Rule by the lowest common denominator? It’s baked into democracy’s design

 in The Conversation: “The Trump victory, and the general disaster for Democrats this year, was the victory of ignorance, critics moan.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Georgetown’s Jason Brennan called it “the dance of the dunces” and wrote that “Trump owes his victory to the uninformed.”…

For liberals, Trump’s victory was the triumph of prejudice, bigotry and forces allied against truth and expertise in politics, science and culture at large. Trump brandishes unconcern for traditional political wisdom and protocol – much less facts – like a badge of honor, and his admirers roar with glee. His now famous rallies, the chastened media report, are often scary, sometimes giving way to violence, sometimes threatening to spark broader recriminations and social mayhem. This is a glimpse of how tyrants rise to power, some political minds worry; this is how tyrants enlist the support of rabid masses, and get them to do their bidding.

For the contemporary French philosopher Jacques Rancière, however, the Trump victory provides a useful reminder of the essential nature of democracy – a reminder of what precisely makes it vibrant. And liable to lapse into tyranny at once….

Democracy is rule by the rabble, in Plato’s view. It is the rule by the lowest common denominator. In a democracy, passions are inflamed and proliferate. Certain individuals may take advantage of and channel the storm of ignorance, Plato feared, and consolidate power out of a desire to serve their own interests.

As Rancière explains, there is a “scandal of democracy” for Plato: The best and the high born “must bow before the law of chance” and submit to the rule of the inexpert, the commoner, who knows little about politics or much else.

Merit ought to decide who rules, in Plato’s account. But democracy consigns such logic to the dustbin. The rabble may decide they want to be ruled by one of their own – and electoral conditions may favor them. Democracy makes it possible that someone who has no business ruling lands at the top. His rule may prove treacherous, and risk dooming the state. But, Rancière argues, this is a risk democracies must take. Without it, they lack legitimacy….

Rancière maintains people more happily suffer authority ascribed by chance than authority consigned by birth, merit or expertise. Liberals may be surprised about this last point. According to Rancière, expertise is no reliable, lasting or secure basis for authority. In fact, expertise soon loses authority, and with it, the legitimacy of the state. Why?…(More)”