Class # 50079
Civic Competence by Robert A. Dahl
The claim that government should be turned over to experts deeply committed to rule for the general good and superior to others in their knowledge of the means to achieve it – Guardians, as Plato called them – has always been the major rival of democratic ideas. They deny that ordinary people are competent to govern themselves. They imply that 'Guardians' are superior in their knowledge of the general good and how to achieve it. There are some faults to the argument for Guardianship. To delegate certain subordinate decisions to experts is not equivalent to ceding final control over major decisions. Personal decisions made by individuals are not equivalent to decisions made and enforced by the government of a state. To govern a state well, requires much more than strictly scientific knowledge (high modernism), governing relies on ethical judgements as well. And to govern a state well takes more than just knowledge; you also need incorruptibility to keep pursuing the public good. Like Ben Franklin said: “There are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice, the love of power and the love of money.” Lastly, to design a utopia is one thing, to bring it about is quite another.
If we reject the case of Guardianship, we conclude: Among adults no persons are so definitely better qualified than others to govern that they should be entrusted with complete and final authority over the government of state. On most matters we believe adults should be allowed to judge what is best for his own good or interests. We sometimes reject the presumption for persons of adult age that is judged to lack a normal capacity to look out for themselves. The question is, are most adults competent enough to participate in governing the state. If citizens are to be competent, won't they need political and social...