“Technocracy,” democracy … and corruption and trust
Mutual distrust between experts and ordinary citizens—manifest in the wake of the Brexit referendum, the rise of the Tea Party and the election of Donald Trump—is not new. But it takes on particular urgency in an age when ill-informed “populist” policies on issues such as climate change may cause irreparable damage. This article examines the viability of Gilley’s (Policy Sci 50:9–22, 2017) attempt to resolve the conflict between “technocracy” and democracy. Gilley’s solution relies on the objective qualities of a policy to assign it to its appropriate “sphere”: Highly technical problems are best addressed by experts, while those marked by technical uncertainty can be handled by democracy. This article argues that such a solution will not be stable under current political conditions. We must recognize that various forms of corruption of expertise have contributed to today’s populist reaction against experts. The challenge of reforming expertise and mitigating mistrust of experts is a “divergent” problem, which requires ongoing balancing, and does not admit of a once-and-for-all solution.