Jonathan Benson

Whether it is due to Donald Trump, Brexit, or the rise of populism, many people have started to question if democracy is really the best political system. Complaints about ignorant voters, irrational public debate, or disconnected politicians have led a growing number to suggest that democracies are destined to make bad decisions and that we need to look for alternatives. In my first book Intelligent Democracy, I reject this new democratic scepticism. I argue that democracies can make effective use of knowledge, engage in experimentation, utilise diversity, motivate decisions towards the common good, and that they can do all these things better than their rivals. The book therefore shows why we should value democracy, not only because it treats us all equally, but also because it is intelligent.

At the core of the book is the first systemic account of democracy’s epistemic value. While it is common to focus on the faults of any one democratic body, I argue that democracy represents a much broader network of institutions which work together to produce a system which is more intelligent than any of its parts. The book examines how elections, deliberative assemblies, random sortition, and the open public sphere can be best connected, and offers innovative new proposals for improving our democratic systems. Through this approach, I show that democracy is superior to regimes of epistocracy and political meritocracy which aim to empower the knowledgeable and exclude the ignorant, as well as commonly overlooked proposals for granting greater powers to free markets or polycentric governance. Drawing on work from political science, philosophy, and economics, Intelligent Democracy produces a unique epistemic justification of democratic politics and a robust answer to democracy’s critics.

Intelligent Democracy is pubished by Oxford University Press (2024) and is available via OUP and Amazon. Online access is available via OUP Academic.


Jonathan Benson establishes exactly why and how democracy can make better decisions than its alternatives. He shows why previous high-profile defences of the intelligence of democracy do not quite succeed, and how thinking in terms of democratic systems can do much better. Intelligent Democracy is essential reading for those who want to defend democracy in these troubled times - and for those who would attack it.

– John Dryzek, Distinguished Professor, University of Canberra

Intelligent Democracy is a great book and model for the much needed second wave of work on epistemic democracy. Benson adds layers of complexity and nuance to the first wave through a new systemic approach and offers a persuasive and rich defense of the epistemic superiority of democracy over alternative political regimes and market solutions.

– Hélène Landemore, Professor of Political Science, Yale University

Jonathan Benson's book offers a serious and sustained response to recent critics of democracy’s epistemic benefits on their own terms. It is a model of respectful and scholarly engagement - in an age when these qualities have never been more necessary.

– Mark Pennington, Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy, King’s College London