Jonathan Benson

A Democratic Theory of Political Polarization

My most recent research has focused on developing a democratic theory of political polarization. While there is much concern about the increasingly partisan and conflictual nature of politics and a significant empirical literature on the topic, the issue of polarization has received less attention from normative political theorists. My project, therefore, aims to connect the latest empirical research to democratic principles, offering an in-depth analysis of if and when polarization undermines democracy. I am particularly interested in the discursive nature of polarization and how it is often shaped by elite behaviour. Early work from this project includes a forthcoming paper in the American Political Science Review focused on how polarization undermines democracy's diversity, and another in Social Theory and Practice on the topic of partisanship, fake news, and democratic citizenship.

Intelligent Democracy and Democratic Scepticism

Much of my research has focused on the epistemic dimensions of democratic politics and on how democracy may be justified through its ability to make good decisions. Due to problems of voter knowledge and recent events such as Brexit and the Trump presidency, this important component of democracy's value is increasingly challenged. My work rejects this growing cynicism by exploring how democratic systems can acquire more information, engage in greater experimentation, and better motivate decisions towards the common good than any of their alternatives. I therefore argue that we should value democracy not only because it treats us all equally, but also because it is intelligent. This project has culminated in a book titled Intelligent Democracy: Answering the New Democratic Scepticism (OUP, forthcoming), and other works include papers in Political Studies, Politics, Philosophy & Economics, and Synthese.

Democracy and the Epistemic Limits of Markets

Alongside my work on democracy, I have a longstanding interest in the epistemic value of markets. A significant tradition of political and economic thought, commonly associated with figures such as Friedrich von Hayek, defends market institutions based on their superior ability to utilize societal knowledge. My work has aimed to challenge these pro-market accounts by exploring how markets may fail for specifically epistemic reasons. In a paper in Political Studies, for instance, I offer an epistemic case for the ethical limits of markets, arguing that democratic regulation is often required to achieve other-regarding values. Another paper in Economics & Philosophy offers an internal critique of Hayek’s classical liberalism, which argues that his views on the inaccessibility of economic knowledge very often rule out comparative evaluations of free market institutions.