Constitutional technocracy : the theoretical foundations

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2022-07-29

Authors

Moncrieff, Abigail R.

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Abstract

This dissertation argues that John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill were the first constitutional technocrats. “Constitutional technocracy” is obviously not a new idea given that I found it in the Mills’ 163-year-old work. But “constitutional technocracy” is a new name for an unusual set of ideas: a set of ideas that many prior scholars have labeled “muddleheaded” when reading the Mills’ oeuvre. The source of the “muddleheaded” critique is the apparent tension between technocracy and liberalism. Historically, “technocracy” is a system of anti-liberal political institutions: the complete consolidation of power in scientific experts who can discover and implement objectively correct laws. Liberalism, by contrast, argues that the imperative of personal freedom is morally prior to and fundamentally incommensurate with any benefits that might be obtained from scientifically correct laws. “Liberal technocracy” therefore seems like an oxymoron. The Mills have appeared muddleheaded because they were liberal technocrats. They embraced technocracy as an aspirational standard of legitimacy while simultaneously arguing—in one of the most enduring pieces of political writing ever produced—for the importance of individual freedom. Understood properly, however, the Mills’ version of technocracy, which I call “constitutional technocracy”, is the farthest possible thing from muddleheaded. It is, in fact, the only version of technocracy that is fully and coherently technocratic. The core idea of constitutional technocracy is that technocratic governance, in order to function as intended, depends on liberal political institutions. The technocratic authors who advocate centralization of power are evincing an unscientific overconfidence in human governors’ capacity to discover objectively correct laws. In reality, the discovery of objectively correct laws—particularly given the ineradicable conditions of dynamism and uncertainty in human societies—requires perpetual experimentation with new approaches. That kind of experimentation can be accomplished most cheaply through diffusion of political power: also known as “liberty”. This dissertation merely sketches the theoretical foundations of constitutional technocracy. I will develop the theory much more fully in later work. In the process of sketching the basics here, however, I demonstrate that constitutional technocracy’s birthplace is not this dissertation; it is the works of John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill.

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