Discussion of Democracy Assignment

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The Right to a Competent Electorate

Jason Brennan (2011) challenges the current view of democracy in his writing, specifically, the challenges the universal right for every citizen to vote. He states that he aims at reaching a preferable political system from two feasible, but, unjust and imperfect systems.

Hence, Brennan is working on a non-ideal theory, a transition theory which is an improvement of other ideal theories. He considers a theory by David Estlund in his book “Democratic Authority” in most of his writing. Being a non-ideal theory, Brennan is restricted to only discussing what the other ideal theory states. He finds himself explaining his idea in relation to the idea of David Estlund’s ideas rather than developing an independent theory. For instance, he states Estlund (2009) believes in a democracy about the good and the bad of the universally acceptable voting system.

Additionally, Brennan continues to explain how his idea differs from Estlund’s views on the voting process. In one instance, Estlund believes that democracy is not the best method to use in decision making, as it could lead to immoral and stupid decisions, the fact that Brennan agrees with (Brennan, 2011). However, he disagrees with Estlund’s idea that the universal adult right to vote should be upheld. Brennan believes that the government should implement a restricted suffrage voting process. In most of Brennan’s writing, he compares his idea to that of David Estlund.

Moreover, in his statement “At some point, perhaps, it is better to produce just outcomes in an unjust way than to produce unjust outcomes in a just way” Brennan (2011, p.721) believes that universal suffrage produces incompetent decisions while restricted suffrage results in intelligent solutions. Universal suffrage is what Brenna refers to as “just way” and refers to restricted suffrage as an “unjust way” as viewed by the common society. Brennan believes that universal suffrage results in unreasonable, immoral, or stupid, and worse decisions as some voters do not have enough information about the election process, rather, they are influenced by unreasonable factors such as demographics and religion. On the other hand, restricted suffrage requires voters to pass through some tests to grant only elite voters the right to vote.

The exam is supposed to test the voters’ knowledge of the election candidates and some social science knowledge (Brennan, 2011). The badly competent and the ignorant are forbidden from voting while only the elites cast their vote. Restricted suffrage may be felt as if to oppress some citizens by denying them the right to vote, but, according to Brennan, it leads to competent and moral decisions “just outcomes”.

Instrumental vs Non-instrumental Democracy

In her article, Elizabeth Anderson (2009) justifies her belief that democracy has both instrumental and non-instrumental value. Instrumental value is when something is used as a means to an end while non-instrumental value, something is an end in itself (Christiano, 2006). She likens the thought of government having only instrumental value to a market. A market has to fulfill individual preferences. Thus, when a government is thought to have instrumental value, it is governed by accountability practices to make sure it fulfills the individual preferences of its citizens. Accountability is ensured by voting the preferred officials to various official positions (Anderson, 2009).

However, Anderson convinces the readers that democracy has both instrumental and non-instrumental value by narrating an example with a shopping experience. She argues that shopping is viewed to have instrumental value only, however, if a system knows what one requires and brings it to their homes, one will not be satisfied as they enjoy the shopping activity. The same case applies to democracy. If a government fulfills the desires of its citizens but does not allow them to vote, the citizens will still desire to express their views through voting. Hence, Anderson justifies that democracy has both instrumental and non-instrumental values of democracy.

Also, she believes that in a democratic government, the societal member has an equal standing to decide for the collective goal. She states that democracy is a way of life and voting is one way of expressing democracy. Anderson supports John Dewey’s view that democracy is a way of life that is backed up by two pleasures; sympathy and autonomy. Hence, the basic function of community life is establishing collective solutions to the shared problems.

Additionally, Anderson (2009) claims that “People, not states of the world, are what has intrinsic value in politics” (p.223). Her state is in contrast with Plato’s (1962) views of politics as to bring up a harmonious society bringing about a world of virtuous souls. Anderson (2009) believes that the purpose of politics is to serve the people, hence, people hold intrinsic value. Also, political governments are put to power by the people, and people are the source of self-originating claims. People have the equal authority to make claims through casting their votes. Anderson claims that the only reason why we care about political authorities is that we care about the people. She views states of the world as a means to achieve what the people desire. People are the sources of power, also, they should be the ultimate beneficiaries of democratic practices.


Anderson, E. (2009). Democracy: Instrumental vs. non-instrumental value. Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy, 213-27.

Brennan, J. (2011). The right to a competent electorate. The Philosophical Quarterly, 61(245), 700-724.

Christiano, T. (2006). Democracy. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1–19. Web.

Estlund, D. (2009). Democratic authority: A philosophical framework. Princeton University Press.

Plato, H. G. (1962). The collected dialogues of Plato. Princeton University Press. Web.

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