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Noocracy ( /nˈɒkrəsi/ or /ˈn.əkrəsi/ ), or "aristocracy of the wise", as originally defined by Plato, is a system of governance where decision making is in the hands of philosophers, similar to his idea of Philosopher kings. The idea was further expanded upon by geologist Vladimir Vernadsky, and philosophers (who attended Vernadsky's lectures) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Édouard Le Roy, and their concept of the Noosphere.

Aristocracy is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning 'rule of the best'.

Plato Classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

According to Plato, a philosopher king is a ruler who possesses both a love of wisdom, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Such are the rulers of his utopian city Kallipolis. For such a community to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize".



The word itself is derived from Greek nous , Gen. noos (νους) meaning "mind" or "intellect", and "kratos" (κράτος), "authority" or "power".

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

<i>Nous</i> the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real

Nous, sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence, is a term from classical philosophy for the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real. English words such as "understanding" are sometimes used, but three commonly used philosophical terms come directly from classical languages: νοῦς or νόος, intellēctus and intellegentia. To describe the activity of this faculty, the word "intellection" is sometimes used in philosophical contexts, as well as the Greek words noēsis and noeîn. This activity is understood in a similar way to the modern concept of intuition.

Mind Combination of cognitive faculties that provide consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception and judgement

The mind is the set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory, which is housed in the brain. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.


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". In modern history, similar concepts were introduced by Vladimir Vernadsky, who did not use this term, but the term "noosphere".

Pythagoras ancient Greek philosopher and mystic

Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings were well known in Magna Graecia and influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. Knowledge of his life is clouded by legend, but he appears to have been the son of Mnesarchus, a gem-engraver on the island of Samos. Modern scholars disagree regarding Pythagoras's education and influences, but they do agree that, around 530 BC, he travelled to Croton, where he founded a school in which initiates were sworn to secrecy and lived a communal, ascetic lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed a number of dietary prohibitions, traditionally said to have included vegetarianism, although modern scholars doubt that he ever advocated for complete vegetarianism.

Pythagoreanism system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers

Pythagoreanism originated in the 6th century BC, based on the teachings and beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans. Pythagoras established the first Pythagorean community in Crotone, Italy. Early Pythagorean communities spread throughout Magna Graecia.

Vladimir Vernadsky Ukrainian and Soviet mineralogist and geochemist, one of the founders of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and of radiogeology

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky was a Russian and Soviet mineralogist and geochemist who is considered one of the founders of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and radiogeology. He is also known as the founder of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He is most noted for his 1926 book The Biosphere in which he inadvertently worked to popularize Eduard Suess' 1885 term biosphere, by hypothesizing that life is the geological force that shapes the earth. In 1943 he was awarded the Stalin Prize.

As defined by Plato, noocracy is considered to be the future political system for the entire human race, replacing democracy ("the authority of the crowd") and other forms of government.

Democracy system of government in which citizens vote directly in or elect representatives to form a governing body, sometimes called "rule of the majority"

Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislature. Who people are and how authority is shared among them are core issues for democratic development and constitution. Some cornerstones of these issues are freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness and equality, membership, voting, right to life and minority rights.

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".

Mikhail Epstein Russian-American writer

Mikhail Naumovich Epstein is a Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian Literature at Emory University, USA. He moved from the USSR (Moscow) to the USA (Atlanta) in 1990. He has also worked as a Professor of Russian and Cultural Theory at Durham University, UK, from 2012–2015. He was the founder and Director of the Centre for Humanities Innovation at Durham University (2012–2015).

Rationales for noocracy

Irrationality of voters

Supporters of the noocratic theory mainly depart from the empirical evidence that most voters in modern democracies are largely ignorant, misinformed and irrational. [1] 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. [1] 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. [1] 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 for 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. For example, Martin Gilens notes in his research that low-income democrats tend to have more intolerant thoughts pertinent to LGBT rights, whereas high-income democrats have the opposite preferences. [1] 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. [2] In democracies, the problem is thus not only that voters are prone to make bad policy decisions, but also 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.

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. [3] 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 country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore is a society based on effort and merit, not wealth or privilege depending on birth. [4] 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. 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, referenda, etc., and asking for a committee of experts to analyze this data to determine the best course of action. [5]


Noocracies, like technocracies, have been criticized for meritocratic failings, such as upholding of a non-egalitarian aristocratic ruling class. Others have upheld more democratic ideals as better epistemic models of law and policy. Noocracy 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. Professor 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. [6] 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 what is commonly considered the supreme form of government - 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. [7] [1] 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 amount 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. [1] Dahl wrote, however, that any democracy that rules over a large group of people must accept and validate "alternative sources of information." [7] 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's most effective. He contrasts real people with the ultra-reasonable vulcan that he mentions throughout the book. [1] That vulcan reflects Plato's philosopher king and, in a more realistic sense, the academic elites whom Michael Yong satirized in his essay The Rise of the Meritocracy . [8] [9] Modern political theorists don't 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. [10] 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. [10] 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. [6]

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's little to say that the vulcans that Brennan exalt actually exist. [11] 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. [1] [11] 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. [12] [10] To further illustrate that experts, too, are flawed, Cairn 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." [11]

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. [13] 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. [13] Even the aspects of the modes of selecting voters that are known cause many theorists concern, as both Brennan and Cairn 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. [11]

Rejection of demographic unjustness of noocracy

Proponents of democracy attempt to show that noocracy is intrinsically unjust on two dimensions, using the unfairness and bad results arguments. 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. [2] 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. [2] 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. [2] 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

See also

Related Research Articles

Meritocracy is a political system in which economic goods and/or political power are vested in individual people on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than wealth or social class. Advancement in such a system is based on performance, as measured through examination or demonstrated achievement. Although the concept of meritocracy has existed for centuries, the term itself was coined in 1958 by the sociologist Michael Dunlop Young in his satirical essay The Rise of the Meritocracy.

Public choice, or public choice theory, is "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior. In political science, it is the subset of positive political theory that studies self-interested agents and their interactions, which can be represented in a number of ways – using standard constrained utility maximization, game theory, or decision theory.

Direct democracy democracy in which all people make decisions, without intermediate representatives

Direct democracy or pure democracy is a form of democracy in which people decide on policy initiatives directly. This differs from the majority of currently established democracies, which are representative democracies.

Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision-making. It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the law.

Disapproval voting is any electoral system that allows many voters to express formal disapproval simultaneously, in a system where they all share some power. Unlike most electoral systems, it requires that only negative measures or choices be presented to the voter or representative. If used to select candidates for an office, or for continuation to a next round of voting or play, it is either single- or multi-winner, as everyone who is not disapproved of is in effect a winner, for that round.

Geniocracy framework for a system of government ruled by intellectuals

Geniocracy is the framework for a system of government which was first proposed by Raël in 1977 and which advocates problem-solving, creative intelligence and compassion as criteria for governance.

Technocracy is a proposed system of governance in which decision-makers are selected on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge. This system explicitly contrasts with the notion that elected representatives should be the primary decision-makers in government, though it does not necessarily imply eliminating elected representatives. Leadership skills for decision-makers are selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than political affiliations or parliamentary skills.

Youth vote in the United States

The youth vote in the United States is the cohort of 18- to 24-year-olds as a voting demographic. Many policy areas specifically affect the youth of the United States, such as education issues and the juvenile justice system. The general trend in voter turnout for American elections has been decreasing for all age groups, but "young people's participation has taken the biggest nosedive". This low youth turnout is part of the generational trend of voting activity. Young people have the lowest turnout, though as the individual ages, turnout increases to a peak at the age of 50 and then falls again. Ever since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote in 1972, youth have been under represented at the polls. In 1976, one of the first elections in which 18-year-olds were able to vote, 18-24 year-olds made up 18 percent of all eligible voters in America, but only 13 percent actually voted - an under-representation of one-third. In the next election in 1978, youth were under-represented by 50 percent. "Seven out of ten young people…did not vote in the 1996 presidential election… 20 percent below the general turnout". In 1998, out of the 13 percent of eligible youth voters in America, only five percent voted. During the competitive presidential race of 2000, 36 percent of youth turned out to vote and in 2004, the "banner year in the history of youth voting," 47 percent of the American youth voted. Recently, in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, the number of youth voters tripled and even quadrupled in some states compared to the 2004 elections.

In social sciences, participation inequality consists of difference between levels of participation of various groups in certain activities. Common examples include:

In political science and sociology, elite theory is a theory of the state that seeks to describe and explain power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power—and that this power is independent of democratic elections. Through positions in corporations or on corporate boards, and influence over policy-planning networks through financial support of foundations or positions with think tanks or policy-discussion groups, members of the "elite" exert significant power over corporate and government decisions. The basic characteristics of this theory are that power is concentrated, the elites are unified, the non-elites are diverse and powerless, elites' interests are unified due to common backgrounds and positions and the defining characteristic of power is institutional position.

Electoral geography is the analysis of the methods, the behavior, and the results of elections in the context of geographic space and using geographical techniques. Specifically, it is an examination of the dual interaction in which geographical traits of a territory affect the political decisions, and the geographical structure of the election system affects electoral results. The purpose of the analysis is to identify and understand driving factors and the electoral characteristics of territories in a broad and integrative manner.

<i>The Myth of the Rational Voter</i> Book by Bryan Caplan

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies is a 2007 book by Bryan Caplan, in which the author challenges the idea that voters are reasonable people that society can trust to make laws. Rather, Caplan contends that voters are irrational in the political sphere and have systematically biased ideas concerning economics.

In governance, sortition is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates, a system intended to ensure that all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office. It also minimizes factionalism, since there would be no point making promises to win over key constituencies if one was to be chosen by lot, while elections, by contrast, foster it. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.

Criticism of democracy is grounded in democracy's purpose, process and outcomes. Since Classical antiquity and through the modern era, democracy has been associated with "rule of the people," "rule of the majority," and free selection or election either through direct participation or elected representation respectively, but has not been linked to a particular outcome.

Liquid democracy

Liquid democracy, also known as delegative democracy is a form of democracy whereby an electorate has the option of vesting voting power in delegates rather than voting directly themselves. Liquid democracy is a broad category of either already-existing or proposed popular-control apparatuses. Voters can either vote directly or delegate their vote to other participants; voters may also select different delegates for different issues. In other words, individual A of a society can delegate their power to another individual B – and withdraw such power again at any time.

The concept known as rational irrationality was popularized by economist Bryan Caplan in 2001 to reconcile the widespread existence of irrational behavior with the assumption of rationality made by mainstream economics and game theory. The theory, along with its implications for democracy, was expanded upon by Caplan in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter.

Collaborative e-democracy

Collaborative e-democracy or super-democracy is a democratic conception that combines key features of direct democracy, representative democracy, and e-democracy. The concept was first published at two international academic conferences in 2009.

A citizens' assembly is a body formed from the citizens of a state to deliberate on an issue or issues of national importance. The membership of a citizens' assembly is randomly selected, as in other forms of sortition.

The altruism theory of voting is a model of voter behavior which states that if citizens in a democracy have “social” preferences for the welfare of others, the extremely low probability of a single vote determining an election will be outweighed by the large cumulative benefits society will receive from the voter’s preferred policy being enacted, such that it is rational for an “altruistic” citizen, who receives utility from helping others, to vote. Altruistic voting has been compared to purchasing a lottery ticket, in which the probability of winning is extremely low but the payoff is large enough that the expected benefit outweighs the cost.

Lisa Hill is Professor of Politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia. She was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 2011. She has previously held positions at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University. She was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 2011.


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