would look like transposed to a Christian and Western society and reconstructed accordingly, or study their once-existing cognate forms in our own history
  • talk about developing a procedure to identify the natural caste of each person, assigning him to it, and thence making membership hereditary to the fullest extent compatible with Christian principle

Then we will actually be on the road to arriving at a more perfect approximation of the epistocratic ideal, instead of just pretending to be, as the divers Libertarian charlatans are right now with this latest high-sounding re-branding of technocracy, with its insidious pettifogging effort to define objective “scientific” truth in terms of their own subjective globalizing political opinions and agendas.

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12 thoughts on “Epistocracy: The Wrong Case against Democracy

  1. Whoever claims to be in possession of objective Reason and Truth, or undertakes to white-knight on their behalf, implicitly wants to speak for everybody, and appoint himself governor. Will to power is the truth of Truth where flesh-and-blood men here on Earth go.

    Ah Truth. Is there such a thing as Truth? What right does it have under your schema when on posses it but the powerful do not?

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    1. I most certainly believe that there is such a thing as Truth, given in Revelation and in the order of Nature, and guaranteed by the supreme power of God. The question of what happens here in this life when an individual possesses it (or more precisely, is inwardly certain that he does) but the powerful do not, or reject it, is a very difficult one. By default, in any human society the answer is decided in advance in favour of the powerful, since Truth cannot be possibly conceived as impotent by the human mind.

      One way or another, the individual who is certain that he speaks the truth, if he is socially powerless, is also certain that his truth will be vindicated and the socially powerful directly or indirectly punished for their deceit and ignorance through outright Divine retribution, through more purely Naturalistic means of catastrophic unintended consequences that will follow from their ignorant actions, through some human intervention that overturns the established order of things, etc. Thus the correlation necessarily drawn by the human mind between truth and power is preserved.

      The question of what right the dissenter has, in this life, to speak Truth to power inevitably comes down to a question of might. Either he keeps his mouth shut, and consequently either gives up his claim to truth in his own mind, or privately holds out faith that he’ll ultimately be vindicated; or he’s headed for a legal or political showdown of some sort, in the most extreme case, direct physical confrontation. These sorts of things happen in every society, no matter how well-ordered. I don’t think that any juridical philosophy can rigorously answer the question of to what extent an individual has a right to dissent, or when.

      ADDENDUM: The sort of social dispute over Truth that can only be settled by the outcome of conflict is sometimes described in juridical theory as an “appeal to Heaven”: in the final analysis, it is up to the Divine author of Truth to decide which of the conflicting parties was in possession of the Truth in an ultimate sense.

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  2. The question of what happens here in this life when an individual possesses it (or more precisely, is inwardly certain that he does) but the powerful do not, or reject it, is a very difficult one

    And yet that is the question.

    I worry a lot about the priesthood being deaf to it.

    BTW, good post.

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  3. Any mention of the disruption of the caste order, alwasy reminds me of the uncannyily accurate Hindu prophesy given in the Vishnu Purana regarding the last age of Man (Kali Yuga), when the caste system will be in dissaray, or neglected entirely:

    “Wealth and piety will decrease day by day, until the world will be totally depraved. Then property alone will confer rank; wealth will be the only source of devotion; passion will be the sole bond of union between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; and women will be objects merely of sensual gratification. Earth will be venerated but for its mineral treasures; the Brahminical thread will constitute a brahmin; external types will be the only distinction of the several orders of life; dishonesty will be the universal means of subsistence; weakness will be the cause of dependence; menace and presumption will be substitued for learning; liberality will be devotion; simple ablutions will be purification; mutual assent will be marriage; fine clothes will be dignity; and water afar off will be esteemed a holy spring. Amidst all castes he who is the strongest will reign over the principality [ie Kshudra caste ideals will rule over Brahmin], thus vitiated by many faults.”

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  4. That maps on to present reality so accurately that it’s creepy. I wonder how they arrived at it. Did they witness something like our present situation in some long-gone empire in the ancient world, or work it out deductively from a general concept of degeneration.

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    1. If you discount prophesy itself (I don’t) then either is possible. I suppose if you understood what an orthodox traditional society consisted of, it wouldn’t be difficult to deduce its opposite. Just flip all natural relations on their head (ie. caste heirachy), or reduce them to their base meanings (ie. sexual gratification).

      Contrary to the modern idol of ‘progress’; all previous traditions/civilisations have an analogous ‘devolutional’ view of history and many prophesised the end of days in similar fashion.

      In fact Plato’s central work (The Republic), details the very same degeneration, but with a particular emphasis on the political. Sadly, this is a work entirely neglected today as his envisioned ideal republic is one ruled by Philosopher Kings atop a strict caste heirachy. Because of this neglect, there is a tragic irony in the fact that we have had in our possession from the very beginning an accurate description of our descent through the caste/political forms, which we blinly followed. (Theocracy-Aristocracy-Plutocracy-Democracy). The decay of the democratic form is followed by the rise of the Tyrant; something to look forward to…

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  5. Forgot to add obligatory ego stroke: just came across your work via link from Social Matters. First few essays have been excellent; look forward to reading the rest.

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  6. Thanks Dan. I have to get around to revisiting Plato myself. It’s remarkable that this text and others like it are still in the Western canon, still widely read and at least nominally revered, and yet our Western societies have developed a kind of selective dyslexia around the things they had to say.

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