🦋 The ‘Science of Democracy’ demands scientific thinking

Epistemic commitments of science

The phrase ‘Science of Democracy’ implies that the greater epistemological commitment is to the scientific method, rather than democracy. That is not to say that we must throw centuries of democratic practice out of the window in favour of the newest conceptual innovation in town. However, we must leave room for Popperian falsification.

Against a linguistic turn…

The linguistic turn in the study of politics does not meet the burden of proof required for making scientific claims. Rikki Dean appeals for a linguistic twist — but politics does not exist exclusively in words written or spoken. It exists, too, in the unwritten norms, institutions and material realities that enable and constrain human behaviour.

…and problematic metaphors

There are two running metaphors in this series; the taxonomist and the geneticist. There are, however, fundamental pitfalls in both analogies. For all its merits, Linnaeus’s taxonomy cannot be said to be scientific. The basis of his scheme rested on structural similarities, which Darwin’s theory of natural selection by descent eventually overtook. Modern classifications reflect the phylogeny of organisms. Applied to the study of democracy (in theory and practice), pure taxonomy without external criteria for analysis would misclassify a moth as a butterfly.

The scientific study of democracy

To pursue a genuinely scientific study of democracy, we must first define which external attributes will be assessed. These might include ‘the common good’, or ‘electoral system’. We can score the external attributes of each concept in Gagnon’s data mountain to reveal relationships across concepts. Concepts with similar attribute values would thus begin to cluster. Those with a similar core would become blueprints (or Baupläne) of certain kinds of democracy. The V-Dem projectalready does similar work but limited to a handful of types.



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”