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Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many

by Helene Landemore Princeton University Press
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Pbk 304 pages
AU$42.99 NZ$45.21
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Individual decision making can often be wrong due to misinformation, impulses, or biases. Collective decision making, on the other hand, can be surprisingly accurate. In Democratic Reason, Hélène Landemore demonstrates that the very factors behind the superiority of collective decision making add up to a strong case for democracy. She shows that the processes and procedures of democratic decision making form a cognitive system that ensures that decisions taken by the many are more likely to be right than decisions taken by the few. Democracy as a form of government is therefore valuable not only because it is legitimate and just, but also because it is smart.


Landemore considers how the argument plays out with respect to two main mechanisms of democratic politics: inclusive deliberation and majority rule. In deliberative settings, the truth-tracking properties of deliberation are enhanced more by inclusiveness than by individual competence. Landemore explores this idea in the contexts of representative democracy and the selection of representatives. She also discusses several models for the "wisdom of crowds" channeled by majority rule, examining the trade-offs between inclusiveness and individual competence in voting. When inclusive deliberation and majority rule are combined, they beat less inclusive methods, in which one person or a small group decide. Democratic Reason thus establishes the superiority of democracy as a way of making decisions for the common good.




Acknowledgments xi
Prologue xv

CHAPTER ONE: The Maze and the Masses 1

  • 1. The Maze and the Masses 3
  • 2. On the Meaning of Democracy 10
  • 3. The Domain of Democratic Reason and the Circumstances of Politics 13
  • 4. Democratic Reason as Collective Intelligence of the People 17
  • 5. Overview of the Book 23

CHAPTER TWO: Democracy as the Rule of the Dumb Many? 27

  • 1. The Antidemocratic Prejudice in Contemporary Democratic Theory 29
  • 2. What's Wrong with the People? 31

CHAPTER THREE: A Selective Genealogy of the Epistemic Argument for Democracy 53

  • 1. The Myth of Protagoras: Universal Political Wisdom 55
  • 2. Aristotle's Feast: The More, the Wiser 59
  • 3. Machiavelli: Vox Populi, Vox Dei 64
  • 4. Spinoza: The Rational Majority 67
  • 5. Rousseau: The General Will Is Always Right 69
  • 6. Condorcet: Large Numbers and Smart Majorities 70
  • 7. John Stuart Mill: Epistemic Democrat or Epistemic Liberal? 75
  • 8. Dewey: Democracy and Social Intelligence 82
  • 9. Hayek: The Distributed Knowledge of Society 85

CHAPTER FOUR: First Mechanism of Democratic Reason: Inclusive Deliberation 89

  • 1. Deliberation: The Force of the Better Argument 90
  • 2. Deliberation as Problem Solving: Why More Cognitive Diversity Is Smarter 97
  • 3. Why More-Inclusive Deliberating Groups Are Smarter 104
  • 4. Representation 105
  • 5. Election versus Random Selection 108

CHAPTER FIVE: Epistemic Failures of Deliberation 118

  • 1. General Problems and Classical Solutions 120
  • 2. A Reply from Psychology: The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning 123
  • Conclusion 143

CHAPTER SIX: Second Mechanism of Democratic Reason: Majority Rule 145

  • 1. The Condorcet Jury Theorem 147
  • 2. The Miracle of Aggregation 156
  • 3. Models of Cognitive Diversity 160
  • Appendix 1: The Law of Large Numbers in the Condorcet Jury Theorem 166
  • Appendix 2: The Logic of Cognitive Diversity in Judgment Aggregation 169
  • Appendix 3: Information Markets and Democracy 173

CHAPTER SEVEN: Epistemic Failures of Majority Rule: Real and Imagined 185

  • 1. Politics of Judgment versus Politics of Interest and the Irrelevance of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem 185
  • 2. The Problem of Informational Free Riding 193
  • 3. The Problem of Voters' Systematic Biasesand Their "Rational Irrationality" 195
  • Conclusion 206

CHAPTER EIGHT: Political Cognitivism: A Defense 208

  • 1. Political Decision Making as Imperfect Procedural Justice 210
  • 2. Political Cognitivism: Weak versus Strong 211
  • 3. The Three Sides of Political Questions 213
  • 4. Political Cognitivism: Culturalist versus Absolutist 217
  • 5. Implications for the Epistemic Argument for Democracy 219
  • 6. Status of the Standard: Postulate or Empirical Benchmark? 219
  • 7. The Antiauthoritarian Objection 223
  • Conclusion 230

CONCLUSION: Democracy as a Gamble Worth Taking 232

  • 1. Summary 232
  • 2. Preconditions of Democratic Reason 233
  • 3. Limits of the Metaphor of the Maze 234
  • 4. Empirical Segue to the Theoretical Epistemic Claim 238
  • 5. The Wisdom of the Past Many and Democracy as a Learning Process 239
  • 6. Reason and Rationality 241

Bibliography 243
Index 265

"Using social-psychology tools that few scholars of democracy incorporate into their work, Democratic Reason represents a valuable interdisciplinary approach to understanding democracy. It invites us to expand our mental horizons in ways that are rarely seen in the world of normative political theory. Written with superb clarity and a masterful command of both the democratic-theory literature and the empirical literature on voting behavior, Landemore dares to think outside the box, honoring her very own concept of cognitive diversity." Julia Maskivker, Review of Politics

Hélène Landemore is assistant professor of political science at Yale University. She is the author of Hume: Probability and Reasonable Choice.